Facebook is risking fresh controversy after relaunching an app which pays consumers to hand over data on how they use rival apps, despite Apple refusing to offer it on its App Store after twice banning previous versions.
The new scheme, dubbed “Study”, is available from the Google Play store and, once downloaded, will allow Facebook to harvest data on what other apps users have, what features they use, and how much time is spent on them.
Facebook has yet to release details on how much it will cough up for this information but a previous version – Facebook Research – paid users aged 13 to 35 a monthly fee of up to $20 to track all other platforms they were using.
However, in January Facebook Research was removed from the App Store and then shut down. Apple had also removed Facebook research app Onavo VPN from the store in June 2018.
The app is being seen as an attempt by Facebook to be more transparent about its data harvesting although Apple – which has outlawed such data capture techniques for analytics or advertising – will not make it available.
In a blogpost, the social media giant said: “We believe this work is important to help us improve our products for the people who use Facebook. We also know that this kind of research must be clear about what people are signing up for, how their information will be collected and used, and how to opt out of the research at any time.”
The scheme is only available to users aged 18 and older “at launch”, the company said, but privacy experts claim incentivising the sale of data complicates the question of consent.
Dimitri Sirota, chief executive and co-founder data privacy company BigID, told the Guardian that relaunching a scheme that has already been deemed too invasive is a “tone deaf” move, especially given its recent privacy controversies.
He added: “This is a mixed bag for privacy. It’s a positive that this is opt-in and transparent. That is necessary, and much better than a secret data tracking campaign. However, the timing and tone is problematic and suspect, only coming after they got caught.”
Facebook has yet to comment publicly on the Study app.
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