Facebook Home privacy issues clarified

What will Facebook Home be doing in terms of monitoring and privacy?
Darren Allan

April 6, 2013

You most likely saw that earlier this week, on Thursday, Facebook launched what is essentially a new Android app called Home – alongside the HTC First, a Facebook branded-phone which will feature the app pre-installed and with deeper integration.

The idea is that Home is installed on an Android device, and replaces the user’s home screen, allowing them to better keep on top of matters social – status updates and chatting will be very easily facilitated (with floating “chat heads” that allow you to run a chat even while doing other things, like playing a game).

It’s certainly an important move for Facebook, as it tries to leverage itself further into the mobile arena – an area which has traditionally been a weak spot for the company, and one it has been seeking to monetise more efficiently since the explosion in popularity of smartphones.

Some folks, however, have been wondering what sort of privacy complications the deeper integration of Facebook on your mobile phone may cause – which is why the social network has taken the time to post about such matters.

Essentially, the message from Zuckerberg and co is that Facebook Home does not change any of your privacy settings, and the privacy controls work exactly in Home as they do on the Facebook website (a cynic might comment at this point: i.e. they’ll keep changing things).

Home won’t use your phone’s location service(s) any differently to the standard Android Facebook app.

Naturally, Home collects data on Facebook users, but again no differently to the website does (which, of course, tracks your every move online).

So there’s nothing different here in terms of privacy and data? Well, not quite – in actual fact Home does extend Facebook’s data-hoovering activities.

Facebook states that: “Home also may collect other information about how you use it. For example, Facebook maintains a list of the apps that you have in the Home app launcher. We store this information in identifiable form for 90 days and use it to provide the service and improve how it works.”

As well as monitoring your app usage, those Android devices which come with Home preinstalled – such as the HTC First – can display system notifications via Home (that’s the deeper integration element). And Facebook will collect data on these notifications – such as which app has generated them – but Facebook stresses it won’t eavesdrop on the actual content of the notification.

Again, this data is stored for 90 days. So there is an extra chunk of app usage data which is going to be brought into the Facebook monitoring armoury here – so be warned if you plan to use Facebook Home.

But then again, this isn’t exactly a major push for extra data – not yet, anyway – compared to what you already give up by signing up and using Facebook, on web or mobile, anyway.

That situation could change, of course, if when Home has a big install base, Facebook starts tinkering with things, as is often its want.


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