illustration_of_facebook_iconFacebook Moves to Take Over Your Phone – Should You Let It?

Earlier this month, Facebook launched its much hyped Android app bundle, appropriately named Facebook Home. The release has thus far proved to be very controversial, with many experts questioning the integrity Facebook is espousing, especially around the issue of privacy. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO and spokesperson, has helped the company earn a reputation of launching what seem to be fair and respectful privacy mandates, then slowly unraveling their rules over time. Home is considered to be another potential source of mining data for profit, and without the conscious consent of their millions of daily users.

Facebook Home, Clearly Defined

For starters, let’s articulate what Facebook Home really is, as even that is a mystery to many. Home is not a “Facebook phone” or a fully functioning operating system; it is a collection of apps that function as your Android phone home base. Facebook activities naturally take center stage, creating a skin that operates on top of your Android OS. With it, your home screen mirrors your Facebook feed, allowing you easy access to likes, comments, and status updates. You’ll see full-screen images from your friends, and virtually everything Facebook offers – except the ads. Facebook Home doesn’t have ads at launch, but smart folks are wagering they will land very soon.

Facebook Home is so invasive that your normal phone activities – emails, missed calls, etc. – will now appear in your “cover feed”, dispersed with the other Facebook updates. Your entire Android phone will therefore become a Facebook-themed experience.

Facebook’s Response about Privacy

Shortly after the official release for Facebook Home, Zuckerberg held a question and answer session. When pressed about the privacy issues, Zuckerberg stated that “Analytics are made anonymous and used for half a percent of the user base.” This also happens to be the same standards that Apple and Google follow, so Zuckerberg seems to be playing by the same rules as the other big players. Or does he?

There’s one obvious discrepancy that shows Facebook may be dodging the real issue. Every action a user takes within Facebook is logged as such, and obviously reveals plenty about habits and interests. The more you share your status updates, photos, links, and other content with your friends, the more Facebook knows about you. Facebook Home is specifically designed to encourage easy and often sharing, clicking, and liking. Therein lies the rub.

Facebook also published a blog about Home’s privacy concerns, and in it they admit that “Home collects information when you interact with the service, such as liking or commenting on a post or sending a message. Home also may collect other information about how you use it.” In typically vague fashion, Facebook is leaving things open-ended. It’s policies like these that leave people mistrustful and concerned.

The Benefits of Home

Why would you want to download Facebook’s new Android mega-app? If you’re a Facebook faithful not concerned with the way the company uses your data, there is a lot to love about Home. In addition to the easy access to your feeds and friends’ profiles, Home also features a new chat service called “Chat Heads”. This app brings messaging to the forefront on mobile devices, something we haven’t yet seen from Facebook. You can even send an SMS to any Facebook friend without opening a separate app. Since the cover feed now takes over your home screen, you can stay on top of your friend posts and updates, and can view this data even if your phone is locked.

Facebook Home is unlikely to woo anyone outside of their existing heavy users. For a behemoth like Facebook, however, that will likely equate to millions of downloads. If you are feeling the call to check it out, but would like to safeguard your privacy as much as possible, there are options. You can suppress location sharing by turning off the feature in the options panel, for starters. Likewise, if you decide to share phone numbers or email addresses, list secondary ones that aren’t as critical. There are plenty of Chat controls too, enabling you to only chat with specific friends, or to turn the feature off all together. And just like the web version of Facebook, you can specify that only certain friends see your posts, making it significantly more private.

Above all, remember that if you use Facebook Home, no matter what you do on your Android phone, Facebook follows. It is a fully integrated suite of applications, not just a single app download. That said, all the privacy concerns in the world aren’t going to keep the legions of fans from keeping up-to-the-minute tabs on their Facebook besties. Just bear in mind that consumer privacy protection is not currently a government strong suit, so stay responsible about what you share, and with whom. You don’t have to delete Facebook all together to be smart about protecting your privacy.

By Tina Courtney-Brown