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.

  • Roger H.

    I don’t use Facebook, but Android 4.1.2 on my Nexus S has been making changes to the OS on its own. A couple of weeks ago a green “Google Settings” app appeared in my apps list that wasn’t there before.

    • https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=JRummy+Apps+Inc.&hl=en Jared Rummler

      That isn’t the OS changing. Apps can have multiple launcher icons (like Google Maps has navigation). You simply received an update to a Google app which added an extra icon in your launcher.

      • http://twitter.com/WastedJoker Chris Harker

        It was still a silent update without any notification. you can’t villify Facebook without realising google are doing the same.

      • http://www.facebook.com/DionJ Dion Jones

        Difference is that I trust Google.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=700950742 Kerri Rifkin

        That might have been your first mistake. http://youtu.be/R7yfV6RzE30

      • Ben Freund

        The app was always there. It just didn’t have an icon in your app tray before.

      • http://twitter.com/powerje James Power

        No, it wasn’t a silent update. It was part of a Google Play update. Once it updated the new icon appeared – same old app existed though.

    • tsog

      Just about every Android phone got the update IIRC.
      http://www.engadget.com/2013/02/27/google-settings-app-sneaks-onto-android-to-bolster-g-sign-in/

      It’s just a notification-less Google service update. Slightly annoyed by yet another icon, though I hardly go into my app drawer anyway.

  • Jordan K.

    I had this update and thought it was a phishing thing. I went to downloads in the app tray then deleted the download. Facebook works fine. It removed it from my phone and left the app alone.

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Same here… but after I deleted it, I uninstalled Facebook, reinstalled it, and the download prompt popped up again.

  • zdanee

    I belive this is the moment I delete the app. Downloading without me knowin is one thing, but beeping untill I install its update would be the last straw.

    • David

      The “beeps or vibrates incessantly” part is not accurate.

      • http://twitter.com/DerrickD DerrickD

        No, he is correct. After clicking on the notification and changing to another app my phone continued to vibrate every few seconds. I had enough and uninstalled as well. Moved to Fast For Facebook.

      • http://www.flickr.com/stuffbox DuduMaroja

        too bad fast is ugly as hell

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=700950742 Kerri Rifkin

      I deleted and am using Friendcaster on my phone, which allows you to see and interact with FB. It’s ridiculous to have to use second party software, isn’t Zuckerberg supposed to be smart?

  • Gav456

    I’ll just have to be sure to get the latest version’s .apk for a backup before this update from somewhere… No doubt it’ll be on xda by now….

  • GregYohn

    I did not update my FB app once I heard FB wanted to make money with mobile users. No notice affecting me!

    • zx3junglist

      Sure, much rather they make no revenue and eventually shut down when they can’t turn a profit?

      • strider_mt2k

        If they can’t do it without pissing folks off then call it evolution in action.

  • bloosr

    I got that. Cancelled the download right away. I won’t tolerate that.

    • Lynwir

      Hoow do you cancel it? It wont let me

  • Joe

    Good thing I don’t use Facebook.

  • Tod Liebeck

    This DOES NOT effectively let Facebook *automatically* update itself without going through the Google Play Store. Such behavior is simply not allowed on Android. That “download without notification” permission allows Facebook to use the DownloadManager service to retrieve files. The permission, “android.permission.DOWNLOAD_WITHOUT_NOTIFICATION” is provided by the DownloadProvider package, and has nothing to do with APK installation. Docs are here: http://developer.android.com/reference/android/app/DownloadManager.html

    Any app that has obtained full internet access could do the same thing on its own, the Facebook devs simply are requesting this permission so they can have the download manager do it for them.

    To install the downloaded APK, the Facebook app can only make a request of the OS that the new APK be installed. Doing so will result in a screen like the one on the left being shown EVERY TIME, requiring the user to confirm the installation. I don’t believe any permission is required to request an app install.

    It’s also worth noting that even requesting an APK to be installed will fail unless the user has changed the default settings to allow sideloading of applications. This is typically under “Security” in the system settings, i.e.: “Unknwown Sources: Allow installation of an apps from unknown sources”.

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      You’re right… to a degree. It’ll download the update and bug the hell out of you until you install it, but it doesn’t do it automatically.

      It’s still an end-run around the Play Store though.

      But I’ll delete the word automatically or make that sentence a bit more clear.

      • John Morris

        Not so sure. Don’t a lot of AT&T locked phones still remove the option for sideloading altogether? If so, Facebook would have to take that reality into account and ensure that their app a) didn’t try it on any device where it would fail (and thus annoy the user) and b) that no update that eventually went around Play included a must have feature, since a large population would be locked out.

        I’m leaning more to the desire to make use of download manager for some other, as yet unclear, purpose rather than building in an emergency end run around Google policy.

