Facebook Inc. pulled its data-security app from Apple Inc.’s app store after the iPhone maker ruled that the service violated its data-collection policies, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Apple’s decision widens the schism between the two tech giants over privacy and is a blow to Facebook, which has used data gathered through the app to track rivals and scope out new product categories, The Wall Street Journal reported last year. The app, called Onavo Protect, has been available as a free download through Apple’s app store for years, with updates regularly approved by Apple’s app-review board.
Onavo allows users to create a virtual private network that redirects internet traffic to a private server managed by Facebook. The app, which bills itself as a way to “keep you and your data safe,” also alerts users when they visit potentially malicious sites. Facebook is able to collect and analyze Onavo users’ activity to get a picture of how people use their phones beyond Facebook’s apps.
Earlier this month, Apple officials informed Facebook that the app violated new rules outlined in June designed to limit data collection by app developers, the person familiar with the situation said. Apple informed Facebook that Onavo also violated a part of its developer agreement that prevents apps from using data in ways that go beyond what is directly relevant to the app or to provide advertising, the person added.
The two sides discussed the issue in meetings last week, at least one of which took place at Apple’s headquarters. On Thursday, Apple officials suggested that Facebook voluntarily take down the Onavo app and Facebook agreed, said the person, who described the discussions as cordial.
The app won’t vanish from the phones of users who have already downloaded the app, but Facebook will no longer be able to push updates of the app. Onavo will still be available on Android devices, the person said.
The move comes after a summerlong push by Apple to bring apps into compliance with the iPhone maker’s new guidelines, which were designed to close longstanding gaps that opened user data to abuse. Apple recently has begun the process of removing apps that aren’t in compliance with its new rules.
Apple said in a statement that its updated developer guidelines made clear that apps shouldn’t collect information about other apps installed on a user’s device for analysis or marketing. “We work hard to protect user privacy and data throughout the Apple ecosystem,” a spokesman said.
“We’ve always been clear when people download Onavo about the information that is collected and how it is used,” a Facebook spokesman said. “As a developer on Apple’s platform we follow the rules they’ve put in place.”
Wednesday’s move comes several months after Apple and Facebook executives sparred publicly over their disparate approaches to data privacy. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook was critical of Facebook’s practices and contrasted them with Apple’s, which he said were more respectful of users’ privacy. Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg called the remarks “extremely glib” and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said she and Mr. Zuckerberg strongly disagreed with Mr. Cook’s characterization of Facebook.
Facebook bought Onavo, an Israeli mobile-analytics company, in 2013 and used the company’s app to build an internal database to track rivals, including young startups that performed unusually well, the Journal reported last year. Data from Onavo has helped shape Facebook’s product and acquisition strategy, paving the way for its 2014 purchase of WhatsApp and push into live video in 2016, among other efforts.
Tripp Mickle contributed to this article.
Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com
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