Facebook will remove iOS app that paid users to ‘spy’ on them


Onavo Protect was used by the company for the same objective but was removed from the iOS App Store in June 2018 when Apple implemented new rules that banned the collection of "information about which other apps are installed on a user's device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing".

According to TechCrunch, the Menlo Park, Calif. company - which has taken heat for a range of privacy-related scandals, breaches and snafus over the a year ago - has been paying teenagers and adults up to $20 per month to install a "Facebook Research" app on their Apple or Android phones. While the Onavo Protect app promised to help users track and manage their cellular data consumption, it ultimately allowed Facebook to gain valuable insights into its competitors.

Apple has yet to publicly offer a comment on the report and say whether it will impose any meaningful sanctions on Facebook.

"We designed our Enterprise Developer Program exclusively for the internal distribution of apps within an organization", Apple said in a statement shared with Variety.

"Instead, the instruction manual reveals that users download the app from r.facebook-program.com and are told to install an Enterprise Developer Certificate and VPN and "Trust" Facebook with root access to the data their phone transmits". Apple has since (at least temporarily) revoked Facebook's ability to use these developer apps on its iPhones at all.

"I have never seen such open and flagrant defiance of Apple's rules by an App Store developer", Strafach told the technology news site.

"Key facts about this market research program are being ignored", the company said. In some advertisements for the app displayed on Instagram and Snapchat, teens were targeted to participate in a paid social media research study, and if they tried to sign up were asked to get their parent's approval through a Web form.

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The incident, regardless of Facebook's strongly-worded response, will undoubtedly further tarnish the social media company's public image. Another part of the research asked users, who were signed up through beta testing services BetaBound, uTest, and Applause, to send in screenshots of their Amazon order histories.

By using the so-called Developer Enterprise Program, which allows companies to distribute apps among developers for testing purposes, Facebook was able to circumvent the official App Store which has strict rules for apps that funnel internet traffic, according to an investigation by website Techcrunch. While this level of data collection might freak you out, it is Google's potential violation of Apple's policies that may cause it problems.

The report said the initial Onavo app was shuttered for violating Apple's privacy policy and that the newer version may also contravene Apple's terms.

Facebook said Wednesday it is shutting down the app to Apple customers.

The sign-up pages of these services, meanwhile, have no mention of Facebook but disclose all the data that would be collected from participants. "We don't share this information with others and people can stop participating at any time", they said in a statement.

ZDNet has reached out to Apple and will update if we hear back.