Facebook has been paying young people in secret to install an app that allows the tech giant to collect data on how they use their smartphones, TechCrunch reported.
The company has been paying people between the ages of 13 and 25 as much as $20 month in exchange for installing an app for Facebook Research on iOS or Android. The money is given in the form of a gift card.
The app monitors their phone and web activity and sends it back to Facebook. The app requests permissions that would allow the company to get any data it wants from an iOS or Android device, from private messages and photos to web browsing habits.
The programme is administered through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound and uTest to cover Facebook’s involvement, and is referred to in some documentation as “Project Atlas”.
The company confirmed the existence of the research programme to TechCrunch.
Facebook was previously collecting some of this data through the Onavo Protect, a VPN service that it acquired in 2013. The data has proven extremely valuable to Facebook in identifying up-and-coming competitors, then acquiring or cloning them. Facebook removed the app from the App Store last summer after Apple complained that it violated the App Store’s guidelines on data collection.