Want to buy an iPhone without spending too much money?
Normally, we’d say that’s impossible, but you’re in luck: Apple recently issued its first profit warning since 2002. While that sounds gloomy for investors, it’s good news for those of you who want to buy Apple products, as ZDNet’s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes explained here.
Also: Meet the new Diet iPhone: Could a fresh formula boost Apple’s bottom line?
He’s predicted a downward effect on pricing. Don’t expect Apple to cut its iPhone prices by half or anything dramatic like that, but you could see some models getting decent discounts over the next few months. In fact, there are great deals to be found already.
Here are the best iPhone sales we’ve spotted for January 2019.
Best iPhone deals: Major carriers
- AT&T is holding an iPhone BOGO sale — where you buy an iPhone X, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, or iPhone XR, and you’ll get a free iPhone XR with your purchase. See AT&T’s iPhone BOGO deal here.
- Alternatively, as part of the same BOGO sale above, you can buy an iPhone and get up to $750 in credit toward the purchase of an iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max. See AT&T’s iPhone BOGO deal here.
Also: This is why Apple doesn’t want you fixing your smartphone
- Buy the iPhone XS and trade in an eligible device, and then you’ll get $390 back (via 36 monthly bill credits). Eligible trade-ins include the iPhone 7 through iPhone 8 Plus; Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8, Google Pixel through Pixel 2 XL, and LG V30 and LG G). For instance, if you trade in an Phone 7, you’ll get $300 in credit. See T-Mobile’s iPhone XS deal here.
- Buy an iPhone XR, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone X, iPhone 8 Plus, or iPhone 8 on a monthly payment plan, add a new line of service (so, two total), and trade in an eligible device, and then you’ll get up to $750 back (via 24 or 36 monthly bill credits). Eligible trade-ins include the iPhone X, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 6s, and iPhone 6s Plus. For instance, if you trade in an iPhone 7, you’ll get $300 in credit. See T-Mobile’s iPhone deal here.
- Got an old phone laying around? Verizon is offering a minimum $100 credit ( to your account over 24 months) when you upgrade and trade-in select models (ranging from the iPhone SE to the Samsung Galaxy S4). See Verizon’s trade-in deal here.
- You can add a new line of service at Verizon and then get $300 off the purchase of a new iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, or iPhone XR. See Verizon’s iPhone deal here.
Also: Apple: Beginning of the end, or a new beginning?
Best iPhone deals: Prepaid carriers
- Boost Mobile is offering one of the best prices we’ve seen on the iPhone XR. You can get the 64GB version for $649.99 with free shipping and no service contract. That’s $99 off.The 128GB option is also available, but for $699.99, and the 256GB is $799.99, with free shipping and no contract. They’re both $99 off. See Boost Mobile’s iPhone XR deal here.
Also: What would Steve Jobs think of the 2019 Apple?
Best iPhone deals: Retailers
- If you don’t mind buying a refurbished iPhone, there’s an iPhone 8 (unlocked, 64GB) for $473 on Amazon. That’s $117 less than the same refurbished model at Best Buy. It’s also backed by Amazon’s 90-day guarantee. See Amazon’s iPhone 8 deal here.
- Get the iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max (with activation), and you’ll receive up to $400 as a Best Buy gift card — if you trade in an old iPhone. You can estimate your iPhone trade-in value here. An iPhone 7 (128GB) will fetch you around $170. This is an in-store only offer. See Best Buy’s iPhone XS/XS Max deal here.
- Best Buy is offering the same deal above for the iPhone XR (with activation). Again, you’ll receive up to $400 as a Best Buy gift card — if you trade in an old iPhone. This is an in-store only offer. See Best Buy’s iPhone XR deal here.
- BuySpry (via eBay) has a refurbished iPhone 7 Plus (unlocked, 256GB) in Black for $384.78 with free shipping. A 60-day BuySpry warranty is included. It also comes with an MFi-certified cable and power adapter. See eBay’s iPhone 7 Plus deal here.
