By Elias Marat
Facebook has found itself in the grips of yet another scandal brewing around the globe, this time involving extremely personal information. It was revealed last week that the social media giant has been collecting vast amounts of personal data through about 11 popular health and fitness apps, without people’s knowledge.
The latest issue, which casts a grim light on Facebook’s respect for users’ consent and personal data, comes on the heels of a number of scandals over the past year – ranging from the furor over last year’s Cambridge Analytica data harvesting operation to a recent report by TechCrunch revealing that the company secretly paid users, including minors as young as 13, to install an app that would siphon network and web data from phones in direct violation of Apple’s developer terms.
The Wall Street Journal‘s new report reveals that Facebook has used several apps to collect deeply sensitive user data that goes far beyond phone habits or web history, and includes users’ weight, blood pressure, and even ovulation status. After testing 70 apps, WSJ found 11 apps that have been leaking data to Facebook, even in cases when the user is logged out of the social media platform or doesn’t have an account at all.
The fitness and health apps, which were equipped with Facebook-provided developer software, were primarily meant to determine ad placement. Apps included the highly popular period-tracking app Flo Period and Ovulation Tracker – which claims to have 25 million active users – which informed Facebook when users were menstruating or if users indicated that they were attempting to become pregnant.
The Journal’s testing also revealed that Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor sent heart rate data to the company while home sales and rental search app Realtor informed Facebook of the listings viewed by users as well as the prices of homes and those marked as “favorites.”
Facebook is able to collect the data due to the built-in features of its Software Development Kit (SDK), the open source software tools that allow developers to create apps that integrate with the social platform for the purpose of ad targeting based on user data.