Apple has blocked an app made by Facebook which paid users to track their internet usage.
According to Apple, the Facebook research app for iPhones broke Apple’s privacy guidelines by collecting private information such as internet history, location and messages.
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By using the so-called Developer Enterprise Program, which allows companies to distribute apps among developers for testing purposes, Facebook was able to circumvent the official App Store which has strict rules for apps that funnel internet traffic, according to an investigation by website Techcrunch.
Despite the fact the programme is officially only aimed at employees, Facebook recruited non-employees and paid them up to $20 a month to use the app in exchange for giving the company access to the users’ internet history and other private information.
Among those that took part in the research by the social media company were teens, some of them as young as 13.
In a statement to tech site Recode, Apple said it started the Developer Enterprise Program “solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization”.
“Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple,” the statement added.
“Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case to protect our users and their data.”
In addition to blocking the app, a key certificate was blocked which led to several of Facebook’s internal testing apps not working any more, Business Insider reported.
Facebook defended its programme, saying it was doing nothing wrong and that only a small percentage of people were underage.
“Key facts about this market research program are being ignored. Despite early reports, there was nothing ‘secret’ about this; it was literally called the Facebook Research App,” Facebook said.
“It wasn’t ‘spying’ as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear onboarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate,” it added.
“Finally, less than five percent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens. All of them with signed parental consent forms.”
Privacy organisations and activists condemned Facebook for its practices, saying the company cares more about profits than the privacy of teenagers.
There's no end in sight to Facebook's atrocities.
Facebook paid kids to install its VPN which granted "near limitless access" to their phone activity. https://t.co/9X9LbwuWFY
— The Tor Project (@torproject) January 30, 2019
It is not the first time Apple and Facebook have been at odds over privacy-related issues.
Last year, Facebook’s virtual private network (VPN) app Onavo was banned from the Apple App Store for collecting users information such as specifics on phone and app use.
According to another Techcrunch investigation, Google also misused Apple’s programme to spy on its users, although it is unclear yet if Apple will also revoke the Google app and its certificate from taking part in the Developer Enterprise Program.