What Everyone Should Know About Facebook Messenger: Myth vs Reality

It would seem that we have once again found ourselves in a position of being mad at Facebook. I’m not surprised at the issue seems to come up every other year or so. The popular social networking site will make a change, we’ll all get super mad and hate it, there will be threats of shutting down our accounts in protest, and then we get over it, carrying on as normal.

I’d like to take the time to welcome Facebook Messenger to the madness.

This first thing that I’d like to point out is that Messenger is not something new the Facebook just threw us out of left field, in face it hasFacebook001 existed since 2011. In its infancy, it was up to users whether or not they’d like to use the app for messaging or stick to the mail Facebook interface. Personally, I jumped on the messenger bandwagon sooner rather than later because it allowed me to check messages without getting distracted by other’s updates or anything from Buzzfeed.

The only big change that has come up in the past few weeks is that the use of messenger is no longer optional. In order to create a faster and more streamlined experience for users, Facebook has separated the messaging interface entirely for mobile users.

So why the move? In reaction to the backlash, Facebook responded with:

We’re committed to providing a fast, reliable and fun messaging app that anyone in the world can use to reach the people who matter to them. That’s why we’re focusing just on Messenger and moving messages out of the Facebook app. People usually respond about 20% faster when they have Messenger, and we think they’ll find both apps useful in different ways.

The two apps work flawlessly with one another. If you are using regular Facebook and click on a message, you’ll quickly be bounced over to the chat window for that message. Essentially- it’s along the lines of a Kik Messenger with the difference being you can use it to make phone calls over a data connection.

But Josh, Big Brother Is Watching!

If the rumors are to be believed- Facebook has teamed up with the NSA and is working to spy on our every move. They would argue that I’m being so positive about the App because I’m afraid they’ll come for me in the night.

Not the case at all- besides I have an army of attack cats that will protect me from NSA ninjas.

Facebook002For some reason, when looking at the permissions required of the app, people flipped out. In the last week, I received a large number of e-mails from both friends and the general public, flipping out over the app permissions.

My reaction- they’re no different from any other app you are installing on your phone. Kik, Snapchat, Tumblr- they all ask for access to your camera, photos, contacts, location, etc. What Facebook Messenger is asking for is nothing new.

To quickly break it down for you:

Camera Access: Many people really enjoy sharing moments from their lives with others. Be it a group photo with Mickey Mouse at Disney World or a quick selfie in front of Cinderella’s Castle. Facebook messenger recognizes that and wants to help. In order to send those photos to your friends, the app needs permission to access your camera to take that photo.  They are not going to remotely turn on your camera to watch you dancing around your living room whilst lip-syncing into a water bottle to the latest One Direction song.  (Note: these are all things I have personally done in the last 24 hours)

Microphone Access: another feature of the app is the ability to call your fellow users. If you’d like the person you’re calling to hear you, the app needs permission to access the microphone.

Like many other apps you are using, they are not turning on your camera or microphone when the app isn’t in use. It won’t message your friends unless you want it to and the same for phone calls.

While many of the initial reports on the messenger have been corrected to give readers the appropriate information about the app, it’s important to remember that when it comes to news on the internet,  you should try to go to the source to get the full story rather than falling into the conspiracy theorists’ traps.

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

What Parents Should Know About Kik Messenger

This week continues my regular series “What Parents Should Know.” This week’s question comes from a parent in New Jersey. Have something you’re wondering about? Send me a message and I’ll do my best to find an answer: info@joshgunderson.com

I’ve been asked about Kik Messenger before during programs (mostly by parents) over the last couple years. It’s one of those apps I’ve never paid much attention to because I have no use for it. With Kik being this week’s topic, I went about my normal methods of learning about the app.

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Unlike last week’s post about Omegle, I’m less inclined to issue a straight up warning against the app. Instead, I think parents just need to understand the ins and outs of the app and come to their own conclusion about whether or not their kids should be using it.

So what is it? Kik Messenger is an instant messaging application for mobile devices. The app utilizes a phone’s data plan or available wi-fi to allow the user to send messages without having to use their phone company’s messaging plan. It can be used on smartphone platforms as well as app-enabled devices like tablets and iTouch. The app allows users to send text messages as well as pictures and videos.

I decided to take the hands-on approach to this week’s app and downloaded it to my phone. The first thing that struck me as odd were the number of reviews for the app. To give you an idea of what I mean- I compared Kik Messenger’s number of reviews to that of equivalent messaging services. Others averaged around 200,000 reviews, Kik had just under a million.

The reason for this made itself very clear right away. Users were posting their Kik names in the reviews and asking people to get in touch with them (see the pictures below…these are the tame examples. Click to enlarge the image).

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Kik is another sad story about social apps gone wrong. Meant to be used as an inexpensive way to chat with friends has turned into a breeding ground for sexting and other problems. That’s not to say that everyone using it has ill intentions, it just means that parents should be very aware of what their kids are using the app for.

Privacy
In terms of privacy on Kik, it’s up to the user to determine how safe they want to be. Like old-school AOL Instant Messenger, in order to contact a Kik member, you need to have their screen name. If your kids are using the messenger, establish a rule that, much like their phone number, they should keep their screen name private and limit who is allowed to have it (friends, family, etc). The messenger does access your current contacts to tell you who has the app as well (a blessing, a curse, and the reason I removed the app when I was done with it.)

Personal Information
The most personal thing the app asked for was my name and e-mail address and, as far as I can tell, there is no way to search for a user with this information. With that in mind, it’s important to note that the only way anyone would obtain this information is if another user gave it to them.

Is Kik Messenger safe? Yes- it’s a safe as long as users are smart. In terms of whether or not your child should be using the messenger, that’s entirely up to you as the parent. Setting guidelines for the appropriate use of technology is important and making sure you are upholding the rules that you have set.

Do you have a questions about an app or social networking site? Please feel free to e-mail your questions to info@joshgunderson.com and I will do my best to find you the answer!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.