How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

Are you concerned about your privacy? With all the talk about the NSA and sharing of private user data these days, it’s natural to be worried about what happens to your information online. Even your smartphone tracks you in more ways than you probably know.

Facebook is one entity that’s infamous for sharing your information, but if you’re already using it, it’s hard to remove the social network from your life. It’s common knowledge that Facebook is tracking everything you do online, but even if you can’t accept the idea of permanently deleting your account, you can still use alternate apps to access Facebook without being tailed. Tinfoil for Facebook is one such Android app at your disposal.

A Word On Permissions

Chris has written an excellent guide about Android permissions and why you should take the time to understand them. Permissions are the only layer of defense between your phone and an app. If an application has malicious intent, all you have to do is allow it on your phone with invasive permissions to create problems.

01 App Permissions Example   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

This isn’t just theory. The app Brightest Flashlight Free requires a bundle of permissions — none of which are necessary to perform as a flashlight — and it used them to access users’ locations and sell them to advertisers. 50 million people were affected by this tracking, and they willingly agreed to it by installing the app. This isn’t the only problem with Google Play, but because permissions are all-or-nothing, you must be extremely diligent with what apps you install.

Compare Brightest Flashlight’s (which I am intentionally not linking to) permissions with an app like Holo Torch, which only requires access to the camera.

02 Flashlight Permissions Comapred   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

Unfortunately, Google has changed the way Android permissions work in the Play Store recently. Instead of detailing each permission, they are grouped together by type and are less specific. Additionally, the Internet access permission is so commonplace that Google moved it to the lesser-known Other group, making it less visible. Worse yet, an update to an app can add new permissions without your approval if they’re in the same group as already approved permissions.

Read up on what Chris has to say about this change over at the How-To Geek and remember to keep a sharp eye on your permissions.

03 Angry Birds Add Permissions   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

Facebook’s Android App

Now that the impact of permissions has been reviewed, let’s look at the app in question: Facebook. How many permissions does Facebook’s mobile app ask for? It takes four screenshots to show them all:

04 Facebook App Permissions 1   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

04 Facebook App Permissions 2   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

Let’s break this down. Facebook has access to:

  • Your contacts, including modification and adding or changing calendar events. They know who is in your phone and can contact them.
  • Your exact location. They know where you are at any time.
  • Your camera, including taking pictures and videos at any time, as well as recording from the microphone. They can get at anything you’re saying or looking at.
  • Your text messages, your calls, and can call phone numbers. They can see who you’ve contacted recently.
  • Your internal storage, including permission to delete anything. They can see the files on your phone.
  • Full Internet access anytime, changing your wallpaper, opening up over other apps, and downloading files. They can make little tweaks without your knowledge.

Facebook has offered explanations for some of these permissions.

05 Facebook Permission Explanations   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

Note the example given for accessing SMS. Is this tiny convenience that probably saves you no more than a few seconds really worth unrestricted access to your text messages? Once this procedure is completed, that permission doesn’t go away. Their explanation may be truthful, but seriously think about what’s being asked of you.

If any other app required this much access to what’s on your phone, you’d hopefully run the other way. Yet Facebook, who is known to profit from selling user data to serve more relevant ads has access to all the above information on the devices of the more than 500 million users of its Android app. That’s a terrifying thought.

It’s Getting Worse: The New Audio Identification

Facebook wasn’t satisfied with the long list of invasive features in its app and decided to add some more. You’ve probably heard of apps like Shazam or SoundHound that can identify music you’re listening to. Facebook recently updated its app to include this feature — when posting a status, the app can determine what song you’re listening to or what TV show is on in the background, and will tag your status with this information.

06 Facebook Audio Identification Example   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

Once again, Facebook has tried to explain itself, this time claiming that the feature is not always listening and that the feature is opt-in. However, Facebook has a poor track record when it comes to new, opt-in features: the old setting to prevent people from looking up your Timeline by name was removed last year. Thus, all users were forced to accept Graph Search, a previously opt-in feature.

As discussed, even though Facebook says that they’re not always listening, they have the ability to do so. It’s just how Android works: if an app can access your microphone, it can access it at any time.

Tinfoil For Facebook Is The Solution

After all this talk about Facebook, you probably want to delete the app. Don’t worry, though — you can be rid of the official app and still have a great Facebook experience on the go. What’s even better is that Tinfoil for Facebook is easier on battery life and doesn’t constantly run in the background. It’s also much smaller in size than Facebook’s official app. Just look at this permissions list:

07 Tinfoil Permissions   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

So, all this app can access is the Internet and your approximate location if you choose to allow it. The developer specifically mentions that the permission is not used unless you enable the check-in feature in the app, which is optional. The source code for the app is available if you have any doubts. If you try to use the check-in feature while you have it disabled, it won’t work.

