Facebook Shuts Controversial Program to Pay Apple Users for Data

Posted February 01, 2019

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to Variety that this also impacted internal apps used by the company's workforce, and multiple reports indicated Wednesday morning that the company was caught off-guard.

Despite warnings from Apple, Facebook made a decision to bypass the App Store and continue to gather information on users through its Research app though this time the social network was found to be targeting the data of teenagers and young adults.

The company admitted that teens had participated in the program but clarified that "less than 5 percent" of the people involved were in their teens. And as Apple has revoked Facebook's certificates, reportedly leaving Facebook's own employees without access to internal Facebook mobile apps, does this mean Google will be punished as well?

A report late Tuesday claimed that Facebook paid people about $20 (roughly Rs 1,400) a month to install and use the Facebook Research app.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook
Apple chief executive Tim Cook

The social networking company paid people aged 13 to 35 as much as $20 a month to install the Facebook Research App, track phone and web usage habits, according to a TechCrunch story.

Facebook attempted to downplay the app's discovery by arguing that it was never truly secret in a statement to TechCrunch.

However, the iOS version of Google's app must be sideloaded onto iPhones and iPads using enterprise certificates, just like the Facebook Research app.

"We designed out Enterprise Developer Program exclusively for the internal distribution of apps within an organization". It'll be interesting to see if Apple deals with Google in a similar fashion.

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"Like many companies, we invite people to participate in research that helps us identify things we can be doing better", Facebook said.

Earlier this month, Cook wrote an op-ed in Time magazine calling on the USA regulators to protect consumer data, in a thinly veiled attack on Facebook, bemoaning "companies irresponsibly amassing huge user profiles, data breaches that seem out of control and the vanishing ability to control our own digital lives". "All the data regarding your activities, apps and the content within them will be recorded".

"Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple", an Apple spokesperson said.

Stephen Balkam said Facebook's "rather lax approach" was very worrying. The developer kit was brought in after a wider crackdown on data harvesting a year ago, but appears to have become a loophole.

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Since Onavo was banned on the App Store, Facebook uses an installation process that completely bypasses the App Store by using beta testing services like Applause, BetaBound, and uTest.

In the wake of the Facebook VPN scandal, it was recently revealed that Google has also been abusing the same Apple backdoor to collect data from users as young as thirteen. Mark Warner, D-Va., wrote in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The tech news site found that Facebook operates a program called "Project Titan", in which it recruits willing Apple iOS and Android users to give them root access to their devices, thereby allowing Facebook to view extensive data on participants' mobile activity.

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