Facebook Collected Android Users’ Call and SMS Data for Years

Shortly after the scandal with Cambridge Analytica, Facebook is under pressure again. It became clear that the social network collected Android users’ call and SMS data if not explicitly forbidden.

The recent Facebook issue with Cambridge Analytica raised the discussion about the social networks’ power and the possibility of abusing them for the conditioning of political activities.

Due to the fact that the social networks have a significant quantity of information, they cannot only profile users but also to influence their choices. Thus, these platforms can be dangerous.

Such example is the most recent news about Android users on Facebook. Most of them probably have no clue that after installing the Facebook Messenger app on their Android devices, there are great chances that the social network had been collecting their metadata (the start time for each call, the duration, and the contact’s name), including contacts, SMS data but not the text, and call history data at least until last year.

The Facebook Messenger application logged phone call data only related to numbers saved in the phone’s address book. This is exactly the kind of data which Facebook was collecting.

Being aware of the above-mentioned, a couple of months ago, the Italian expert Simone Margaritelli wrote a blog post on Medium inviting users to uninstall Facebook and Whatsapp from their Android devices.

The programmer Dylan McKay found some data, including logs of calls and SMS messages, in an archive he downloaded (as a ZIP file) from Facebook.

The Professor at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program, Mat Johnson, also made the same disturbing discovery.

The issue with Cambridge Analytica gave users another point of view regarding the collection of data made by Facebook and the real way they are using it for.

A Facebook spokesperson explained that the platform collects this data to improve the users’ experience.

“Facebook began explicitly asking permission from users of Messenger and Facebook Lite to access SMS and call data to “help friends find each other” after being publicly shamed in 2016 over the way it handled the “opt-in” for SMS services. That message mentioned nothing about retaining SMS and call data, but instead it offered an “OK” button to approve “keeping all of your SMS messages in one place.””

In an official blog post, Facebook denied to collect any call data secretly, pointing out that the social network has never commercialized the data and that users are in total control of the data uploaded to the platform.

“When you sign up for Messenger or Facebook Lite on Android, or log into Messenger on an Android device, you are given the option to continuously upload your contacts as well as your call and text history.” the Facebook blog post states.

“For Messenger, you can either turn it on, choose ‘learn more’ or ‘not now’. On Facebook Lite, the options are to turn it on or ‘skip’. If you chose to turn this feature on, we will begin to continuously log this information, which can be downloaded at any time using the Download Your Information tool.”

All users can check the data collected by Facebook going to Facebook Settings→Download a copy of your Facebook data→Start My Archive.

To stop Facebook from uploading their contacts to its server, Android users can turn off the uploading feature in the Messenger application. In this way, all previously uploaded contacts will be deleted.

The iOS users are not affected by this issue.

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