- BuySpry (via eBay) has a refurbished iPhone 8 Plus (unlocked, 256GB) in Space Grey for $574.99 with free shipping. Again, a 60-day BuySpry warranty is included. See eBay’s iPhone 8 Plus deal here.
- Target has $35 off the Phone SE (prepaid from Simple Mobile), making it $124.99. To be clear, this phone works on a prepaid service, but there’s no contract, and it’s a 22 percent savings on a model just two years old. See Target’s iPhone SE deal here.
- Walmart has the iPhone 6 32GB (prepaid from Straight Talk) in Space Gray for $99. Again, this phone works on a prepaid but service, but this is the best deal for any carrier by at least $50. See Walmart’s iPhone 6 deal here.
Best iPhone deals: Apple Store
- Apple sells refurbished iPhone models, too. It has the iPhone 7 Plus (unlocked, 32GB) for $479, a $99 savings. You can also get it in 128GB for $569 (a $100 savings) or 256GB for $649 (a $220 savings). See Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus deal here.
- Apple has a dedicated online storefront for active military personnel and veterans — complete with a 10-percent discount offer on Apple products, including the iPhone. The new iPhone XR, for instance, is just $674. See Apple’s military storefront here.
For more great deals on devices, gadgetry, and technology for your enterprise, business, or home office, see ZDNet’s Business Bargain Hunter blog. Affiliate disclosure: ZDNet earns commission from the products and services featured on this page.
Previous and related coverage:
iPhone XS Max: The iPhone’s future is big and bright
Apple’s iPhone XS Max is as big as it gets.
iPhone XS: Everything Apple has to offer, but in a smaller package
The iPhone XS is the smallest of Apple’s 2018 iPhone lineup, but don’t discount it.
Apple iPhone XR: Lower cost comes with camera, reception compromises
Apple switched up release strategies a bit in 2018 with the two high end $1,000+ models released initially, followed by one priced $250 to $350 less. The iPhone XR arrives in six color options and honestly it may be the best option for the masses.
Apple iPhone X: This is as good as it gets
Face ID, an impressive display, new interaction methods, and solid performance put the iPhone X on top.
WhatsApp is adding opt-in biometrics to its web and desktop versions – TechCrunch
WhatsApp, the popular messaging app with more than 2 billion users, has been getting a lot of heat and losing users in recent weeks after announcing (and then delaying) changes to how it shares data with its owner Facebook. And it’s not done with how it’s tweaking privacy and security. Now, it’s adding a new biometric feature to the service to bring in a new authentication layer for those using its web and desktop versions.
The company said that from today, it will let people add in a fingerprint, face, or iris scan when to use WhatsApp on desktop or web.
The feature is coming as part of a new look for the desktop versions, ahead of what the company hints will be more updates coming soon.
With the new feature, you will now have the option (not requirement) to add in a biometric login, which uses either a fingerprint, face ID, or iris ID — depending on the device — on Android or iPhone handsets, to add in a second layer of authentication.
When implemented, it will appear for users before a desktop or web version can be linked up with a mobile app account, which today relies just on using a QR code: the QR code doesn’t go away; this is a second step users will need to take, similar to how you can choose to implement two steps of authentication on a handset to use the WhatsApp mobile app today.
WhatsApp says that on iPhone, it will work with all devices operating iOS 14 and above with Touch ID or Face ID, while on Android, it will work on any device compatible with Biometric Authentication (Face Unlock, Fingerprint Unlock or Iris Unlock).
The service is another step forward in WhatsApp creating more feature parity between its flagship mobile apps, and how you interact with the service when you use it elsewhere.
While WhatsApp started as a mobile messaging app, it has over the years been building out other ways of using it, for example adding desktop support in 2015 to the iOS version.
Mobile still accounts for the majority of WhatsApp’s users, but events like global health pandemics, which are keeping more of us inside, are likely leading to a surge of users of its Web and native desktop apps, and so it makes sense for it to be adding more features there.
