Privacy invading Facebook readies phone named after friend of blood-suckers

HTC is building 'Buffy,' a smarphone with Facebook embedded deep as ticks in a hound

Given the amount of bad publicity Facebook has been getting about a business plan that depends on persistent, aggressive invasion of privacy, and the likelihood of blowback from customers suffering annoyance-exhaustion, I was wondering which direction the largest social-networking site could possibly turn next.

Could it convert its business model to something more supportive of the privacy of its customers? Would it still be able to make a business if it did? Or would it become Napster-after-the-conciliation? Desperately searching for something to offer that customers will pay for or enough free content to keep a customer base large enough to sell advertising.

I was insufficiently cynical about Facebook's faith in its right to tattle on people who trust it.

Facebook is doubling down on its effort to keep customers connected constantly in order to suck every byte of information from them to feed the marketers and advertisers to whom it sells those customers.

Facebook is investing in the one device through which it can collect even more private data than it could as a social-network provider: location-aware smartphone services.

Facebook hired HTC to design and build a smartphone that "has the social network integrated at the core of its being," according to the Wall Street Journal's AllThingsD.

HTC makes some very popular Android phones (EVO 4G, Evo Shift, Droid Eris, Droid Incredible, HTC Titan, HTC Sensation).

HTC also makes three of the 12 most vulnerable smartphones, according to analyst firm Bit9, whose report on smartphone security showed the failure to keep operating systems up to date is the single biggest factor in making them vulnerable.

Of the manufacturers in the study, which take an average of six months to distribute any major OS upgrade to existing customers, HTC is the second-slowest at updating its Android phones.

HTC is also the manufacturer that added a feature called HTCLogger to its phones that collects all the location, contact, search and other data every nosy Android app might want to collect so they can all find it in one place – unencrypted.

AndroidPolice.com also found HTC was including an app called androidvncserver.apk with many phones. The app provides a virtual network connection that could allow third parties to log in to the phone and take it over, in case stealing GPS data on every move the owner made, contact he or she called and list of conversations in the texting log were not enough.

Facebook and HTC seem ideally matched on this one.

ITworld blogger Dan Tynan points out another reason for Facebook to sell its own phone, beyond my assumption that it would provide the rest of the 360-degree invasion-of-privacy that is apparently its goal: mobile advertising.

Gartner predicts mobile ad revenue will grow by almost 700 percent between the $3 billion it generates this year and 2015 ($20.6B).

Facebook's constituency is increasingly moving off-desk, if not offline.

Smartphones and tablets are rapidly overtaking laptops as the Internet-access device-of-choice for Gen-X and Millenial generations, but that trend is moving upward into older generations as well, according to a study released in February by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

That doesn't mean Facebook is losing its audience to smartphones, only that it might miss out on a good opportunity to leech privacy from mobile users as well as those who stay on-premise if it were not heavily represented on smartphones.

Facebook apps have already embedded themselves in 350 million smartphones worldwide, however, Tynan points out.

That sounds like a pretty good audience base to me.

But, of course, I'm a bad judge of what Facebook considers to be reasonable, whether we're talking about the size of an installed base of end users or what level of privacy invasion is appropriate for a company that claims to serve its users, not those who are willing to pay for information those customers would rather not give up.

Luckily, Facebook is very post-ironic even in the name it chose for the new phone – a name that doesn't even hint at the blood-sucking tendencies of the company that contracted for it, of course.

The phone's name is Buffy, apparently after the TV character who was nominally a slayer of the undead, but actually hung around with quite a lot of them, including a vampire who was the love of her soon-to-be afterlife.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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