Access allowed – Facebook’s aggressive omnipresence

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A little bit more than a dozen years ago, Facebook was merely an unknown social networking platform established by a headstrong college sophomore called Mark Zuckerberg and four fellow Harvarders with the goal of connecting Harvard University students. As of the second quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.71 billion monthly active users, and its revenue reached an astronomical $6.44 billion, adding up to an astonishing ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) of almost $4, crushing even the most daring Wall Street predictions. It is safe to say that Facebook has turned out to be a success story straight out of a startup fairytale, and in the process has also become an essential part of our lives thanks to an aggressive business model and features often tiptoeing on the thin line that separates the ability to connect people in a variety of ways from privacy violations.

Have you ever wondered how much time you spend on Facebook each and every day? According to a May 2016 report issued by the company itself, the amount of time in question is 50 minutes per day – which includes time spent on Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram, and does not take the amount of time dedicated to messaging on WhatsApp into account.

It’s hard to decipher exactly how many minutes we spend scrolling our timeline, but based on the Average Revenue Per User data mentioned above – which, along with the number of monthly active users, is constantly on the rise -, it is sure to eat up a decent percentage of those 50 Facebook minutes, since the more you scroll, the more ads will be displayed on your timeline, and thus the more money will Facebook make off of you.

Facebook’s aggressive business model, which led to the company purchasing the likes of Instagram and WhatsApp, created not only an ad-based revenue system that is a bottomless goldmine due to the advancement of online marketing and the spread and power of social media, but also resulted in Facebook’s omnipresence.

The company’s most popular app, Facebook Messenger, boasts a shocking 1 billion monthly active users, and with a recent update on Android, Messenger added two more means of communication to its already extensive arsenal: text messaging and phone calls. The latter feature of this particular update caused an uproar among users. Upon launching the freshly updated app, you were greeted by a prompt urging you to add the text messaging feature to Messenger without offering a conspicuous, clear-cut way to decline this option. The prompt had two buttons, “OK” and “Settings”, which was rather deceiving for less savvy users, giving off the impression of not being able to deny the app’s access to your text messages and prevent Messenger from becoming the default SMS application on your phone. In response to the uproar, Facebook issued an official statement, denying its violation of Google Play’s policies, emphasizing that you can decline the text messaging feature by tapping the “Settings” button, making it sound like as if it were so evident that this issue required no further discussion. Would adding a “No, thanks” button have been that hard? We don’t think so.

As for phone calls, the main issue that concerns users is the violation of their privacy. This has been an ongoing topic for years, and the fact that now you can make traditional phone calls via Messenger (it is free over WiFi, otherwise standard data charges apply) has only added another layer to it. Some conspiracy theorists went as far as accusing Facebook of eavesdropping on conversations in order to better target ads, and the company, for the umpteenth time, shot down these rumors. We’ll never know the absolute truth, but once you give the app the permission, it basically has unlimited access to your microphone – which you can always deny, though in light of Facebook’s aggressive omnipresence, you might not even have known that.

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