February 1, 2019 3:57 pm

Apple vs. Facebook and Google: What has the tech superpowers feuding

WATCH: Apple pulls Facebook app that paid teens for data


Apple took a bold stance this week as it removed access to their technology used internally at Facebook and Google – leaving them scrambling.

Both Facebook and Google were accused of violating Apple’s privacy policies – by using an app that is able to track browsing data, private messages and location data.

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READ MORE: Facebook sees spike in users and revenues in 2018 – despite privacy scandals

And Apple clearly wasn’t happy; in retaliation, it revoked the companies’ licence to a product necessary for the companies’ day-to-day operations. (Everyday users didn’t see any impact; it only affected the companies internally.)

Needless to say, both Facebook and Google capitulated quickly, and removed the offending apps from rotation.

Here’s a more in-depth look at how it went down.

Facebook Research App

On Tuesday, technology news site TechCrunch reported that Facebook was paying users as young as 13 years old to install an app called Facebook Research.

The app used Apple’s business tools (known as a developer enterprise certificate) to install software that can track browsing habits, and allows root access to the phone. That means it allows the app to modify the base code on the phone.

By using the certificate, Facebook also side-stepped the Apple store allowing users to download the app directly, TechCrunch reported.

The app had been in operation since 2016.

READ MORE: Apple blocks Facebook app that paid users — including teens — to track phone use

When questioned about privacy concerns, Facebook countered, saying it had secured users’ permissions before collecting the data.

“Despite early reports, there was nothing ‘secret’ about this,” Facebook said in a statement. “It was literally called the Facebook Research App. It wasn’t ‘spying’ as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate.”

Facebook said fewer than 5 per cent of the participants in the program were teens and that all of those teens had signed parental consent forms.

WATCH: Tips on how to best protect your digital data

Google’s Screenwise Meter

Just a day after reporting on the Facebook Research App, TechCrunch wrote about Google’s Screenwise Meter.

The app allowed users to earn gift cards by allowing Google to access their data, by having the user install a certificate that allows the company to have root access, similar to the Facebook Research App.

READ MORE: Google tracks your movements on your phone, even if you tell it not to

Users needed a specific code to download the app, which was distributed using Apple’s enterprise certificate, again side-stepping the App Store.

TechCrunch reported that the app is available to people over 18, but users as young as 13 are allowed to be “secondary” users if they are part of a family group.

Retaliation by Apple

But Apple says the two companies violated their privacy policy.

In retaliation on Wednesday, it invalidated the certificates to both Facebook’s and Google’s access to the business software – which meant both the Facebook Research App and Screenwise Meter no longer worked for the general public who installed it.

But that also meant all internal apps and software made for Facebook and Google employees stopped working too – since they were distributed on the enterprise software.

WATCH: Advances in technology means more privacy concerns

That included major apps like Facebook, Instagram, Workplace – limiting employees’ abilities to test their own product.

Apple officials said the suspensions were aimed to “protect our users and their data.”

Google apologized for the “mistake” in a statement to TechCrunch, saying “the Screenwise Meter iOS app should not have operated under Apple’s developer enterprise program.”

Officials said it would shut down Screenwise Meter from Apple phones. It is still available on Android phones.

As for Facebook, shortly after Apple revoked their certificate, officials announced it was pulling the Research program from iOS devices as well. But the social media giant didn’t offer an apology.

By Friday morning, both companies had full access to the enterprise tools again.

*with files from Reuters and the Associated Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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