Facebook paid children as young as 13 to install software on their phones which allowed the company to collect data on how they used its competitors’ apps, it has emerged.
The software, a virtual private network (VPN) called “Facebook Research”, routes all of the users’ phone and web activity through Facebook’s servers for monitoring.
Its existence was unveiled by news website TechCrunch, which reported that the social media giant has been paying users between 13 and 35 years old up to $ 20 (£15.25) a month to use the VPN, which it described as “spying” on those users.
Facebook in turn disputed that the app “spied” on users as they had consented to allow it access to every bit of activity that their phone made, and were paid for doing so.
It added that parental consent was received for the children who installed Facebook Research.
The revelations follow Apple banning Facebook’s app Onavo, which the social media company acquired for $ 120m (£91m) in 2014.
Onavo functioned in a similar way to the Facebook Research VPN, and allowed the company to collect data on which apps other people were using.
It has been reported that this allowed Facebook to spot the enormous growth in WhatsApp before acquiring it for $ 19bn (£14.5bn) just months later also purchasing Onavo.
Onavo was banned from the App Store last June when Apple updated its policies to prohibit apps from collecting data about the usage of other apps when that wasn’t an essential part of the app’s function.
According to the Facebook Research revelation however, the company has continued to attempt to pursue data collection exercises targeting Apple users.
TechCrunch reports that the social media giant “seems to have purposefully avoided TestFlight, Apple’s official beta testing system, which requires apps to be reviewed by Apple”.
Instead the instruction manual for users gets them to download the app directly from Facebook’s servers 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.”
Neither Apple nor Facebook responded to Sky News’ requests for comment.
An update to the TechCrunch article reveals that amid the suspected violations of Apple policy, the iOS version of Facebook’s software has now been shut down.