Facebook paid users to track smartphone use: report

Published January 30, 2019
In this file photo taken on January 15, 2019, the logo of social network Facebook is displayed on a smartphone in Nantes, France. — AFP
In this file photo taken on January 15, 2019, the logo of social network Facebook is displayed on a smartphone in Nantes, France. — AFP

Facebook paid users, including teens, to track their smartphone activity as part of an effort to glean more data that could help the social network's competition efforts, according to a new report that may raise fresh privacy concerns.

An investigation by the online news site TechCrunch said the effort, which had been known as the Onavo Protect and later rebaptised as Facebook Research, was used to gather data on usage habits.

The news could be a further embarrassment for Facebook, which has been under heightened scrutiny over failing to crack down on manipulation of its platform and for sharing private data with its business partners.

Facebook said it shut down the application on Apple's iOS on Wednesday after the TechCrunch article was published. It remained unclear if it remained active for Android users.

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.

The program paid users ages 13 to 35 up to $20 a month for "root" access to their devices to track their location, app usage, spending habits and other activity.

In a statement to AFP, Facebook said there was "nothing secret" about its efforts, and that Onavo and Facebook Research were separate programs.

"It wasn't 'spying' as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate," the Facebook statement said.

"Finally, less than five per cent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens. All of them with signed parental consent forms."

The project may have allowed Facebook to scoop up more data about younger users as it fends off a challenge from rival services like Snapchat, which has become more popular than Facebook among US teens.

Opinion

The ECI headache
08 May 2021

The ECI headache

The ECI sat mute while BJP held huge rallies without following SOPs.
Engaging the enemy
08 May 2021

Engaging the enemy

The ghost of the Musharraf formula has started to haunt the current backchannel process.
Will OIC confront France?
Updated 08 May 2021

Will OIC confront France?

For Pakistan to keep its GSP-Plus status it will have to show the EU that it treats its blasphemy accused fairly.
Standing by Kashmir
Updated 07 May 2021

Standing by Kashmir

A comprehensive failure of governance is always a comprehensive moral failure of the governors.

Editorial

Updated 08 May 2021

Delayed poll debate

THE debate on electoral reforms is going nowhere. Even though the major political parties say reforms are critical,...
08 May 2021

Reducing deficit

THE numbers show that the government has managed to arrest growth in fiscal deficit — the difference between the...
08 May 2021

Rise in dog bites

ON Wednesday, an unusually high number of dog-bite cases were reported in Larkana, when 19 people — the majority ...
Reprimanding envoys
Updated 07 May 2021

Reprimanding envoys

The prime minister should have engaged with honest and respectable officers to identify how solutions can be found.
07 May 2021

Foreign funding case

THE foreign funding case against the PTI has become a never-ending tale. It has been dragging on for years and after...
07 May 2021

Water woes

IRRIGATION experts have voiced concern over the decline of freshwater flow through Kotri barrage, which has led to...