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Apple's App Store Privacy Crackdown May Hurt Facebook's Onavo

Mark Gurman, Sarah Frier

Apple Inc.’s new rules for app developers limit their ability to harvest user contact data, but they also could hurt a key app owned by Facebook Inc. called Onavo Protect.

The iPhone maker’s updated App Store Review Guidelines ban applications that "collect information about which other apps are installed on a user’s device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing." This could give Apple grounds to remove the Onavo app, although the software is still available despite the rules kicking in last week.

Onavo Protect, when installed on an iPhone or Android device, uses a virtual private network to scan incoming and outgoing internet connectivity. It also gathers information about users’ devices, their location, apps installed on the gadgets and how people use those apps, what websites they visit, and the amount of data used, Facebook wrote in answers to Congressional questions that the social network operator posted online Monday.

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Onavo collects data on other apps via networks, rather than through devices. The iPhone maker already blocks apps from getting information from other apps on the device itself via a technology called sandboxing.

Apple’s new guidelines "sound like they’re almost written in response to what Onavo and others have been doing," said Will Strafach, a researcher who has studied Onavo Protect and focuses on the security of Apple’s iOS mobile operating system. A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment.

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Apple has criticized Facebook this year for privacy missteps, and the iPhone maker recently announced new controls for iPhones, iPads and Macs that will limit how internet companies like Facebook and Google track web browsing.

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