Apple restores internal iOS apps for Facebook and Google after row

1 Feb 2019

Google open on a laptop. Image: Pixinooo/Depositphotos

Apple has restored key enterprise certificates for both Facebook and Google after the two firms violated its app distribution policy.

Facebook yesterday (31 January) confirmed that Apple had restored its enterprise certificate, allowing the social network to run its internal employee, researcher and tester applications once more.

A spokesperson for the social network said: “We have had our enterprise certification, which enables our internal employee applications, restored.

“We are in the process of getting our internal apps up and running. To be clear, this didn’t have an impact on our consumer-facing services.”

Apple blocked privileges following violations

Earlier in the week, Apple blocked Facebook from using its enterprise privileges after an extensive investigation found that the social network had side-stepped the App Store in releasing a controversial ‘research app’.

The project in question paid people, including teenagers, a monthly fee for access to their data. The app itself was side-loaded using Facebook’s enterprise certificate to allow for sensitive data collection.

While Facebook pulled the iOS version of the app, Apple went ahead and blocked its enterprise certificate as the project was “in clear breach of their agreement with Apple”.

Google hit with temporary sanction

Yesterday Apple also shut down Google’s ability to distribute its own internal iOS apps. According to The Verge, early versions of apps such as Maps and Gmail stopped working, as well as apps geared towards Google staff, including a Gbus transportation tool and an internal café app.

The search giant was found to have been in violation of the same policy that Facebook flouted. Google’s offending private app was called Screenwise Meter and was part of a programme that had existed since 2012. It rewarded users with gift cards in exchange for allowing Google to collect data on how they spend their time online.

Like the Facebook research app, it also relied on the Apple enterprise programme, which was only supposed to be used by employees of the company in question.

A Google spokesperson said: “The Screenwise Meter iOS app should not have operated under Apple’s developer enterprise programme – this was a mistake, and we apologise. We have disabled this app on iOS devices. This app is completely voluntary and always has been.

“We’ve been upfront with users about the way we use their data in this app; we have no access to encrypted data in apps and on devices, and users can opt out of the programme at any time.”

TechCrunch reported that by later on Thursday, Google’s apps had been restored back to normal. Earlier, an Apple spokesperson had said: “We are working together with Google to help them reinstate their enterprise certificates very quickly.”

Now that both companies have had their certificates restored, it may be that Apple will examine the practices of other companies, or even rewrite the rules around its enterprise programme entirely, to prevent such instances of misuse in the future.

Google open on a laptop. Image: Pixinooo/Depositphotos

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects