Facebook app requesting superuser permission

The Facebook Android app is asking for superuser permissions, and a bunch of users are freaking out about granting the Facebook app full access to their device, an understandable reaction following the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal.

"Grants full access to your device," read the prompts while asking users for superuser permissions.

Prompts originate from the official Facebook app

These popups originate from the official Facebook Android app (com.facebook.katana)" and are started appearing last night [UTC timezone], continuing throughout the day.

Panicked users took to social media, Reddit, and Android-themed forums to share screengrabs of these suspicious popups and ask for advise or what's going on:

This is not the first time that the Facebook app has requested superuser permissions. Facebook users reported similar superuser request prompts on May 8, albeit that event wasn't as widespread as the one today.

Users reported seeing the first wave of superuser request dialogs with the Facebook Android app 172.0.0.12.93, while today's second wave appears to have been triggered with v172.0.0.66.93, based on user reports.

Bleeping Computer has reached out to a Facebook spokesperson to clarify why users are seeing these popups today, but we have not received a reply before this article's publication.

Most likely a coding error

Several Android security researchers who spoke with Bleeping Computer suspect the popups are appearing because of a coding error.

Avast mobile security researcher Nikolaos Chrysaidos has taken a look at the Facebook app's source code and believes the offending party is an SDK (software development kit) embedded in the Facebook app.

The package that appears to be triggering the superuser popup is the WhiteOps SDK, a software development kit for detecting ad fraud and implementing domain white/black-lists.

"Yes, it could be a coding error. Most possible yes," Chrysaidos told Bleeping Computer in a private conversation today. "The dialog started popping up on users that are in the beta channel."

"Along with other various checks. Facebook is probably integrating WhiteOps SDK, and they forgot to re-implement the ROOT checking functionality," Chrysaidos says.

If there was a time for Facebook developers to screw up their code, this is about the worst time to do so. With all the privacy implications of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, users are now piling up new paranoid accusations with every new angry tweet and forum reply, blaming the social network of new nefarious spying attempts.

UPDATE [May 18, 16:00 ET]: A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the popup dialog was caused by a coding error.

A coding error in one of our anti-fraud systems caused a small number of people running the Facebook app and certain permission management apps on rooted Android phones to see a request for additional access permissions. We do not need or want these permissions, and we have already fixed this issue. We apologize for any confusion.

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