Google also has a data-collecting app, just like Facebook

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After the shocking revelation on Tuesday about a Facebook app that collected web browsing and other sensitive data from its users, TechCrunch is back with a similar bombshell about Google. Apparently, Google has its own version of a data-collecting app, similar to Facebook Research. Moreover, it also misuses the Apple Enterprise Program exactly like Facebook Research. Google calls it Screenwise Meter.

Screenwise Meter

Until Wednesday, Facebook had been using the Apple Enterprise Program to run an app that collected people’s data in exchange for money. Facebook Research paid people between ages 13-35 around $20 per month (in gift cards) if the users let Facebook have access to their iPhones. Simply by downloading the app, Facebook automatically gained access to the users’ web browsing history, email addresses, physical location, and more. Apple declared that Facebook Research violated its privacy policy and blocked it shortly after the news came out, taking other employee-only Facebook apps with it.

A few hours after Facebook defended its position, TechCrunch also identified a Google app that did almost the exact same thing.

Google had been running Screenwise Meter since 2012. This VPN app also asked users to download the app while bypassing App Store restrictions. Screenwise Meter asked for personal data from people more than 18 years of age, though it also took data from those as young as 13 if they got parental permission. In exchange for installing this tracking system, customers would earn gift cards. Google would even send special routers to consenting parties that they could monitor.

But while Facebook kept its app relatively under wraps, Google was more upfront about Screenwise Meter and explained in detail how to install VPN and the app and what it would collect.

Outcome

Nevertheless, after the story came out, Google scrambled to make amends. Apple had previously banned all internal apps run by Facebook as punishment for their Research app. Before Apple could respond or decide on a punishment, Google disabled their Screenwise Meter on iOS by themselves. A statement by Google read:

“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.”

The greatest takeaway from these twin scandals is this: tech giants will go to great lengths to gather data, which is clearly worth quite a bit to them, despite the small amount of money they pay users for it. This data is clearly valuable in maintaining market dominance when it comes to ad-based revenue. By violating various agreements and preying on young users, both Facebook and Google have revealed where the priorities truly are. And it’s not with their customers.

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