Facebook falls into yet another allegations that it has been secretly paying people to install an app that would allow the social media giant to gather data on how these people use their smartphones, TechCrunch reported on Tuesday.
According to the news report, since 2016, Facebook has been paying teenagers and adults about $20 a month to download an app called ‘Facebook Research’ on their phones – both Apple and Android. The program is referred to as ‘Project Atlas’ and in order to cloak the social media giant’s direct involvement, it is administered through beta testing services uTest, BetaBound, and Applause.
The app would enable Facebook to collect data such as private messages on social media apps, chats in instant messaging apps, images and videos sent to others, emails, web searches, and web browsing activities, TechCrunch reported, citing Will Strafach, a security expert at Guardian Mobile Firewall. Further, he said that the app can track ongoing location information through the location tracking apps installed in the users’ phones.
Following the news, a Facebook spokesperson said that the company is running the program to collect data on usage habits. Like many companies, Facebook invites people to take part in research that helps the company identify things that could be better, the spokesperson added.
As the research is focused at helping the company understand the way people use their data, the spokesperson said, Facebook has provided extensive information about the type of collected data and how users can participate. In addition, it does not share the information with others and the participants can leave the program at any time.
Facebook’s move could potentially a violation of Apple policy as many of the users participating in the program are installing the app on their iPhones. TechCrunch reported that the tech giant could seek to block Facebook from continuing to distribute its Research App, which could worsen relations between the two companies. Apple’s Tim Cook has also repeatedly criticized Facebook’s data collection practices.
In 2018, the tech giant removed Facebook-owned Onavo security app from the App Store as it failed to comply with the privacy rules that any app should not collect information about which other applications are installed on users’ devices. Prior the acquisition of WhatsApp, Onavo allowed Facebook to spot the messaging app’s meteoric rise and justify paying $19 billion to buy the app in 2014.