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Facebook paid teenage users to install a VPN that spies on them

(Image credit: Image Credit: Flickr / Mike MacKenzie)

Facebook has been caught paying users to install a VPN service on their mobile devices that essentially spies on them. 

According to TechCrunch, Facebook was paying users to install a tool called Facebook Research – that's a VPN that gives Facebook root access to network traffic, allowing it to decrypt and analyse phone activity.

The program, which is apparently being dubbed 'Atlas', was spread through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound and uTest. Apple’s app store, as well as its own app testing service, was avoided. Users, aged 13 – 35, were being paid $20 per month to install the VPN.

Facebook reacted by pulling the iOS version. Android is still up and running.

TechCrunch says Facebook wants to remain the dominant force in data harvesting and it's willing to pay serious cash to make it happen. So, what type of data was Facebook harvesting? According to Guardian Mobile Firewall’s security expert Will Strafach, “private messages in social media apps, chats from in instant messaging apps – including photos/videos sent to others, emails, web searches, web browsing activity, and even ongoing location information by tapping into the feeds of any location tracking apps you may have installed.”

It's yet unknown if there’s a specific type of data that Facebook was looking for.

The testing sites warned users that their data was being harvested, but didn’t mention who it was harvested for. Apple is yet to comment.

The full report can be found on this link (opens in new tab).

Those interested in learning more about VPNs and how they operate should read our Best VPN service (opens in new tab)guide.

Image Credit: Flickr / Mike MacKenzie

Sead Fadilpašić
Sead Fadilpašić

Sead Fadilpašić is a freelance tech writer and journalist with more than 17 years experience writing technology-focussed news, blogs, whitepapers, reviews, and ebooks. And his work has featured in online media outlets from all over the world, including Al Jazeera Balkans (where he was a Multimedia Journalist), Crypto News, TechRadar Pro, and IT Pro Portal, where he has written news and features for over five years. Sead's experience also includes writing for inbound marketing, where he creates technology-based content for clients from London to Singapore. Sead is a HubSpot-certified content creator.