Is Facebook Home the End of Privacy? And Does it Really Matter?

As we like to do, a group of analysts here at ABI Research have been discussing the potential implications of Facebook Home.  As someone focused on all things relating to Security & ID, I was asked whether having an always on, top-of-the-page, news stream and updates from friends, family and those others that you have "liked"easily visible without unlocking a smartphone or tablet.

My first response was no, I don't think people generally discuss anything or exchange any data on Facebook that is a real risk to their personal security or safety - either physical or online.  Occasionally people may swap phone numbers, email addresses or at a push maybe bank account details for someone to transfer them some money. Obviously these are all things that you wouldn't want someone to view by picking up someone else's phone but the level of risk is quite small.  You'd be unlucky for a friend to lose their phone (before realising and having it shut down) at the same time you send them such information.

Possibly a bigger risk is that your location could be exposed but you have the option to limit the availability of such information.  So in short, as long as you are not cheating on your partner or getting up to the sort of thing that you wouldn't want your parents (or colleagues) to find out about then Home is not that big a concern.

And then I thought about it a little more....

A much bigger concern to me is that Facebook is effectively looking to wrap up all the apps and tools that we use daily on our mobiles without even thinking about it within its own wrapper.  The level of integration with device, OS and app's is impressive - and a little terrifying.  Thinking about how much information that gives to one single company is actually quite frightening (to me at least, not everyone cares or is aware of such an occurrence and what it might mean).  Not just what you search for, where you are doing, who you are doing it with, what you are saying (in public and in "private"); what music you listen to, personal preferences, and increasingly what you are buying, how you ar paying for it; everything!

And this is before I even styart thinking about BYOD and the crossover between personal and professional.  I don't know how or where the barriers get put up but will companies be happy for their employees to use devices with Home on them?  Perrhaps not.  Or perhaps this can be managed in some way - but it needs considering.

Whilst I (obviously) don't want to open myself up to the level being enabled by Facebook Home, there are others who won't mind the intrusion and always-on nature as long as it gives them what they want.  Are there enough of these people to make Home and Facebook's mobile future a success?  I don't know if there are.

Two years ago this would have been the biggest thing of the year.  Now I wonder if it has come a little late.  There are so many options and alternatives already out there which are picked up and used by various social groups and demographics.  The price point of the HTC First launch device would appear to indicate that this is being aimed at teens and I think that, whilst they may use Facebook, it is not their primary social network, it is too open and they don't want their parents and grandparents to see what they've been doing and saying to their friends.

Either way, given the level of integration with Android and the user's app's the volume and value of the information that can be gathered is huge.  As a result, Facebook had better make very sure that Home is secure.  Any breach or backdoor left open would certainly leaves users (and potentially businesses) very vulnerable.  Think how central your smartphone is for your everyday life.  And then consider how you would feel if someone had access to all of that - whether it is Facebook or someone with an even less honourable intention than trying to sell you to the highest bidder....