08 Tinfoil Check In Error   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

All that Tinfoil does is create a wrapper for the mobile version of Facebook’s website, just like if you visited Facebook in a mobile browser. You can kill it from the menu when you’re done and it doesn’t constantly run and sync.

Let’s see how it compares in usability to the official app. Here’s the News Feed on both the official app and Tinfoil (on the right):

09 News Feed Comparison   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

The official app looks a little prettier, but Tinfoil is just as usable. Both apps have easy access to posting statuses and uploading pictures. Tinfoil can access all of your groups, events, and settings just like the official app. In terms of performance, nothing is different except for some button locations as you can see in the screenshots below where Tinfoil is again on the right.

10 Tinfoil Menu Differences   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

It’s slightly hidden, but you can slide in from the right at any time to open up Tinfoil’s menu. It allows you to jump to the News Feed or your notifications quickly, as well as accessing the app’s few options and closing it.

11 Tinfoil Options   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

You can send messages from Tinfoil, tag friends in comments, and search for people and places. It’s as much functionality as you’d expect from a mobile Facebook experience.

Tinfoil’s Drawbacks

There are few negatives to replacing the native Facebook app. Since Tinfoil is only a wrapper for the mobile version of Facebook’s website, if the site has problems, then Tinfoil won’t work either. This has never been a problem in my time using Tinfoil, however. The app overall may feel a bit less polished than Facebook for Android, but you’ll hardly notice after a week of use.

12 Tinfoil Events And Settings   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

What About Notifications?

The only other noticeable feature that the mobile website lacks is notifications. If you’re someone who needs Facebook notifications in real-time, this may be a dealbreaker for you. Fear not, however, because IFTTT, which you can already use to automate your Facebook goings-on, has a solution.

IFTTT, which we’ve written plenty about, recently released an Android app that makes Android automation even more awesome. Using the new Android Notifications Channel, you can create your own alerts for when you get a Facebook notification.

First you need to get your personalized notification RSS feed, which isn’t as scary as it sounds — there’s even a guide to RSS if you’re interested, though no knowledge is required for this process. Log into Facebook on the Web and head to your notification page, which looks like this:

13 Notifications Page RSS   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

Once you click on the RSS link, you’ll get a bunch of text. Don’t worry about this; instead, copy the URL of the page, which is your personal notification feed. Once you’ve done that, you’ll need an IFTTT Recipe to send them to your phone. I’ve created a script to do this for you; access it here and simply plug your URL in.

14 IFTTT Notification Recipe   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

Now, when you get a notification on Facebook, IFTTT will send it right to your notification bar on your phone.

15 IFTTT Makeshift Notifications   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

Throwing Out The Official App

Even if you elect to start using Tinfoil for your mobile Facebook browsing, it won’t do you much good if the Facebook app still remains on your phone; it’s best to get it off your device. If you installed the Facebook app yourself, try to uninstall it by heading into Settings > Apps (will vary by device), finding Facebook, and clicking “Uninstall,” just as you would with any other app. if you’re lucky, you can uninstall it from here and be done.

16 Normal App Uninstall   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

If the app is built into your phone, as it is on many, you won’t be able to uninstall it in this way. You can try a couple other methods, but realize that all Android devices are different and so these instructions may not match your phone perfectly. Chris has covered removing bloatware if you’re looking for a complete guide on this topic. If your phone is rooted, you can use Titanium Backup to remove Facebook — Erez has detailed this process for you.

If you’re on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or above, you have the option to disable apps you don’t want. This does not free up storage on your device, but it will stop the app from running and remove it from your app list. If you can do this for Facebook, that’s your next best option. Head to the app’s page, where you would normally uninstall it, and click “Disable.”

17 Android App Disable   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

If you can’t disable Facebook, the best you can do is uninstall its updates to roll it back to when it had less permissions. You’ll find this button on the app page, just like the Disable button. After you do that, remove your Facebook account from your phone’s Sync menu by going to Settings > Accounts and Sync > Facebook and click “Remove Account.”

18 Remove Facebook Account   How To Use Facebook On Android Without All The Invasive Permissions

Taking these steps ensures that your Facebook data isn’t being synced over the official app anymore, which is the goal if you want to use Tinfoil. It’s a shame that it can be so difficult to remove completely.

You May Now Browse Privately

For users concerned with privacy, those looking to improve battery life, and those who want Facebook to have less of a grip on their lives, Tinfoil for Facebook is an excellent solution. You may miss a small feature or two from the mobile app, but the short list of permissions will more than compensate for any inconveniences.

