How to Stop Facebook from Quietly Collecting Your Phone Call Data

People who install social media apps on their phones don’t often think of what kind of data these apps can collect. It’s not on everyone’s mind that Facebook could potentially harvest logs of their phone calls for later use, especially since one has difficulty perceiving why the social network would even find that data useful. But here we are in a situation where Facebook’s mobile app has collected, and continues to collect, phone call metadata. While some people might not find this situation uncomfortable, others may find it rather chilling.

Why Is Facebook Doing This?

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If someone wants to know who your closest friends are, the easiest way to do that is to go through your phone and see who you contact most frequently and have the longest conversations with. This is essentially what Facebook is trying to do when it collects metadata from your phone calls and SMS conversations.

For those who are worried that Facebook is listening in on their intimate conversations, we have reassurances from the company that it only collects logs of phone calls and instances of text messages, but does not get any of their content. There has so far been no evidence to the contrary.

We know that Facebook engages in this activity because of a New Zealand developer named Dylan McKay who downloaded all of his Facebook data as a ZIP file and discovered years of his call history in the archive. He then announced this discovery on Twitter, sparking a bit of a panic.

What Can You Do?

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After the outrage and panic following the discovery that Facebook has been collecting call and text history from its users (and the Cambridge Analytica scandal), the social network posted a blog on April 4, 2018, announcing a bunch of changes to its data practices.

It starts with the following:

We want to update you on the changes we’re making to better protect your Facebook information. We expect to make more changes over the coming months – and will keep you updated on our progress.

The blog addresses the call and text history collection “feature” of the platform by announcing that users will now be able to opt in rather than having it on by default.

If you just joined Facebook, you don’t have to do anything. The app will probably ask you at some point if you want to allow it permission to access your texts and calls, to which you can simply answer “no” and that would be the end of the story. Newer versions of Android – such as Android 7 – kind of force apps to do this anyway since the operating system will prompt the user when an app first requires permission to access certain things on your phone.

If you aren’t new to Facebook, it’s worth checking whether this “feature” is enabled. You can do this through the Messenger app by clicking on the icon with your profile picture at the top right corner of the Messenger home screen, tapping on “People,” and making sure that “Sync Contacts” is disabled. This works on both Android and iOS.

If you’re using Facebook Lite on your phone, tap the menu icon, tap “Settings,” and make sure that both “Contacts Uploading” and “Call And Text History Uploading” are off.

You should also follow the same steps on your Facebook app, if you’re not using the Lite version (Menu -> App -Settings -> Continuous Contacts Upload), since both apps use this feature independently of one another.

Are you planning on turning off the feature or keeping it on? Tell us your reasoning in the comments.

3 comments

  1. “People who install social media apps on their phones don’t often think of what kind of data these apps can collect”

    That’s because people don’t expect those apps to collect any data from **outside** the app…they only want to use the app to post pithy messages and pictures of their cats. Apps aren’t supposed to be collecting **any** other data from **anywhere** else.

    “While some people might not find this situation uncomfortable, others may find it rather chilling”

    Everybody should get together in one humongous class-action lawsuit and sue Facebook out of existence over this. That’ll take care of one problem, anyway.

    “Why Is Facebook Doing This?”

    Because they can, because nobody stops them and because everyone keeps right on using Facebook no matter how many crappy practices they engage in get exposed. Why should Facebook stop when they have no incentive to do so?

    “If someone wants to know who your closest friends are, the easiest way to do that is to go through your phone and see who you contact most frequently and have the longest conversations with”

    No app should be able to do that. No app has any business, or need, to have that information.

    “we have reassurances from the company”

    Oh, goody. We have “reassurances” from a company proven time and time again to lie and screw over its users. Yes, I feel the warm fuzzies all over…hang on while I download and install the Facebook app on my phone and give it full access to everything on my phone.

    “If you just joined Facebook, you don’t have to do anything”

    Yeah, right. I suppose you’ve missed over the years that every security and privacy feature that Facebook has defaults to being turned **off**. Of course Facebook doesn’t want their users to do anything…it would result in that much less data about a user that they’d be able to harvest and sell.

  2. How do we stop the myriad companies (Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc) other than Facebook from harvesting our data?! Why pick on FB? Just because they happen to be the latest whipping boy? FB may be the one with its tits currently in the wringer but they are not the guilty ones. If a company has an Internet presence, it is harvesting data.

  3. I’m trying to disconnect the apps–they work as a team, Whatsapp, Messenger, facebook, youtube and god knows who else–from my calling data because they operate on a fundamentally wrong concept. That is, that everyone I talk to is a “social” contact and that one of my goals in life is to have relationships with everyone I speak to. What about those people who quite legitimately might interact with me via a phone call (say, to come and fix my tenant’s toilet), but are not friends and don’t ever need to know what I look like to do business. My use of fb is to maintain connections with actual ‘friends’ who don’t live near me any more. You don’t have to download the data to see the unauthorised connections at work. Within hours after receiving a phone call from a new number–IF I save the contact on the phone–voila, out of the blue this person is suddenly ‘suggested’ as a ‘friend’ online. Some have said, why worry? Just don’t accept. But what it means to me is that someone who previously had no reason to even know what I look like, has also been presented with my profile picture and received the suggestion on their side. I don’t need that (no one does). I should add that I DID uninstall fb from the phone and have tried to lock down all of my privacy and sharing settings in Whatsapp, and it still happens. Looks like i will have to go through a process of elimination, uninstalling more and more apps till I’m back to using my expensive device as no more than a phone dialer. And maybe to play Sudoku.

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