Jan 2, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

I know what you are thinking. Wasn't Login supposed to be off until Jan. 3? Am I already off a day?

Fear not, we decided to come back to your inbox a little early to share a piece that ran this morning detailing just how much Facebook knows about its billions of users.

Situational awareness: Tesla disappointed Wall Street with price cuts and fewer-than-expected deliveries, Axios' Courtenay Brown reports.

1 big thing: Facebook knows a lot about you

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

If you have spent the last few years on Facebook, dutifully updating your status, posting a ton of pictures and entering each new job into your profile, it's safe to say Facebook knows a ton about you.

But what many people don't realize is how much Facebook knows about all its users, even those who are far more guarded about what they post online.

  • For example, you can turn off location sharing, but even if you don't give Facebook your exact GPS coordinates, it still figures out where you are based on your IP address and serves up ads related to your presumed location.

Here are some of the key ways Facebook gathers information...

  • What you choose to share: Just to sign up, Facebook requires your name and birthdate, along with a phone number or email. Then there's your profile — schools, current and past employers, relationship status, hometown and current city, as well as physical address, birth name, website, and other social links. These form the core of the profile Facebook uses to serve you ads. It's why you see offers for clever T-shirts based on your college or job.
  • What you do on Facebook: The company has near-total awareness of every move you make on its website or in its apps, including when and from where you log in and how long you spend online. Plus, it knows which pages, accounts and hashtags you connect with, the places you check in, and the photos you are tagged in.
  • What you do on other sites: Facebook gets data from millions of partner websites that use its analytics tools, including "Like" and "Share" buttons or a tracking cookie known as Facebook Pixel. In its privacy policy, it also reserves the right to add information from outside providers, though it has ended one program that mixed Facebook and third-party data for advertisers.
  • What you do in mobile apps: Many apps are connected to Facebook, including through its popular Facebook Login feature, which uses your Facebook account as a way to sign in. Outside apps used to get a lot of info about you through this, but Facebook has tightened things up by setting rules and instituting a review process for anything beyond basic identity information.
  • What you do in Facebook Messenger: Messenger can collect info on who you chat with, how often and for how long. But the company says it isn't serving ads based on the content of users' messages. There's also an option for users to encrypt their messages, but this is turned off by default.
  • What Facebook doesn't know: Facebook insists it doesn't monitor your phone calls or secretly record you via microphone, despite long-running suspicions to the contrary.

The bottom line: If you really want to hide from Facebook, you're going to have to delete your account.

Go deeper: Read my full story here.

2. Facebook faces more scrutiny in 2019

Given all the data Facebook collects (see above), and its barrage of data controversies in 2018, expect the social network to be under a microscope this year.

Democrats have already signaled they’re serious about pushing some data privacy legislation as they take back the House this month.

Republicans won't be sitting on the sidelines. Missouri’s Republican Sen.-elect Josh Hawley, who initiated an investigation into Facebook’s data practices as the state’s attorney general, tells Axios' David McCabe: 

“I highly doubt that many members of the public understand the breadth, in fact probably zero members of the public understand the breadth [of Facebook’s data collection]. The data collection is massive, it is largely unknown by consumers, and what particularly concerns me is the distinct possibly — I think probability — that consumers have not consented to this collection.”
— Josh Hawley

ICYMI: Just 2 weeks ago, D.C.’s attorney general sued Facebook for allegedly misleading consumers about its data sharing practices.  

  • And there's pressure on the Federal Trade Commission to act, with governments in Europe and elsewhere also eager to have a say.

Go deeper: Why privacy legislation has a good chance of passing in 2019

3. Channels get cut as cable TV struggles for life

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Cable and satellite companies are struggling to reach deals with TV channels over how much they should have to pay for such content, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: These disputes, driven by a shrinking traditional TV market, are leading to more programming blackouts for consumers, and could be forcing some smaller, niche cable channels out of business altogether.

Driving the news: Both Comcast and Verizon Fios announced ahead of the new year that they were dropping Fuse, the music-oriented cable channel backed by Jennifer Lopez. And Fuse isn't the only provider to lose or risk losing distribution as telecom companies reevaluate what content to include in bundles.

  • Fios and Disney came very close to being unable to reach an agreement ahead of the New Year's Day deadline, avoiding what would have been a programming blackout of Disney channels, including ESPN.
  • So did Charter’s Spectrum and Tribune Media. The companies agreed to extend a New Year's Day deadline to renegotiate their contract to 5pm ET today, dodging what would have been a programming blackout of lots of local TV stations for millions of Spectrum customers across the U.S.
  • Dish Network has yet to reach an agreement after several months with both Univision and HBO over distribution costs. Dish CEO Charlie Ergen told analysts in August that the dispute between Dish and Univision is "probably permanent."

The big picture: The rise of cord-cutting (people ditching cable packages for cheaper digital options) is beginning to reduce financial margins at cable and satellite providers, and channels that aren't driving a lot of viewership are paying the price.

  • Be smart: Small niche channels, like Fuse, are the most susceptible to being dropped.
4. Take Note

On Tap

  • Well, I was expecting to write my first Login of the year. But now that's done. So I guess I am just going to sit back and relax. (Editor's note: She will not be doing that. There will be another Login tomorrow. And the day after that.)

Trading Places

  • Jeff Bezos announced that longtime Amazon executive (and former Alexa VP) Mike George will lead the schools project he is backing, known as Day 1 Academies Fund.
  • Tesla added Oracle founder Larry Ellison to its board of directors, along with Kathleen Wilson-Thompson, a former Kellogg executive and head of HR at Walgreens Boots Alliance.


5. After you Login

They say you don't want to see how sausages are made. And that's probably true. But seeing how cookie cutters are made is pretty cool.

Ina Fried