There’s currently a mild online uproar over the recently-updated permission requirements for Facebook’s Messenger smartphone app. The waters have been muddied further by a response from Snopes.com, which downplays the situation, and which some insist provides carte blanche to download apps no matter WHAT permissions they demand. So… what’s really what?
Well… thousands of apps are creating databases of the permissions they maintain from their customer pools. Every time you click “Accept,” you grant them the permissions they request. Many apps request permissions that are not really required for the app to function. But they do so under the blanket explanation “some day we may upgrade our app in such a way that it needs to do those things.”
Many app providers are also utilizing hidden subroutines built into their programming to make use of those extra permissions to mine users for customer data, which they then wrap up in databases and sell to advertising firms, marketers, and whoever wants to pay for that information. ALL information that we have given them permission to collect.
That is what’s really going on: there is an industry push to expand required permissions straight across the board, to make all apps ask for every permission imaginable, so better data collection can be done via those apps “if required in the future.”
The Facebook Messenger app is only slightly worse than the regular Facebook phone app. The new Chrome app has updated permissions I refuse to grant. So do multiple other apps I have deleted when they tried to increase their permissions too far past my comfort zone. Why would my keyboard app EVER need to read my texts and email, or my contact list? Click, deleted. Why would my banking app need to remotely turn on my phone, even if it’s off, and turn on my microphone without notifying me? Click, deleted.
The whole world is clicking “yes” to anything and everything, and handing over the keys to their lives to the tech sector, who is selling every bit of it to people you don’t even know, for reasons you don’t even suspect. This is not a conspiracy theory— this is a fact. They tell you exactly what they want permission to do when they ask you to click the accept button.
Except NOW the online app stores have recently adopted a sneaky new masking method where they classify permissions into different “categories” so they can use the misleading verbiage “This app requires no MAJOR new permissions” or “no IMPORTANT new permissions,” while still asking for OTHER permissions in the background, unseen by you, when you click the Accept button.
It’s quite pernicious. And it’s a real thing. Just read the Snopes article. They don’t say “that’s not true.” They just say “all the apps are doing it.”
NEVER click “update all.” That’s how they make it easy for you to screw yourself. Unless you don’t care, in which case, click away.
You can also just use the browser app on your phone to use FB and other mobile sites, without downloading a bunch of other individual apps. Even the browser on your phone requires permissions, but at least it’s NOT owned by one of a zillion non-affiliated app software start-ups run by some dude from someone else’s basement who may get bought by ANOTHER company inside of a few weeks. The permissions go with the app, BTW, no matter who winds up owning it, and you never know where your little “I accept” will wind up.
It is, of course, every users choice what they are comfortable with.
My advice is simply to actually READ the permission lists and the permission portions of software TOS (that part is usually only a few paragraphs long) and be sure you understand what you are accepting when you click “I accept.” At least scan down to the permissions part and the liability part.
There are some who are arguing “You might as well say yes to everything, or else don’t bother using technology!” Except that’s a complete load of crap. “You might as well sign the papers to buy a new house without reading the mineral rights clause that allows a mining company to frack your property without your permission sometime in the future, or else don’t buy a house!” Same argument.
One should just be cautious, and discriminatory, in choosing what apps to use and what permissions you give away. Just because you trust one person with a key to your house, would you go around handing out dozens of copies?
It’s like that.
NOTE: This edition of The Grype formally marks our 3 year anniversary. We here at TheGrype.com are smugly self-satisfied by our continual slow march toward potential solvency (or even “some money earned”), which might happen any day now since we’ve gotten thousands of likes and shares on all sorts of social media. We’ve even funded a Kickstarter to bring one of our comics to life printed on REAL paper! Plus we’re up to 11 Twitter followers (of which only TWO physically live with the creators of TheGrype, and AT LEAST ONE of which is a spambot); and our awesome record of “not a single t-shirt sold” has managed to survive an unbelievable third year.
Just imagine what wonders the future holds!