WhatsApp told TechCrunch that it is going to be adding in more features this year to bring the functionality of the two closer together. There are still big gaps: for example, you can’t make calls on the WhatsApp web version. (That feature may be one coming soon: as of last month, it started to get spotted in beta tests.)
To be extra clear, the biometric service, which is being turned on globally, will be opt-in. Users will need to go to their settings to turn on the feature, in the same way that today they need to go into their settings to turn on biometric authentication for their mobile apps.
What comes next for biometrics?
WhatsApp’s recent announcements about data-sharing changes between it and Facebook have put a lot of people on edge about the company’s intentions. And that’s no surprise. It’s a particularly sensitive issue since messaging has been thought of a very personal and sometimes private space, seen as separate from what people do on more open social networking platforms.
Over the years, however, that view has been eroded through data leaks, group messaging abuse, and (yes) changes in privacy terms.
That means there will likely be a lot of people who will doubt what Facebook’s intentions are here, too.
WhatsApp is pretty clear in outlining that it’s not able to access the biometric information that you will be storing in your device, and that it is using the same standard biometric authentication APIs that other secure apps, like banking apps, use.
But the banking app parallel is notable here, and maybe one worth thinking about more. Consider how the company has been adding a lot more features and functionality into WhatsApp, including the ability to pay for goods and services, and in markets like India, tests to offer insurance and pension products.
Yes, this new biometric feature is being rolled out today to create a more secure way for people to link up apps across devices. But in the interest of that feature parity, in future, it will be interesting to see how and if biometrics might appear as those other features get rolled out beyond mobile, too.
TikTok is being used by vape sellers marketing to teens – TechCrunch
TikTok has a vaping problem. Although a 2019 U.S. law made it illegal to sell or market e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 21, TikTok videos featuring top brands of disposable e-cigarettes and vapes for sale have been relatively easy to find on the app. These videos, set to popular and upbeat music, clearly target a teenage customer base with offers of now-unauthorized cartridge flavors like fruit and mint in the form of a disposable vape. Some sellers even promote their “discreet” packaging services, where the vapes they ship to customers can be hidden from parents’ prying eyes by being placed under the package’s stuffing or tucked inside other products, like makeup bags or fuzzy slippers.
Interest in flavored, disposable vapes that appeal to teens and young adults, in particular, has been growing in the wake of the FDA’s Juul crackdown.
In February 2020, the FDA first began to take enforcement action against illegally marketed e-cigarette devices, including those offering flavors besides tobacco or menthol, as well as those targeted towards minors — an action that was designed to target Juul.
As a result, disposable vapes like Puff Bar were adopted by some young people who were still in search of flavors like bubblegum, peach, strawberry and others. These cheaper disposables were easy to find, and continued to be available at convenience stores and gas stations.
But they’re also all over TikTok, ready to be shipped with anyone with a way to pay.
What’s more, when this content is reported to TikTok, it’s not always taken down.
TechCrunch found vape sellers marketing on TikTok who have been using the app to communicate with customers through both videos and comments. They also direct viewers to what appear to be illegally operating websites. Their TikTok videos often show off the seller’s current inventory of vapes, including disposables like Puff Bar in teen-friendly flavors.
Essentially, the sellers are using TikTok as a way to create vape advertisements they don’t have to pay for that are capable of reaching young consumers — an audience whose interest in vaping hasn’t necessarily declined because of the FDA’s action.
According to nonprofit tobacco control organization Truth Initiative’s latest study, use of Juul decreased between 2019 and 2020, but it remains the most popular e-cigarette brand among 10th and 12th graders who were current vapers at 41%. The report also found that disposable products such as Puff Bar (8%) and Smok (13.1%) have gained during this time.
“Taken together, the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) and the new e-cigarette sales data report illustrate how the current federal policy enabled youth to quickly migrate to menthol e-cigarettes (especially Juul menthol pods) when mint-flavored products were removed from the marketplace, and for inexpensive, flavored disposable e-cigarettes such as Puff Bar to soar in popularity,” Truth stated in September 2020.
