A Sensible Middle Ground on Data Privacy
On June 11, Facebook released a new application for android users with the stated purpose of studying individual phone habits, specific app usage, and time spent using those apps. In exchange for downloading the app, users will be paid for their participation in the study, and Facebook has promised not to sell their data to third parties.
This is Facebook’s second attempt at studying users’ phone habits. The first was much maligned for excessively collecting data from teenaged participants via tools that granted the company “root access” to the teens’ phones. Root access allows for control of nearly every aspect of a user’s phone, which, as revealed by TechCrunch, meant Facebook had access to private messages sent to and from participants’ devices.
Facebook wants to reassure the public that the new study will be different — more transparent, safer. Naturally, we’d be wise to remain skeptical; Facebook’s early motto was “move fast and break things.” We need to recognize that in their rush to innovate, Facebook and other large tech companies have an intermittent tendency to expose their users to unanticipated dangers. Given the intense scrutiny the industry has faced of late, such a potentially invasive study from a company with a history of gross mishandling of user data is sure to fuel more calls for the government to step in and protect users.