The latest buzz in the tech world has a lot to do with Facebook and whether they are spying on people through the iOS platform or not. It has raised alarm for a number of people around the globe. Their privacy is there no more and their personal information is at risk of exposure and illicit use.
This article will examine, in detail, the issue under discussion and the exact nature of risk that user’s face through this application.
What did Facebook do?
Well, it is not something they already don’t do using cookies. However, Facebook went a step ahead and accessed user’s personal information like private messages, photos, videos, emails, web activity and location details from their mobile phones.
Through the ‘Facebook Research’ app, which is hosted on both, iOS and Android platforms, Facebook basically pays the users a monthly amount of $20, in exchange for access to their personal information. This operation has been live since 2016, under the name of ‘Project Atlas’.
Why did they do it?
According to the statement issued by the officials over at Facebook, this project was not a secret. It is right there in the name ‘Facebook Research’. This information is used by Facebook to conduct market research in the following areas:
- AR/VR Connectivity
- Computational Photography & Intelligent Cameras
- Computer Vision
- Data Science
- Economics & Computation
- Facebook AI Research
- Human-Computer Interaction & UX
- Machine Learning
- Natural Language Processing & Speech
- Security & Privacy
- Systems & Networking
Why was it a violation?
It was a violation because it went against the rules and regulations of the App Store regarding data collection and its certificate system. The Facebook Research app requires the users to install an Enterprise Certificate on their mobile phones, so Facebook can access their personal information.
This certificate was restricted in use by Apple and only Apple employees were allowed to use it in the case of installing corporate software, like employee monitoring software, Payroll and Invoicing Solutions, and other applications on workstations within the company.
Furthermore, Facebook claimed that the people who willingly shared their personal information are those who came onboard through a complete sign-up process.
They also said that people under the age of 18 are required to submit a signed parental consent form in order to complete the process and begin sharing their data.
This was refuted by a BBC tech reporter, David Lee, who claimed that he was able to sign-up by entering incorrect information and posed as a 14-year old boy. He didn’t receive any parental consent sign up form and was allowed to download the app without any issue.
What was the repercussion?
As a result of the above violation, Apple revoked Facebook’s license for collecting all information from the users. Facebook disabled the pay-for-data app for iOS users.
However, the question arises, what about that data that has already been shared with Facebook? Will that be removed from Facebook’s servers or will Facebook be required to pay a hefty fine for that considering it was acquired illegally (they didn’t have a certificate for that!)… no one knows.
For now, we can only hope that Android users are careful of which data they share with Facebook for the purpose of “Market Research”. A serious re-evaluation is required to see what the true value of a person’s personal information is, $20 or more.
Looking at it objectively, this research comes under ‘Ethical Spying’ and is termed as ‘Market Research’ to make it not look that bad to the audience.