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pulling the plug

Facebook shuts down controversial iOS app that collected teens' data

Facebook is shutting down an iOS app that gave the company access to users' private data in exchange for gift cards.

TechCrunch on Tuesday reported that Facebook for the past three years has been paying up to $20 a month to people between the ages of 13 and 35 who downloaded a VPN on their phone. Users who agreed to do so were giving Facebook "nearly limitless access" to their devices and data, including to private messages, emails, and web activity, the report said. Users were also asked to send screenshots of their recent Amazon order history.

Facebook may have violated Apple's policy with this program, the report explained. An extremely similar app from Facebook, the Onavo Protect, was already banned from the App Store last year, and Facebook was bypassing Apple's review process by having users "sideload" this new app outside of the App Store. Facebook was also using a system that TechCrunch explains Apple only intends for developers to utilize for corporate apps, not for apps distributed to the general public.

Just hours after the report was published, Facebook told TechCrunch it is discontinuing the iOS version of the program, although for now, it remains on Android. Facebook pulled the plug surprisingly quickly, especially considered it initially said it was simply a research program and that "people can stop participating at any time." The company also said less than five percent of the program's users were teenagers and that they had to obtain their parents' permission.

TechCrunch says it is waiting for a response from Apple about whether Facebook violated its policies, although the company said it was aware of the issue.