Facebook has been paying users’ aged between 13 and 30 up to $20 (£15.25) to install a “spying app” that allows the platform to monitor all of their phone and web activity.
Techcrunch claims that the software, a virtual private network (VPN) called ‘Facebook Research’, provides the site with nearly limitless to users’ devices.
According to the report, the app gives Facebook access to their private messages, location history, and web browsing activity.
‘Spying app’ used for research
In response to these allegations, Facebook said the app was primarily used for research purposes and that the information was not shared.
The company has since insisted that it wasn’t “spying” on users as they agreed to give the site access to their browsing habits, and were paid for participating.
It added that parental consent was also given for children who installed the app.
Acquisitions and Onavo app
The revelation comes after Apple banned Facebook app, Onavo, which the social media company acquired for $120m (£91m) in 2014. Onavo functioned in a similar way to Facebook Research VPN and allowed the company to gather insights about apps other people were using.
As noted by Will Strafach, Facebook’s Research app appears to be a “poorly re-branded build of the banned Onavo app”.
It has been reported that the app allowed Facebook to identify the large market growth of WhatsApp before acquiring it for $19bn (£14.5bn). A few months after acquiring WhatsApp, Facebook also bought Onavo.
Onavo was banned from the App store in June of last year when Apple updated its policies to stop apps from gathering data about the usage of apps, particularly when that wasn’t what the app was built for.
Based on the Facebook revelation, however, the company continued to try and collect data targeting Apple users.
Facebook avoided ‘Testflight’
TechCrunch reports that the social media website “seems to have purposefully avoided TestFlight, Apple’s official beta testing system, which requires apps to be reviewed by Apple”.
Instead, the instruction manual that users get automatically forces them to download the app directly from Facebook’s server and install certificates which allow it to run on an iPhone.
According to the report: “Apple requires that developers agree to only use this certificate system for distributing internal corporate apps to their own employees.
“Randomly recruiting testers and paying them a monthly fee appears to violate the spirit of that rule.”
According to an update to the TechCrunch article, the iOS version of Facebook software has now been shut down.
On Friday last week (Jan.25th), Facebook also announced plans to merge Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram by 2020.