Social media scandals and privacy breaches have been on the rise recently. Celebrities and public personalities are not the only ones falling victim to such incidents; regular internet users become prey to identity theft and online scams almost on the daily. Not to mention that with every technological advancement developed and introduced for our usage, external entities get more and more access to our personal information — including biometrics — with our full consent (without us knowing it).
The major player
Facebook, being one of the major tech companies that gather user data, has often been the subject of speculation and criticism when it comes to privacy. If you'd remember, the social platform created by Mark Zuckerberg caused outrage among the public in 2018 when it was exposed for sharing its users' data with other tech firms like Amazon, Spotify, Microsoft and many more. And while they did defend their actions by saying that, technically, it is up to the users to 'allow permission' to these third parties to gain some access to their profiles, their vague policies and non-restrictive approach to this privilege were also called out by many as being partially at fault.
Then, earlier this year, they were forced to shut down their Research and Onavo programs after being exposed once again, but this time for secretly paying teenagers to gain root access to their phones for 'market research'. This is in line with a similar program Apple ran in June 2018 and was shut down in August of the same year, in which the company running the program can get all of the traffic, activity, and access from their research subject's smartphone.
Now, it all seems fair considering that they are paying these participants and in with consent. After all, almost every experiment of different degrees has resulted in similar measures. It was also said that while the program gains access to the user's phone activity, they do not store passwords or other account histories, nor would these be sold to third-parties.
However, the major criticism of this past program is that Facebook was neither transparent of the payment the users were receiving nor its existence prior to it being exposed. It was also not made clear whether the people the paid subjects interact with online are safe from getting their own information looped into the data-gathering research.
Where does Study by Facebook come in?
After a couple of months of their program being shut down, Facebook now bounces back with a more 'transparent' solution: Study by Facebook. According to their website, this program will "help [them] learn which apps people value and how they're used," and the data gathered will be used to improve all existing products under the Facebook company. Facebook's product manager Sagee Ben-Zedeff's statement on their blog said that they are "offering transparency, compensating all participants, and keeping people’s information safe and secure".
An ad is said to be rolled out to the users, prompting the need for participants. The users will then be asked to fill in a questionnaire and if qualified, be asked to download the Study by Facebook app that's both available on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. Compensation, customer support, and other details about the market research program will then be disclosed afterwards.
If you're wondering, the data that will be gathered is as follows: all the app installed on your phone; the amount of time spent in each of those apps; the participant's location, country, device type and network connection; each app's activities and features and how it's being used by the participant. Facebook reiterates that content such as photos, messages, and videos, as well as account passwords and emails, will not be stored throughout the duration of the program, nor will they be used to target ads or be used to suggest similar apps or programs to the user.
At the moment, the program is only available in the U.S. and India, but is said to roll out soon to other countries over time.
Will you and should you allow Facebook to monitor your phone activity for money?
Being paid by merely using your phone sounds like a dream. After all, with society's current dependence on our smartphones, as well as social media, it would definitely feel like a breeze. But with Facebook's current track record of being the melting pot of fraud, fake news, false identities, and even gruesome activity reaching virality without being monitored or put down until it's too late, spare bills of a tech magnate going to our bank account doesn't seem like it's worth the risk at all.
Not to mention that Facebook already has multiple ways to track our current activity via their owned platforms through cookies and pixels. This is why they are able to be eerily accurate when targetting us with ads. Having access to a device that is quite literally an extension of our identities can only result in something possibly disastrous. Plus, who needs such excessive information anyway?
And while it is the user's responsibility to know and deal with the consequences of consenting to such a program, it is worth noting that such a mishap would not make the odds even for both parties. At the end of the day, personal information leaked will make individuals suffer significantly more than a billion-dollar moneymaking enterprise.
Protect yourself online with these tips.