Welcome to 2019, where we learn Facebook is the new crapware.
Sorry #DeleteFacebook, you never stood a chance.
Yesterday Bloomberg reported that the scandal-beset social media behemoth has inked an unknown number of agreements with Android smartphone makers, mobile carriers and OSes around the world to not only pre-load Facebook’s eponymous app on hardware but render the software undeleteable; a permanent feature of your device, whether you like how the company’s app can track your every move and digital action or not.
Bloomberg spoke to a U.S. owner of a Samsung Galaxy S8 who, after reading forum discussions about Samsung devices, found his own pre-loaded Facebook app could not be removed. It could only be “disabled,” with no explanation available to him as to what exactly that meant.
The Galaxy S8 retailed for $725+ when it went on sale in the U.S. two years ago.
A Facebook spokesperson told Bloomberg that a disabled permanent app doesn’t continue collecting data or sending information back to the company, but declined to specify exactly how many such pre-install deals Facebook has globally.
Samsung told the news organization it provides a pre-installed Facebook app on “selected models” with options to disable it, adding that once disabled, the app is no longer running.
After Bloomberg’s report was published, mobile research and regular Facebook technical tipster Jane Manchun Wong chipped in via Twitter to comment — describing the pre-loaded Facebook app on Samsung devices as “stub.”
Aka “basically a non-functional empty shell, acts as the placeholder for when the phone receives the ‘real’ Facebook app as app updates.”
Albeit many smartphone users have automatic updates enabled, and an omnipresent disabled app is always there to be re-enabled at a later date (and thus revived from a zombie state into a fully fledged Facebook app one future day).
While you can argue that having a popular app pre-installed can be helpful to consumers (though not at all helpful to Facebook competitors), a permanent pre-install is undoubtedly an anti-consumer move.
Crapware is named crapware for a reason. Having paid to own hardware, why should people be forever saddled with unwanted software, stub or otherwise?
And while Facebook is not the only such permanent app around (Apple got a lot of historical blowback for its own undeleteable apps, for instance, finally adding the ability to delete some built-in apps with iOS 12), it’s an especially egregious example given the company’s long and storied privacy-hostile history.
Consumers who do not want their digital activity and location surveilled by the people-profiling giant will likely crave the peace of mind of not having any form of Facebook app, stub or otherwise, taking up space on their device.
But an unknown number of Android users are now finding out they don’t have that option.
Not cool, Facebook, not cool.
Another interesting question the matter raises is how permanent Facebook pre-installs are counted in Facebook’s user metrics, and indeed for ad targeting purposes.
In recent years, the company has had to revise its ad metrics several times. So it’s valid to wonder whether a disabled Facebook app pre-install is being properly accounted for by the company (i.e. as minus one pair of eyeballs for its ad targeting empire) or not.
We asked Facebook about this point, but at the time of writing it declined to comment beyond its existing statements to Bloomberg.