Facebook's new Study app will pay adults for providing their app usage data

Facebook has said that it will offer complete transparency on how it collects data via the app.

Facebook is controversy's favourite child at the moment. The social media giant has been frowned upon (to put it lightly) for the way it handles user data. Earlier it was reported that Facebook was reportedly paying 13-17-year-old teenagers around $20 to install a VPN on their smartphones which would allow Facebook to get complete access to their phone's data. Now the company is again launching an app to gather data from users' phones, though this time, they're being upfront about it.

Facebook. Reuters

Facebook. Reuters

Obviously, with Facebook's patchy track record, you might have some questions before joining the 'Study' program. Here are a few questions answered, based on Facebook's blog post.

Q) How to sign up for the process?

A) Facebook will be running ads to encourage people to participate in the research app project. You can register by clicking on the ad and if you are qualified, you will be invited to join the app.

Q) What kind of user data will you be giving?

A) Once you signup in the app, a description will be made available which explains what information you’ll be sharing with Facebook so you can confirm if you want to participate. Facebook has said that it will offer complete transparency on how it collects data via the app and what kind of data it collects. Facebook will be getting information on the following items:

  • The apps installed on a participant’s phone
  • The amount of time spent using those apps
  • Participant’s country, device and network type
  • App activity names, which may show us the names of app features participants are using

Q) What will you get for sharing your data?

A) Users will be paid to provide their data for the Study app although Facebook has not disclosed an exact amount.

Q) Who is eligible for this Study?

A) As per Facebook, only people who are 18 years or older can be eligible to participate in the Study program, and all participants will have the option to opt out at any time.

Q) What all information will Facebook not access?

A) Facebook will not collect user IDs, passwords, or any of the participant’s content, such as photos, videos, or messages. Facebook will also not share any of the data it has collected with third party apps.

The app is currently only available on the Google Play Store and not on the Apple App Store, so only Android users can register for it. The app, for the time being, is available only in the US and India.

Facebook Study app.

Facebook Study app.

Lance Cottrell, chief scientist for the cybersecurity firm Ntrepid said that Facebook is "being a little less intrusive with this one," referring to the company's previous data gathering stints. The social media giant has said that the information will not be used to target ads and neither will it be shared to third party companies.

What it will do, Cottrell suspects, is give Facebook further advantage over competitors because it will be able to tell how long apps are being used, and even which features within them are most popular. Facebook already has the advantage when setting up such market research, Cottrell said — not many other companies could release a similar service and get as many participants as Facebook is bound to.

"It's a lot of competitive intelligence, but a little less spying on the users," he said. But some privacy experts are concerned users will still not know exactly what information they are sending.

Many people skip reading privacy policies, noted mobile app security researcher Will Strafach, who studied the underlying code of Facebook's Research app earlier this year. And if Facebook updates the privacy guidelines, there is no guarantee they will be upfront about it, he said.

"I think that it's Facebook's job to make it extremely clear (how it works)," he said. "They haven't done that in the past." In any case, one thing the app is sure to do is give Facebook more insight into personal data and use of not only its own services but others as well.

With inputs from The Associated Press

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