Security Social Media

Facebook Messenger Privacy: Everything You Need to Know

Christian Cawley 30-03-2017

The Facebook app on your phone informs you of an unread message. You tap it… and now you must install an app to read it. Yes, Facebook Messenger’s aggressive roll-out irritated a lot of people, and its access requirements have raised a few eyebrows.


Does it really need all those permissions?

Whereas before you could just tap a contact within the app and message them, now it demands your phone number, displays adverts, and basically provides an irritating additional step in what was a simple task.

Facebook Messenger Privacy: Everything You Need to Know muo social fb msg settings
Image Credit: Jakraphong Photography via Shutterstock

Just how private is Facebook Messenger? Are the app’s permissions invasive? Let’s find out.

Why Do We Need a Separate App?

Once it was just a handy mobile mirror of the desktop browser. You could interact with your friends and followers, as well as send and receive messages from the comfort of a single app. It was easy. So why did Facebook release Facebook Messenger for mobile devices?


Back in 2014, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg told an online Q&A audience why his social network decided to split messaging away from the main mobile app:

The primary purpose of the Facebook app is News Feed. Messaging was this behavior people were doing more and more. 10 billion messages are sent per day, but in order to get to it you had to wait for the app to load and go to a separate tab.

So that’s Facebook’s take on it. But you might have your own ideas.

One thing is for sure: making Facebook Messenger a separate app means that you can uninstall the Facebook app and retain access to Messenger (a popular way of saving battery life on Android devices How Facebook Is Ruining Your Android (and What You Can Do) If you care about battery life, performance, or privacy, you're going to want to uninstall the official Facebook app and use one of these alternatives. Read More ).

Facebook Messenger and Privacy

Just what is the Facebook Messenger app up to? Why does it need so many permissions for use?


If you installed the Facebook app on your phone or tablet, you will have agreed during the installation to several permissions that the app needs. Things like accessing the camera, microphone, and your address book.

The permissions for Facebook Messenger read like this:

Here’s a summary:

  • It will record in-app purchases.
  • A log of the device’s system is made.
  • Browser bookmarks are recorded, as is your web history.
  • Facebook gains a list of all running apps.
  • Facebook records your identity.
  • They also get a list of all accounts on the device.
  • Your contact card can be read and modified.
  • Accounts can be added or removed.
  • Facebook gains access to your contacts and calendars.
  • Facebook can modify contacts, collect calendar events, and see other confidential information.
  • The app can even send emails to your contact list without your knowledge.

Scary stuff, isn’t it? But wait.


All this information is displayed when you install the Facebook Messenger app. The chances are that you just clicked through it in your haste What Are Android Permissions and Why Should You Care? Do you ever install Android apps without a second thought? Here's all you need to know on Android app permissions, how they've changed, and how it affects you. Read More to use the thing.

However, a read through those permissions will reveal little that’s new. These are the same “breaches of privacy” that anyone already using the main Facebook app has already agreed to. Here at MakeUseOf, we’re big supporters of managing social network privacy How to Secure Your Social Network Privacy for the New Year People are starting to wake up to the threat an unsecure social media account poses to their online privacy and security. It's time you secured your accounts. Read More , but it is important to apply some consistency. Why wouldn’t two apps from the same company require the same user permissions?

Do You Want Ads With That? No!

In early 2017, Facebook began testing ads in its Messenger app. These are card-style inclusions that appear below recent conversations or contacts. Labelled “Sponsored,” these cards — which scroll left and right — take up about a third of the screen. While ads won’t appear in conversation windows, this feature does allow users to communicate with the advertising brand.

Whether you want to or not is up to you!


But is this another distraction? Another layer of interference between you and the simple act of sending a message? It certainly feels that way. Of course, if you had almost 2 billion users, you might be tempted to subvert your messaging app in a similar way.

The problem with serving ads is that for them to be profitable, they need to be targeted at you. Facebook Messenger’s permissions, outlined above, make this possible. But there is also a more sinister side.

In 2016 we looked at the possibility that social networking and search tools were using smartphone microphones to serve tailored adverts Does Your Phone Listen to You for Ads? (Or Is It Just Coincidence?) Your phone has a built-in microphone, but is it listening to you? Is your smartphone sharing your secrets with Google or Facebook? Read More . Google and Facebook have both claimed this is not the case, but the documentary evidence (from Reddit and the 150+ responses to the article) suggest otherwise.

At the time of this writing, ads in Messenger have not been rolled out to all users. But it seems likely that they will be soon. Do you want adverts in Facebook Messenger? Or has the time come to move onto another messaging service?

Refuse Facebook Messenger

If you don’t want to install Facebook Messenger, our advice would be to refuse it. Just keep in mind that it isn’t alone in demanding access to your phone’s data and hardware.

