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Bypass Facebook Messenger: Read messages without a forced app

As early as 2014, Facebook threw the news function out of its app for smartphones and tablets and urged users to install the Facebook Messenger. Since 2016, it has no longer been possible to write or receive direct messages to friends or groups on the mobile website m.facebook.com. The result: A notification icon still appears when the user receives a new message, but in order to be able to read the message, they are asked to download the Facebook Messenger app.

From our point of view, there are several reasons for not using the Messenger: On the one hand, the app requires a lot of permissions (see below). On the other hand, conversations are not encrypted by default and could therefore be read by Facebook employees (see below).

Internet pages as an alternative to Facebook Messenger

In December 2020, a popular alternative was also switched off for the time being: Whoever opened the page with a browser app mbasic.facebook.com/messages called, could still send and receive messages there. Facebook actually offers this page for those who use a cell phone with internet access and not a modern smartphone. Therefore the page is quite reduced, but it was enough to read the news on the go.

A Facebook spokeswoman justified the shutdown at the request of the NRW consumer advice center as follows: "The new regulation of the legal framework for messaging services in the EU may currently lead to changes in the functions of Messenger, Instagram and Facebook. We are working on the affected functions to make them available again where possible. " It remains to be seen whether the news function for European Facebook members will return to mbasic.facebook.com.

If you use a smartphone with a larger display or a tablet, you can also go to the Facebook page Desktop view switch. In this version, the messenger is integrated into the page. The only disadvantage: reading on small screens in the desktop version can quickly become fiddly and the individual buttons and links can hardly be hit with your fingers.

Tip: To get to the desktop version of a website, first open your browser app and go to the menu settings. Here you will usually find a selection such as "Desktop website", "Desktop version" or something similar.

Facebook Messenger wants to have a lot of permissions

Of course, you could just use another messenger service. Here is an overview.

The forced installation of the Facebook Messenger is a nuisance to many users because advertising can be displayed in the app, conversations from others can be read and because the app requires numerous access authorizations. The Google Play Store listed the following permission requests for the Messenger version 295.0.0.8.476:

  • calendar
    • Read calendar appointments and details
  • camera
    • Take pictures and videos
  • contacts
    • Read contacts
    • Find accounts on the device
    • Change contacts
  • Location
    • Access the approximate location (network-based) only when running in the foreground
    • Access exact location only when running in the foreground
  • microphone
  • phone
    • Call phone numbers directly
    • Get phone status and identity
  • SMS
    • Read SMS or MMS
    • Receive SMS
    • Send and retrieve SMS
    • Receive MMS
  • Storage
    • Change or delete the contents of your shared storage
    • Read the contents of your shared storage
  • miscellaneous
    • Download files without notification
    • Deactivate hibernation
    • Establish a WLAN connection
    • Get internet data
    • Google Play billing service
    • Establish and disconnect WiFi connections
    • Access all networks
    • Read sync settings
    • Run foreground service
    • Access bluetooth settings
    • App can appear on top of other apps
    • Control near field communication
    • Run at startup
    • Make calls through the system
    • Read number of new notifications
    • Get network connections
    • Use fingerprint hardware
    • Install shortcuts
    • Read Google service configuration
    • Control the vibration alert
    • Activate or deactivate synchronization
    • Use biometric hardware
    • Change network connectivity
    • Play Install Referrer API
    • Change audio settings
    • Perform pairing with Bluetooth devices

With Android from version 6.0 and all iOS versions, authorizations can be granted or restricted in the system settings. This is not possible with older Android versions.

Facebook employees can read messages

Regardless of whether you use the messenger as an app or the messaging system on the Facebook page: The content can basically be read by both machines and Facebook employees. Because users can also report private messages about their content. These are then checked by a member of the "Community Operations Team" to see whether they violate Facebook's terms of use and, if necessary, deleted. This is how an employee of Facebook's German PR agency explains it at the request of the consumer advice center in North Rhine-Westphalia.

In addition, there is an automatic content check. For example, if a photo is sent, it receives a so-called hash value on the Facebook servers - a combination of letters and numbers that is unique to each file, like a fingerprint. If the artificial intelligence blocks or deletes the image (for whatever reason), this action is saved. If the same photo is uploaded again somewhere else on Facebook or sent in any other private message via Facebook, the automatic locks or deletes the new file as well.

Facebook offers encryption for its messenger. This means that only chat participants can actually read the content. However, it must be activated by all call participants. The messenger frame then changes its color from blue to black. However, encryption can only be used by those who use Messenger as an app. Anyone who reads and sends messages via mbasic.facebook.com or the desktop version of the Facebook page cannot activate encryption. We cannot judge how secure the encrypted conversation via Facebook Messenger really is. In any case, Facebook also offers the reporting function for encrypted communication.