Over the last few years, Facebook has been collecting call history and SMS data from Android devices. A number of users recently discovered the data that was collected after backing up their Facebook history. Those users were most likely concerned about what Facebook has been collecting following the Cambridge Analytica controversy.
Twitter user Mat Johnson said that the Facebook data file contained every single mobile phone call and text message he made for about a year. And Twitter user Letlhogonolo Moseki said all the contacts that were on her phone, the phone calls, messages and duration of the calls were in the data file. Twitter user Tony Turner also confirmed the same experience:
Oh wow my deleted Facebook Zip file contains info on every single phone cellphone call and text I made for about a year- cool totally not creepy.
— Mat Johnson (@mat_johnson) March 23, 2018
Facebook have spying on us all this time. I downloaded my Facebook profile zip file. I can’t believe what I found. All my contacts that were on my phone, the phone calls, messages, even the duration of the calls. #deletefacebook pic.twitter.com/6caINEfOb3
— Letlhogonolo Moseki (@Leetlhonimoseki) March 24, 2018
So i also tried downloading my facebook zip file.
I was shocked that facebook has my contact information, my call logs and my text activities. this is a serious breach of data privacy and security.@Salomelugard pic.twitter.com/pRl7bAHVBP
— Tony Turner (@KendrickKE_) March 24, 2018
If you are also curious, then you can download your Facebook data from Settings > General > “Download a copy of your Facebook data” (desktop version of Facebook). After you unzip the file, you can find out the contact, call and SMS data that Facebook has stored from your mobile device under the contact_info.htm file within the HTML folder.
Facebook has been known for requesting access to contacts, SMS data and call history through the Android version of its app in order to improve the friend recommendation algorithm, according to Ars Technica. And Facebook collected the data via the Messenger application, which requested Android users to set it up as the default SMS service.
Plus Facebook has been encouraging users to continuously upload information about contacts such as phone numbers, nicknames, call history and text history. “This lets friends find each other on Facebook and helps us create a better experience for everyone,” said Facebook in a pop-up message.
Whether they realized it or not, those users granted Facebook permission to log calling and messaging data. This may have happened because if you granted permission to Facebook to read contacts during the installation of the main app on Android before version 4.1 (Jelly Bean), it also gave permission for the app to access calls and message logs. Apple iPhone users did not have the same issue as iOS apps have been prohibited from accessing call and text data.
Google changed the permission structure in API level 16 of the Android 4.1 APIs. But Android app developers were still able to maneuver around that structure if the code was written to earlier versions of the API — which meant that the Facebook API could still get access to call and SMS data by referring to an earlier Android SDK version. Google ended up deprecating version 4.0 of the Android API in October 2017, which is around the time that users noticed their call and text history ended.
Today Facebook responded to the report in a blog post. “We never sell this data, and this feature does not collect the content of your text messages or calls,” said Facebook in its statement. “When this feature is enabled, uploading your contacts also allows us to use information like when a call or text was made or received. This feature does not collect the content of your calls or text messages. Your information is securely stored and we do not sell this information to third parties. You are always in control of the information you share with Facebook.”
If you want to prevent Facebook from syncing your contacts, it can be done in the settings by tapping on your profile picture from Home in the top right corner > People > Synced Contacts. For Facebook Lite users, tap on the three-line icon > App Settings > Continuous Contacts Upload. And then tap on Sync Your Call and Text History to turn the setting on or off.
You can also view or remove your uploaded contacts on the “Manage Imported Contacts for Messenger” page. And you can remove your uploaded contacts from Messenger by selecting “Delete All.” To stop your contacts from being uploaded again, you will have to turn off continuous syncing on any devices where you are using the Messenger app.