Facebook's phone: Buffy the Privacy Slayer?

Yes, the Facebook phone is apparently real, and its name is Buffy. Will it drive a stake through the heart of your privacy?

Stop the presses – err, the blogging software: Facebook really is planning to build its own phone after all. 

Or so sayeth Liz Gannes and Ina Fried at AllThingsD, a blog that shares some genetic code with The Wall Street Journal, giving it a scosh more believability than most of the garbage you read online. Even better: Its code name is Buffy, as in The Vampire Slayer. (The phone, not the blog.)

Of course, Facebook isn’t building the phone. They have people for that – specifically HTC, maker of the Evo and other groovy smartphones. And the base OS for the phone will be Android. What will make Buffy a “Facebook phone” (though not this Facebook phone) will be the skin the social networkers wrap around the OS, and the custom apps they integrate into it.

Facebook is already on 350 million mobile phones worldwide – or more than three times the number of iPhones currently in the wild. So why bother making their own?

Because Facebook loves you. But also because Facebook loves money. And he who controls the mobile advertising revenue controls the future. (I think I read that in a fortune cookie somewhere.) Gartner projects that mobile ad revenue will jump from $3 billion this year to $20.6 billion by 2015.

Google has pretty much locked up the desktop ad market, at least until some even worse not-evil ad technology comes along. But mobile – and specifically, location based advertising -- is still relatively new. Nobody has that market in a headlock yet. Everybody wants in. It’s why Google and Apple both bought mobile ad companies last year.

There’s also the question of virtual currency. Last year Facebook introduced Facebook Credits, making it the intermediary for more than $140 million in transactions. This year Facebook Credits are expected to haul in $470 million, according to research wonks eMarketer.

Think about how you buy those silly $1 apps, or ringtones, or download music and TV shows. Facebook wants a piece of all that action. It wants to be the store in your pocket.

There are three other reasons why Facebook wants a phone to call its own. They are a) location, b) location, and c) location.

Think about it. What is the piece of information Facebook can’t get about most of its users? Where they are at any given time, beyond Facebook Places checkins and whatever a static IP address will tell them. With GPS-enabled smartphones, that changes. Facebook could know exactly where you are at any moment, and then serve you up an ad or a deal specific to that spot.

“Hey, your friend Liz just got 20 percent off at  Edna’s House of Ridiculously Overpriced Clothing, which you happen to be standing right in front of. Come in within the next five minutes and we’ll offer you the same deal.”

Who could resist that? Given Facebook’s cavalier attitude toward sharing your friends’ information in its social ads, I expect this kind of advertising to become common. It’s really not all that far off from what social apps like Hotspot and Hatch already do.

Here of course is where I’m supposed to insert dire alerts about what this kind of data collection could do to your personal privacy. But I think you know all this stuff already. Consider yourself warned.

A Facebook phone could drive a wooden stake through the heart of little privacy we have left.  Hey, there’s a reason they named it Buffy.

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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