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Facebook Tests Contingencies For Fight With Google

Facebook has tested a number of workarounds for its apps on Android devices in case its long-simmering rivalry with Google should escalate into an all-out struggle for control of the Internet, according to The Information, which first reported the news. Facebook’s contingency testing even extended to deliberately distributing apps with glitches that caused them to crash on Android devices, in order to see if users would continue using them.

Citing unnamed people involved with Facebook’s strategy, the Information reports that some of Facebook’s less extreme fallback measures included figuring out ways that Android users could download and use the Facebook app even if it were not offered in the Google Play store. It also investigated how it might develop apps that essentially mirror services provided by apps from Google Play, including updates and in-app purchases, and an alternative mapping system to provide geo-location data.

More controversially, at some point Facebook allegedly distributed versions of its app that would crash on purpose on Android devices to find out whether users would be frustrated enough by the experience to quit using Facebook altogether. Happily for Facebook, this turned out not to be the case, as users used the intended workaround by simply visiting Facebook’s mobile Web site instead – despite the fact that the latter is slower and doesn’t offer as many features.

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While this report will doubtless trigger all the predictable objections about Internet companies experimenting on their users, the fact is Facebook has done worse before. For example, back in 2012 Facebook conducted an experiment in which it manipulated the content of news feeds for 689,903 users to see if it affected their emotional states.

As described in a report titled “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” the study uncovered definite evidence that emotional contagion occurs on Facebook via news feeds.  According to the article, “people who had positive content reduced in their News Feed, a larger percentage of words in people’s status updates were negative and a smaller percentage were positive. When negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred.”

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