A bombshell investigation by tech news site TechCrunch (TC) details how Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has been secretly paying teens and adults $20/month (via e-gift cards) to install a “research” app that allows the social media giant to collect nearly all data about their web activity.
To cloak its direct involvement, the 2016 launched program, referred to as Project Atlas, is said to be administered through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound and uTest.
A security expert told TechCrunch that Facebook’s “research” app, which is similar to its Onavo Protect app that gave the company undisclosed access to sensitive user data and that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) banned in June, allows FB to continuously collect a user’s private data, including photos, videos, emails, web browsing activity, and more.
Documents obtained by the publication reveal Facebook even asked users to screenshot their Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) order history pages.
Responding to TechCrunch’s report, Facebook said that while it will shut down the iOS version of its research app, “key facts” about Project Atlas, were being ignored:
“Despite early reports, there was nothing ‘secret’ about this; it was literally called the Facebook Research App. It wasn’t ‘spying’ as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear onboarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate. Finally, less than 5 percent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens. All of them with signed parental consent forms.”
The publication also reported that the “research” app violated Apple’s Enterprise Certificate policy, which emphasizes restrictions on accessing sensitive user data.
TC’s revelation comes after a problematic 2018 for the social network that saw the company at the center of a growing storm over a wide array of issues, ranging from data privacy to Russian meddling to fake news.