It’s not just your text messages that Facebook can read. Here’s the lowdown on what else you might have handed over:
Do you remember the last time you read the small print? It’s way easier to close those T&Cs pop-ups and hurry your way into a vague contract with a service provider than it is to actually take the time to read what it all means. But in light of the colossal storm that Facebook is currently facing after those Cambridge Analytica investigations, it might be time to revisit the things we incidentally agreed to all that time ago.
For many of us, we’ve had a sneaking suspicion that Facebook has been gathering data about us for a while now. From those weird moments when you’ll have vaguely mentioned wanting to learn a new language to then seeing ads for DuoLingo pop up in your feed. And then there are those too-close-to-home friend suggestions! We’ve all been a bit concerned about how much Facebook can actually listen in on our lives.
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In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, people have been downloading the data that Facebook has of them (Hint: just go to facebook.com/settings on your desktop and you’ll be able to download from there) and noticed logs of phone calls, text messages and contact details of people they’ve had exchanges with away from the Facebook app.
Much of this stems from agreeing to upload your contact information at the same time as creating an account (it’s the default Facebook likes to use, not that we understand why), but in investigating it a little bit further, there’s actually a whole lot more Facebook can access (and modify) on your smartphone. Full warning for you Android users, it seems you are most vulnerable to Facebook’s data access.
This is everything Facebook can access on your smartphone:
If you have an Android phone, you should be able to access all of this information via settings (which we explain below), but here’s a full and comprehensive breakdown – according to the T&Cs and Data policy – of what access Facebook might have and—brace yourself—it’s pretty frightening.
- Read calendar events and details: “This app can read all calendar events stored on your phone and share or save your calendar data”.
- Add or modify calendar events and send emails to guests without owner’s knowledge: “This app can add, remove or change calendar events on your phone. This app can send messages that may appear to come from calendar owners or change events without notifying their owners”.
- Take pictures and videos: “This app can take pictures and record videos using the camera at any time”.
- Read your contacts: “Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed or communicated in other ways with specific individuals. This permission allows the app to save your contact data, and malicious apps may share contact data without your knowledge”.
- Modify your contacts: “Allows the app to modify the data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed or communicated in other ways with specific contacts. This permission allows apps to delete contact data”.
- Find accounts on the device: “Allows the app to get the list of accounts known by the phone. This may include any accounts created by applications that you have installed”.
- Access approximate located (network-based): “This app can get your location based on network sources such as phone masts and Wi-Fi networks. These location services must be turned on and available on your phone for the app to use them”.
- Access precise location (GPS and network-based): “This app can get your location based on GPS or network location sources such as phone masts and Wi-Fi networks. These location services must be turned on and available on your phone for the app to be able to use them. This may increase battery consumption”.
- Record audio: “This app can record audio using the microphone at any time”.
- Read your text messages (SMS or MMS): “This app can read all SMS (text) messages stored on your phone”.
- Modify or delete the contents of your USB storage: “Allows the app to write to the USB storage”.
- Read the contents of your USB storage: “Allows the app to read the contents of your USB storage”.
- Read phone status and identity: “Allows the app to access the phone features of the device. This permission allows the app to determine the phone number and device IDs, whether a call is active and the remote number connected by a call”.
- Other: Pair with Bluetooth devices | Access Bluetooth settings | Prevent phone from sleeping | Control vibration | Read sync settings | Toggle sync on and off | Send sticky broadcast | Download files without notification | Activity recognition | Change your audio settings | Change network connectivity | Connect and disconnect from Wi-Fi | Read Google service configuration | Run at startup | Retrieve running apps | View network connections | View Wi-Fi connections | Have full network access | Install shortcuts | Receive data from the internet.
So… In light of all this, how do you adjust Facebook permissions on your phone?
The thing that’s a bit shady is that within the Facebook app itself – when you go through the privacy settings associated with your accounts – the access and protection you’re able to update is mainly orientated around what the outside world can see of you. For example, you can change who can see posts you’re tagged in and those rogue, revealing status updates you made back in 2008.
To find out what Facebook can access on your phone (as in, everything beyond the app itself) you need to go to your phone’s settings, scroll down to your list of installed apps and select it from there. If you use an iPhone, you’ll see a permission screen that looks a bit like these below and you’ll have the ability to toggle the basic data access on and off.
If you use an Android phone, however, you’re able to deep dive a little further and read up on what exactly Facebook is doing when you’re not even using the app. If you go to the permissions section and then use the three-dot menu button at the top of the screen, you’ll be given a full list – like the one above – of all the nitty gritty that extends beyond giving Facebook access to your calendar, microphone and camera.