Facebook Messenger (and Facebook Messenger Kids)

Warning: *privacy not included with this product

Facebook Messenger (and Facebook Messenger Kids)

Review date: 09/08/2021

Facebook Messenger has features like video chat, the ability to record voice messages, text chats, group chats, photo, video sharing and a feature called Messenger Rooms that allows up to 50 people to chat over video at once even without a Facebook account. Messenger Kids is a messaging app targeted at kids under 13 who are not yet old enough to join Facebook. It lets kids video chat and message their friends through their parents' Facebook account. Facebook is pretty well known for vacuuming up users' personal data, including stating in its privacy policy it can use the camera feature to collect data on you. The company does say it won't use the content of your messages to serve you ads, so there's that. And with more kids stuck at home, using Messenger Kids to connect remotely with their friends, it’s always good to beware of Facebook’s poor track record protecting their users’ privacy.

What could happen if something goes wrong

With Facebook-owned apps we always worry there is a good deal that could go wrong. Facebook has a long history of not handling people's personal data with care. In 2019, Facebook confirmed a report that it hired contractors to read and transcribe audio messages users sent through Messenger and Facebook. And earlier in 2021, the personal data of over 500 million Facebook users--information like phone numbers, Facebook IDs, full names, locations, birthdates, bios, and, in some cases, email addresses--was publicly posted on a hacker forum. Facebook says it doesn't use the content of messages to choose which ads to show you. But Facebook makes no such claim about the other types of insights tucked inside your messaging app — who you're speaking to, when you speak to them, and other types of metadata. Facebook sucks up a great deal of this type of data to use for ad targeting and reserves the right to share it with numerous third parties. There are no ads served to kids in Facebook Messenger and Facebook claims they don’t use data from the Messenger Kids app for ads in their other apps. It does still collect children’s data though, so be wary, as you’re trusting Facebook with information about your young children. Also, Facebook markets the Messenger Kids app to children under the age of 13, so parents who let their young children use Facebook Messenger Kids should pay close attention to what their kids share. All in all, if you do decide to use Facebook Messenger, it’s probably best to assume nothing you say or do is actually private.

Privacy

Can it snoop on me?

Camera

Device: N/A

App: Yes

Microphone

Device: N/A

App: Yes

Tracks Location

Device: N/A

App: Yes

What is required to sign up?

Either email or phone number are required.

What data does it collect?

What is the company’s known track record for protecting users’ data?

Bad

In August 2019, Bloomberg reported that Facebook hired contractors to transcribe audio messages users sent through Messenger and Facebook confirmed the report. In April 2021, it was reported that there was a personal data leak of about 533 million Facebook users from 106 countries, including over 32 million records on users in the US, 11 million on users in the UK, and 6 million on users in India. It includes their phone numbers, Facebook IDs, full names, locations, birthdates, bios, and, in some cases, email addresses. In January 2021, Google Project Zero security researcher Natalie Silvanovich discovered a logic bug in Messenger that would allow audio or video to be transmitted without user consent. The bug was promptly fixed.

Can this product be used offline?

Not applicable

User friendly privacy information?

No

Facebook provides a privacy policy which is written in a simple language, in a Q&A format. An additional policy is issued for Messenger Kids. However, it provides rather vague answers to some important questions (e.g., types of data collected, ways to delete the data without deleting the profile, etc.). The nature and volume of sharing of data to third parties is also unclear from the policy, as well as usage of data for advertisement.

Links to privacy information

Security

Does this product meet our Minimum Security Standards?

Yes

Encryption

Yes

Messenger uses encryption but does not use end-to-end encryption by default. People using the Messenger app on iOS and Android can opt-in to "Secret Conversations" that do use end-to-end encryption for text, audio, and video chats. As for end-to-end encryption by default, here's what the company says, "While we expect to make more progress on default end-to-end encryption for Messenger and Instagram Direct this year, it's a long-term project and we won't be fully end-to-end encrypted until sometime in 2022 at the earliest."

Strong password

Yes

Messenger requires a strong password to login. However, calls cannot be password-protected.

Security updates

Yes

Manages vulnerabilities

Yes

Facebook has a bug bounty program

Privacy policy

Yes

Artificial Intelligence

Does the product use AI?

Yes

Does the AI use your personal data to make decisions about you?

Yes

Does the company allow users to see how the AI works?

