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Why Facebook Home bothers me: It destroys any notion of privacy

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23-remake-of-path-menu One of the great things about attending Facebook’s events is that one gets to see Mark Zuckerberg mature as a chief executive and hone his presentation skills. And today, he didn’t disappoint in his ability to spin the media corps. It was all claps for “four colors on HTC First” and ideas “inspired” by the likes of Amazon Kindle (ads) and Path. But what he did most brilliantly was obfuscate the difference between an app (Home), the user experience layer and the operating system.

Zuckerberg did that for two reasons: First, to buy his company time to build a proper OS that will come to us in dribs and drabs and then will wash over us suddenly, like a riptide. And secondly, to convince people that “Home” is just like any other app. Unfortunately, Facebook’s Home is not as benign as that.

In fact, Facebook Home should put privacy advocates on alert, for this application erodes any idea of privacy. If you install this, then it is very likely that Facebook is going to be able to track your every move, and every little action. It is a future I wrote about a few days ago, and let me explain using that very same context.


The new Home app/UX/quasi-OS is deeply integrated into the Android environment. It takes an effort to shut it down,  because Home’s whole premise is to be always on and be the dashboard to your social world. It wants to be the start button for apps that are on your Android device, which in turn will give Facebook a deep insight on what is popular. And of course, it can build an app that mimics the functionality of that popular, fast-growing mobile app. I have seen it done before, both on other platforms and on Facebook.

But there is a bigger worry. The phone’s GPS can send constant information back to the Facebook servers, telling it your whereabouts at any time.

So if your phone doesn’t move from a single location between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. for say a week or so, Facebook can quickly deduce the location of your home. Facebook will be able to pinpoint on a map where your home is, whether you share your personal address with the site or not. It can start to build a bigger and better profile of you on its servers. It can start to correlate all of your relationships, all of the places you shop, all of the restaurants you dine in and other such data. The data from accelerometer inside your phone could tell it if you are walking, running or driving. As Zuckerberg said — unlike the iPhone and iOS, Android allows Facebook to do whatever it wants on the platform, and that means accessing the hardware as well.

This future is going to happen – and it is too late to debate. However, the problem is that Facebook is going to use all this data — not to improve our lives — but to target better marketing and advertising messages at us. Zuckerberg made no bones about the fact that Facebook will be pushing ads on Home.

And most importantly it is Facebook, a company that is known to have played loose-and-easy with consumer privacy and data since its very inception, asking for forgiveness whenever we caught them with its hand in the cookie jar. I don’t think we can be that forgiving or reactive with Facebook on mobile.

It is time to ask for simple, granular and easy to understand privacy and data collection policies from Facebook, especially for mobile. We need to ask our legislative representatives to understand that Facebook wants to go from our desktops and browsers right into our home — the place where we need to be private.

158 Responses to “Why Facebook Home bothers me: It destroys any notion of privacy”

  1. Honza Dvorsky

    Don’t see how Facebook Home is any worse in privacy than Facebook in general. Seems like a anti-Facebook campaign here. Honestly, Om, you didn’t say much about Facebook Home – the product. This whole thing was about privacy, which is a widely discussed topic around Facebook. But the product itself seems great to me, best Android experience so far.

    And also, Google is so much worse than Facebook. Why don’t you complain about that in a review of every Google product they release. Wouldn’t make sense? Exactly. That’s why I don’t see how it makes sense when done to Facebook.

    Seems like there are companies whose actions are always tolerated (Google, Samsung) and the other ones, whose problems get multiplied in press (Facebook, Apple). I’d like to see some objectivity in that regard.

    • orthorim

      I don’t see the privacy issue as any worse either.

      Obviously, the goal of Home is to make us use Facebook more, and for more things. Like hey, we can all use Facebook messenger instead of SMS or Whatsapp. More Facebook means more data sent to facebook, along with less privacy. But not disproportionally so – if you’re a facebook addict and constantly on your FB app you’ll have the same effect.

      All in all I don’t see how the FB homescreen would benefit me in any way. I can see how it benefits Facebook though.

