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Facebook pays users to "spy" on their smartphone


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By W.M - January 31, 2019

Facebook pays users to spy on their smartphone

The application was offered to users via sites specialized in "beta testing", where people are usually paid to test online services and find bugs

The social network has conducted a discreet program to study the behavior of Internet users on their smartphone. The latter, sometimes very young, were paid up to $ 20 a month against almost total monitoring of their mobile.

How much would it cost you to accept your privacy online? For the past two years, Facebook has been paying people to watch their behavior on their smartphones, according to an investigation by the specialized Techcrunch media. They just had to download an app on their mobile called "Facebook Research". The latter was able to access users' private messages, their online searches, the sites and applications they frequented or their geolocation. Participants were paid up to $ 20 a month, or just over $ 17. They were between 13 and 35 years old. Some were recruited through advertisements on Instagram and Snapchat, applications particularly popular with teenagers.

The application was offered to users via sites specialized in "beta testing", where people are usually paid to test online services and find bugs. The name of Facebook was not necessarily mentioned at the beginning of the recruitment of the users, the initiative being often baptized "Project Atlas". When downloaded, the application asked them to install a "root certificate" adapted to their needs; this electronic certificate governs the data that we agree to exchange with the developer of an application. In the case of Atlas, the level of access was particularly high. The Techcrunch survey even mentions that the social network has asked some Internet users to send screenshots of their shopping list on Amazon.

Always available on Android

Asked by Techcrunch, Facebook has confirmed the existence of this program. He also announced that he would close the iOS version of the application in question, used on iPhone and iPad. Apple explicitly forbids developers to collect data that is not necessary for the operation of their applications. This is not the case of Android. Facebook, however, did not mention the fate of the service on Android, the mobile operating system Google, which equips more than 86% of smartphones in the world.

"There was nothing secret: this application literally bore the name 'Facebook Research App'," commented a Facebook spokesperson with Techcrunch. "It's not about espionage either, since the people were volunteers, gave their permission and were paid. In addition, less than 5% of the participants were adolescents. All had the agreement of their parents. "

This is not the first time that Facebook is accused of spying on smartphones, with or without the consent of their owner. Last year, the social network was forced to remove an application from the App Store, Onavo. Under the guise of offering a VPN service (virtual private network, which allows browsing anonymously on the Internet), the latter collected a lot of data on the behavior of its users. The goal was for Facebook to observe the habits of many people, and to adapt its strategy. It is thanks to Onavo that the social network would have finally decided to buy WhatsApp messaging, in 2014. Banned iPhone, the application is, again, always available on Android.
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