Make no mistake, Facebook knows all about you. It already holds loads of data on its users, and with Facebook Home powering phones, the amount of info you could be handing over could go through the roof.
Facebook Home is Mark Zuckerberg’s latest play. On the surface, it’s a helpful rebadging of the Android OS that puts Facebook updates first and foremost. But I think there could be a lot more to it than that.
Imagine that the alarm on your phone goes off to wake you in the morning. You then head to the gym to do a morning workout, using a phone app to time your exertions. Your phone’s in-built GPS has mapped your journey from home to the gym and then off to work, stopping off at a chain café for a morning latte on the way.
It’s not even 9am, and you’ve already provided a heap of data about your personal habits to Facebook. And that data could be used to deliver targeted ads that can zero-in on the fact that you want to get in shape, or that you’re happy to pay for coffee rather than make one at home in the morning. In short, you and your data just became a little bit more profitable, and all thanks to the phone in your pocket.
Facebook Home – the data miner in your pocket
Smartphones are incredible things, and I wouldn’t be parted from mine. But even when they look inactive, they’re able to do things like collect GPS location data, or monitor periods of use and rest. This sort of data can speak volumes about the user and their habits.
Now imagine a smartphone that has been re-skinned as a Facebook device. That’s what Facebook Home does. It’s not an operating system as such, but a new top layer applied to the Android OS that puts Facebook first and foremost in everything your phone does.
On the surface, this can mean things like seeing status updates from friends immediately on your homescreen, without having to delve into a Facebook app. Any app you are using is instantly interruptible by new Facebook info that appears over the top – when a message comes through, for instance.
Even the standard functions of the phone – calls and texts – are intimately interweaved with Facebook. But this also gives Facebook instant access to data across your phone, including its GPS tracking.
In short, thanks to your phone, Facebook knows where you are and what you’re doing – even if you’re not actively posting these details through status updates.
Facebook targets the youth market
The first phone to run with Facebook Home, the HTC First, is launching at a cut-down price of around £300 Sim-free, and doubtless cheap contracts will be available to entice a young market (or appeal to their parents).
Teenagers and folks in their early twenties are a dream market for Facebook. They’re more likely to check-in, update and post regularly. And with Facebook as such a formative part of their online lives, chances are these people will shape up to be long-term users who’ll supply a vast amount of data to Facebook over the years. And data means profit.
I’ve previously voiced my concerns over the upcoming changes to Facebook’s search functions, called Graph Search. Here’s a tool that indexes all of the data Facebook has on you, and presents it to others (yes, including strangers) in a searchable manner.
Let’s say some stranger wanted to search for ‘single women under 25 in south London who like exercise and coffee’. Through a combination of data you’ve supplied to Facebook already (your gender and relationship status), and constant data-mining from the phone in your pocket, you’ve unwittingly given Facebook all it needs to bracket you into a neat, searchable little package.
Facebook Home is a big play for Mark Zuckerberg and his team. And it’s one that anyone looking for an instant fix of updates from friends might welcome. But I’d have serious reservations about giving Facebook the keys to my phone, particularly now it’s gearing up to present unprecedented searchable access to the personal information of millions of its users.