Bipartisan Disbelief & Outrage Over Facebook's Shady "Research" App

Lawmakers on either side of the political spectrum are reeling following an investigative report into an app created by Facebook that was found to be collecting sensitive information from both adults and teenagers. The original story, reported by TechCrunch earlier this week, was later retweeted by Republican Missouri Senator Josh Hawley.

The Senator shared the story alongside a statement calling out the social media giant's decision to pay teenagers for the right to spy on them. The teens, some as young as 13-years-old, were not made aware of the surveillance and the application was disguised as a VPN. In effect, both teenagers and adults were reportedly paid $20 per month to download and use an app meant to act as a secure private network that also recorded their private usage.

The outcry has now extended beyond Senator Hawley to include US Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Massachusetts Senatore Edward J. Markey.

Senator Markey released an official statement vowing includes a vow to push forward with his ‘Do Not Track Kids Act’ initiative in a bid to update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act to more comprehensively protect teenagers. That extends to adults as well, Mr. Markey indicates, with the lawmaker expressing concern that the company didn't provide adequate details to either minors or adults.

Senator Blumenthal's official statement is somewhat more scathing, pointing to past actions Facebook has taken, including earlier attempts to conduct exactly the same type of data collection using an app called "Onavo VPN" which was later removed from the App Store, but not Google Play. The senator has said that "wiretapping teens" is not an acceptable practice for research and has vowed to extend letters to both Google and Apple to determine how each company came to host the application, to begin with.

Other lawmakers have spoken out on the matter, mirroring the sentiments, as the struggle continues to find agreement on comprehensive legislation protecting the online privacy of users.

Facebook's never-ending debacle

Facebook has been at the center of an increasing number of controversies over the course of the last 12 months. That ultimately landed company CEO Mark Zuckerberg in front of a panel in Washington several times to answer questions and concerns from the nation's representatives, in addition to appearances by the company in other countries.

The primary focus of US hearings was to determine how the widely-reported Cambridge Analytica scandal occurred and to address concerns about election tampering. Hearings centered on those topics and a range of others stretched out over the course of 2018 as Facebook continued to face compounding issues with its security and both the collection and sharing of user data.

A lack of clarity between Facebook and its users has been central to nearly all of its hearings and the majority of its controversies.

No end in sight

The problems with Facebook have been covered exhaustively and the latest signs of unethical behavior aren't likely to come as a surprise to anybody. Despite that fact, there's seems to be little motivation from users pressuring the company to alter its course, pending stronger legislative action.

The company's most recent earnings report showed Facebook surpassing analyst expectations by a wide margin. That includes its figures for both monthly and daily active users, with an increase of 9-percent in both figures year-over-year.

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About the Author
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Daniel Golightly

Senior Staff Writer
Daniel has been writing for AndroidHeadlines since 2016. As a Senior Staff Writer for the site, Daniel specializes in reviewing a diverse range of technology products and covering topics related to Chrome OS and Chromebooks. Daniel holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Software Engineering and has a background in Writing and Graphics Design that drives his passion for Android, Google products, the science behind the technology, and the direction it's heading. Contact him at [email protected]
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