Apple Has Blocked Google's Internal Apps, Too

Alyssa Walker; Getty Images

Apple has revoked Google’s ability to distribute internal iOS applications, two days after it rescinded the same privileges from Facebook, according to a source within Google. Apple shut down access after TechCrunch revealed the two companies sidestepped its strict App Store rules by taking advantage of a program meant for internal company apps. Instead of using the Developer Enterprise Program solely to distribute applications to their own employees, the tech giants were using it to collect data on consumers. Apple’s decision reportedly wreaked havoc inside Facebook, and may be causing similar disruptions at Google. The source said it was unclear what apps were affected, though The Verge reported the internal transportation app Gbus and a cafeteria app were impacted.

“We’re working with Apple to fix a temporary disruption to some of our corporate iOS apps, which we expect will be resolved soon,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. The company did not answer a follow-up question on the record about whether the issue was caused by Apple removing Google from its enterprise program. Apple did not return a request for comment.

Starting in 2012, Google used Apple’s enterprise program to allow iPhone users to download Screenwise Meter, an app that monitored their browsing history and network traffic by acting like a virtual private network. By using the program, Google avoided needing to make the app available in Apple’s App Store. In exchange for voluntarily installing Screenwise Meter, users were rewarded with gift cards to various retailers. It was part of a wider Google consumer behavior program , in which participants are paid to install tracking software on their router, laptop browser, and television. On Wednesday, Google announced it was removing Screenwise Meter from iOS, though it’s still available on Android.

"The Screenwise Meter iOS app should not have operated under Apple’s developer enterprise program—this was a mistake, and we apologize,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday. “We have disabled this app on iOS devices. This app is completely voluntary and always has been. We’ve been upfront with users about the way we use their data in this app, we have no access to encrypted data in apps and on devices, and users can opt out of the program at any time.”

Since 2016, Facebook also used Apple’s enterprise program to distribute a similar iOS application called Research, which it paid participants between the ages of 13 and 35 $20 a month to use. Unlike Screenwise Meter, Research allowed Facebook to decrypt much of people’s network traffic. In other words, Facebook had the ability to monitor exactly which web pages participants looked at, while Google could only see that they visited a certain domain. It’s not clear, however, what Facebook used Research for nor exactly what data it collected.

After TechCrunch revealed on Tuesday that Research existed, Apple stopped allowing it to use its enterprise developer program. In a statement, the company noted that “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.”

By Thursday afternoon, the situation for Facebook at least had improved. “We have had our Enterprise Certification, which enables our internal employee applications, restored," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "We are in the process of getting our internal apps up and running. To be clear, this didn’t have an impact on our consumer-facing services.”

Still, Apple's actions over the past few days signal its willingness to punish even Silicon Valley's biggest players for infringing on its privacy rules.

Additional reporting by Issie Lapowsky

  • Why your phone (and other gadgets) fail when it’s cold
  • By defying Apple’s rules, Facebook shows it never learns
  • Google takes its first steps toward killing the URL
  • Meth, guns, pirates: The coder who became a crime boss
  • Goodbye doggos, hello exotic pet Instagram
  • 👀 Looking for the latest gadgets? Check out our picks, gift guides, and best deals all year round
  • 📩 Get even more of our inside scoops with our weekly Backchannel newsletter