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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In choosing to make an end-around Apple's rules for its market research app, Facebook was playing with fire.

Driving the news: Facebook took a program designed to let businesses internally test their own app and used it to monitor most, if not everything, a user did on their phone — a degree of surveillance barred in the official App Store.

  • Lest there be any ambiguity on that last point, it was just last August that Facebook was forced to pull a similar app after Apple said it violated rules on data collection.

Why it matters: Apple is a key distributor of Facebook's apps and sole arbiter of what is allowed inside its App Store. If Apple were to ban Facebook's apps, the company wouldn't have an alternative means to get its apps on iOS devices and would have to rely solely on a mobile web browser to reach its users.

The big question: It's unclear just what Facebook was thinking — it won't say whether it thought that it was somehow complying with Apple's rules.

  • What is clear is that when Apple did learn about the app, it was hopping mad. The company spent several hours getting a handle on the situation Tuesday night before ultimately deciding to revoke Facebook's enterprise credentials.
  • Apple's move had the effect of limiting a wide range of other efforts within Facebook, including breaking test versions of new and existing apps as well as internal tools. Facebook says that it is working to resolve the issue — but again, that's really up to Apple.

Yes, but: Facebook wasn't alone in flouting Apple's rules, which may prove a boon to the social network as it works through the crisis. It turns out Google was doing almost the same thing.

  • Google, though, apologized and withdrew its app immediately. Plus, it hadn't had a similar app already rejected like Facebook.
  • So far, it seems to have escaped any immediate punishment.

By the numbers: The number of affected users also differs.

  • Facebook said fewer than 150,000 people used the Facebook Research app in the time it was available.
  • Google's Screenwise app has been around since at least 2014, but has been installed on fewer than 10,000 devices, according to a source.

Between the lines: Apple doesn't really know how many other companies may have employed similar techniques.

  • By design, Apple doesn't approve or know the details of the apps being deployed using enterprise certificates.
  • That allows companies to build and deploy apps containing proprietary information, intended for internal use only.

Meanwhile: Aside from the issue with Apple, Facebook was also taking a risk in collecting so much data, and especially from teens.

  • Facebook notes that it was upfront about the data it was collecting, compensating users and getting parental consent where needed.
  • Even still, it was grabbing a ton of data — including reportedly asking users to upload their Amazon purchases.

The bottom line: The saga of Facebook Research will be yet another point for those who believe Facebook will gobble up all the data it can unless it is reined in through regulation.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Health

FDA authorizes mix-and-match for COVID booster shots

Photo: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) on Wednesday gave its approval for Americans to get booster shots that are different from the COVID vaccine they initially received.

Why it matters: The recommendation from the FDA, which also authorized booster shots for people who received Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines on Wednesday, paves the way for an expansion of booster shots.

GOP congressman forfeits committee seats after indictment

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) on Wednesday stepped down from his committee assignments after being indicted for lying to federal investigators amid a probe into illegal campaign donations.

What they're saying: In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Fortenberry said he is "grateful for the outpouring of support from my friends and colleagues as we work against the injustice confronting me."

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The 2014 shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.

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