Facebook’s latest psychological experiment involved breaking its own Android app to see how users would react, according to a report
Facebook has risked the ire of its users by deliberately crashing its own Android application in order to see how long users would put up with it, according to a report.
The company selectively crashed its Android app for some users for lengthy periods of time in order to find the limit at which users would stop trying to access the service, according to online technology journal The Information.
However, the experiment found that “people never stopped coming back”, so that no threshold was ever reached, the site said, quoting an unnamed source. If the app was broken for several hours at a time, users simply switched to the mobile web version of Facebook.
The experiment, carried out “several years ago” according to the site, is the latest example of Facebook’s efforts to better understand its users through psychological tests that some have called “disturbing”.
In 2014 Facebook published its research into what it called “emotional contagion”, based on a 2012 experiment in which it deliberately increased the positive or negative content visible in hundreds of thousands of subjects’ newsfeeds in order to discern whether this made the subjects’ own postings happier or sadder.
The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) contacted Facebook over the experiment, which attracted criticism from politicians, academics and lawyers, with one academic calling the procedure “disturbing”, not least because it was carried out without the subjects’ awareness. Facebook initially said it was under no obligation to obtain user consent, but later apologised.
Facebook’s app-crashing test was part of a broader effort to investigate alternate ways of delivering Facebook services to Android, which is controlled by rival Google, according to the report.
Facebook also reportedly tested forcing users in “a certain small country for a week or so” to follow a link outside of Google’s Play Store to download the app.
The company is also considering other measures that would make it independent of Google Play Services, which enable features such as in-app purchases, notifications and automatic updates, including building its own duplicate Android services, working directly with handset makers or selling its own Android handset, according to the report.
Facebook has frequently attracted criticism over the way it handles users and their data, with a data protection lawsuit against the company in Ireland spurring a decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) last year to scrap the “Safe Harbour” data-sharing agreement between the EU and the US.
That decision occurred against a backdrop of broader concerns over the US government’s mass collection of user data handled by US-based companies.
In setting out his company’s approach to user data protection in 2010, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said that privacy was no longer a “social norm”.
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