Facebook smuggles an app for screening users past Apple's submission process. But as obviously disturbed as the relationship between the two companies may be, they depend on one another.

An app that was largely insignificant and unknown until a few hours ago perfectly illustrates the tense relationship between Facebook and Apple.

With its "Research" application, Facebook wanted to gain precise insights into the smartphone usage behavior of volunteers between the ages of 13 and 35, and pay them to participate. But the implementation of the project suggests that Facebook was expecting resistance from Apple.

First, the app's code is very similar to that of “Onavo,” which also belongs to Facebook, and which Apple banned from the App Store last year for breaching its privacy policy. Second, the "Research" app was distributed only through beta test service providers, not the App Store. Apple's own beta test service, “TestFlight,” was specifically not included.

This method of installing apps is called “sideloading.” By choosing the detour through the beta testing service providers, Facebook bypassed the otherwise obligatory submission process through Apple for every new app.

Third, after TechCrunch made the matter public, Facebook quickly announced that it would no longer offer the app for iOS devices. At least in terms of its public image, Facebook had thereby pre-empted another embarrassing expulsion from the App Store. (Apple only announced a few hours later that it had withdrawn the certificate required for the app, which now allegedly presents internal problems for Facebook, but is not accessible to the public.)

Without Facebook Services, the iPhone Would Just Be a Device for Managers

Facebook didn’t have to fear any further consequences, and Apple didn’t indicate anything about that in its statement. For although Apple CEO Tim Cook has recently expressed several times how little he thinks of Facebook's handling of user data, the two companies need each other, whether they like it or not.

Facebook’s software could not have globally changed human communications and culture without the iPhone (and its influence on smartphone development). Even though it’s an elitist product, the iPhone is, still today, the single most important mobile internet device worldwide. Apple’s hardware, in turn, would have not become a lifestyle product without services like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, and would have instead become a device for managers, like the Blackberry used to be.

No wonder then, that Facebook wanted to specifically distribute its “Research” app to iOS users as well. It’s worth noting that, to do that, it specifically hid itself from Apple. And, likewise, it’s worth noting the thin-lipped response from Apple about the matter. The two companies remain tangled up in a love-hate relationship.

Author’s note: An earlier version of this article said Apple's "unmistakable public silence" was significant. Meanwhile, Apple has issued a four-line statement, and the article has been adapted accordingly.