Facebook and Google violated Apple's policies and distributed apps that track user behavior outside of Apple's App Store, TechCrunch reported. Apple has temporarily banned Facebook and Google from running any internal software, sending a strong message.
Facebook Supervised Users (with Consent)
Facebook wants to know as much as possible about its users and what they spend and Facebook. Keep in mind that Facebook's customers are not you (the person who uses the social network), but the advertising networks and other companies interested in your data. Facebook also wants to know why and when to use alternatives to the social network.
To better understand what users outside of Facebook are doing, the company has developed a volunteer program called the "Facebook Research App," which was installed as a VPN on installation. The VPN sent data to Facebook, including websites visited, messages sent, photos, videos, and more. The app also required the installation of a root certificate, which enabled tracking data that would normally be encrypted. Volunteers had to choose to install the app and received $ 20 a month for e-gift cards
Whether or not volunteers have fully understood how much data they have provided is questionable. The app had explanations and a service agreement, but as we all know, many people read nothing more than the $ 20 offer. You jump directly to the OK button.
Early reports indicated that Facebook was targeted at teenagers, but that does not seem to be the case as the company has indicated that most users were adults. Facebook also said that minors need to apply for parental consent, but some tests have shown that parental control did not always work as intended and that a minor could possibly subscribe to without demonstrating parental consent
Facebook misuses an enterprise tool
Here's the key to understanding this story: Facebook did not distribute this app as usual in Apple's App Store , Apple previously banned a similar Facebook-owned VPN app called Onavo Protect from the App Store, and changed the terms of service to limit data collection to the data-related restriction directly related to the app.
Facebook countered this problem by making App Appore distributed outside the app. Downloading an app to the iPhone is usually not easy or straightforward for the average person, but Facebook had an advantage here. As a large company, Apple issued a special certificate that allowed the distribution of apps outside Apple's App Store. The main purpose of this process is to test future apps (internal betas) and enterprise access apps (such as a corporate social network or restaurant menu system).
Apple clarifies that these certificates are not issued to the average user, and the apps created for those certificates should remain internal to the organization. Apple's TestFlight is the only Apple-approved method for beta testing with users, but it retains its strict limits and continues to rely on the App Store. Despite this rule, Facebook installed the certificate to install its Facebook Research app on volunteer mobile phones – volunteers who did not work for Facebook.
Apple closed Facebook internal apps
Because of this violation, Apple has withdrawn the certificate that makes them retired internal apps. This broke the Facebook Research app and Facebook's internal applications, including apps for testing, transportation and dining. It is not clear how many employees were directly affected.
Apple's actions did not block Facebook apps available on the App Store, including Facebook, Messenger and WhatsApp. Facebook has now discontinued Facebook Research for iOS, but there is still a similar app for Android.
Apple reinstated Facebook's ability to run internal apps a day later, and everything is back to normal.
Google had a tracking app, Too
Google had a similar program called Screenwise Meter installed, and Google distributed it using the same certificate method iOS. Google has apparently not monitored any encrypted data. The first volunteer in a household who registered had to be at least 18 years old, and this adult could add a minor. Similar to Facebook, Google paid volunteers for providing their data for $ 20 a month.
Apple also closed Google's internal iOS apps with the same policy violation and Google pulled out of the Screenwise Meter iOS app. Google stated that Screenwise Meter was not allowed to be distributed that way, and Apple has reinstated Google's internal iOS apps.
Again, Google apps in the Apple App Store were unaffected. Google continues to offer Screenwise Meter for Android.
It's fine for both companies to pay users to collect this large data. You are not alone Compared to grocery reward cards, this is all more transparent. It's similar to the Nielsen company that tracks television habits, albeit on a larger scale.
Apple was not happy that its policies were violated
Apple was not happy with how Facebook and Google overcame the App Store policies and allow the company to violate license terms by distributing certificates to non-employees. All this Facebook did despite a direct warning from Apple that it prohibits this type of data tracking.
By disabling the company's internal apps, Apple sent a direct message that this behavior was unacceptable. Apple has been able to send a strong signal to Facebook and Google without breaking the apps that also depend on ordinary Facebook and Google users. While they could continue to use Facebook's apps on their iPhone, employees could not start their internal apps for a day.
Has Apple misused its power?
This event reminds that Apple has control over the mobile operation system and the code that can run on it. Not only does Apple curate App-approved apps, but it can also remove and revoke access to those apps if needed. Apple does this when malware is detected in an app that has gone through, for example.
The company came forward to enforce its policies that were violated by Facebook and Google. Apple has probably received assurances that Facebook and Google will behave in the future before they can run internal apps again, but we do not know what was being discussed between the companies.
Apple has always run iOS as a strictly controlled "walled garden." In contrast to the "Wild West" of Google's Android and now we all know what we're getting into. If Apple's control of the operating system bothers you, you have at least one alternative: Android.
But this type of control is not unique to Apple. While Google does not curate the Play Store directly, it can and has removed apps from the store and users' phones. Google only spares it to remove malicious apps to protect users, but ultimately the effect is similar.