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We dismantle Facebook’s memo defending its “Research”

Facebook published an internal memo today trying to minimize the morale damage of TechCrunch’s investigation that revealed it’d been paying people to suck in all their phone data. Attained by Business Insider’s Rob Price, the memo from Facebook’s VP of production engineering and security Pedro Canahuati gives us more detail about exactly what data Facebook was trying to collect from teens and adults in the US and India. But it also tries to claim the program wasn’t secret, wasn’t spying, and that Facebook doesn’t see it as a violation of Apple’s policy against using its Enterprise Certificate system to distribute apps to non-employees — despite Apple punishing it for the violation.

For reference, Facebook was recruiting users age 13-35 to install a Research app, VPN, and give it root network access so it could analyze all their traffic. It’s pretty sketchy to be buying people’s privacy, and despite being shut down on iOS, it’s still running on Android.

Here we lay out the memo with section by section responses to Facebook’s claims challenging TechCrunch’s reporting. Our responses are in bold and we’ve added images.

Memo from Facebook VP Pedro Canahuati

APPLE ENTERPRISE CERTS REINSTATED

Early this morning, we received agreement from Apple to issue a new enterprise certificate; this has allowed us to produce new builds of our public and enterprise apps for use by employees and contractors. Because we have a few dozen apps to rebuild, we’re initially focusing on the most critical ones, prioritized by usage and importance: Facebook, Messenger, Workplace, Work Chat, Instagram, and Mobile Home.

New builds of these apps will soon be available and we’ll email all iOS users for detailed instructions on how to reinstall. We’ll also post to iOS FYI with full details.

Meanwhile, we’re expecting a follow-up article from the New York Times later today, so I wanted to share a bit more information and background on the situation.

What happened?

On Tuesday TechCrunch reported on our Facebook Research program. This is a market research program that helps us understand consumer behavior and trends to build better mobile products.

TechCrunch implied we hid the fact that this is by Facebook – we don’t. Participants have to download an app called Facebook Research App to be involved in the stud. They also characterized this as “spying,” which we don’t agree with. People participated in this program with full knowledge that Facebook was sponsoring this research, and were paid for it. They could opt-out at any time. As we built this program, we specifically wanted to make sure we were as transparent as possible about what we were doing, what information we were gathering, and what it was for — see the screenshots below.

We used an app that we built ourselves, which wasn’t distributed via the App Store, to do this work. Instead it was side-loaded via our enterprise certificate. Apple has indicated that this broke their Terms of Service so disabled our enterprise certificates which allow us to install …read more

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