Facebook may be right when it says Android users didn’t say no to call and message log collection
As it turns out, the rather stormy relationship between Facebook and your data just got a bit worse. The social media network is now facing raised eyebrows, and a lot of questions, after it was reported that the Facebook app on Android phones had been collecting your call and SMS text message history for quite some time now. It is believed that the data collected includes the time of calls, the names and numbers of call recipients, and call duration, as well as text message metadata such as the recipient details and the time the message was sent—none of which was done through the Facebook app itself. Facebook, in its statement, denies that the data was collected covertly, and is adamant that the users themselves gave the app permission to access contact details. “Call and text history logging is part of an opt-in feature for people using Messenger or Facebook Lite on Android. This helps you find and stay connected with the people you care about, and provide you with a better experience across Facebook. People have to expressly agree to use this feature,” says Facebook, in an official statement.
This was first reported on Twitter by a user @dylanmckaynz who suggested that upon downloading his entire Facebook data (an option that the social media provides), he noticed call history and SMS logs from as far back as the year 2015. Several other Android phone users have since confirmed the same on social media.
“When this feature is enabled, uploading your contacts also allows us to use information like when a call or text was made or received. This feature does not collect the content of your calls or text messages,” says Facebook. If we are to read these words carefully, at no point is Facebook denying that it didn’t access call or text message logs—exactly as the user @dylanmckaynz had claimed on Twitter. Facebook does not, however, give explicit reasons as to why it collects the text and call history data.
This latest data tracking scare at the moment is restricted to Android phones, and something that indicates permissions that a user needs to accept while setting up the Facebook or Facebook Messenger app on their Android phones, were grossly misrepresented. The older versions of Google’s Android operating system also had a part to play—Facebook being allowed to access call logs and contacts, for instance, was part of a permission granted by Android to apps that asked for that data. @dylanmckaynz says the data collection which he is claiming on Twitter happened on a Samsung Galaxy J5 (SM-J500H), running Android 5.1.1 operating system. At that time, everyone was rejoicing about how Android was an open source, unlike what was claimed to be Apple’s “closed garden”. That joint access was phased out by October 2017, with the more recent Android updates.
To be fair, the End User Licensing Agreement (EULA) contract which Android phone owners agree to when they use the app, does indicate that Facebook has detailed the entire requirement of the contacts and call logs being saved and uploaded. However, how many of us actually read the EULA for anything? It, however, is clear that the information Facebook offered to users upfront during the app installation process, didn’t entirely indicate what they were getting themselves into. Facebook insists that the information it stores does not include contents of calls or text messages, and says that the data collected isn’t sold to any third-party firms.
Despite perhaps being legally in the clear in this case, the very recent Cambridge Analytica data collection saga is still very fresh in users’ minds, and considering there is very little trust going around for Facebook these days, it really isn’t difficult to see why that remaining trust will get significantly dented, again.