Teenagers as young as 13 are being paid $20 (£15) a month by Facebook to allow the company to access all their phone and web activity, including internet searches, private messages, emails, location and even what items they order on Amazon.
The revelation of the research app demonstrates the lengths Facebook is willing to go to maintain a competitive edge.
Mashable has also reached out to Facebook for comment, and we will update this story when we hear back.
The Facebook Research app is side-loaded to the users' devices through Apple's enterprise certificate program and Apple's Terms of Service require that developers use it only for distributing internal corporate apps to their own employees.
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"During the installation process of the app, Facebook asks users to install an Enterprise Developer Certification and VPN and then "trust" Facebook with root access to the data their phone transmits".
Over the past several months, Facebook has been embroiled in a myriad of scandals related to data breach and faced accusations of selling user data, which the company itself has denied.
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Another Facebook spokesperson took a harder line, arguing that "there was nothing "secret" about this; it was literally called the Facebook Research App", while "less than 5 percent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens".
"We are now not accepting any new referrals for our research program", the page said, without mentioning Facebook. In my opinion, this absence of informed consent makes the Facebook Research app especially troubling.
The incident, regardless of Facebook's strongly-worded response, will undoubtedly further tarnish the social media company's public image. The app, however, is still available for Android. (There's also an argument that we should be able to pay for an ad-free Facebook and other services.) But Facebook's now-canceled research program took that tradeoff to a terrifying new extreme.
An investigation by the online news site TechCrunch said the effort, which had been known as the Onavo Protect and later rebaptized as Facebook Research, was used to gather data on usage habits. Buzzfeed reported in December 2018 that Facebook's purchase of WhatsApp for $19 billion in February 2014 was informed by data retrieved through Onavo. It's permission-based, and Facebook has apparently being paying the users who participate, but this has nevertheless generated yet another serious black eye for Facebook, which bypassed Apple's App Store and seemingly broke some of Apple's rules to do this. This is the core model that's made companies like Facebook and Google some of the world's most valuable firms - they are, at heart, advertising companies. Internal documents published by MP Damian Collins as part of a probe of a company named Six4Three found that Facebook used data collected through Onavo to determine "which companies to acquire, and which to treat as a threat".
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