News You Need to Know Now
Good Monday morning. It’s February 4th. Google parent company Alphabet announces earnings when the markets close this afternoon.
Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read.
Breaking Sunday night: Family Tree DNA is vehemently denying media reports that it has given the FBI access to its database of more than one million genetic profiles. Family Tree says that the FBI has the same permissions that any consumer has and that law enforcement has used the free-to-all service fewer than ten times.
- Amazon and Facebook posted record financials last week. Analysts liked Facebook’s story and rewarded the company’s stock. Amazon warned that it would invest more in 2019, and its stock took a hit despite record holiday earnings. Remember that the execs involved most often are compensated based on stock performance, not earnings.
- The FCC was in court before a three judge panel Friday to present oral arguments regarding its rollback of net neutrality consumer protections. Among the FCC’s arguments was the contention that broadband is not a telecommunications service. The FCC also faced questions about Verizon throttling service used by the Santa Clara Fire Department as they fought deadly wildfires last year.
- Hackers uploaded password and email combinations in more files last week, bringing the total to 2.2 billion password records that researchers say have now been downloaded more than 1,000 times. Please stop right now if you’re using your old passwords “now that time has passed”.
Wild Online Data Days Continue
Apple users, pay attention to the Group FaceTime bug called Face Palm. The company confirmed that users could add a third person to a FaceTime call, creating a Group, and eavesdrop on the person who was being added even if that person didn’t answer. Apple disabled group video chatting last week and is due to push out an update to users this week.
Apple was also on the dishing out side of things after it learned that Google and Facebook had both violated their App Store agreements and promoted programs that captured lots of data. Facebook’s case was egregious because Apple had already made Facebook remove a similar program. Instead, Facebook launched an online data program targeting people between the ages of 13 (with parental consent) and 35. They paid each person $20 per month to load a program on their phone that allowed Facebook to see virtually everything that was done on the phone. Plenty of survey companies do exactly this, but Facebook bypassed Apple’s App Store, and Apple responded by revoking Facebook’s developer access permission for nearly three days.
When Apple discovered that Google was doing something similar, they also revoked Google’s access even though this was their first offense.
The control that Apple places on its App store far outweighs anything that Google does for Android apps. And Apple is ruthless about protecting this advantage. We learned during Apple’s financial reports that its revenue sharing from Netflix alone is $130 million per year. For accounts smaller than Netflix, Apple’s revenue sharing costs publishers 15-20 percent of total revenue. And you thought that only their phones were expensive.
Children and teens are also spending millions on Facebook apps and games that parents are often unaware of, according to reporting by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The organization reported that Facebook’s chargeback rate for contested credit card charges made by children is more than 9 percent–18 times the regular rate.
Even municipalities are getting involved. New York City will begin receiving data from Uber and Lyft as part of its agreements allowing them to operate. Among the data being received is date, time, locations, and the route driven. The city says that its goal is traffic planning and new programs, but skeptics have already pointed out that the database when combined with cameras and taxicab data provide the city with a database of non-private vehicle travel.
Some Help Is Coming
Google’s Chrome browser will warn users when it is visiting a spoofed website. It’s still in an early beta, but I’ve tested it, and it’s got promise.
What’s App–one of Facebook’s most popular programs–will start limiting the number of times that a message can be forwarded in an effort to cut down on disinformation.
New York’s Attorney General reached a settlement last week that it says is “…the first finding by a law enforcement agency that selling fake social media engagement and using stolen identities to include in online activity is illegal.” Gizmodo has an excellent summary of what it means and how it came to be.
EU regulators also continue pursuing tech data issues. Polish and UK authorities last week began taking action to limit an online advertiser’s ability to identify and target a consumer who has been the victim of sexual abuse, substance abuse, or medical conditions. This has fallen into the “we know how to do it technically, but it’s not permitted and it’s evil” bucket. Regulators would like to put that into the “make it impossible to do” bucket.
Reporter Kashmir Hill–one of our favorites and one whose work we’ve referred to you before–is publishing a fantastic series called “Life Without the Tech Giants”. She is a data privacy expert who is enlisting great tech resources to help her block companies like Google and Amazon from her life. And as she writes, it’s not always working. Start with her intro to the series here.
Worth your time this week:
- Google is finally removing Google+ data from the publicly-accessible Internet. Your stuff–if there was any there-will be deleted April 2.
- Snopes is ending its fact-checking partnership with Facebook.
- Steve Buscemi’s face on Jennifer Lawrence’s body? It’s not a Snickers commercial. It’s a well done 75 second Deep Fake video that reporter Mikael Thalen posted to Twitter.