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Apple has moved beyond just criticizing its rivals’ suspect data collection practices. The smartphone giant is squashing them.

Apple booted Facebook yesterday from a program that allows trusted companies to disseminate apps without going through an Apple review process, highlighting the control the iPhone titan has over what services can operate on its ubiquitous devices. The crackdown came after Apple accused the social network of breaking the rules and using the developer program to ship a research app that collected intimate phone data in exchange for money, even from teens as young as 13.

Apple’s decision had wide-ranging consequences within Facebook, stoking chaos as employees were unable to access basic internal apps used for transportation and lunch menus. The company was not able to test versions of new apps that haven’t been released broadly to the public yet. It even crippled employee communications, affecting the internal versions of its Facebook, Workplace and Messenger apps, as Business Insider reported.

“Apple does have leverage over Facebook, and they’re using it,” said Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute think tank.

With one fell swoop, Apple was able to cripple Facebook’s ability to conduct business as usual — throwing into stark relief just how slow U.S. regulators’ attempts to rein in Facebook have been. Many privacy advocates worry the Federal Trade Commission is ill-equipped to draw blood from Facebook, even as it considers slapping the social network with a record-breaking fine relating to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

But relying on one tech titan to take on another may not be the best solution, either. Apple — wrestling with digital security flaws of its own — is an inadequate privacy cop, advocates warn. 

“Apple here is becoming the de facto FTC in the absence of what’s supposed to be America’s privacy regulator speaking out or acting,” said Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

Advocates say the incident underscores the need for a tough federal privacy law, as well as stronger FTC enforcement of consumer privacy protections. “What Apple did today is significant, but it’s a tiny drop in the digital bucket,” Chester said.

Apple, of course, has no influence over the wider landscape of technology platforms — like say, Google’s Android operating system. “Apple’s move is like you’re hiring a security guard who only protects you when you go into the bedroom, and the rest of the house is vulnerable to burglars,” Chester said.

What’s more, Apple is positioning itself as a tough enforcer of privacy rules at an especially awkward time. New York state is launching a probe into its response to a report of a security bug in its FaceTime video-chat system. The glitch allowed callers to eavesdrop on people before they picked up a call, and the company had to disable a Group FaceTime feature.

All this is contributing to pressure on lawmakers to act on privacy, especially after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a political research firm tied to the Trump campaign obtained Facebook users’ data without their consent. As my colleagues Hamza Shaban and Tony Romm reported, Facebook’s latest research project has revived criticism in Congress of the social network.

“This is yet another astonishing example of Facebook’s complete disregard for data privacy and eagerness to engage in anti-competitive behavior,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a statement. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) sent a letter to Facebook yesterday, inquiring how transparent Facebook was with consumers about the scope of the data it was sucking up through the research project.

As lawmakers in Congress mull their next move, Apple has been trying to establish itself as the industry leader on privacy. Apple chief executive Tim Cook rebuked the “data industrial complex” and sweeping collection practices of competitors such as Facebook and Google in a speech earlier this year.

Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told me in a statement that Facebook made “a clear breach of their agreement with Apple,” and the company revoked Facebook’s certificates “to protect our users and their data.” Apple had previously banned a similar Facebook app, called Onavo Protect, from the App Store.

It might not stop at Facebook: Neumayr said Apple would remove any developer that broke its rules for the program that allows companies to swiftly disseminate apps in their organizations. TechCrunch reported yesterday that Google was also using the program to push a similar data collection app to consumers. Google said yesterday it would remove the app, after it was contacted by TechCrunch. Neumayr did not immediately answer when I asked him whether Apple would also shut off Google’s certificate.

Some on Twitter suggested that Apple should flex its muscles even more in the name of privacy enforcement.

Though Apple has come out as a sharp critic of its industry peers, the Cupertino giant’s remains deeply intertwined with the other technology companies. Its App Store is the primary way companies like Facebook and Googles ship their apps to iPhones and other Apple devices.

Tony Romm

@TonyRomm

thinking about this more — what if an app store set strong(er) rules for data collection/privacy and rejected apps that didn’t meet those requirements? if that jeopardized FB’s app would people a) rejoice that someone put their foot down or b) freak out about gatekeepers

Alex Heath

@alexeheath

Replying to @alexeheath

It’s a safe bet that Apple has never revoked a company as large as Facebook from its enterprise certificate program. There are probably thousands of devices running apps Facebook has sideloaded this way. Now anything FB does on iOS has to go through App Store review.

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8:55 PM – Jan 30, 2019
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Nilay Patel, editor in chief of the Verge, noted it would be masochistic for Apple to go beyond the ban and remove Facebook’s apps from the main App Store because they make up so much of the time people spend on Apple’s devices:

nilay patel

@reckless

1. http://time.com/collection/davos-2019/5502591/tim-cook-data-privacy/ 
2.

View image on Twitter

nilay patel

@reckless

Reminder that Apple *actually* kicking Facebook off the App Store would be catastrophic to their platform

nilay patel

@reckless

1. http://time.com/collection/davos-2019/5502591/tim-cook-data-privacy/ 
2.

View image on Twitter

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12:28 AM – Jan 31, 2019
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Apple’s aggressive display is a reminder of just how much power the hardware giant has amassed as the gatekeeper of many of the world’s most popular devices, from the iPhone to the iPad.

As Cheddar’s Alex Heath wrote:

Alex Heath

@alexeheath

Replying to @alexeheath

Story here: https://cheddar.com/videos/apple-blocks-facebook-over-covert-market-research-program-escalating-tensions 

Some Facebook employees privately voiced concern on Wednesday that Facebook is being unfairly targeted by Apple

Alex Heath

@alexeheath

There’s a lot of talk about how FB is this giant monopolistic force that will crush anything in its path.

But this saga shows who really has the power in tech: underlying platforms (in this case Apple)

AAPL just ground FB’s internal development to a halt over a policy violation

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10:54 PM – Jan 30, 2019
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