back to article Former Facebooker alleges Meta drained users' batteries to test apps

A lawsuit claiming Meta ran tests that deliberately degraded performance of its apps in ways that ran down smartphone batteries has been withdrawn after the social network reminded the ex-staffer who brought the case that his contract requires him to take the case to arbitration. George Hayward, who worked at Meta for over …

  1. that one in the corner Silver badge

    contract requires him to take the case to arbitration

    Forced arbitration clauses - not something you ever want to find[1] in your contracts, any contract (insurance, employment, ...)

    [1] which is why the paperwork is carefully worded to obscure the clauses and hide the consequences from you: it is a kindness.

    1. Somone Unimportant

      Re: contract requires him to take the case to arbitration

      Not only forced arbitration, but forced arbitration AFTER the person has been dismissed by Meta.

      I'd have thought that dismissal would result in automatic annulment of any and all agreements, including the request to remain silent.

      At least it does in some advanced countries.

      And how can it be an internal arbitration? The person in question is no longer internal to Meta.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: contract requires him to take the case to arbitration

        > The person in question is no longer internal to Meta.

        But his soul belongs to Meta for all eternity... He did sell it, according to the (very) fine print in page 68, and all sales are final.

        In case you wondered why your work contracts have to be signed in blood.

        1. steviebuk Silver badge

          Re: contract requires him to take the case to arbitration

          It appears going to work for Meta is like signing up to the Country Club in Invitation To Hell.

    2. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

      Re: contract requires him to take the case to arbitration

      Time to ban forced arbitration. As in making it a criminal offence both to put in contracts and to attempt to enforce.

      But politicians won't do that because they worship corporations.

      1. Someone Else Silver badge

        Re: contract requires him to take the case to arbitration

        But politicians won't do that because they worship the money (campaign contributions, lobbying, etc.) corporations dole out to compliant, supplicant politicians.

        There, FTFY.

      2. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: contract requires him to take the case to arbitration

        Its not a case of 'worship', more one of 'ownership'.

      3. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: contract requires him to take the case to arbitration

        Agreed.

        Forced arbitration circumvents due process.

        Voluntary arbitration still has a place, but forced arbitration is extra-legal and outright tyranny.

    3. Spamolot

      Re: contract requires him to take the case to arbitration

      Hope that this contract doesn't impose confidentiality in any arbitration settlement...

      You know, the kind that ends with no admission of wrongdoing and a nice payout in return for eternal silence.

    4. Johnb89

      Re: contract requires him to take the case to arbitration

      AFAIK the forced arbitration thing is strictly an American thing... can anyone tell us if they've seen it elsewhere? I've been many enough Euro, UK and other contracts and not seen it. Which is nice, because then I'd have had to have had the whole "You don't seriously think that's enforceable?" conversation with someone.

  2. Winkypop Silver badge
    Flame

    What a bunch of…

    And yet millions continue to be used by this “service” every waking moment.

    1. Plest Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: What a bunch of…

      Recent poll says that 40% of US citizens firmly believe that a deity created the earth and all life on it, it appears that with the help of social media intelligence is fighting a losing battle.

    2. iron Silver badge

      Re: What a bunch of…

      "dumb fucks"

  3. Notas Badoff

    I seem to be running on 'empty'

    "... would mean intentionally draining the batteries of users' devices without their consent."

    This "negative testing", what would it prove? How would it be evaluated? I'm at a loss to understand.

    Would it be thus: person was using our app daily for X hours a day, and now they use our app less, and less often? Do you *ever* *want* to turn off your users?

    Apoptosis: a form of programmed cell death. (Sometimes hoped for in anti-cancer treatments)

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: I seem to be running on 'empty'

      Yeah I could see testing basing on load latency, that is something immediately obvious to the end user. But how could they know Messenger is draining their batteries more than normal, unless they are using it for hours on end every day and hardly using anything else?

      If your phone heats up as a consequence of pointless battery draining I suppose you'd notice that. I would be less likely to use an app that heated up my phone if it was doing something that shouldn't require much work, like a Messenger app. But the average person who knows nothing about programming has no way to know whether a given type of app "should" create more or less performance load on a phone.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I seem to be running on 'empty'

      Perhaps they wanted to test correlations between battery status and app usage.

