Facebook and its Messages on your Smartphone

There has been much speculation about changes to the Messenger program on smartphones. As if it’s some great conspiracy to steal your data, report your activities to the government or its secret services, or worse, advertisers! I can report that such worry is nonsense. I’m sure that there is enough stuff around the internet explaining both sides of this argument. I will say this about it: The Android system, used on a large number of smartphones, expects that permissions (to access parts of your phones hardware/features) are given to programs when you first install them, and that, in explaining what this means, generates a message to you that the hardware can be accessed “at any time”. This is because, as with any computer (essentially what a smart phone is), it’s dependent on its programs to do anything. So, for example, your camera app has to be able to access the camera hardware “at any time” because the message that you have pressed the “button” to take the photo comes from the program – the smartphone doesn’t check that you are actually pressing the “take” button – and how could it? There isn’t one! Just an area on the screen where the camera program has drawn a nice graphic of a button. So, you are completely at the mercy of the camera program, that it only takes photos when you ask it to. And that’s how all apps work.

Spooks

That’s not to say that MI5, CIA, Mossad and everyone else doesn’t have access to your data. Do you really think that it makes any difference, if you carry a mobile phone (even an old-style one), connected to a data service, that the bastards can’t get hold of it? It would be seriously stupid if you put on your phone, or on the internet, you emails and so on, anything that you didn’t want the spooks to get hold of! But Messenger is no more and no less sinister. (Can someone give me a better word? I always feel that I’m having a go at left-handed people when I use the word sinister…)

But one of the things about Messenger, and it is a fair point, is that it does far more than you need it to. Do you need it to make phone calls? Do you want to send sound and video clips over Messenger? Or do you just want a simple program to send textual messages back and forth to your Facebook friends? Or do you just want to try out alternatives for the sheer hell of it?

IM+ for all your messages (except Skype!)

Enter IM+, a nice app written for Android (I don’t know if it’s available on iPhone). Not only does it handle Facebook messaging, but also many others. When I started it, I entered my account details for Yahoo and MSN chat, and it found my Facebook and Google accounts on the phone. So when I run IM+ I am connected to all four at once, in one program. There are small ads on it, you can pay 69p a year, or “earn” 40 gold points by installing something else, or you can pay a one-off £2-something to install IM+Pro and banish ads forever. But they’re not too intrusive. The main bad point (reading the reviews) is that it claims to be able to handle Skype (text only), but doesn’t to any useful degree. You have to pay another 69p a year or get the pro-Version for Skype, which then doesn’t work. If it’s your only reason for paying, then don’t bother. Apart from that, it’s great.

Personally, I’d rather keep Skype separate as a video-telephone call system, I don’t see the point of using it as yet another text messaging service. So this doesn’t bother me at all. Thanks to IM+, I’m able to disable Google Hangouts, remove Yahoo Messenger on my phone, and get access to MSN on the phone for the first time. And I get one combined list of online friends!

Nag Screen – Get Messenger!

So, Messenger removed and replaced, problem solved. Or so I thought. The problem is that the official Facebook app still detects when you have received a message, but when you touch the “Message” icon, it presents you with a “Nag screen” to download Messenger, with no option to say that you’ve read it, thanks, but no thanks. It does it every time and you can’t make it go away, unless you remove the Facebook app.

So my next option was to investigate alternatives for the official Facebook app. There is a simple way of doing this in any case. Using the browser on your phone, visit the website “m.facebook.com”. Then you can use it to make a shortcut on your desktop. The only downside to that is that the Mobile Phone browsers tend to save every page you throw at them, and when there are a lot, go to a number of intermediate pages rather than straight to the one you want, when you hit the desktop shortcut.

Facebook wrapped in Tinfoil!

I tried another program, which didn’t work very well, before finding the one that I wanted. It has a crazy title, “Tinfoil for Facebook“. But all it is, is a tiny, simple broswer-type program with none of the confusing features, which just loads up the “m.facebook.com” page. And wouldn’t you believe it, the m.facebook.com internet page (and therefore Tinfoil) still allows you to send and receive messages, it’s only the “app” that has blocked them. So Tinfoil is a nice simple program that quickly and simply connects you to Facebook and allows messaging too.

Notifications

The problem with Tinfoil is that it cannot do notifications. That’s not a bad thing for Facebook itself, one of my Facebook friends was recently complaining how the need to reply instantly to everything that happens on Facebook distracts her during the day when she’s out or at work. And I must admit, the lack of a beep, buzz or a flashing light when someone has written on my page or responded to a point I’ve made is fine by me. As for messages, that is more important. Well IM+ does notify when you receive a message. What it doesn’t do is allow you to send stickers, or read old messages that you sent on other devices. But once you know that someone has messaged you, you can use Tinfoil to continue the conversation and then you do have access to stickers, message history, and multi-user conversations.

So, in a nutshell, if you want instant messaging app that sticks to the basics, but allows you to use multiple accounts and covers loads of different chat services, IM+ is for you. If you want to connect to Facebook on your mobile, and don’t want nag screens telling you to install Messenger, then try “Tinfoil for Facebook”.

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