Facebook acquired private data of 187,000 through spying app

In a letter sent to a US senator, the social media giant admits to accessing confidential information from 31,000 users in the US and 156,000 in India

Facebook's first-quarter profit plunged 51% to $2.4bn from a year earlier. AP
Facebook's first-quarter profit plunged 51% to $2.4bn from a year earlier. AP

Facebook collected confidential details of 187,000 users, some as young as 13, through its now non-operational app Research that paid users secretly for access, TechCrunch reported, citing a letter the social media company sent to a US lawmaker.

In the letter addressed to Senator Richard Blumenthal’s office in Connecticut, Facebook admitted to acquiring data of 31,000 users in the United States and 156,000 users in India, the US technology news portal reported.

The Research app, which was launched in 2016, collected data such as web browsing history, encrypted messages and mobile app activity, “potentially also including data from their friends, for competitive analysis”, TechCrunch said.

Last year, Facebook faced widespread backlash for paying its users, between the ages of 13 and 35, to install Research which traced private texts, locations and app usage. Users were compensated monthly in the form of gift cards.

Facebook, however, never clearly defined to what degree it would share user information through the app.

Apple was the first to ban Research from its app store. The company said Facebook “violated” its “privacy policies” and cancelled some developer privileges. In reaction, Facebook removed the app from Apple’s store in January and later disabled it for Android users as well.

In its defence, Facebook said Research focused only on analytics. “The app did not target any health or financial apps, collect any images or video, or decrypt the vast majority of data being sent by a phone,” the company told the senator.

Facebook is also facing criticism for a slew of privacy-related issues, including exposing the passwords of millions of users to its employees.

Last year, the social media giant was embroiled in a scandal related to the 2016 US presidential elections. The British political consulting company, Cambridge Analytica, is said to have mined personal data from millions of Facebook profiles without their consent.This led to US congressional hearings where Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testified.

Facebook's 2019 first-quarter revenue rose an annual 26 per cent to $15.1 billion (Dh55.46bn) from last year, beating average analyst estimates. However, its net profit plunged about 51 per cent to $2.4bn from the previous year.

Updated: June 13, 2019 05:56 PM


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