Facebook’s new Study app pays adults for data after teen scandal

Facebook shut down its Research and Onavo programs after TechCrunch exposed how the company paid teenagers for root access to their phones to gain market data on competitors. Now Facebook is relaunching its paid market research program, but this time with principles — namely transparency, fair compensation, and safety. The goal? To find out what other competing apps and features Facebook should buy, copy, or ignore.

Today Facebook releases its “Study From Facebook” app for Android only. Some adults 18+ in the US and India will be recruited by ads on and off Facebook to willingly sign up to let Facebook collect extra data from them exchange for a monthly payment. They’ll be warned that Facebook will gather what apps are on their phone, how much time they spend using those apps, the app activity names of features they use in other apps, plus their country, device, and network type.

Facebook promises it won’t snoop on user IDs, passwords, or any of participants’ content including photos, videos, or messages. It won’t sell participants info to third parties, use it target ads, or add it to their account or the behavior profiles the company keeps on each user. Yet while Facebook writes that “transparency” is a major part of “Approaching market research in a responsible way”, it refuses to tell us how much participants will be paid.

“Study From Facebook” could give the company critical insights for shaping its product roadmap. If it learns everyone is using screensharing social network Squad, maybe it will add its own screensharing feature. If it finds group video chat app Houseparty is on the decline, it might not worry about cloning that functionality. Or if it finds Snapchat’s Discover mobile TV shows are retaining users for a ton of time, it might amp up teen marketing of Facebook Watch.

The launch shows Facebook’s boldness despite the threat of anti-trust regulation focusing on how it’s supressed competition through its acquisitions and copying. Democrat presidential candidates could use Study From Facebook as a talking point, noting how the company’s huge profits earned from its social network domination afford it a way to buy private user data to entrench its lead.

How Study From Facebook Works

Unlike Onavo or Facebook Research, users can’t freely sign up for Study. They have to be recruited through ads Facebook will show on its own app and others to both 18+ Facebook users and non-users in the US and India. That should keep out grifters and make sure the studies stay representative of Facebook’s user base. Eventually Facebook plans to extend the program to other countries.

If users click through the ad, they’ll be brought to Facebook’s research operations partner Applause’s website that clearly identifies Facebook’s involvement, unlike Facebook Research that hid that fact until users were fully registered.. There they’ll be explained how the Study app is opt-in, what data they’ll give up in exchange for what compensation, and that they can opt-out at any time. They’ll need to confirm their age, have a PayPal account that are only supposed to be available to users 18 and over, and Facebook will cross-check the age to make sure it matches the person’s Facebook profile if they have one. They won’t have to sign and NDA like with the Facebook Research program.

Anyone can download the Study From Facebook app from Google Play, but only those who’ve been approved through Applause will be able to log in and unlock the app. It will again explain what Facebook will collect, and ask for data permissions. The app will send periodic notifications to users reminding them they’re selling their data to Facebook and offering them an opt-out. Study From Facebook will use standard Google-approved APIs and won’t use a VPN, SSL bumping, root access, enterprise certificates, or permission profiles you install on your device like the Research Program that ruffled feathers.

At 15 years old, Facebook is at risk of losing touch with what the next generation wants out of their phones. Rather than trying to guess based on their activity on its own app, it’s putting its huge wallet to work so it can pay for edge on the competition.

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