Facebook EMEA boss defends Messenger privacy

Mendelsohn says trust is the $200bn company’s “single most important thing”

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The head of Facebook in the Middle East has defended the social media site’s new Facebook Messenger app that compels Android users to give the site access to the phone’s contact list, photos, location and microphone.

The company introduced a standalone app for messaging in July, and made it compulsory in order to be able to send a message on a mobile device.

But the app’s terms of service have attracted criticism that Facebook is attempting to impede on privacy by requiring access to contacts and photos stored on the user’s phone as well as access to the microphone and the ability to make phone calls without prior consent.

Vice-president Europe, the Middle East and Africa Nicola Mendelsohn told Arabian Business said the condemnation unwarranted but was to be expected.

“I think whenever anything new comes out there’s always a group of people that are not sure about it or worried about it or challenged by it,” she told Arabian Business in an exclusive interview published in the magazine on Sunday.

“It comes back to knowing what people want to do and knowing what people are in charge of. That trust between people and Facebook is the single most important thing and we wouldn't do anything that would damage that trust.

“Why would we do that, because we know how much time people spend on it but we also know people are changing how they use Facebook and messenger is an example of that.

“People showed us that actually it’s better as a standalone app than it is within the main app, which is why more and more people are gravitating towards that.”

Immediately following the launch of Messenger app and the initial criticism, the company posted a response on its own Facebook page: “Keep in mind that Android controls the way the permissions are named, and the way they’re named doesn’t necessarily reflect the way the Messenger app and other apps use them.”

The Wall Street Journal also came to the site’s defence, suggesting that access to the phone’s services was required for the app to perform properly. Without access, it could not send photos or record audio messages, for example.

Mendelsohn said the social media site had evolved since its launch in 2004 and complaints over issues such as privacy and advertising had been worked on.

“We've put more and more things in place over the years in terms of making people in control of all of their information; it’s up to them, they’re in control of who they share it with, who sees what [and] how private or public they are,” she said.

“People are also in control of what advertising they see or don’t see and if they don’t like advertising there’s a button that they can cross out and they won’t see that ad again but we don’t see that very often because people are seeing the advertisements that they want to see and that’s relevant and that’s useful for them.

“So I think this has been a new learning for people over the last decade. Everything that we’re talking about is new - the whole platform is only 10 years old, so it has been a continuous journey of education and I think it’s becoming more and more relevant and better and better for people in terms of the experience that they have as a result.”

There are now 71 million Facebook users in the Middle East and North Africa, with the number growing at about 12 percent each quarter.

Mendelsohn said the company was doubling its resources in Dubai in a bid to further boost the number of users as well as encourage more businesses to use the social media tool and advertise.

Listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange, Facebook is valued at $200 billion.

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