Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has said he wants
to make the social network ubiquitous. The new app Facebook Home goes
some way towards that goal, turning an Android smartphone into an
outpost for Facebook.
Zuckerberg wants to change how people use their smartphones and Google's open-source operating system Android, which anyone can tweak, offers him the perfect platform. It's the most widely used smartphone operating system in the world and can be easily customized.
Android devices rely heavily on the products of the internet search giant, from Gmail to Google Maps. That is unless you install Facebook Home. Then you're pushed firmly into the world of the social network.
The home-screen, known as Cover Feed, the first thing the user sees on the display, is a slideshow from Facebook news. Updates from Facebook friends appear here and services such as being able to make free internet calls via Facebook Messenger.
Once the Facebook app is installed it becomes more unlikely that the user will avail of any of the other offerings of the Android device.
The app takes Facebook's involvement in the lives of its users to a new level. Facebook Home "destroys any notion of privacy," according to prominent technology blogger Om Malik.
"If you install it, it is very likely that Facebook will be able to track your every step and every little action."
For example the phone's GPS sensor could mean that Facebook will always know where its users are and access to the motion sensor could even show whether the person is moving or stationary.
Facebook already knows a lot about its members and over a billion people trust the company with their information despite criticism from privacy advocates. Zuckerberg has made clear the new app's ambitious goal: "At a deeper level, I think this can start to be a change in how we use computing devices."
The company has more than just today's smartphone users in its sights.
Currently only a third of the world's population is online but Zuckerberg believes that in a few years the majority of the world's population will have a smartphone. These are the people he seeks to conquer with his mobile Facebook vision.
Facebook Home may be a masterstroke by Zuckerberg. The 28-year-old has always cultivated a hacker mentality at Facebook and now the company has effectively hacked into the world's leading smartphone operating system. Android has 70-per-cent market share.
Android offers Facebook easy access to the devices of hundreds of millions of people. The HTC First smartphone comes with Facebook Home already installed and Facebook has also partnered with other hardware makers including Samsung, Sony and the chip maker Qualcomm.
If eventually Cover Feed also comes with ads, then Facebook will be able to tap into advertising revenue directly from the home-screen. And Google can't do anything about it without breaking the fundamental promise that Android is an open system.
The first public reaction from Google has been conciliatory, praising Facebook Home for exploiting the possibilities of Android as an open platform.
However, on the other hand Google recently replaced Andy Rubin who was in charge of Android development and in February was adamant that the platform would remain open. The new Android chief is Sundar Pichai, who's also responsible for Google Chrome.
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