It’s not yet clear which specific phones are affected, but the US owner of a Samsung Galaxy S8 told Bloomberg that the app could be disabled but not removed from the device. The app also cannot be deleted off Huawei’s premium P20 Pro.
Defending the deal, a Facebook spokesperson said the deals had been made with the intention of giving Android users “the best” phone experience, but refused to elaborate on how many agreements were made or the financial nature of the agreements.
Samsung responded by saying that it provides a pre-installed Facebook app on “selected models” with options to disable it and that once disabled, the phone acts as if the app has been deleted, meaning it is unable to collect data and send information back to the company.
However, this controversial partnership is still likely to cause concern for Android users, given Facebook’s track history of data collecting practices.
A recent report by Privacy International exposed how the company was tracking Android users even if they didn’t have a Facebook account, finding that 23 of the 34 most popular Android apps sent data to the social media platform when a user opened them.
The revealing report stated: “Facebook routinely tracks users, non-users and logged-out users outside its platform through Facebook Business Tools. App developers share data with Facebook through the Facebook Software Developer Kit (SDK), a set of software development tools that help developers build apps for a specific operating system.”
App researcher Jane Manchun Wong described the pre-installed app as a non-functional “stub,” assuring users that once the app is disabled, it’s not capable of doing anything.
Posting on Twitter, she wrote: “Samsung only ship the stub version of Facebook on their phones. It’s basically a non-functional empty shell, acts as the placeholder for when the phone receives the “real” Facebook app as app updates.”
Currently, Android competitor Apple does not pre-install any third-party apps on its devices.