Facebook pushes Android update to enable silent updates (bypassing the Play Store)

Facebook appears to be doing an end run around the Google by pushing an update to the social network’s open app to Android users today… and the update isn’t coming from the Google Play Store. The Facebook app on your phone downloads the update automatically and then beeps or vibrates incessantly until you install it (or uninstall the app altogether).

facebook update

So what does the new version of Facebook for Android do?

According to Facebook it lets you change your profile picture using the mobile app, allows you to hide stories and report spam, and start group messages more quickly.

But there’s one other thing the new app does: It allows itself to download future updates without alerting you.

If you look at the permissions required by the app, there’s a new one that says “download files without notification.”

This effectively lets the Facebook app for Android automatically download updates toyour device without going through the Google Play Store (although you’ll likely continue to be prompted to install them… and bugged until you do).

It’s not clear exactly why Facebook is taking this step. But once you’re prompted to download the new version of the mobile app the only alternatives appear to be to put up with annoying notifications or remove the Facebook app from your Android device.

Update: As The Verge notes, Facebook has updated its help pages confirming that yes, this is a real update, and suggesting that the goal is to “make sure everyone is using the best version of our app.”

No, I don’t know why Facebook felt that Google’s Play Store which prompts users for notifications whenever an update is available wasn’t good enough.

Update: If you haven’t been prompted to download the update, that’s apparently because Facebook is only rolling out the silent downloads to about 1 percent of its user base as a way to test out new features before bringing them to everyone.

TechCrunch has more details on the apparently involuntary beta program.