Remember Apple banned a Facebook ‘research app’ earlier this year from App Store? Turns out, using this now-defunct app, Facebook obtained personal and sensitive device data of some 187,000 users in total, of which, 156,000 were Indians.
In a letter sent to Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office, Facebook acknowledged that it collected data on 31,000 users in the US, including 4,300 teenagers. The rest of the collected data came from users in India. This letter was obtained by TechCrunch.
Though, defending the company, a Facebook spokesperson said that they did not review all of the data and what they obtained from the research app has now been deleted.
“We did not review all of the data to determine whether it contained health or financial data,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We have deleted all user-level market insights data that was collected from the Facebook Research app, which would include any health or financial data that may have existed.”
Earlier this year, it was found that Facebook was using Apple-issued enterprise developer certificates for tracking the web-browsing habits of teenagers and adults. These certificates are designed to let businesses have deep controls over iPhones, with the potential to remotely install apps, monitor app usage, and access, and delete data owned by a business on an iPhone. Apple designed the program for organisations whose staff use iPhones for official duties, where privacy needs are different from phones for personal use.
Instead, Facebook was found to be paying users as young as 13 years old to install an app called Facebook Research, which was linked to this certificate program. Additionally, it was also found that in exchange for downloading this app’s VPN, Facebook was paying these teens off with $20 a month in the name of paid research.
Apple banned the app by revoking Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate.
This ban affected Facebook internally as well. The same certificate that authenticated the Facebook Research app was also used in the key internal Facebook apps that the company’s thousands of employees used every day.
This week, Facebook re-launched the app on Google Play Store and it calls it Study. Facebook said this time around it will be more transparent in the way it obtains data. Obviously, with Facebook’s patchy track record, you might have some questions before joining the ‘Study’ program.