San Francisco: In a bizarre development, Facebook has been found to be secretly paying teenagers $20 each, asking them to install a "Facebook Research" app that lets the company access personal data to know how they use their smartphones.
According to a TechCrunch report on Tuesday, the social media giant was running the research programme to gather data on usage habits and it has no plans to stop.
Facebook has decided to pull the plug on the app from all Apple devices.
"Facebook sidesteps the App Store and rewards teenagers and adults to download the Research app and give it root access to network traffic in what may be a violation of Apple policy so that the social network can decrypt and analyse their phone activity," the report said.
However, the app will remain available for Android users.
A security expert was quoted as saying that the app allows Facebook to collect data including private social media messages, photos and videos sent via instant messaging apps, emails, web searches and web browsing activities.
Since 2016, Facebook has been paying users aged 13 to 35 up to $20 per month, plus referral fees, to sell their privacy by installing the iOS or Android "Facebook Research" app, said the report.
Facebook reacted, saying "key facts about this market research programme are being ignored".
"Despite early reports, there was nothing 'secret' about this; it was literally called the Facebook Research App. It wasn't 'spying' as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate," said the company.
Facebook previously collected similar data using "Onavo" Protect, a virtual private network (VPN) service that it acquired in 2013.
The company also denied that "Facebook Research" was intended to replace "Onavo".