07:42 GMT14 July 2020
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    Facebook will relaunch its controversial market research app, which was previously known as Onavo, following claims that its app had spied on users, which Facebook denies.

    US social media giant Facebook will relaunch its market research app Study, which pays users to learn how they use their data online.

    The news comes after a wave of scandals erupted over Facebook’s handling and acquisition of users’ data, most recently after it had paid minors as young as 13 to harvest data on how they had used apps from rival social media companies.

    Facebook will launch the service in the US and India, and only on Android, where privacy regulations are less strict than Apple’s iOS.

    The app's privacy policy states that all users must consent to the programme’s terms to grant access to parts of the phone.

    But Study had been discontinued under its previous name, Onavo, amid concerns from Android users, and will operate as a VPN until Facebook can find a substitute. Cupertino-based Apple banned Facebook’s former market research and virtual private network (VPN) app in January, which had been bought for $120m (£91m) in 2014.

    A Closer Look Under the Hood of 'Study'  

    According to a Wednesday press release, Study allows Facebook to conduct market research on users browsing habits by “collecting the minimum amount of information needed to help us build better products”.

    Study reminds participants that they are part of the market research programme and allows users to “review the information they’re sharing with us”, including apps installed on the their mobiles, the amount of time spent on each app, the participants country, device and network type, as well as app activity names to learn which app features rivals are using.

    Facebook also claims that Study will not “collect user IDs, passwords, or any of the participant’s content, such as photos, videos, or messages” and that the tech firm will not sell information to third parties. 

    Facebook has not disclosed how much it would pay users to monitor data on their mobiles, but users were paid up to $20 for their data, TechCrunch reported in February.

    READ MORE: Digital Cold War? How Beijing's Striking Back Against US Crackdown on Huawei

    Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where Facebook handed over data without user consent to the shadowy private UK political consultancy firm in 2015, the company’s subsidiary WhatsApp pledged on Tuesday to do more to stop online abuse on its systems amid public outcry from UK authorities, and take legal action against individuals or companies breaking its user rules regarding online abuse, even if the offences were committed on rival platforms.

    Facebook’s “Actionable Insights” tool aimed at helping mobile carriers improve signals in weak areas, in addition to providing “better business decisions” via “analytics tools”, but a report from The Intercept revealed that the tool harvests eight categories of information, including geolocation updates, friend’s portfolios and demographics, to target adverts from telecoms partners, as well as excluding users with poor credit history from receiving adverts from specific companies. 


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