Facebook is putting an end to its “Facebook Research” market research app which tracked and collected the users’ phone and web activity details, take its Onavo VPN app off the Google Play Store, shut down the Onavo Protect app and stop pulling market data but keep the VPN on till a replacement is found, reports TechCrunch.

  • Facebook’s current research through the Facebook Research app will continue
  • Facebook will not recruit new users for the app
  • Facebook’s statement to TechCrunch, “Market research helps companies build better products for people. We are shifting our focus to reward-based market research which means we’re going to end the Onavo program.”

Facebook Research was similar to the Onavo Protect VPN app, which Apple banned from its App Store last year over privacy violations. Facebook had 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.

In 2013, Facebook bought Onavo for $200 million, which helped it buy WhatsApp for a staggering $19 billion.

Further reading: These Confidential Charts Show Why Facebook Bought WhatsApp

The revelations from Cambridge Analytica

In December last year, the UK Parliament’s digital, culture, media, and sport (DCMS) Committee found, through internal Facebook documents:

  • Facebook bought WhatsApp because it saw it as a potential “Facebook killer”, outdoing Facebook Messenger in the volume of messages, as well as time spent on the app
  • Facebook also bought Onavo to get access to its data analytics and app usage tracking across phones, which Apple blocked from its App Store, for data gathering.
  • Facebook was providing favourable user data access, including access to a user’s friends, to (“large app partners”) companies like Airbnb and Netflix (between 2012-2015) (more here)
  • Zuckerberg would have liked to charge developers for access to user data, but Facebook did not execute this
  • An update to the Facebook Android app would collect user call logs, and Facebook tried hard to hide this from its users

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