Has Facebook Been Reading Your Text Messages? (UPDATED)

Illustration for article titled Has Facebook Been Reading Your Text Messages? (UPDATED)

Let's take a healthy sodium-dose here, but London's Sunday Times is alleging that Facebook has admitted to reading users' text messages. People at Facebook supposedly read the private SMS messages of users who downloaded the Facebook app on their smartphones.


This was allegedly in preparation for Facebook launching their own messaging service, but it is not known if it still continues today. Or, really, if it happened at all. The Sunday Times article is very scant in the way of evidence, quoting only unnamed sources, and then devolving into a rehashing of every other known privacy concern to pad the article.

While it certainly wouldn't surprise me if it happened—we've come to expect this sort of thing as of late—let's hold off on the torches and pitchforks until we have some more substancial proof. We are reaching out to Facebook for a comment, and will update if we hear back. Then we can light our pitchforks and sharpen our torches. Or something like that. [Sunday Times via TechCrunch]

UPDATE: Facebook has responded to Business Insider's request for a statement, and boy is it a mouthful.

There is no reading of user text messages.

On the Android App store, the Facebook app permissions include SMS read/write.

The reason it is on there is because we have done some testing (not with the general public) of products that require the SMS part of the phone to talk to the Facebook App. That's what the read&write refers to – the line of communication needed to integrate the two things.

Lots of communications apps use these permissions. Think of all those apps that act as replacements to the build-in sms software.

That's not necessarily what we're working on. SMS can be used for carrier billing (where users opt to pay for things like apps through their phone bill). Again – that's not to say we're launching this. It's just an example of why an app might use these permissions. The Sunday Times leap to the conclusion that is was a messaging feature.

Anyway – we have yet to make any such features available to the public. (so 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).

But Facebook is right to insert this into the Android app permissions – because yes, the app technically has the capability to integrate with the phone's SMS system – even if that is just for our own testing.

So, there you have it. As we suspect, sounds like a lot of getting excited about what isn't much, or at least isn't much yet. It looks like they're working on a new feature, so we've probably got some time before that rolls out, and then we can freak out when we realize that it's sold all of our precious love-letters (or love-texts) for drug money. Or something. Until them, BOOOOOO to the Sunday Times for trying to trick people into paying to read their sensationalized article.

This image was lost some time after publication.
This image was lost some time after publication.


Not surprised. I don't ever install apps, partly for this reason. On my computers, I have all ports restricted so any outgoing traffic requires my explicit approval — that way I know which apps are trying to phonehome or whatever it is they do. I'm not a trusting person when it comes to technology (people, yes; software, no).