Facebook says it will shut down a controversial app that was recently thrust into wider public knowledge after publications blew the lid off its shady data collection practices.
The app, named Facebook Research, offers volunteers between the age of 13 and 35 monthly $20 gift cards if they give Facebook near-complete access to various sorts of data on their phone.
Because it harvested sensitive data from the user, Facebook Research violated Apple developer guidelines and thus, would no longer be available on iOS. However — and this is an important note — the app will remain available on Android.
TechCrunch was the first to give a detailed report about Facebook's data collection methods through the Facebook Research app. It revealed that the company has been paying people gift cards in exchange for monitoring their phone and internet activity. That data is sent back to Facebook for market research purposes, according to the report.
Facebook Data Collection
For Facebook, this practice isn't new. The company also previously collected data using Onavo Protect, a VPN service that it acquired back in 2013. After receiving backlash, Facebook removed it from the App Store in summer 2018 after Apple had declared that it violated the App Store's guidelines on data collection.
The Facebook Research app installs a custom root certificate on the user's phone, which allows it to see all sorts of data, including private messages, e-mails, web searches, and browsing activity. Such a practice is in clear violation of Apple's guidelines, which prohibits developers from installing certificates on users' phones.
Facebook Defends Itself
Facebook immediately tried to defend itself after TechCrunch had published its report. Key facts about the app, it argued, are being ignored. The company added, as The Verge reports, that the program was never a secret, and thus "spying" isn't an accurate description for the program participants who volunteered to surrender their data.
Facebook also revealed that most of the participants are adults, with teenagers making up only 5 percent of the entire user pool. They submitted signed parental consent forms to join, according to Facebook.
The program has reportedly been active since 2016 under the name "Project Atlas." At the moment, Facebook Research remains available on Android. Neither Facebook nor Google has said any word on whether it'll be removed from the Play Store, too.
Thoughts on Facebook Research and Facebook's data collection practices? As always, feel free to sound off in the comments section below!