The controversial Facebook Research App offers money to teenagers and adults for unrestricted access to their phone, violating iOS App store policies.
Facebook pays users between the ages of 13 and 35 up to $20 per month as well as referral fees for having the app installed. In exchange, Facebook is allowed to access the user’s phone’s system and networks. The app uses the highest level of access on an Android or iOS operating system, called “root,” allowing complete access to the device.
On Jan. 28, the technology news website TechCrunch, published an investigation into iOS App Store policies that the app appeared to violate. They found that Facebook had exploited an Apple enterprise application certificate.
Companies can write their own private apps that would not be allowed in the consumer app store. According to their service agreement though, these apps are only meant to be shared within the company.
Facebook used the companies BetaBound, uTest, and Applause to disguise their involvement in distributing the restricted software. They created the app on their company account and then made the download available on public websites. This allowed them to release an app to Apple users that normally would not be allowed through their consumer app market.
Apple revoked Facebook’s certificate to create and use enterprise software, but restored it after two work days. Facebook uses Apple computers in their offices, and were unable to use essential software tools for daily work. Reports from the New York Times state that some Facebook employees were even considering quitting over the inconvenience.
Attention was drawn to the Google application Screenwise Meter. Like the Facebook app, Screenwise Meter was released to iOS users using an abuse of Apple’s certificates. Like with Facebook, Apple removed their certificate and restored it days later.
This is not the first time Apple has removed Facebook apps from their store. Onavo — a VPN app similar to the Facebook Research app which allows users to browse without being monitored — was purchased by Facebook in 2013. Apple removed Onavo from their store and updated their policies to disallow similar apps in August 2018.
Marketing information services like this are highly controversial.
“I personally wish that the internet had turned out differently, and that all of us paid for sending emails or joining an online social community,” Stephen Gilbert, a computer science instructor at Orange Coast College said. “However, that is not how things worked out. It is somewhat hypocritical for us to criticize companies like Facebook, Google, and Apple.”
Students have mixed feelings about these apps, but seemed less favorable to the companies behind the apps. Students said that users shouldn’t necessarily be the liable party.