Facebook paid teens to install an app that spied on them

2018 was a year that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Co. would like to forget. Facebook and Zuck both found themselves in hot waters several times last year for their impotence and incapability of protecting the user data. Well, it looks like 2019 isn’t going to be any different as Facebook is once again surrounded by controversy. This Menlo Park-based social media giant has been caught in the act of spying on teens.


A TechCrunch investigation has revealed that Mark Zuckerberg-led Facebook paid people – including teens – to install a VPN called “Facebook Research” to spy on them. However, Facebook didn’t do this directly. This spying program, called Project Atlas, was administered through services like Applause, BetaBound, and uTest.


Facebook has been paying users aged between 13 to 35 an amount of $20/month since 2016 to basically sell their privacy to Facebook. With Facebook Research, Facebook violated Apple’s privacy policy and paid users to install the app on their phones and grant root access to the network traffic, thus allowing the social media giant to monitor a user’s phone activity and potentially gain access to data like messages in social media and instant messaging apps.


Upon digging through the Facebook Research app’s code, Guardian Mobile Firewall’s security expert Will Strafach said “If Facebook makes full use of the level of access they are given by asking users to install the Certificate, they will have the ability to continuously collect the following types of data: private messages in social media apps, chats from in instant messaging apps – including photos/videos sent to others, emails, web searches, web browsing activity, and even ongoing location information by tapping into the feeds of any location tracking apps you may have installed.

It’s currently unclear what kind of data did Facebook actually access with its Facebook Research app.

The way Facebook Research works is similar to what Facebook’s Onavo Protect app worked. The app was banned by Apple after it was found tracking user activity.

The Facebook Research app has been removed from Apple’s App Store, however, it’s still available on Google’s Play Store for Android users and its fate is unknown.

Responding to this investigation, a Facebook spokesperson said “Like many companies, we invite people to participate in research that helps us identify things we can be doing better. Since this research is aimed at helping Facebook understand how people use their mobile devices, we’ve provided extensive information about the type of data we collect and how they can participate. We don’t share this information with others and people can stop participating at any time.

After learning about this Project Atlas program, we can only imagine how many more ways is Facebook still tracking its users. You can head over to the source link below to know more.