Facebook has been paying teenagers and adults to install a “Facebook Research App” VPN on their device that lets the company suck in all of a user’s phone and web activity, similar to Facebook’s Onavo Protect app that Apple was banned in June and was removed in August.
Since 2016, Facebook pays users between the ages of 13 and 35 up to $20 per month, plus referral fees, to install the Facebook Research app. The company has sidestepped the App Store completely in this process, administering it through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound, and uTest, according to reports by TechCrunch. The app is similar to Facebook’s Onavo Protect app that Apple banned in June and was removed in August.
The Facebook Research app requires that users install a custom root certificate, which gives Facebook the ability to see users’ private messages, emails, web searches, and browsing activity. It also asks users to take screenshots of their Amazon order history and send it back to Facebook.
The Applause website outlines the data that is collected as part of this “research” study:
“By installing the software, you’re giving our client permission to collect data from your phone that will help them understand how you browse the internet, and how you use the features in the apps you’ve installed . . . This means you’re letting our client collect information such as which apps are on your phone, how and when you use them, data about your activities and content within those apps, as well as how other people interact with you or your content within those apps. You are also letting our client collect information about your internet browsing activity (including the websites you visit and data that is exchanged between your device and those websites) and your use of other online services. There are some instances when our client will collect this information even where the app uses encryption, or from within secure browser sessions.”
The Facebook Research app proves to be a serious security threat as it collects or asks for user data as well as online order history. It seems that Facebook is leaving no stones unturned to collect user data and app history.