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?
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?
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.