A Facebook “research” app which saw teenagers paid in exchange for access to their private data, including messages and location, has been stopped for Apple users after it was exposed.
The social media giant paid $20 (£15.30) monthly to people aged 13 to 35 to give it nearly limitless access to users’ data such as emails, pictures sent, and web browsing activity.
The app has been running since 2016, but was halted hours after a TechCrunch exposé was published.
TechCrunch said the firm may have sidestepped the iOS App store to make the app available for download, amid concerns the program flouted Apple policy. It also claims that Apple could have asked Facebook to remove the app.
Users under 18 are told they should have parental consent to download, but a test by a BBC reporter posing as a 14-year-old found the app could still be downloaded regardless.
TechCrunch also reports that Facebook asked users to provide screenshots of their Amazon orders.
The firm likened the app to a focus group and claims it uses the data to improve information. It is still available for use by Android users.
A spokeswoman for the firm told TechCrunch: “Like many companies, we invite people to participate in research that helps us identify things we can be doing better.
It wasn’t ‘spying’Facebook spokesperson
“Since this research is aimed at helping Facebook understand how people use their mobile devices, we’ve provided extensive information about the type of data we collect and how they can participate.
“We don’t share this information with others and people can stop participating at any time.”
It comes after a similar Facebook VPN (virtual private network) app, Onavo Protect, which gave Facebook intel on others apps that users had downloaded, was banned from the app store in August.
Facebook denied the app was secret, adding in a statement that “less than 5%” of participants were teens.
“Key facts about this market research program 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.”