Since 2016, Facebook has been paying teenagers as young as 13 to install the “Facebook Research” app on their phone. According to a January 29, 2019, TechCrunch article by Josh Constine, the app allows Facebook to collect nearly all of the accessible data on users’ phones. This data includes what they search for online, photos or videos sent through social media messaging, location information, and emails. Facebook, Constantine reported, has been “paying users ages 13 to 35 up to $20 per month plus referral fees” for their online data. Even after Apple informed Facebook that a previous program, Onavo Protect, violated Apple’s data collection policies, Facebook paid users to use a new app, Facebook Research, from outside of Apple’s App Store.
One of the biggest concerns with Facebook’s spying is that teenagers do not necessarily understand how much information they are selling and why it could be dangerous. Smart phones carry sensitive information including locations, bank account information, and other personal information, and Facebook could take advantage of the fact that teens want to make money without understanding what they are giving up in return. Although Apple shut down the Facebook Research app, it is still available for Android users, meaning many teens still have access to it.
Reporting for Mother Jones, Tonya Riley wrote that lawmakers are trying to put a stop to Facebook collecting data on teens. Riley mentions Sen. Edward J. Markey, who chimed into the issue saying the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act should also include teenagers. This way Facebook would have a hard time getting data from teens because they wouldn’t be able to have access into their phones and their private life. This issue came into the picture right after Senator Markey and Senator Richard Blumenthal sent a letter to Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, about Facebook ignoring reports of teenagers using their parents’ credit cards on the platform to play games.
The only major media outlets that appear to have covered this story are Vox and CBS News.
Josh Constine, “Facebook Pays Teens to Install VPN That Spies on Them,” TechCrunch, January 29, 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/01/29/facebook-project-atlas/.
Tonya Riley, “Lawmakers Want Facebook to Stop Spying on Minors.” Mother Jones, January 30, 2019, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/01/facebook-spying-minors-phones-senator-blumenthal-markey/
Student Researcher: Samantha Soverino (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)