At the weekend, the Sunday Times reported in an article that Facebook was using read/write permissions in its Facebook for Android app to access users’ text messages. Facebook has now vigorously denied this is the case, saying the newspaper “cooked-up” a story about companies spying on users.
The Sunday Times article read:
"Companies are using smartphone apps to extract vast quantities of private information about users’ lives, in some cases reading their text messages and intercepting calls. Among those that admitted reading text messages this weekend was the internet giant Facebook, which said it was accessing the information as part of a trial to launch its own messaging service. Companies ranging from Facebook and Apple to small operations run by individuals gain access to the treasury of data when people agree to the terms and conditions of downloading an app."
According to a post by Iain Mackenzie (above right), Facebook’s head of European communications, the newspaper had been in touch with Facebook prior to publishing the story and Facebook had responded with a statement, which was in turn left out of the final article.
While technically possible to access users’ text messages, Facebook said in its statement that "SMS read/write is not currently implemented for most users of the mobile app." The reason for the read-write permission being in place was in anticipation of a future release of a messaging service which may need it.
Mackenzie said: “The permission is clearly disclosed on the app page in the Android marketplace and is in anticipation of new features that enable users to integrate Facebook features with their texts.”
“However, other than some very limited testing, we haven’t launched anything so we’re not using the permission. If we do, it will be obvious to users what’s happening. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.” Mackenzie, however, was at pains to point out that Facebook was not announcing a new messaging service.
In the post he encouraged readers to carry out their own tests to see what information was being exchanged between the app and the Facebook servers.