Picture this: You are on Facebook chatting away with your friend about your next holiday destination or your broken washing machine when ads for the very place or thing eerily pop up on your screen moments later. Then a few days later, the ads appear again--and again--as if to mock your ostensibly clandestine activity.
The experience makes you feel as if someone is constantly watching you and anticipating your every desire. And it is. There is no such thing as privacy anymore, unless you can completely unplug every aspect of your life.
Facebook has struggled with conspiracy theories that it goes as far as to use your phone microphone to spy on conversations. CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally dispelling such claims, but that has done little to kill the urban myth, especially after the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that Facebook allowed a third-party to mine personal data from millions of Facebook users.
Facebook’s latest answer to the privacy conundrum basically amounts to hiring people to invade their privacy.
The social media giant has launched a new scheme where it will pay you to use your phone--for the privilege of watching you do it, of course with your express permission.
New Facebook tracking app
Facebook has launched a new app dubbed ‘Study from Facebook’. Once downloaded, it will track your mobile activities such as your device information, which apps you download and the time you spend on them as well as your favorite features.
Users will be paid on a monthly basis via their PayPal accounts, though nobody seems sure about the amount.
No one knows exactly how much it will pay just yet, but many think it will be in the ballpark of the $20-a-month gift-card the company doled out as compensation for an app known as “Facebook Research”—literally an undercover VPN that scoured through a user’s phone and web activity.
Facebook Research got a bad rap for being too invasive, with users as young as 13 being tracked. According to TechCrunch, the app helped FB garner personal data from a total of 187,00 users in its two-year lifetime, using a certificate to bypass the App Store for more access to iPhones. That figure includes 31,000 U.S. residents, including 4,300 teenagers. This was a direct violation of Apple’s user policies, with the iPhone maker summarily banning it on its devices last June. Its final demise came two months later.
Understandably, the new tracking app by Facebook will only be available on Android devices in the U.S. and India. FB says its new tracking app is much cleaner:
“We’ve learned that what people expect when they sign up to participate in market research has changed, and we’ve built this app to match those expectations. We’re offering transparency, compensating all participants, and keeping people’s information safe and secure.”
According to the company, Study from Facebook will not collect a user’s ID, password or personal content such as their photos, videos or messages. More importantly, it does require users to be 18 or older. To avoid being tagged as clandestine, the new app will also be periodically reminding users that they are still part of the program and allow them to review the information they are sending. Once a user decides to part ways with the app, a simple uninstall procedure will do the trick.
Whether or not these concessions will be enough to persuade users to share their data with FB remains to be seen. Google and Facebook are the world’s largest online companies, and both have been struggling to maintain the clean-as-a-whistle image they try to project. Google has already been fined €1.5bn (£1.3bn) by the EU for advertising violations while Facebook might soon have to cough up $5 billion as fine by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for its checkered privacy data practices, making it the biggest fine on a tech company by the federal agency.
That’s neither good for its public image nor for investors--especially now that the European Union has toughened its stance on data privacy with the enactment of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).
Investors can only hope that FB has gleaned valuable lessons from its past missteps and will not make a fool of itself this time around.
By Alex Kimani for conil.me
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