Facebook to Shut Down Controversial iOS Market Research App as Apple Revokes Certificate [Updated]

Facebook has said it will end a controversial market research program in which the company paid users to install a mobile app that tracked their activity and data.

In a statement given to TechCrunch and other websites, the company said that its "Facebook Research" app, which paid volunteers between the ages of 13 and 35 up to $20 a month to access nearly all their data, would no longer be available on iOS.

The news came just hours after TechCrunch's exposé on the Facebook app, which used an enterprise certificate on iPhones to get people to sideload the app and skirt Apple's App Store rules. In the same announcement, the company also took issue with the way its "Project Atlas" program had been reported, claiming:

Key facts about this market research program are being ignored. Despite early reports, there was nothing 'secret' about this; it was literally called the Facebook Research App. It wasn't 'spying' as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate. Finally, less than 5 percent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens, all of them with signed parental consent forms.

In August 2018, Apple forced Facebook to remove its Onavo VPN app from the ‌App Store‌ because Facebook was using it to track user activity and data across multiple apps, which is a violation of Apple's ‌App Store‌ policy.

According to TechCrunch, a significant amount of code in the banned Onavo VPN app overlaps with the company's Facebook Research app, which remains available on Android devices.

Update: Apple revoked Facebook's certificate for the app, according to a statement it provided to Recode:

We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization. Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple. Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case to protect our users and their data.

Top Rated Comments

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Avatar
15 months ago
Shut down Facebook.
Make the world great again.
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
15 months ago

Sad that the media hate on companies with these bullsh!t stories.This was an open and above board research app that under 18’s had to get parental permission to use.

I remember when I was young, and we got the new high speed 14.4 modem, dialed in, and there were all these colorful websites showing beautiful girls doing wild things we’d never even imagined. But, you had to be over 18 to click proceed, so of course we never saw any of it...
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
15 months ago

Good. Another wooden stake thru the heart. Throw some holy water on FB, and maybe it will die.

Actually this is more like fighting the Hydra… slice off one head and two grow in its place.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
15 months ago
Good. Another wooden stake thru the heart. Throw some holy water on FB, and maybe it will die.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
15 months ago
I think the writing is on the wall for Facebook, I can't seem them being around in a few years.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
15 months ago

Sad that the media hate on companies with these bullsh!t stories.

This was an open and above board research app that under 18’s had to get parental permission to use.

That was a filthy and stealthy attempt to grab _all_ of a users network access and make it accessible to Facebook. They abused an Enterprise account which allows you to install apps that are not reviewed by Apple _on devices belonging to your company_. So Zukerberg could have installed this app on his company phone, but had no right whatsoever to install it on any phone not used by a Facebook employee.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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