“With kid magnet names like cotton candy and banana ice, the market share of disposable products nearly doubled in just 10 months from August 2019 to May 2020,” it said.
The scale of the problem on TikTok is also significant.
Today, U.S. teens account for an estimated 32.5% of TikTok’s U.S. active users, according to third-party estimates published by Statista. The company has around 100 million monthly active users in the U.S., it said last year.
Meanwhile, videos tagged with popular vape and e-cigarette brands and keywords have racked up hundreds of millions of views.
For example, the hashtag for leading vape brand Juul (#juul) has 623.9 million views on TikTok, as of the time of writing.
Puff Bar, the maker of a single-use vaping product with Chinese origins, has 449.8 million views for the hashtag #puffbar. Other brands have some traction, as well. #NJOY has 55.3 million views, #smok has 40.1 million views, and British Tobacco’s #Vuse has 5 million views.
These are just the views associated with the hashtag itself. For every search, there are multiple variations. For instance, #puffbars, #puffbarplus and #puffbardealer have 66.8 million views, 9.6 million views and 8.9 million views, respectively. Tags like #juulgang (590.4 million views) have become popular enough that anti-vaping content creators have adopted them as a means of counter-programming against vaping content.
These trends are particularly concerning given the large, young demographic that uses TikTok. A third of its U.S. users may be 14 or under, in fact.
In the U.S. App Store, TikTok is rated for ages 12 and up and on Google Play, its content rating is “Teen.” But while TikTok has modified the default privacy settings for young people’s accounts and has been quick to block other controversial hashtags in the past (like those around U.S. election conspiracies), it has allowed vaping-related content to remain easy to find.
In addition to the popular vaping hashtags prevalent on TikTok, we uncovered numerous vape sellers operating under obvious account names such as “@puffsonthelow,” “@PuffUniverse” and “@Puffbarcafe,” for example. Their pages were filled with vape videos boldly marketing their current selections, hashtagged with vape-related terms like #puffbarchallenge, #puffplus, #vapetricks and others.
In some cases, we found vape sellers had even tagged their videos with #kids and other trending tags.
Knowing that their target market is often teenage vapers, many videos depicted how the seller could package the vape inside another product or hide it in the stuffing so parents wouldn’t find out. We saw videos of vapes packaged underneath candy, inside makeup bags, inside socks, underneath other lager products, and more.
Through links published to the account’s profile or referenced in the videos, TikTok users are redirected to the sellers’ websites or even Discord channels where they would only sometimes be presented with an age verification pop-up.
Often, they could just add items to a basket and check out. Many sellers also directed their customers to pay using PayPal, Venmo and/or Cash App, instead of accepting standard credit card payments.
None of this is legal, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, a leading American nonprofit focused on reducing tobacco consumption, particularly among youth.
“It’s illegal to market these products or to engage in marketing that appeals directly to anybody under the age of 21,” Matt Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, told TechCrunch. “And it’s illegal to actually conduct a sales transaction without age verification.”
Plus, he adds, clicking a box on a website that says “I’m over 21,” does not qualify as a legal age verification for making these sales.
The FDA hasn’t issued specific guidance around online retail, but the law is clear that checking IDs is required to ensure retailers aren’t selling to underage users. That’s not happening with a pop-up box, and often there’s no box at all.
In addition, the FDA reminded TechCrunch that Congress recently established new limits on the mailing and delivery of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products through the United States Postal Service and through other carriers, which should limit access to these sorts of products through online retail purchases.
Myers, however, points out that the current FDA guidelines have made enforcement of this sort of “social” vape marketing more difficult than necessary.
“The images you’re seeing, the use of influencers, and the kinds of offers you’re seeing are governed by a federal standard by the FDA, which is very broad and very general,” Myers says. “The FDA’s failure to articulate clear, specific guidelines means that everyone is in a constant what I call ‘whack-a-mole.’”
Enforcement, then, often depends on the FDA stepping in, which Myers says happens “on a very sporadic basis.”
“In many respects, the behaviors, the actions and the things you’re seeing do violate the law. But the mechanisms for implementing it that were put in place under this past administration are woefully weak and inadequate,” he says.
