For months there has been speculation that Facebook would release its very own mobile phone. At an event Thursday, the social media giant's founder Mark Zuckerberg put those rumors to rest and introduced the slightly "more than just an app" instead -- Home.
"Just building a phone isn't enough for Facebook," he said, noting that it would only get into the hands of 10 million to 20 million people.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Thursday, April 4, 2013. Zuckerberg says the company is not building a phone or an operating system. Rather, Facebook is introducing a new experience for Android phones. The idea behind the new Home service is to bring content right to you, rather than require people to check apps on the device. (Photo: AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Home, on the other hand, gives Facebook a chance to take control of the main screen of every phone running on Android, the leading mobile operating system. In the U.S. alone, about 64 million people will be relying on Android-driven phones this year, estimated the research firm eMarketer.
But there are features about the app that are concerning some when it comes to privacy.
GigaOm's founder and senior writer Om Malik wrote in a post Thursday after the feature was introduced that Home "should put privacy advocates on alert" because it "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," Malik wrote.
The Home software, which will be available for download on April 12, will be an always-on feature that allows Facebook content to pop up directly on a user's home screen, instead of requiring them to click into an actual app to activate a Facebook service. Some phones, the first being HTC First, can be purchased with Home pre-installed.
A Facebook employee holds a phone that is running the new "Home" program during an event at Facebook headquarters during an event at Facebook headquarters on April 4, 2013 in Menlo Park, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Malik worries that the phone's GPS could send a steady stream of location information to Facebook's servers, identifying a person's movements, giving someone the ability to guess the location of the user's physical home, work and more:
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.
Digital Trends speculated that similar record keeping of chats sent using Home might apply to voice-over IP as well (emphasis added):
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) activist Parker Higgins, however, did make a distinction on how Facebook could use your call info. “Most likely they won’t have voice data from actual calls, but they will get information about who you’re calling, how often, and how long you’re speaking to them. That’s a lot of information, and combined with the rest of your Facebook communications, [it] could paint a very clear picture of your private life.” So it’s not likely Facebook will be listening-in to your conversations, but it will know a lot about those calls.
Information collected by Facebook will be used for more targeted advertising. TheBlaze reported the perspective of a privacy expert regarding the dangers of such data tracking and targeting earlier this week. Neil Richards, a Washington University in St. Louis law professor, explained in a paper that there is a point at which such information could wrongly be used to institute an “influence or control over others.”
What's more, Malik continued pointing out Facebook's less than clean record when it comes to protecting users' privacy, noting the company's history of just asking for forgiveness after the fact. This mentality, Malik wrote, shouldn't stand with the potential of this mobile platform.
Forbes reported a Facebook spokesperson saying that Home will have the same privacy policies as those on the actual site:
Home will have privacy settings on the device that will include a “ variety of controls,” says the spokesperson. “For example, you can control whether Home is on or off, select data use and image quality, and quickly dive into your Messenger and Facebook settings.”
"It is time to ask for simple, granular and easy to understand privacy and data collection policies from Facebook, especially for mobile," Malik wrote. "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."
Even with these concerns though, it is all still dependent on people wanting to download Home. The Associated Press reported Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin saying he thinks the company is overestimating "the extent to which this is something their users want."
"I'm sure there are people out there whose lives revolve around their social network and for them it makes sense to have it front and center," Golvin said. "But this doesn't describe the majority of consumers."
Watch Facebook's promo video for Home:
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.