If the Facebook app were down, would you keep checking it every few minutes?
To test its users' loyalty, Facebook sometimes made its Android app crash for several hours over the course of several years. Facebook would then track these users to see if they kept returning to the app or gave up.
A source told news site The Information that Facebook users were so hooked that they "never stopped coming back," despite the errors. Some even tried to access Facebook on their mobile browser when the app didn't work.
Facebook declined to comment.
For Facebook and other apps, loyalty is a key indicator of future success. Duke University behavioral economist Dan Ariely told Fast Company that app makers will often test loyalty by looking at things like seven-day activity trends. But it becomes far more tricky when app makers want to test loyalty in situations they can't control, like a hypothetical conflict in which Google forces the Facebook app out of the Play Store.
"They were trying to simulate an environment where bad things were happening to them," said Ariely. "In my view, it's courageous."
Ariely said that some users might be peeved to discover that Facebook had booted them off the app on purpose. But Ariely said it's one of the few ways that Facebook could learn how its users would respond in nightmare scenarios, and adapt accordingly.
"If this report is true, it's a brilliant result for Facebook," Ariely said.