Jan 31, 2019

2. Why Facebook is playing with fire

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In choosing to make an end-around Apple's rules for its market research app, Facebook was playing with fire.

Driving the news: Facebook took a program designed to let businesses internally test their own app and used it to monitor most, if not everything, a user did on their phone — a degree of surveillance barred in the official App Store.

  • Lest there be any ambiguity on that last point, it was just last August that Facebook was forced to pull a similar app after Apple said it violated rules on data collection.

Why it matters: Apple is a key distributor of Facebook's apps and sole arbiter of what is allowed inside its App Store. If Apple were to ban Facebook's apps, the company wouldn't have an alternative means to get its apps on iOS devices and would have to rely solely on a mobile web browser to reach its users.

The big question: It's unclear just what Facebook was thinking — it won't say whether it thought that it was somehow complying with Apple's rules.

  • What is clear is that when Apple did learn about the app, it was hopping mad. The company spent several hours getting a handle on the situation Tuesday night before ultimately deciding to revoke Facebook's enterprise credentials.
  • Apple's move had the effect of limiting a wide range of other efforts within Facebook, including breaking test versions of new and existing apps as well as internal tools. Facebook says that it is working to resolve the issue — but again, that's really up to Apple.

Yes, but: Facebook wasn't alone in flouting Apple's rules, which may prove a boon to the social network as it works through the crisis. It turns out Google was doing almost the same thing.

  • Google, though, apologized and withdrew its app immediately. Plus, it hadn't had a similar app already rejected like Facebook.
  • So far, it seems to have escaped any immediate punishment.

By the numbers: The number of affected users also differs.

  • Facebook said fewer than 150,000 people used the Facebook Research app in the time it was available.
  • Google's Screenwise app has been around since at least 2014, but has been installed on fewer than 10,000 devices, according to a source.

Between the lines: Apple doesn't really know how many other companies may have employed similar techniques.

  • By design, Apple doesn't approve or know the details of the apps being deployed using enterprise certificates.
  • That allows companies to build and deploy apps containing proprietary information, intended for internal use only.

Meanwhile: Aside from the issue with Apple, Facebook was also taking a risk in collecting so much data, and especially from teens.

  • Facebook notes that it was upfront about the data it was collecting, compensating users and getting parental consent where needed.
  • Even still, it was grabbing a ton of data — including reportedly asking users to upload their Amazon purchases.

The bottom line: The saga of Facebook Research will be yet another point for those who believe Facebook will gobble up all the data it can unless it is reined in through regulation.

Go deeper

U.S. coronavirus updates: Chicago jail is largest-known source of coronavirus

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Chicago's Cook County jail is the largest-known source of coronavirus infections in the U.S., the New York Times reports. The White House has identified Chicago's metro area as a risk for exponential growth of the virus.

Why it matters: Public health officials have warned this would be a particularly deadly week for America, even as New York began to see declining trends of hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 42 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 1,504,971 — Total deaths: 87,984 — Total recoveries: 318,068Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 424,945 — Total deaths: 14,529 — Total recoveries: 23,292Map.
  3. Federal government latest: Top Trump administration officials had been developing a plan to give cloth masks to huge numbers of Americans, but the idea lost traction amid heavy internal skepticism.
  4. States latest: Chicago's Cook County jail is largest-known source of coronavirus in U.S.
  5. Business update: One-third of U.S. jobs are at risk of disappearing, mostly affecting low-income workers.
  6. World update: WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to put politics aside "if you don’t want to have many more body bags.”
  7. Environment update: COVID-19 is underscoring the connection between air pollution and dire outcomes from respiratory diseases.
  8. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

The pandemic and pollution

New York City's skyline on a smoggy day in May 2019. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

COVID-19 is underscoring the connection between air pollution and dire outcomes from respiratory diseases.

Why it matters: Old-fashioned air pollution is almost certainly the single biggest environmental health threat, contributing to the deaths of some 7 million people a year according to the WHO, making it comparable to deaths from smoking.

Go deeperArrow3 hours ago - Health