Facebook Study App

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Facebook previously brought two similar apps that tracked user activities
  • The new app won’t track passwords and account IDs, Facebook claimed
  • Privacy experts are concerned about the tracking of user data

On Tuesday, Facebook introduced an app that will pay users to share data about which apps they are using with the social media giant.

Previously, the firm rolled out two comparable applications that monitored what individuals were doing on their phones. But both were shut down after criticizing privacy infringement and violating the rules of Apple’s App Store.

Facebook said the fresh Study app was constructed from scratch and is distinct from the past two. And it’s accessible only on the Google Play Store, although Facebook said it might function in the future to expand it to iOS.

The fresh app will gather data about which applications individuals are using and how long they will be using, including which app features. That could provide useful insight into how individuals use the services provided by their rivals to Facebook.

Facebook said it won’t monitor passwords or account IDs and will regularly remind individuals that their information is being collected by the app.

A past business market research app, called Research, got into hot water previously this year when a study discovered it was being used by teenagers and sidestepped the rules of Apple. Apple booted it from its app store and it was eventually totally shut down by Facebook.

This moment, Facebooks seems to be acting more upfront, said Lance Cottrell, Ntrepid’s chief scientist for cybersecurity.

“They’re a little less intrusive with this one,” he said, noting that Facebook says it’s not going to obtain some of the more delicate data from devices like pictures and web searches of people.

What it will do is offer Facebook more benefit over rivals, Cottrell suspects, because it will be able to say how long applications are being used and which characteristics are most common within them.

In setting up such market research, Facebook already has a step up, Cottrell said— not many other firms could release a comparable service and get as many respondents as Facebook is bound to.

“It’s a lot of competitive intelligence, but consumers are somewhat less spying,” he said.
But some privacy specialists are worried consumers are still not going to understand precisely what data they send.

Many individuals avoid reading privacy policies, said mobile app safety investigator Will Strafach, who researched Facebook’s Research app’s underlying code previously this year. And if the privacy rules are updated by Facebook, there is no assurance that they will be up front about it, he said.

“I believe that making it highly clear (how it operates) is the task of Facebook,” he said. “They haven’t performed that in the past.” Anyway, one thing the app will surely do is offer Facebook more insight into private information and the use not only of its own facilities, but also of others.

Facebook said the app won’t be used to serve people ads, and information won’t be shared with third-party firms— a line that the company has been walking closely since last year’s Cambridge Analytics scandal exposing millions of Facebook users to outside political study firms..

The app for the study is now accessible in the United States and India. Facebook is not saying how much it will pay participants to share their information.

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