Facebook wants to mesh its massive social network with phone communications so that it can provide its members with useful information about people at the other end of the line.
On Wednesday, the company launched Hello, an app for Android smartphones that, by pulling data from Facebook profiles, acts like caller ID with a social networking twist.
When they receive a call from a fellow Facebook member, Hello users will see a card appear with profile information about the caller that the recipient already has access to, either because the information has been shared with the recipient, or because it's public on the site. For example, the card may include the caller's name, job title and the number of friends the caller and recipient have in common.
The caller's number will also appear, as long as she has provided it to Facebook and allowed others look up her profile using that number. That setting can be adjusted on Facebook as well as from within the new app. It can be set to everyone, friends of friends, and friends.
To answer, the recipient can swipe up on the card.
The app can also be used to block specific numbers, or calls from commonly blocked numbers. Blocked calls will go straight to voicemail, and can be reviewed in users' recent calls.
Facebook's app does not provide free calling. It piggybacks on the user's existing carrier data plan. But it does link to Facebook's Messenger, which provides free calling and texting over Wi-Fi.
Facebook is positioning the app as a way to make people's phones "smarter," by giving them more information about callers. But it also serves as a platform for users to engage with businesses on Facebook, some of whom might be running advertisements on the site. The app lets users search for people and businesses on Facebook and call them.
Hello is available in the Google Play Store in the U.S. as well as in Brazil and Nigeria. Launch plans for other countries, as well as for other platforms like iOS or Windows Phone, were not announced.
Facebook chose to focus on Android first partly because iOS makes it harder for developers to access certain information for calls.
Facebook has tried and stumbled over the years to occupy more prominent real estate on people's phones, though it has yet to build a phone of its own. In 2013 the company released "Home," a system for the home screen on Android phones to give people quick access to Facebook services. The system failed to gain major traction.