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Facebook launches new market research app after shutting down its controversial VPN service

Facebook launches new market research app after shutting down its controversial VPN service


It’s launching with a well-being survey

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook has a new market research app launching today called Viewpoints, just a few months after the company introduced an Android data collection app called Study designed to monitor what and for how long users are accessing other software on the Google-owned operating system.

Both apps have a controversial history. In January, Facebook shut down a market research app ostensibly offered as a virtual private network (VPN) provider. It was marketed to teens and used a special software certificate Apple gives out to businesses, designed mainly to allow the distribution of internal apps to employees, but not the public.

Facebook’s market research apps have in the past violated Apple’s privacy rules

Facebook, however, was using it to install software on the phones of teenagers and other survey participants to collect data the company otherwise couldn’t ask for using its primary iOS apps. The app would have been in violation of Apple’s rules for the App Store, but Facebook was using an Apple-provided enterprise certificate to distribute the software outside the standard iOS model. Apple pulled the company’s enterprise privileges for violating the rules, and Facebook shut down the app, called Facebook Research VPN, to appease the iPhone maker. Facebook last year shut down a similar VPN app, called Onavo Protect, after Apple said it violated the standard App Store data collection rules.

Facebook’s research efforts now live on in Viewpoints and Study. With Viewpoints, Facebook isn’t peering into how you use third-party apps. Instead, it’s an app that will give you rewards for filling out surveys, testing new products, and more. According to Facebook, the first survey that’s available is the “Well-Being Survey,” and TechCrunch says that the survey will take about 15 minutes and earn you 1000 “points,” which apparently translates to $5 that will be paid to you over PayPal.

Facebook seems to have taken some criticisms of its previous market research apps to heart, as Viewpoints is only open to people 18 and older in the US with Facebook accounts. However, when I tried registering my Facebook account on the iOS version of the app, a message popped up that said the program is “not available to you at this time,” so it seems that some people might not qualify for the current survey.

Facebook says that it plans to provide “additional ways for people to register” and to expand the program to other countries next year. The company also says it won’t share information from the app to third parties or share your Facebook Viewpoints activity on Facebook.