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Facebook responds to Android data collection furore

Facebook says it hasn't been logging people’s call and SMS history without their permission, but some refute the claims.

Published onMarch 26, 2018

Facebook Lite Android icon
  • Facebook has responded to claims that it has been logging Android call and SMS data without consent.
  • Facebook refutes the reports, saying it explicitly asks for permission before collecting the personal information.
  • Others maintain Facebook doesn’t always notify users of the data gathering.

Facebook has responded to reports that it has been logging people’s call and SMS history without their permission.

In a “Fact Check” post on the Facebook Newsroom, Facebook said it logged such activity as part of an opt-in feature for those using Messenger or Facebook Lite.

The comment arrived yesterday after the tweet embedded below sparked initial discussions. The person responsible for the tweet, Dylan McKay, presented a data archive that he’d pulled from Facebook containing the names and numbers of people he had been calling. The log contained two years of call and text information.

Downloaded my facebook data as a ZIP file
Somehow it has my entire call history with my partner’s mum
— Dylan McKay (@dylanmckaynz) March 21, 2018

In Facebook’s response post, it detailed how the data collection works.

“People have to expressly agree to use this feature. If, at any time, they no longer wish to use this feature they can turn it off in settings, or here for Facebook Lite users, and all previously shared call and text history shared via that app is deleted.”

Facebook call history logging screenshot

However, Ars Technica’s Sean Gallagher says that this is not the same experience that he, and some of the others who have contacted the publication, have encountered.

Gallagher claims that some of his data was collected despite the fact that he hadn’t installed Facebook Messenger (only the Facebook app, which he says hadn’t asked him to opt-in). Dylan McKay told Ars Technica that he “only allowed the app the permissions in the Android manifest that were required for installation,” and despite deleting and re-installing the app several times, he never consented to provide this kind of data.

Facebook also says that it never sells this data, and that “this feature does not collect the content of your text messages or calls.” This may be true, but Facebook’s post does little help us understand why it collects this kind of data in the first place.

The screenshot above says it “helps [Facebook] create a better experience for everyone,” and of course, it’s not up to a company to reveal its business secrets. Still, if you’re uncomfortable with Facebook knowing the date, time and duration of every phone call you make, it might be time to “opt-out” (find the option in the Messenger Contacts part of your Facebook settings).

Facebook has been under fire recently after it was linked to the alleged misuse of 50 million users’ data. The co-founder of WhatsApp, which is now owned by Facebook, subsequently called for people to #deletefacebook. We’ve written about why you might do that, and why you might return, at the link.

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