Facebook’s “Project Atlas” debacle is a big deal for parents
At this point, it feels like Facebook simply doesn’t care about how its actions affect public perception.
While many of us have long-suspected that the tech giant didn’t much care for the privacy of its users, the most recent news about Facebook could be interpreted as a directly malicious move.
According to a bombshell report from Tech Crunch, Facebook has been paying people, including teenagers as young as 13, somewhere in the area of $20 monthly to keep a “Facebook Research” app installed.
Dubbed “Project Atlas”, this particular initiative has no other purpose than to mine data from connected devices. By installing its certificate, users basically opened their entire digital lives up to Facebook and its research partners.
The level of permission granted to the app is staggering. It can collect messages from both social media and other instant messaging apps, going as far as even gathering shared media. The app also collects your search history, browser activity, and emails.
Most frightening of all, your live location is tracked – not only through Facebook’s app but through any other location tracking programs you have on your phone.
This discovery did not sit well with Apple, who have already banned “Facebook Research” from its ecosystem. No action has yet been taken on the Android platform.
Why you should be concerned
Digital privacy is a complex issue that many internet users take for granted, mainly due to a lack of understanding. They may have a general idea that they shouldn’t give away their data easily, but may not know how to prevent it.
Project Atlas is the wake-up call that we all need. It truly shows how important our data is to the tech giants, and how far companies like Facebook are willing to go to get access to our information. They were willing to break Apple’s rules to do this and did it with no concern.
This isn’t Facebook’s first rodeo either, having previously been caught for using the Onavo VPN app to spy on users. This app carried out a similar task: collect usage information and activity in the background.
The biggest concern, however, isn’t merely that Facebook was finding dodgy ways to gather our data. Unacceptable as that may be, what’s even worse is how they explicitly targeted minors with Project Atlas.
Through their affiliates, Facebook advertised on Instagram and Snapchat to teenagers. Yes, it did ask them to get permission from an adult, but what teenager is going to say no to forging details for a free twenty bucks?
Such revelations make it even clearer that parents need to really be involved in their children’s digital lives. The efforts by Facebook to circumnavigate Apple’s strict app rules, coupled with the fact that they didn’t directly advertise using their own name, shows just how hard it is to be able to trust many companies online.
Adults are barely able to keep up with the pitfalls of the internet, so how can we possibly expect our youth to truly understand the potential ramifications of choices they make to get some “free” money?
How to protect your children from these schemes
It would be unfair to expect a teenager who grew up with Facebook and all of the other digital services to be aware of all the threats to their privacy. Many are at a vulnerable age, where they haven’t yet learned how to be skeptical of any service or read the fine print. The smart money says that most of the teens that signed up for the app probably didn’t know the extent of the surveillance that was being carried out by Facebook.
That’s why it’s important to educate children about the dangers of revealing too much on the internet. As a parent, you don’t need to preach to your kids, but it’s paramount that you have an honest conversation with them so that they can make better decisions.
Here are a few things that you should discuss with your kids:
- How to spot warning signs when installing an app. Teach them about what it means to give a developer and their third-party partners unlimited access to a phone.
- Make them feel that it’s safe to discuss signing up for services that offer money online. A second set of eyes may be more likely to spot warning signs.
- Teach them about what can happen in a case of identity theft, because it may not always be Facebook that pulls a stunt like this. Now that this news has come out, more malicious organizations may be emboldened to give it a go.
- Warn them about the pitfalls of sharing private information with any company online. Facebook actually asked users to take a screenshot of their Amazon purchases – something that we find to be insane.
Credit goes to Tech Crunch, who originally broke the story on January 29, 2019.