Timing is everything, and this is certainly a strange time for Facebook to roll out a new effort to collect your data. For one, just look at growing scrutiny from not only the U.S. government but other governments around the world.
Yet it’s not just about antitrust and privacy concerns. It was only a few months ago when Facebook was exposed for the shady ways it collected data on its competitors, by doling out payments to adults — and teens — in return for access to all the data on smartphones.
Now that it’s apparently decided enough time has passed since that particular scandal, Facebook is ready to pay people to hand over their privacy once again. This time, it’s under the guise of being more upfront about how it monitors what you do on your phone.
Not the first time (or second) Facebook’s snooped on phones
To dominate competition in the past, Facebook would take the reigns of success stories (Instagram and WhatsApp), buy a platform and shut it down (FriendFeed) or simply ignore a site and let it wither away on its own (Google+). Yet some social media sites endure like SnapChat and Twitter, while newer platforms like TikTok continue to gain traction around the world.
Social media platforms come and go, and Facebook likes to know if you’re cheating on its app with others. A few years ago, there was a VPN app called Onavo Protect and while it was touted as an extra layer of security to keep your data and privacy safe, the Facebook-owned app actually had access to everything someone did on their phone.
That sounds much more like spyware than a real VPN and it was shut down following backlash. But if at first, you don’t succeed …
While Onavo Protect was gone, it still had another VPN called “Facebook Research.” Those invited to take part would be asked to sidestep official app stores to install the app on their iPhone or Android smartphone and in return, get $20 a month in gift cards plus referral fees. For very little money Facebook would gain root access to users’ phones, allowing it to monitor just about everything on a person’s phone and how they use it.
Without consent, teens were also involved in the research with participants ranging in age from 13 to 35. Once a report by TechCrunch exposed the shady program this past January, the app was eventually shut down. Now, here we go again.
3rd time’s the charm? Facebook gives transparency a try
What’s the difference between research and study? Research was the name of Facebook’s former app that was shut down, and Study is the new one that launched Tuesday.
“Study from Facebook” is a market research study looking to recruit people through Facebook ads in the U.S. and India (18+ this time) to share info about how they use apps. Once again, those invited will be asked to install on an app on their smartphone, grant a few permissions and use it normally. Participants will be paid, but Facebook isn’t saying how much.
Facebook has an explainer about the study on its site in an attempt to be more upfront this time around. After going over how it works, Facebook details the info it collects and what it doesn’t. Below is one excerpt from the study’s landing page:
What info does the Study app collect?
Through the Study app, we collect and analyze participants’ apps usage. This includes info about:
- The apps installed on participants’ phones
- Time participants spend using apps
- Participants’ country, device and network type
- App activity names, which may show us the names of app features a participant is using
How does Facebook use this info?
We gain insights using data from groups of participants for business and product research.
- Info from participants helps us learn which apps people value and how they’re used.
- We’re able to better understand our community to improve Facebook Company Products.
- We don’t collect user IDs, passwords or content people share, including messages.
- We don’t sell data from this app to third-parties or use it to target ads to you.
Right now, the app is only being made available for Android devices through Google Play. Apple is noticeably absent thus far, but after a history of Facebook violating the terms of its App Store, it’s not all that surprising. Read more information about the study in a recent Facebook blog.
Keep your personal data private
Facebook says it won’t collect user IDs and passwords, or sell data from this app to third-parties. Its extensive track record says otherwise.
And be mindful of any apps you download, especially what permissions they’re requesting access to. We’ve also got tips to stop your phone from tracking you by tapping or clicking here.
Your privacy is worth a lot more than a few bucks. You know that and maybe one day Facebook will realize that, too. It just won’t be today.