Will Facebook Home collect even more of your data? You bet

facebook phone home privacyFacebook debuted its Android app family Facebook Home today. This means those of you with compatible devices (sorry Windows Phone and iOS users) have a snazzy new product to try out if you’re looking for a tightly-Facebook integrated mobile experience.

Considering we spend more than 25 percent of our mobile time on Facebook and Instagram, this new product could have a major impact on the way you use your phone. And as with all things Facebook and smartphone-related, this means we have to ask the question: What does this mean for our privacy?

Will launching all your apps from a Facebook Home device mean you’re giving them all that data?

Facebook’s reputation for questionable privacy control doesn’t stem from frequent hacks or security issues – most of the privacy issues center around user data. As you can tell with the targeted ads on the site, Facebook is paying close attention to your user information. You shouldn’t really consider anything you do on Facebook private, so the idea of eschewing stuff like SMS and voice calls in favor of Facebook as your primary platform for communication is troubling if you want those things off the Facebook record.

The Facebook Home platform features an app launcher that lets you access all of the other programs on your phone. Digital Trends reached out to Facebook spokesman Frederic Wolens to see whether Facebook will collect extra data from users related to this new feature. “While we will be logging some data associated with the app launcher, we are using it for internal diagnostics only, and we will only be collecting this information from a small randomized rolling subset of users,” he says.

Wolens stressed that Facebook did not need to get an extra go-ahead from app providers to do this: “There’s no permissions involved as this acts merely as an app launcher similar to other products (e.g.TouchWiz) that have been available for some time.” 

Wolens explains that the information collected will be used for – as per usual – enhancing the user experience. “The information collected helps optimize the user experience, and the data that we receive through Facebook Home is covered by Facebook’s Data Use Policy, which users can view before they activate Facebook Home.” In other words, yes, more data is being collected, but under the same Data Use Policy as before.

Your chatting is definitely on the record 

Facebook-11One of the prominent new features is Chat Heads, which gives you a smooth messaging experience by cobbling together Facebook messages and SMS. We don’t know yet if people without Facebook accounts (those beautiful, stubborn weirdos!) will show up as a Chat Head when they text your phone, but if you’re talking with one of the billion plus people with an account, your SMS will get Facebook-ified. 

And the policy surrounding messages may apply to phone calls.

Facebook has been inching into VoIP calling for a while, and it already offers calls from chat, though this hasn’t taken off in the same way as Skype or FaceTime. But Facebook Home will bring these calls front and center. The perks are there: You don’t have to look up anybody’s contact info – you already have it – and you don’t have to pay international rates to call your friend in Seoul or your brother in Gotenburg.

But it’s unlikely Facebook will take a more laissez-faire approach to collecting your voice info than it does your written messages. As the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) Consumer Protection Counsel David Jacobs explains, “My initial thoughts are that an increased mobile presence by Facebook means increased monetization of individuals’ personal information.” And that could mean information conveyed on calls; Skype recently found itself in hot water over its “monitoring” policies. 

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.

Will constant updates mean constant privacy changes?

Facebook Home will update every month, so you will never feel frustrated about having an outdated version. If you nearly lost your marbles when your Android didn’t get a prompt Jelly Bean update, that probably sounds like an awesome change. But you have to wonder if the frequent updates give Facebook a window to introduce new privacy changes under the radar – after all, if something on your phone gets a new version every month, you’re not as likely to closely look at the details as you would an annual update.

Jacobs notes that Facebook cannot sneak around a 2012 order put in place by the FTC: ” Under the terms of the order, Facebook cannot make any material change to its privacy settings without notifying and obtaining the consent of its users, so that limits the range of privacy changes somewhat.”

But how much is “somewhat”? It’s not clear yet. But we’d err on the side of caution when you click “update.” As EFF’s Higgins says, “Facebook has demonstrated in the past a willingness to change the default settings in ways that users don’t expect. The real trouble is that most app stores and installation processes are set up only to really notify you when apps change which permissions they request – so apps like Facebook can request a whole bunch of permissions up front only to use them differently in later updates.”

