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Facebook will pay to spy on you, but you can make more money elsewhere

Facebook’s new Study app will track how you use your phone and provide that data to the social media giant. The company will even pay you for it — but likely not very much, especially compared to the market rate for your personal information.

Market research is common — companies will pay big bucks to get insight into how you use their products — but an app that essentially spies on your phone use raises a whole new set of questions for Facebook, which has repeatedly gotten into hot water over its use of personal information.

The company got in trouble earlier this year for a similar app, Facebook Research, which paid people as young as 13 for access to their data usage and activity. Facebook Study, announced Tuesday, will be limited to those 18 and over, and the app promises to be more up front with what it’s collecting.

Facebook Research was paying participants $20 a month. Study will likely pay similar rates, which is less than the hundreds of dollars paid out by some similar market research apps.

Facebook Study will have access to participants’ device and network type, as well as the names of its apps and features it uses for those apps. The company says certain data is protected: if you’re in another app and open the messaging feature, Facebook Study would know that but not what you type into the message box.

Apps like these aren’t unheard of, though Facebook’s size means Study will likely have a massive reach right out of the gate. Joanna Jones, CEO and founder of market research firm InterQ Research, says her company uses apps known as “mobile ethnography tools” to track app usage.

While participants can send a screenshot of their app-usage breakdown, InterQ’s clients want more information. Mobile ethnography tools use photos and videos submitted by participants to answer not “what” or “how long” but “why.”

“Knowing how much time they spend on it, while interesting, doesn’t tell us what they’re doing or why,” said Jones. Using an app from Indeemo, InterQ participants receive pings that prompt them to answer questions or record a video at various points throughout the day. “When we do mobile ethnographies, we’ll ask people, ‘Hey, I saw that you were on Instagram for 45 minutes today. What was the most interesting thing you saw or what compelled you to open it or what did you comment on,’” said Jones.

To find participants, InterQ might use ads or go into forums for industry-specific research. For a week of using the app, plus a follow-up interview, Jones said participants can make between $100 and $200. Once the study is over, participants can then delete the app and InterQ won’t have access to their data. “We have full disclosure of what we’re studying,” said Jones. “Sometimes we can’t reveal the company name, but we tell them exactly why we’re doing this study, what the objective is, and what we’re hoping to learn.”  

Facebook Research was fairly broad in the information it captured, even asking users to screenshot their Amazon purchase histories, according to TechCrunch. Apple said the app violated the App Store agreement and removed it.  To start, Study will only be available to users in the US and India. (It’s noteworthy that neither country is covered by the European Union General Data Protection Regulation, a fairly strict privacy regulation.)   

Facebook declined to give Digital Trends specifics on what Study’s payment structure would look like, so there’s always a chance they’ll take a complete turn and pay what appears to be the market rate. But Facebook is clearly going for quantity over quality. Because of its ubiquity, it will still likely find people who want or need an extra $20 a month and who figure their privacy is already compromised anyway.

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Jenny McGrath
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jenny McGrath is a senior writer at Digital Trends covering the intersection of tech and the arts and the environment. Before…
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