Feb 27, 2020 - Technology

Facebook sues mobile analytics company for scraping user data

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook on Thursday sued OneAudience, a mobile data analytics company, for collecting data from its users beginning in September 2019.

Details: Facebook alleges that OneAudience plugged software development kits (SDK) — designed to scrape user data from its site as well as Google and Twitter — into shopping and gaming apps distributed through stores like Google Play.

How it works: People would have their data collected after downloading an app and logging into it through their Google, Facebook or Twitter account, Facebook claims in the lawsuit.

The company says that users' names, email addresses, time zones, the country in which the account is used, user ID (a string of numbers that links someone to their profile) and in some cases, gender, were collected by OneAudience.

  • Gender was not obtained by OneAudience unless the user authorized an app to know it.
  • Instagram was not affected, Facebook spokesperson Jason Grosse told Axios.
  • OneAudience said that the data it collected was "deleted on a regular basis from OneAudience's data systems," per Facebook's lawsuit.

What they're saying: "This is the latest in our efforts to protect people and increase accountability of those who abuse the technology industry and users," Jessica Romero, Facebook's director of platform enforcement and litigation, wrote in a blog post on Thursday.

  • OneAudience did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In November, the company said it shut down the OneAudience SDK, stating that personal information was "never intended to be collected, never added to our database and never used."
  • Twitter users' emails, usernames and last Tweets were reportedly affected by OneAudience scraping, the company wrote in a November blog post. Twitter said it had evidence of Android users being affected, but not iOS users.

Go deeper: Facebook finally gives researchers access to promised data

Go deeper

Facebook will indefinitely pay contractors it has sent home

Photo: Marc Piasecki/Getty Images

Facebook will pay its contract workers indefinitely, even if they aren't able to carry on their normal duties, as it directs most of its labor force to work from home to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

What they're saying: "I don't think we see an end to that," CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters Wednesday on giving full pay to its contracted content moderators whose work can't be done remotely.

Location data likely to play limited role in fighting coronavirus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

For all the recent talk about using phone location data to track the progress of the coronavirus epidemic, experts say the data is more likely to bolster longer-term research than provide much immediate help, at least in the U.S.

Driving the news: A Washington Post report Monday suggested that talks between the federal government and Facebook, Google and other tech companies could harness location data anonymously to combat the virus. But any such efforts would face major technical, practical, legal and ethical hurdles.

Tech's moment to shine (or not)

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Thanks to the coronavirus crisis, Big Tech, after battling criticism for three years, has an opportunity to show the upside of its scale and reach.

Why it matters: If companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon are able to demonstrate they can be a force for good in a trying time, many inside the companies feel, they could undo some of the techlash's ill will and maybe blunt some of the regulatory threats that loom over them.