On Thursday, Facebook announced Facebook Home, software which will make Android devices put the social network front and center, essentially turning a variety of smartphones into the long-rumored "Facebook phone." Matters of privacy quickly became a focus of attention as GigaOm's Om Malik and others questioned the possibility of increased access to personal information the social network's new software would provide.
"Home doesn't change anything related to your privacy settings on Facebook, and your privacy controls work the same with Home as they do everywhere else on Facebook," according to blog post by Facebook staff addressing the concerns.
So, it's the same, only different ... right? Not entirely. Since Home does take over your Android phone, it also gains access to some things which hadn't been previously touched by the social network.
"For example, Facebook maintains a list of the apps that you have in the Home app launcher," the social network's blog post offers. "Facebook could see that you launched a map application using the app launcher, but Facebook would not receive information about what directions you searched for or any other activity within the app itself."
In the case of devices which come with Home preinstalled — the HTC First is the, well, first of these devices — Home is also able to display system notifications. This means further there are further details to take into consideration. "Since these notifications appear in Home, Facebook collects information about the notification (such as which app is generating them) but not the content of the notification itself," Facebook's Home FAQ page breaks down. Like the app information, these details are personally identifiable for 90 days. Then they are anonymized.
"We use this information for diagnostic purposes and to learn more about how people use our products so we can make improvements in the future," a Facebook spokesperson clarified to NBC News. "For some of the system notifications, we need this information so we can serve the experience to users." In plainer terms: How on earth can Facebook Home show you notifications unless it knows what the notifications are about.
Not all critics are placated by the explanation, however. Ars Technica speculated, "that while Home may not use location data any differently (than the Facebook app), it certainly has more opportunities to collect it."
It's not possible to opt out of having information collected for these purposes. If you want Facebook to delete whatever it has collected from you right away, you'd have to delete your Facebook account. If you just want to get rid of Facebook Home or some features, you can play around in its settings or uninstall it entirely.
Facebook Home will be available through the Google Play store starting April 12. It will initially work on the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III, and Samsung Galaxy Note II. (Once they ship, the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S 4 will support it as well.) The HTC First, which will be the first device to come with Home pre-installed, will go on sale on April 12.
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