      • Jeff D

        AT&T has allowed side loading since May 2011.

        http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/05/att-sideload-android-amazon/

  • http://profiles.google.com/shrimants Shrimant Saxena

    Are you serious? This is the conclusion you jumped to? “Download” instantly means “install” And I suppose google reader (RIP) can install things everywhere too, if you have it set to sync. And text messages can install things. email. Where do you people hire your journalists?

    • Nerdfun

      Have you ever met a “tech journalist” who understood technology? They’re nothing but creative writing majors who happen to own iPhones.

  • Tim

    Like I need this shit using up my limited data plan. Removed.

    • John Morris

      Guess you missed the part in the screenshot above that says “Get app updates automatically over Wifi”. There is a time to panic over a corporate abuse and a time to stop and think a bit. This is more a case of invoking the 48hr rule and see what happens.

      • Adrian

        John, mine pushed down over 4G while I was driving. Their statement about only using wifi was a lie. Shocking. I don’t allow automatic or silent updates on my phone at all and really only want updates to come through the app store. Everything about this push was shady. The comment in their own help forum said it was done to keep everyone up to date, yet there is no update in Google Play. The other “silently download updates” is ridiculous. I’ll stick to m.facebook.com now, thanks. Some of us did stop and think about it. We still don’t like it.

      • John Morris

        Well then that sucks bigtime. Don’t do FB myself. Curious how FB plans to avoid being declared malware if they are that far outside the bounds of civilized behaviour.

  • nastynate

    If you use fb app your phone junk

  • FurtiveDeimos

    For those saying the new permission might have nothing to do with auto updating itself, please tell me why this update isn’t happening through the Google play store?

    I too thought it was a rouge apps phishing scam at first. Then when I dismissed it and it kept popping up every few minutes I said “thanks for including a convenient uninstall button”

  • strider_mt2k

    REMOVED

  • Kieron Quinn

    And this is why I use Friendcaster. Holo themed too

  • senktenk

    I dont know about you, but I am starting to get really annoyed with facebook!

    AnonElite.tk

  • http://www.flickr.com/stuffbox DuduMaroja

    As long you cant opt-out i’m do not have a problem with that.. data is not cheap in brazil. i have a huge problem with gpslocation everytime you open the app

  • scott332

    My facebook app kept trying to download without asking me and over the cellular network. I force-stoped it, checked that my Google Play setting was on “wi-fi only”, rebooted, and it again started to download over cellular.

    I deleted the app.

  • ricardo

    Facebook is poor !

  • Jay Francis

    Am I the only one who thinks that facebook wants auto-updates so nobody thinks to read or look for the privacy changes that Facebook always try to slip past users?

  • Cesar

    Come on! At least they should “warn” users about this. I thought my phone got some kind of virus. It’s simply a shame that they want “silent” updates when everybody must be alerted when installing something on our devices….

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.hopkins.33449 Brian Hopkins

    They are doing it this way for a simple reason. I don’t know how many people I have come across who have not downloaded updates for ANY program for so long. Literally they have 15 updates waiting to be downloaded. I am sure giving you to update this way and forcing everyone to have the same version makes everyone have a smoother experience and less compatibility issues

    • John Morris

      Of course the reason we don’t update is because the current installed version of any random app works, while the odds of any random update breaking something is high. So once you get a working version you learn not to update unless one of the bugs in your version begin to bite. Then start to update that one app every couple of days until you eventually get another one you don’t hit any of the bugs with.

  • marc

    i have this nasty incling it’s a move towards a facebook phone… next step will be downloading apps through the facebook app.

  • Patrick Popek

    I would rather wait untill an update is released via the play store. This undermines all credibility/trust I previously had. If I could squelch the notification I would but they don’t give you that option. Time to move on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/WaynoGT250R Wayne Document

    No thanks mate that’s fucked! .

  • LAOKC

    I have an android and have not seen the update yet…FB is still really messing up via the Google App Store version. ;(

  • http://successwithsocialmediaonline.com/facebook/ Jacob

    this app is still beta it means it still a subject for change and a decision they will make if this app will be accepted b the facebook user. You guys has this apps too? Did you try it?

  • esther

    i didn’t update last time n wont be this time either, i read that by updating the app i agreed to……. change passwords, change n view my contact in my phone, take pics, videos n voice recordings without me knowing, using my data usage without knowing (causing charges), can make calls from my device without my knowledge (at a possible charge). I don’t think so. i was reading some of the comments on the google play facebook update n 1 person said that the app was trying to get so much info that there spyware refused to let facebook open, now what is that saying. im going to be deleting the app n just go through my browser. i uderstand that they r trying to do resurch but this is invading into our personal lives, stuff on my phone is for me not fb :(

  • AngSanley

    Got root? Use permissions denied and you’re done.