Users contribute an enormous amount to a social media company’s success – so isn’t it about time they earned the dividends?
It turns out that Facebook has actually been financially incentivizing users to share their data since 2016. If you’re classified as a millennial – that is, aged between 13-35 – Facebook will give you a $20 gift card every month plus referral fees. Sounds good, right?
However, as you would expect, there is a big catch. For their twenty bucks, millennial users have to surrender their data in its entirety. This includes posts, browsing history, location, and even personal messages, photos, and videos. Furthermore, Facebook has also gained access to users’ Amazon order histories. According to an investigation by Tech Crunch, these capabilities are enabled by a VPN known as ‘Facebook Research’. Once users get their gift cards and install the app on their smartphone, Facebook gains root access to network traffic. From here, the VPN allows Facebook to monitor and analyze all the activity on an individual’s phone.
Not only is this another troubling development in terms of how companies use our data, it is also a serious breach of Apple’s privacy policies. Moreover, it would seem that Facebook hasn’t learned. Last year, they rolled another similarly suspect project called Onavo Protect, which Apple banned in June 2018. This time around, Facebook managed to sneak the project through under the cloak of beta-testing services like uTest, Applause, and BetaBound with the code name “Project Atlas.”
However, Facebook has fiercely defended the initiative. In a statement released by a company spokesperson, they said:
“It wasn’t ‘spying’ as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate. Finally, less than 5% of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens. All of them with signed parental consent forms.”
However, this hasn’t appeased Apple, who has immediately made moves to ban the application. Furthermore, experts have expressed deep concern over the company’s behavior, pointing out that very few people would comprehend the scope of access. Looking to the future, some even suggest that this level of conflict between the two tech giants could lead to Apple revoking Facebook’s developer certificate.
This is another blow to the already embattled social media behemoth after a series of privacy and misinformation scandals. Although Facebook’s fourth-quarter earnings have triggered a 7% rise in share prices on Wednesday night, this comes as little comfort after 19% was slashed off their market value in the middle of last year.