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Google Has a Data Collector App Too, But It's Different from Facebook's

UPDATED 4:55 p.m. EST Jan. 31 with news that Apple seems to have revoked all of Google's enterprise certificates, disabling Google iOS app development and employee-only apps.

Facebook isn't the only big web-based company collecting data on users through a VPN-based app. Google does it too, though with one big difference — Google doesn't keep its efforts a secret.

Credit: Google/YouTube

(Image credit: Google/YouTube)

The Google Screenwise Meter app is part of a Google market-research program that has been running in one form or another since 2012, according to a new report from TechCrunch, which also broke the Facebook app story.

Unlike the Facebook Research app, which needed to be sideloaded onto Android devices, Screenwise Meter can be downloaded straight from the Google Play store, and the app description makes clear that it's for market research.

However, the iOS version of Google's app must be sideloaded onto iPhones and iPads using enterprise certificates, just like the Facebook Research app. And as Apple has revoked Facebook's certificates, reportedly leaving Facebook's own employees without access to internal Facebook mobile apps, does this mean Google will be punished as well? (UPDATE: Apparently so.)

MORE: How to See and Delete What Google Knows About You

"If Apple considers this a violation of its Enterprise Certificate policy, it could shut down Screenwise's ability to run on iOS," TechCrunch noted. "And if it truly wanted to punish Google like it did Facebook, it could invalidate the certifications for all of Google's legitimate apps that run using the same certificate."

That seems unlikely, as Google's audience-measurement program is no secret. A Google website acts as a portal for program participants; a cute video explains how the program works; a Google support page even shows you how to install Google'e enterprise certificate onto an iOS device. Google doesn't seem to be worried that Apple will find it out.

We've contacted Apple for comment and will update this story when we receive a response.

UPDATED 6:10 p.m. EST Jan. 30: Google told TechCrunch that it would stop using an enterprise certificate to authorize its 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 apologize," Google said in a statement to TechCrunch. "We have disabled this app on iOS devices."

UPDATED 4:55 p.m. EST Jan. 31: The Verge, citing anonymous sources, says that Apple has revoked Google's enterprise certificates, disabling Google iOS apps in beta testing as well as employee-only apps such as those for bus rides and the campus cafes.

Paul Wagenseil
Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. That's all he's going to tell you unless you meet him in person.