Nick Winke, a photographer in the Pacific northwest, was perusing internet forums when he came across a complaint that alarmed him: On certain Samsung Electronics Co. smartphones, users aren’t allowed to delete the Facebook app.
Winke bought his Samsung Galaxy S8, an Android-based device that comes with Facebook’s social network already installed, when it was introduced in 2017. He has used the Facebook app to connect with old friends and to share pictures of natural landscapes and his Siamese cat — but he didn’t want to be stuck with it. He tried to remove the program from his phone, but the chatter proved true — it was undeletable. He found only an option to “disable,” and he wasn’t sure what that meant.
“It just absolutely baffles me that if I wanted to completely get rid of Facebook that it essentially would still be on my phone, which brings up more questions,” Winke said in an interview. “Can they still track your information, your location, or whatever else they do? We the consumer should have say in what we want and don’t want on our products.”
Consumers have become more alert about their digital rights and more vigilant about privacy in the past year, following revelations about Facebook’s information-sharing practices and regulators’ heightened scrutiny of online data collection. Some people have deleted their Facebook accounts in protest of the company’s lapses, while others simply want to make sure they have the option to do so. Many Android phone users have begun to question Samsung’s deal to sell phones with a permanent version of Facebook — and some of them are complaining on social media.
A Facebook spokesperson said the disabled version of the app acts like it’s been deleted, so it doesn’t continue collecting data or sending information back to Facebook. But there’s rarely communication with the consumer about the process. The Menlo Park, California-based company said whether the app is deletable or not depends on various pre-install deals Facebook has made with phone manufacturers, operating systems and mobile operators around the world over the years, including Samsung. Facebook, the world’s largest social network, wouldn’t disclose the financial nature of the agreements, but said they’re meant to give the consumer “the best” phone experience right after opening the box.
Balwinder Singh’s experience wasn’t what he would consider the best. Singh, who lives in the Susquehanna Valley of the eastern U.S. and works in transportation, bought his Samsung phone seven months ago. He first tried to delete the Facebook app when he was setting up the device.
“My news feed was full of negative stuff, people going crazy on social media,” he said. “It was affecting me emotionally and mentally.” Even after disabling the app, he was bothered to still have it on his phone.