The last week has seen an immense global backlash following the news that Facebook plans to integrate its three powerhouse messaging platforms – Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram – into one giant data quarry. If anyone was holding out for some tangible reason to fear the data implications of this, then perhaps the news just in that Facebook has been caught paying teens and young adults for (almost) unfettered access to the private data on their phones will be it.
You get the sense with Facebook, that data exploitation, treating the information exchanged by its billions of users, as a legitimate domain within which it can casually, commercially trawl, has become so entrenched in the DNA of the organization that it literally can’t help itself. The reports overnight, first broken by TechCrunch, are that “desperate for data on its competitors, Facebook has been secretly paying people to install a ‘Facebook Research’ VPN that lets the company suck in all of a user’s phone and web activity.”
Big Tech, Big Questions
The question is often raised about BigTech as to whether they have now reached a size and scale where the lack of controls have become a major issue. “Facebook admitted to TechCrunch it was running the Research program to gather data on usage habits, and it has no plans to stop.” How about that as a pointer to the answer?
The method deployed in this instance is a VPN that bypasses the safeguards of the app stores and is ‘sold’ as a research project. The access granted in the installation process leaves private messages and chats, web activity and emails open. Last year, Apple removed the Israeli Onavo app, acquired by Facebook in 2013 for up to $200 million, for “snooping” on users in violation of its rules.
With Apple, Facebook has carefully bypassed limits on user numbers and any scrutiny of the app by avoiding the usual TestFlight route. Given Apple’s response to Onavo, it will be interesting to see how the iPhone maker responds to this latest news. They have blocked Facebook’s data plans on their platforms in the past. Tim Cook said last year, with the social media giant in mind, that “the ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life — from my own point of view, it shouldn’t exist.”
Article sourced from Forbes