Facebook found itself at the center of controversy recently, which is really nothing new. Yesterday, a Reddit user posted to the /r/technology subreddit saying that Facebook’s Android app requires permission to read your text messages. This obviously upset a lot of people, because as they see it, Facebook doesn’t need to be snooping around their text conversations. Luckily, Facebook has posted an explanation of the app permissions it requires at its help page, and a reason for the SMS permission is right at the top of the list. According to Facebook, it needs access to your text messages so it can hunt down the verification code it sends when you add a new phone number to your account. This is meant to make the process go a little smoother for the end-user in that it automatically find the verification code so you don’t have to enter it yourself. A simple enough explanation, though we’re sure there are plenty of end-users who would rather just find and enter the code themselves instead of giving Facebook access to their text messages.
The fear here is that Facebook will mine the content of the text message to gather information for targeted ads. That’s a justified fear, as Facebook is a free service and relies on ads to make its money. With so many companies swearing by the effectiveness of target ads, it isn’t too much of a stretch to assume Facebook would like to use this permission to show ads that individual users are more likely to click.
Would that happen? It’s hard to say. With the controversy surrounding this recent discovery, Facebook might like to play it safe and keep it to just digging for verification codes for the time being. Facebook has dealt with its share of privacy concerns, but when you’ve got so many users, you’ve got a little room to breathe in the event of widespread controversy. We’ll have to keep an eye on Facebook to see if anything about this SMS permission changes moving forward, but for now, it looks like things aren’t as bad as they immediately appear. Stay tuned.