Blog Post

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

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.

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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. Zigurd Mednieks

    Kindle Fire is considerably more wired for user surveillance than Google’s Android products. And if you are a heavy user of Facebook now, the further loss of privacy is only a small increment.

    Facebook Home sets a new standard for deep integration of one’s ecosystem into Android without removing Google’s ecosystem. more app developers should start thinking this way. not to say that intrusiveness should be part of it, but the deep integration into Android’s system of intent filters and modularity is something many developers don’t consider, having developed their apps for the more constrained app environment on iOS first.

  2. How unfair. This piece is supposition reported as fact. This presentation must be directed at those who are more easily taken in by loose logic…as if trying to create pandemonium over a lower peanut count in a cracker jack box.

  3. Harmonylee

    Lol some people here are way too paranoid. If you think Facebook will be watching you just don’t get the phone. No one is forcing you to get it. Furthermore Google, Amazon and Facebook do this already. As does every ad supported app you’ve downloaded.

  4. David Ryan

    Reblogged this on David Ryan and commented:
    Om Malik brings excellent privacy concerns about Facebook Home.
    We are always going to be served ads. The question is: do you value your privacy or do you value being served hyper-relevant ads?

  5. srikanth

    I too worried but as long as I have the option to opt out, I am fine. People want to use it can use this. I hope iOS keep fb out of lock screen.

  6. Agree with some of the comments below. “Privacy” has gone through different definitions over the years. What your grandpa thought was private in the 1920s is totally different than what your kids think is private in the 2020s.

    I would argue more and more people actually like this “invasion of privacy” or at least will trade their privacy for the service they are being provided (by Google, Apple, Facebook, etc).

    Just a thought. Could be totally wrong.

  7. I can share your sentiment with privacy- but the issue hardly means anything to me, at least for the time being.

    When the Facebook AI System becomes Self-aware on August 29th, 2037 and positions itself toward extinction of the human race (Terminator, anyone?), maybe then I will be concerned with Facebook and other services having the *potential* of knowing where I sleep.

    Those who recognize privacy risks are often well-equipped with the knowledge to avoid them- or at least know how where to go to attain such knowledge.

    But anyway,

    I use Facebook fairly often, and probably won’t even download this app.

    -There’s nothing in it for me. I don’t need to know what others are doing all times of the day.
    -I don’t see much of an advantage to using “Home” vs using the app / widget or my PC.

    I suppose this app isn’t for me.

    -This app is for people seeking to easily extend their online social activity and looking to further integrate it into their daily lives.

    But more importantly, this app is for the investors.

    Teams of analysts and number-crunchers have determined that this will be a solid move for Facebook.
    -It stirs the pot, generates buzz, and plenty of people will use it.
    -Aside from sales revenue, the HTC First will bring Facebook to the fingertips of even more users, and entices existing users to use Facebook more.

    -More Users + Increased Usage = Increased potential ad revenue
    -Increased Ad Revenue = Happy Investors

  8. Summer Holmes

    Fuckerburg got all cheesed off when someone posted his family holidays on FB! Stalk the stalker ! Anyone who sees him should photograph his every move and use the GPS TO LET PEOPLE KNOW WHERE HE IS!!!! Just saying! He’s helped to ensure that big brother is on us! Well – there are a lot of people out there and he can’t stay locked up in his house forever! POST! POST! POST!!!!!!!!

  9. Each of them saves every keystroke, every edit, every thing you ever said or did to pin down what you are in what amounts to a really strange and alien study.

    Silly parsing engines, connection readers, influencer indentifiers, whatever else they’re doing it’s trying to establish patterns of behavior … disgusting observation of all of our intimate humanity.

    All your data is scanned. Every communication. People act like it’s part of the deal but it’s not.

    Facebook reflects Mark Zuckerberg’s really odd personality and value system. It reeks of his personality. he is trying to have people live their whole lives in the shadow of that blue F logo. Dude it’s not going to work, stop trying to be a monopoly!

  10. Abhijeet

    So basically FB is making FB Home the entry point to the Android UI….completely overriding Google?
    So who gets the Ad $s, when the inevitable Ads start coming on to your home screen?
    And what is stopping other companies from coming up with their ” Home” skins which will keep layering over the UI?
    I think this is not just about privacy but also about the fact that FB is basically hijacking (or maybe putting a Tap on ) the data/info stream going from the handset to Google.

  11. David Henderson

    Seriously Om, who has any notions of privacy? Privacy has been over for some time now. Just ask DoubleClick, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, AMX, MasterCard, our Government, etc. etc.etc..

    We the consumer trade our privacy for utility. That’s the deal.

    Wanna use Google search? No problem, hand over your data.
    Wanna use your AMX card and get rewards. No problem, hand over your data.
    Wanna buy on Amazon? No problem, hand over your data.
    Wanna use any smart phone? Guess what you are handing over your data.
    Wanna use any Web site. No problem, hand over your data.
    This goes on and on and on and on…..

    Facebook makes money on user data. But all those users are opting into Facebook’s TOS to use the service. Just like all the companies I mentioned above and many many more…

    We live in a privacyless world. Next topic please…

  12. Granted, I haven’t compared the permissions for the current Facebook app with the upcoming Home app, but I would think they could do pretty much any of the things mentioned in the article now, on any phone with a Facebook app installed (with the exception of tracking the launch of third-party applications).

