Facebook's interest in China has led it to discretely create a photo-sharing application released there without the social network's brand being attached. However, tech companies are incessantly striving to get into China.
China is the largest online market in the works.
The app was released in China by a company called Youge Internet Technology and without any hint that Facebook is affiliated with the company, the Times said, citing a post in Apple's app store.
"Colorful Balloons gives the Silicon Valley company a way to see how Chinese users digitally share information with their friends or interact with their favorite social media platforms", New York Times reporter Paul Mozur wrote.
Facebook has always been keen to find a way into mainland China, where the social network has been banned since 2009.
Western social media websites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked by China's censors, which has helped drive up the popularity of home-grown messaging app WeChat, owned by Tencent and microblogging service Weibo. Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has made repeated attempts to woo Chinese authorities, learning Mandarin and touting a book by President Xi Jinping. Facebook has said its goal of connecting the world wouldn't be possible without the world's most populated country, but declined to confirm the details that were first reported by the New York Times.
Facebook is interested in learning how apps win fans in China, without having a prominent company name associated with it.
Having a company in China distribute the application can be more efficient due to local business connections and familiarity with local rules.