Saturday, 16 February, 2019

Apple bans Facebook from tech tools for tracking teen browsing habits

Facebook has been quietly offering teenagers £15 a month to spy on their phones Facebook pays teenagers £15 to access all their messages, apps and searches
Emmett Howard | 30 January, 2019, 22:40

These apps don't undergo any Apple supervision.

Teenagers as young as 13 are being paid $20 (£15) a month by Facebook to allow the company to access all their phone and web activity, including internet searches, private messages, emails, location and even what items they order on Amazon.

In a report on The Verge on Wednesday, January 30, Facebook said it would shut down the Facebook Research app on iOS, though the app will remain active on Android devices. "Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple".

Strafach also discovered that the collected data is routed through an IP address associated with Onavo, the app itself contains lots of code from the Onavo Protect app, the app can update itself without interacting with the App Store, and that the Enterprise Certificate used by the app was renewed on June 27th, 2018, which was soon after Apple announced it will block the Onavo Protect app.

In a statement, Facebook hit back at the reporting. Facebook is able to access this data after users install a "Facebook Research" VPN 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", said the spokesperson. "All of them with signed parental consent forms", the spokesperson said.

Facebook this time around, however, has managed to sidestep the App Store and cover up their involvement in their own program.

"Facebook seems to have purposefully avoided TestFlight, Apple's official beta testing system, which requires apps to be reviewed by Apple and is limited to 10,000 participants", the report says.

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With its certificate revoked, Facebook employees are reporting that their legitimate internal apps, also signed by the cert, have stopped working.

"We designed our Enterprise Developer Program exclusively for the internal distribution of apps within an organization", Apple said in an emailed statement.

Of course, the data that Facebook has already gathered can not be unseen and the ball is now in Apple's court to react to the way Facebook has violated the rules of Apple's platform to carry on its extensive data mining operations.

Onavo Protect was used by the company for the same objective but was removed from the iOS App Store in June 2018 when Apple implemented new rules that banned the collection of "information about which other apps are installed on a user's device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing".

But Will Strafach, the developer of Guardian Protect, an iOS firewall (unrelated to the Guardian newspaper), described the move on Twitter as "the most defiant behaviour I have ever seen by an App Store developer ..."

As mentioned in the statement, Apple has now revoked Facebook's enterprise certificate. 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. Unlike iOS, Android supports sideloading apps, so it doesn't need to use Google's tools to distribute the app.

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