Google is disabling its app that lets users earn gift cards in exchange for their data

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  • Facebook has found itself in rough waters after TechCrunch reported on Tuesday that the social networking giant had been paying users $US20 per month to download an app that collected troves of data off of their phones.
  • But as TechCrunch pointed out on Wednesday, Google has been running a similar app since 2012 called Screenwise Meter, which allows users to earn gift cards if they offer up access to their traffic and data.
  • Like the Facebook Research app, Google’s app appears to be a clear violation of Apple’s Enterprise Developer Program policy.
  • Google has since apologised for operating its Screenwise Meter app under Apple’s developer enterprise program and said it would disable the app on iOS devices.

Facebook has found itself in rough waters after TechCrunch reported on Tuesday that the social networking giant had been paying users $US20 per month to download an app that collected troves of data off of their phones.

The program – dubbed Facebook Research – was problematic, not only because it was explicitly targeted teens, but also because it violated policy within Apple’s developer enterprise program. The app needed to be “sideloaded,” (or, downloaded through a separate, more technical process) which Apple specifically reserves for companies to do for internal apps only.

Facebook has since pulled the Facebook Research app, and Apple barred the company from access to any apps using the enterprise certificates.

Read more: Chaos has reportedly erupted inside Facebook as employees find themselves unable to open the company’s apps on their iPhones

As TechCrunch pointed out on Wednesday, however, Facebook was not the only Silicon Valley company offering up rewards in exchange for copious amounts of information.

Since 2012, Google has been running an app called Screenwise Meter, which allows users to earn gift cards if they offer up access to their traffic and data to the search giant.

The app has been folded into a more recent initiative for the company called the Google Opinions Rewards Program that provides incentives for users to install tracking systems across mobile phones, web browsers, routers, and television sets.

To download the Screenwise Meter app, users need to follow the same “sideloading” process which Facebook required for its research app and that Apple has specified can be used by company employees only.

TechCrunch does mention that compared to Facebook, Google has been more transparent about how its research program works and what information is being collected. Google also offers a “guest mode” that allows users to temporarily pause the data collection, especially when someone younger than 13 years old is using the device.

Still, Google’s app appears to be a clear violation of Apple’s developer enterprise program policy.

On Wednesday afternoon, Google admitted its wrongdoing and said it would disable the app on iOS devices.

“The Screenwise Meter iOS app should not have operated under Apple’s developer enterprise program – this was a mistake, and we apologise,” a Google spokesperson told Business Insider. “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.”

Apple did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment regarding whether or not Google as a company will be shut out of internal apps that use iOS enterprise certificates, similar to what has happened with Facebook.

Got a tip? Contact this reporter via Signal at +1 (209) 730-3387, email
[email protected], or direct message on Twitter @nickbastone.

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