Google abused an Apple backdoor to collect user data

Google abused an Apple backdoor to collect user data
In the wake of the Facebook VPN scandal, it was recently revealed that Google has also been abusing the same Apple backdoor to collect data from users as young as thirteen. Similar to the Facebook Research app, Google's Screenwise Meter has been using Apple's Enterprise Certificate, which is meant for distributing employee-only apps, to circumvent the App Store and tap into a wealthy reserve of user data.

Upon downloading the app, users complete a survey and are then sent a special code that allows them to download the Enterprise Certificate-based VPN app that is then used to track all of their app and Internet use. In order to entice people to go through with it, Screenwise lets users earn gift cards in return for their data. The app was first launched in 2012, though, as TechCrunch points out, it was later rebranded as part of the broader Cross Media Panel and Google Opinion Rewards programs.

Similarly to Facebook's now-defunct Research app, Screenwise Meter was also initially available to people as young as thirteen, though Google later changed the age requirement to eighteen or older. However, minors could still partake in the program in the same household as other testers that met the age requirement.

Google abused an Apple backdoor to collect user data

Screenshots from Google's Screenwise Meter app

If nothing else, Google has at least been a bit more transparent than Facebook when it came to explaining what it does with its VPN tracker. Following TechCrunch's investigation, Google has announced that it will be shutting down the Screenwise Meter app for iOS:

"The Screenwise Meter iOS app should not have operated under Apple’s developer enterprise program — this was a mistake, and we apologize. 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."

Following the Facebook VPN fiasco, Apple swiftly invalidated all certifications for Facebook employee-only apps. It is yet unclear if the same punishment will be issued to Google. If it is, this will be highly damaging to Google's workflow, not to mention the detrimental effects it will have on the public's opinion on the company (which Google won't be able to track via an app).

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18 Comments

1. mootu

Posts: 1408; Member since: Mar 16, 2017

LMAO, everyones smashing Apples backdoors lately :) (pun intended). Facebook, Google, Project Raven all having fun shafting Apples rear entrance lol.

12. Atechguy0

Posts: 918; Member since: Aug 03, 2018

These apps have been on Apple's app store for quite some time. It's because Apple has too look good in the public's eye. So they will push anyone under the bus to come out smelling like the proverbial rose.

15. Leo_MC

Posts: 6618; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

None of those apps are in the App Store, they are side loaded (let this be a lesson for those that are saying one can't side load apps).

16. Atechguy0

Posts: 918; Member since: Aug 03, 2018

This Screenwise Meter iOS app was on Apple's app store for years, since 2012. It's only when Apple starts to look bad in the public's eye for doing shady things themselves, like eve's dropping on people via Apple's own FaceTime. Then Apple looks to pump themselves up by putting others under the bus. The same holds true with that privacy crap. Especially that ad that Apple placed in Las Vegas during CES. "What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.". Talk about a joke. Leo_MC ask yourself this, especially if you have a HomePod. When you ask Siri using the HomePod to read your messages. Where do those messages exist? They are on the iPhone. Now how did they get to the HomePod? They were sent to the HomePod over the internet. Yeah, what happens on iPhone, stays on iPhone. Clearly Apple meant if you don't know, then it stays on the iPhone for the ignorant, and gullible sheeple.

17. Atechguy0

Posts: 918; Member since: Aug 03, 2018

Got nothing to say Leo_MC because you know that I am right.

18. Leo_MC

Posts: 6618; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

This article is talking about the versions used for development, distributed outside the store, which do not comply with Apple guidelines. “My iPhone” is the same as “my iCloud”, or “my Mac”, or “my watch”; it means only I - the owner of the data - have access to it.

2. Plasticsh1t

Posts: 3091; Member since: Sep 01, 2014

f**kers violating privacy like it’s nothing. Sue their asses and punish them severely.

3. Nimbus

Posts: 442; Member since: Apr 02, 2018

You got a problem kid this is the internet in 21st century even PA got your e-mail account username to their comment section server account list.Keep your temper down kid.You are no one to question the internet utility and it's usefullness.

7. cmdacos

Posts: 3871; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

If you're on the internet you don't have privacy

4. osterrich21

Posts: 186; Member since: Apr 14, 2017

This can end in a court.

5. osterrich21

Posts: 186; Member since: Apr 14, 2017

One thing:where are the safety of IOS? Everyone enter...

6. Peaceboy

Posts: 640; Member since: Oct 11, 2018

Safety is to never use these stupid mining apps. I don’t use google and FB.

8. cmdacos

Posts: 3871; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

You're in the minority when Facebook user base continues to grow

11. lyndon420

Posts: 6490; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

He's also delusional when he thinks apple has no interest in his data.

9. japkoslav

Posts: 1424; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

I wonder where are those people that were really upset when Google was fined for GDPR violation. Apple, Google, Facebook they all need to be fined big time to finally start respecting the law and their customers (no exceptions).

10. lyndon420

Posts: 6490; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

People need to be smarter with what they agree to...these were opt in. Microsoft has an updated Android launcher that lets you earn rewards by using it. Thinking this will be something similar in nature, and I'm looking forward to the upcoming article about it.

13. ssallen

Posts: 154; Member since: Oct 06, 2017

This was a good program for making a small amount of money for doing absolutely nothing. Its a bummer that the fear mongers caused it to get yanked from iOS users.

14. KonaStang4.6

Posts: 285; Member since: Nov 04, 2011

At this point, so much data has been collected that privacy doesn't even matter anymore. Apple and everyone else know about your fried chicken addiction, your fear of llamas and your fondness of candied green beans. Who cares ?

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