Date
17 November 2019
Apple is implementing changes to its mobile operating system to restrict a feature that messaging apps use to make voice calls over the internet. Photo: AFP
Apple is implementing changes to its mobile operating system to restrict a feature that messaging apps use to make voice calls over the internet. Photo: AFP

Why Apple is curbing Facebook messaging apps

Last month, it was reported that Apple had allowed contractors to listen to the responses of its virtual assistant Siri to users’ questions and commands for the purpose of improving the service.

As to be expected, the report raised privacy concerns because it implied that the technology giant was also allowing the contractors to listen to the users’ conversations with Siri without their consent. Apple immediately stopped the practice after it was reported in the media.

But it seems it cannot get off the hook so easily as some parties have filed a class-action suit in a federal court against Apple for alleged invasion of privacy.

This, of course, is not good news for Apple, which has built its brand on a conscious effort of trying to protect the privacy of its users.

Another report about Apple and privacy came up earlier this week.

The company is said to be implementing changes to its mobile operating system to restrict a feature that messaging apps use to make voice calls over the internet.

According to The Information, the calling feature found in apps like Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp continues to run in the background even when it is not in use. This is to allow the apps to connect calls faster. However, it also allows the apps to collect data on the user’s iPhone.

So Apple decided to restrict the apps from gaining background access; the apps must be used only for making internet calls. The move will save the battery power of the iPhone and improve its performance. It will also protect the user’s privacy.

Under the new arrangement, the apps need to use a  new “VoIP push notifications” feature to enable users to make and receive calls.

This means that the apps will have to be rewritten to comply with Apple’s new rules. The change is expected to take effect when Apple’s iOS 13 operating system is released in September. App developers, however, are asking for a longer period – until April 2020 – to comply.

Facebook, of course, is not known for having given much respect to the privacy of its users, especially in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data of some 87 million Facebook users had been harvested by the political consultancy group without their consent.

The social networking giant insists that it is using the app feature “to deliver a world-class, private messaging experience, not for the purpose of collecting data”. Just the same, Facebook says, it is now discussing with Apple how best to address the issue.

Facebook users are no longer surprised when ads appear on their Newsfeed that give them the idea that the ads were there because some people have been snooping on what they have mentioned in a conversation with a Facebook friend or what websites they have visited.

Such a suspicion is not without basis. Companies are advertising on Facebook because Facebook can direct their ads to people who are most likely to buy their products and services based on the users’ personal data that is fed into Facebook’s algorithms.

So while Apple’s move is commendable for trying to protect the privacy of its customers, it may not do much to restrict Facebook and similar companies from making use of personal data for business.

Also, industry observers suspect that Apple’s move will also be advantageous to its own iMessage app, which competes with Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp.

For iPhone and other iOS devices, iMessage is a default messaging app. But given the rise of third-party messaging apps, it doesn’t enjoy very wide patronage. Apple’s new rules may give iMessage an edge as it is already built into the iOS.

– Contact us at [email protected]

CG

EJ Insight writer