image of tausif akram By: Amby
5 Mar 2019

Facebook Was Using A Security App To Spy On Competitors

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Facebook Was Using A Security App To Spy On Competitors

 

Facebook, the social media giant that we all adore so much, is always under fire for one reason or another. This time, the notorious social networking app has made the headlines for using one of its security apps to collect user data.

The details about Facebook’s use of an app to “spy” on its users have been revealed in a report by a Common committee. The committee has reported that Facebook used its VPN (virtual private network) app – Onavo to collect data on competitors.

The report that consists of over 100 pages also has details on the impact of fake news on the site in elections. Facebook has "intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws.", claims the MPs.

According to Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee, with the use of Onavo that was supposed to provide the users with an additional layer of security, Facebook could "collect app usage data from its customers to assess not only how many people had downloaded apps, but how often they used them". Furthermore, "This knowledge helped them to decide which companies were performing well and therefore gave them invaluable data on possible competitors. They could then acquire those companies, or shut down those they judged to be a threat."

A graph included in the report by the committee exhibits an analysis of the information gathered through Onavo, describing how apps, owned by Facebook and rival service, were commonly used.

In 2012, Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion. While a year later it offered to acquire Snapchat for $3 billion. Later, in 2014, it successfully acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in cash and shares.

The report also has deets about the way FB could shut off access to its services to its rivals. For instance, in 2013, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder, and CEO of Facebook was informed about the video service Vine by its social media rival Twitter. He was informed through email that Twitter was planning to allow Vines users to find friends on Facebook. The email also read, "Unless anyone raises objections, we will shut down their friends' API access today.", which was a move to prevent Vine users from inviting their Facebook friends to the service. Zuckerberg agreed to the move with a reply, "Yup, go for it." Eventually, Twitter had to shut down Vine in 2016.

According to this latest report, as of November 2013, over 5,000 apps were “whitelisted” on Facebook, which means that they could get exclusive access to the data of users and their friends' list. The list of whitelisted apps had names like Netflix, Airbnb, and Lyft.

An inside email discussed an annual spend of $250,000 on advertising to maintain company access to Facebook user data.

In an email sent in October 2012 sent by Zuckerberg, he marked out his skepticism about the risks of data leaks happening between Facebook application developers.

"I think we leak info to developers, but I just can't think of any instances where that data has leaked from developer to developer and caused a real issue for us," he wrote.

It’s not the first time, Facebook is under fire for its way of handling user data. Last year, UK’s data protection watchdog, fined Facebook £500,000 its involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It was said that with no explicit consent, the company had given developers access to user data.

The Cambridge Analytica used user data collected through a personality to profile potential voters.

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