A Facebook app banned by Apple gathered personal and sensitive data from 187,000 users before it was booted from iOS devices.
According to a letter from Facebook to Senator Richard Blumenthal’s office, the Research app gathered data on 31,000 users in the U.S. The rest of the data came from users in India.
The app was originally called Onavo VPN. Apple asked Facebook to remove the app from the App Store last year. This was because it was violating Apple’s data collection policies.
Facebook then decided to rebrand the app Facebook Research. It also bypassed the App Store, and allowed users to side-load the app on their iOS devices. Intended for market research, the app awarded volunteers with a $20 gift guard for access to large amounts of data on their phones. This included private messages, location data, and more. It even asked users to manually screenshot their Amazon order history.
Apple responded to news of the app by revoking Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate. This had the result of breaking Facebook’s internal apps. (They were later brought back online.) Facebook ultimately ditched the Research app in January.
According to the new letter, obtained by TechCrunch, 4,300 of the 187,000 people the app gathered data from were U.S. teenagers.
Facebook and Apple
Apple and Facebook have quite a lot of history between them. Apple was one of the first big companies to offer Facebook a recurring source of revenue. This was for an Apple-branded page back when the social media company was starting up.
However, more recently the two companies have clashed over privacy. Last year, Tim Cook was asked what he would do if he was in the same situation as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg when Zuck was going through the Cambridge Analytica scandal. “I wouldn’t be in this situation,” Cook replied.