Facebook divulges Home data collection policies to quell privacy fears

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Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has vowed its forthcoming Home launcher will not violate consumer privacy rules, outlining its data collection practices and assuring users they can disable location-based services at any time.

Facebook Home

Facebook Home

Facebook unveiled Home last week. The alternative homescreen for Android smartphones promises users more immediate and efficient access to applications and social media, deeply integrating the social networking platform into the mobile user experience. Features include Cover Feed, essentially a home page presenting apps and media, as well as Chat Heads, which offers similar functionality to the social network's standalone Facebook Messenger app. Facebook will officially roll out Home on April 12 as a standalone application available from the Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Play storefront; that same day, AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) will introduce the HTC First, a $99 smartphone that preloads the Home skin.

Facebook said Home collects information from user interactions like commenting on a post or sending a message. "Home also may collect other information about how you use it," Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Michael Richter and Chief Privacy Officer of Policy Erin Egan write. "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."  

Facebook Home leverages location data in the same way as the company's flagship app for Android, Richter and Egan state: "You can learn about how location works across Facebook in our Data Use Policy and Help Center." Users can also turn off location services via the location permission in their phone's settings.

Richter and Egan add that Home does not collect information from user activity inside non-Facebook apps. "Home will only see how you interact with Home itself," they explain. "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."

Critics were quick to speak out against Home, maintaining that Facebook's track record on privacy is cause for concern. "From a privacy perspective, Facebook is an unstable platform for a communication service," Electronic Privacy Information Center President Marc Rotenberg said in an email to MediaPost. "The company changes privacy settings of users too frequently. And in the U.S. there are too few legal safeguards for users."

For more:
- read this Facebook Newsroom post
- read this MediaPost article

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