Reportedly, Facebook has been paying people of a certain age group to install a data harvesting VPN tool known as the “Facebook Research” VPN, but also referred to as Project Atlas. The tool has been offered to iOS and Android users aged between 13 and 35, TechCrunch research unveiled.
Facebook Research VPN Violates Users’ Privacy
The selected individuals were paid up to $20 per month, plus referral commissions, to grant Facebook access to phone, app, and web usage data. For this to be done, a Root Certificate is installed.
So far, it’s known that Facebook is terminating the project on iOS but it seems it will be running on Android. According to TechCrunch:
Desperate for data on its competitors, Facebook has been secretly paying people to install a “Facebook Research” VPN that lets the company suck in all of a user’s phone and web activity, similar to Facebook’s Onavo Protect app that Apple banned in June and that was removed in August.
Apparently, the social network dodges the App Store and rewards teenagers and adults to download the Research app and give it root access to network traffic. This may be a violation of Apple’s policy where Facebook gets the opportunity to decrypt and analyze phone activity. What is more, Facebook admitted to TechCrunch it was running the Research program to gather data on usage habits, the research revealed.
Facebook has been carrying out this dubious activity since 2016. The company even asked users to share screenshots of their Amazon order history pages. “The program is administered through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound and uTest to cloak Facebook’s involvement, and is referred to in some documentation as “Project Atlas” — a fitting name for Facebook’s effort to map new trends and rivals around the globe,” TechCrunch said.
As already mentioned, Facebook’s Research program will continue to run on Android devices. Apple still hasn’t commented whether Facebook officially violated its policy, or whether it asked Facebook to stop the program. It’s worth noting that Facebook may have been privately instructed by Apple to remove the project voluntarily. This is what happened with the Onavo app last year.