Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

Quicktake: why is Facebook paying users to let it spy on their smartphones

New app will pay subscribers an undisclosed amount for monitoring their phone activities

Facebook has announced shifting its focus to reward-based market research programmes. AFP
Facebook has announced shifting its focus to reward-based market research programmes. AFP

Months after coming under fire for quietly paying users to obtain their personal data from smartphones, global social media giant Facebook has released an app doing the same thing, only transparently this time and in a way that will abide by the age restrictions and privacy policies of phone makers.

Launched on Tuesday, Study will pay subscribers -18 years and older - an undisclosed amount for monitoring their phone activities. The company’s older scrutiny app Research extracted confidential information from users, 13-years and above, and violated a privacy agreement with Apple. The National takes a look at what Study is all about and how far it can go in users' phone data extraction.

Why does Facebook want to track users’ private data?

Earlier this year, Facebook said it is shifting to reward-based market research programmes, where all participants will be compensated monetarily.

Through Study, part of the company’s paid market research programme, Facebook aims to keep a tab on users’ smartphone behaviour. It will collect information about all apps installed on a phone, the amount of time spent on those apps, a participant’s country, device model and the type of telecoms network used.

The new app will access information related to its competitors that could help Facebook in making critical business decisions when it comes to new acquisitions and roll-out of new features on its platforms.

How has Facebook responded to criticism?

Facebook said it is collecting the “minimum” amount of information needed to build “better” products.

“We are offering transparency, compensating all participants, and keeping people’s information safe and secure,” said Sagee Ben-Zedeff, Facebook’s product manager, in a blog announcing the release of Study.

Facebook will not collect users’ identity information, passwords, photos, videos and messages, said Mr Ben-Zedeff, adding that “we also don’t sell information from the app [Study] to third parties or use it to target ads.”

How will Facebook run the paid programme through Study?

Facebook will run ads to encourage people to participate in the market research programme. After a qualification process controlled by the company, users will be invited to download the app. Facebook said it will notify users about what information is collected, how it is being used and all participants will have the option to opt out at any point in time. Initially, the app will be available to people in the US and India and will be gradually expanded to other countries.

Is Facebook deliberating ignoring Apple’s App Store?

Facebook said that selected participants can download the Study app from the Google’s Play Store and there is no news about its availability on the App Store. Apple has been vocal against Facebook’s practices targeting consumer and has banned two similar research apps that were paying consumers, as young as 13, for obtaining their data. It removed Facebook apps Onavo in June 2018 and Research in January this year from its App Store.

Updated: June 13, 2019 04:11 PM

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