Facebook is at the center of another privacy scandal – and this time it has not only upset users. It has also upset Apple.
The Abstract: Apple says Facebook has broken an agreement with Apple by releasing a "research" app for iPhone users that allowed the social giant to collect all kinds of personal information about these users TechCrunch reported on Tuesday. The app enabled Facebook to track users' app history, private messages, and location data. Facebook's research efforts reportedly targeted users who were only 13 years old.
Instead, Facebook apparently used the "Developer Enterprise Program" from Apple, with the approved Apple partners like Facebook Apps specifically for their own employees to test and distribute. In these cases, employees can use third-party services to download beta versions of apps that are not available to the public.
Apple does not review and approve these apps as they do on the App Store, as they should only be downloaded by employees who work for the creator of the app.
However, Facebook used this program to pay non-employees up to $ 20 a month to download the research app without Apple's knowledge.
Apple's response this morning through a public relations officer: "We developed our Enterprise Developer program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization. Facebook has used its membership to distribute a data-gathering app to consumers, which is a clear violation of the agreement with Apple. Developers who use their company certificates to distribute apps to consumers are banned from using their certificates. This is the case where we protect our users and their data. "
Translation: Apple does not sell the app ̵
Before the statement from Apple, but after the TechCrunch story was broken, Facebook had already said the research program was over. However, she pushed back the idea that she had done something wrong in collecting user information. Facebook says this program has been running since 2016. This could be proof that the company has not tried to circumvent Apple's new guidelines. However, Facebook did not comment on whether Apple violated the guidelines or not by distributing the app through the Developer Enterprise program.
Here is the statement from Facebook:
Important facts about this market research program are ignored. Despite earlier reports, there was nothing "secret". It was literally called the Facebook Research App. It was not "espionage" because all the people who had applied to attend a clear entry process that asked for permission and was paid for it. After all, fewer than 5 percent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were young people. All with signed parental consent forms.
The most important part of this story might be that Facebook seems to have upset Apple, a company it relies on to provide all of its apps to iPhone users around the world. It is highly unlikely that Apple will pull Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp out of the App Store, but it will tell if Apple is trying to punish Facebook in any other way.
The two companies already have a controversial relationship, and that does not help.
The story also shows how important it is for Facebook to collect data about other apps that people use on their phones. This is a big competitive advantage, and collecting this kind of data is no stranger to Facebook. In fact, the company collected similar user data through a separate app that has Facebook called Onavo Protect. This was removed from the App Store in August for violating Apple's policy. (It remains available to Android users.)
Onavo is a virtual private network. This means that users who download it direct their Internet traffic through a Facebook server. In return, Facebook helps monitor the amount of data they use and will alert users to problems, such as when their Internet connection is not secure.
However, Onavo's real value for Facebook is that the company allows it. Collect all types of behavioral data from mobile phones – such as competitive data such as the apps they use. Onavo data helped Facebook executives learn that the Snapchat user's growth eased after copying Snapchat's popular story product, according to The Wall Street Journal. BuzzFeed also used Onavo to identify the growing number of WhatsApp users before buying the $ 19 billion messaging platform in 2014.
In other words, there are many reasons why Facebook wants to know which apps are used by users. This explains why it was so difficult to circumvent Apple's App Store policies.
It is unclear whether the actual data collection of Facebook through this research app represents a risk to the company. Facebook paid users for using the app. However, Facebook is also being investigated by the FTC, which is investigating its privacy practices. Anything that feels fishy will certainly attract the attention of regulators.