Reviewing privacy options and settings for Facebook Messenger
Messages are a popular feature on Facebook. Using messages you can write a message directly to another Facebook user, which they can view privately. Messages are sort of like emails or chat messages. They can only be seen by the people involved in the conversation. Now to be clear we’re not talking about regular status updates or wall posts on Facebook, just the private message system.
Recently Facebook has been making a big push to get users to use the separate Messenger app. And it looks like that change is going to be mandatory. If you wanna send Facebook messages on your smartphone you have to use the Messenger app.
This change stirred up some controversy, especially surrounding privacy concerns. Now if you need to learn how to use the Facebook Messenger app check out the Up and Running with Facebook course with Justin Seeley on lynda.com.
You can still send and receive Facebook messages on the Facebook website on a computer. Security and permissions are different between iPhone, Android, and the Amazon Fire Phone, so I wanna look at all three, starting with the iPhone. Here I am in the standard Facebook app. And when I tap on the messages button you see something interesting. If you have not already installed the Messenger app you’ll probably be prompted to do that here. In some cases you might see a button that says not now, or remind me later, but that doesn’t happen in most cases.
In most cases you’re gonna see this. The options will be install or learn more. So really your only option is to install the app. So let’s see how that works. I’m gonna go ahead and go through the installation process, so I’ll hit install. And because I’ve already installed this app on another phone you can see it’s just got the little cloud icon, which lets me download the app again here on this phone. So I’ll tap that and let it install. Once it’s installed you could go ahead and launch the app, or if you’re already inside the standard Facebook app when you look at the messages button now it’s changed to say Messenger.
And if I tap on that button now it’s gonna flip me over to the Messenger app. So you can launch the app itself, or you can get to it from within the standard Facebook app. Since this is the first time I’ve used the app on this phone I’m gonna need to log in. It already knows my Facebook account, so I can confirm that just by hitting continue. As you log in there’s an option to link the Messenger app to your phone number. This is the first privacy option that you need to consider. If you link your phone number your friends will be able to make voice calls to your phone directly through the Messenger app.
There’s also an option to send free SMS messages through the app, but of course this could be a privacy concern, you may not want people to have direct access to you through Facebook through your phone number. So if this is an issue for you you should simply decline to link your phone number to the app and everything else will work fine. To decline just hit not now down here at the bottom. It’s a very light grey, so it may be hard to see. I’m gonna confirm this by hitting skip. Now it’s worth noting that if you did set up the app and linked your phone number to the app as far as I can find there’s no way to remove your phone number after the fact.
So just be careful when you first set up the app, and if you do not want your phone number linked make sure you don’t link it. I’m also gonna skip this option about text messages just by hitting not now. And I’m gonna go ahead and allow notifications. I’ll hit OK. But let’s talk about notifications for just a moment. This is another minor question that you’ll need to address. Enabling this allows the phone to display popup notifications when you receive messages, even when the app isn’t running. This permission isn’t really a security risk, it’s just up to you to decide whether you want alerts when you receive new messages in the Facebook Messenger app.
I’m gonna go ahead and allow them. Now I’m all set up and I’ll hit OK. And from here I can see all of the conversations that I have going on inside of messages on Facebook. Now again, I’m not gonna get too much into how to use the app, that’s covered in the Up and Running with Facebook course with Justin Seeley here on lynda.com, but I do wanna talk about some privacy settings. So let’s finish talking about those notification settings. What if you decided to change your mind about notifications later? Well, if you wanna change that all you need to do is close the app and switch over to settings, and you wanna go to notification center, and you’ll see a list of all of the apps on your phone that have notifications options.
So I’m gonna scroll down and find the Messenger app and touch on that, and you can see you can adjust your notification options right here. And if you don’t want notifications at all then you can just go through and turn off all of these options. I’m gonna go back to the main settings screen and we’ll flip back over to the Messenger app. Back in the Messenger app I’m gonna compose a message. I can do that by hitting the new message button up here, or I can just tap on one of the people I’ve been having a conversation with and I can type a message to them here.
If I tap on this field right here I can type my message. But now that I’m here typing a message I wanna look at the location permissions, which is the biggest hot button topic here. You have the option to include your location when you send a message. This will include a GPS map location, so your friends can see where you were when you sent this message. Now clearly this might be a problem for some conversations, so it’s really important that you know how to turn this off. On my iPhone the location was off by default, but don’t take my word for that.
I suggest you double check that for yourself. Now looking at this field here when I’m typing a message I can see there’s a little notification here that tells me that I can enable location. What we’re really looking at is this small triangular arrow down here. If that arrow is a hollow grey that means that locations are turned off, if I tap on that button that will enable locations for this conversation. But here we see a very important option and this is part of iOS on the iPhone. It’s asking me for permission to use my current location and that’s just the way iOS works.
