Facebook tries to quell Messenger rumors

Doing damage control, social network responds to complaints

facebook messenger

Facebook is going on the offensive, trying to do damage control for its Messenger app.

The social network is responding to a firestorm of user anger that erupted when it appeared that Facebook was forcing people to load its Messenger app in a veiled attempt to usurp their privacy.

Now Facebook is trying to set the record straight.

"You might have heard the rumors going around about the Messenger app," Facebook said in a message to users that popped up on the network's mobile app. "Some have claimed that the app is always using your phone's camera and microphone to see and hear what you're doing. These reports aren't true, and many have been corrected. Still, we want to address some concerns you might have."

The message is one way Facebook is trying to spread the word about Messenger.

"We're testing ways of explaining Messenger to people, and as part of that, a percentage of people will receive this notice," a Facebook spokeswoman said in an email to Computerworld. "We felt it was important to offer more information, particularly in light of false reports that have spread over the last couple of weeks."

The trouble started earlier this month when users first complained that Facebook was making them use a separate app to send messages, photos and videos to their friends via their mobile devices.

Matters heated up when reports surfaced alleging that Facebook could use the app to surreptitiously take over users' smartphones to take photos or even make phone calls.

Much of the confusion stemmed from reviews of the app in the Google Play store and Apple's App Store.

On Google Play, a user identified as Ty Owen wrote, "Look very closely at the permissions before downloading. The permissions state they can make calls and send texts without you even knowing. By doing this it will cost you money and god noes [sic] what other info they are getting."

The problem snowballed and the rumors spread, leading some users to either not download Messenger or to uninstall it.

According to Facebook, those comments do not reflect reality.

"If you want to send a selfie to a friend, the app needs permission to turn on your phone's camera and capture that photo," the company said in its message to users. "We don't turn on your camera or microphone when you aren't using the app."

Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group, said Facebook is smart to try to get in front of the rumors and shut them down.

"I think the Facebook Messenger app is pretty innocent. At worst, it's not any more intrusive than any other communication application," Olds said. "What this hubbub really shows is how easy it is to stir up the villagers into a torch-lit mob with a single poorly-thought-out piece."

Olds added that he hopes Facebook can quell the rumors and calm its users.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said he believes Facebook's efforts will work.

"I think people will start using Messenger," he noted. "The fact is that for most Facebook users, the Facebook directory is the most complete one of all the apps they use, so Facebook Messenger is the easiest way to stay in touch with your community."

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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