Facebook Says It's Not Reading Users' Text Messages

Facebook disputed a report by London's Sunday Times that it was reading users' text messages to assist it with testing to eventually launch its own messaging service, saying that it was running a limited test, text messages were not read, and it was not necessarily working on a messaging service.

Facebook disputed a report by London’s Sunday Times that the social network was reading users’ text messages to assist it with testing to eventually launch its own messaging service.

The social network said it was running a limited test, text messages were not read, and not necessarily working on a messaging service.

The Sunday Times report was behind a paywall, but Fox News ran a post about the newspaper’s story, saying Facebook had admitted reading text messages from smartphone users who downloaded the social network’s mobile application.

Facebook was quick to deny the report, telling CNET:

Facebook is currently running a limited test of mobile features that integrate with SMS functionality. SMS read/write is not currently implemented for most users of the mobile app. As part of this test, we declared the presence of that functionality within our app store permissions starting with the 1.7 version of our application.

If Facebook ultimately launches any feature that makes use of these permissions, we will ensure that this is accompanied by appropriate guidance/educational materials.

The social network also told Silicon Alley Insider:

There is no reading of user text messages. On the Android App store, the Facebook app permissions include SMS 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.

That’s not necessarily what we’re working on. SMS can be used for carrier billing (where users opt to pay for things like apps through their phone bill). Again, that’s not to say we’re launching this. It’s just an example of why an app might use these permissions. The Sunday Times leapt to the conclusion that it was a messaging feature.

Anyway, we have yet to make any such features available to the public, so the Sunday Times is completely wrong when it says Facebook is reading people’s SMS — wrong on the terminology, and wrong on the suggestion that it has been implemented.

Readers: How carefully do you read the fine print when installing new applications?