You have to give each app individual permission before they can access your location information. That’s why this is off by default on the iPhone. So just to see how it works I’m gonna go ahead and hit OK, which will give my phone permission to use my location for the Facebook Messenger app. And now you can see the location button is a bright blue. Now I can turn this off or on for any conversation. All I need to do is tap on that button to turn it off, tap on it again to turn it on.
And it’s really important that you take a look and you know whether that option is on or off, so you can set it the way you want it. So it’s nice that you can disable location information for each conversation, but what if you wanna disable location permissions completely for the app? What if you never want the app to have the ability to use your location? To do that, again, we’re gonna go to the home screen, we’ll go to settings, we’re gonna go to the section here in settings on privacy, and I’m looking for location services.
And again, you’re gonna see a list of all of the apps that have location services available. And you can see that the switch is turned on for Facebook Messenger. If I turn this off then that will deny permission to Facebook Messenger to use any location data at all. And this is the safest way to go. This will make it so that the Facebook Messenger app is never able to use your location. Now of course if I switch back to the Facebook Messenger app I’ll now see that the location button is dimmed out again and if I try to turn it on it’s gonna tell me that I have to go to settings to re-enable it.
I’ll go ahead and tap OK. So that’s the location settings for the iPhone. There are a couple other privacy issues that we wanna take a look at, but they’re a little bit more minor. As you’re typing a message generally you’re set to text. There is an option here to flip to the camera if you wanna send photos straight from your camera through a message. There’s an option to access photos that are saved in your camera roll as well. And if I tap on that button it’s gonna ask me for permissions to access my camera roll. So this is another one of those permission things.
And if I decide to say OK then I could choose a photo from my camera roll, select it, and send it through the message, and that works fine. But of course, like we saw you have to give it permission. The same is true of the microphone option. This option lets you send voice messages. And if I tap on this record button you can see that it’s going to ask me for permission to use my microphone. So again, this is one of those services that you have to grant permission. In this case I’m gonna say don’t allow.
And it’s gonna give me a little bit of information telling me what I’m not gonna be able to do if I don’t have the microphone enabled. I’ll just hit OK. So I did give it permission to use my photos, but I did not give it permission to use the microphone. I’m gonna go to my settings again and I’m gonna take a step back, so we’re on the main privacy screen. And you can see here in privacy settings there is an option to go through and enable or disable permission to use photos, as well as the microphone.
So those are the other special permissions that you’re gonna have to take into account when deciding on your privacy settings here on the iPhone. Now let’s take a look at those settings on an Android phone. Here in the Google Play Store I’m looking at the Facebook Messenger app and I’m gonna hit install. When I install this app I’m gonna see a warning showing me all of the app permissions that this app requires. And this is one of the biggest sources of controversy and debate about this app online.
This app requires a lot of permissions. As a matter of fact, if I scroll down here there’s an option to see all and there are even more listed here. Now I’m not gonna comment on what each and every one of these app permissions mean. There’s a lot of articles online that talk about this extensively, but what I do wanna do is talk about which of these app permissions you can disable, just like we saw a moment ago on the iPhone. So for now I’m just gonna hit accept and I’m gonna let the app install.
Once you have the app all installed and set up it’ll look like this. Now just like when I set it up on the iPhone I decided to decline the option to link my phone number to the app. But here I can see all of the conversations that I have going on inside of Facebook Messenger. Now keep in mind, the menus and the settings are a little bit different from one Android phone to the next, but they should be similar enough that you should be able to find what you need based on what we see here. I’m using the Nexus 5 phone and we’ll also look at the Amazon Fire Phone in a moment, which runs on a modified version of Android.
So first let’s take a look at the notification settings. Some Android phones give you more or less control over how notifications behave, but fortunately you can enable and disable notifications right inside the Messenger app. To do that I’m gonna go to the settings button and you can see there are two interesting options here. I wanna take a look at notifications and chat heads. When I go into notifications you can see there are several options for how you want your notifications to appear. And of course if you just don’t want any notifications at all you can turn that off up here.
I’m gonna take a step back. Chat heads is interesting. Chat heads will give you previews of the Facebook Messenger conversations you’re having even when you’re not in the app. Let’s take a look at how that looks. I’m gonna go back to my messages and I’m going to reply to a message here. And I’ll just write a quick response to this conversation. I’ll send that. So now this particular conversation is active.
I’ll take a step back, and I’m gonna hit the home button to get to my main screen. Now when I get a response to the message that I just sent we should see notifications and chat heads pop up. So that’s what the notifications and the chat heads look like. And the chat heads are neat, I can tap on them here, and I can write a response to the message without actually opening up the app. I’m gonna tap outside of this and I’m gonna go ahead and open the app, so we can look at the rest of the settings. So of course those are notifications and you can turn those on or off right here.
