Facebook Home, announced last week, is the social network’s latest bid to expand its social web over mobile devices. The Facebook Home app, available on Android phones, integrates the phone’s operating system with the Facebook platform by taking over your home screen with your Facebook news feed and making SMS messaging look like a Facebook chat. This integration also gives Facebook the potential to mine vastly more information about its users than ever before.
What data can Facebook Home mine from your phone?
- GPS: According to Gigaom, Facebook’s integration with the Android operating system allows Facebook to receive constant information about the phone user’s whereabouts via the phone’s GPS. From this Facebook could potentially work out things like where you live, based on your phone’s GPS location between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
- The phone’s accelerometer: The phone’s accelerometer could tell Facebook whether a phone user is walking, running or driving. Adding this to the data Facebook already has about you, it can build a much better profile of its users, such as the places you shop, the restaurants you dine in and where you might spend a weekend pursuing your hobbies.
- Chat Head: Facebook Home will bring together Facebook chat with SMS messages, so that your messages will get Facebook-ified and potentially, through the Android launcher, allow Facebook to read your messages sent outside its service.
- VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol): Facebook has already been inching into this space for a while, but Facebook Home could bring internet calls via Facebook front and center to a user’s mobile experiences and bypass phone calls altogether. Facebook calls would mean you wouldn’t have to look up someone’s contact details (Facebook already has them) and you wouldn’t have to pay international rates, giving many incentives to use a Facebook VoIP service. Although Facebook is not likely to actually monitor your calls, it would be able to get a lot of information such who you call, and how long you talk them.
What might it do with this data?
David Jacobs of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) suggests that the increased information available to Facebook via the new app, will help it to monetise your personal information through advertising. Advertisements won’t be in the first release of Facebook Home, but future versions will include an ad feature which gives Facebook an unprecedented opportunity to aggressively push commercial messages at its users.
However, there have been more and more news stories about a potential privacy backlash, as users are trying to weigh up the benefits of sharing increasing amounts of information with the risks of losing their privacy, and the potential damage caused by personal data getting in the wrong hands. As Jan Dawson, senior telecoms analysts at Ovum points out, “users don’t want more advertising or tracking and Facebook wants to do more of both”.