Facebook backtracks, but a little too late
Yesterday we learned of a long-running Facebook campaign to harvest data from teenagers in exchange for cash, and a few hours after I updated you with that information the company said it would shut the program down... but only for iOS users.
Then it escalated: Apple, instead of waiting for Facebook to kill the program, went ahead and revoked the company's entire enterprise deployment certificate. These 'enterprise certificates' are magic little licenses that allow developers to distribute their apps outside of the iOS App Store, which is generally not allowed, for internal use during development.
They're a totally normal tool, and most companies rely on Apple's enterprise certificates heavily to do internal testing before apps reach the wider public. Facebook employees all have access to 'dogfood' versions of apps, with secret features, extra functionality, and upcoming features, via this program. By revoking that certificate, Apple broke all of those apps on employees' phones, leaving the company rudderless.
Under usual circumstances, Facebook would have used a separate certificate for its external facing test applications, including this data collection one, but it appears that either laziness or a desire to cover up its existence means it used the internal certificate for distribution. When Apple killed the certificate to cripple the data collection, it broke everything internally too, proving it was a dangerous game to play.
Some Facebook employees have reacted by blaming the media for the story in the first place, and think that Apple is being 'unfair' on the company, despite this being common policy for iOS. Apple has long held the stance that any abuse of the enterprise certificate will result in revocation, but Facebook is the largest company to ever have had one revoked that we know of.
All of this came in on the very same day that Facebook reported pretty positive earnings: $16.9B in revenue, growing daily active users to 1.52 billion, and a new record, with 500 million people using Instagram stories every day. Perhaps the earnings call was overshadowed by the year of bad news, but as the company's CFO said this morning when asked about that negative coverage: "probably just let the numbers speak for themselves."
One last point worth noting: Facebook managed to reverse user shrinking that was happening in Europe last year. It saw the first ever user decline when GDPR came into effect, but it's managed to begin growing again there and in the U.S. without much trouble. That's a huge, impressive achievement, even amid the turmoil, that many had assumed might be impossible to pull off.
As Dan Frommer put it on Twitter this morning: "The people have spoken and they still do not give a shit about Facebook’s behavior."
Google caught using similar data siphoning practices to Facebook's, pulls app as well (Techcrunch)
This is interesting: Google runs an opinion program that operated similarly to Facebook, offering cash and gift cards in exchange for raw data. The difference? Google was at least up-front about what was collected, and blocked anyone under 18 from participating. When asked about it, the service was killed yesterday, showing it probably shouldn't have existed, but it appears this practice is more widespread than publicly disclosed.
Rumor o'clock: the next iPhone should get USB-C, a third camera (uh, ok?), iPad homescreen redesign and dark mode.
Take it with a grain of salt, but USB-C would mean true unification on a single cable standard which would rule.
That disastrous U.S Foxconn factory isn't happening anymore (Reuters)
If you haven't listened to the podcast series that examines the bizarre deal to build a Foxconn factory in Wisconsin, and the secret work that happened to get it there despite the factory making zero sense, start there. Then read this story: it turns out Foxconn won't build it after all, and will only employ a handful of people rather than thousands.
Interesting read: How BuzzFeed is whittling itself into focus
In amongst messy, poorly handled layoffs, it's becoming clear where BuzzFeed goes next. Less experiments and weird ideas, more just growing the core business.