Emerging reports indicate that some Facebook users have allowed the social media platform to access their phone activity in exchange for a monetary reward. This is part of a research project that Facebook has been undertaking since 2016. The report that was first published on TechCrunch revealed that the social media company has been offering users between the ages of 13 and 35 years a total of $20 a month and some additional referral fees for their participation in the research.
Users were required to install the “Facebook Research” VPN app and Facebook would get full access to the data it needed. The app allowed Facebook to view web searches, private messages sent through social media apps, location info, and other types of data. In some cases, participants in the study were also requested to screenshot a page that showed what they had ordered on Amazon and send it to Facebook.
There has been some reaction since the report was first published. TechCrunch noted later that Facebook was discontinuing the program for iOS users after conflicts with Apple. The American smartphone maker released a statement noting that the app used by the social media company to collect data under the research program had violated its policies. This is not the first time though that Apple is banning a Facebook-related app from its app store. Just a few months ago, Apple said that it had removed a similar app from the social media company called “Onavo Protect.”
Despite these revelations, Facebook has maintained that the research was never a secret. The company confirmed that it has been doing this for the last two years and the aim was to learn more about people’s phone usage. The statement also noted that like many other companies, Facebook constantly invites people to participate in various research initiatives. The company noted that all users were extensively briefed on the type of data they will be giving out.
Facebook also made it clear that the data has only been used for research purposes and hasn’t been shared with any other third-party. The statement noted that participants who feel they are no longer comfortable with this arrangement can quit anytime they want. In addition to this, it was also confirmed that teens accounted for less than 5% of the total study participants. All of them were signed up with parental consent.
Facebook has had a number of privacy issues over the last few months. The Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke early last year was one of the biggest data breaches in the company’s history and the backlash from it is still felt to this date. Facebook announced just a few weeks back that hackers were able to explore a bug on its website to access important data affecting over 50 million accounts.
The social media company has announced several measures designed to enhance privacy protection and the last thing it needed right now was another scandal. Facebook was also blamed for doing very little to prevent the spreading of fake news on its platform.