Feb 24, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

📺 Mark your calendars — Season 3 of "Axios on HBO" kicks off 6pm ET/PT Sunday, March 1!

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Today's Login is 1,180 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Why Apple may open iOS just a bit

Photo illustration: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Apple may finally allow iPhone owners to set email or browsing apps other than Apple's own as their preferred defaults, according to a Bloomberg report from last week.

The big picture: Customers have long clamored for the ability to choose their preferred apps, and now Apple, like other big tech companies, finds itself under increased scrutiny over anything perceived as anticompetitive.

Driving the news:

  • With the next version of iOS, Apple is weighing whether to allow customers to choose a preferred email or browsing app to open when they click on a link or email address. Today users can install other apps, but by default these links will open Apple's own programs that are built into iOS.
  • Additionally, the company might also be willing to let Siri directly control Pandora and Spotify on Apple's HomePod speaker.

By contrast, Android owners can choose which mail program, photo library or browser is used by default.

Flashback: Apple has long been on a different path from its rivals.

  • Back in 2003. Apple added its browser for the Mac, Safari, with Mac OS X Panther.
  • At the same time, Microsoft was being attacked by regulators in the U.S. and Europe for wiring Internet Explorer into Windows. It was eventually forced to add a feature in Europe allowing customers to choose a rival browser.

Apple's approach didn't irk regulators because the Mac had a tiny market share. But Apple adopted an even tighter approach with the debut of the iPhone in 2007.

  • Apple's iPhone apps (Mail, Maps, Messages) come as defaults and there are no ways to change that. When it comes to the browser, rivals can create their own user interface, but all apps have to use Apple's browsing engine — the critical piece of software that dictates how a browser turns code into a web experience for users — limiting the amount of competition.
  • Apps like Chrome and Firefox for iOS may carry bookmarks over from other versions, but at their core they still are all using Apple's browsing engine.

Meanwhile: Apple has long had a significant share of the phone market, but not the majority, and regulators have generally allowed the company to set its own terms, despite some grumbling from rivals.

  • Google has faced greater scrutiny over Android even though it generally maintains less strict control. Notably, the EU fined Google $5 billion in 2018, saying Google unfairly tied its various applications together, requiring, for example, device makers that wanted the Google Play store to also install Google's search and browsing apps.

Yes, but: While Apple has generally maintained a tight grip on its platforms, especially iOS, it has been known to open things up a bit.

  • The most notable example is the App Store itself. The original plan for the iPhone didn't include third-party apps. Steve Jobs only wanted to support web apps that ran in the browser.
  • Apple has also opened up in recent years to allow third-party keyboard applications as well as expanding Siri to work with some non-Apple applications.

Between the lines: Apple has often held up its fussiness as a benefit to consumers.

  • Back in May 2013, CEO Tim Cook said in an onstage interview that he believed Apple customers were paying the company to make choices on their behalf.
  • "I think you will see us open up more in the future," he said at the D: All Things Digital conference in 2013. "But not to the degree that we put the customer at risk of having a bad experience."

The bottom line: Because it has always had such a tight hold on its platform, Apple appears to have room to appease some critics while still maintaining much of the control it desires.

2. Privacy group: Facebook isn't sharing all data

Facebook is now offering users a feature that lets them see what data it has collected about their activities beyond Facebook. But a new report suggests Facebook is not providing complete data. Specifically, Privacy International says that not all the advertisers that have uploaded individual user data to Facebook are included.

Why it matters: As the report notes, without more complete information, it is hard for users to fully exercise their rights under the EU's GDPR and other privacy laws.

Details: Facebook finally released the "off-Facebook activity" download option to U.S. users in January after several delays. It had been testing the tool since last year.

  • "We found that information provided is less than accurate," the privacy group said. "To put it simply, this tool is not what Facebook claims. The list of advertisers is incomplete and changes over time."

Meanwhile: Facebook is offering $5 to some users for voice recordings in order to test speech recognition technology.

3. Report: Digital disruption will hurt democracy

Advances in digital technology are likely to erode trust and harm democracy around the world between now and 2030, according to a plurality of tech experts surveyed for a new Pew Research report.

Why it matters: Online misinformation is already causing a mix of actual harm and widespread fears, and advances like deepfakes are likely to intensify the challenges citizens face.

Details: Pew asked nearly 1,000 "technology innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers, and activists" what they thought the impact of various tech advances would be on society over the next decade.

  • 49% said the use of technology will mostly weaken core aspects of democracy and democratic representation.
  • 33% said technology will mostly strengthen core aspects of democracy and democratic representation.
  • 18% said there will be no significant change in the next decade.

Yes, but: Even many of those who didn't expect to see democracy being eroded had concerns.

  • "In addition to the plurality view among these experts that democracy will be weakened, a large majority of the entire set of respondents — including both the pessimists and the optimists — voiced concerns they believe should be addressed to keep democracy vibrant," Pew said.
4. TSA says no to TikTok for social outreach

Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said Sunday that it is banning employees from using the Chinese-owned app TikTok for social media outreach, according to AP. The move comes after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent the agency a letter raising security concerns, Axios' Ursula Perano reports.

The big picture: The app already has more than 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, and some worry that it could become a tool for China to acquire troves of American data as tensions between the countries escalate. TikTok says it's fully independent of the Chinese government, and it stores all user data outside China.

Driving the news: Schumer sent a letter Saturday to TSA administrator David Pekoske citing a Department of Homeland Security rule banning the use of TikTok on agency devices.

  • Schumer said to AP: "Given the widely reported threats, the already-in-place agency bans, and the existing concerns posed by TikTok, the feds cannot continue to allow the TSA's use of the platform to fly."
  • Schumer had previously requested that the U.S. government investigate whether TikTok poses any "national security risks."
  • The TSA said Sunday that a "small number of TSA employees have previously used TikTok on their personal devices to create videos for use in TSA's social media outreach, but that practice has since been discontinued," per AP.

Go deeper: TikTok expands content rules, cracks down on misinformation

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • T-Mobile executive David Carey, a close ally of John Legere, plans to leave the company between late April and the beginning of July, according to an SEC filing. Legere is set to step down as CEO in May and the company hopes to complete its Sprint acquisition as soon as April 1.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

You know what's even more impressive than hitting a half-court shot? When you do it, and then four of your teammates do the same.

Ina Fried