      Do users try to squeeze out one last engagement on the app at 5%? Do they use the app less below a certain threshold? Do they notice the battery drainage increase being cause by the app?

      Perhaps it might be to see how much additional battery they are 'allowed' by users to expend, and thus how much more background junk can be put into the app without concern. Surely someone was considering a background crypto miner functionality... That is/was all the rage, right?

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: I seem to be running on 'empty'

        Perhaps it might be to see how much additional battery they are 'allowed' by users to expend

        No. The average user thinks that not opening the built-in Facebook app means the Facebook app isn't doing anything and doesn't know how to disable built-in apps with the UI, let alone use adb to remove them.

      2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: I seem to be running on 'empty'

        Good point, I did wonder about this.

        If it was just about latency, which is what the article suggests, them this doesn't need to necessitate battery drain. It's just about putting in an artificial delay in a system which for any vaguely competently written system does not require any effort nor additional battery drain whatsoever.

        However, queries about battery level and usage are interesting and valid but should never include intentionally reducing battery life in order to increase the sample base - much better to record battery levels and response times.

        In the past I've found that blocking or uninstalling Facebook when it's found on a phone (some bastard phone suppliers pre-install it as a system application) made a great deal of difference to the battery life of the device. Mostly I suspect this is due to the absolutely appalling coding in the application itself.

    3. Plest Silver badge

      Re: I seem to be running on 'empty'

      Seem like basic DR testing methodology to me. Experiment on a small number, say 5,000 users and see what happens when you degrade their performance to the point where they could leave.

      Then when the supply gets cut, say a DNS outage, ISP or mobile network down and it's all out of your control, how do those people behave when during the test and afterwards? Can we do anything to ensure they don't ever think it was nice to have their brain back instead of stuck on automatic-moron mode while scrolling Facecrap and Twatter.

    4. JoeCool Bronze badge

      Re: I seem to be running on 'empty'

      I think the point is to conduct a blind test : when the user's battery is low, _without_ knowing why, how does that affect their use of FB.

    5. General Purpose

      Re: I seem to be running on 'empty'

      They weren't testing the effect of draining the battery. They wanted "to look at the correlation between latency between opening a link and the likelihood a user commented on said link." They did find a correlation: the likelihood of commenting peaks when latency's pushed up to 2 seconds.

      The ex-employee reckons this amounted to significantly draining phone batteries (presumably because the app was running longer, not just when the user was looking at the screen but also when the app was running in the background).

      1. Yankee Doodle Dumper

        Re: I seem to be running on 'empty'

        No, you are incorrect. The "correlation between latency..." was one example of negative testing that Meta actually performed. The ex-employee mentioned was asked to implement negative testing in his own (very different) area, which was the battery efficiency of the Messenger app. They essentially wanted him to drain batteries of some unknown number of users in a test group which they wouldn't even know they were a part of. He refused.

        1. General Purpose

          Re: I seem to be running on 'empty'

          Thanks, I was too hasty and it's as you say. The pdf is clear that he sent a message "So, on the one hand, an experiment is the best way to quantify the impact of battery drain. On the other hand, it's far too risky for me to advocate intentionally "degrading" a user experience-both legally and also PR-wise (plus you could actually hurt someone in an edge case).”

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Corporate America in a Nutshell

    1. ecofeco Silver badge
  5. mpi Silver badge

    Gentle reminder that not using facebook, or twitter, had no negative effects on my life ;-)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Probably quite a few positive ones, in fact.

    2. iron Silver badge
  6. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Nuke the entire site from orbit - it's the only way to be sure

    adb shell

    pm uninstall --user 0 com.facebook.appmanager

    pm uninstall --user 0 com.facebook.services

    pm uninstall --user 0 com.facebook.system

    No root required.

    1. Alumoi Silver badge

      Re: Nuke the entire site from orbit - it's the only way to be sure

      And run this again at the next OS update.

    2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: Nuke the entire site from orbit - it's the only way to be sure

      Yep, exactly this. It doesn't entirely remove the crud from the system but it prevents it running in a near permanent way without requiring that the system be rooted.

  7. Luiz Abdala
    FAIL

    Beta tester? Hello?

    They should have run this in double-blind tests with volunteers, or beta testers.

    Steam has beta tester flags for this reason.

    1. JoeCool Bronze badge

      Re: Beta tester? Hello?

