By Saheli Roy Choudhury

Facebook has been paying people in secret to install an app that allows the tech giant to collect data on how they use their smartphones, TechCrunch reported Tuesday evening.

Since 2016, the social networking giant has been paying teenagers and adults up to $20 a month plus referral fees to install the so-called “Facebook Research” app on their Apple or Android phones, according to TechCrunch. To mask Facebook’s direct involvement, the program is said to be administered through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound and uTest and is referred to as “Project Atlas.”

TechCrunch revealed that according to a security expert, the app allows Facebook to collect data including private messages in social media apps, photos and videos to sent, emails, web searches and web browsing activities. It can also track ongoing location information from other location tracking apps installed in the user’s phone, according to the report.

A Facebook spokesperson acknowledged to CNBC that the company is running the program to gather data on usage habits.

“Like many companies, we invite people to participate in research that helps us identify things we can be doing better,” the spokesperson said. “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,” the spokesperson added.

The move from Facebook could potentially be a violation of Apple policy since many of the users on board the program are installing the app on iPhones.

Apple did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comments but a spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company is aware of the issue.

Last year, Apple removed Facebook’s Onavo security app from the App Store because it did not comply with its privacy rules that stated apps “should not collect information about which other apps are installed on a user’s device.”

Read more about TechCrunch’s report on how Facebook pays users to install an app to collect data on them.

This article was first published by CNBC https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/29/facebook-paying-users-to-install-app-to-collect-data-techcrunch.html and is republished with its permission.