Apple takes action against Facebook following latest privacy scandal

UPDATE: In our original story below, we mentioned that Facebook was negotiating with Apple to have its enterprise credentials restored. According to Bloomberg reporter Sarah Frier, that has come to pass and a Facebook spokesperson has confirmed that the social media platform is working to get the internal apps working again.

Original story...

Despite the odd hiccup, over the last couple of years Apple has become a strong proponent of safeguarding user privacy. Facebook, it seems, didn’t get the memo.

Immediately following the news that the social media giant paid users to install a “research” app that tracks and records phone and web activity, Apple revoked Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate. This countermand means Facebook’s internal iOS apps, including those used by employees for food and transportation, have been blocked.

The Verge reports that beta versions of Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp have stopped working, and that “Facebook is treating this as a critical problem”.

More than a slap on the wrist

This isn’t the first time Facebook has done something underhanded. Hot on the heels of the Cambridge Analytica scandal came the news that Facebook’s Onavo Protect VPN app was collecting user data, something that has been against Apple’s guidelines since last year. Apple banned the app in June 2018 and, by August, it was removed from the App Store. 

Despite being warned, Facebook decided to circumvent the App Store to distribute the “Project Atlas” research app (as first reported by TechCrunch) by taking advantage of Apple’s Developer Enterprise Program which allows business partners to test and distribute apps to their own employees without any review from Apple.

In a statement, the Cupertino firm said that the Program was designed “solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization”. 

“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,” the tech giant added.

Crippling effect

The internal versions of Facebook apps used by employees carry bits of code for updates or new features that aren’t available to the public. By revoking Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate, Apple has stopped these apps from even launching on employee handsets, thereby severely limiting Facebook’s ability to create new apps or update existing ones for iOS.

Facebook is currently trying to negotiate with Apple to get the apps working on employee devices, but there seems to be some chatter about Apple completely removing Facebook-owned apps from the App Store.

However, Facebook isn’t the only company guilty of violating Apple’s Developer Enterprise Program. TechCrunch found that Google’s ScreenWise Meter app is also guilty of doing the same. Google, however, has told TechCrunch that it will remove the app from the Program and disable it on iOS devices.

Sharmishta Sarkar
Managing Editor (APAC)

Sharmishta is TechRadar's APAC Managing Editor and loves all things photography, something she discovered while chasing monkeys in the wilds of India (she studied to be a primatologist but has since left monkey business behind). While she's happiest with a camera in her hand, she's also an avid reader and has become a passionate proponent of ereaders, having appeared on Singaporean radio to talk about the convenience of these underrated devices. When she's not testing camera kits or the latest in e-paper tablets, she's discovering the joys and foibles of smart home gizmos. She's also the Australian Managing Editor of Digital Camera World and, if that wasn't enough, she contributes to T3 and Tom's Guide, while also working on two of Future's photography print magazines Down Under.