It was reported yesterday that Facebook is bypassing Google Play in order to prompt users to update its app on Android devices to build 141046 and other similar builds. Now it has emerged that Facebook is trying out possibly a new feature with a small pool of users before making it available to the Android community at large.

A source at Facebook revealed to The Verge that only a small subset of Facebook for Android users were receiving the prompt to bump their app up to a newer version. These users were receiving incessant notifications from Facebook, letting them know that an update was ready. Once clicked, it took users directly to the Facebook app to download the update, completely bypassing Google’s Play store, the source for app updates.

Only for a selected few devices

Only for a selected few devices

The new version of Facebook for Android, according to the app update log, lets you change your profile picture using the mobile app. It also allows you to hide stories and report spam as well as provides easier ways to start group chat. The app will also seek your approval to update itself over Wi-Fi without informing you.

If you check the log, the update has a new permission that will allow Facebook for Android to “download files without notification”. Essentially, Facebook will now automatically update itself, although it might still continue to prompt you to install it in a highly irritating fashion.

The source at Facebook said that only a small number of devices, especially those that had the option to “sideload” or install apps from outside Google Play were eligible to receive this update. The source compared this experiment to a beta test that was being tried out with these small number of devices before being rolled out to all Android users.

The source confirmed what Ragavan Srinivasan, a Facebook employee, wrote on a complaint thread on Facebook’s forum. The update will only roll out when you’re on Wi-Fi. Facebook is not going to waste users’ data package while trying out this experimental update. You will also need to expressly grant permission to the update to install, although users don’t really have any other option, given Facebook’s constant notifications.

Here at tech2 we noticed an Ice Cream Sandwich phone trying to update the app over mobile data package unsuccessfully. The app only did update itself only when the Wi-Fi mode of the phone was switched on. The app update, surprisingly, wipes away most of your Facebook settings.

Facebook for Android will require you to log in to the app all over again when you update it from outside Google Play. It also wipes away all your personalised settings, including syncing contacts with your device and the interval of post and chat notifications.

Google is still mum about Facebook trying to bypass it completely to dish out app updates. If Facebook can go around Google, what are the chances that malicious software makers won’t figure out a way?

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