Uninformed rantings and false media hype (Facebook)

posted a blog a while back about Facebook and how it was now managing some of it's business regarding it's apps. At the time there was a furor going on about a study that engineers at Facebook had conducted whereby they tweaked the algorithm for some users News Feeds so that they saw more negative posts and then watched how users reacted to this.

At the time I said I wasn't going to post anything about it as the outcry in the media (and resulting uninformed general public) was bordering on ridiculous. But now it's happening again, so I'm going to briefly address the issue of the study and the new outcry that seems to be filling by Twitter feed and Facebook News Feed.

Now most people with some common sense and/or even basic knowledge of marketing and advertising will tell you that what Facebook did with it's study was nothing new. It's something that has gone on since the dawn of the age of marketing/advertising - that is a company, or industry, 'manipulating' peoples' emotions to get them to do something. This happens every single day, to pretty much every single person on earth, has done for years, and will do until the end of time. 

When you watch tv and the adverts come on, the colours you see, the music you hear, the words and tone used are all there for one thing - to manipulate you in to buying what ever product is being sold. Just becasue you may not realise it, it doesn't mean it's not happening. Adverts aren't just random things companies use to try and tell you about their product - adverts are a manipulative selling tool.

A perfect example of this is Samsung. Ask most people in the tech industry and they'll likely tell you that Samsung Galaxy phones aren't all that good. A lot of the design work is copied from elsewhere, the hardware isn't all that great, and Samsung fill the Android operating system with so much useless Samsung-own crap that it barely even resembles Android anymore. Yet Galaxy phones are one of the biggest selling handsets in the world. Why? The sheer billions that Samsung spends on advertising each year. That really is as simple as it is.

Samsung Galaxy - despite selling loads, they're not really all that great.

Samsung Galaxy - despite selling loads, they're not really all that great.

Now when you walk down your local high street or through your local shopping mall, every poster you see in a window, every sign, even the layout of the stores (see Ikea as a prime example), are all just doing one thing - you've guessed it - manipulating your thoughts and feelings in to buying their products.

Something else to remember is that Facebook engineers didn't add fake or untrue stories in to anyone's news feed to make them feel sad. The stuff people saw was still stuff that their friends were posting. It's a sad state of affairs that in this day and age internet posts can have that kind of affect on people, but more worryingly for me is that these people react negatively and do nothing about it. If you are seeing negative posts on your Facebook News Feed and you don't like it, unfollow people or hide things you don't want to see.

Also, working in this world I have first-hand experience of what goes on, but you have to realise that every website tracks everything you do and is optimised to get you to do/feel certain things - whether that be buy something, look at pictures, watch a video etc etc. Even OKCupid, one of the internet's biggest dating sites, recently admitted doing a similar thing, and on a much larger scale than Facebook and with numerous different experiments. One of their co-founders was even open enough to say that it's not only them, but everyone is doing it to their users to some degree. And in my opinion you have to be fairly naive and/or stupid to not realise this and most of the above anyway.

Now on to the new media outrage..........

Facebook has recently implemented a change to it's main app (as mentioned in my last blog post) so that the messaging function is now handled by a stand-alone app. Over the last couple of weeks Facebook has rolled this out to all users, so that if you want to continue messaging via Facebook app on your smartphone, you must now download the dedicated app. While I'm not a fan of process/business model or user experience, the ridiculous complaints that have come from some of this is bewildering.

Over the last couple of days I've seen posts with people saying how by agreeing to the new Messaging app you're allowing Facebook to potentially 'takeover' or 'control' your phone and how thy can now spy on you. I've seen them be called 'creepy' and have even seen petitions along with people who don't actually know the facts up in arms about how Facebook is now supposedly watching and listening to everything they do.

Well, let's clarify a couple of things - by downloading the app and agreeing to the Facebook terms & conditions, you're not allowing them to watch/listen to you all the time and they can't/won't control or take over your phone. Furthermore, most of the things that people are raging about isn't even the Facebook T&C's anyway - it's the iOS and Android app permissions and the wording they use.

The wording in Android is by far the vaguest and paints the worst case scenario (the language is default no matter which app is actually asking). But you should realise that the Messenger app is only accessing basic functions - that same as other similar apps such as WhatsAppInstagramSnapChatVine etc etc.

Android permissions for Facebook

Android permissions for Facebook

Android permissions for WhatsApp

Android permissions for WhatsApp

Android permissions for WhatsApp

Android permissions for WhatsApp

Android permissions for WhatsApp

Android permissions for WhatsApp

When the OS app permissions says something like 'This app wants to access your contacts and could message or call people without you knowing' - well, yes, it needs to access your contacts to get their info and add them and their information within the app. Technically any app that has access to your contacts could call/message them without you knowing - there are back-end functions and triggers that allow for this, but that isn't what's happening here.

Another one is the microphone. The permissions says something along the lines of 'This app wants to access your microphone and may be able to listen and record sound'. People then think (having read it in the media) that Facebook will now be constantly be listening and recording to everything you say and do, but that simply isn't happening. The app has to ask for access to the mic (as all apps do if they want to access it or other functions of the phone) so that it can record sound when it records sound clips, videos or when a user places a voice call via the app. The OS obviously has to point out what COULD happen if the app was malicious in some way, but that's not what Facebook (or any of these similar companies/apps) is doing.

You can find Facebook's own explanation of each permission request here (Android)!

Despite what people may think, privacy and security is pretty paramount to the like of Facebook etc. If it wasn't and it was doing genuinely unorthodox and unethical stuff, people wouldn't use the website or apps, and that would mean the business would fail. Despite the endless media headlines, there is not some worldwide conspiracy for all government agencies and companies to spy on all users.

People need to realise the convenience they get from such apps, and instead of believing the nonsense, click-bait, headlines they see in the media or their ill-informed friends' posts on social media, take a step back and look at it properly. Yes, apps and websites collect your data and use it (to ultimately sell you stuff, and rightly so for free apps/sites), but, despite what you may read, these companies are not evil and are not trying to spy on you. They access things to offer you, the user, functionality so that you have an app full of great features that you want to keep using and that helps to enhance and enrich your life if you use them correctly.

Android screenshots from BGR.com