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February 26, 2013
by Library Staff

Is FaceBook's mobile app spying on you?

It appears the answer is: YES

Have you seen the South Park episode iCentipad? If not, it's an episode about the potentially dire consequences of not reading an application's Terms of Service.

It appears South Park may not be too far from the truth.

As the following screenshots indicate, the FaceBook app on Android is allowed to record the audio from you phone at any time without your permission, use your camera at any time without your permission, modify your contacts and gain access to you call log. The following screenshot's are taken from a staff member's phone when he went to update his FaceBook app on his Android phone.

FaceBook Terms of Service on Android App - Record Audio and take Pictures FaceBook Terms of Service on Android App part 2 - Change Contacts and access Call Log

We further looked at the permissions for the app on Google Play. We have copied the secction in full below, but some of the highlights for the FaceBook App include:

TAKE PICTURES AND VIDEOS

Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.

READ YOUR CONTACTS

Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your tablet, including the frequency with which you've called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals.

You can read this directly at Google Play, just Look under the "Permissions" tab

FaceBook may deny any intent in using these functions, and may say that they'll warn users in advance if they ever do, but if that's the case, why is this language in the Terms of Service? Why don't they wait until they intend to use these functions?

Here is the text in Full:

Permissions

THIS APPLICATION HAS ACCESS TO THE FOLLOWING:

YOUR ACCOUNTS

CREATE ACCOUNTS AND SET PASSWORDS

Allows the app to use the account authenticator capabilities of the AccountManager, including creating accounts and getting and setting their passwords.

ADD OR REMOVE ACCOUNTS

Allows the app to perform operations like adding and removing accounts, and deleting their password.

HARDWARE CONTROLS

TAKE PICTURES AND VIDEOS

Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.

YOUR LOCATION

APPROXIMATE LOCATION (NETWORK-BASED)

Allows the app to get your approximate location. This location is derived by location services using network location sources such as cell towers and Wi-Fi. These location services must be turned on and available to your device for the app to use them. Apps may use this to determine approximately where you are.

PRECISE LOCATION (GPS AND NETWORK-BASED)

Allows the app to get your precise location using the Global Positioning System (GPS) or network location sources such as cell towers and Wi-Fi. These location services must be turned on and available to your device for the app to use them. Apps may use this to determine where you are, and may consume additional battery power.

NETWORK COMMUNICATION

FULL NETWORK ACCESS

Allows the app to create network sockets and use custom network protocols. The browser and other applications provide means to send data to the internet, so this permission is not required to send data to the internet.

YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION

READ YOUR CONTACTS

Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your tablet, including the frequency with which you've called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals. This permission allows apps to save your contact data, and malicious apps may share contact data without your knowledge. Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you've called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals. This permission allows apps to save your contact data, and malicious apps may share contact data without your knowledge.

MODIFY YOUR CONTACTS

Allows the app to modify the data about your contacts stored on your tablet, including the frequency with which you've called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific contacts. This permission allows apps to delete contact data. Allows the app to modify the data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you've called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific contacts. This permission allows apps to delete contact data.

PHONE CALLS

READ PHONE STATUS AND IDENTITY

Allows the app to access the phone features of the device. This permission allows the app to determine the phone number and device IDs, whether a call is active, and the remote number connected by a call.

STORAGE

MODIFY OR DELETE THE CONTENTS OF YOUR USB STORAGE MODIFY OR DELETE THE CONTENTS OF YOUR SD CARD

Allows the app to write to the USB storage. Allows the app to write to the SD card.

SYSTEM TOOLS

PREVENT TABLET FROM SLEEPING PREVENT PHONE FROM SLEEPING

Allows the app to prevent the tablet from going to sleep. Allows the app to prevent the phone from going to sleep.

TOGGLE SYNC ON AND OFF

Allows an app to modify the sync settings for an account. For example, this can be used to enable sync of the People app with an account.

More information about apps & permissions can be found on the recent Sunday Times Article

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