Concerns over the privacy of personal data in the hands of technology firms continue to build this week with reports that Facebook collected the call and text histories of some Android device users.
Ars Technica first reported on the behavior Saturday, leading to the latest corporate response from Facebook amid rising criticism of its practices.
In a “fact check” posted to the social media site the following day, Facebook attempted to tamp down tensions with a response emphasizing that only users who opted into the service on either of two smartphone applications had their call and text logs recorded.
“You may have seen some recent reports that Facebook has been logging people’s call and SMS (text) history without their permission,” the statement read. “This is not the case.”
Android users operating either the Facebook Messenger app or Facebook Lite were presented with the option upon registration, the company said.
Facebook went on to explain that the feature can be easily disabled, the data collected can be deleted at any time and the information is never sold. Nevertheless, a subsequent Associated Press report has expanded the backlash to include another tech giant.
Since Apple employs stricter controls over its app developers, iPhone users were reportedly unaffected by the controversial practice.
Google, on the other hand, allowed Facebook to request expanded permissions, leading to the collection of text and call data from Android users who agreed to — or failed to thoroughly read — the terms.
One security expert explained what sets Apple apart from its chief competitor in the arena of data security.
“Apple’s fundamental approach is to collect the minimum amount of information to keep those services running, and keep customers in control of the information,” said Securosis CEO Rich Mogull.
Though Facebook began specifically asking for access to text and call data in 2015, earlier versions of Android’s software simply did not require developers to seek approval provided their apps required access to a user’s contact list.
From the “Jelly Bean” operating system launched in 2012 until its descendant “Marshmallow” three years later, Android users automatically gave up text and call data to developers as a bulk action upon installing such apps.
In 2015, Android 6.0 dealt with this issue by separating the permissions and allowing an app to operate even if a user rejected permission to collect call and text data.
Another hindrance to privacy among Android users, however, is Google’s inability to force out updates to its software.
As the AP report explained, Apple is able to maintain stricter controls because it oversees both the hardware and software components of its devices while Google “is largely at the mercy of both mobile carriers and hardware makers when it comes to distributing new Android versions.”
This meant that even though a new version would have allowed users to bypass certain permissions as early as 2015, many customers could not access that operating system until it became available through unaffiliated service providers.
Using current versions as an example, a survey from January indicated about two-thirds of Apple users were operating the latest operating system compared to just one percent of Android users.
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