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Senate Democrats/Flickr (CC-BY)
A bipartisan trio of senators is demanding answers from three major tech giants about an invasive app Facebook used to monitor phones of users—including teenagers.
Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Miss.) sent letters to Facebook, Google, and Apple on Thursday.
In the letter to Facebook, the senators criticized the company’s “Project Atlas” efforts, which reportedly was paying teenagers and adults to download a “Facebook Research” app that would monitor their phone’s use. The program reportedly paid people $20 per month.
“Facebook’s monitoring under Project Atlas is particularly concerning because the data collection performed by the research app was deeply invasive,” the letter reads. “Facebook’s registration process encouraged participants to ‘set it and forget it,’ warning that if a participant disconnected from the monitoring for more than ten minutes for a few days that they could be disqualified. Behind the scenes, the app watched everything on the phone.”
The senators ask Facebook to answer a number of questions including how many of the Project Atlas participants were under 18 years old, if it specifically targeted teenagers with advertisements during the program, what specific types of information was collected, and if the company collected or retained non-Facebook related private messages, photos, or other communications.
“These reports fit with longstanding concerns that Facebook has used its products to deeply intrude into personal privacy,” the senators wrote.
The letter asks the company to respond by March 1.
In a statement to the Hill, the social media giant said the app was “completely opt in.”
“This is a Facebook research app–it’s very clear to the people participating that it’s completely opt in, they go through a rigorous consent flow and people are compensated,” it told the news outlet. “That said, we know we have work to do to make sure people’s data is protected. It’s your information and you put it on Facebook so you need to know what’s happening. We continue to focus on this work.”
You can read all of the senator’s letter Facebook here.
Andrew Wyrich is a politics staff writer for the Daily Dot, covering the intersection of politics and the internet. Andrew has written for USA Today, NorthJersey.com, and other newspapers and websites. His work has been recognized by the Society of the Silurians, Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).