Lawmakers are calling out Facebook for paying people — including teenagers — to use an intrusive data-collecting app

Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesSen. Mark Warner.
  • Sens. Mark R. Warner, Richard Blumenthal, and Edward J. Markey have called out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the recent reports that the company paid people to install an intrusive data-collecting app.
  • Facebook pulled the iOS research app following a TechCrunch report on Tuesday that revealed it paid people, including teenagers, to allow it to gather data about them.
  • Legislators are concerned the app did not properly inform users of the extent of its data gathering.

Facebook’s reputation among lawmakers has taken another hit and the company could be in for more tough questions, following reports that it paid people, including teens, to install a special app to monitor their movements online.

Several US senators on Wednesday fired off letters to the company or made public comments voicing their unease and demanding answers.

“I have concerns that users were not appropriately informed about the extent of Facebook’s data-gathering and the commercial purposes of this data collection,” Sen. Mark Warner wrote in a letter to Zuckerberg.

TechCrunch on Tuesday reported that Facebook had a program that paid people up to $US20 a month to install a VPN app that tracked their data.

The app, called Facebook Research, is similar to Facebook’s controversial virtual private network app Onavo and shares much of the same code, according to security expert Will Strafach, who was asked by TechCrunch to investigate the program.

Apple had previously banned Onavo outright from its App Store on the iPhone and the iPad over violations of its privacy policy.

Warner, the Democrat from Virginia, continued: “Facebook’s lack of full transparency with users … has been a source of frustration for me.”

Facebook has said the program existed for it to learn more about the apps that people download and how they use their phones. The company said that only 5% of the participants were teenagers.

Blumenthal, the Democrat from Connecticut, in a statement to TechCrunch, said: “Wiretapping teens is not research, and it should never be permissible. This is yet another astonishing example of Facebook’s complete disregard for data privacy and eagerness to engage in anticompetitive behaviour.”

He then called Zuckerberg’s promises “empty” and urged the Federal Trade Commission, which is investigating Facebook, to add the Onavo app to its probe.

Sen. Edward J. Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat, told Mother Jones, “It is inherently manipulative to offer teens money in exchange for their personal information when younger users don’t have a clear understanding how much data they’re handing over and how sensitive it is.”

This latest privacy scandal is one in a long line of back-to-back-to-back controversies the company has faced in the past two years. Critics and lawmakers have said Facebook has a lot of trust to gain back from its users, who have pioneered movements like #DeleteFacebook, and have implored it to clearly define consent in terms of data collection.

Read Warner’s full letter here:

Letter to Zuckerberg 01 30 … by on Scribd

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