If you’re looking to read more about Facebook’s practices, Philip has explained how Facebook might be used to spy on you.

Do you use an alternative Facebook app? Are you concerned about Facebook’s privacy invasions? Will you give Tinfoil a try? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits: girl using smart phone Via Shutterstock

30 Comments - Write a Comment

1 votes
Reply

Caroline W

Nice one Ben! I’m not a big fan of social networks anyway, but my sister, who lives in another country, wanted me to go on Facebook, I reluctantly agreed to – just for her – and installed the fb app onto my tablet not that long ago.

Well, the last couple of weeks my tablets battery has had the life drained out of it and only today I thought about doing a factory restore… and then I read this, your article… and now know that it’s been the facebook app that has done the draining! The timing of installing the app and the draining coincides perfectly.

Let’s just say, Facebook app Gone – Tinfoil for Facebook app Installed!

I actually find the layout on Tinfoil easier to understand than the official app because it say’s what each icon does, ie, Status, Photo… This helps someone who is not used to the site. I’m a bit concerned about the image upload problem, even the dev mentions it, but I haven’t tried it yet so I don’t fully know – not that I am bothered too much about it, but it could be handy to have.

And thank you for mentioning IFTTT to workaround the immediate notification problem…. I’m personally not too concerned, so checking a couple of times a day will be no sweat. But for Facebook addicts it sorts that issue out :)

Regarding permissions, I had NO idea how nosey and intrusive facebook is, it’s taking the biscuit really, so I laughed when only one permission came up on TinFoil!

Anyway, I say Thank You Ben, and very glad I checked in on MUO today when I did!! :-)

0 votes

Ben S

Caroline, thanks so much for your comment! I’m so glad this article helped you immediately; hearing that I helped makes my day.

It is crazy when you take a step back and look at the Facebook app, isn’t it? When I got my first Android phone, I figured “Well of course, it’s Facebook, I want to get that on my phone.”

The effect on battery alone is enough to make the switch worth it. I find that when I’m not being constantly notified of every little thing on Facebook, it makes me happier, too. I couldn’t be happier with Tinfoil; I really don’t want to spend much time on Facebook when I’m on-the-go anyway.

Thanks again for your comment! Hope you get adapted to Facebook quickly.

1 votes
Reply

Lize S

Brilliant recommendation. This is going straight onto my mom’s tablet too.
Thank you!

0 votes

Ben S

You’re welcome! So glad it could help you. I recommended Tinfoil to both of my parents and they’re using it, too. There’s really no differences that matter much.

1 votes
Reply

Bill

How is Tinfoil different from just using the mobile site on your phones browser?

0 votes

Rolo

I was just thinking that same question.

0 votes

Ben S

Excellent question, Bill and Rolo. From the app’s description:

“It creates a sandbox for Facebook’s mobile site in order to protect your privacy and to avoid the ability others to track your browsing history.”

In effect, Tinfoil is its own browser. If you’re logged into Tinfoil and then try to open Facebook in your mobile browser of choice, you won’t be signed in.

This prevents Facebook from tracking what you’re doing online while logged into their site in Chrome or another browser on your phone. When you open a link in Tinfoil, it will open in your default browser instead.

Also, to a lesser degree, it’s nice for people who like apps for doing different tasks, especially for those switching from the official FB app. It’s nice to have something to click on, and it’s a bit simpler than creating a shortcut to a bookmark.

But the sandbox is the main reason.

0 votes
Reply

michael

There is no ‘ get notification via RSS ‘ tab on my notification settings. . . what now?

0 votes

Ben S

Michael,

You don’t want to be on your notification settings page, but rather your “all notifications” page. It’s right here:

https://www.facebook.com/notifications

That’s where you should see the RSS option.

Is this the page you’re on?

0 votes
Reply

Michael McLeod

Will it work on a Tablet in landscape mode?
Michael

0 votes

Ben S

Michael, I don’t own a tablet, so I can’t confirm this. However, I would imagine that it would work just fine, as it’s just a browser running on your tablet. The screen orientation should make no difference.

1 votes
Reply

Michael McLeod

Ben, I’ll give it a shot and if there are any problems post back, I suppose I should also post back if it does work!
Michael

0 votes

Ben S

Yes, let me know either way. I’ll be waiting to hear!

1 votes
Reply

Eduardo G

I’ve ridden myself of the official app for some time already. I have been wondering if using FB from the browser is still able to track me?

Thanks for the article btw. =)

0 votes

Ben S

You’re welcome Eduardo!

