The social media giant Facebook has been under a lot of scrutiny about its users’ privacy ever since the Cambridge Analytica’s scandal that happened last year. Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg have been consistently accused of their users’ data management now and then. Recently, reports were stating Facebook’s Zuckerberg planning to integrate the social messaging services that include WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger (all owned by Facebook) bringing together with a unified code base.
This integration allows users amongst all the messaging platforms to interact with each other regardless of using a particular app. This messaging against cross platforms was planned to make way for people to reach out easier amongst the multiple platforms. However, this idea has been criticized since it might bring data protection concerns amongst the users.
Amidst this ongoing issue, there’s a new report suggesting that Facebook has been paying volunteers of age group between 13 to 35 years for installing the company’s testing app named – Facebook Research across Android and iOS platforms. It is believed that this new research app was named Project Atlas that was introduced in 2016, targeting the above mentioned group for volunteering to exchange complete access of their data to Facebook research app for money or gift cards in return.
The Facebook Research app, particularly on iOS has asked users to install custom root certificate by giving users a link to install the certificate. This is to avoid Apple’s App Store guidelines that is because this Facebook Research app when granted permission can collect all the users’ data, which include – messages, social media private chats, emails, browsing activity, e-commerce shopping activity.
And, additionally, the report also suggests that Facebook’s Research app had even asked the users to share their invoice copy of the product they have recently purchased on Amazon. Wondering what Facebook does with all these data collected? Well, the report reveals that the app’s purpose was to collect usage habits of the particular group of volunteers to whom the social media giant has been paying for the past two years.
Considering teenagers have been involved in this so-called research, the company says the research was genuinely conducted with the approval of the teenager’s parents as well. There seems to be a form before installing this research app, which needs to be approved by the teenage volunteer’s parent as well, reported TechCrunch. Furthermore, this isn’t new to Facebook, a similar app called Onavo Protect, which was a VPN app created by Facebook has been removed from the Apple’s App Store for not obeying the privacy guidelines of the App Store.
Besides, The Verge has also reported the response from the Facebook stating the TechCrunch’s report has allegedly missed the key facts of this market research program and has further stated that the social media tech giant hasn’t been spying on any of these volunteers or users who participated in the research program. The report also revealed that out of all the participants enrolled in this program only five percent were teens who had been signed with parental consent forms before enrolling.
That being said, and regardless of what Facebook has collected with this so-called market research program having access to every corner of the users’ private data surely sounds appalling. Apple is yet to respond on this Facebook Research app, and lastly, it is being said that Facebook is discontinuing this research program from iOS platform; however, the Android research program is still intact.