Relations between Apple and Facebook, the two tech giants of Silicon Valley have tensed up after the recent revelations by a TechCrunch report that Facebook paid teens to install a Facebook Research app on their iOS devices to steal private user data. The companies have a history of confrontation in the past, mostly over Facebook’s crooked privacy policies and practices; however the new move by Apple to revoke Facebook’s licenses to publish apps will have far-reaching consequences for the companies.
Facebook was accused of exploiting a loophole in privacy regulations of Apple by publishing an app which steals user’s data. Apple has a garnered a reputation over the decades as a privacy champion as the iOS deploys stringent privacy protection measures to ensure privacy for its users. Facebook’s publishing of a data-stealing app blows a severe dent to iPhone’s brand image as a source of trust for privacy and data-security. The discovery of the Facebook Research app opens a bitter cold war between the companies which have previously battled each other in press.
The app which was released by Facebook was concealed under the name Project Atlas with no mention of Facebook’s involvement which raises concerns about the social network’s credibility and transparency. The app paid $20 per month to users between age 13-35 to install it on their iOS and Android devices which routed internet data through Facebook’s private VPN servers and kept track of all activities on the phone.
Previously Facebook-acquired Onavo Protect app deployed the same strategy of routing internet activity via a VPN server to access user’s data. However the app was removed from the iOS app store after the implementation of new rules by Apple which banned the collection of data by apps for analytics or advertising purposes. Facebook exploited a loophole in the new rules by introducing the Facebook Research app by using an Apple feature called Enterprise Developer Certificate. The feature was intended to allow enterprises to build apps for internal use by employees without needing to publish it on app store.
Apple has revoked Facebook’s license to publish apps stating that Facebook violated its terms of service under the Enterprise Developer Certificate. Facebook replied in a statement that the app’s activities were misreported in the news media as ‘spying’ although users followed the standard on-boarding process and granted all permissions to the app. Facebook added that less than 5% of the app’s users were teens.
Developer of an iOS firewall called Guardian Protect, Mr. Will Strafach said in a tweet that Facebook’s app is one of the most defiant behavior shown by any app developers. An Apple blogger John Gruber said that Facebook’s app is a vain gesture by the company as it thinks no-one would be able to take down their apps from the appstore owing to their popularity.