  13. christopolis

    never have been able to understand how better targeted ads or in other words stuff that I would be more likely to purchase is some major problem. OHHHH NO something I want to buy is coming up on my screen as opposed to something that I would never want the horror.

  14. If anyone saw The Social Network then they know how Zuck feels about privacy. Kind of the same how Google feels. MS same I would presume. Not sure Apple is the same but I will concede that they have gotten worse since Jobs’ death. Good article, Om.

  15. hschechtman

    Remember when parents were concerned about how much time their children spent on the home or family computer? How much time they spent chatting with friends while doing their homework. I know many family’s that really tried to monitor use and to define an appropriate “balance” of study, video games, “computers”, phone use (yes, talking). Now fast forward, and we give 10 year olds their own iPhone, in essence their own computer to do with as they see fit. No nanny filters, no restrictions! Don’t get me wrong, I’m a technology person and think for the most part we are enabling our kids and even protecting them by providing a smartphone. We’ve dropped the ball however, when it comes to security and privacy. Almost like we’d just prefer to look the other way.

    The new Facebook phone epitomizes the lack of any semblance of concern.

    Om, this is a great piece, but it’s frightening to think, that this what we’re going to give our children.

    — Howie S.

  16. Jamie Crane

    I’m really curious to see how popular Facebook Home becomes. I feel like Facebook hasn’t actually been that successful with pushing out their secondary apps.

    For example, I haven’t really seen that many people who have Facebook Messenger. This is anecdotal, as I haven’t seen very many of my friends who have it. I actually have Facebook messenger, but that’s in lieu of the “actual” Facebook app.

    I feel like there’s a good chance this won’t actually become that popular. I don’t know, I guess we’ll all have to wait and see as it rolls out.

    One easy way to avoid all of these privacy issues is to.. Well.. Not install the Facebook app. That’s how I plan on going about avoiding this. Until they start offering “home only” features that become super important, I guess.

  17. Jackie

    Keep up this fight. Apparently, the average FB user has all the time in the world to play Farmville and chew gum but no time to educate themselves about the issues surrounding modern technology. It’s complicated and that’s how the tech giants want it. We need expert watchdogs ~ thank you Om!

  18. rcadden

    When Facebook forced an unauthorized update to their app to my phone, and added nasty permissions that could potentially affect my monthly bill a few weeks ago, that was it for me. I uninstalled all their apps from my phone and tablet. Any company that’s willing to flaunt the rules of the platform like that is not to be trusted, in my opinion.

    This ‘Home’ thing is just as bad. Years ago, before contact syncing was a thing and people stored all their contacts on their SIM cards, I remember having this conversation with friends – the cellphone in your pocket is the final frontier for ultra-personal data. As Om correctly points out, it’s the only device that can give away EVERYTHING if compromised.

    I share darn near everything – I work in social media, and unlike most, I appreciate that by giving up a bit of personal information, the ads that I’m going to see are more likely to be things I’m actually interested in. If I’m going to see ads, I’d rather at least see ones that interest me. That being said, I like to think that I’m still in control. GPS is disabled automatically when I get to my phone – I don’t check in there, I don’t geotag photos taken there, etc. On purpose.

  19. If you don’t like it…..don’t download it. It’s not mandatory. Facebook by nature is designed to be less private. It’s a venue to share your information. If you don’t want you information getting out….don’t use facebook….or the internet for that matter.

  20. Om, I hear you loud and clear and many people dont look at Facebook as an exchange, yet it really is. FB creates a platform for social interaction in exchange for your personal data and the ability to attach value to that data to make money from advertisers who perceive that value as well.

    The monetization cycle is complete and that is FB’s sole objective. What Zuck tries to do is push to exploit users enough to maximize this objective while maintaining a high level of interaction. The more he con do to exploit your data the more he can charge for it.

    The difference between Zuck and Google is that Zuck disdains privacy as a matter of course and Google side steps the issue whenever possible. As users all you have to do is ask the question; is the loss of privacy worth the social benefit I receive from the service?

    In my case it was a definative NO from the get go as I knew where this would go and he couldnt offer anything compelling enough to make use his service.

    Choice is still volentary in the end no matter how you look at it!

  21. An interesting move by Facebook who are now trying to become the hub of your online presence not only on one device, but on all of them (at least the Android ones for now…).

    Whether we like it or not (see privacy issues) it’s important to note how Facebook adapted to the changing role of mobile devices: from communication to lifestyle.

    Here is a bit more on that:

    Facebook Home: How smartphones and tablets are now lifestyle devices

    http://bit.ly/11w7hIO

  22. hcajandig

    What if the ads pushed to you were for things you really were interested in? The upside of this level of granularity is that things really can be tailored to your experience.

  23. User01

    If facebook want to track us only to “target (us with) better marketing and advertising messages” like the article suggest, then who cares? What a stupid reason to be against it – most people would rather relevant ads than irrelevant ones.

    I’d be more concerned with other things they might do with your information though if they know everything about you.