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Facebook app now reads your smartphone's text messages? THE TRUTH

Blame Android, says social network

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Facebook's updated Android app can read text messages on the user's smartphone.

The tweaked software now demands access to SMS and MMS messages, and the change was spotted yesterday by blogger Tony Calileo. "This is just one of a bunch of new permissions the app is requesting for this update, but it's probably the most alarming," Calileo wrote. The update is being gradually rolled out to punters.

El Reg invited the social network to explain itself. A spokesman pointed us towards an explanation Facebook Android engineer Franci Penov posted in a discussion on Reddit. Penov said the app needed to read texts to implement automatic two-factor authentication: when a user logs in, a SMS is sent with an approval code; the app digs the text out of the user's inbox and uses it to complete the log in. He told Redditors:

As for the READ_SMS permission, we require that so we can automatically intercept login approvals SMS messages for people that have turned 2-factor authentication for their accounts, or for phone confirmation messages when you add a phone number to your Facebook account. Unfortunately, the Android permissions system does not allow us to specify that we would like to be able to read only SMS messages from a specific number.

It's also worth noting that we would love to be able to ask only for the permissions we need for the specific features particular users uses. For example if you don't use Facebook events or you don't want to see them in your device calendar we would prefer to not request the WRITE_CALENDAR calendar; or if you don't have login approvals and don't add a phone number, we don't ask for READ_SMS. However, Android does not allow permission requests on demand; we have to request all permissions that cover each feature at install time, and the users can only grant or deny all of them and have no control over individual permissions.

A Facebook Help Centre page that attempts to quell any confusion can be found here. A spokesman for the social network played down the latest privacy brouhaha involving the social network. "We saw a similar cycle last year over iOS read/write permissions," he told El Reg. ®

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