Facebook reportedly pays users to install app that harvests their phone data

For the past three years, Facebook Inc. has been secretly paying users for installing an app that harvests all their phone and web activity, the according to a new report.

TechCrunch on Tuesday reported that since 2016, Facebook FB, -2.22%  has paid users between the ages of 13 and 35 up to $20 a month if they install a “Facebook Research” mobile app that gives the company root access to their devices — and apparently the ability to access virtually all data, including emails, private messages, web searches, browsing history and location tracking.

Security expert Will Strafach told TechCrunch the app is “appalling.” “This hands Facebook continuous access to the most sensitive data about you,” he said.

The breadth of the app’s data harvesting may be in violation of Apple Inc.’s AAPL, -1.04%  iOS platform rules. Last year, Facebook was forced to remove its Onavo data-security app from Apple’s app store because it violated Apple’s data-collection policies.

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has been critical of Facebook’s data-collection practices in the past, and TechCrunch said the tech giant could respond by blocking the Research app or even revoking Facebook permissions to offer certain apps.

TechCrunch said Facebook confirmed it uses the Research app to track user habits, and plans to continue to do so. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook has weathered a series of data-related scandals in recent years — including one involving Cambridge Analytica’s data mining — and its shares have tumbled 22% over the past 12 months, but Facebook is still expected to post the most profitable quarter in its history on Wednesday.

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