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Facebook Pays People to Download a Research VPN to Spy on their Phone


Facebook pays people to download a Research VPN to spy on their phone and web use Apple last year informed Facebook, the social media company to withdraw the Onavo VPN app from Apple App Store. This was because Facebook violated Apple’s developer policies by tracking user data and activities on multiple apps.

However, now it turns out that world’s largest social media network has discovered a new way to evade Apple’s policies. As per a media report, Facebook has been secretly paying teens as well as adults to download a ‘Facebook Research’ VPN app to keep a tab on their phone and internet activity.

Desperate to map new rivals and trends, Facebook admitted that they run the research app to collect and analyze info based on usage habits. The company also confirmed that it has no plans of stopping the program.

This isn’t the first time though

Facebook has been rewarding people aged from 13-35 years since 2016 with around $20 each month for installing the research app, dubbed as ‘Project Atlas’ in some documentation. Besides, there’s also a referral fee for the users to enjoy. The research program, which gives Facebook unbound access to their Android or iOS smartphones, is administered via beta testing services. These services include BetaBound, Applause as well as uTest which cape Facebook’s involvement.

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By asking users to install the VPN app, Facebook gains complete access to collect various kinds of data. This includes personal messages on social networking applications, conversations in instant messaging applications, emails, web browsing activities, and searches made. Besides, it will also be able to track the ongoing location information of the user simply by clicking on feeds of location monitoring applications. This implies that Facebook will get unrestricted access to the device of a user once they install the VPN app. However, it is still unclear whether it is accessing such data or not. But, it could be as per Will Strafach, security researcher, Guardian Mobile Firewall.

Collecting the data

Facebook Research VPN app’s term of service notes that it was gathering data from mobile phone apps and also tracked when and how these apps were utilized. Facebook has also said that it would gather data about the content and activities present within the application. It would also collect information about web browsing history. Besides, Facebook gathers data even from a secure web browser session or also when an application utilizes encryption.

The new strategy showcases how far the social media network is trying to go to secure its dominance despite violating Apple’s iOS platform rules.

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Though Apple is aware of the entire issue, the firm didn’t offer a statement to media house. It isn’t unclear how the company will be able to tackle the situation. However, as media house notes, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc. said that Facebook is continuously in the practice of collecting data and the company is breaking the iOS rules and policies and gathering more data to make its dominance felt.

Apple can restrict Facebook from running the research program or withdraw Facebook’s permission of offering internal applications. Besides, the situation may also lead to tensed relations between the two firms.

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