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Are you concerned about your privacy? With all the talk about the NSA Can You Escape Internet Surveillance Programs Like PRISM? Can You Escape Internet Surveillance Programs Like PRISM? Ever since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on PRISM, the NSA's no longer secret surveillance program, we know one thing with certainty: nothing that happens online can be considered private. Can you really escape the... Read More 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 Android Is Watching: 8 Ways A Typical Smartphone Is Monitoring You Android Is Watching: 8 Ways A Typical Smartphone Is Monitoring You Google says all this data is encrypted in transit, but Google holds the keys and could decrypt it whenever they wanted (or were made to). Read More 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 How To Stop Facebook From Tracking Everything You Do [Facebook Weekly Tips] How To Stop Facebook From Tracking Everything You Do [Facebook Weekly Tips] Facebook has basically made a business out of knowing as much as they can possibly find out about everyone. So, tracking your behaviour online and offline makes perfect sense to them. However, it might not... Read More , but even if you can’t accept the idea of permanently deleting your account How To Properly Close Your Facebook Account How To Properly Close Your Facebook Account Read More , 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 How App Permissions Work & Why You Should Care [Android] How App Permissions Work & Why You Should Care [Android] Android forces apps to declare the permissions they require when they install them. You can protect your privacy, security, and cell phone bill by paying attention to permissions when installing apps – although many users... Read More 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.

App Permissions Example

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 Why You Shouldn't Trust App Ratings on Google Play Why You Shouldn't Trust App Ratings on Google Play You need a new camera app; you open Google Play and find 50. Naturally, you install the highest-rated one. Guess what? You just got tricked. Read More , 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.


Flashlight App Permission Comparisons

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.

Angry Birds Example - Apps Can Add 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:

Facebook App Permissions Part 1

Facebook App Permissions Part 2

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.

Facebook Permission Explanations

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 Facebook Makes Money Out Of Your Data – Why Shouldn’t You? Facebook Makes Money Out Of Your Data – Why Shouldn’t You? There are so many free services online because companies can profit from the data you provide. Companies like Facebook sell (or buy) your data to third parties, while ones like Google use your data to... Read More from selling user data to serve more relevant ads Facebook Launches New Targeted Advertising, Will Use Data From Users' Browsing Habits [Updates] Facebook Launches New Targeted Advertising, Will Use Data From Users' Browsing Habits [Updates] Facebook users may soon see a new advertising trend arriving in their sidebars. The social networking site has introduced a new system of "partner categories" which advertisers can choose from to target more specific markets.... Read More 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 Shazam vs. SoundHound: Looking For The Perfect Song Identifier Shazam vs. SoundHound: Looking For The Perfect Song Identifier Read More 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.

Facebook Audio ID

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:

Tinfoil 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.

Tinfoil Check In Error

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):

Tinfoil News Feed Comparison

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.

Tinfoil Menu Differences

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.

Tinfoil's Options

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.

Events and Settings in Tinfoil

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 IFTTT Automation For Your Facebook Page [Weekly Facebook Tips] IFTTT Automation For Your Facebook Page [Weekly Facebook Tips] Facebook Page administrators realise that it takes time and effort to create a vibrant, useful page for fans to enjoy. While some administrators are paid for their efforts, many more are merely volunteering their time... Read More , has a solution.

IFTTT, which we’ve written plenty about, recently released an Android app that makes Android automation Tasker and IFTTT: The Perfect Automation Duo For Android Tasker and IFTTT: The Perfect Automation Duo For Android Tasker automates anything you can think of on your Android device and IFTTT automates Web services. Used together, there's nothing you can't do. Read More  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:

Facebook Notifications Page

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.

IFTTT Facebook Recipe

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

IFTTT Tinfoil Notifications

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.

Android App Uninstall

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 What You Need to Know About Removing Android Bloatware What You Need to Know About Removing Android Bloatware Lots of phones come with annoying pre-installed software, but you can remove it. Here's how. Read More 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 How To Freeze Or Uninstall Apps That Came With Your Phone [Android] How To Freeze Or Uninstall Apps That Came With Your Phone [Android] One of the biggest problems Android has is that vendors are obsessed with the concept of somehow “adding value” to their devices. Instead of just shipping Android as it was meant to be used, Samsung,... Read More .

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.”

Android App Disable

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.”

Remove Facebook Account Android

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 Three Reasons To Believe Facebook Might Be Used to Spy On You Three Reasons To Believe Facebook Might Be Used to Spy On You Facebook could be used against you. Privacy is something that should concern everyone, yet social networking blurs the line between right and wrong. Read More .

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

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