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Posted on February 15, 2019

The Terrible Truth Behind Apple Revoking Google’s Enterprise Certifcate

You may have noticed many issues concerning online privacy and data collection in your newsfeed lately. It almost seems as though the endless onslaught of personal information collection will never cease. Rules or regulations are being figured out in real time, as we work out the ins and outs of this new online era.

Just a few short weeks ago, Ars Technica and The Verge reported that Apple had revoked Google’s enterprise certificates. The fallout from this move was astounding, as it caused certain Google apps on Apple’s iPhones to crash or otherwise be unable to function and update. Apple had effectively removed Google’s presence from its hardware, and presumably, they had good motivation.

So the question becomes, why did they do this? In what way could Google, the company that was once known to espouse “don’t be evil” have messed up so badly?

The answer lies, perhaps unsurprisingly, with ethics surrounding personal data collection. Around the same time, Facebook committed an infamously insidious act, collecting data from potential minors by utilizing its enterprise certificates. This would install on a user’s phone without an app, and were used in order to collect information about how people aged 13-35 used their phones.

These enterprise certifications are used to deploy certain app permissions within a company, such as high clearance or administrator level app users from Google or Facebook. Apple only allows this from within a company, and businesses can’t use it to collect public data. Because both of these companies circumvented these measures, Apple decided to lay a heavy-handed ban hammer on them both.

For a day and a half, Google and Facebook could do nothing go help their apps to update or behave properly, leaving many users stumped as to what had happened. For Facebook, its “Facebook Research app” deployment by third party marketing companies was rescinded as to no longer collect data from minors or adults. Despite Facebook’s protests that the app explicitly required users’ permission, Apple was concerned by the overall breach of privacy for potential children who may be clicking “agree” to something they are unable to understand fully—if at all.

In Google’s case, its “Screenwise Meter app” was used in order to track a user’s internet usage data. This, of course, would lead to the ability to track minors using smartphones with this software installed. Naturally, it required an enterprise certificate in order to run, and Google later apologized for its mistake in using the certificate for these purposes. Once again, this seems to indicate that internet companies like Google and Facebook are willing to take the first step in potentially breaching the privacy of thousands to millions of their users, as long as it means that they get to collect or sell their data at the end of the day. The removal of both Google and Facebook from the app store was a serious wake up call to do better and maybe commit “less evil” with the certificates these companies are entrusted with.

Despite these seemingly positive moves by Apple, both Google and Facebook apps and enterprise certificates have been restored, bringing back timely updates and usage options to users. It would have been a tough sell to completely and permanently remove both companies from Apple’s hardware, but it serves as a reminder that Apple is taking the privacy of its users seriously…a group that includes minors, who are using smartphones and other devices in droves, making them a target for marketers looking to profit off of their usage data.

TrackOFF’s MacOS app works in tandem with Apple’s security policies in making sure your data stays safe, secure, and hidden from marketers. The value of personal anonymity is synonymous with freedom these days rather than having something to hide. Every internet user, whether they are young or old, deserves an environment where their every move isn’t being watched or sold to these large companies.

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