Following in the footsteps of Facebook, which made a similar move last Tuesday, Google has decided to disable the app it was paying users to use in order to learn more about their digital usage habit. The app, initially created as a part of a programme by Apple to allow companies to distribute apps to their employees, was being used by both Facebook and Google to research user habits. The decision to disable the same came after both the conglomerates were repeatedly bashed by privacy experts for flouting user privacy time and again.
The Screenwise Meter iOS app should not have operated under Apple’s developer enterprise programme – this was a mistake, and we apologize. We have disabled this app on iOS devices. This app is completely voluntary and always has been. We’ve been upfront with users about the way we use their data in this app, we have no access to encrypted data in apps and on devices, and users can opt out of the program at any time – Google
As opposed to Facebook Research app, Screenwise Meter does not ask for user permission to circumvent network encryption, making the app far less intrusive than its Facebook counterpart, claims Google. “Registered panelists” can continue accessing the app on Google Play Store.
Commenting on Facebook’s involvement with research apps, Google has added that Facebook is no longer allowed to pay users, including teenagers, to extensively research their usage habits, as it had been doing for a while. A report last Tuesday claimed that Facebook was paying a handsome sum of $20 (appx. Rs. 1,400) per month to its users to make them install the Facebook Research app; and although it claims that this was not done without permission, Facebook’s habit of playing fast and loose with the word “permission” does not speak in its favor.
Furthermore, although Facebook is still allowed to distribute apps through Apple’s App Store, each of those apps will first be inspected and approved by Apple; while Facebook will be allowed limited ability to test apps, including Facebook and Instagram, before releasing them in the App store.
I don’t think they make it very clear to users precisely what level of access they were granting when they gave permission. There is simply no way the users understood this – Will Strafach, a mobile app security researcher
He further claimed that Facebook’s assurances regarding having user permission to use their data were nothing more than an attempt for “muddying the waters.”