Facebook’s Project Atlas Scandal May Pave Way for Data Mining Reform


A recent study by Facebook, in which the tech giant monitored teen’s smartphone habits, has sparked backlash on Capitol Hill.

“We write concerned about reports that Facebook is collecting highly-sensitive data on teenagers, including their web browsing, phone use, communications, and locations—all to profile their behavior without adequate disclosure, consent, or oversight,” Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wrote the tech giant on Thursday.

All three officials are backing legislation introduced by Markey last spring—the Do Not Track Kids Act. The legislation aims to expand and enhance “rules for the collection, use and disclosure of the personal information of children 15 years and younger,” while also establishing an “Eraser Button” that would allow parents and children to delete personal information.

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The initiative has found new relevancy following last week’s TechCrunch report detailing how Facebook ran a paid research program named Project Atlas that appeared to target teenagers for their data.

“Facebook’s monitoring under Project Atlas is particularly concerning because the data collection performed by the research app was deeply invasive,” wrote the lawmakers in their letter to Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg. “Facebook’s registration process encouraged participants to ‘set it and forget it,’ warning that if a participant disconnected from the monitoring for more than 10 minutes for a few days that they could be disqualified. Behind the scenes, the app watched everything on the phone.”

Although data mining regulation has proved a thorny issue in Congress, children’s privacy may garner bipartisan support from lawmakers—thanks to 1998’s landmark Children’s Online Privacy Act. From there, an avenue may open into bigger issues surrounding internet privacy.



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