Apple bans Facebook 'Research' app, breaks the social network's internal iOS apps

Despite warnings from Apple, Facebook chose to bypass the App Store and continue to gather information on users through its Research app though this time the social network was found to be targeting the data of teenagers and young adults.

"Key facts about this market research programme are being ignored", a company spokeswoman said.

The company has been using a Facebook Research app it developed for iOS and Android to pretty much spy on everything a participating user does on their smartphone. In some advertisements for the app displayed on Instagram and Snapchat, teens were targeted to participate in a paid social media research study, and if they tried to sign up were asked to get their parent's approval through a Web form.

Despite discontinuing the app, Facebook has defended the app. Facebook is able to access this data after users install a "Facebook Research" VPN app.

Apple's policy requires any apps that use its Enterprise Certificate programme, and thus do not go through Apple's App Store, to only be used internally by company employees.

"Like many companies, we invite people to participate in research that helps us identify things we can be doing better", a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch.

He called "muddying the waters" any attempt by Facebook to claim that users who installed the apps understood the unrestrained scope of the data collection.

"Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple", Apple said. Last year, Facebook was hammered for failing to keep the personal information of its more than 2 billion users safe after news emerged that Cambridge Analytica, a United Kingdom consultancy, had acquired data without users' knowledge.

As highlighted by TechCrunch, the Facebook Research app sent data to an address which is affiliated with Onavo, a VPN app which was pulled by Facebook last August after Apple warned that the app violated its policies on data gathering.

Facebook has been paying people to install an app that allows it to hoover up data on exactly how they use their smartphones.

Facebook used the Onavo app to collect the aforementioned data of both Android and iOS users and, based on the information gleaned from it, made decisions to acquire competing apps and add popular features to their own apps.

"I don't think they make it very clear to users precisely what level of access they were granting when they gave permission", Strafach said. The app was previously kicked out of the official App Store for breaking Apple's rules on privacy: Facebook had to use the cert to skirt Cupertino's ban.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently penned a 1,000 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal jumping to the defense of his company's business practices. There is at least one case, though, in which Facebook has put a price on your data. The move doesn't impact distribution for consumers via the App Store, but it could mean delays to new versions including the main Facebook app.

"During the installation process of the app, Facebook asks users to install an Enterprise Developer Certification and VPN and then "trust" Facebook with root access to the data their phone transmits".

  • Kara Saunders