We’ve been hearing a lot about the Facebook phone over thepast few months, and this past week, Mark Zuckerberg finally got up on stage togive us the details. So, no: it’s not actually a phone operating system that’sbased on Facebook. Yes: it’s based on Android.

For a lot of people, the really surprising thing is that ifyou want to get this new Facebook phone, you don’t necessarily have to go outand buy a new piece of hardware (though phones will be available in the US soon). Instead, by adding the new Facebook Home appsuite, you can convert your current Android phone into this fabled Facebookphone, thanks to the app’s integration with your home screen (provided yourphone is one of the supported devices, of course).

With the Facebook Home app suite installed, you will startto see Facebook from the second your screen turns on. Status updates from yourfriends will fill the entirety of your screen in a feature called “Cover Feed”,and you can swipe sideways to get other full-panel status updates. Alerts fromyour friends will appear as notifications, and you can swipe them sideways todismiss them, just like with Android notifications. Notifications can alsoappear on your screen even if you’re inside another app, so that your friendswill “always be with you”.

Whether this is a good thing really depends on yourperspective.

From the perspective of the new social generation, this deepFacebook integration is just what a lot of people have been looking for. Ifyour biggest concern is social interaction on Facebook, it pulls the niftytrick of getting the interface of the phone itself out of the way – you nolonger have to navigate through your phone’s menu to get to Facebook, open itand then start interacting. Instead, you’ll always be interacting withFacebook, and when you feel the need to use another app, you can open it byswiping up on the Facebook Home icon, and selecting the appropriate app fromthe Facebook app launcher.

For those who prefer to use their phone as a businessdevice, or who are only moderately interested in the world of social media, ifit wasn’t already clear from the name of the app suite, this is not the phoneexperience you’re looking for. If you’re still not sure, imagine the idea oftrying to compose an email while the chathead icons of your Facebook friends popin over top of what you’re trying to do. If that strikes you as a royal pain inthe zuck, then it’s probably best to avoid installing Facebook Home.

Even worse, there are already rumblings about privacyconcerns with Facebook Home. By giving Facebook full control over your Androidphone, you’re essentially giving the company carte blanche to know where youare at any time thanks to the apps’ ability to access your phone’s GPS. The companyis already building up a pretty good profile about its user just from theinteractions people have with it, but by giving the Facebook Home apps GPSaccess, it’s theoretically possible for Facebook to track you no matter whereyou are, and make assumption about where you live, where you work, and theplaces you like to go on a regular basis.

Also, because you will be launching your other apps from theFacebook app launcher, Facebook will also be able to gather a lot of data aboutwhat type of apps you’re using on a regular basis. One would assume that theactual business case for knowing such things would be just to better serve youads, but those who prefer to err on the side of caution may find the wholething a bit chilling when considering Facebook’s previous privacy adventures. (Note: Facebook has attempted to assuage concerns with a post explaining some of the privacy issues around the Home apps, but some things still seem a bit nebulous.)

The new social-centric generation (which doesn’t seem to beas concerned about giving away personal information) may well find this anon-issue, and Facebook Home may start to take over Android phones in droves.For the rest of us, though, a bit of caution may well be warranted.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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