Facebook Launches New Plan to Track App Usage Amidst Ongoing Privacy Concerns

Jul 8, 2019 by

Just months after its high-profile data privacy scandal involving a program to track app usage of young teens, Facebook is back with another plan to track app usage. According to Facebook executives, the social networking giant has learned from its previous mistakes. As a result, the new market research app, known as Study, will be all about transparency, fair compensation for users taking part in the program, and safety. While anyone can download the Study app from the Google Play Store, the ability to take part in the program will be invitation-only, limited to users above the age of 18 in the United States and India who are recruited via ads seen on Facebook.

Details of Facebook’s plan to track app usage

With the new app called Study, Facebook is essentially paying users to get very granular insights into the various ways that they use apps on their smartphone. In exchange for giving Facebook unprecedented access to their app activity, users will get a small payment each month. As part of the plan to track app usage, Facebook will collect information about which apps are installed, how much time they spend on those apps, and which app features or activities are most popular. In addition, Facebook will receive information about the device and network type being used to access the device.

However, Facebook says that it will not collect or store any information about user IDs or passwords, and will not snoop on any user content that is shared via these apps. For example, if someone is using a messaging app, Facebook will simply note that the user is messaging someone else, but will not actually read the content of those message. And, likewise, if users are sharing photos and videos, Facebook will not store, collect or analyze the content of those photos or videos. And, perhaps most importantly, Facebook will not sell information to third parties, will not target ads based on the information acquired during the Study program, and will not add any user activity information to existing profiles.

The goal, quite simply, is to acquire critical insights about user activity online so as to figure out which features or offerings Facebook should roll out next. If users are showing a preference for group video chat features, for example, then Facebook might ramp up plans to create similar apps or similar types of features. And if users are showing a preference for watching certain types of video content, Facebook might adjust its strategic plan for video on the social networking plan. As Facebook outlined in a blog post, Study is essentially a classic market research program for the company’s users, in order to track app usage and get access to their data usage patterns. So what could possibly go wrong?

Market research or spying?

The problem is that Facebook’s track record when it comes to data privacy is filled with egregious examples of how the Facebook research team has repeatedly bent the rules in order to get the information and data they need from users. Earlier this year, in January 2019, reports surfaced that a Facebook research program (codename “Atlas”) specifically targeted users as young as age 13, encouraging them to hand over full access to their smartphones in order to spy on them. Unlike the current Study program, Facebook did not put any safeguards into place to make sure that certain content about research participants was not acquired by the research team – including encrypted information, web browsing activity and private messages. Apple was so appalled by Facebook’s abuse of its policies that it shut down Facebook’s research app, citing unprincipled user research. It’s perhaps for that reason that the new Facebook app will be available for Android users online, and will not be available in the App Store.

continued: Facebook Launches New Plan to Track App Usage Amidst Ongoing Privacy Concerns – CPO Magazine

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