LEAKED MEMO: Facebook is scrambling to do damage control with 'pissed' employees after Apple blocks its internal apps

  • Facebook employees are furious after Apple temporarily crippled the company by revoking its developer certificate.
  • The certificate powered Facebook's internal employee apps, so the move has left the software useless.
  • Apple took action after Facebook appeared to evade its policies with an app that spied on people's phones in exchange for cash.
  • Business Insider has spoken to Facebook employees and obtained an internal memo about the outage.

Apple has caused work inside Facebook to grind to a halt, and the social network's employees are "pissed."

On Tuesday, TechCrunch reported that Facebook was quietly operating a research program that paid teens and adults to let the Silicon Valley tech giant spy on their phones and data, in an apparent violation of Apple's policies. In response, Apple revoked the developer certificate that Facebook was using to power the research apps — and, in doing so, crippled Facebook's workforce.

This is because the same certificate that authenticated the research apps was also used in the key internal Facebook apps its tens of thousands of employees use every day.

The move dramatically escalated tensions between Facebook and Apple, and has left Facebook employees unable to communicate with colleagues, access internal information, and even use company transportation.

Facebook employees told Business Insider that their colleagues at the company are "pissed" and "angry" about the news and looking for someone to blame, alternately attacking Apple or their own colleagues working on the project for the setback.

"Apple is technically doing their job and has a right," one employee said. "This is probably one of the worst things that can happen to the company internally."

Another said "there are conspiracy theories running rampant," and the employee characterized some colleagues' arguments as "Apple hates Facebook so it is their attempt to take Facebook down."

Company leadership, meanwhile, is trying to reassure rank-and-file employees that the systems will be up and running again shortly. "We're working closely with Apple to reinstate our most critical internal apps immediately," Facebook exec Pedro Canahuati wrote to employees in an internal memo obtained by Business Insider.

Affected apps include internal builds of Workplace, Facebook's internal version of Facebook for employee communications; Workplace Chat; Instagram; Messenger; "and other internal apps like Mobile Home and the Ride app." (The versions of the apps used by ordinary people aren't affected.)

In the meantime, Facebook employees are being told to download public versions of the affected apps from Apple's App Store, but the public apps don't receive the same beta updates — dramatically slowing development. And some apps, such as Ride (which deals with public transportation) and Mobile Home (which provides employees with information) aren't available publicly, so they're totally unavailable for now.

The incident is yet another setback for Facebook, which faced a series of scandals last year. And it raises questions about the company leadership's ongoing approach to user privacy, even after Cambridge Analytica and other heavily publicized crises.

An Apple spokesperson did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

Some Facebook employees have used Workplace to question the wisdom of their employer's actions.

"If we had an app in the App Store that was pulled for this reason what makes us think it's ok to continue for a similar project through the enterprise certificate?" one commented.

"Having used Apple's developer program for my own projects it's very clear that the purpose of an enterprise account is for internal distribution amongst a company. We can't aspire for good press while continuing to not play by the rules."

Another added: "Self-inflicted wound. When are we gonna learn?"


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Here's the full internal memo from Pedro Canahuati to Facebook employees:

TL;DR: We have a known issue with our internal, employee only, iOS apps. Please install the public versions from the App Store until we have resolved this problem.

Apple has revoked our enterprise certificates, which means our internal, employee only iOS apps may not work. This issue affects internal, employee only, iOS builds for: Workplace, Workplace Chat, Instagram, Messenger, Facebook, and other internal apps like Mobile Home and the Ride app. This should not affect WhatsApp and this is not affecting non-employees who use our apps in production.

What should you do?

Please install the public versions of the apps that are available in the App Store until we have a fix. Unfortunately, we do not have public versions of internal only apps like Mobile Home, the Ride app and others, so these will be inaccessible for the moment.

Why has Apple revoked our enterprise certificates?

As you may have seen, TechCrunch reported yesterday about our Facebook Research App program — more information here. While this program wasn't secret and we explicitly asked for permission from participants, Apple has indicated that it broke their terms of service around enterprise license usage. We're working closely with Apple to reinstate our most critical internal apps immediately.

We'll provide updates as soon as they are available.

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