Facebook deliberately broke its Android app to measure users’ loyalty

Technology journal The Information has alleged that Facebook deliberately crashed its Android app for certain users to discover the threshold at which users will give up.

According to the journal, Facebook tested the loyalty of Android users by secretly introducing artificial errors that would automatically crash the app for hours at a time.

“The company wasn’t able to reach the threshold,” the report stated, while an individual familiar with the experiment told The Information that “people never stopped coming back”. The report found that during the time the app was not working, people simply used Facebook in a browser.

It is important to highlight that the test appears to have been conducted only once and that too “several years ago”. The report, however, brings into spotlight Facebook’s habit of experimenting on its users. The company stirred controversy in 2014 when it came to light that the social network had altered the content of its news feed to determine how it affected users’ moods, including showing sad posts to see if it would make users less likely to use the social network.

According to The Information, Facebook conducted the app crash experiments in an effort to develop a backup plan in case one of Facebook’s major competitors Google removes the Facebook app from its Google Play store.

In an interview with The Verge, former Facebook data scientist JJ Maxwell defended the experiment, likening it to Walmart removing parking from their store to test the effect of varying levels of parking on sales.

“It is one thing to see which color of blue leads to more queries, and another to break your own app for hours at a time,” Casey Newton, an editor at The Verge writes, referring to a Google experiment to test 41 different shades of blue on its homepage to find out which one people preferred. “You cannot on one hand position your company as the place to declare your safety in the wake of terrorist attacks, at the same time you are selectively disabling access to your own service.”


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