Facebook Denies it Snoops on Android Users

Dennis Faas's picture

A British newspaper has accused Facebook of reading its members' text messages. In response, Facebook says the article is misinformed and "completely wrong."

Google Android Security Permissions Scrutinized

The dispute involves a Sunday Times report based on an investigation into Android-based handsets, the results of which may also apply to Apple iPhones.

The investigation scrutinized the security permissions system within Android, which breaks into several different categories the information an application may use.

For each category, the application must ask for and receive permission from the user before it can be installed to the system.

Of course, in practice it's likely that many users don't thoroughly read and understand these categories, or know the full implications of allowing an application to use them.

Many Phone Applications Hungry For Info

The Sunday Times' "investigation" looked through the permissions required by some of the leading Android applications. There were some glaring security issues.

For example, the game Angry Birds asks for access to the details of phone calls made. YouTube's mobile app asks to use the phone's camera. Facebook requests permission to scan through the user's text messages. (Source: zdnet.com)

According to Facebook, at least, the Times report is highly misleading.

For example, the report says the Times has privately tested products that would require the Facebook app and the text messaging feature on a phone to communicate with one another.

Although this doesn't actually involve accessing messages, it does fall into the same permissions category, and thus must be requested in the same way.

Newspaper May Have Made Flawed Assumptions

Facebook says the newspaper's investigators have jumped to conclusions about what the inclusion of the category among the permissions requests means.

"The Sunday Times is completely wrong when it says Facebook is reading people's SMS. Wrong on the terminology, and wrong on the suggestion that it has been implemented." (Source: businessinsider.com)

While the newspaper does appear to have erred in this case, the incident does show that the current Android permissions system is lacking in sufficient detail about exactly what information an app is asking for permission to access.

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