While denying earlier this week that it is "building a phone," Facebook has acknowledged that it is working with INQ Mobile on "deep integration" between mobile phone and social networking technologies.
Responding on Monday to a report in TechCrunch last weekend, a Facebook spokesperson contended that it is "not accurate" to say Facebook is building its own device.
Amid conjecture elsewhere that the company might instead be planning a Facebook-branded phone to be manufactured by a third-party, Bloomberg has reported that Facebook is collaborating with INQ on a "custom mobile phone."
Facebook's Collaboration with INQ Mobile
The report said that three people familiar with the matter have confirmed that the "custom phone" is slated for rollout in Europe early next year and the US after that -- and further, that AT&T is now deciding whether to carry the phone.
A Facebook spokesperson admitted in an e-mail that Facebook has a long-standing relationship with INQ, but elaborated little on the specific nature of the relationship.
"While we can't speak for their future product development plans, we can say that our view is that almost all experiences would be better if they were social," the spokesperson said.
"Mobile integrations that we are currently working on include everything from an HTML version of the site to full Connect support with SDKs to deeper integrations with some manufacturers, like INQ. "
What Does "Deep Integration" Mean?
Facebook also referred to "deep integration" in Monday's denial that Facebook is building a phone.
"Our approach has always been to make all phones and apps more social, not build a phone. The bottom line is that whenever we work on a deep integration, people want to call it a ‘Facebook Phone' (even internally), because that's such an attractive sound bite, but our real strategy is to make everything social and not build one phone or integration," according to the earlier statement.
The current rumors about a "Facebook phone" are reminiscent in some ways of previous industry tales about a "Google phone."
Although Google did ultimately produce the Google Nexus One, the phone was actually manufactured by HTC. By many accounts, Google marketed the company-branded phone mainly to promote its own Android OS.
Facebook, on the other hand, seems to be experimenting with phone makers on questions that include how its technology might be used on smartphones to gather personal information from subscribers, an area that could stir concerns among privacy advocates.
Facebook's e-mail on Thursday suggests that the company's work with INQ involves integration even deeper than with Facebook Connect, the company's single sign-on API (application programming interface).
Yet theoretically, even through integration with Connect, a person's Facebook identity could be deeply linked to actions with the device, providing information that might be sold to advertisers.
Facebook hasn't been working on integration at the very bottom layer of the software stack, though. In an interview with TechCrunch, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly said that Facebook is not eying its own OS.
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