Facebook Study: New Name, Old Violations


In a move that probably surprises no one, Facebook is after more of your personal information again.

Facebook has been through this before. Twice, in fact.

Onavo Protect/Facebook Research

First, there was Facebook’s acquisition of Onavo Protect, a VPN app that advertised privacy, but essentially gave Facebook a peek inside the browsing habits of users. The way a VPN works is essentially routing all your traffic from your phone through a 3rd party that can obfuscate your identity. This means, though, that the 3rd party can see all your traffic. So Onavo Protect users were giving Facebook their entire browsing history.

Then there was the Facebook Research app. Where Facebook improperly used an enterprise certificate as a way around Apple’s stricter privacy controls to spy on both iPhone and Android users. The method that this app used bypassed ordinary Android and iPhone security and also gave Facebook the potential to view just about everything you do on your phone. Things like app data, web history, detailed app use, messages sent and received, and even encrypted traffic, all were visible.

Facebook Study – More of the Same

Now, there’s Facebook Study. This is an Android-only app (not surprisingly) that is targeted toward younger users. According to Facebook, the Study app will collect:

  • The apps installed on participants’ phones
  • Time participants spend using apps
  • Participants’ country, device and network type
  • App activity names, which may show us the names of app features a participant is using

The Study app is not open to everyone. Only certain adults 18+ in the US and India will be offered a chance to use this app. These users will be recruited by Facebook ads. Facebook will pay these users monthly for this information, but it doesn’t say how much the monthly payments will be. Facebook Research gave participants up to $20 per month.

Should You Use Facebook Study?

I’m sure there will be lots of disagreement on this, but while the promise of money for “nothing” is alluring, I have to encourage anyone that will listen not to participate in this app.

Facebook’s use of Onavo Protect and Research are what led it to buy Instagram, and giving Facebook more information about apps that people are using in addition to (or instead of) Facebook will only strengthen Facebook’s social media dominance.

Additionally, although Facebook says that they will not collect user IDs, photos, videos, or messages, you’d have to be willfully ignorant to believe them. Remember, this is the same company that asked thousands of people for their email passwords and then used that data to download contacts without permission.

I imagine that it will (eventually) come out that Facebook has been doing something improper with this data collection or storage, but then it will be too late. Facebook will already have the information, and although it may be “deleted” once the information becomes part of these user’s personal profiles, the raw data is just digital garbage.

That Facebook is rehashing this creepy app premise at all is a sign that the data they got from the Onavo Protect and the Facebook Research app was valuable. After all, it let Facebook know which apps users were opening instead of their own, and gave them a leg up in identifying competing for social media (Instagram) or communications (WhatsApp) apps, which Facebook can then acquire and strengthen their hold on user’s information.

If you get an offer for Facebook Study, you should say no.


About Colin Dorman

Colin is a freelance horn player and teacher, as well as a fan of tech of all sorts, aviation, and increasingly complex flight simulators. He also enjoys beer, bourbon and fitness - but not at the same time. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, as well as right here at ColinDorman.com!