Google’s data-gathering app may have also violated Apple’s policies


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Google, like Facebook, may have violated Apple’s policies with an app that collects user data.

The search giant’s Screenwise Meter app, launched in 2012, invites users 18 and up to earn gift cards in exchange for allowing Google to monitor and analyze their data. The company sidestepped the App Store and took advantage of a program from Apple designed for companies to internally distribute apps, according to a Wednesday report by Techhnews.

Later on Wednesday, Google said it was shutting down the app on iOS devices. 

Earlier this week, Facebook landed in hot water for a similar app that gave users between the ages of 13 and 35 a payment of $20 a month plus referral fees for their phone and web activity. Facebook could access the data after users installed a “Facebook Research” VPN app. 

Apple said in a statement that Facebook’s app violated its policies by using its membership in Apple’s Enterprise Developer Program “to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple.” The iPhone maker added that it would revoke enterprise certificates from developers who use that certificate to distribute apps to consumers.

Google on Wednesday apologized for placing the Screenwise Meter app in Apple’s enterprise program. 

“The Screenwise Meter iOS app should not have operated under Apple’s developer enterprise program — this was a mistake, and we apologize,” a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. “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.”

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about Google’s Screenwise Meter app.

The trust factor

Over the past two years, Silicon Valley giants have been under intense scrutiny over their data-collecting practices. Facebook, with its Cambridge Analytica scandal, was hammered over its inability to keep safe the personal information of its more than 2 billion users. Google has been criticized for its collection of location data on Android phones. The incidents with the Facebook Research app and Google’s Screenwise Meter app illuminate just how important that data is — at a time when lawmakers, critics and the public are already distrustful of how they obtain and use that data. 

Google said it was upfront with users about how it would use the data — and its disclosures appear to be more forthcoming than the ones on Facebook app. But for both companies, the blowback raises questions about how much consumers really understand about the information they are giving up, and whether the companies’ manner of asking permission is sufficient. 

The use of enterprise certificates by Google and Facebook to distribute data collecting apps is an example of “super sketchy behavior from two of the world’s largest tech firms,” said Josh Tabish, senior campaigner at privacy-oriented advocacy group Fight For the Future.

Though Google voluntarily shut down the iOS version of the app, what remains to be seen is if Apple revokes Google’s enterprise certificates. That would mean even Google’s legitimate internal apps, used for product testing and development, would be stop working. 

Techhnews’s Laura Hautala contributed to this report. 

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