They’re able to track you almost anywhere, unfortunately. I suggest doing some more reading at the linked pages to learn about that.

As I mentioned in response to anothers’ comment, using Tinfoil reduces their tracking, because you isolate your Facebook usage to just that app. Since you’re not signed into the official app or even signed into your normal browser, they can’t track you that way. If you notice, web links that you click on in Tinfoil open up in your default browser.

0 votes

Eduardo G

Persistent buggers aren’t they.

I’m very contious of invaded privacy, so I’ve been refraining from revealing anything that is rather private. I’ve no idea how it started but it was when I was 10-ish.

1 votes
Reply

Michael McLeod

Just loaded it on my Chinese 7″ tablet and it works just fine!
Michael

0 votes

Ben S

Fantastic. So glad I could help. Enjoy!

0 votes
Reply

Albert

There was no mention of it being able accept post from other Android apps (eg. sharing something from Google Newsstand), so I went ahead and tried it. Tinfoil seems unable to get the link from Google Newsstand. It just says “Your link could not be found.”

0 votes

Ben S

Albert, I apologize for this. Perhaps you could manually copy and paste the link into Tinfoil, or use a service like Pushbullet to push the link to your browser and share it from there?

I’m sure the developer would take a look at this if you emailed him with your issue.

0 votes
Reply

Michael McLeod

Do you have or know of a similar product to use with win 8.1 and Ubuntu 14.04 both running the new Opera 23 & 24?
Michael

1 votes

Ben S

It’s a bit of a different situation on a desktop/laptop machine, but I would try using a dedicated browser for Facebook and never signing into FB on your main browser. Try using a privacy-focused browser, like Aviator (just like Chrome), which Matt has reviewed:

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/love-chrome-love-privacy-security-even-try-aviator/

That way you can isolate Facebook usage to a single browser, and if you don’t go anywhere else in that browser they have nothing to track.

1 votes
Reply

Denise E

Very useful! Thanks for this – especially for a “switched-off” user like me who isn’t always up to speed, or even aware of how bad things are! I don’t particularly care about adverts since I tune them out, but having FB sell my info off, or use it for other commercial things is just awful!

Great suggestion to limit browsing in FB to a single browser. For some reason, I have Firefox, Chrome, and Safari on my MBP… so I guess I know what I’ll be trying out if I can just stop opening links that my friends post on FB…..

0 votes

Ben S

You’re quite welcome, Denise! It’s good to be educated, even if you don’t use Facebook a whole lot. Staying one step ahead of them is important!

It can be a pain to limit FB to one browser, but it’s a good idea. If you’d like a suggestion, try right-clicking links you want to open from your friends and opening them in a Private or Incognito window. This will let you read stuff they post without being signed in.

0 votes

Denise E

oops! when i said “switched off”, I meant that I’m not really tuned in to updates and stuff – I use facebook pretty much everyday.

Great suggestion re the incognito window – loads easier than using a separate browser.

Cheers.

0 votes
Reply

Traci

Do I have to create a username/pass for the IFTTT site or is it specific to FB?

0 votes

Ben S

Traci, you’ll have to first make an account with IFTTT.

Once you’re signed in to IFTTT online, head to the link I shared and start using that recipe. The only step required is that you’ll need to paste your custom RSS link for notifications into the box. You don’t need to sign into Facebook with IFTTT and the recipe is not specific to one account.

Then, you need to put the IFTTT app on your phone and sign in. Whenever you get a FB notification, you’ll get it sent to your phone. Simple as that!

Let me know when you get it working okay.

1 votes
Reply

Matt

Hi Ben,

Thanks so much for this tutorial. I’ve officially switched over to Tinfoil; however, I cannot get IFTTT to trigger a notifcation on my phone. I signed up for an account, copied and pasted my own personal RSS URL from the RSS link in my Notifications page, and plugged that into the recipe you created, yet I am not able to get any notifications pushed to my phone. Any idea what I might be doing wrong?

0 votes

Matt

Sorry, I should also point out that I have downloaded the Android app and logged in/confirmed my account.

0 votes

Ben S

Hmm, it sounds like you’ve done everything right. If you go to that recipe on either the website or the app, does it tell you how many times it has run? As long as the number isn’t 0, it’s running correctly.

If that number is 0, to troubleshoot it, create a similar recipe that takes your notification RSS feed but instead sends you an email. I’ve created one for you to test here:

https://ifttt.com/recipes/196231-sends-you-an-email-for-new-facebook-notifications-used-to-troubleshoot-android-issues

Try that and if you get an email correctly, it’s a phone issue. In my usage of this recipe, there was a bit of a delay between the event on FB and the notification sent to me.

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