No

Facebook employs "artificial intelligence to identify unusual behavioral patterns correlated with phishing, scamming, and other harmful activities to remove them from the platform."

Updates

Messenger Updates End-to-End Encrypted Chats with New Features
Facebook
Today, we’re rolling out the option to make voice and video calls end-to-end encrypted on Messenger, along with updated controls for disappearing messages.
Facebook ramps up privacy efforts with end-to-end encrypted audio, video calling trials in Secret Conversations
ZDNet
The tech giant says that improving Secret Conversations will be the focus of the research.
Forget Zoom—children are using Facebook Messenger Kids to deal with coronavirus isolation
MIT Technology Review
“It” is Facebook’s Messenger Kids, separate but related to the Facebook Messenger that adults might be more familiar with. Launched in December 2017, the app allows kids too young to join Facebook to use their parents’ Messenger account to interact with other kids. Parents have full access and must approve who kids contact; kids get to text, video chat, and send stickers to their pals.
Messenger Kids adds expanded parental controls, details how much kids’ data Facebook collects
TechCrunch
Facebook’s messaging app for families with children, Messenger Kids, is being updated today with new tools and features to give parents more oversight and control over their kids’ chats. Now, parents will be able to see who a child is chatting with and how often, view recent photos and videos sent through chat, access the child’s reported and block list, remotely log out of the app on other devices and download the child’s chats, images and videos, both sent and received. The company is also introducing a new blocking mechanism and has updated the app’s Privacy Policy to include additional information about data collection, use and deletion practices.
Facebook Says Encrypting Messenger by Default Will Take Years
Wired
In March of last year, Mark Zuckerberg made a dramatic pledge: Facebook would apply end-to-end encryption to user communications across all of its platforms by default. The move would grant strong new protections to well over a billion users. It's also not happening anytime soon. What Zuckerberg didn't spell out at the time is just how difficult that transition would be to pull off, and not just in terms of political hurdles from encryption-averse law enforcement or a shift in Facebook's business model. Encrypting Facebook Messenger alone represents a Herculean technical challenge. According to one of the Facebook engineers leading the effort, a version of Messenger that's fully end-to-end encrypted by default remains years away.
Messenger Rooms are Facebook’s answer to Zoom and Houseparty for the pandemic
The Verge
Facebook is rolling out a suite of new products to expand its capabilities in video chat. The company today announced Messenger Rooms, a tool for starting virtual hangouts with up to 50 people and allowing friends to drop in on you whenever they like. It’s also doubling the capacity of video calls on WhatsApp from four people to eight, adding video calls to Facebook Dating, and adding new live-streaming features to both Facebook and Instagram.
Messenger Kids On Facebook Keeps Kids Connected, But Is It Safe? Experts Weigh
Romper
Keeping kids connected with friends and family over long distances can be tough. One app that can help keep kids in touch with loved ones is Messenger Kids on Facebook, but, like all technology, there are pros and cons each parent will need to weigh to decide if the app is appropriate for their kids.
Bugs in Signal, Facebook, Google chat apps let attackers spy on users
Bleeping Computer
Vulnerabilities found in multiple video conferencing mobile applications allowed attackers to listen to users' surroundings without permission before the person on the other end picked up the calls.
533 million Facebook users' phone numbers and personal data have been leaked online
Business Insider
The personal data of over 500 million Facebook users was posted in a low-level hacking forum.
Facebook Updates Privacy Features on Messenger Kids App
Consumer Reports
Changes give parents more information about kids' online activities
Messaging Apps Have an Eavesdropping Problem
Wired
Vulnerabilities in Signal, Facebook Messenger, Google Duo, and more all point to a pervasive privacy issue.
Facebook transcribed users’ audio messages without permission
TechCrunch
Facebook has become the latest tech giant to face scrutiny over its handling of users’ data, following a report that said the social media giant collected audio data and recordings from its users and transcribed it using third-party contractors.
There’s no escape from Facebook, even if you don’t use it
Washington Post
How does Facebook’s bigness hurt you and me? As Borovicka and I learned, Facebook takes a toll on your privacy — but perhaps not in the way you expect. It isn’t just the Facebook app that’s gobbling up your information. Facebook is so big, it has persuaded millions of other businesses, apps and websites to also snoop on its behalf. Even when you’re not actively using Facebook. Even when you’re not online. Even, perhaps, if you’ve never had a Facebook account.

Comments

Related products