An Apple and Android app called ‘Facebook Research’ paid users, including teens, to provide access to the content they access on their phones.
Facebook is in the news once again for its use of data. Working through the Facebook Research app, the company has been paying participants for access to the content on their devices.
The app allowed Facebook to access the majority of a user’s device, including:
- Private messages in chat apps including photos and videos
- Web browsing activity
- Logs of what apps were installed, and when they were used
- A location history of where the owner had physically been
- Data usage
Aimed at getting research from 13-35 year olds, the app has since been removed from Apple, however is still available on Android.
A spokesperson from Apple told TechCrunch that Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple.
Fortune said: ‘What was particularly eye-catching about TechCrunch’s report was the fact that the $20 monthly reward was on offer to users between the ages of 13 and 35, meaning Facebook has been paying teens to monitor their phone usage.’
A spokesperson for Facebook told the BBC: ‘It wasn’t ‘spying’ as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate.
‘Finally, less than 5% of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens. All of them with signed parental consent forms.’
The Verge reported: ‘The Research app requires that users install a custom root certificate, giving Facebook the ability to see users’ private messages, emails, web searches, and browsing activity. That’s in apparent violation of Apple’s system-level functionality, which is intended to grant employers access to employees’ work devices. The policy prohibits developers from installing the certificates on customers’ phones.’
The Independent highlighted that participants were told not to share their involvement with others: ‘Users were recruited through sign-up pages that make clear the data is being collected to improve Facebook’s services and that they should not tell people about the project.’
Although the app was well labelled, the secrecy behind the project and the violation of Apple’s terms mean that Facebook is facing scrutiny once again for the way it uses data and conducts research.