A new report from TechCrunch reveals that a controversial Facebook research program was spying on more teens than the company initially admitted.
Earlier this year, reports revealed that Facebook was paying users to install a VPN program that would spy on their behavior. Initially, Facebook said that teenagers were less than five percent of the users studied in this controversial study. Now, a new report suggests that 18 percent of the users in the study were teenagers.
In exchange for payment, Facebook would be granted root access to the user’s device. That access would be used to monitor all network traffic on the device including what apps were used on the device and what websites were visited.
The new report suggests that 18 percent of all users on the research that participated in the program were teenagers.
In the response from Facebook’s VP of US public policy Kevin Martin, the company admits that (emphasis ours) “At the time we ended the Facebook Research App on Apple’s iOS platform, less than 5 percent of the people sharing data with us through this program were teens. Analysis shows that number is about 18 percent when you look at the complete lifetime of the program, and also add people who had become inactive and uninstalled the app.” So 18 percent of research testers were teens. It was only less than 5 percent when Facebook got caught. Given users age 13 to 35 were eligible for Facebook’s Research program, 13 to 18 year olds made of 22 percent of the age range. That means Facebook clearly wasn’t trying to minimize teen involvement, nor were they just a tiny fraction of users.
After initial reports on the research application were published, Facebook promised to shut down it down. However, shortly after, Apple removed the app from its app store on the basis that it violated their internal policies.
TechCrunch’s Josh Constine argues that Facebook’s reaction to this controversy shows again that the company is willing to downplay the seriousness of its user privacy violations.