The Sunday Times, one of the largest newspapers in Britain, is making accusations that the Facebook app for Android is data harvesting from users’ text messages. Facebook denies it, but there is growing concern over improper access by tech firms to personal information.
Data harvesting, or remote downloading and storage of personal information by various parties through apps installed on smartphones, is becoming a scandal. It’s a rational concern; the FBI usually needs a warrant to access phone or message records, which requires approval from a judge. It stands to reason that Facebook, Twitter or Google should face some scrutiny.
The Sunday Times, a very popular British newspaper, has recently published an article that asserts the Facebook Android app is harvesting data from text messaging in order to launch its own text messaging service, according to CBS.
Facebook immediately responded. Facebook’s European communications director, Iain Mackenzie, fired a broadside from Facebook. The Facebook app for Android does ask permission to access SMS messaging in the Terms and Conditions, but Mackenzie maintains that Facebook only accesses such data for “testing” from “people who know exactly what we are testing.” Mackenzie also says Facebook never confirmed a messaging service to the Sunday Times.
The potential backlash is large and getting any corporation to fess up to wrongdoing is exhaustively difficult, but as the Daily Mail points out, plenty of apps, such as Flickr, Yahoo Messenger and Badoo ask for SMS access, also called “SMS read and write.” However, there is a difference between asking for access and actually using it. The Daily Mail also reports that Facebook uses SMS Read and Write for the app to share data between itself and a phone’s SMS functions; Facebook can be updated via SMS message.
Applications from Path, Facebook and Twitter were found downloading users’ contacts lists. Smartphone applications, according to ZDNet, are a $6 billion per year industry; getting companies from an industry that large to open up their books or change its practices is incredibly difficult. Furthermore, app developers can reap large windfalls selling information like browsing histories to market research firms and advertisers; the Daily Mail quotes Daniel Rosenfield, who directs the Sun Products development company, as saying the selling application for download “doesn’t touch” revenues from giving apps away and loading them with ads that can be targeted to the user. It’s almost impossible to know who is selling whose information to whom.
Facebook’s Iain Mackenzie: https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10151330596285363
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