Welcome to the Weekly Cornerplay, a weekly guest column where each week we analyse a tech product or service.
Facebook is in the press lately because the company is forcing users to communicate with friends through a separate Messenger app instead of the main Facebook app. The former is #1 on the app store but people are rebelling by slamming it with one-star reviews. Privacy is also a common rallying cry, the accusation being that the app is too aggressive with permissions.
Nobody likes to be forced to do anything, hence it’s not surprising to see people react negatively. Many are still wary about online privacy, as it is an increasingly illusory concept.
We think those knee-jerk reactions are overblown. Facebook Messenger is a decent product and it’s no more aggressive in its privacy policies as other messaging apps.
What we like about it Chat heads: The heads for Android are awesome. They are avatar icons that “float” over the OS, so when you get a message, you can simply tap the avatar to enter the conversation. This doesn’t work well when everyone’s messaging you, but if it’s just your significant other and/or close friends, it’s the fastest way to communicate.
Multiplatform: You can use it on the web and on nearly every modern phone. The only messaging platform that can match it is Google Hangouts, and even then, messaging on facebook.com seems more natural than gmail.com.
Fully featured: You can do everything you’d want to do from any messaging app with Facebook’s. Voice, video, photos, animated stickers, etc. Unlike Skype, you can easily message your phone’s address book contacts.
In combination with the chat heads, Facebook Messenger gives even Bolt a run for its money in terms of how quickly and easily you can “photo chat” someone.
Smaller memory footprint: You might think one app is more efficient than two, but it’s actually the opposite in Facebook’s case. The combined app takes more resources to run than two separate apps.
Both apps integrate well: When you have both, it doesn’t feel like two separate apps. They deep-link to each other so if you want to message someone from the main Facebook app, the Messenger app automatically opens to the right place so you can immediately type your message. It works like one app.
The only thing we don’t like is that it feels slow compared to WhatsApp, at least on the OnePlus One. It performs better on the iPhone 5S, but speed is still not a strength.
Isn’t the brouhaha simply a matter of expectations? If Facebook introduced messaging as its own app from the very beginning, few of us would have cared. Just like LINE and all the various LINE sub-branded apps, e.g. LINE Camera.
So Facebook Messenger is a decent product, but the privacy stuff is a deal breaker, right? There are lots of alarmist articles out there that paint the app as a horrific privacy nightmare, like this one from the Huffington Post:
Facebook Messenger’s attempt to collect so much information and take control of our devices is unprecedented and, quite frankly, frightening. The fact that over a 1,000,000,000 people have accepted these terms is an alarming insight into the future of mobile apps and personal security.
But if you compare the permissions the Facebook Messenger app asks for, they are almost exactly the same as Google Hangouts, which a lot of you Android users already have, and the ever popular LINE chat app. See below for a comparison — we bet you can’t even guess whose is whose.*
The product is pretty good and we think the privacy fears are way exaggerated. I don’t know why so many people have this irrational fear that large tech companies are out to “get you” — nothing of the sort, starting from the top.
I’ve spoken to Mark Zuckerberg a couple times while at Stanford, and my thin-slice impression of him is that he’s basically trustworthy. He’ll push the boundaries of what we may be comfortable with in terms of privacy, sure, but it is in pursuit of greater things, not to make an extra dollar. In case you haven’t heard, the dude’s kinda rich.
* From left to right, it’s Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts and LINE
The author, Jeffrey Yuwono, blogs at the The Cornerplay, a weekly column about the tech and startup scene.
The views expressed here are of the author, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them
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