  2. Semi-Anonymous

    Interesting discussion, but I find it ironic that when I loaded this page, Ghostery popped at least 15 different tracking cookies on it

  3. orthorim

    Nah. The biggest problem with Home is Facebook. I don’t want Facebook to “own” my social network.
    There’s many people in my phone address book that I don’t have on facebook and I will keep it that way.

    So – I very much like Facebook to be in its own little box. I don’t see why I should use facebook email and facebook messenger – I would much rather use alternative services for that that are not owned by facebook. I use SMS, iMessage, Line, Kik messenger, and Whatsapp. And email. Facebook integration doesn’t add to messaging, it removes from it as it’s limited to your facebook social graph.

    Why should we box ourselves in like that? Makes no sense to me. Facebook is more valuable as an independent app that I can shut off any time I like.

      • orthorim

        I am aware of that. I am also aware I don’t need to purchase that HTC phone, or any other FB phones.

        I am just pointing out why I will actively avoid Home. I see tight FB integration as a negative rather than a positive.

        That said Google must be foaming at the mouth…

  4. Yournarcissism Isboring

    Do we really need Facebook anymore? There are so many other better, more trutworthy and less pathetic social options. Treat your Stockholm syndrome, vote with your eyeballs and delete your account. It was the best decision I’ve made, it plugged an incorrigible data leak and it greatly strengthened the relationships I actually cherished.

  5. smeade

    I really don’t understand what’s different about Facebook Home vs. other services like Google Glass, Google Now, Siri, etc. that suddenly bothers you about Home? Maybe I’m not reading this close enough?

    Secondly, calling for legislation around private business transactions is a terrible idea. Let the free market do its job. You’re not forced to use Facebook, you know?

  6. Most Facebook apps on Android are already granted permission to access GPS, contacts and many other capabilities to support check-in and location sensitive searches. I don’t see how this really changes much.

  7. Mcbeese

    “And most importantly it is Facebook, a company that is known to have played loose-and-easy with consumer privacy and data since its very inception, asking for forgiveness whenever we caught them with its hand in the cookie jar.”

    For me, this is the key. I know that Google others are collecting the same data, and I’m not thrilled about it, but I like and trust facebook a lot less than other companies.

    Here’s why: Google, for example, collects my data so they can send me ads. They entice me to use free apps so they can collect even more data and send me better and better ads. I get it. It’s an easy recipe and that’s how they make money. What Google does NOT do – which facebook DOES do – is try to trick me or confuse me into making my information public. They don’t quietly change defaults from private to public, or private to share, something which facebook has done on more than one occasion. I feel like I have to watch facebook all the time.

    So no, facebook, I won’t be trying your new Facebook Home launcher. It isn’t because of the privacy principle, it’s because I don’t trust or like YOU. It’s personal. If somebody else launched Home, I would probably try it.

  8. Wow, destroys any not of privacy privacy, eh? Simple solution to that: DON’T USE FACEBOOK.

    Also, I get this is a tech blog, but seriously, two words: Patriot Act. If you are this concerned with Facebook and your privacy and are an American citizen, where’s the outrage and concern over roving wiretaps authorized by the Patriot Act? Is Facebook’s “invasion” of your privacy farther reaching than the Federal government?

  9. FlavorOfTheWeek

    I agree with the general concensus here that the general public does not care or is interested in piracy hyperbole. Too many movies and fantasy in my opinion. Ok so Facebook used it’s computing power to deduce where I live. Whoopy Doo! Who am I? I’m nobody. The general public is what drives companies to do what they do not the puny 1% power users/prosumers/tech savvy population. And of course like one commenter said, if this bothers you don’t use it simple as that.

  10. David Schatsky

    What would happen to your business if you quit Facebook?
    What would happen to your personal life?

    If the reward of using it exceeds the escalating risks and irritations, keep using it, and keep carping.

    But if you could get on without it about as well, then why not simplify your life?

    Clean out your closet while you’re at it.

