Apple cripples internal apps at Facebook following violations

31 Jan 2019

Apple logo. Image: boggy22/Depositphotos 

Tech giant Apple has shut down Facebook’s developer certificate following revelations about a controversial market research app.

Apple has punished Facebook for breaking its rules by shutting down the firm’s ability to run internal iOS apps, according to Recode. The iPhone maker issued a statement saying that Facebook was “in clear breach of their agreement with Apple”.

Tracking app violated Apple rules

The breach stems from revelations about an app developed at Facebook for user research, which was distributed outside of the App Store using Apple’s special enterprise programme. The programme allows developers to install more powerful apps on iPhones using special certificates.

As the regulations clearly state, these apps are only to be used by employees of the enterprise in question. Facebook had, in fact, been distributing the tracking app to regular customers. The controversial app in question was used to track customers, with users receiving a monthly payment for making their data available.

While the research app would have violated regular App Store rules, the enterprise developer app programmes are not reviewed by Apple, as it is ostensibly for internal projects only.

Internal Facebook apps blocked

On Wednesday (30 January), Apple announced it would block Facebook from running the research app. A report from The Verge said that the company has also elected to block Facebook’s ability to run internal iOS apps entirely.

Apple’s enterprise programme is widely used among large companies to run internal applications and digital services. “We designed our enterprise developer programme solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organisation,” said a spokesperson.

By revoking Facebook’s internal app privileges, the tech behemoth has essentially left Facebook employees unable to communicate, access internal data or access company transport. Given the prevalence of the iPhone among employees, it is creating serious issues.

Facebook staff in uproar

Business Insider reports that Facebook executive Pedro Canahuati told staff the company is trying to reinstate normal proceedings. “We’re working closely with Apple to reinstate our most critical internal apps immediately,” he wrote. In internal communications, one member of Facebook staff said: “This is probably one of the worse [sic] things that can happen to the company internally.”

Facebook staff are apparently being told to download public versions of the affected apps from the App Store, including Messenger, Instagram and Facebook itself.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been a harsh critic of Facebook’s in the past. When asked by Kara Swisher last year what he would do differently at Facebook in the wake of last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, he said: “I wouldn’t be in this situation.”

The decision taken by Apple shows just how much hold the company has over the infrastructure of firms, even ones as large as Facebook.

Apple logo. Image: boggy22/Depositphotos 

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