Facebook: Home is Where You Hang Your Ad
The first decade of the 21st century saw the emergence of a new bodily organ, at least among economically able societies. Known as the smartphone, this rectangular growth can normally be found in close proximity to the head or hip, and its ubiquity is forcing companies everywhere to reconsider how to best leverage this new consumer appendage. Facebook is the latest to try a new approach, with Facebook Home officially launching to the public today.
Home isn’t a traditional phone app or mobile OS, but rather a new home screen experience for Android. Upon unlocking your device, the software will display your Facebook newsfeed. On a basic level, this shifts the focus of a phone’s experience to the Facebook ecosystem and ensures that you are always able to consume content from the social network. It also includes a seamless messaging interface, which allows users to respond to messages within any launched app. The rest of your phone’s basic functions and existing apps will still be accessible, albeit less conveniently.
The product provides a rich opportunity in the realm of mobile advertising, but it also could be potentially annoying to users. Facebook has already confirmed plans to include ads on the home screen experience, which are set to roll out at a later date. Seeing as sponsored posts already gum up users’ home feeds, it stands to reason that having Facebook front and center on your phone will now allow these same types of ads to appear upon unlock. Apart from the obvious annoyance factor of such an ever-present billboard, the addition of GPS data to the mix could also mean more local geo-targeted ads as well. Soon, every Pizza Hut in your neighborhood could upsell you on a Mega-Sized Mountain Dew as you walk by.
Infinite consumer facepalms and expletives can already be heard in the distance.
However, if it receives widespread adoption, the most salient benefit for Facebook won’t be advertising. It will be data – very specific data on phone and app usage. Analysts and advertisers could run amok determining correlations with the ocean of available data. What was the messaging density during Easter church services? When do most phones unlock upon entering a Hooters restaurant? How many drunken Facebook comments are sent by single, 45 year old men during amateur Lacrosse games? Home gives Facebook the ability to permeate your offline life in an even more direct and personal way, while gathering valuable behavioral data the entire time.
The ability to collect such specific usage data is inarguably valuable to Facebook and its hordes of associated advertisers, but it remains to be seen whether consumers will meet it with begrudging approval. The company has attempted to deflate privacy concerns by stating that they will not actively track users’ locations while the app is running. But they will continue to collect anonymized behavioral data for internal product improvement.
To me, Facebook’s mobile play seems to be uncomfortably close to advertising on the inside of people’s eyelids. Then again, we do have the consumer-facing version of Google Glass to look forward to.