In January, when news first broke that Facebook had been paying teens in gift cards to let it install what is, by definition, essentially spyware on their phones, it seemed like just another Tuesday. Had it been virtually any other company, the outrage would have been tenfold.
After all, paying 13-year-olds to gain access to their mobile app usage and browser traffic is, on its face, an unconscionably creepy way for a business to gather intelligence about its competitors. But this shameless undertaking is now precisely the kind of dissolute conduct we’ve come to expect from the occupants 1 Hacker Way.
Facebook’s moral turpitude aside, it’s now come to light that the company also initially underreported the percentage of teens that it had paid to become lab rats, while falsely stating that parental consent forms were required.
Citing responses from the company to questions posed by Sen. Mark Warner, TechCrunch reports that Facebook now claims “about 18 per cent” of the people it convinced to download the “Facebook Research App” were teens. This, as opposed to the “5 per cent” figure the company provided reporters over a month ago.
As it turns out, when first asked by TechCrunch’s Josh Constine how many teens were using the app, Facebook was apparently only referring to how many teens were currently using it, as opposed to how many had used it across the program’s lifespan.
At the end of 2018, in a dramatic series of events, lawmakers in England had a sergeant-at-arms storm to an American tech executive’s hotel room and insisted on the release of confidential documents from his company’s ongoing lawsuit against Facebook. Then, in the style of vigilante hackers, the lawmakers posted many of those court-sealed records, exposing hundreds of pages of internal Facebook emails and revealing how the company actually feels about issues like user privacy.Read more
On Friday, Constine reported: “Given users age 13 to 35 were eligible for Facebook’s Research program, 13 to 18 year olds made of 22 per cent of the age range. That means Facebook clearly wasn’t trying to minimise teen involvement, nor were they just a tiny fraction of users.”
The company also misled reporters by claiming at the time that all underage users were required to provide “signed parental consent forms.” They weren’t. In response to Warner’s inquiry, Facebook said that its vendors “did not require a signed parental consent form for teen users.”
In some cases, this “confirmation” was actually just a kid checking a box online claiming that he or she had their guardians’ permission to receive money from Facebook in exchange for letting it suck up all their phone and web activity.
The deception didn’t end there. In response to Constine’s initial story, the company claimed that it would shut down the iOS version of the app, as TechCrunch had raised the possibility of it violating Apple’s Enterprise Certificate rules, which led to the temporary bricking of all Facebook’s internal iOS app.
What the company passed off as a proactive measure, however, turned out to actually be Apple forcing Facebook’s hand. The removal of the app, in other words, was not voluntary.