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Security & privacy

Facebook has been caught spying on members again

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Welp, here we go again. Facebook’s commitment to privacy, or lack of it, has once again been put on blast.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal that we found out about last year was bad enough to kick off a whole “delete Facebook” movement. We gave you 10 more reasons to dump Facebook in 2019. And … the drama continues!

The social media giant has just been caught in what seems to be some pretty shady activity. It’s been paying people — especially teens — to install an app that is used to spy on them. We’re not surprised that they’d want to learn more about teenagers’ social media habits. News outlets have been reporting that Facebook is losing the teen audience for more than a year.

Facebook’s latest privacy betrayal

Research by TechCrunch shows just how far Facebook is willing to go to find out what exactly its members are doing at all times. A couple of years ago, Facebook started paying people up to $20 per month, plus referral fees, to install a “Facebook Research” VPN app. A virtual private network (VPN) allows you to connect to the internet through a dedicated server. So, Facebook’s testers were consenting to use this dedicated network to access the internet, and the app was collecting their smartphones’ activities.

You might see ads on social media sites for beta testing services, offering you the chance to test apps or Facebook-related features. Companies like Applause, BetaBound, and uTest give people the chance to test apps before they’re market-ready, to help developers improve them. In this case, the Facebook Research app was used to find out what other apps people have on their phones, and it collected data about members’ other activities.

The company targeted users between 13 and 35 to sign up for the program sometimes referred to as “Project Atlas.” If you signed up, you had to install a certificate on your Apple or Android gadget that let Facebook monitor your network traffic on your phone.

Users were asked to trust “Facebook, Inc. (In-House).”

As you can see in the image above, Trusting will allow any app from this enterprise developer to be used on your iPhone (or Android) and may allow access to your data. That should be a red flag for everyone.

Giving Facebook this much power would let it see your private messages, including photos and videos that you send to other people. It would also have the ability to see your emails, online activity and location data. You’d basically be selling your privacy for $20 a month. Not a good idea at any price!

Obviously, Facebook denies wrongdoing. The company sent the following statement about the report:

“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, Apple said the app violates its terms. Facebook has since shut down the iOS version of the app, but it still appears to be up and running for Android gadgets.

Does this sound familiar?

This isn’t the first time Facebook has tread these waters. In fact, this is very similar to the Onavo VPN app situation we told you about last year.

That app also gave Facebook the ability to take a deep dive into user analytics and help it find out which apps were popular and what features it should build upon.

Facebook has had so many problems the past few years, Kim has actually recommended deactivating it. Click or tap here to find out how.

Bonus: Apps that are tracking you and stealing your data

Remember Cambridge Analytica? Tap or click to listen to it on your drive home.

Have you ever had an app ask you to access your phone’s location? How about the app that wants access to your smartphone camera and contact list.

It has become second nature to share this info with the app, but did you ever stop to think: where does all this data go? Our lives are being tracked and sold to companies.

In this podcast, you will learn who is tracking you, how they can get to your personal information and, most importantly, where your data is being sent.

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