  11. Om, I completely agree. You could argue that Privacy is the core of Facebook’s business model. The platform works because we give our information and view Ads in exchange of the value we get from having access to other’s information and interacting with them.

    This is a completely acceptable business model and Facebook has been very successful at creating innovations that have convinced us to share more and more. The problem starts when the users are no longer aware of what they are giving in return.

    It seems to me that Facebook is increasingly growing by creating features that obscure privacy settings rather than allow a transparent exchange of our information for real value.

    I personally think that is not convenient even for Facebook to follow this path; in the short-term it might seem appealing, but in the long-term it will complicate every new move they try to make, as the public and opinion leaders become wary of these tactics.

  12. @wesyee

    The assumption that better targeted marketing and advertising doesn’t approve our lives says more about the marketers that use this data than the source of the data itself.

  13. You: Pooping

    FBH: I see by your gps coordinates that you have been in your bathroom quite some time now.

    You: WTF?

    FBH: If constipation is a problem, please see this sponsored link. We’re here to help!

  14. global1981

    2 years too late. Who wants to ads on their home screen? Who wants friend’s boring or smug posts as ur screensaver? I think Facebook over estimates how important their service is to people

    • Mcbeese

      I would take ads on the home screen in exchange for a free tablet. I do not want ads on the home screen of a tablet that I pay for, simply so I can have facebook on my home screen.

    • Um…that knee-jerk answer does not really work because of how, even if you post nothing, your information can be derived from correlating the words, pictures, videos, and location data that OTHERS post on the Internet about you or in connection with you. For example, Facebook lets your friend/family tag you in a photo even if you don’t have a Facebook account. Your control over your own privacy is not at parity with the ability of companies to discover your personal information, so it is foolish if you act as if your own withholding information from the Internet is enough.

      Read Keith’s post in this thread to understand this better.

      Privacy protection is going to take more than just a few individuals not using Facebook or not posting to the web. It takes education so that a significant number of people are aware of what happens when they share on the web. Only when enough educated people hold back will companies like Facebook and Google think about changing. That serious need for education makes articles like this very worthwhile.

  15. realjjj

    Apple has Siri and more,Google is Google ,this is not a FB specific problem.
    FB Home ,as it is now, seems like a bad idea because anything non FB is further away . No widgets,no folders , at least the time is still there. A walled garden is bad enough, an empty walled garden is silly.

  16. Way too much discussion about privacy, when Home replacement (and Facebook in general) is targeted to people who don’t understand that issue, or don’t want to understand – less versed computer users, teenagers and similar. Of course I won’t be using it, but again, my Facebook profile is almost empty. On the other hand, I can imagine people enjoying it from the day one, especially those already addicted to FB.

    I find this move by FB to be very well thought out.

  17. dudusmaximus

    I fully concur with you. Based on the pricing of the phone it would appear that they are targeting teens & the young with little disposable income

  18. Umm I was with you up until the last sentence. What does Congress have to do with diddly. Dont like FB – dont use it. Vote with your dollars and lets not introduced monopolized force where it isnt needed.

    • Because when you friends take a photo with you in it and name you even if you are NOT a facebook user, Facebook will use facial recognition and seat piecing together YOUR life too. It will start seeing if you have common friends, perhaps people you work with, sports teams, etc etc.

      YOU dont have to share the information, its what others share about your life too through comments and photos. Then there will be all the other “snooping” these search engines foo trawling through phonebooks, and other “public records” to help them tie down more accurate information about who you are.

      And its not just public records either, local businesses may find it attractive to share your information about what you buy, all without your knowledge and consent.

      • Slava Timbaliuc

        Facebook does not collect any information about you if you are not a user. Where did you get that information? Because without proof, you’re just making it up. Facebook does not piece together information about non-facebook users. Facebook does not go through public records to get more information about you. Facebook does not share any of it’s user information directly with businesses.

        • Wake up, Slava. Facebook’s appetite for personal data is insatiable.

          Buy Signal: Facebook Widens Data Targeting–Wall Street Journal

          “Gunning to win more advertising dollars, Facebook Inc. is using new ways to cull personal information from outside the social network and match it with data submitted by its billion-plus users.

