Facebook to Shut Down Controversial iOS Market Research App as Apple Revokes Certificate [Updated]
Facebook has said it will end a controversial market research program in which the company paid users to install a mobile app that tracked their activity and data.
In a statement given to TechCrunch and other websites, the company said that its "Facebook Research" app, which paid volunteers between the ages of 13 and 35 up to $20 a month to access nearly all their data, would no longer be available on iOS.
The news came just hours after TechCrunch's exposé on the Facebook app, which used an enterprise certificate on iPhones to get people to sideload the app and skirt Apple's App Store rules. In the same announcement, the company also took issue with the way its "Project Atlas" program had been reported, claiming:
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.
In August 2018, Apple forced Facebook to remove its Onavo VPN app from the App Store because Facebook was using it to track user activity and data across multiple apps, which is a violation of Apple's App Store policy.
According to TechCrunch, a significant amount of code in the banned Onavo VPN app overlaps with the company's Facebook Research app, which remains available on Android devices.
Update: Apple revoked Facebook's certificate for the app, according to a statement it provided to Recode:
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.