Using customers as digital guinea pigs without their knowledge seems to be something that Facebook just can’t give up.
According to a report from the tech publication The Information, Facebook has been purposely crashing its own Android app for long periods of time in order to find out how users would react — essentially looking for a threshold at which customer loyalty would break.
The Guardian and The Telegraph reported that Facebook didn’t end up finding that threshold, but it encountered plenty of angry Facebookers when word spread that the social media monolith was experimenting on them again.
Back in June 2014, the company admitted that it had been conducting a psychological experiment on 600,000 users — without their consent. It had been studying a phenomenon many call “emotional contagion,” which states that a person’s emotional state mirrors the emotional state of content which that person consumes. Facebook admins quietly skewed the subjects’ newsfeed posts to highlight either positive or negative posts, and then the actions of each subject were recorded to detect any correlations.
The company apologized for its faux pas but it still received plenty of criticism. The recent experiment involving app problems seems to be less intrusive, but it has reignited the sentiments that many users felt in 2014: quite simply, can Facebook really be trusted?
It’s not surprising that its first experiment didn’t actually cause many users to abandon the site altogether. Almost 90% of Millennials and 43% of elderly adults (ages 65+) use social media regularly, and Facebook is still often preferred by adults over sites like Twitter or Instagram.
According to The Guardian, Facebook’s latest experiment is actually the result of its increased competition with Google. Should this competition turn into “all-out war,” Google could choose to remove the Facebook app from its Google Play store — in which case Facebook would want to know whether or not Android users would stick around on its mobile site.
Regardless of the reasoning, the question still remains: Should social media sites be allowed to conduct tests on naive users, or will this result in a breach of trust that not even Facebook can withstand?