          The efforts are winning over advertisers such as General Motors Co. and Neiman Marcus Group Inc. but are further raising privacy concerns as Facebook harnesses a mosaic of information about its users.”

          One of the reasons Facebook Beacon ran into legal problems was that purchase information with FB Beacon partners of NON-MEMBERS was being exchanged with Facebook. Facebook Beacon may be gone, but Facebook’s ambitions to accomplish the same objective in other ways have never disappeared.

          Facebook believes in the total openness of society. It’s Wikileaks on a personal level. By the time the general public realizes it, it will be too late.

  19. Marin Perez

    The thing is, Android itself does this for Google and sometimes it works out for users like with Google Now. I think there does need to be a broader conversation with people about realizing what you’re giving up, why and what the benefits are. Facebook and Google should actually lead this because there’s going to be a point where people freak out down the road

  20. Over the course of many years it seems that journalists (and I’m also assuming criminals) are the only ones who get outraged over privacy. The general public does not care. They didn’t care 5 years ago, and they’re not caring about this either

    • Concerned non-Criminal

      Your last fact may be true- the bit about criminals is offensive at least.
      There are plenty of non-criminal citizens concerned. This goes the age old questions- when you send mail (rarely I’m sure) through the Post Office, do you seal it in an envelope? And if you have nothing to hide (i.e. not a criminal) then why do you seal it? The difference for me is I have to consciously not use an envelope for my privacy to be null/void. Facebook/Google are doing this without me telling them it is okay.
      Only when Journalists point this out can we expect the general public to hopefully wake up.

      • Matthew Henry

        You use an envelope so that mail doesn’t fall out and to allow multiple documents to be sent. It also provides a roughly standard size for each piece of mail and guarantees that something can’t unfold while being sent through automated processing.

      • People do care – if you ask them plainly and directly, they’ll tell you they don’t want targeted adverts. *Everyone* thinks they’re creepy. *Everyone* wonders just how much information “they” have on you.

        I’ve never met a person to praise targeted advertisements for helping them discover some cool new product or whatever. The topic doesn’t come up often in conversation, but when it does all you’ll hear is that they’re creepy.

        But most people just don’t know. When I go out and buy groceries (or anything else in the world), there’s a clearly-labelled product and cost. When I sign up for a Facebook account, there’s no clear explanation of the cost to me – what things they’ll be tracking and what it’ll be used for. It’s all kind of ethereal and conceptual – people aren’t understanding the true cost of these products.

        Even with all of these “privacy policies”, we’ll have to confront the fact that most people won’t really understand them or their implications. Unfortunately I always see these debates dominated by people who put the blame on the user. I see it another way – that is that most people in the world aren’t super technology-literate, and it’s unnatural for them to have to be in a state of constant vigilance to protect their privacy.

        We need privacy laws that work for the people and their expectations, not laws that let the companies do what they want and blame the people for not being vigilant enough.

    • Emmely

      I agree with you 100%! The more aware you are, the more scared! I am scared for what data google, facebook… have stored about me. This maping of people is risky and could be dangerous maybe not today or tomorrow but next week.

    • barkomatic

      That’s exactly the mentality that a police state wants you to have. The only people who need privacy are criminals and subversives. All pictures, texts, phone calls and emails become government or company property. Ridiculous. One day you’ll mess up and someone will take an embarrassing shot of you and post it for your entire family and co-workers to see. Then, you’ll value your privacy.

  21. I agree about privacy issues but the same thing can be said about Google also and infact think Google android investment is based on that assumption .ofcource facebook has social data as well .

  22. Justin Benson

    Hey Om,

    It feels like for 10 or 15 years we’ve had this discussion around the Internet then mobile and the erosion of privacy and/or security risks. What people share and tell others now was unthinkable even 10 years ago. If we’ve come this far it’s hard for me to believe this is the tipping point. It’s just another incremental step on the path.

  23. Why the privacy outrage now? Google already does all of that right now, in order to better target search ads at us. Is it because its Facebook that you’re outraged?

