In case you thought Facebook already knew too much about you, you were wrong. At least this time the company is willing to put its money behind its need for your data. 

Facebook announced on June 11 that it's going to conduct market research by paying users for access to basically everything they do on their phones. Facebook was previously paying teens for similar access as early as 2016, before a report made the project public this January and the company was forced to terminate the program.

This time, however, the company will allow only adults to participate, and is more narrowly limiting the scope of the information collected. The program is called Study, and while the company doesn't say exactly how much it will pay, it does appear that Facebook has learned that users expect the company to be much more clear about what data it collects and how it will be used. 

The webpage explaining the program lays out what information it will collect, which includes the apps installed on your phone, how much time you spend using them, your country, the device you use, and the names of features of the apps you use. In addition, the company makes it clear that it won't collect user names or passwords for those apps or services.

Maybe most important, Facebook says it won't use any of this information to target ads.

Facebook will target both users and non-users

Since this program requires downloading a separate app that gives Facebook access to the information it wants to collect, you won't be affected unless you sign up. That requires clicking on ads that Facebook says will be targeted to individuals who are both over 18 and located in the U.S. or India. They must be both to participate. 

It's also only for Android users, since the app will be available only in the Google Play store. That's mostly because there's no chance Apple would let an app like this make it on your iPhone. Apple revoked Facebook's developer certificate for its previous research attempt, which violated the App Store and developer terms. 

That means if you just use Facebook on your device, nothing happens. Facebook isn't collecting extra information for this product through its regular apps like Messenger or WhatsApp or Instagram either. You'll also have to have a Paypal account, since that's how Facebook's research partner, Applause, compensates participants of the program.

Facebook is depending on mobile

What you do on your mobile device matters a lot to Facebook because 96 percent of its users do so on their smartphone or tablet. As the company ages and grows, it's harder and harder for it to sustain the same growth strategies, so it knows it will have to introduce new features and products that keep users engaged.

The problem seems to be that Facebook isn't sure what the next big thing people are likely to care about will be, so it's asking users to let it look over their shoulders while they use their devices. That doesn't mean the company isn't capable of innovating, but it's much harder to innovate in ways that move the needle once you're the size of Facebook.

Since it appears that Facebook will also target non-users with the opportunity to get paid for their information, the company seemingly is also trying to figure out what those non-users are doing on their phones instead of scrolling through an endless stream of furry pets, vegan recipes, and friends trying to sell you their essential oils.

What your information is worth

Despite the fact Facebook says it will pay users for access to their data, which is, unfortunately, kind of extraordinary on its own, the company hasn't said how much it will pay.

Facebook already monetizes your personal information in exchange for keeping the service free, but now it plans to be up front and transparent about the fact that it wants to know more. Even if it is kind of creepy to think that Facebook cares that much about what you do on your smartphone.

This is a bold move to gain even more information about its users. Even though the strategy won't directly be monetized or used to target ads, its purpose is to help Facebook develop new products that it can monetize or use to target ads. Never mind that the company is already under enormous scrutiny from federal regulators, lawmakers, and even shareholders.

The biggest question is, how much is it worth to give Facebook even more of your personal information?

Published on: Jun 12, 2019
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