Apple has always been one of the most valued tech brands in the world but most probably see it as a smaller player when compared to the likes of Google, Microsoft, or even Facebook. PCs still outnumber Macs the same way Android phones outnumber iPhones. But despite having a relatively smaller and walled kingdom, the past months have shown just how much power Apple wields. And it’s not afraid to use it to keep companies in line.
Both Facebook and Google have been caught red-handed paying users to have their mobile lives tracked, whether they’re aware of the consequences of their actions. But more than just the morality of these “research” projects, both companies have abused Apple’s Enterprise Certificate program to get around Apple’s usually stringent and meticulous app review process, even for its TestFlight beta program.
Companies are issued Enterprise Certificates to allow their developers to test iOS apps internally without the need to go through that painstaking process. It isn’t meant to let users install apps outside of the App Store, especially apps that would clearly violate Apple’s privacy policies. Naturally, Apple revoked Facebook’s and Google’s certificates once the news hit, despite the latter taking preemptive action by taking down its offending app.
This punishment sent Facebook’s developers scrambling. Without those certificates, they could no longer do their jobs testing new features or use internal services dependent on Apple. One can only imagine a similar panic gripping Google’s employees as well. Facebook told CNBC that the certificate has been reinstated, though Apple has to confirm it. On the other hand, Apple told The Verge that it is working with Google to do the same.
This isn’t the first time Apple was able to send a company to its knees. Late last year, Tumblr, own by Yahoo! and, therefore, the Verizon Media Group, was kicked out of the iOS App Store. It was later revealed that it was due to illegal material being peddled on the social network. To make peace with Apple, Tumblr took a harsher stance against adult content, despite outcry and revolt from its users. In a similar vein, Valve also had to work over its Steam Link app for iOS because of how the Stream Store could potentially bypass Apple’s family-friendly policies. The app remains unavailable on iOS.
In many ways, Apple resembles a David that stands up against the Goliaths of governments and tech companies larger than itself. Partly thanks to the important role iOS plays in the industry, Apple is able to leverage its position as curator to keep companies from misbehaving, at least based on its own rules. Hopefully, it will wield that power responsibly, something its peers apparently have failed to do.