TECH

Facebook Home Raises Privacy Fears Over Social Network's Data Mining

05/04/2013 12:48 BST | Updated 05/04/2013 12:51 BST

Facebook Home has not even been released - but it is already attracting concern over privacy fears.

Mark Zuckerberg showcased the "Facebook phone" on Thursday as he revealed the social networking site could now become the central feature on Android mobiles.

Facebook essentially becomes the phone's homescreen, as messages and other alerts pop up over other apps and can be accessed in one touch.

facebook home

Facebook Home was launched on Thursday

Facebook has assured users that it will have the same privacy settings as its web-base big brother.

But for some the immediate reaction was concern that giving Facebook even more data could be dangerous for users.

Tech commentator, Om Malik, raised privacy concerns on the Gigaom website.

He said: "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."

Malik is concerned that Facebook Home could constantly send GPS information back to Facebook's servers.

He said: "The phone’s GPS can send constant information back to the Facebook servers, telling it your whereabouts at any time."

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) activist Parker Higgins told Digital Trends: "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."

Meanwhile at Forbes Kashmir Hill said that "Home could be a GPS jackpot for Facebook".

She said:

"If users actually take to Home, Facebook has come up with an excellent way to get people to have Facebook running on their phones all the time. That means Facebook will be able to constantly collect location information from them, making Facebook even more attractive to advertisers looking to deliver ads based on who you are, where you are and what you’re doing."

But others pointed out that the suite of apps doesn't technically represent a change in what data Facebook collects, or for what they use it.

At a highly-anticipated event at the company's Menlo Park headquarters in California last night Zuckerberg said consumers would be offered something far more than an "ordinary app" - an entirely "new experience" called Home.

He said: "Today we are finally going to talk about that Facebook phone, or more accurately, we are going to talk about how you can turn your Android phone into a great social phone."

He added: "We are not building a phone and we are not building an operating system but we are are building something that is a whole lot deeper than an ordinary app."

Within minutes of the announcement - which arguably marks Facebook's biggest jump into the mobile market - the subject began trending on Twitter.

Wearing one of his customary hooded jumpers, Mr Zuckerberg gave a relaxed presentation telling his audience: "We're really proud of home and we're excited to get it in your hands ... we think that this is the best version of Facebook there is."

He was joined by Peter Chou, the chief executive of handset maker HTC to reveal the companies' collaboration to produce HTC First - the only phone which will come with Facebook Home already installed.

In a short explanation of how Home would work, Mr Zuckerberg said: "The homescreen is really the soul of your phone. You look at it about a hundred times a day.

"It sets the tone for your whole experience and we think it should be deeply personal. So today we're going to talk about this new experience for your phone.

"It's a family of apps and you can install it and it becomes the home of your phone."

In a short demonstration, Mr Zuckerberg showed viewers how the new product would appear on the homescreen of an Android phone and offered users the "highest quality experience".

He added: "At one level, this is just the next mobile version of Facebook but at a deeper level, I think that this can start to be a change in the relationship that we have with how we use these computing devices.

"For more than 30 years computers have mostly just been about tasks and they had to be... but the modern computing device has a very different place in our lives. It's not just for productivity and business although it's great for that too. It's also for making us more connected, more social, more aware.

"And Home, by putting people first, and then apps, by flipping the order is one of many small but meaningful changes in our relationship with technology."

Home will be available for download or on the HTC model from April 12, he said.

Paul Thompson, managing director of mobile advertising firm BlisMedia, said the social networking site's latest offering was unlikely to worry the likes of Apple or Samsung.

"Is it a game changer for Facebook? Almost certainly not," he said.

"I suspect it will appeal to the die hard FB (Facebook) addicts but do consumers really want FB content to take over their whole phone?

"What about all the other live feeds already available on your phone? What about all the other things you care about outside of FB connections?

Stuart Miles, founder of technology and gadget site Pocket-lint, said the arrival of Home marked an important milestone for Facebook.

"They needed a device that they could call their own," he said.

"As a concept it has potential. Whether it will fly off the shelves remains to be seen, though, I don't know if that is going to happen."

The launch of the enhanced app reinforces Facebook's "mobile first" approach at a time when users increasingly monitor the social networking site from smartphones and tablets.