Launched in 2016, the "research app", first uncovered by TechCrunch, allows Facebook to continuously collect a user's private data, including chats from instant messaging apps, photos and videos, emails, web browsing activity, and more.
Facebook confirmed that it was...
Strafach also discovered that the collected data is routed through an IP address associated with Onavo, the app itself contains lots of code from the Onavo Protect app, the app can update itself without interacting with the App Store, and that the Enterprise Certificate used by the app was renewed on June 27th, 2018, which was soon after Apple announced it will block the Onavo Protect app. TechCrunch adds that Facebook even asked users to screenshot their Amazon order history as part of the initiative.
Once downloaded through Applause or other beta-testing apps, the Facebook Research app asks the user to download and install a so-called Enterprise Developer Certificate that gives Facebook an unusual level of access to their phone.
Facebook has been criticized for operating a secretive market research project which paid teenage users in return for unfettered access to their personal data. It also teamed up with several major beta testing services, including Applause, BetaBound, and uTest. "It wasn't "spying" as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate", said the spokesperson.
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Facebook said fewer than 5 percent of the participants in the program were teens and that all of those teens had signed parental consent forms. In my opinion, this absence of informed consent makes the Facebook Research app especially troubling.
Nonetheless, Facebook said it will shut down the iOS version of its Research app in the wake of TechCrunch's report. In one major data breach disclosed a year ago, Cambridge Analytica obtained information on millions of Facebook users through a third-party app. Apple told the publication that the company was aware of the issue, and after the report was published, Facebook told the BBC that the program would end for iOS users, who were offered the app directly to circumvent Apple's privacy requirements. The app bypassed the App Store, seemingly breaking some of Apple's rules regarding sideloading apps on iOS devices, and targeted minors as well as young adults. "Since this research is aimed at helping Facebook understand how people use their mobile devices, we've provided extensive information about the type of data we collect and how they can participate". "We designed our Enterprise Developer Program exclusively for the internal distribution of apps within an organization".
"We designed our Enterprise Developer Program exclusively for the internal distribution of apps within an organization".
Apple is ratcheting up a tug-of-war over privacy with Facebook. The shutdown also turned off internal Facebook apps that are used to run the company - from email to office communications and ordering food from the cafeteria.
Privacy organisations and activists condemned Facebook for its practices, saying the company cares more about profits than privacy of teenagers. The company acquired a VPN app called Ovano in 2014 that promised to help users secure their Wifi traffic for free.