Facebook loses Apple developer certificate after reports it paid users for data access

Facebook allegedly paid users to install a VPN that gave the company access to phone and web activity

Facebook crash dialogue Android

Apple has reportedly revoked Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate, following a TechCrunch report alleging that the Menlo Park social networking giant paid users to install a virtual private network (VPN) that gave the company access to user’s phone and web activity.

TechCrunch reported that the ‘Facebook Research’ VPN circumvents the iOS App Store, and was employed to gather data on user habits.

Facebook allegedly began the program sometime in 2016, and paid users between the ages of 13 and 35 approximately $20 USD per month — including referral fees — to install the Facebook Research app on their iOS devices.

According to January 30th, 2019 tweets from Cheddar reporter Alex Heath, Apple has now revoked Facebook’s access to the Cupertino computing giant’s ‘Enterprise Developer Program’ that lets developers distribute “in-house apps to your employees.”

“Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple,” reads an excerpt from an Apple statement sent to Heath.

“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.”

Menlo Park told TechCrunch that Facebook will shut down the iOS version of the Facebook Research app, but that the company will continue to run the Android version of the program.

News of the Facebook Research app comes in the wake of a series of privacy incidents plaguing the company, including the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal that occupied much of the company’s 2018 news cycle.

It’s worth noting that Facebook and Apple’s disagreements on data privacy are documented.

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s defence of privacy as a human right during an MSNBC interview reportedly upset Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg so much that he told Facebook employees to stop using iPhones.

In a November 15th, 2018 Facebook media release following a critical New York Times report, the company wrote that “Tim Cook has consistently criticized our business model and Mark has been equally clear he disagrees.”

“And we’ve long encouraged our employees and executives to use Android because it is the most popular operating system in the world,” reads an excerpt from the same November 15th media release.

MobileSyrup has reached out to Apple for comment. This story will be updated with a response.

Source: Twitter, TechCrunch

Update 31/01/2019 6:04pm ET: According to a tweet from New York Times reporter Mike Isaac, Apple has restored Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate.


Update 31/01/2019 11:35am ET: A Facebook spokesperson forwarded the following comment.

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”