Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Facebook Knew Android Call-Scraping Would Be ‘High-Risk’

Russell Brandom, the Verge:

In March, many Android users were shocked to discover that Facebook had been collecting a record of their call and SMS history, as revealed by the company’s data download tool. Now, internal emails released by the UK Parliament show how the decision was made internally. According to the emails, developers knew the data was sensitive, but they still pushed to collect it as a way of expanding Facebook’s reach.

The emails show Facebook’s growth team looking to call log data as a way to improve Facebook’s algorithms as well as to locate new contacts through the “People You May Know” feature. Notably, the project manager recognized it as “a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective,” but that risk seems to have been overwhelmed by the potential user growth.

The key message here is that Facebook is only concerned about how it looks publicly — not the reasons why it would be negatively received. They don’t care that asking Android users for permission to read and upload logs of their phone calls and text messages is a profoundly creepy thing to do. They care that, when it is reported, there are talking points ready to go.

Furthermore, according to these emails, Facebook’s developers worked to remove the part where the app has to ask for users’ permission to read their call logs. They figured out a way to simply take it.

Facebook has made a series of disturbing choices unparalleled by any of its competitors. When they’re not mining individual users’ phones for details they can use to feed their advertising and user retention figures, they mislead users to download VPN software that helps Facebook know which apps are popular so that they can either buy or copy them. They also track web browsing activity, retain non-users’ contact details, and unfairly monopolize the web in developing nations. Oh, and they’ve been a contributing force in escalating violence and even genocide in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and India.

To blame one company with a few websites and apps for so many of the world’s woes seems out of scale; however, it is not inaccurate — and perhaps that level of control and dominance is the most terrifying aspect of all. I can’t make the argument that Facebook ought to be shut down. But what would we really lose if that happened?