Facebook paid teenage users to install a VPN that spies on them

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This program is intended for companies to install internal apps and beta versions on employee devices via special iOS certificates.

Yesterday, TechCrunch first reported that Facebook is now paying users in the United States for sharing their phone and web activity for research purposes.

The TechCrunch pieces argues that Google is more straightforward here, compared to Facebook, in explaining how the program works and what data is collected, while also pointing out that it's still somewhat dicey for this to exist at all. The app was previously kicked out of the official App Store for breaking Apple's rules on privacy: Facebook had to use the cert to skirt Cupertino's ban. Apple blocked the app before the tech giant could voluntarily remove iOS. Some experts speculated yesterday that Apple could go as far as removing Facebook's apps from iOS completely due to the violation.

TechCrunch reported this week that Facebook had been paying people aged 13 to 35 to install the app, which monitors nearly all phone and internet activity and sends it to Facebook for research. Aimed at people aged 13 to 25, the app, according to Facebook, is created to study mobile usage habits.

It is not the first time Apple and Facebook have been at odds over privacy-related issues. Zuckerberg said people often "assume we do things we don't do", like selling user data. It's unclear if Apple will revoke this certificate in response to this blatant breach of its terms.

As news of the activity came to light, Facebook has announced that the program (sometimes referred to as Project Atlas) is being terminated on iOS, but it seems that it will be continuing on Android.

Facebook said in a statement Wednesday that the nature of the data collecting app was not secret.

On Tuesday, technology news site TechCrunch reported that Facebook was paying users as young as 13 years old to install an app called Facebook Research.

Facebook says fewer than 5 percent of the app's users were teens and they had parental permission. And Apple's move Wednesday restricts Facebook's ability to test those apps - including core apps such as Facebook and Instagram - before they are released through the app store.

A researcher commissioned by TechCrunch to investigate the app branded Facebook Research as a "poorly re-branded build of the banned Onavo app", and with the installation of root certificates which Apple requires to be only be used by employees under its Developer Enterprise Program License Agreement, it will be interesting to see how Apple responds to these findings. By offering as paltry a sum as $20 to see almost everything we're doing on our smartphones, Facebook is, whether consciously or not, targeting the most desperate among us. Facebook, a company that's worth almost $421.5 billion at press time, can surely find less problematic ways to do market research. The VPN app gives Google access to traffic and data on users' devices.

The news led to increased political scrutiny of Facebook's business model - in particular its use of target advertising, which entails the optimization of ads based on a user's interests and clicking habits.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the nation's chief privacy watchdog, is likely to impose a record fine against the company for failing to protect users' personal information, Bloomberg News reported this month.

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