FACEBOOK was accused yesterday of secretly paying children to let the company’s staff spy on their smartphone habits.
The tech giant gave up to £15 a month in gift cards to participants as young as 13 in exchange for access to personal data for market research.
Youngsters were asked to install an app on their Apple or Android phones that allowed staff to gain access to their emails, private messages, web browsing history and photos.
The project has now been abruptly shut down on Apple devices after the TechCrunch website revealed what had been going on.
Apple said Facebook had abused an agreement that allows developers to bypass its App Store — which has strict data collection rules — if the product is only being tested internally by staff.
Expert Will Strafach, who analysed the app for TechCrunch, said: ‘This is the most defiant behaviour I have ever seen by an App Store developer.
‘It’s mind-blowing. I still don’t know how to best articulate how absolutely floored I am by Facebook thinking they can get away with this.’
Facebook denied the app had been a secret. A spokesman said: ‘It was literally called the Facebook Research App. It wasn’t “spying” as all the people who signed up went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to take part.’
He said teenagers made up less than five per cent of participants and they all ‘signed parental consent forms’.
But BBC tech reporter Dave Lee said he had been asked for ‘no proof of parental consent at all’ when he signed up posing as a boy of 14.
Facebook drew in recruits worldwide with Instagram and Snapchat ads that showed a young woman on her phone, surrounded by dollar bills. People were allegedly asked to send screenshots of their Amazon order history to give even more insight into their habits.
It comes after former deputy prime minister Sir Nick Clegg, who has moved to a £7million California property for his new job as Facebook’s head of global affairs, admitted the company needed to submit to more regulation.