By Chuck Parks, Editor
Facebook’s latest scandal is one that’s been lingering in the shadows for years: if you used Facebook for Android, chances are you allowed the app to collect your SMS text logs and call history. Although Facebook has never technically obfuscated the fact that it collects your message logs and call data, the extent of its scraping only came to light last week when a New Zealand man found all the data in his Facebook archive.
But it says that people consented to have that information collected and that it was only used to “provide you with a better experience on Facebook”.
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, many have looked into the data that is being collected by Facebook, which can be done by downloading the company’s file on you from its website. As they did so, some users picked through the data and found something shocking: that it contained a long list of the messages they had sent and phone calls they had made, in some cases going back years.
Facebook has now confirmed that the data is being collected. But it has disputed much of the reporting and says that the feature isn’t being used for spying, only to learn more about its users.
The company called its response to the allegations a “fact check”. It suggested they were wrong in a number of ways.
“You may have seen some recent reports that Facebook has been logging people’s call and SMS (text) history without their permission,” the response read. “This is not the case.”
It then went on to detail how people had given their consent to the collection. It shared a screenshot of the page where people gave their permission – clicking through on a button that made clear their data would be “continuously uploaded”.
The feature can be turned off in settings, and people will still be able to use the app as before. Users can also keep contact uploading – which allows Messenger to know who you might want to chat to – while getting rid of the collection of phone calls and text messages histories, from the same page.
It also attempted to address a number of other things it claimed had been inaccurately reported. The data won’t be sold and what is actually said inside of a call or a text message will not be collected by Facebook, it said.
“When this feature is enabled, uploading your contacts also allows us to use information like when a call or text was made or received,” the explanation reads. “This feature does not collect the content of your calls or text messages. Your information is securely stored and we do not sell this information to third parties. You are always in control of the information you share with Facebook.”
Rather than answer the underlying question — why does Facebook need to know this about me?! — the company is trying to reframe this scandal on terms that it can win. It’s arguing hard that it never logged anyone’s call and text history without their permission, and that collecting info about contacts is just standard industry practice.
That doesn’t really address people’s two main concerns, which are that a) Facebook asked permission for data collection with the same button-press as a bunch of other stuff so that people were less likely to opt-out, and b) Facebook shouldn’t even be collecting this data anyway.