      It's not blind if you know you're in a test / are a beta tester. Especially if you know which group you're in ... "oh look, MY battery is low". I suppose it's possible to disguise the true intent of the experiment, but still, Beta testers aren't expected to act the same as regular users.

      What I wonder is if there isn't already on-phone instrumentation that could be used to find these conditions in the wild - certainly "privacy" couldn't have gotten in the way, right ?

  8. EricB123 Bronze badge

    Just like health insurance

    My California private health insurance had that dammed forced arbitration clause. Made making them pay for a valid claim Impossible.

  9. david 12 Silver badge

    Lawyers

    They took this to court even though they had examined the case and realized it had to go arbitration? Or they took it to court without examining the case?

    One way looks like blackmail. The other looks like incompetence.

    1. JoeCool Bronze badge

      Wrong on both counts

      3) Let's create some publicity, and get this into the public forum to improve our position and so that FB can't just sweep it under the carpet.

      "Public Blackmail" kind of a contradiciton in concepts.

  10. DJV Silver badge

    intentionally degrading some user experiences?

    I thought that was the only mode Facebook worked in...

    1. Marcelo Rodrigues
      Trollface

      Re: intentionally degrading some user experiences?

      "I thought that was the only mode Facebook worked in..."

      Not so. Sometimes it unintentionally degrades the user experience too.

    2. Someone Else Silver badge

      Re: intentionally degrading some user experiences?

      No, no, no! They're not "intentionally degrading some user experiences", they're simply intentionally degrading some users.

      ...for large values of "some"...

  11. bitwise

    Stealing leccie?

    BT used to go after phreakers for stealing electricity, can't users claim the same here?

  12. Alex Stuart

    Yet another reminder

    of the lengths that Facebook et al go to monitor every minute detail of your interaction with their app to make sure you, dear product - oops - customer, don't have a single wasted second of potential 'engagement' or 'value'* kept from you. After all, merely using psychological tricks, sorry, methods, as part of UI design and behaviour to maximise 'engagement'** of dopamine systems might leave some spare 'engagement' on the table.

    * definitely not compulsion, addiction, etc.

    ** definitely not abuse

    1. iron Silver badge

      Re: Yet another reminder

      > Facebook et al go to monitor every minute detail of your interaction with their app

      Not all apps and developers have the ethics and morals of Zuck. Say no to Zuck and his axis of evil.

      1. Sherrie Ludwig

        Re: Yet another reminder

        Not all apps and developers have the ethics and morals of Zuck. Say no to Zuck and his axis of evil.

        OK, but every app is subject to being bought by Zuck or another souless ghoul. So, no app is safe.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Use open source messaging apps

    Signal and Telegram would not have got away with this if they wanted to. Somebody would have seen it in the source code, or noticed that the build from source is not identical to the binary.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Use open source messaging apps

      "Signal and Telegram would not have got away with this if they wanted to. Somebody would have seen it in the source code, or noticed that the build from source is not identical to the binary."

      Unless you have checked this in the source, you cannot assume 'someone else' has done it !!!

      It is an expectation of yours BUT it does not prove that it has been done !!!

      Open source is not magic and unless checks such as your 'expectation' are done and publically reported, are no more 'safe' or 'ethical' than commercial products !!!

      Trust no one and if possible perform your own checks rather than assuming that someone else has done so .... if you cannot check then assume nothing !!!

      TL;DR

      Caveat emptor .... as always !!! :)

      1) The axiom or principle in commerce that the buyer alone is responsible for assessing the quality of a purchase before buying.

      2) a commercial principle that without a warranty the buyer takes upon himself the risk of quality

      1. Someone Else Silver badge

        Re: Use open source messaging apps

        Unless you have checked this in the source, you cannot assume 'someone else' has done it !!!

        I can categorically state, for the record, that I have not done any such thing! Nor would I want to. I have better things to do with my time than looking at that WSH*. And besides, it is likely toxic to unindoctrinated 3rd-pary observers (as this Dilbert strip might indicate).

        Oh, and lay off the exclamation points! You're getting dangerously close to Bombastic Bob-ism.

        * Warm Steaming Heap

  14. pimppetgaeghsr

    No idea how people can still use this site unless for addiction. Everytime I accidentally click a link that shows up in a search engine the site has worse web design than the websites of british tabloid

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