For a few hours last week, the internet collectively held its breath. After TechCrunch reported that Facebook had been flouting Apple’s Developer Enterprise Program by releasing a data-collecting “Research” app in the wild, it was revealed that Google was doing something similar. Both companies were seeking valuable data from iPhone users that Apple normally keeps locked up.

Apple had to respond. Not only were Facebook and Google openly disregarding Apple’s guidelines, they were skirting the iPhone maker’s very strict privacy rules by collecting gobs of data on how, when, and where people use their iPhones. And most importantly, they were stubbornly dismissing Apple’s very public promise that “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone.” In short, if Facebook and Google were doing it, how many other companies were?

If a smaller company had been outed, Apple likely would have pulled all its apps from the store. Beyond that, it would have revoked the company’s Apple Developer Program membership and iOS Distribution Certificate as well as its Developer Enterprise certification. Eventually low-level access would be restored, but Apple would surely keep them out of the enterprise program in perpetuity to send a clear message that this type of behavior would not be tolerated.

But the rules are different with Facebook and Google. Why? Because of us: the millions of users who use their services daily. Ultimately Apple took the path of least resistance—pulling enterprise developer certification for a few hours so Facebook and Google couldn’t run their in-house iOS apps—because it really had no other choice. When the dust cleared, all three companies got what they needed, with all of its users playing the role of pawns.

Service with a grimace

Before Google was even part of the story, no one knew what Apple would do when confronted with the TechCrunch report. Some thought it would handle the situation behind the scenes after Facebook publicly admitted to using the app and shut it down. Others thought it might specifically target the Research app. And a few thought Apple might boot Facebook from the iPhone altogether.

Apple iPhone X, Facebook mobile appTim Bennett (CC0)

Facebook is so important to the iPhone it may as well be a default app.

But that last option was never truly on the table. While I’m quite sure Apple at least considered the possibility of temporarily booting Facebook from the App Store, removing the Facebook app from the iPhone is an untenable move. Millions of people use the Facebook app—not to mention Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp—on their iPhones every day and there needs to be a method to quickly update them all when needed. But even beyond that, Apple isn’t about to remove three of the most popular apps in the store.

The bottom line is Apple and Facebook need to get along. So do Apple and Google. The services we choose to install on our iPhones are just as important as Face ID and OLED screens and they’re essential to our personal and professional lives. If Apple, Facebook, and Google aren’t getting along, we’re all at risk. Whenever something like this happens, we’re all being used as bargaining chips, with convenience, privacy, and security all at risk. And that’s not good for anyone.

Risky business

Apple’s response could have triggered a nasty chain reaction. Had it booted Facebook from the store, Facebook could have responded by refusing to make iOS apps. After all, an app isn’t necessary to access Facebook or Instagram, it’s just more secure and convenient.