Apple Blocks Google’s & Facebook’s Internal iOS Apps

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Apple shut down Google’s ability to distribute its internal iOS apps earlier today. Early versions of Google Maps, Hangouts, Gmail, and other pre-release beta apps stopped working alongside employee-only apps like a Gbus app for transportation and Google’s internal cafe app.

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The block came after Google was found to be in violation of Apple’s app distribution policy, and followed a similar shutdown that was issued to Facebook earlier this week.

It was revealed yesterday Facebook paid users $20 to sideload a VPN onto their devices, allowing the social network to monitor what participants aged 17 to 35 did online. Claimed to be a “social media research study,” the Facebook Research iOS app took advantage of Apple’s Enterprise Developer Certificates to allow the apps to be distributed separately from the main App Store, as well as effectively providing root access to a user’s device.

Since the discovery of the activity, The Verge reports access to early beta versions of Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and other apps used internally are no longer able to launch on employee iPhones. The block also applies to other employee-specific apps not used by the public.

AppleInsider has been told by sources inside the company not authorized to speak on behalf of Facebook, that all the internal iOS apps used by employees are nonfunctional, including messaging, pre-release versions of consumer apps, file management, transportation facilitation, and other in-house utilities.

A statement provided by Apple to AppleInsider advises:

“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.”

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“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.”

The revocation is a serious measure, as it has not only affected users who used the certificates to install the monitoring app, but also to internal tools being “dogfooded” by the company before being made public. The loss of multiple apps, including those used by employees as part of their job, is causing considerable disruption to work in Facebook, and could take a long time to rectify, if Apple permits it use of Enterprise Developer Program certificates again.

Public versions of the social network’s apps are still available to download and use, as the revocation only applies to apps using enterprise certificates, not consumer-facing variants. That said, there may still be some impact, as it will affect the development of new features that may be added to apps in the future.

The distribution of the app uses beta testing services Applause, BetaBound, and uTest, rather than taking other official routes to get the app to its intended users. The App Store has stringent guidelines relating to privacy that the app may have fallen afoul of, while TestFlight is limited to a maximum of 10,000 users.

Sources:

https://www.theverge.com/2019/1/31/18205795/apple-google-blocked-internal-ios-apps-developer-certificate

https://appleinsider.com/articles/19/01/30/apple-has-revoked-facebooks-enterprise-developer-certificates-after-sideload-violations

 
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