Similar to Facebook’s now-defunct Facebook Research app, Google’s Screenwise Meter app uses an Enterprise Certificate to bypass the App Store. Companies typically use the Enterprise Certificate program to distribute internal employee-only apps without the App Store or Apple’s oversight.
Screenwise Meter shows users how to install the Enterprise Certificate on their iOS devices. The app then shows users how to sideload an Enterprise Certificate-based VPN app and tracks one’s traffic and data through the VPN.
TechCrunch noted that Google rebranded Screenwise Meter as part of the Cross Media Panel and Google Opinion Rewards programs. These programs reward participants if they agree to install trackers on their phones, PC browser, router, and television. Certain Google Opinion Rewards panels even offers special routers that allow Google to monitor traffic and usage.
Screenwise Meter was initially available to folks as young as 13 years old. The age minimum eventually bumped up to 18, though secondary panelists in the same household could still be as young as 13. That means Google could track the devices of a 13 year old.
The good news is that participants have the option of a guest mode, which temporarily disables traffic monitoring. Google also states what data gets collected and that Google receives the data.
We reached out to Google for comment and received the following response:
The Screenwise Meter iOS app should not have operated under Apple’s developer enterprise program — this was a mistake, and we apologize. We have disabled this app on iOS devices. This app is completely voluntary and always has been. We’ve been upfront with users about the way we use their data in this app, we have no access to encrypted data in apps and on devices, and users can opt out of the program at any time.
This isn’t a good look for Google. The company fielded privacy concerns for years and continues to receive criticisms for some of its practices. A few months back, Google made it easier to access privacy controls in order to mitigate some concerns.