Jan 30, 2019

4. Facebook's new data-for-cash debacle

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

TechCrunch reported late Tuesday that Facebook had paid users, some of them teenagers, $20 a month to install software on their iPhones giving Facebook detailed access to everything taking place on the device.

Why it matters: We're all losing count of Facebook's privacy controversies, but this one is even more sensitive because it involves teens.

  • The social network now faces potential backlash from users and regulators, and it's also in hot water with Apple.

Facebook described the program as user research to analyze how teens use its own services and those of competitors. Late Tuesday night, Facebook defended the program, which dates back to 2016, but said it was discontinuing it for iOS users.

“Despite early reports, there was nothing 'secret' about this; it was literally called the Facebook Research App. It wasn't 'spying' as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate. Finally, less than 5 percent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens. All of them with signed parental consent forms.”
— Facebook spokesperson

The Apple conflict: Facebook's program, according to TechCrunch, used an apparently rewritten version of the Onavo software that Facebook pulled from the App Store last year after Apple said it violated its policies.

  • Facebook had the users install the software as an "enterprise profile," a setting typically reserved for letting big companies privately test and deploy their in-house software.
  • Apple responded this morning by revoking Facebook's enterprise license and said: "We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization. Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple."

Facebook is likely to argue that its research project is little different from the kind of tracking Nielsen has done for decades of TV viewing patterns, or Comscore's tallying of web usage. But those services didn't end up with the kind of total access to people's lives that Facebook is getting via their phones.

The price of data: By offering $20 a month to users who installed the software, Facebook at least acknowledged that people's data has monetary value. Instead of one penny for a teen's thoughts, Facebook is offering 2,000. That sum is unlikely to be enough to stem the tide of renewed cries of protest and calls for regulation this incident will release.

What they're saying:

  • Bloomberg's Sarah Frier: "$20 a month doesn't seem like a lot to give up that much data, but I guess the rest of FB users give them a lot for free!"
  • The Verge's Casey Newton: "The Facebook Research story is a real 'ask forgiveness, not permission' moment for a company that has already been asking for a lot of forgiveness."
  • SoFi comms VP Jim Prosser: "Only way this looks worse is if they had compensated the teens with Juul pods."

What's next: Facebook reports earnings this afternoon, and executives are sure to be grilled over this and other privacy issues.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11 a.m. ET: 618,043 — Total deaths: 28,823 — Total recoveries: 135,736.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 11 a.m. ET: 104,865 — Total deaths: 1,709 — Total recoveries: 894.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump signed the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill to provide businesses and U.S. workers economic relief.
  4. State updates: A group of Midwestern swing voters that supported President Trump's handling of the coronavirus less than two weeks ago is balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter. Alaska is latest state to issue stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month.
  5. World updates: Italy reported 969 coronavirus deaths on Friday, the country's deadliest day. In Spain, over 1,300 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. Business latest: President Trump authorized the use of the Defense Production Act to direct General Motors to build ventilators for those affected by COVID-19. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro has been appointed to enforce the act.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancing.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Coronavirus updates: World case count tops 600,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned that the novel coronavirus pandemic could worsen if people fail to take the appropriate containment measures, at a news conference in Tokyo.

The big picture: The U.S. leads the world in confirmed coronavirus cases, as the number of global cases nears 615,519. Governments around the world are trying to curb the medical and financial fallout of COVID-19, as infections surge across Europe and the U.S.

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The one-minute coronavirus story

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

News about the coronavirus is so big and coming so fast that it's hard to remember what happened just last week, let alone last month.

Here's the quickest possible review of the story so far — how it happened and how the U.S. lost control.

Go deeperArrow2 hours ago - Health