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Facebook Says It Wasn't Reading Your Text Messages...But It Could

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"Lots of communications apps use these permissions"

Over the weekend, Facebook was accused of reading Android users' text messages if they had installed the Facebook app. Facebook has responded, and the short of the answer is that it doesn't -- but it could.

London's Sunday Times (via Gizmodo) reported that the alleged viewing of text messages was in preparation for Facebook's own messaging platform. Gizmodo reported that it was unclear if the supposed reading of messages continues to this day -- or even if it really happened.

Fox News has more details from the Times, which includes Facebook allegedly admitting that it had been reading messages. In light of the fact that Facebook has said it doesn't read texts, PC World speculates the Times may have "perhaps mistakenly [taken] an Android application's 'permissions requested' as a literal representation of what the app will do once installed."

Here's more from Fox:

Facebook admitted reading text messages belonging to smartphone users who downloaded the social-networking app and said that it was accessing the data as part of a trial to launch its own messaging service [...]

A spokesman for Facebook says while nothing has been launched yet, users will be prompted to give permission when the feature debuts.

[...]

Other well-known companies accessing smartphone users' personal data -- such as text messages -- include photo-sharing site Flickr, dating site Badoo and Yahoo Messenger, the paper said.

It claimed that some apps even allow companies to intercept phone calls -- while others, such as YouTube, are capable of remotely accessing and operating users' smartphone cameras to take photographs or videos at any time.

Here's what Facebook told Business Insider about the accusation:

There is no reading of user text messages.

On the Android App store, the Facebook app permissions include SMS [short message service] read/write.

The reason it is on there is because we have done some testing (not with the general public) of products that require the SMS part of the phone to talk to the Facebook App.  That's what the read&write refers to – the line of communication needed to integrate the two things.

Lots of communications apps use these permissions. Think of all those apps that act as replacements to the build-in sms software.

Facebook explains that the Times is jumping to conclusions that the company is working on a messaging feature and noted that the publication got it "completely wrong" in saying Facebook was reading text messages.

Therefore, even though it has the ability to access some smartphone text messages, which the company explicitly says it doesn't do, it is the user who has given it permission to do so by installing the app. This brings up, PC World notes, the issue of if responsibility really lies with the user who allowed the app without fully reading or understanding the terms and conditions. Fox News reports that, according to a YouGov poll, 70 percent of smartphone users don't read policies such as this before downloading apps.

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