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article imageFacebook 'deliberately broke' its own app to test user loyalty

By James Walker     Jan 5, 2016 in Technology
Facebook has been accused of crashing its own Android app to secretly test the loyalty of its users. The social network allegedly broke the news feed feature on purpose several times to see if users would try its mobile site instead or just give up.
The Telegraph reports on an article from The Information today. The testing was apparently part of a "contingency plan" that would be deployed should Facebook's Android app ever actually crash, go offline or be pulled from the Google Play Store.
The company is alleged to have repeatedly broken the news feed for some of its users for weeks at a time. It wanted to learn whether they would start using its mobile site in a web browser instead or just stop visiting the platform at all.
The results of the experiment were apparently conclusive: Facebook's users are loyal, for now at least. When the app began crashing itself, the majority simply opened a browser and reverted to using Facebook's website online.
The Information's report claims Facebook is making preparations in case it has an "intractable conflict" with Google over how apps run on Android. It wants to have a plan in case the fallout leads to its app being pulled from the Play Store, according to insider whistle-blowers working on the project.
Although the scenario may seem distant at the moment, the two companies are known to have differing views on how Android apps should be run. Facebook, as the single biggest Android app developer, has become increasingly hostile to Google, the gatekeeper to the entire Android platform.
In the past, Facebook has been threatened with a ban from the Play Store for not adhering to the guidelines. It seems as though the company wants to establish what the reaction would be from its users if this were to actually happen.
The testing isn't the first time Facebook has been accused of secretly monitoring its users. In 2012, it conducted secret psychological tests on its members by forcing them to feel certain emotions when scrolling through their news feed.
It recorded user responses to being shown only positive or negative content, without ever telling anyone what it was doing. When the experiment reached the headlines in June 2014, the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) slammed Facebook for "purposefully messing with people's minds."
Facebook argued it is entitled to secretly conducting research on its platform because its user terms and conditions include a clause mentioning data may be used for "internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement." It later apologized, claiming the experiment was "poorly communicated."
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