Security

How I Quit Facebook But Not Google After Apple Revokes their Certificates

Apple bans Facebook and Google

Once again, Google and Facebook give a strong indication of their desperation to collect users’ data.

The two largest data collecting companies are aggressively targeting teens by bribing them to download a VPN for their so-called research program: “Research Facebook” and “Screenwise Meter.”

But what’s their end goal?

To gulp all the data from users devices. Be it personal photos, app usage activity or browsing history, you name it. These suspicious apps will record it…

However, this is not the first time that these two online giants devised a dark plan to destroy users privacy.

Similar to these two research programs, Facebook was operating another data collecting project called Onavo Protect.

Thankfully in August 2018, Apple decided to remove Facebook’s data collecting app “Onavo Protect” from its App Store.

And you can expect nothing less from Google.

Both online giants avoid the official App Store and offer incentives to users to download their apps.

This explains the scenario that there is no way to stop these online giants from collecting your data.

However, there is a way to sort, which type of data you should share and/or  avoid. That is why it is important that you read this guide and do not get sucked into the trap set by Facebook and Google.

In this article, I will help you to understand why I am ready to quit Facebook but not Google.

So, let’s get started!

How Facebook Bribes Users to Install a VPN that Monitors their Online Activities

A few days ago, TechCrunch reported that Facebook was running a research project to collect data usage patterns of users.

The social media giant was secretly paying iOS users of ages 13 to 35 up to $20 a month to sell their data via the app.

Facebook-Research-App-Install1

Furthermore, Facebook also offers a referral commission if a user successfully enrolled their friends and family in their research program.

Not only that, Facebook just showed its real face by asking participants to screenshot their Amazon history page.

The project manages through beta testing services uTest, BetaBound, and Applause. And this research program refers to papers as “Project Atlas.”

Potential of Facebook Research App to Collect Users Data

According to The Guardian mobile expert, Will Strafach:

“If Facebook makes full use of the level of access they are given by asking users to install the Certificate.

They will have the ability to continuously collect the following types of data: private messages in social media apps, chats from in instant messaging apps.

Including photos/videos sent to others, emails, web searches, web browsing activity, and even ongoing location information by tapping into the feeds of any location-tracking apps you may have installed.”

It is still vague regarding what kind of data Facebook is looking for. However, it gets infinite access to users’ device once they install their VPN app.

Meanwhile, the plan shows Facebook desperate attempt to maintain its dominance by paying users. And without bothering the risk of violating Apple’s iOS policy.

Strafach further explains the situation regarding what Facebook is trying to do by paying users:

“The fairly technical sounding ‘install our Root Certificate’ step is appalling. These hands Facebook continuous access to the most sensitive data about you.

And most users are going to be unable to reasonably consent to this regardless of any agreement they sign.

Because there is no good way to articulate just how much power is handed to Facebook when you do this.”

Apple’s CEO “Tim Cook” on the other side, is never happy with it and criticize Facebook’s data collection practices.

Facebook’s Data Collecting App “Project Atlas”

According to TechCrunch, Apple earlier banned Facebook’s data collecting “Onavo Protect” app. However, Facebook still finds a way to collect users’ data by paying them to install a VPN from outside the App Store.

Onavo-Protect

Further investigation by TechCrunch revealed that Facebook runs its research program under three beta testing apps: BetaBound, uTest, and Applause.

Facebook started the distribution of VPN in 2016, and after mid-2018, the research program name changed to “Project Atlas.”

But Facebook did not want to stop collecting users’ data. So even after getting a strict action by Apple, Facebook continued its research program.

After realizing what Facebook was doing, Apple cancels Facebook’s developer certificates for misusing the Developer Enterprise Program:

“We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization,” Apple said in a statement distributed to media outlets this morning.

“Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple.

 Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case to protect our users and their data.”

Canceling Facebook certificates on the iOS platform does not mean any of its apps is kicked out from the App Store.

