Users of Facebook on Android devices the world over were in for a surprise today as the social networking app started prompting them to download an update to its app (Build 141046) without having to go through Google’s Play store app.

Users are receiving incessant notifications from Facebook, letting them know that an update was ready. Once clicked, it takes users directly to the Facebook app to download the update, completely bypassing Google’s Play store, the source for app updates.

The new version of Facebook for Android, according to the app update, 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.

New permissions, auto update is on Facebook for Android's agenda

New permissions, auto update is on Facebook for Android's agenda

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.

Most users were mainly shocked at the manner in which the update notification appeared and had no role of Google Play in it. It made some wonder if they were dealing with a malware of some sort. In a reply to a complaint thread on Facebook’s community, Ragavan Srinivasan, who claims to be working at Facebook on the Android app, said that the update was indeed legitimate.

“We're working quickly to improve Facebook for Android and want to make sure everyone is using the best version of our app. You'll experience these updates when you are on Wi-Fi, and they won't rely on your data plan,” he wrote. Subsequently, Facebook’s Help Center was also updated to say exactly the same thing.

Here at tech2 we noticed one Ice Cream Sandwich running phone face this issue. Although on data plan at that moment, the download for the updated version of Facebook began, halting only when the phone’s Wi-Fi mode was switched on. It’s unbelievable how Facebook is not letting users choose between updating the app over Wi-Fi or data plan.

While it is understandable that Facebook would want users to update their versions of the social networking websites as soon as possible, it is highly unorthodox to see an app bypass Google Play this way. If Facebook has found a way, it is probably only a matter of time before malware could also install themselves on to Android phones.

Google’s terms of services currently do not allow apps “that cause users to unknowingly download or install applications from sources outside of Google Play.” Google has not issued any statements about this issue yet.

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