Facebook's new app: 'Slave'

My name is Stefan Hammond and my picture is above. OK, the pic's a few years old and I don't look quite that good. But that's me.

My identity belongs to me--not to Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or Vint Cerf. I believe in individual privacy. For that matter, so does the Hong Kong government, which has a Privacy Commission to enforce the PDPO--which is the law governing personal privacy, and the use of personal data in the HKSAR.

Recently, the Zuck announced Facebook's latest product: something called "Home" which aims to turn Android phones into some sort of Facebook tool.

In an interview with Wired's Steven Levy, Zuckerberg said: "We wanted to turn as many phones as possible into 'Facebook phones.' That's what Facebook Home is."

Considering the phones run on the Android platform, to me this sounds more like a parasite invading a host than a mobile app. Earlier this year, Zuckerberg said that releasing a Facebook phone was "not the right strategy".

Regrettably, Facebook's strategies often have negatives consequences--collection of data on individuals can be misused.


Remember this Assange guy?

"The penetration of the Stasi in East Germany is reported to be up to 10% of the population -- one in 10 at some stage acted as informers -- but the penetration of Facebook in countries like Iceland is 88%, and those people are informing much more frequently and in much more detail than they ever were in the Stasi. And they're not even getting paid to do it!"

-- Julian Assange interviewed in The Guardian, 2012

The Stasi, you may recall, were the East German secret police. This was back when there was a Soviet Union and guys like Vladimir Putin were in the KGB.

Nowadays, perhaps Putin sits in front of his bulletproof Linux box and laughs himself silly at whatever Facebook account his tech goons have pwned that evening. Perhaps yours.

FacePhone =pwnage?

Facebook's latest privacy-intrusion plan has tech journalists up in arms. A few examples:

The BBC:

"Facebook's "home" software for Android phones could "destroy" privacy, warn industry watchers and analysts...the detailed data that could be mined from home users could intrude on private life, commentators warned."

The Register:

"The app also represents something of a privacy nightmare, as it turns the lock screen into an endless streaming display of what the user's friends are doing. None of the staffers demoing the app were able to tell us if it's possible to put a lock screen in front of this, so as to defend against socially-engineered attacks."

And let's not forget the first principle of the PDPO:

"Personal data shall be collected for a purpose directly related to a function and activity of the data user; lawful and fair collection of adequate data; data subjects shall be informed of the purpose for which the data are collected and to be used."

Concerned yet?

If you're still keen on turning your open-source Android device over to Facebook's data-collectors, read this piece by Om Malik:

"Facebook's history as a repeat offender on privacy, and playing loose and easy with our data means that need to be even more vigilant about privacy issues, thanks to this Home app/faux-OS."

"The new Home app/UX/quasi-OS is deeply integrated into the Android environment. It takes an effort to shut it down, because Home's whole premise is to be always on and be the dashboard to your social world," wrote Malik. "But there is a bigger worry. The phone's GPS can send constant information back to the Facebook servers, telling it your whereabouts at any time."

Protect your data globally

Many users have similar privacy-invasion concerns about Google and Apple.

These concerns are valid. Both these firms collect personal data, as do ISPs, and Hong Kong retail outlets. We have the legal protection of the PDPO, but must remain vigilant on data-privacy issues.

And unlike Apple and Google, Facebook doesn't have products beyond its social networking site and related apps. The only way they can boost revenue is by harvesting more data from Facebook users and triangulating it--for their stated purpose of advertising. Do you really want to give Facebook access to everything on your mobile device and its real-time GPS co-ordinates?

Wired's Levy asked Mark Zuckerberg:

"So do you think in, say, two years you will have this on the iPhone?"

His reply sounds like the snarky Zuckerberg-character portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg in the film The Social Network:

"That's above my pay grade to be able to answer that," smirked the Zuck.


This story, "Facebook's new app: 'Slave'" was originally published by Computerworld Hong Kong.

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