Facebook has been paying people to install an app that allows it to hoover up data on exactly how they use their smartphones.
According to TechCrunch, the Menlo Park, Calif. company — which has taken heat for a range of privacy-related scandals, breaches and snafus over the last year — has been paying teenagers and adults up to $20 per month to install a “Facebook Research” app on their Apple or Android phones.
After the TechCrunch’s report, Facebook ended the program on all Apple devices. The program, which began in 2016, is still running on Android.
On Wednesday, Apple announced that Facebook had violated an agreement by bypassing the company’s regular review process for an app intended for the general public. According to The Washington Post, Apple allows companies to build apps for their own employees that don’t have to meet the same stringent privacy and data standards as those for the general public. In this case, Apple determined that Facebook’s app went against the rules.
“We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization,” Apple told the Post. “Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple.”
Apple’s decision to revoke Facebook’s Enterprise Certificate is “causing mayhem” for the social network’s employees, according to TechCrunch, because they no longer have access a wide range of internal, employee-only apps, nor any apps for new products in development.
The revelation of the research app demonstrates the lengths Facebook is willing to go to maintain a competitive edge. As TechCrunch reports, the company’s forays into data-monitoring give the company insights into competitors such as TikTok and Snapchat.
Will Strafach, a security expert with Guardian Mobile Firewall, told TechCrunch that if Facebook fully utilizes the level of access they’re being given by users of the app, they will be able to collect a ton of data, including “private messages in social media apps, chats from in instant messaging apps – including photos/videos sent to others, emails, web searches, web browsing activity, and even ongoing location information by tapping into the feeds of any location-tracking apps you may have installed.”
“I have never seen such open and flagrant defiance of Apple’s rules by an App Store developer,” Strafach told the technology news site.
A Facebook spokesperson disputed portions of TechCrunch’s report in a statement to Fox News, claiming that key facts are being ignored.
“There was nothing ‘secret’ about this; it was literally called the Facebook Research App. It wasn’t ‘spying’ as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear onboarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate,” the Facebook spokesperson said via email.
“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,” the Facebook spokesperson added.
One of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s mentors recently said the company should be broken up and the FTC is reportedly considering a record fine against the tech giant. Apple CEO Tim Cook has called Facebook’s privacy scandals “dire” and called for new privacy regulations.