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Facebook Shuts Down Controversial Program to Pay Apple Users for Data

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. will shut down a program to pay iPhone users for sharing their personal data, following a report disclosing controversial details of the effort including that some participants were teenagers.

The social networking company paid people aged 13 to 35 as much as $20 a month to install the Facebook Research App, track phone and web usage habits, according to a TechCrunch story. The program sidestepped Apple’s App Store and gave Facebook root access to network traffic in what may have been a violation of Apple policy, the story said. The app will be discontinued on Apple’s iOS, though it will continue to run on Android devices.

Facebook confirmed the existence of the program but took issue with its representation.

“Key facts about this market research program are being ignored,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement. “Despite early reports, there was nothing ’secret’ about this; it was literally called the Facebook Research App. It wasn’t ’spying’ as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate. Finally, less than 5 percent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens. All of them with signed parental consent forms.”

Facebook has been under fire for months over its privacy practices and role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In one major data breach disclosed last year, Cambridge Analytica obtained information on millions of Facebook users through a third-party app.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s chief privacy watchdog, is likely to impose a record fine against the company for failing to protect users’ personal information, Bloomberg News reported this month. The District of Columbia sued the company in December over its handling of user data.

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