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Apple restores Facebook's app-testing access after privacy dispute

Posted: 5:14 AM, Feb 01, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-01 13:14:15Z

Apple has restored Facebook's access to a private section of the App Store after the social network released an app that violated Apple's policies.

The vast majority of apps in the iTunes App Store must be downloaded from the public section of the store. That's what just about everyone sees when they hit the App Store button on their iPhones. But Apple allows software developers to test and privately release apps that are in development. Those apps are available in a hidden part of the App Store and can only be accessed by developers with a special "enterprise certification" granted to them by Apple.

Apple pulled Facebook's enterprise certification Wednesday after discovering Facebook released a research app to the public using that hidden part of the store. That violated Apple's App Store rules: The testing ground is designed to be used for companies to work out the bugs in their apps before they are made public. Unlike Google's Android operating system, Apple does not allow iOS developers to bypass the public App Store for developers to release apps directly to consumers.

By taking away Facebook's certification, Apple prevented Facebook from testing its own apps on the iPhone. The time-out didn't last long. Facebook confirmed Apple restored its access Thursday night.

"We are in the process of getting our internal apps up and running," a Facebook spokesman told CNN Business. "To be clear, this didn't have an impact on our consumer-facing services."

The Facebook Research App

Facebook paid people to download its Facebook Research App from the testing grounds. The app tracked participants' phone and online activity. People who agreed to take part in the program were given a "clear on-boarding process asking for their permission," according to a Facebook spokesperson.

The spokesperson also told CNN Business that the app was not "spying" on people.

Facebook continues to deal with the fallout from privacy scandals and concerns about how it handles user data. Last year, political research firm Cambridge Analytica improperly harvested information on tens of millions of Facebook users.

In October, Facebook said hackers accessed the phone numbers and email addresses of nearly 30 million users.