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

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

It found that Facebook has been using the research program for some time to "gather data on usage habits". This has been going on since 2016.

Original coverage, 01/30/2019, 04:09 AM ET: Facebook has had a tumultuous 2018, as the company faced privacy scandal after privacy scandal. But the program had major privacy implications even still, and seemed likely to prey on the vulnerabilities of Facebook's most financially desperate users. The company removed Onavo off the App Store last August following complaints from Apple that it violated recent data security rules, which prohibit apps from collecting data from other apps installed on a device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing. Following TechCrunch's report, Senator Mark Warner sent a stern letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg with a list of questions about the company's data gathering practices, and Senator Ed Markey vowed to reintroduce legislation to make it illegal for companies to pay children to hand over their data.

Facebook is now trying to negotiate with Apple to get all of its employee-only apps back up and running.

If the app sounds familiar it's because Facebook has tried this before, only using a more legitimate route.

Responding to TechCrunch's report, a Facebook spokesperson said that "key facts" about the program, dubbed "Project Atlas", were being ignored.

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.

"It wasn't "spying" as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate", the company said.

The Facebook Research app targets people of ages 13 (!) to 35, with those from 13 to 17 being required to submit parental consent forms.

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To allow full access to a device, Facebook asks users to download the Research app from r.facebook-program.com, install an Enterprise Developer Certificate, and agree to trust the app with root access.

Mashable has contacted Facebook and Apple for comment.

The social network confirmed it was ending the programme on Apple's platform but Apple said it had instead revoked Facebook's certificates linked to the app.

Apple has revoked Facebook's iOS developer certificate.

It was also discovered today that Google was using a shady research app to monitor and analyze user traffic data. "[.] we learn what times of day you browse the internet or watch TV, how long you stay on websites/apps, what types of websites, apps, and TV programs are popular (or not), and how you interact with media when there is more than one screen vying for your attention". As per App Store guidelines, and as Mashable notes, "collecting information from other apps installed on a user's a device is something that is a clear no-no with Apple". This may cover Facebook against legal repercussions but in reality, younger users may not understand what they are agreeing to.

Some lawmakers sharply rebuked Facebook on Wednesday in response to the reports about its data-tracking app. "Wiretapping teens is not research, and it should never be permissible", Democratic Sen.

That's how Facebook sneaked through Apple's privacy defenses.

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