Already have it installed, but concerned about the app privileges? Well, you can uninstall it.

Note that if you do this, you will continue to receive message notifications and nag screens within the Facebook app and the mobile browser version. In short, you won’t know if you have received a genuine message or its contents. But if it was urgent, wouldn’t your contact get in touch some other way?

facebook messenger uninstall

In any case, several alternatives to Facebook Messenger are available Don't Want to Use Facebook Messenger? 10 Slick Alternatives to Try Facebook Messenger isn't perfect. Why keep using it? Here are the best alternatives to Facebook Messenger. Read More . Most of these will let you import your Facebook contacts. And then there’s WhatsApp, the encrypted instant messenger for smartphones. Owned by Facebook, this is a smart alternative to Facebook Messenger: it requires fewer installation permissions and enables you to manage the privacy of your messages. Kik is another popular alternative What Is the Kik App and Why Do Teens Love It? What is Kik, why are teens using this messaging service, and why does it have a bad reputation? Here's what you need to know. Read More that teenagers love. And if you decide you just can’t do without the app, you’ll probably want to know about these hidden Facebook Messenger tips and tricks.

Related topics: Facebook, Instant Messaging, Online Privacy.

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  1. Gayle
    March 26, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Creepy FB Messenger experience: In the last two weeks I have corresponded, using Messenger, with two friends explaining the death of a friend due to liver cancer. A couple of days later I received an advertisement for liver cancer treatment. Never wrote those words anywhere but within FB Messenger. So...while my life is boring and I could give a hoot about targeting ads to my web browsing, pulling content from my messages is a whole different matter. Good bye Messenger. Will deleting FB be next?

  2. Maggi
    January 31, 2018 at 11:13 am

    The very reason I don't use my phone for anything but a phone anymore. I got sick of all the apps wanting my contacts, photo's etc and etc when they had no reason to, except to pound my friends with advertising.

  3. Kathleen Donnafield
    January 6, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    FB is very sneaky and yes, they do pull you have a message and they do require that you tap messenger to read. This is how I initially got stuck with Messenger (which I've never liked). FB has overreached and FB's invasion over FB users privacy is too much. I've deleted on my Android and am trying to figure out how to delete it on my laptop, and I shall.

  4. RoarieG
    November 29, 2017 at 5:06 am

    Deleted Messenger and just warned all my FB Friends who are quite concerned - putting this nicely - about this blatant violation of Privacy with NO choice to say NO to Permissions. Going, going, GONE!

  5. Sam Harvey
    November 22, 2017 at 3:30 am

    Hate how messenger has to be a separate app from Facebook. The thing I hate most is the lack of privacy!!! I have deleted it. Going to check out Friendly.

  6. Clifford Padilla
    November 21, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    This definitely concerns me. I don't want my information to be all over the web like that.

  7. Mad mom
    September 20, 2017 at 5:17 pm


  8. Zach
    September 16, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    Best alternative for iPhone is called Friendly. Takes the place of the FB app and Messanger.

  9. Zach
    September 16, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    Best alternative for iPhone is called Friendly.

  10. Naomi
    August 8, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    I am just so worried about being in a live or group chat without knowing it and my pictures r for me to advertise n not apps we download

  11. Marek
    June 27, 2017 at 8:16 am

    I hate informing people when I was on line, when I was last active. This is the worst privacy breach from my point of view. Is there any way to prevent it?

    • Mad mom
      September 20, 2017 at 5:18 pm

      Totally agree

    • Krisztine
      November 27, 2017 at 5:41 pm

      This is why I don't and will never have Messenger on my phone. You ever have a stalker, or a friend you don't want to know you are on? Yeah...I have both. So...I will never, ever let Messenger on my cell. Nope.
      This Messenger is now the worst privacy breach out there. Let me turn off visibility to anyone/everyone I want, maybe we can talk.

  12. Jen
    June 10, 2017 at 9:14 am

    Today the app kept closing even when I wasn't using it there was annoying pop ups interrupting me. So I uninstaled it and re downloaded it.
    Then I received a call from a friend overseas. I could not answer it until I accepted that messenger could record my calls!
    If that's not a breach of privacy then what is?
    Mark Zuckerburg has enough private info on us already.
    I'll be looking for another less intrusive app thanks.

  13. Vin
    June 2, 2017 at 4:14 am

    That article about Pidgin is really old. Please update. Pidgin is now called Xabber an no longer workers the same way.

    I dislike reading thru such an article only to find it's prehistoric and still stomping like it's just been born.

    • Christian Cawley
      June 8, 2017 at 11:08 am

      Hi Vin
      We're currently in the process of overhauling out of date content, and the article you refer to will be attended to in due course.