Facebook is looking for users to try out its newly launched ‘Study’ app, which is intended to make the social media firm appear more transparent regarding user data.
Study is essentially a market research campaign that will pay users for their data – specifically, which other apps they are using. The introduction of the app follows Apple’s crack down on Facebook in 2018 and again in January 2019 for similar apps that paid users as young as 13 for access to their phone usage data.
However, the new Facebook service is not offered through Apple, as it bans the collection of “information about which other apps are installed on a user’s device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing”.
Facebook will run ads to encourage people to participate in Study. When someone clicks on an ad, they will have the option to register and, if they qualify, they will be invited to download the app. As they sign up, people will see a description of how the app works and what information they will be sharing with Facebook. The social media giant said it will also notify users on the Study from Facebook website and in the Play Store description about what information it collects and how it will be used. Only people who are 18 and older will be eligible to participate at launch and anyone who uses the app will be compensated for contributing to the research.
In a post announcing the launch of Study, Facebook stated: “We believe this work is important to help us improve our products for the people who use Facebook. We also know that this kind of research must be clear about what people are signing up for, how their information will be collected and used, and how to opt out of the research at any time.”
A similar app, entitled Facebook Research, paid users up to $20 a month to monitor all other platforms they were using. The participants were aged between 13 and 35.
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However, it was removed from the app store and then shut down by Facebook. In addition, in June 2018, Apple removed the Facebook research app Onanvo VPN from the app store.
Facebook said it is seeking to approach marketing research responsibly and that “what people expect when they sign up to participate in market research has changed”. However, their attempts at transparency have met criticism from privacy experts who say that incentivising the sale of data, complicates the question of consent.
Nathan Wenzler, the senior director of cybersecurity at wealth management firm Moss Adams, said: “Providing users this up front sort of notice is definitely a good thing, and should be the norm for any company which markets, advertises or otherwise makes use of users’ personal information for generating revenue.
“However, human nature has shown us that providing some sort of reward, no matter how small, is often sufficient to make people agreeable to turning over their personal information,” he added.
Dimitri Sirota, the CEO and co-founder data privacy company BigID, also added that Facebook is engaging in a “tone deaf” move by restarting a program that was already deemed too invasive.
Commenting on the new app, he said: “This is a mixed bag for privacy. It’s a positive that this is opt-in and transparent. That is necessary, and much better than a secret data tracking campaign. However, the timing and tone is problematic and suspect, only coming after they got caught.”