The Facebook and Instagram applications monitor users using their in-app browsers.

You’ve probably noticed that when you visit a website you see on Facebook or Instagram, you’re not routed to your default browser, but rather to a bespoke in-app browser. According to researcher Felix Krause, the browsers inject javascript code into each page visited, allowing parent Meta to possibly monitor you between websites.

“The Instagram app injects their tracking code into every website shown, including when clicking on ads, enabling them [to] monitor all user interactions, like every button and link tapped, text selections, screenshots, as well as any form inputs, like passwords, addresses and credit card numbers,” Krause said in a blog post. 

His investigation concentrated on the iOS versions of Facebook and Instagram. This is significant because Apple, with its App Monitoring Transparency (ATT) introduced in iOS 14.5, lets users to opt in or out of app tracking when they first launch an app. Meta earlier stated that the feature will be “a $10 billion drag on our company in 2022.”

According to Meta, the inserted tracking code complied with ATT subscribers’ wishes.
“The code allows us to aggregate user data before using it for targeted advertising or measurement purposes,” a spokesperson told The Guardian. “We do not add any pixels. Code is injected so that we can aggregate conversion events from pixels. For purchases made through the in-app browser, we seek user consent to save payment information for the purposes of autofill.”

Krause pointed out that Facebook does not always utilize javascript injection to obtain sensitive data. However, if the applications launched the user’s favorite browser, such as Safari or Firefox, a comparable javascript injection on any secure site would be impossible. In contrast, the Instagram and Facebook in-app browsers take a different method. It “works for any website, no matter whether it’s encrypted or not,” he said. 

According to Krause’s research, WhatsApp doesn’t modify third-party websites in a similar way. As such, he suggests that Meta should do the same with Facebook and Instagram, or just use Safari or another browser to open links. “It’s what’s best for the user, and the right thing to do.”

Check out the summary of his results for further information here

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