Facebook has been secretly paying users – teens included – to install a "Facebook Research" app which tracked and collected the users' phone and web activity via third-party beta testing services. This was revealed in a TechCrunch investigative report published yesterday. The service is similar to Facebook's controversial Onavo Protect VPN app, which Apple banned from its App Store last year over privacy violations. Further reading: These Confidential Charts Show Why Facebook Bought WhatsApp According to the TechCrunch report, Facebook has been paying users aged 13-35 years up to $20 per month via gift cards since 2016 to install the iOS and Android app. The app was originally called "Facebook Research" when launched in 2016, but was changed to "Project Atlas" in mid-2018, "when backlash to Onavo Protect magnified" and Apple changed its App Store rules, resulting in the fencing out of Onavo. TechCrunch's key findings The app requires users to 'Trust' (an "agree" button of sorts) it with access to private messages in social media apps, web browsing activity, photos, emails, and location tracking apps The app was provided via three third-party services to disguise Facebook's involvement; ads were floated on Instagram, Snapchat and other apps to recruit users, and to get them to download the app Facebook even asked users to upload screenshots of their Amazon order history, presumably to tie phone & web activity with purchase behaviour TechCrunch reported that Facebook designed installation steps in a manner which disguised its own involvement. For instance, 'Applause', one of the beta-testing…
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