One question that's unlikely to be addressed during today's Facebook press conference has to do with the possible data tracking implications of a phone deeply integrated with Facebook's core features. But given Facebook's mobile ubiquity (More than 680 million people use Facebook on mobile devices every month) and CEO Mark Zuckerberg's focus on the mobile monetization challenge, it's a question worth asking.
One scenario, according to Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, CEO of Drawbridge, a company that offers ad-targeting solutions, is that the "Facebook phone" could make Facebook Connect (a set of APIs that enable users to log onto websites and applications with their Facebook identity) more compelling to brands and app developers.
“A Facebook phone does not in and of itself provide any advantage for cross device ad targeting,” Sivaramakrishnan said. “The primary significance of the Facebook phone may be that it makes it even more attractive for developers to use Facebook Connect as the log-in [assuming] the phone will already have users' Facebook handles as a credential.”
In terms of ad targeting, Facebook would need to build a third party ad network on its Facebook Connect-enabled sites (think of it as an "AdSense for Facebook Connect") in order for advertisers to take advantage of the inventory on the phone, Sivaramakrishnan added.
According to rumors, Facebook will unveil a phone with a custom version of the Android operating system. Being integrated at the OS level would allow Facebook to gather “much more data to build more comprehensive profiles and real-time targeting opportunities,” maintained Jennifer Lum, cofounder of ad targeting provider Adelphic Mobile.
“OS level access will provide Facebook with a better understanding of their users around the clock,” Lum said. “Additional data could come from search, location and commuting patterns, payments, cross-app activity and lead to powerful targeting opportunities.”
As many have pointed out, the Facebook phone is a gamble (“A solution to a problem that doesn't exist," is how Ovum analyst Jan Dawson described it to The New York Times.) But there's no question the company has a big mobile story to tell. Data from J.P. Morgan analyst Doug Anmuth and comScore, reported by All Things D's Peter Kafka, pointed out that although Facebook users are spending less time with the social network on a PC, mobile usage is growing fast. "Even as Facebook plays around with different ad tactics and strategies," Kafka noted, "the overall trend is still moving up and to the right."