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Why Apple banned controversial Facebook app

Posted at 3:54 PM, Jan 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-30 15:54:10-05

NEW YORK — Apple has banned a controversial market research app Facebook used to collect information on how people use their smartphones because it violated its agreement with the social network.

Teens and adults signed up and were paid by Facebook to participate in the program, which tracked users’ phone and online activity, and was conducted via Facebook’s market research app. The app was first reported by TechCrunch.

Facebook distributed the app to consumers through Apple’s “Enterprise Developer Program.” This program allows companies such as Facebook to test and distribute apps for their own employees to use, not the general public or consumers.

“Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple,” an Apple spokesperson said. “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.”

A Facebook spokesperson said Apple’s action also impacted the social network’s internal iOS apps that employees use.

According to TechCrunch, Facebook’s research app may have been able to access information like private messages, web searches and location data. Users who agreed to take part in the program were given a “clear on-boarding process asking for their permission,” according to a Facebook spokesperson.

The spokesperson also told CNN Business the app was not “spying” on people.

“Key facts about this market research program are being ignored,” the spokesperson said. “There was nothing ‘secret’ about this; it was literally called the Facebook Research App.”

The spokesperson added that less than 5% of participants were teens, and said that all of them signed parental consent forms.

The news comes as Facebook continues to deal with the fallout from other privacy scandals and concerns about how it handles user data. Last year, political research firm Cambridge Analytica improperly harvested information on tens of millions of Facebook users.

In October, Facebook said hackers accessed the phone numbers and email addresses of nearly 30 million users.