Apple bans Facebook 'Research' app, breaks the social network's internal iOS apps

Facebook paid teens to install an app to spy on their internet and phone use

In a lengthy report published yesterday, TechCrunch showed how Facebook used its privileged access as a developer, along with third-party research firms, to recruit users for a research program.

Facebook is ending a controversial research program in which it paid users up to $20 a month to install a smartphone app that gave the company almost unfettered access to their activity.

Dubbed "Facebook Research", participants installing the social networking giant's app received requests for high levels of access to their device which enables vast amounts of information to be collected.

Companies typically use the Enterprise Certificate program to distribute internal employee-only apps without the App Store or Apple's oversight.

As highlighted by TechCrunch, the Facebook Research app sent data to an address which is affiliated with Onavo, a VPN app which was pulled by Facebook last August after Apple warned that the app violated its policies on data gathering.

The Screenwise Meter iOS app should not have operated under Apple's developer enterprise program - this was a mistake, and we apologize.

Facebook even asked users to screenshot and share their Amazon order history.

Warner also asked Facebook for a fuller accounting of how it came to approve the apps, which had deep access to track activity on mobile phones, including apps that Facebook was competing with. This app is called "Facebook Research" and people who sign-up for this program will receive up to $20 monthly.

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"Finally, less than 5% of the people who chose to participate in this market research programme were teens - all of them with signed parental consent forms".

The incident, regardless of Facebook's strongly-worded response, will undoubtedly further tarnish the social media company's public image. The app is part of the Cross Media Panel and Google Opinion Rewards programs, which include tracking systems for desktop web browsers, routers and TVs.

To try and get around this, the Facebook Research app bypassed the App Store, and allowed users to side-load it on their iOS devices.

Facebook has confirmed that it is running the research program to collect user data to know how people use their phone and other services. "Facebook is betting that their apps are too popular, that they can do what they want and Apple has to sit back and take it".

The social network acquired Onavo in 2013 but removed it from the App Store a year ago after Apple updated its rules on data collection.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has treated Facebook, in particular, as a piñata to drive home his point that it and others play fast and loose with consumer data to drive their sales.

But Strafach, who dismantled the Facebook Research app on TechCrunch's behalf, told the AP that it was mostly Onavo repackaged and rebranded, as the two apps shared about 98 percent of their code. Facebook's Onavo VPN app was secretly spying on users and gathering private information while officially its goal was to minimize mobile data usage.

In a statement to Fast Company, Apple said that Facebook was in "clear breach of their agreement". The story was first reported Tuesday by TechCrunch.

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