You know what Facebook needs? More of your data.
Despite already generating a dumb amount of revenue per individual user thanks to the information they freely share on Facebook’s suite of apps, the data glutton appears eager to pay for some of the valuable information about them that it doesn’t already have. Facebook unveiled the scheme in a Tuesday announcement for its market research product Study, an app that will suck up information about your apps.
According to the company, Study will collect information that includes the user’s apps and individual activity names of their features, the time spent using them, as well as the user’s country location, device type, and network name. The company claims it will not collect information like usernames and password or specific content like photos or messages, adding that user info won’t be used to generate targeted ads (more on that in a minute).
In order to swindle you out of even more data than you already freely give up when you use Facebook products, the company said it will “run ads to encourage people to participate in this market research programme.” Interested parties will then be prompted to register for Study, and those selected to participate will be able to download Study from the Google Play Store. (Notably, Facebook says nothing about the app being available on iOS, a wise decision.) The company says that participants will be compensated for using Study, but it doesn’t specify in what way or how much. A spokesperson for Facebook did not immediately return a request for comment about its pay model.
On a separate page about the programme, Facebook claims that it will use the information it collects on participants to “helps us learn which apps people value and how they’re used” and “better understand our community to improve” its products. I think we can safely infer that this means Facebook plans to continue attempting to stamp out the competition by either gulping them up or creating copycats until it controls virtually every facet of our digital lives.
Facebook was careful to add that participants need to be at least 18 years old to participate in the programme “at launch,” which is notable considering this product is essentially a repackaged and less horrible—but still bad—version of the one Facebook caught heat for making accessible to teens. That product, its “Facebook Research” app, paid participants $20 (£16) a month in exchange for excessively personal data that included private messages, photos and videos, and web browsing habits. Following a TechCrunch investigation, Apple blocked the app and revoked Facebook’s developer enterprise certificate. (The certificate has since been restored.) That may explain the glaring lack of the words “iOS” or “Apple” anywhere in this week’s announcement about Study.
One of the things the company notes about the programme is that it will match the data it collects against other information it may have about you, such as your age and gender and presumably all of the other stuff people share on the site, such as their political affiliation, relationship status, etc. Together with the data Facebook collects about the way participants use their phones, that gives it a pretty intimate, 360-degree view of you as a consumer.
The company may claim through some clever wordplay that this data it collects through Study won’t be sold or used for targeted ads, but make no mistake that Facebook still plans to profit from it. This is, by its very definition, the purpose of market research. Based on its first-quarter earnings report, Facebook already makes an average revenue per user of about $30 (£24) in the U.S. and Canada and more than $6 (£4.70) per user worldwide. That’s possible by just using all the data users offer up freely. But offering to cough up money for the intimate details of your digital life really put this into perspective. Imagine if Facebook paid you a monthly instalment to use its products. A thank you, if you will, for all of the information you share that it inevitably profits from.
This practice of Facebook recruiting folks to give up access to their phones for chump change also raises the question of whether users might think of their data differently if Facebook were paying for it. Would more people use Facebook to collect a small check every month or would it drive home the fact that this is valuable private information that we’ve been giving away for the privilege of being mad at loose acquaintances online?
Facebook’s data monopoly aside, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s probably unwise to hand over more data to a company that spills it left and right and has yet to prove that it can handle that information in any measurable way—regardless of whatever privacy narrative it now appears to be spinning. Handle this “market research” with a ten-foot pole, folks.