(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc. said on Wednesday that it was revoking key app development credentials for Facebook Inc., a move that could make it more difficult for the social network to develop and test future iPhone and iPad apps and run its mobile business.
The iPhone maker’s decision follows news that Facebook circumvented Apple’s App Store distribution rules by paying iPhone users, including teenagers, to share personal data. Facebook shut down the program after TechCrunch reported the news but said users opted in and that the teens had parental consent.
Apple’s decision demonstrates both its power over the industry and a penchant for privacy. The move doesn’t impact distribution for consumers via the App Store, but it could mean delays to new versions of Facebook apps like its main app, WhatsApp, and Instagram.
Facebook paid people aged 13 to 35 as much as $20 a month to install the Facebook Research App, to track phone and web usage habits, according to the TechCrunch story. The app will be discontinued on Apple’s iOS, though it will continue to run on Android devices.
Facebook confirmed the existence of the program but took issue with its representation.
“Key facts about this market research program are being ignored,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement. “Despite early reports, there was nothing ’secret’ about this; it was literally called the Facebook Research App. It wasn’t ’spying’ as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate. Finally, less than 5 percent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens. All of them with signed parental consent forms.”
In revoking Facebook’s developer certificate for iOS, Apple said the permission was intended “solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization. Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple.”
Facebook has been under fire for months over its privacy practices and role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In one major data breach disclosed last year, Cambridge Analytica obtained information on millions of Facebook users through a third-party app.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s chief privacy watchdog, is likely to impose a record fine against the company for failing to protect users’ personal information, Bloomberg News reported this month. The District of Columbia sued the company in December over its handling of user data.