Politics

Microsoft allies say Facebook Home will give Google more data

Josh Peterson Tech Editor

Microsoft’s allies’ recent salvo of attacks against Google Android is now also claiming that Facebook Home will give the search giant more access to data about Android smartphone users.

Fairsearch.org — a 17-company anti-Google coalition led by Microsoft — recently filed a complaint with the European Commission against Google’s Android smartphone operating system, calling it a “Trojan horse to deceive partners, monopolize the mobile marketplace and control consumer data.”

The coalition’s new complaint focuses on Google’s free distribution of Android, which it calls “predatory,” stating that it “makes it difficult for other providers of operating systems to recoup investments in competing with Google’s dominant mobile platform.”

When asked by TheDC about Facebook Home, which is a suite of apps that modify’s an Android user’s smartphone experience by placing Facebook front-and-center on the user’s phone, however, Fairsearch.org spokesman Mark Corallo was unconcerned, telling TheDC that Android and Home “are two different things.”

“Home, a suite of apps, should not be confused with Android, the operating system,” said Corallo.

Google’s source code for Android — which is based off of Linux— is freely available, unlike Microsoft’s or Apple’s code for their operating systems, which allows developers to make improvements to the code in order to adapt it to suit their needs.

This has allowed Android to control nearly 70 percent of the smartphone market, as of 2012 fourth quarter estimates by IDC and Garnter. It has also allowed the software to be used on devices offered by competitors.

For example, Amazon’s Kindle Fire runs on the Android kernel, which is the main component of the device’s operating system, but doesn’t use any Google apps.

Android’s frequently asked questions page also states that developers using the Android code are not mandated to participate in the Android ecosystem or license Google Play.

If they want to market a device as an Android device, or to offer Google apps — such as YouTube, Google Maps and Navigation, and Gmail — then they have to meet “compatibility” requirements to ensure that the device can “run any application written by third-party developers using the Android SDK and NDK.”

“Home actually sits on top of Android. It doesn’t replace it, or dislodge the key Google apps that are bundled on that same phone,” said Corallo.

“So, presumably, with its own apps and operating system running on phones that will run Home, Google continues to have access to more data about smartphone users who are using Home than does FB,” said Corallo.

“That way, no one else can challenge Google’s dominance in online advertising as users shift more of their Internet browsing to mobile,” h added.

HTC and Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch prior to Home’s release, however, that they modified the Android code for the new HTC First smartphone in order to optimize it as a “Facebook phone.”

Facebook has also already addressed privacy concerns about Home, stating that Facebook Home “doesn’t change anything related to your privacy settings on Facebook, and your privacy controls work the same with Home as they do everywhere else on Facebook.”

A study by comScore found that Facebook, at least in the U.S., finished 2012 as the number one mobile app. According to industry analysts, the company is also dominating the $4 billion mobile advertising space.

The Facebook’s user base of over 1 billion users has allowed it to collect more data on its users than most app developers, and its new play with Home — which became available for Android users to download on April 12 — further encourages Facebook users to stay within its ecosystem.

Early reviews of Home, however, have not been entirely positive.

Fairsearch’s filing with the EU Commission is the only the latest salvo in Microsoft’s war against Google, which has recently included a negative advertising campaign, Scroogled.com, meant to lure users away from Google to Microsoft’s search engine, Bing.

The FTC also settled its investigation into Google’s search practices at the beginning of the year, much to the chagrin of Google’s foes.

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