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article imageOp-Ed: iPhone Field Agent app — Get paid to spy?

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By Paul Wallis     Oct 9, 2011 in Technology
Sydney - Field Agent is an iPhone app that came out in 2010. Since then, it’s picked up 100,000 users and spread from the US to the UK and Australia. It’ll be released in Canada soon. Field Agent is like a “store spy”.
Field Agent is available from the iPhone App store. No price quoted on the app page, but a “review” says it paid for itself several times over.
This is a quote from the current Field Agent media release package, incomprehensibly dated 2010:
What is Field Agent? It’s an app that begins with a Client (who needs information)
creating a job requesting specific information via the www.fieldagent.net website. Field Agent then reviews and broadcasts a request to Agents, (iPhone users in the field) who have installed the Field Agent App. Agents use their iPhones to collect and return information and get paid for the service. Payments can range from $3 to $8, depending on the job’s degree of difficulty.
“Now more than ever, companies are looking for ways to efficiently gain field intelligence on products and services,” said Kelly Miller, Co-Founder of Field Agent. “In an economy where unemployment is near record levels, it’s rewarding to be part of an idea that can create income for thousands of people.”
Pretty straightforward, isn’t it, and a lot cheaper than employing staff to do the same jobs. Naturally, I wanted to check out any information about non-payment, and found one person complaining about jobs being denied or payment being denied. Not exactly the usual plague of non-payment complaints.
That said, Field Agent’s Support page using the search term “scam” is less than encouraging. There’s not much info on the page, and all of it is old.
Field Agent was launched in Australia in September, and the Sydney Morning Herald information is a little bit more upbeat:
Companies simply list the job they need done on the app - whether it's to take a photo of a counter display or to check the price of a certain product. Shoppers then select a job in their area and once the job is completed - in about five to 15 minutes - they are paid anywhere between $4 and $20.
Some Field Agent jobs are based on companies checking out their own promotions. The problems start when there are third parties involved. So this may seem all very nice and straightforward, but there are a few other questions that need asking:
Is this legal?
Yes, provided it doesn’t breach any commercial, criminal or privacy laws. Filming on any premises, commercial or otherwise, may open a can or two of worms all by itself. The shop operator can legitimately refuse and complain about anyone filming on their premises without permission. This is a perfectly reasonable worry for shop owners, that someone may be taking pictures of their security, a practice very common among criminals.
(Note: In fairness, Field Agent is a lot more legal by definition than some forms of commercial spying.)
If I’m a Field Agent, do I have legal support if I get in trouble?
I didn’t see any implied legal support for Field Agents, nor would it be deemed necessary in any lawful business practice. I didn’t see any information which leads me to believe that Field Agent is trying to get people to break any laws at all.
That said- What’s considered “legal” is also subject to legitimate dispute. Any business targeted for information could rightly or wrongly, claim an injury to business interests as a result of the information being obtained. Field Agents may not breach any criminal law, but may be considered to have given cause for a civil action against them.
Summary- Field Agent’s site isn’t reflecting high values for users. You’d expect to see “So and So earned $XXXX as a Field Agent.” That isn’t happening. This may be a result of an oversight, but for a business in this field, the site is significantly undersold and under-promoted. Field Agents are independent, and their terms of service are the defining obligation to the company. This means that the legality or otherwise of any action taken by Field Agents is defined in those terms.
Verdict- Give it a miss unless the company significantly lifts its profile and its sales pitch, and some positive reviews stream back from the core iPhone sites. The world hasn’t been set on fire with this app, and by rights, it should have been. Also expect to see competing products coming on the market.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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