Facebook weighs in on Home's privacy implications

The company issues a Q&A Friday that talks about privacy and its new Home software

Facebook has posted a Q&A on its website about the privacy implications of its new Facebook Home software for Android phones, though it was unclear if it has addressed all the concerns raised.

In a blog post Friday, the company said it had received "a few questions about how Home works with privacy." It then posed several questions to itself about Home and privacy and answered them.

Home is essentially a software wrapper for Android smartphones that modifies the home screen, among other things, to put Facebook photos and messages front and center. It was announced on Thursday.

The post on privacy starts out by noting that users don't have to use Home in order to use Facebook, and that users can turn off Home if they install it and then decide they don't want to use it.

Like other parts of Facebook, it says, Home collects information about when users interact with the service, by liking or commenting on a status update, for example. It can also see when users launch other applications on their phones, but it cannot see information inside those apps.

The post also tackles the use of location data.

Technology writer Om Malik, founder of GigaOm, wrote a blog post Thursday that was highly critical of Home, saying it "destroys the notion of privacy."

One of Malik's chief concerns was that Home can "very likely" access a phone's GPS and send "constant information" back to Facebook about a user's location.

"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," he wrote. "Facebook will be able to pinpoint on a map where your home is, whether you share your personal address with the site or not."

Facebook posed the question, "Does Home collect my location?" and answered it as follows: "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."

The data use policy states that the data Facebook collects can include Internet Protocol addresses and a user's location. "For example, we may get your GPS or other location information so we can tell you if any of your friends are nearby."

It was not clear from Facebook's post whether Home collects location data any more frequently than does the Facebook mobile app, and Facebook didn't immediately respond to a question about that sent late on Friday.

Facebook has riled users in the past with respect to their privacy. Last year it settled a class-action lawsuit over a feature called Sponsored Stories, which used people's photographs to suggest that they were endorsing companies' products.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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