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Facebook pays teens to install VPN that spies on them


Brink

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Desperate for data on its competitors, Facebook has been secretly paying people to install a “Facebook Research” VPN that lets the company suck in all of a user’s phone and web activity, similar to Facebook’s Onavo Protect app that Apple banned in June and that was removed in August. 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.

Since 2016, Facebook has been paying users ages 13 to 35 up to $20 per month plus referral fees to sell their privacy by installing the iOS or Android “Facebook Research” app. Facebook even asked users to screenshot their Amazon order history page. The program is administered through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound and uTest to cloak Facebook’s involvement, and is referred to in some documentation as “Project Atlas” — a fitting name for Facebook’s effort to map new trends and rivals around the globe.

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.

But on Wednesday morning, an Apple spokesperson confirmed that Facebook violated its policies, and it had blocked Facebook’s Research app before the social network seemingly pulled it voluntarily without mentioning it was forced to do so.

“We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization,” said a spokesperson. “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.”

Read more: Facebook pays teens to install VPN that spies on them TechCrunch
 

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