Why Apple Blocked Google and Facebook Enterprise Apps

Thumb scrolling through apps on a mobile phone.

The Indian government has also prepared a list of 250 Chinese apps that will soon be scrutinized as to whether they pose a threat to the country. (Image: JESHOOTS-com via Pixabay)

Apple recently blocked the enterprise apps of Google and Facebook on its iOS platform. The move took the tech industry by surprise and many wondered whether this was the start of a “tech war” in Silicon Valley. However, the ban was the result of both companies breaking privacy rules and not because of any bad blood between Apple and the other tech giants.

The problem

Since 2016, Facebook had been paying iOS users aged between 13 and 35 years up to US$20 per month to keep their “Facebook Research” app installed and active on their phones. The app accessed nearly every activity done by the user on their phones, giving Facebook information like the user’s web search history, private messages, and location data. Google did a similar thing through its “Screenwise Meter” app.

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Receive selected content straight into your inbox.

Both apps were distributed using an enterprise certificate provided by Apple. However, apps developed using the certificate could only be used by employees of the company. Neither Facebook nor Google had any right to distribute the apps to the public. By doing so, they had violated the agreement of the enterprise certificate. When Apple came to know about the activity, they decided to take strict action against both the companies.  

“We designed our Enterprise Developer 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. 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,” Apple said in a statement (Tech Crunch).

As a consequence, Google and Facebook employees were unable to use the enterprise apps. Employees could neither test any new apps nor access apps that were designed for things like displaying bus schedules, lunch menus, and so on. Facebook defended itself by stating that the company had asked permission to access private information before a user installed the app.

But since the company has a history of loosely defining what “permission” actually is, many believe that most users really had no idea that Facebook was literally snooping in on their mobile activity. “I don’t think they make it very clear to users precisely what level of access they were granted when they gave permission… There is simply no way the users understood this,” Will Strafach, a mobile app security researcher, said to Money Control.

Apple’s share prices have been in a nosedive ever since October last year due to slow iPhone sales. (Image: via pexels / CC0 1.0)
Both apps were distributed using an enterprise certificate provided by Apple. (Image: via Pexels)

Apple enterprise certificates

To run an app on an iPhone, it has to be signed with a cryptographic stamp of approval. This is known as a digital certificate, which lets iOS confirm that a specific app has been created by a trusted source. Consumer apps need to be vetted by Apple’s staff before they can be made available through the app store. For businesses, Apple has created the “Developer Enterprise Program.”

Firms have to pay US$299 per year and adhere to strict regulations to get an enterprise certificate through the program. Only when they receive the certificate can the businesses distribute apps for use by their employees. So what would happen if the certificate was not installed? “These apps would show up as completely untrusted… You wouldn’t be able to install or run them. Period,” Navin Kumar, lead engineer at Insight Engines, said to CNET.

Following the ban, Apple was touted as the “protector” of Internet data privacy by several people in social media. However, the ban did not last long and Apple restored the enterprise certificates of both firms shortly after.

Follow us on TwitterFacebook, or Pinterest

Recommended Stories

Atrail through the woods in the fall.

As Our Planet Gets Greener, Plants Are Slowing Global Warming

An international team of researchers says findings reveal a daunting outlook for our changing climate. ...

The black plague.

The Great Plague Was a Prelude to a New Dynasty

A disease not only plays a role in the fate of an individual, but it ...

ITGC researchers retrieve the robotic submarine Icefin.

First-Ever Images at Foundation of Notorious Antarctic Glacier

During an unprecedented scientific campaign on an Antarctic glacier notorious for contributions to sea level, ...

The Thwaites Glacier.

Understanding How Quickly Massive Antarctic Glaciers Could Collapse

The collapse of the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica could significantly affect global sea levels. ...

Ballerina Aesha Ash.

The African-American Ballerina Bringing Ballet to the Streets of New York

Aesha Ash is a ballerina from the U.S. For most of her career, she was ...

A surveillance camera.

What Happens When a Communist Surveillance System Is Exported?

The Chinese government has installed over 200 million cameras throughout the country, making it the ...

Facial recognition equipment.

China Wants to Strengthen Xinjiang Surveillance Through World Bank Money

An exclusive scoop by the news website Axios claims that the Chinese government sought to ...

A reusable water bottle.

6 Eco-Friendly Ideas to Implement in 2020

As our needs grow and resources become more scarce, we need to pay attention to ...

A large container of laundry detergent.

Just Gone Viral: An Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent Recipe

Laundry detergents often contain chemicals that can be harmful to you and your family. Why ...

Send this to a friend