The last few hours have been a roller coaster for Facebook, since it was revealed that the company had abused Apple’s rules to offer payments in exchange for using an app that collects data from its users. Facebook Research’s goal is to obtain data from the smartphone, which it would not normally be able to obtain because of operating system protections. To convince users to install it, the company offers gift vouchers of up to $20, including to underage users (although the company claims to ask permission from parents or guardians).
Now, just a few hours after this scandal, it has been discovered that Facebook is not the only one following this dubious scheme. Techcrunch has revealed that Google also has an app that offers payments in exchange for getting all the information from users’ mobile phones.
The Google app that collects mobile data in exchange for payments
The app is called Screenwise Meter and was launched in 2012. It is part of a data collection program integrated with Google Opinion Rewards; it includes products like a special router that captures all the traffic in our home, or the reward app that offers us payments in exchange for our opinion of certain content.
En el caso de Screenwise Meter, su funcionamiento es muy familiar si habéis leído sobre la app de Facebook. También se centra en recopilar información del uso que le damos a nuestro móvil; especialmente en detalles relacionados con el uso de Internet, como cuánto tiempo pasamos en una página o las apps que nos instalamos. Al instalar la app, le otorgamos permisos muy completos para que sea capaz de registrar todo lo que quiera.
Like Facebook, Google could also obtain data from underage users using this app. However, instead of requiring an additional step (written parental consent), to join Screenwise Meter a teen must belong to a family group created by an older user.
Similarly, Google has also bypassed Apple’s rules to offer this app, using the same Facebook method. Normally, an app like Screenwise Meter or Facebook Research would be rejected from the App Store; that’s why its creators use company certificates that Apple has granted them to sign the apps and that can be installed without having to go through the App Store.
Google apologizes, but only to Apple
Apple assigns these certificates so that company employees can use the apps they create without having to publish them in the store, which is useful for developing and testing beta versions, for example. Facebook and Google abused these certificates, using them in apps aimed at people outside the company.
Google has already publicly apologized for what it considers to be a “mistake. However, it only refers to the fact that the Screenwise Meter app should not have used company certificates. In terms of possible privacy violations, Google claims that the app is “voluntary” and that it informed users how it uses the data obtained from it.
Apple has not yet reacted to this new disclosure. In the case of Facebook, Apple has withdrawn the certificates, causing all of the company’s internal-use apps to fail at the same time; however, it continues to allow Facebook to use its platform. It is not yet clear whether Google will suffer the same punishment, or whether the fact of having asked for forgiveness will change anything.