Facebook's defunct Research app gleaned private data from 187,000 users

Posted:
in General Discussion edited June 12
Facebook's Research app, which was banned by Apple in January for violating App Store Review Guidelines, managed to collect personal and potentially sensitive information from some 187,000 users since 2016, according to a report on Wednesday.

Facebook Research


The number was divulged in a letter addressed to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and subsequently seen by TechCrunch. Blumenthal has voiced criticism of Facebook's handling of user privacy matters and the lackadaisical pace of a Department of Justice investigation into the social network.

In all, Facebook said its "Project Atlas" initiative, publicly known as the Research app, obtained data from 187,000 users, including 34,000 teenagers. Of the 31,000 users who had their data collected in the U.S., 4,300 were teenagers, the letter said.

Facebook maintains the operation was driven by analytics, but notes the now-defunct app in some cases received "non-target" information.

"We did not review all of the data to determine whether it contained health or financial data," a Facebook spokesperson told the publication. "We have deleted all user-level market insights data that was collected from the Facebook Research app, which would include any health or financial data that may have existed."

Apple commented on the issue in a separate letter sent to lawmakers in March, the report said. The tech giant admitted it did not know how many devices were running the Research app, which was deployed using Enterprise Developer Certificate and VPN technology typically reserved for business applications.

"We know that the provisioning profile for the Facebook Research app was created on April 19, 2017, but this does not necessarily correlate to the date that Facebook distributed the provisioning profile to end users," said Apple director of federal affairs Timothy Powderly.

Apple caught wind of Facebook Research when a report in January outlined the data-gathering initiative that flouted the iPhone maker's developer rules. The expos discovered Facebook paid program participants $20 plus referral fees to sideload a VPN client on their device, granting nearly unfettered access to iOS usage patterns and activity.

A day after the report went to press, Apple pulled Facebook's enterprise certificate, saying the company was in violation of its Enterprise Developer Program agreement. Google, which was running a similar analytics campaign called Screenwise Meter, saw its certificate revoked that same day.

Apple later restored privileges and in a statement to TechCrunch today confirmed both companies are in compliance with developer rules.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 10
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 1,855member
    So all the developers who are complaining about Apple’s control over the App Store, should thank companies like Google and Facebook for proving Apple is right.
    frantisekmwhiteemig647dedgeckodysamoriaAppleExposedmacseekerchasmn2itivguyAndy.Hardwake
  • Reply 2 of 10
    frantisekfrantisek Posts: 464member
    One can understand to calls to break Facebook. Look on chatting App market. Messagger and WhatsApp are dominanting world with small exceptions and one big, China. In Africa users often have data for WhatsApp for free (not for video calls). Who pays that free?

    There is no world antitrust regulator to watch situation.

    edited June 12
  • Reply 3 of 10
    Just keep getting "Zucked" He has to go! :)

    Or at least, stop tracking our kids! :)

    edited June 12 Carnage
  • Reply 4 of 10
    macseekermacseeker Posts: 430member
    Zuck's privacy needs to be aired. First thing is to get rid of that horrible vomiting wall he had constructed at his Hawaiian home. It's a complete abomination to the Hawaiian culture.
  • Reply 5 of 10
    They didn’t name it Research for nothing.
  • Reply 6 of 10
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 4,463member
    One wonders if FaceBook will take down the DeepFake video of Zuckerberg?  Or, is that a one-sided thing?

    With Trump saying he welcomes election interference in 2020 because it is now normal and acceptable, will Facebook continue to support foreign disinformation campaigns?   Or maybe ramp it up?   Those hundreds of thousands of provocative posts sell lots of clicks -- and clicks mean revenue.


  • Reply 7 of 10
    macguimacgui Posts: 1,250member
    "We did not review all of the data to determine whether it contained health or financial data," a Facebook spokesperson told the publication. "We have deleted all user-level market insights data that was collected from the Facebook Research app, which would include any health or financial data that may have existed."

    "Nor did we bother with pesky due diligence to see exactly what data the app could collect."

    Apple later restored privileges and in a statement to TechCrunch today confirmed both companies are in compliance with developer rules.

    So were they out of compliance at the time the certification was pulled, and was something  changed in the app to bring it into compliance? Or did Apple move too quick?

    They don't call it 'getting Zucked' for nothing.

  • Reply 8 of 10
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,364member
    Meanwhile, the Facebook app and website continue to collect and disseminate private data on billions of people...
  • Reply 9 of 10
    I wrote to Apple feedback and Tim Cook on several occasions to complain about and request the complete removal of any and all Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other anti"social media" apps from being built in to Mac, iOS, WatchOS, Having that trash on my Apple equipment without first requesting if I wanted it felt most unApple like and greatly disappointed me.

    "Don't Be Evil" and "Do the Right Thing" are cynical mottos and as meaningless as the "meek shall inherit the Earth".
  • Reply 10 of 10
    goofy1958goofy1958 Posts: 124member
    I wrote to Apple feedback and Tim Cook on several occasions to complain about and request the complete removal of any and all Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other anti"social media" apps from being built in to Mac, iOS, WatchOS, Having that trash on my Apple equipment without first requesting if I wanted it felt most unApple like and greatly disappointed me.

    "Don't Be Evil" and "Do the Right Thing" are cynical mottos and as meaningless as the "meek shall inherit the Earth".
    On what item and version did this happen to you?  I've never had any of those installed by default on any Apple device.  Do you happen to share your Apple account with someone else that might have downloaded those apps?  If so, your device might be set up to auto-download anything that your account has been used for.
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