Facebook Home for Android heightens mobile data security concerns

The new Facebook Home Android app adds mobile data security and privacy challenges to BYOD environments.

IT pros concerned with mobile data security on employees' Android devices have yet another problem to deal with now that Facebook plans to make those devices more social.

Facebook Home is a new launcher application for the Android operating systems that adds an integration layer between the OS and applications to provide deep Facebook functionality on a user's device.

It can potentially expose a business strategy just by using the phone.

Lawrence Lerner,
President, LLBC

Companies that support bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies may find that Facebook Home makes it difficult to ensure data security, given that personal social functions, such as sharing, liking and posting, are entwined with the user experience, said Theo Priestley, founder of Theology Ltd., an independent analyst firm based in the U.K.

The real problem is the massive amount of data the social network collects from its users, said Lawrence Lerner, president of LLBC, an enterprise consulting firm based in Chicago.

"Facebook tracks 31 points of data," he said. "Everything from photos, to likes, physical location, connections and interactions with other people, and it makes that social graph -- which supersedes user privacy -- available to just about anyone for ads and marketing."

Lerner cited an incident where Microsoft's acquisition of Yammer Inc. last summer was accidentally revealed from employee posts on Twitter. He said Facebook's deep integration on a mobile device could present similar problems for enterprises if competitors are willing to connect the social graph data points.

"This creates an open pool of information," Lerner said. "It can potentially expose a business strategy just by using the phone, and there are good reasons [why]companies don't want the public to know certain things."

Deep social integration with a mobile operating system isn't limited to Facebook, however. There's nothing from stopping other enterprise social vendors, such as Jive, Tibco's Tibbr, or even Salesforce.com's Chatter, from skinning Android as Facebook has done. It's also possible Microsoft could use Yammer in a similar manner on its Windows Phone platform, Priestley added.

Some say corporate IT shops should add Facebook Home to their list of banned apps now, just in case it poses data security issues.

"A BYOD policy might just set a blanket ban on this until more is known about it," Priestley said.

Absent any sort of ban, the challenge in a BYOD environment is managing a device and the company's data when social and sharing is practically baked into the operating system, Priestley said.

Even if an IT department has invested in enterprise mobile management tools, it could still be difficult to ensure the security of an organization's data, Priestley said.

"This could be harder to control even with MAM [mobile application management] or MDM [mobile device management] solutions," he said. "Many users may not want to take advantage of a BYOD policy if it requires strict lockdown or restricts the core functionality of the product."

Anyone with an Android-based device -- a platform already difficult for IT to manage -- can install the Facebook Home application for free as long as they've already installed the most recent versions of both the Facebook mobile and messaging app. Facebook will then push the option to install Home on their device via a link to the Google Play store.

Facebook said that Home is the next evolution of its mobile strategy, but didn't say whether this launcher approach would be carried over to other mobile platforms.

Facebook Home will initially be available April 12 on select Android mobile devices and will be available for Android tablets in the coming months.

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