Another complicating factor is that public health groups — like the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, for instance — don’t have a relationship with TikTok, as they do with other social networks.
Over the last couple of years, over 100 public health groups came together to ask leading social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat to clamp down on tobacco-related content and the use of influencers in marketing. As a result of these efforts, Facebook and Instagram implemented new rules to prohibit social media influencers from promoting tobacco-related products and developed algorithms to pick up on that sort of content.
Overall, the health organizations have reported seeing a reduction in tobacco and vape content on top social platforms, but these efforts have not yet included TikTok.
The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids has not given TikTok a comprehensive review, Myers admits, due to the app still being relatively new. But from what the organization has seen so far, TikTok is of growing concern.
“We’ve seen some of the most egregious marketing, use of influencers, direct offers of sale to young people [which] appear to be gravitating over to TikTok,” Myers says. “And we don’t see any evidence that TikTok has actually done anything.”
TikTok can’t claim ignorance of the problem, either.
When a vape seller who unabashedly advertised “no ID check” was reported to TikTok through its built-in reporting mechanism, TikTok’s content moderation team said the content didn’t violate its guidelines. This same response was given when other vape sellers were reported, as well. (See below.)
TikTok claims this shouldn’t be happening. The company told us that it will remove accounts dedicated to posting vaping or e-cigarette content as soon as it becomes aware of them, and will reset account bios that link to off-platform tobacco or vaping sites.
It also says its Community Guidelines prohibit content that suggests, depicts, imitates, or promotes the possession or consumption of tobacco by a minor, and content that offers instruction targeting minors on how to buy, sell, or trade tobacco. And it doesn’t permit tobacco ads.
Reached for comment over whether it was aware of the problems on TikTok, an FDA spokesperson said it does not discuss specific compliance and enforcement activities.
However, the spokesperson said the agency will closely monitor retailer, manufacturer, importer, and distributor compliance with federal tobacco laws and regulations and take corrective action when violations occur. In addition, the FDA said it conducts routine monitoring and surveillance of tobacco labeling, advertising and other promotional activities, including activities on the internet.
What’s been making matters more confusing is that the FDA has been accepting premarket applications for flavored vape devices, but has so far refused to list which companies — Puff Bar or otherwise — may have filed for these. That means health organizations don’t know which products the FDA has under review.
But the Agency told TechCrunch that regardless of whether a premarket application has been submitted, it’s enforcing lack of marketing authorization for any product where the manufacturer “is not taking adequate measures to prevent youth access to these products.”
That statement would then include these online Puff Bar retailers and their TikTok marketing efforts.
The FDA added that it has taken action against Puff Bar, specifically, in recent days.
It sent a warning letter to Cool Clouds Distribution, Inc. d/b/a Puff Bar, last July, notifying the company that it was marketing new tobacco products that lacked marketing authorization and that such products, as a result, were adulterated and misbranded.
Earlier this month, as part of an ongoing joint operation with the FDA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 33,681 units of e-cigarettes, which included disposable flavored e-cigarette cartridges resembling the Puff Bar brand, including Puff XXL and Puff Flow, we’re told.
TikTok confirmed the activity we’re documenting is in violation of its guidelines and policies, but could not explain why there’s been such a disconnect between that policy and its enforcement actions.
“We are committed to the safety and well-being of our TikTok community, and we strictly prohibit content that depicts or promotes the possession or consumption of tobacco and drugs by minors,” a TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We will remove accounts that are identified as being dedicated to promoting vaping, and we do not allow ads for vaping products.”
Facebook’s secret settlement on Cambridge Analytica gags UK data watchdog – TechCrunch
Remember the app audit Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg promised to carry out a little under three years ago at the height of the Cambridge Analytica scandal? Actually the tech giant is very keen that you don’t.
The UK’s information commissioner just told a parliamentary subcommittee on online harms and disinformation that a secret arrangement between her office and Facebook prevents her from publicly answering whether or not Facebook contacted the ICO about completing a much-trumpeted ‘app audit’.
