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Facebook sidesteps the App Store and rewards teenagers and adults to download the Research app and give it root access to network traffic in what may be a violation of Apple policy so the social network can decrypt and analyze their phone activity, a TechCrunch investigation confirms. Facebook admitted to TechCrunch it was running the Research program to gather data on usage habits. Facebook even asked users to screenshot their Amazon order history page. Seven hours after this story was published, Facebook told TechCrunch it would shut down the iOS version of its Research app in the wake of our report. You can read our full report on the development here.
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Facebook sidesteps the App Store and rewards teenagers and adults to download the Research app and give it root access to network traffic in what may be a violation of Apple policy so the social network can decrypt and analyze their phone activity, a TechCrunch investigation confirms.
Facebook admitted to TechCrunch it was running the Research program to gather data on usage habits. Facebook even asked users to screenshot their Amazon order history page. Seven hours after this story was published, Facebook told TechCrunch it would shut down the iOS version of its Research app in the wake of our report. You can read our full report on the development here. Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple.
Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case to protect our users and their data.
Facebook will pull Onavo from the Google Play store and eventually shut it down. It will also cease to recruit users for the Android version of its Research app, though it plans other paid research initiatives. Apple may have asked Facebook to discontinue distributing its Research app. The situation could further chill relations between the tech giants. Facebook disobeying iOS policies to slurp up more information could become a new talking point.
The VPN app helped users track and minimize their mobile data plan usage, but also gave Facebook deep analytics about what other apps they were using. Over the years since, Onavo clued Facebook in to what apps to copy, features to build and flops to avoid.
By , Facebook was promoting the Onavo app in a Protect bookmark of the main Facebook app in hopes of scoring more users to snoop on. Facebook also launched the Onavo Bolt app that let you lock apps behind a passcode or fingerprint while it surveils you, but Facebook shut down the app the day it was discovered following privacy criticism. Apple proceeded to inform Facebook in August that Onavo Protect violated those data collection policies and that the social network needed to remove it from the App Store, which it did, Deepa Seetharaman of the WSJ reported.
We investigated, and learned Facebook was working with three app beta testing services to distribute the Facebook Research app: BetaBound, uTest and Applause. Facebook began distributing the Research VPN app in It has been referred to as Project Atlas since at least mid, around when backlash to Onavo Protect magnified and Apple instituted its new rules that prohibited Onavo.
Previously, a similar program was called Project Kodiak. The Applause site explains what data could be collected by the Facebook Research app emphasis mine: You are also letting our client collect information about your internet browsing activity including the websites you visit and data that is exchanged between your device and those websites and your use of other online services.
There are some instances when our client will collect this information even where the app uses encryption, or from within secure browser sessions. Instead, the instruction manual reveals that users download the app from r. Apple requires that developers agree to only use this certificate system for distributing internal corporate apps to their own employees. Randomly recruiting testers and paying them a monthly fee appears to violate the spirit of that rule.
The Applause-administered program requested that users screenshot their Amazon orders page. This data could potentially help Facebook tie browsing habits and usage of other apps with purchase preferences and behavior.
That information could be harnessed to pinpoint ad targeting and understand which types of users buy what. TechCrunch commissioned Strafach to analyze the Facebook Research app and find out where it was sending data. The app can update itself without interacting with the App Store, and is linked to the email address PeopleJourney fb.
He also discovered that the Enterprise Certificate first acquired in indicates Facebook renewed it on June 27th, — weeks after Apple announced its new rules that prohibited the similar Onavo Protect app. The most charitable narrative of this situation would be that Facebook did not think too hard about the level of access they were granting to themselves. They said Facebook first launched its Research app program in They tried to liken the program to a focus group and said Nielsen and comScore run similar programs, yet neither of those ask people to install a VPN or provide root access to the network.
The spokesperson confirmed the Facebook Research program does recruit teens but also other age groups from around the world. They claimed that Onavo and Facebook Research are separate programs, but admitted the same team supports both as an explanation for why their code was so similar. Seven hours after this report was first published, Facebook updated its position and told TechCrunch that it would shut down the iOS Research app.
Facebook noted that the Research app was started in and was therefore not a replacement for Onavo Protect. However, they do share similar code and could be seen as twins running in parallel. A Facebook spokesperson also provided this additional statement: 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. While users were given clear instructions and warnings, the program never stresses nor mentions the full extent of the data Facebook can collect through the VPN. A small fraction of the users paid may have been teens, but we stand by the newsworthiness of its choice not to exclude minors from this data collection initiative.
Facebook disobeying Apple so directly and then pulling the app could hurt their relationship. ONV prefixes and mentions of graph. Insights into how popular with teens is Chinese video music app TikTok and meme sharing led Facebook to launch a clone called Lasso and begin developing a meme-browsing feature called LOL, TechCrunch first reported.
The truth is we could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer, if our customer was our product. Now that Facebook has ceased the program on iOS and its Android future is uncertain, it may either have to invent new ways to surveil our behavior amidst a climate of privacy scrutiny, or be left in the dark.
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