Facebook shut down the iOS version of one of its apps Wednesday following the revelation it spied on children as young as 13. The app, a VPN called Facebook Research, violated Apple’s Enterprise Developer Program policies.
Banned From iOS
An extensive investigation by Techrunch found that the VPN collected a user’s complete phone and web activity. Facebook paid users aged 13-35 $20 in gift cards a month plus referral fees to use the app. It shut down the iOS version of the app shortly after the revelations came to light. An Apple spokesperson confirmed the app violated its policies:
“We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization. Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple. 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.”
Facebook Research is still running on Android at the time of this writing. The company hit back at part of the report (via The Verge). A spokesperson said:
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 5 percent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens. All of them with signed parental consent forms.”
Predecessor Also Banned by Apple
Apple previously highlighted an issue with a predecessor to Facebook Research, called Onavo Protect. In June that year, it tightened developer policies and banned firms collecting data referring to usage of other apps or any data that’s was not necessary for their own product to work. In August, it said that Onavo Protect had violated those policies.
Facebook acquired the firm Onavo in 2013. The Onavo Protect VPN tried to identify forthcoming competitors which Facebook could then acquire or clone.