acebook dropped a bomb on Monday. It confirmed that its Facebook and Messenger apps collect details on the calls a user makes and SMS that are sent through a phone. Although, the company says that it does so after seeking explicit confirmation for it from users. Permission or no permission, it is important to understand for users what this means: It means when allowed, Facebook collects details of every call you make and every SMS you send and then sends these details to Facebook servers where they are stored.
It’s scary. It is also madness because Facebook doesn’t really have a good reason to take this data. The company says that it wants this data to improve user experience, but that argument seems very thin. There are tens of other things that Facebook can do to improve user experience instead of collecting call and SMS records. It’s not the kind of data that improves user experience. It is the kind of data that helps Facebook build a more through 36-degree user profile.
The answer to why Facebook records the call and SMS details of its users through the Messenger and Facebook Lite app has two aspects to it: One is what Facebook is officially saying and the other is what is probably happening in real.
In its statement, Facebook says: “Call and text history logging is part of an opt-in feature for people using Messenger or Facebook Lite on Android. This helps you find and stay connected with the people you care about, and provides you with a better experience across Facebook… Contact importers are fairly common among social apps and services as a way to more easily find the people you want to connect with.”
Fair enough. Also sounds innocuous. But this statement is also a clever way of avoiding a more important question: Why Facebook needs to record call and SMS details. Sure, it needs to know who are the people in your contact book so that it can create the friendship links. But then it needs to stop at the contacts. But facebook is not stopping there. It is also logging details of calls you make and SMS you send.
The real reason is probably more complex. Facebook is recording the call and SMS details to get more information on you, which it can then use to build a better profile for you. It probably just doesn’t want to know who are your friends but also who are your best friends. It wants to know who you talk to more frequently or message more frequently to understand your friendship network at a more profound level. Scary? Yes.
And Facebook also wants your call and SMS details because it may help it with the ad network. If it knows that you are talking to your local furniture seller (the phone number of furniture is publicly available) then it may show you more furniture ads. We don’t know if it indeed works like this, but there is no reason to doubt that it doesn’t.
How Facebook records call and SMS details
The technical details are still not clear. Facebook, understandably, wouldn’t reveal them. But in its statement on Monday, it did say a few things. The company said that the feature that records calls and SMS details is only inside the Messenger and Facebook Lite apps. And that it works only after users have given the permission.
Facebook said, “When you sign up for Messenger or Facebook Lite on Android, or log into Messenger on an Android device, you are given the option to continuously upload your contacts as well as your call and text history. For Messenger, you can either turn it on, choose ‘learn more’ or ‘not now’. On Facebook Lite, the options are to turn it on or ‘skip'”.
The problem with this statement is that people who have never used Messenger and Facebook Lite have also reported seeing the call and SMS details in the data that Facebook has allegedly collected from them. This is why we said it is not entirely clear how Facebook is collecting details of calls and SMS users make. For now, it’s the word of users vs the word of Facebook. It is up to you who you are going to believe.
How to turn off Facebook recording call and SMS details
The first thing to avoid giving Facebook your call and SMS details is to deny the Facebook apps access to your contacts when you are installing these apps. The second way is to turn off the permission from Facebook settings. To do this:
On Facebook Messenger: Go to settings > People > Turn off Contact Sync. To delete previously uploaded contacts, go to this page, log into your account and delete contacts.
On Facebook Lite: Go to Settings > Turn off Continuous Contacts Upload. Also turn off Sync Your Call and Text History.