However, according to Cheddar reports, by revoking Facebook from the Enterprise Developer Program will blow out beta testing apps that are collect users data.

How Facebook’s “Project Atlas” Works?

Facebook runs its research program on Instagram and Snapchat through uTest with the help of online ads. This uTest app targets youth from 13-17 years old for the paid research program.

To add, the signup page which is not working now does not give any sign that it is a part of the Facebook Research program. However, it targets users from age 13 to 35 years old.

Facebook-advertises-Project-Atlas-Research1

Furthermore, parental permission is there if the user falls under the bracket of 13-17 age. And permission agreement reveals Facebook’s involvement that says:

 “There are no known risks associated with the project. However, you acknowledge that the inherent nature of the project involves the tracking of personal information via your child’s use of apps. You will be compensated by Applause for your child’s participation.” 

This is something enticing for kids who are short on cash and want to make quick $20 by selling their privacy. Additionally, when it was working, it explains what kind of data they collected for the Facebook research program:

“By installing the software, you’re giving our client permission to collect data from your phone that will help them understand how you browse the internet.

 And how you use the features in the apps you’ve installed. This means you are letting our client collect information such as which apps are on your phone.

How and when you use them, data about your activities and content within those apps, as well as how other people interact with you or your content within those apps.

You are also letting our client collect information about your internet browsing activity (including the websites you visit and data that is exchanged between your device and those websites).

And your use of other online services. There are some instances when our client will collect this information even where the app uses encryption, or from within secure browser sessions.”

BetaBound

BetaBound, on the other hand, shows “Atlas” in its URL and explains to get $20 every month you will require installing an app that runs in the background.

The BetaBound website also does not show the Facebook name. However, the steps for installing the VPN reveal the involvement of the social giant.

Facebook-Project-Atlas

Moreover, it looks like since Apple blocks Onavo Protect app from App Store, social giant purposely skips TestFlight.

TestFlight is Apple’s official beta testing program that requires the app to be reviewed by Apple first under the supervision of 10,000 developers only.

In Short…

Instead of the App Store, users can only download the app from “r.facebook-program.com.” Also, users need to install a specific Enterprise Developer Certificate and VPN by switching to Trust Facebook.

This gives Facebook root access in the users’ device to transmit data.

Apple released the Enterprise Developer Certificate to use it only for managing internal apps for Facebook employees.

It means the social media giant hurts the trust of Apple by using this service to collect users’ data by bribing them.

Once the application is installed, the only thing Facebook wants is to keep running is the VPN that gives root access to data.

Not only have that, but one of the beta testing app Applause also asked users to send their Amazon orders page.

Maybe this kind of data helps Facebook in analyzing users browsing behavior and usage of other apps. This will help it to enhance its target marketing algorithm.

Further, TechCrunch commissioned Strafach to analyze the Facebook Research app and find out where it was sending data.

He confirmed that data redirects towards “vpn-sjc1.v.facebook-program.com” that is associated with Onavo’s IP address.

And the facebook-program.com domain is registered with Facebook, according to MarkMonitor.

The app can update itself without interacting with the App Store and links to the email address:  PeopleJourney@fb.com.

He also discovered that the Enterprise Certificate indicates Facebook renewed it on June 27th,

Apple’s Response: Bans Facebook Research App

How Apple reacts towards the situation deserves all praises. Apple bans Facebook Research app before social giant voluntarily closes it.

Apple officials told TechCrunch that it canceled Facebook’s Enterprise Certificate that gives access to offer Research App without using the App Store.

And not only this, but all of the apps that were used by Facebook employees shut down by Apple against the violation of privacy policy.

Further, after Apple released a statement about revoking Facebook’s Research Program from iOS:

“We designed our Enterprise Developer Program 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.

Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case to protect our users and their data.”

