Facebook has been secretly paying individuals for their data since 2016. The company works with 3 beta testing app services (BetaBound, uTest, and Applause) to help distribute their research app and cloak their involvement. The research program is referred to as Project Atlas. Ads target 13 to 35-year-olds and participants receive up to $20 per month plus referral fees. Once installed, the app provides limitless root access to a user’s device, privacy, and data.
Facebook’s hunt for data started back in 2014 when it acquired Onavo for $120 million. Onavo is a virtual private network (VPN) app made to help users track and minimize data usage. A VPN is an intermediary software used to connect to the internet. Once downloaded, Onavo gave Facebook analytics on other apps consumers used. Facebook learned users send twice as many messages on WhatsApp than Facebook Messenger; leading it to buy the startup for $19 billion.
By 2018, Facebook promoted Onavo Protect, another VPN app, which allows you to password protect other phone applications. What users didn’t know is the app also secretly surveils you. Security expert Will Strafach uncovered that even with the VPN access of Onavo switched off, Facebook still had access to user’s data. In June 2018, Apple updated its developer policies banning data-collecting apps and removing Onavo Protect from the App Store.
Facebook released a statement soon after, confirming the iOS version is shut down with no mention of being blocked by Apple. Project Atlas is still available for Android users.
Bonus: Google was found to be doing the same thing with an app called Screenwise Meter, now also blocked by Apple.
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