Facebook may be content to play in other people's gardens, or so it says, but it's not afraid to wrestle more control over its users' experience. Facebook is now testing a new method of updating the Facebook Android app, one that bypasses the Google Play Store.
Facebook is asking some users to download and install a new version of the app, one that asks for permission to update itself quietly and in the background.
If you install this new version of the app, you won't be asked to do Facebook updates ever again, new versions of the app will be automatically downloaded and installed.
Facebook says that it's doing to this to make sure that people are always running the latest version of the app.
Even with Android's optional automated update system, it's possible that people ignore update notifications and continue to use the app version they're currently running.
This new system would eliminate the problem, but this probably has more to do with eliminating Google out of the process than with keeping people updated.
What's more, the method used by Facebook to push the first update, which has to be manually installed, is sketchy at least.
For one, users have to enable "install from unknown sources" in the Android settings. For most people, enabling this option is not a good idea. Second, users may start thinking that downloading and installing APKs is safe and normal, if Facebook does it, and it certainly isn't.
The move may make some sense for Facebook, though, as usual, it looks like it's more out of spite than any legitimate business advantage. Facebook has always tried to cut off Google, even when it made little sense to.
But only recently, Facebook was bragging about it becoming best friends with Google and working together to hack the older Android Gingerbread to get the Facebook app do things it normally shouldn't have been able.
This latest move is the exact opposite of that. It's a bad idea for users, it perpetuates bad practices and it's hard to see the value for Facebook.