Facebook has reacted angrily to claims that it reads Android users' text messages, arguing that the social network is only doing so for a small pool of people testing out a new feature.
The Sunday Times published an article on Sunday in which it pointed out that many apps require users to grant access to private information stored on their smartphones. As its primary example, the piece noted that Facebook "said it was accessing [SMS messages] as part of a trial to launch its own messaging service".
"Companies ranging from Facebook and Apple to small operations run by individuals gain access to the treasury of data when people agree to the terms and conditions of downloading an app," the article noted.
However, Iain Mackenzie, Facebook's communications manager for Europe, wrote in a Facebook note on Sunday that the article was "disingenuous" and "sensationalist".
"We worked with The Sunday Times to explain why the Facebook Android app requests some SMS read/write permissions," Mackenzie wrote, adding that the company had told the newspaper that "SMS read/write is not currently implemented for most users of the mobile app".
Starting with version 1.7 — the Facebook for Android app is now on version 1.8.2 — the social network had declared the SMS read/write functionality in the app's permissions, Mackenzie said.
He stressed that Facebook had explained to the newspaper that "if Facebook ultimately launches any feature that makes use of these permissions, we will ensure that this is accompanied by appropriate guidance/educational materials".
"A ludicrous attempt to cook up a story about companies spying on users — spun out of our explanation that we declared the app permission to everyone even though we're only using it with selected people who know the score," Mackenzie wrote.
Mackenzie also pointed out that Facebook had not said it was definitely launching a messenger product. "There are any number of things you can use SMS for, such as carrier billing," he noted.
The Sunday Times commissioned a YouGov poll, which found 70 percent of respondents rarely if ever checked what permissions apps were asking for before installing them.
As the article noted, these permissions can give some apps control over the phone's camera at any time, transmit contact details and internet histories to third parties, and open the users up to "a torrent of spam and invasive advertising".