To Allegedly Access Private Data, Facebook Paid Teens As Young As 13 To Install Research App
According to a report published by TrchCrunch on January 29, Facebook paid people (including teens as young as 13) about $20 (roughly Rs. 1400) a month plus referral fees to install and use the “Facebook Research” app.
The app allowed the tech-giant a “nearly limitless access” to user’s device including:
- the contents of private messages in chat apps including photos and videos
- web browsing activity
- logs of apps installed and their usage
- user’s location history
- data usage
Participants were asked to keep the existence of the scheme and their involvement in it “confidential” and even to share a screenshot of what they ordered from Amazon.
Facebook’s attempts to bypass data collection norms
The “Facebook Research” app is very similar Facebook’s Onavo Protect app, which was banned by Apple from the App store for violating its privacy rules. Facebook removed the Onavo app in August.
To bypass the ban and keep its name out of the way, Facebook used beta-testing services BetaBound, uTest and Applause. The program was named ‘Project Atlas’ and the company started running ads on Snapchat and Instagram, the advertisements did not mention Facebook but asked users to sign up for ‘paid social media research study’. Only in case minors tried to join the study through a page administered by Applause, they were asked to get their parents’ sign on a form that mentions Facebook’s involvement in the study.
But tests by BBC and others suggested that youngsters could easily sign up without getting parental permission. A BBC reporter, was able to sign up to the app by registering himself as 14-year old boy and was never asked for proof of parental consent. Facebook blamed the three above mentioned services and said that the error has been corrected.
Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch that it was running the programme but rejected the claims that it was “spying” on users. A company spokesperson clarified that less than 5% of the participants in the program which has been going on since 2016 were teens.
Facebook used Apple’s Enterprise Developer Program for the purpose of collecting the data. Apple designed Enterprise Developer Program solely for internal distribution of apps within an organization, not paid external testers. Facebook told TechCrunch that it would shut down the IOS version of its Research Program but before that, Apple revoked Facebook’s enterprises’ certificate thus effectively blocking the “research program” from iOS. The Android version still continues although the app is not available on PlayStore.
Facebook’s relentless attack on privacy
In December 2018 a report revealed that the company allowed over 150 firms including Netflix, Sony, Amazon, Spotify and Bing to access unprecedented amounts of user data such as private messages and emails addresses.
In March 2018, it was revealed that data of 87 million users was improperly accessed by Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy. The disclosure led governments across the world to inquire into company’s privacy policies.
Cambridge Analytica claimed that it played a major role in US congressional and state elections with data on more than 230 million American voters. Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg had to testify to US Congress on privacy, data mining, regulations and Cambridge Analytica.