How is Google Spying on Users By Offering Gift Card Incentives

It seems like Facebook was not the only one violating Apple’s policies of distributing the internal app. Similar to social giant’s “Project Atlas,” Google is also running “Screenwise Meter” app.

However, Apple also banished Google’s “Screenwise Meter” app, after what TechCrunch revealed earlier.

Google-Screenwise Meter

The procedure of the Screenwise app invites users who are 18 or above to download the app. Users can download the app through a unique code and registration process using Enterprise Certificate.

This reveals the similar kind of Apple’s policy violation by Google, which makes Apple bans Screenwise immediately.

Google Accepts Its Mistake: Makes It Way Better Than Facebook

When TechCrunch official asked Google regarding the violation of Apple’s policy or not, Google immediately stated that it will remove Screenwise Meter from the Enterprise program on iOS.

Google further told TechCrunch:

“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.”

Screenwise Meter App not so Wise at All

Initiated in 2012, Google’s app invites users to get gift cards for downloading VPN from outside the App Store.

This Enterprise Certificate VPN gives access to users’ iOS devices to monitor and track online activities. Further, Google rebrands its research app as a part of its reward system and media panel.

Google’s reward system offers incentives for installing monitoring systems on their devices, desktop, router, and TV.

Even, Google’s sends users a unique router to monitor their online activities. Primarily, Google’s research app was initially targeting uses as young as 13, similar to Project Atlas.

Both Google and Facebook research app shut down on iOS but not on Android. However, unlike the social giant, Google demonstrates how their research app works and what kind of data they are collecting.

That is more likely pretty decent act by Google. Moreover, the Screenwise app also offers a guest mode for when a user does not want Google to track or monitor them.

Due to the lack of awareness regarding the importance of data, many users entice by monetary incentives. However, a $20 incentive does not define to give full access to your online activities.

But thanks to Google, who realizes that they are doing wrong, shutdowns its Screenwise Meter app before Apple officially cancels its Enterprise Program.

Additionally, the immediate action taken by Google could save them from an internal app ban by Apple, as it did with Facebook.

Leaving Facebook is Way Easier than Google

You cannot deny that even most of us use Google Chrome to open Facebook. Moreover, from Apple to Android users, everyone must have a single Google app in their phones.

It is hard to say but this is a reality that Google is today’s internet. From search engine to best video channel YouTube, all come under the supervision of Google.

Moreover, there are some benefits of sharing data to Google because of the ultimate services and features it provides to users through personal optimization.

Facebook and Google

Facebook, on the other hand, is way easier to leave than Google. For majority of users, it is just a social media where they can share memes and catch up with their friends who are living at abroad.

Furthermore, the amount of data the social giant is collecting does not define the services it provides to users. There is always give and take element involved when you are using any service.

And for me, even Facebook collects less amount of data than Google, but still, it is not worth it. To add, there are now more than ten secure alternatives to Facebook that do not track you.

Reason Why I am Not Ready to Leave Google but Facebook

After what Google did, this made me think maybe the time has come to say goodbye to Google. Is there any perfect alternative to Google that convinces me to quit it?

Well after spending almost a week, let me share my experience with you:

I Google it not Search it On the Internet

It is rare now when you listen to someone is saying I search this thing on the internet. Google is so involved in our life that now we use the phrase “I Google it” instead of “I research it” to find a thing on the internet.

The reason behind this is that Google is the one where we feel comfortable because it has everything that we need.

It shows me things that I love to read rather than some awful toys ad. And this makes me so comfortable with Google.

The liberty it offers through relevant content regarding my queries makes sense to share my data with Google.

Google Chrome: Best Browser

There are multiple secure browsers available right there, but you cannot deny the goodness of Chrome.

With thousands of useful extensions, it left me with no choice rather than using it as my primary browser.

Furthermore, due to technical complexities, developers don’t even bother to test their code in other browsers.

It means that Google Chrome is handy for both users and developers. Which makes it better than other browsers even it collects a massive amount of data.

