A new report highlights another shady Facebook policy that was paying people to install an app called the Facebook Research VPN. Facebook allegedly paid users to install the VPN, which allowed the company to collect all the user’s phone and web activity at all times.
Facebook admitted to TechCrunch that it was running the research program and had since 2016. The social network was paying users from 13 to 35 years old up to $20 monthly, plus referral fees, to install the iOS or Android Facebook Research app and give up all mobile privacy. The app went so far as to ask users to take screenshots of their Amazon order history page.
Reports indicate that the program, allegedly called “Project Atlas” in some documentation, was run via beta test services Applause, BetaBound, and uTest to help hide Facebook’s involvement.
Facebook relies on the three software testing platforms to enable sideloading of the Research app, effectively bypassing Apple’s App Store and its stringent guidelines. Facebook does not disseminate Research through Apple’s TestFlight, presumably because the system involves an app review process and 10,000 user limit.
Since the story broke about the app, Facebook has stated that it will close the iOS version but the app will continue to be available on Android devices.
Facebook said in a statement,
“Like many companies, we invite people to participate in research that helps us identify things we can be doing better,”
“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 don’t share this information with others and people can stop participating at any time.”
The Facebook research App granted the social network “nearly limitless access to a user’s device” including location information, chat history, emails, photos and videos sent, and more according to Guardian Mobile Firewall’s Will Strafach.