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. I think the way Facebook will die will end up being because of privacy. Many people I know have jumped ship because of this reason and I can see people continuing to jump ship until something is done and faith is restored in Facebook.

  2. silv3r8901

    Turn your GPS off…
    Turn your phone off…
    Turn off GPS function in the app…
    I mean mitigating these issues isn’t exactly the hardest thing to do in the world.

  3. Maleniux

    hmmm but this gps thing… shouldn’t it only be able to be done if you actually KEEP THE GPS ON ALL THE TIME?? if you have clicked the option on your phone to allow android have your gps location? I’m not saying facebook isn’t taking bits and bits of privacy matters but… if the exact location is the problem here… shouldn’t you be able to avoid this with ANY app by not using the gps function at all times?? Maybe I’m not seeing the whole picture here, if I’m wrong please correct me, I may not understand that much of the techs behind this thing but from what I understand this should only happen if you allow the gps track on your phone, right? so if you keep it off and only tag on locations (if you want to) from time to time like people do on facebook fully knowing that they’re sharing a location they are or were in… then what is the issue here??

  4. Regarding GPS, correct me if I’m wrong but couldn’t the iOS Facebook app occasionally wake up, read the GPS, and go back to sleep, as it is today? Assuming you’ve granted Facebook access to Location services?

    Before I revoked Facebook’s access to GPS, first thing I would see whenever i launched the app, was the GPS indicator flicker on for a few seconds. Facebook is already watching you as it is.

  5. This are good news for the iPhone and the Windows phone!! people that are not stupid will not get that HTC or any android with that useless feature. Why should share everything with facebook? and FOR FREE? what is next, they are going to have a direct access to my bank account and mortgage?

  6. Anony Mouse

    I don’t see why anyone cares… the idiots who install something like Facebook Home deserve what they get. Same goes for people too stupid to install Adblock. I don’t even SEE Google Ads… if they’re “selling” me to advertisers, the advertisers are getting ripped off, because I never see any ads on the internet! All of this crap is easily circumvented. It’s 2013 people, assume every corporation is scum, and act accordingly.

  7. Robin Raskin

    The deal with the devil is done. Zuckerberg and my own children are of the “Privacy — get over it” school of thought and perhaps, they are better people for it. There is a quiet rebellion against living public and private and Facebook is a manifestation of that .

    the fact that it’s ad subsidized? The Medicis, Madison Ave. — someone always subsidizes culture.

  8. Dwight Davis

    One ramification of Facebook Home not mentioned in the article is how — if Home becomes widely adopted — it may impact corporate IT departments that have instituted bring your own device/BYOD programs. It may not just be personal privacy that is at risk over time, but employee privacy and corporate data. A blog post at http://bit.ly/12u1J0A raises some of these concerns.

    – Dwight Davis (http://bit.ly/VeacEJ)

  9. delimitaciones

    iOS apps can deduce your home address using GPS API, but won’t let another application to run like a dashboard, i remember some time ago some API made to allow partners gathering personal data.

  10. Sam Hyatt

    What most everyone responding here is failing to realize is that this is a warning of yet another big business invasion of privacy and peace of mind bent on squeezing more of your personal time and energies into manipulating devices with said invasive application, sold on the premise of fun and entertainment, but very much so built on the foundation of grouping and categorizing human beings into clusters of manipulable herds, ripe for the picking. At no time in the article did he mention the others because that is common knowledge and many topics about of the invasions of Google already. Must one be redundant, as a technology writer? Wouldn’t it seem that he is not in the loop if he was writing about all the others too? It was a singular warning of a new threat and very well done. Thank you for the fine article. Have a great day everyone!

  11. Facebook can already do all the things you fear they will do on iOS or Android. On Android you get a warning when you install the current app that tells you what they can do. On iOS you do not get any warning because the functionality is baked right into the iPhone now.

    Any app that Facebook tries to make for Android will have to compete directly with everybody else making apps. Google does not have any draconian anti-competition nonsense like Apple does, where Apple will strike down a better app if their feelings get hurt by a better developer. This is a GOOD thing. It means we get the best apps possible. If Facebook wants to make me an outstanding Google Drive replacement, or Gmail alternative, and it’s clearly better, that’s fantastic. Yay. That’s the entire POINT to competition.

    Note: Please enable Google Auth. Everybody else has it.

    Thank You

  12. Facebook may be a repeat offender on privacy changes but I do not think it is accidental, rather FB push the boundary and seeing where it gets pushback. The FB business is built around sharing and the more they open this up the better their business model. I have more concern about Google at the moment.
    FB is not the problem. Privacy is being breached by the users or precisely their naivety.
    It would take me less than an hour to duplicate the identity of ‘friend’ or a friend of a friend. The stuff that people think it is okay to put up astonishes me. I had to explain to someone on the weekend who was going to send someone a ‘private’ message that NOTHING is private once you let it go.

  13. After reading the comments below I think my biggest concern with this is FBs target audience. They target kids who may not have the skill set necessary to make an educated decision about whether or not it is wise to open this door.

  14. vegibit

    This is why facebook sucks and has sucked since the beginning. Even the website itself is a horribly calculated and hard to navigate layout that obfuscates the minimal control over privacy you have. The average facebooker doesn’t even know or care about how this all works. It just like Zuck said in that infamous chat with a friend:

    Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

    Zuck: Just ask.

    Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

    [Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?

    Zuck: People just submitted it.

    Zuck: I don’t know why.

    Zuck: They “trust me”

    Zuck: Dumb F#CK$

  15. positivepedestal

    If your app needs a custom OS and phone to run, as we say in Hindi “deal me kuch kaala”… Something very wrong is afoot :)

  16. @Om you could do better. lets see,
    – sensationalist article: check
    – missing facts on what facebook will do or not do: check
    – missing pre-existing practices from Google, Apple, others: check

    Next time please try a bit harder.