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Facebook docs reveal company hid update about recording Android call logs

Matt Mudd/Flickr (CC-BY)

Documents show Facebook exploited Android permissions to record users’ call and text logs.

Documents seized by the U.K. Parliament show that Facebook tried to hide the fact that it was recording call and text logs from Android users.

“Facebook knew that the changes to its policies on the Android mobile phone system, which enabled the Facebook app to collect a record of calls and texts sent by the user would be controversial. To mitigate any bad PR, Facebook planned to make it as hard of possible for users to know that this was one of the underlying features of the upgrade of their app,” wrote MP Damian Collins, who led the charge to obtain the documents in November.

An email between Michael LeBeau, a product manager at Facebook at the time, Yul Kwon, who is now the Director of Product Management at Facebook, and others discussed the rollout of Facebook’s decision to record call and text logs on Android phones as part of an upgrade.

“Hey guys, as you know all the growth team is planning on shipping a permissions update on Android at the end of this month,” Lebeau wrote. “They are going to include the ‘read call log’ permission, which will trigger the Android permissions dialog on update, requiring users to accept the update. They will then provide an in-app opt in NUX [new user experience] for a feature that lets you continuously upload your SMS and call log history to Facebook,” to add to the user experience, he continued. 

“This is a pretty highrisk thing to do from a PR perspective but it appears that the growth team will charge ahead and do it,” Le Beau acknowledged.

Kwon replied, “The Growth team is now exploring a path where we only request Read Call Log permission, and hold off on requesting any other permissions for now.

Based on their initial testing, it seems this would allow us to upgrade users without subjecting them to an Android permissions dialog at all. It would still be a breaking change, so users would have to click to upgrade, but no permissions dialog screen.”

That meant Facebook’s switch to recording users’ calls and texts would be rolled in with Android’s already loose permissions—without a separate dialogue box asking users’ permission to have their logs recorded.

When news about Facebook’s habit of recording call and text logs broke in March, Facebook insisted that users had opted into it.

Many users said this wasn’t the case, and the dialogue box that Facebook claims asks Android users for permission to access their call and text logs simply asked if the company could continuously download information about contacts—it didn’t specifically say what that information was.

Read the documents here.

Ellen Ioanes

Ellen Ioanes

Ellen Ioanes is the FOIA reporter at the Daily Dot, where she covers U.S. politics. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School, and her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Center for Public Integrity, HuffPost India, and more.