Facebook on Friday released its Android launcher called Home. The company also updated its Facebook app, adding in new permissions to allow it to collect data about the apps you are running, as pointed out on Hacker News.
Updated below with statement from Facebook
The changelog for the new version of the Facebook app doesn’t mention this explicitly:
- Bug fixes.
- New permissions for Facebook Home [http://bit.ly/fbhomeapp].
- Install the Facebook Home app to get these additional features:
- Glance at your phone for the latest photos and posts from your friends.
- Use chat heads to keep chatting with your friends while using other apps (requires Facebook Messenger [http://bit.ly/fbandroidmessenger]).
- See news as it happens with bigger, bolder notifications.
Yet that second point is worth digging into. For reference, here’s the permissions screen for an older version of the Facebook app:
Here’s the latest version of the Facebook app:
The description on Google Play offers a bit more detail:
RETRIEVE RUNNING APPS
Allows the app to retrieve information about currently and recently running tasks. This may allow the app to discover information about which applications are used on the device.
Facebook has set up Home to interface with the main Facebook app on Android to do all the work. In fact, the main Facebook app features all the required permissions letting the Home app meekly state “THIS APPLICATION REQUIRES NO SPECIAL PERMISSIONS TO RUN.”
As such, it’s the Facebook app that’s doing all the information collecting. It’s unclear, however, if it will do so even if Facebook Home is not installed. Facebook may simply be declaring all the permissions the Home launcher requires, meaning the app only starts collecting data if Home asks it to.
Android app developers have long complained that the platform doesn’t offer much granularity when specifying permissions. Indeed, many times very basic apps ask for permissions they don’t really need. In this case, Facebook may be asking for permissions it only needs when Home is installed and turned on.
Still, given Facebook’s reputation surrounding privacy issues, this is something the company will want to clarify. We have contacted Facebook about this change and will update this article if we hear back.
Update on April 14 - “To offer the Home app launcher and to improve the way it works over time, users give permission for Facebook to retrieve a list of apps installed on your phone,” a Facebook spokesperson told TNW. “We do this to make the launcher work properly and to improve it. If you are not a Home user, the Facebook for Android app does not collect a list of the apps you have on your phone.”
Top Image Credit: Chris Chidsey