So there you have it. Facebook Home will give Facebook more opportunities to collect information about you than ever before, and you might want to avoid it if you have certain SMS messages you’re keen on keeping private. But there’s nothing newly nefarious at play – it’s the same Facebook racket in new (very pretty) packaging. If you decide to use Facebook Home, remember that the company is integrating ads more seamlessly into its content, so your home screen won’t just flash updates from your college bud Chaz – it’ll also show you the marketing content that shows up in your News Feed. Nothing is sacred, not even your homescreen. 

Product Review

It's not a spy, but you still won't want to friend Facebook's Portal+

Facebook has jumped into the smart home game with the Portal+, a video-calling device featuring an Amazon Alexa speaker and a screen. While it has lots of cool calling features, we’re weary of Facebook taking up counter space in our home.
Social Media

Going incognito: Here's how to appear offline on Facebook

How do you make sure your friends and family can't see if you're on Facebook, even if you are? Here, we'll show you how to turn off your active status on three different platforms, so you can browse Facebook without anyone knowing.
Social Media

Facebook is rolling out a Messenger ‘unsend’ feature, and here’s how to use it

Facebook is starting to roll out a "remove message" feature for its Messenger app. It lets you delete a message in a thread within 10 minutes of sending it, and replaces it with a note telling recipients that it's been removed.

Check out 25 of the best Wear OS apps for your smartwatch

Looking for some ways to spruce up that new Android smartwatch of yours? Here are the best Wear OS apps to download and use with any Android smartwatch, including a few specially enhanced for Wear OS 2.0.

Hackers sold 120 million private Facebook messages, report says

Up to 120 million private Facebook messages were being sold online by hackers this fall. The breach was first discovered in September and the messages were obtained through unnamed rogue browser extensions. 

Switch up your Reddit routine with these interesting, inspiring, and zany subs

So you've just joined the wonderful world of Reddit and want to explore it. With so many subreddits, however, navigating the "front page of the internet" can be daunting. You're in luck -- we've gathered 23 of the best subreddits to help…
Social Media

Facebook opens pop-up stores at Macy’s, but they’re not selling the Portal

Facebook has opened pop-up stores at multiple Macy's, though they're not selling Facebook's new Portal device. Instead, they're showcasing small businesses and brands that are already popular on Facebook and Instagram.
Social Media

Facebook Messenger will soon let you delete sent messages

A feature coming to Facebook Messenger will let you delete a message for up to 10 minutes after you send it. The company promised the feature months ago and this week said it really is on its way ... "soon."
Social Media

Pinterest brings followed content front and center with full-width Pin format

Want to see Pinterest recommendations, or just Pins from followed users? Now Pinners can choose with a Pinterest Following feed update. The secondary feed eliminates recommendation and is (almost) chronological.
Smart Home

Facebook's Alexa-enabled video-calling devices begin shipping

Facebook's Portal devices are video smart speakers with Alexa voice assistants built in that allow you to make calls. The 15-inch Portal+ model features a pivoting camera that follows you around the room as you speak.
Social Media

Vine fans, your favorite video-looping app is coming back as Byte

Vine fans were left disappointed in 2017 when its owner, Twitter, pulled the plug on the video-looping app. But now one of its co-founders has promised that a new version of the app, called Byte, is coming soon.

Social media use increases depression and anxiety, experiment shows

A study has shown for the first time a causal link between social media use and lower rates of well-being. Students who limited their social media usage to 30 minutes a day showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out.
Social Media

Twitter boss hints that an edit button for tweets may finally be on its way

Twitter has been talking for years about launching an edit button for tweets, but it still hasn't landed. This week, company boss Jack Dorsey addressed the matter again, describing a quick-edit button as "achievable."
Social Media

‘Superwoman’ YouTuber Lilly Singh taking a break for her mental health

Claiming to be "mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted," popular YouTuber Lilly Singh has told her millions of fans she's taking a break from making videos in order to recuperate.