Facebook caught paying teens to spy on their phones

  • Facebook has been found to be paying people as young as 13 to install a Facebook Research app on their phone that can spy on their private communication and usage history.

    TechCrunch has revealed that it discovered Facebook has been paying teenagers to spy on their phones through an app. Users as young as 13 were offered $20 US (around £15.30) per month to install an app on their phone that sent Facebook data on their usage habits, which the company may have then used to target users more effectively and make strategic decisions on which apps to acquire.

    Facebook asserts that users consented to this data collection, but many of those who installed the apps may not have understood the invasive level of access they were giving Facebook to their private data. The app could have given Facebook access to a complete history of the person's location, the contents of emails, private messages in apps (even those using encryption), text messages, photos and videos sent, web browsing activity, and usage logs for competing apps.

    The scheme has been running since 2016 and reportedly used app beta testing services Applause, BetaBound, and uTest to cloak Facebook's involvement and bypass the official app stores that screen for privacy-violating apps. A Facebook spokesperson was reportedly unable to tell the BBC whether the scheme was run in the UK or other countries outside the US. This is an issue as some countries may have laws preventing people from signing away their privacy rights, or other complicating laws regarding consent of minors.

    Facebook told TechCrunch that it was choosing discontinue the app on iOS in response to its report on the issue, but it has emerged that the app had actually been banned from use on iOS by Apple for violating the terms of service of its Enterprise Developer Program. The Facebook Research app on Android will also reportedly remain online.

    Source: TechCrunch, BBC

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    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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