Facebook’s mobile efforts have often courted controversy, and now it is in the spotlight again, having signed a deal with Samsung which will see the Korean giant not only pre-install Facebook’s apps on its smartphones, but make it impossible for users to remove them.
Facebook has had a string of attempts, over the past seven years or so, to push its services to the heart of the mobile experience. These have ranged from designing its own handset, to striking deals with operators or device makers to pre-install the social networking and messaging apps and make them the defaults; or to offer a customized user interface with Facebook at the center.
Although mobile usage of Facebook’s services has been its main source of growth since its IPO in 2012, it has had limited success in defining the wider user experience. As other web giants, such as Amazon, have also found that has remained, in the smartphone era, firmly in the hands of Google and Apple, with some variations pushed by Samsung or by major operators towards their customer bases.
Nor have Facebook’s mobile initiatives been without controversy. Last year the wider scandal about its data sharing practices extended to accusations that it shared users’ personal information with US operators. Now, in a climate of increasing concern about the effects on mental health of excessive use of social media – which is driven mainly by the always-with-me phone – the timing is not good for the latest Samsung arrangement to be revealed.
Rising hostility to ‘bloatware’ – pre-loaded apps which use up handset resources even if users don’t want them – has led to pre-installation becoming less common, but it remains an important way for app providers to drive uptake of their products, if they appear by default on the homescreen. This Facebook/Samsung deal goes a step further because the app can not be uninstalled, though it can be disabled.
According to Bloomberg, Facebook said when it is disabled, the app cannot collect data for Facebook. The firm confirmed that the new arrangement does not just apply to new smartphones – the app will appear on the homescreen of recent Galaxy S models, and others, if users reset their devices, with no uninstall option.