Now let’s talk about the big one, location permissions. So I’m gonna go back to the conversation I was just having, I’ll tap on that, tap on the field to type a message, and just like on the iPhone there’s a button that indicates whether location is turned on or off. The button is a little bit different on Android, it looks like a circular target button. Now this is the most important thing you have to recognize, the locations option is turned on by default on Android. On iPhone it is not on by default, but on Android it is.
So if you just jump in and start using the app you will be sending your GPS location to anybody you send messages to. So how do we turn that off? Well, it’s very similar to an iPhone. To turn it off for an individual conversation just tap on the button here and it turns grey. Turn it back on just by tapping on it and it turns blue. But that’s only for one conversation at a time. What if you wanna disable location services entirely for the app? I’m gonna take a step back, go to settings in the app, and you can see here that location is enabled.
All I need to do is turn off location here and when I go back to my conversation, when I tap to type in my message you’ll see that location is off. If I try to turn it on it’s gonna tell me that location is turned off for the app entirely and it’ll ask me whether I wanna turn it on. So I’m gonna go ahead and hit not now. I’m gonna leave location settings turned off. Now there is another way to handle location issues on an Android phone. To do that I’m gonna take a step back and I’m gonna go to the home screen, I wanna go into the settings for my phone.
Inside of settings I’m looking for the category of location. Here in location I can see a list of all of the apps that are using location and I’m not able to disable that individually for each app on the Nexus 5, but what I am able to do is turn off the master switch for location. This turns off location settings entirely for any app running on my phone, but it’s important to recognize that there are some apps that you might wanna use locations for, especially the Maps app for example.
And remember that you can still turn off locations directly in the Facebook Messenger app. Now if I go back to the Facebook Messenger app and I go back to my conversation and I tap to type a message you see just like on the iPhone we’ve got buttons to access the camera, as well as my photo roll, and I can access the microphone. But it’s very interesting to see here that you are not asked to give permission for the phone to use your camera roll or your microphone. This is just not an option that you have the ability to adjust on an Android phone.
So again, keep this in mind as you’re deciding whether you wanna use this app. The app is automatically given permission to use your photos and your microphone. Now some Android devices and the Amazon Fire Phone give you a little more control over notifications and location permissions. But there’s one issue here with location settings that I wanna be aware of. So I’m gonna switch over to the Amazon Fire Phone. On the Amazon Fire Phone the Messenger app in general works the same as it does on the Android phone we saw a moment ago.
One interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that it does not seem to force me to install the Messenger app when I access messages inside the Facebook app. Of course that may change in the future, but you can see here I am in the standard Facebook app and I’m able to access messages just fine. But I do have the Messenger app installed, so I’m gonna go ahead and open that up. And like I said, it looks pretty much the same as it does on any other Android device. We can go into the settings and we can make the same settings adjustments right here.
I’ve got my notifications and I’ve got my location settings, but there’s something very important that I wanna talk about with locations. This is something that I found is specific to the Amazon Fire Phone, but it may work the same on other Android devices, so it’s good to have an eye out for it. I’m gonna go into the settings here on the Fire Phone, and I’m gonna go to the section on location services. And there’s an option here to configure location based services for your individual applications.
I’m gonna tap that. And if I scroll down here I can see a list of all of the applications on my phone that use location services. And I can come in here and I can find Messenger and I can turn location services off. The idea here is that now Messenger will not be able to use any location services, but this is what I want to warn you about. In my experience with the Amazon Fire Phone this does not work the way I would have expected it to work. Let me show you what I mean.
Now that I have location services turned off for Messenger I’m gonna go back to the Messenger app and here in the settings for Messenger I can see that location services are still enabled and if I go to my conversations and I tap to continue this conversation, go here to write a message, I can see that location is enabled for this conversation. So the location settings inside of the Messenger app here on the Fire Phone override the location settings on the system settings for the phone.
This is important and you wanna make sure that you double check all of your location settings to make sure you know whether you’re sending your location when you send your messages. It’s worth noting that if I go back to settings and I go to notifications and into manage notifications I can change app notifications individually for each app here as well. So I’ll scroll to Messenger and you can see I can change all sorts of options for the notifications.
But again, I think it’s really important that you double check how the app actually behaves just in case the settings in the app override the system settings that you adjust here. Security and privacy are really important issues to be aware of with any smartphone app, but I think Facebook is a system where you should be particularly aware. It’s also worth noting that location services drain your battery faster, so location might be more than a privacy concern for you. But please get familiar with your phone’s settings and make informed decisions about how you use your apps and how you communicate with people over the internet.