Facebook has reportedly been paying teenagers to install a “Facebook Research” VPN, which allows the social network company to “suck in all of a user’s phone and web activity,” while skirting Apple’s developer rules.
According to TechCrunch, which conducted an investigation, “Facebook sidesteps the [Apple] 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.”
“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,” TechCrunch reported, adding that an “Apple spokesperson confirmed that Facebook violated its policies.”
In a statement, an Apple spokesman told TechCrunch, “We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization… 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.”
After TechCrunch asked security expert Will Strafach how much information Facebook can harvest from users with the VPN installed, Strafach claimed the company can access “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.”
Just this month alone, Facebook controversies have included claims Facebook could be secretly data-mining the popular “10 Year Challenge,” journalists blaming the Facebook and Google duopoly for mass media layoffs, employees leaving 5-star Amazon reviews for the company’s own product, a report which claimed as many as half of Facebook’s users are fake, and the company’s refusal to run advertisements for a movie about Roe v. Wade.
Facebook employs dozens of ex-Obama and ex-Clinton staffers in senior positions, while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) daughter Alison has a six-figure job as a product marketing manager at the company.