Facebook in memo to employees defends controversial programme that spied on users | HT Tech

Facebook in memo to employees defends controversial programme that spied on users

Facebook said its research programme used a ‘valid method of market research’ and that it did not access users’ private messages.

By: KUL BHUSHAN
| Updated on: Feb 01 2019, 12:14 IST
Facebook told employees it was “working closely” with Apple to reinstate access
Facebook told employees it was “working closely” with Apple to reinstate access (AP)

Facebook in a memo to employees defended the controversial research programme under which it paid some users including teenagers to access their private data.

Describing the Facebook Research app as 'valid method of market research', Facebook executive Pedro Canahuati claimed that the social networking giant didn't read private messages of the participants.

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Business Insider, which published contents of the memo, reported that Facebook employees were 'furious' after Apple banned the company from testing internal applications. Since then Facebook has succeeded in reinstating the developer certificate but the temporary ban affected "a few dozen" applications.

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Referring to the TechCrunch investigation about the programme, Canahuati wrote in the memo, "TechCrunch implied we hid the fact that this is by Facebook - we don't. Participants have to download an app called Facebook Research App to be involved in the stud. They also characterised this as "spying," which we don't agree with."

"People participated in this program with full knowledge that Facebook was sponsoring this research, and were paid for it. They could opt-out at any time. As we built this program, we specifically wanted to make sure we were as transparent as possible about what we were doing, what information we were gathering, and what it was for — see the screenshots below," it added.

Canahuati further said that neither Facebook hid its identity to users nor accessed private messages.

"No, we don't read private messages. We collect data to understand how people use apps, but this market research was not designed to look at what they share or see. We're interested in information such as watch time, video duration, and message length, not that actual content of videos, messages, stories or photos. The app specifically ignores information shared via financial or health apps," the memo said.

A separate Slate report pointed out an entire Reddit thread where a few users discussed the idea of participating in the Facebook Research VPN programme. Some of these users were well aware about the intrusive nature of the research.

"I'm not too worried about that data because I'm almost certain these companies collect that stuff anyway," Slate quoted a user as saying. The user claimed to have accumulated up to $30 in gift cards via the application.

TechCrunch in a response to Facebook's leaked memo pointed out that its investigation never reported that it accessed users' private data but had the ability to access it.

 

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First Published Date: 01 Feb, 12:11 IST
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