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Apple Clashes With Facebook Over Invasive Market Research App

Apple escalated its simmering conflict with Facebook Wednesday, revoking access to its enterprise developer certification program and in turn preventing Facebook employees from running company-internal apps on their iPhones. The move comes after news broke that Facebook was using the program to distribute a questionable market research app to thousands of users.

Techcrunch reported Tuesday evening that Facebook had been paying users $20 a month to install a market research app on its phones that was capable of accessing private chat messages, personal media and more. The company was distributing the app outside of Apple’s App Store, using a special program designed to help companies install internal apps on their employee’s phones.

That strategy didn’t go over well with Apple, which pulled the plug on Facebook’s access to the program Tuesday night.

“We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization,” Apple said in a statement shared with Variety. “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.”

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to Variety that this also impacted internal apps used by the company’s workforce, and multiple reports indicated Wednesday morning that the company was caught off-guard.

Facebook has long used apps as a way to research competitors. The company acquired a VPN app called Ovano in 2014 that promised to help users secure their Wifi traffic for free. In exchange, Ovano surveilled other apps installed on a user’s phone — intelligence the company reportedly relied on to identify the rise of Whatsapp, ultimately resulting in the purchase of the messaging app.

Critical reports about Ovano ultimately led to Apple changing its policy on what kind of data apps can access on a iPhone, forcing Facebook to remove the app from the App Store.

Executives of both companies have also frequently exchanged barbs over privacy. A year ago, when asked what he would do if he was in Mark Zuckerberg’s situation, Apple CEO Tim Cook simply quipped: “I wouldn’t be in this situation.” The New York Times reported last fall that Zuckerberg had been asking executives to use Android in response to Cook’s criticism, something the company didn’t outright deny.

Update: 9:50am: This post was updated with a confirmation from Facebook that Apple’s revocation impacted its internal apps as well.

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