Facebook comes clean on 'Home' privacy concerns

Facebook comes clean on 'Home' privacy concerns

Facebook unveiled its 'Home' for Android smartphones last week. The new feature is deeply integrated with Android mobile operating system and presents Facebook status updates, messages and other content on the home screen, rather than making users fire up Facebook's app.

In technical terms, 'Home' is a launcher - a downloadable application that modifies the Android home screen. These 'launchers', by their very nature, have access to a lot more user information than your typical applications. After Home was launched, some people didn't like the idea of handing over access to more personal information to Facebook, a company that already knows a lot about you and me.

Om Malik of Giga Om 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."

"The phone's GPS can send constant information back to the Facebook servers, telling it your whereabouts at any time. So if your phone doesn't move from a single location between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. for say a week or so, Facebook can quickly deduce the location of your home."

Facebook is available only for Android smartphones, because Google's operating system offers application developers a lot more access and flexibility than Apple's iOS. "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," Om wrote, as he urged Facebook to come up with a simple privacy and data collection policy.

Malik wasn't the only one as a lot of voices, including TechCrunch's Natasha Lomas, weighed in on the debate. "The Facebookification of the mobile web is a threat to openness, to choice, to privacy -- but only if you care about those things. Many people just care about chatting to their friends and want the path of least resistance to do that."

Facebook moved quickly to address these concerns by saying that using Home was completely opt-in and that it can be turned off by anytime. The company also said that providing the app access to your location was, again, optional, and pointed users to its Data Use Policy.

The full Q&A is reproduced below.

Q: Do I have to use Home to access Facebook on Android?

A: No. Home is a new way to experience Facebook, and we hope people enjoy using it. But you won't get Home unless you specifically choose to do so - either by downloading Home from the Play Store or by purchasing a phone with Home preinstalled.

Q: Do I have to continue using Home after I install it?

A: No. You can easily turn off Home in your Home Settings. If you like Home but don't want it to appear as your lock screen, you have that option as well.

Q: What information does Home collect?

A: Like other parts of Facebook, Home collects information when you interact with the service, such as liking or commenting on a post or sending a message. Home also may collect other information about how you use it. For example, Facebook maintains a list of the apps that you have in the Home app launcher. We store this information in identifiable form for 90 days and use it to provide the service and improve how it works.

For devices that come with Home preinstalled, Home can display system notifications, meaning that it will show notifications from apps on your phone. 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. We remove identifying information from this data after 90 days.

Q: Does Home collect my location?

A: Facebook Home doesn't use location in any way that's different from the Facebook app you already have on your Android phone. You can learn about how location works across Facebook in our Data Use Policy and Help Center.

Q: Can I turn off location services altogether?

A: Yes, just as with any other app, you can control the location permission in your phone's settings.

Q: Does Home collect information about what I do in non-Facebook applications?

A: No. Home will only see how you interact with Home itself. For example, 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. Of course, some apps already are Facebook-enabled so that you can share your activity within the app back to Facebook. This kind of integration existed long before we launched Home, and apps that have it will tell you if it is available.

Q: How can I find out more about how my data is used?

A: The data that we receive through Home is covered by Facebook's Data Use Policy, which people can view before they activate Home. You also can find more information about Home specifically by reviewing our Home frequently asked questions, which are available in our Help Center and through the Home login screen.

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