Facebook is once again offering people the opportunity to earn money for using one of their apps. The catch? They’re going to watch (almost) everything you do.
In early 2019, the company’s last user-tracking app, Research, was shut down in the wake of a very public controversy. Now, Facebook has introduced a new app, called Study from Facebook, that will collect data about users’ phone activity. Participants will be paid monthly, although how much they will receive is unclear.
What happened to Facebook Research?
If you were a Facebook Research participant, or you knew someone who was, you know that it was shut down rather abruptly after operating for nearly three years. The trouble began when technology news outlet TechCrunch exposed how the company paid teenagers for root access to their phones.
TechCrunch’s investigation revealed that Facebook had been paying users aged 13 to 35 up to $20 per month to gather information such as app history, web browsing activity, private messages, location data, and more. The app, which required users to install a VPN that routed all of their data through Facebook, was likely even grabbing information which belonged to participants’ friends and contacts.
In addition to the very public call-out by TechCrunch, Research was further shamed by Apple, who banned the app from their store. Their issue? Facebook used a certificate to bypass the App Store for greater access to iPhones — a big no-no.
Now, Facebook says, “We’ve learned that what people expect when they sign up to participate in market research has changed, and we’ve built (our new) app to match those expectations. We’re offering transparency, compensating all participants, and keeping people’s information safe and secure.”
How is Study from Facebook different?
This time around, Facebook is doing things differently. The social network promises that their new app won’t look at user IDs, passwords, personal messages, or other encrypted data. In addition, they won’t sell participants’ information to third parties or use it to target ads — and users must be 18 or older.
In an official announcement, they said, “We have a responsibility to keep people’s information safe and secure. With this app, we’re collecting the minimum amount of information needed to help us build better products.” Like Research, Study will look at the apps installed on a participant’s phone, the amount of time spent using those apps, the type of device being used, and app activity names.
In addition to collecting less information, Facebook also plans on periodically reminding users that they are a part of the program. This will allow participants to review what they’re sharing and opt out if they choose. In theory, however, you can also stop the app from collecting your information at any time you choose by uninstalling it altogether.
How to sign up
Want to take part in Facebook’s latest attempt at online research? Unfortunately, you can’t just log on and sign up — the program is invitation only. Certain individuals aged 18+ in the United States and India will be recruited by ads both on and off Facebook. If someone clicks on the ad, they’ll have the option to register and, if they qualify, they’ll be invited to download the app.
The Study from Facebook website and Play store subscription warns users that Facebook will gather information about the apps that are on their phone, how they use them, and more — and the same warning is displayed upon signup. But exactly who is shown the sign-up ad and why is unclear.
If you do receive an invitation, should you sign up? Experts say there are still plenty of reasons to be worried. With Facebook’s history of misusing data, it may not be a good idea to give them access to a device you use all day long. And with a pay rate that’s likely around $20 a month, it’s probably just not worth the risk.
What are your thoughts? Do you think Facebook has learned their lesson? Would you trust them with your personal data if given the opportunity?