      • Google also has a complete disregard for the rules when it stole private info with it’s street view cars and intentionally bypassing “do not track” settings in Safari.

      • Chris Beach

        Google has a monopoly on display advertising. I’m a developer and monetised my websites via Adsense. When Google inexplicably shut down my account I lost the money I’d accrued and I was permanently excluded from their program. Google’s email didn’t explain why my account was banned (was it content on my site? was it competitors hammering ads on my sites? I’ll never know, and thus I couldn’t creating an effective appeal)

        There are no other display advertising models that offer anywhere near the revenue of Adsense.

        Google has the power to put you out of business if you depend on advertising. Google can make your business invisible if they arbitrarily de-index it.

        Google is the monopolist that we should be most concerned about.

      • Guest0406

        Bingo. The difference between Facebook and Google & Apple is FB’s constant underhanded and obfuscating tactics to strip away user’s privacy. At least with Google and Apple you know where you stand.

        FB doesn’t have a product other than its social networking site/apps (and now a quasi OS?) the only way they can increase revenue is by sucking ever more data out of Facebook users. At least, FWIW, Google provides a myriad of services and while they’ve certainly courted controversy with their flouting of EU and US privacy legislation, it seems Google isn’t quite Facebook. Their monopoly on advertising, however, is an issue that needs watching.

        Apple still produces hardware – and software to run on it – and while their “walled garden” approach to iOS (thank you jailbreak community) isn’t ideal, they are nowhere near the privacy and information vampires Facebook are.

      • To be fair to Apple, they do way more to protect our privacy than other companies, and they have a very good reason for it. It makes them look better, and they also make money on hardware, not playing loose and fast with our privacy.

        Remember the big brouhaha between Apple and publisher because Apple would not release customer data to them so they can do their circulation calculations to know how to charge advertisers? Yeah, nobody else would do that.

        So for all their faults and mistakes, let’s not make Apple to be as bad as either Google, or Facebook. They are clearly not.

    • Calyth

      I still remember when maintain a Facebook app, I chose to not share basic information on a test account, yet I could still query for it through the API.

      Google does it, sure, but it seems Facebook does it to the next level.

    • Goofball_Jones

      Why does everyone bring up Google? Yes, but you realize EVERYONE does all that right now? AT&T does it. Apple. Google. Nokia. Microsoft. Any email service that filters out spam, no matter what service it is, has to read your email to do the filtering. Your ISP’s all keep track of where you surf.

      Any computer or device that accesses the Internet throws privacy out the window. You all realize this, yes? But that’s beside the point, THIS article from Om is about Facebook and it’s new app. Just because Google does this too doesn’t negate the concern of what Facebook is doing. It’s a juvenile argument “Stop running in the house!” “But MOM, Steven was running too!”

      The reason Om wrote this isn’t because of any “outrage” at Facebook…it’s because Facebook just announced this. It’s in the news. We’re not talking about Google, we’re talking about Facebook and this new app they came out with. Again, just because another company does similar things doesn’t automagically negate the things that Facebook is doing with this new app.

      • Nathan O

        Most email services filter out spam through the collection of suspect email addresses and keywords in subject lines as well as individual feedback (like when I click move to spam it will automatically move any mail coming from that address to my spam folder). And google does not read your emails to filter spam they read your email to find out more about you so they can target you with specific ads. The difference between Google and Facebook VS all the other companies you listed is their centric business model. Apple, Nokia, Microsoft all make actually products they want people to purchase whether it is hardware or software. Google and Facebook products are the people who make use of their ‘free’ services and they sell the information about these people to the highest bidder. Sure Google sells products too, but its is only in an effort to support their primary business models. The more Google products you use, the more personal data and information Google is able to collect and therefore you become a more valuable commodity to advertisers.

    • Sceptic

      Has Google ever without permission launched an ad campaign using your image to promote products as if you had agreed to endorse them?

      Is Google angelic? No.

      Is Google on the same level as Facebook? Are you kidding me?!?