I Use Google Keyboard on My iOS and Android Device

Convenience and the features Google Keyboard offers to make it the best as compare to default ones. I use Google Keyboard on my both Android and iOS device.

Google Fast DNS IP

Google offers this fast DNS that I avail as a secondary DNS address for my devices (8.8.8.8). The reason why I use this DNS IP because it’s fast and who does not like speed?

Chromecast Help me in Saving Money

Thanks to Google for making a product like “Chromecast.” Now I can use my old model TV just like the new smart TV’s.

Now I can watch my favorite Netflix shows without having the latest model TV, isn’t it great?

I Use Google Analytics to Analyze my Website Performance

Google Analytics is something that makes my life much easier to grow my website. I tried tons of analytical tools, but nothing beats Google Analytics to analyze your website efficiently.

And the list can go on. There are several other Google products that I don’t use, but at the same point, those can be useful for you. Such as Google Calendar, Nest (temperature control), Music, etc.

Reasons to Trust Google but not Facebook

When it comes to Facebook, it is possible to live without it since there are other secure alternatives available. I am not saying it will not be difficult for you, but it is possible.

Google, on the other hand, brings so much convenience and greatly understand what users want that not a single alternative comes close to offer this kind of features.

Google Products are Really Good

They are handy, fast, and operate well. Google products also come with all the aspects that what you are looking for on the internet.

They also update their products according to market demand and trend. This is one of the reasons why I love to “Google” things and not search it on the internet.

Google Products are Innovative

Google is highly innovative that now it is impossible for many of us to live without it since there is no close alternative available yet. Like who would think that Chromebook will lead the education industry?

Moreover, who would ever think that a device like Chromecast will change your old TV into smart ones? There is no denying that Google acquired some of the greatest minds to deliver the best products.

So it is obvious that what happens when you put great minds together? Miracle happens.

Google Announced New Updates to Keep Users Data Secure

More love to Google: a few days back on Safer Internet Day, Google CEO “Sundar Pichai” announced they are introducing two new chrome extension “Password Checkup”.

This new extension will help you to protect your accounts from third party data breaches. So are you ready to leave Google?

Gmail Capable of Blocking 100 Million Spam Emails Every Day with AI

I never thought that when I am going to end this blog, Google comes up with another mind-blowing achievement.

Google introduces in house machine learning framework, TensorFlow to block spam emails.

With the new filters in place as of last month, the company claims Gmail is now blocking an extra 100 million spam messages every day.

Conclusion

Since data is fuel for the online industry, there is no way to stop Google and Facebook to collect your data expect to leave them completely.

Then to do this, you have to take a very tough decision. You need to remove every single app from your device, which is associated with Google and Facebook.

But as I mentioned it is not easy to say goodbye to Google but Facebook. Take this situation in terms of opportunity cost. Like sharing data with these two online giants are really worth it or not?

Not a single online organization comes close to what Google is offering its users and even developers too.

At least if we are ready to share data with Google, it offers so much to us that we can’t imagine our life without it.

I am sorry to disappoint you here, but this is true.

Facebook, on the other hand, ruining our privacy by selling our data to help political parties in winning elections and offers a platform to share a meme.

And when there are more secure alternatives to Facebook available on the internet so why we still providing a massive amount of data for the sake of socializing?

I hope this article would help you to understand why I still want to “Google” but ready to leave Facebook.

If you like my perception about Facebook and Google post a comment with “Yes” in the comment section below.

And if you do not agree with my idea, I would love to hear your views in the comment section. So are you ready to leave Facebook?

Salman Ahmed's Biography

Salman Ahmed Siddiqui is a passionate writer who loves to write about online privacy, crypto economy and trending technological developments. He loves to provide effective tips and guideline related to rising cyber challenges. When he is not writing, Salman watches Manchester United play and demonstrates his love for football with his mad FIFA skills.

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