Dec 19, 2018

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Reset the "days since the last Facebook scandal" counter!

1 big thing: Facebook shared data with abandon

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

A fresh report from the New York Times on Tuesday night suggests that Facebook gave its partners even wider access to more user data (including private messages) for a longer time than previously known.

Why it matters: Silicon Valley insiders have a pretty thick skin when it comes to how much tech companies know about their users and how much they share with partners. Even still, Tuesday's revelations were a shock.

The Times report found that, among other things:

  • Netflix and Spotify had access to users' private messages (Netflix says it never asked for or used the access). It was granted presumably to allow sharing of what media they were consuming, but the access could have allowed far more.
  • Microsoft had access, unbeknownst to Facebook users, to see the names of all a user's friends.
  • Even as Facebook stopped broadly sharing certain user data with partners. It maintains it allowed not only hardware makers, but also companies like Yahoo and Amazon, expanded access.
  • As recently as 2017, Facebook was sharing user data with Yandex, the Russian search service. (Ukraine has accused it of feeding info to the Kremlin.)

The other side: Facebook classified most of these partnerships as "service providers," and maintained the relationships were therefore exempt from rules designed to prevent unauthorized data sharing that Facebook accepted as part of a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission in 2011. The FTC isn't commenting.

Facebook responded in a blog post last night.

  • It said that all the sharing reported by the Times was authorized by individual users who linked apps to Facebook or opted in to its personalization services.

The takeaway: It's not clear that any of the partners misused the data. In many cases it's not even clear they wanted the broad access they received. Rather, Facebook appears so focused on growth that it didn't make the effort to create tools that limited access to specifically what the partners needed.

The big picture: Users have spent much of 2018 trying to weigh whether the benefits of social media — chiefly, maintaining connections with friends — outweigh the privacy cost. But each day fresh evidence piles up in the cost column even as the benefits have held steady.

Yes, but: The saving grace for Facebook remains that there's really no credible alternative with the same scale. The choice is to use Facebook and accept the risks, or miss out on the benefits entirely.

  • This need not be the equation forever. At this point, it's not a question of whether many Facebook users wouldn't leap at — and even pay for — an alternative, but rather whether anyone can replicate Facebook's scale and reach.

Our thought bubble: Facebook's FTC settlement was in 2011. That's seven years during which the company was on legal and public notice to watch its step when it comes to protecting user data.

  • Everything in this story (on top of all the other issues/stories 2018 has brought us about Facebook's cavalier approach to user data) suggests that Facebook simply did not prioritize protecting users' information over cementing business relationships.
2. Study confirms women have it worse on Twitter

Photo: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook clearly has its problems, but Twitter is no oasis, especially for women. That's the finding of a new report from Amnesty International, which determined that women were more likely to be the target of abuse than men — and women of color even more so.

The big picture: Amnesty International had been calling on Twitter to release more data on harassment reports. In the meantime, the agency decided to collect its own data via crowdsourcing.

Details: Millions of tweets received by 778 journalists and politicians in 2017 were surveyed to label any abuse targeted at gender, race and sexuality.

  • The findings show abusive tweets were sent to all female members in the U.S. Congress and U.K. parliament, as well as a number of prominent female political journalists.
  • Black women were 84% more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive tweets.

Why it matters: This isn't a new problem. Twitter has faced criticism for not doing enough to curb harassment on its platform before, and has promised to do better. However, the company has yet to show consistent progress.

What they're saying:

"We have the data to back up what women have long been telling us — that Twitter is a place where racism, misogyny and homophobia are allowed to flourish basically unchecked."
— Milena Marin, senior adviser for tactical research, Amnesty International
"Abuse, malicious automation, and manipulation detract from the health of Twitter. We are committed to holding ourselves publicly accountable toward progress in this regard."
— Vijaya Gadde, Twitter's legal, policy, and trust and safety lead
3. Charter agrees to record fraud settlement

Photo: Yvonne Hemsey via Getty Images

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced a record $174.2 million consumer fraud settlement Tuesday with Charter Communications and Spectrum Management Holding Company for defrauding internet subscribers.

Details: As Marisa Fernandez reports, 700,000 consumers will receive direct refunds totaling $62.5 million, believed to be the largest single payout by an internet service provider in U.S. history. Approximately 2.2 million subscribers will also receive free streaming services and premium channels at a retail value of more than $100 million.

Background: In 2017, the New York attorney general's office filed a complaint alleging Charter was not giving customers the internet speed or reliability it promised. Its alleged failures include leasing out equipment that was deficient and charging more for download speeds while failing to maintain the appropriate network capacity.

The big picture: Left-leaning states are cracking down on telecom companies as federal regulators loosen the rules that govern internet providers like Charter, Comcast and AT&T.

4. Angry Birds looks to VR for a lift

Photo: Rovio

Angry Birds creator Rovio is bringing its flagship characters to a wide range of virtual reality headsets next year.

What's new: Rovio is working with Resolution Games on "Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs," which is due to arrive early next year for "all major VR platforms." Earlier this year, Rovio and Resolution teamed up on an app for Magic Leap's augmented reality glasses.

Why it matters: It won't be everything that VR needs to go mainstream, but the arrival of Angry Birds could pave the way for other mobile game makers to enter the space. For Rovio, it's a chance to bring its signature disgruntled avians to another arena.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Amazon's Diego Piacentini, who has been on leave for the past two years, is leaving the company.
  • Snapchat's hardware unit has its third boss in the last six months, with Steen Strand now leading the team and former boss Sahil Sharma leaving the company, according to Recode.
  • Facebook's Workplace product for businesses has a new leader, per CNBC.
  • The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has hired Sandra Liu Huang to lead its education efforts.
  • Getaround co-founder marketing chief Jessica Scorpio is stepping down from her day-to-day role at the company.


6. After you Login

Pixar's adorable short film Bao is available free on YouTube, but only for a week.

Ina Fried