“I think I could answer that question with you and the committee in private,” information commissioner Elizabeth Denham told questioner, Kevin Brennan, MP.
Pressed on responding, then and there, on the question of whether Facebook ever notified the regulator about completing the app audit — with Brennan pointing out “after all it was a commitment Mark Zuckerberg gave in the public domain before a US Senate committee” — Denham referred directly to a private arrangement with Facebook which she suggested prevented her from discussing such details in public.
“It’s part of an agreement that we struck with Facebook,” she told the committee. “In terms of our litigation against Facebook. So there is an agreement that’s not in the public domain and that’s why I would prefer to discuss this in private.”
In October 2019 Facebook settled with the UK’s data protection watchdog — agreeing to pay in full a £500,000 penalty announced by the ICO in 2018 in relation to the Cambridge Analytica breach but which Facebook had been appealing.
When it settled with the ICO Facebook did not admit liability. It had earlier secured a win, from a first-tier legal tribunal that had held June that “procedural fairness and allegations of bias” against the regulator should be considered as part of its appeal, so its litigation against Facebook had got off to a bad start — likely providing the impetus for the ICO to settle with Facebook’s private army of in-house lawyers.
In a statement at the time, covering the bare bones of the settlement, the ICO said Denham considered the agreement “best serves the interests of all UK data subjects who are Facebook users”.
There was no mention of any ‘gagging clauses’ in that disclosure. But the regulator did note that the terms of the agreement gave Facebook permission to “retain documents disclosed by the ICO during the appeal for other purposes, including furthering its own investigation into issues around Cambridge Analytica”.
So — at a stroke — Facebook gained control of a whole lot of strategically important information.
The settlement looks to have been extremely convenient for Facebook. Not only was it fantastically cheap (Facebook paid $5BN to settle with the FTC in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal just a short while later); and not only did it provide Facebook with a trove of ICO-obtained data to do its own digging into Cambridge Analytica safely out of the public eye; but it also ensured the UK regulator would be restricted in what it could say publicly.
To the point where the information commissioner has refused to say anything about Facebook’s post-Cambridge Analytica app audit in public.
The ICO seized a massive trove of data from the disgraced (and since defunct) company which had become such a thorn in Facebook’s side, after raidingCambridge Analytica’s UK offices in early 2018. How much of that data ended up with Facebook via the ICO settlement is unclear.
Interestingly, the ICO also never produced a final report on its Cambridge Analytica investigation.
Instead it sent a letter to the DCMS committee last year — in which it set out a number of conclusions, confirming its view that the umbrella of companies of which CA was a part had been aggregating datasets from commercial sources to try to “make predictions on personal data for political alliance purposes”, as it put it; also confirming the improperly obtained Facebook data had been incorporated into a pre-existing database containing “voter file, demographic and consumer data for US individuals”.
The ICO also said then that its investigation did not find evidence of the Facebook data that had been sold to Cambridge Analytica had been used for political campaigning associated with the UK’s Brexit Referendum. But there was no overarching report detailing the underlying workings via which the regulator got to its conclusions.
So, again from Facebook’s perspective, a pretty convenient outcome.
Asked today by the DCMS committee why the regulator had not produced the expected final report on Cambridge Analytica, Denham pointed to a number of other reports it put out over the course of the multi-year probe, such as audits of UK political parties and an investigation into credit reporting agencies.
“The letter was extensive,” she also argued. “My office produced three reports on the investigation into the misuse of data in political campaigning. So we had a policy report and we had two enforcement reports. So we had looked at the entire ecosystem of data sharing and campaigning… and the strands of that investigation are reported out sufficiently, in my view, in all of our work.”
“Taken together the letter, which was our final line on the report, with the policy and the enforcement actions, prosecutions, fines, stop processing orders, we had done a lot of work in this space — and what’s important here is that we have really pulled back the curtain on the use of data in democracy which has been taken up by… many organizations and parliamentarians around the world,” she added.
Denham also confirmed to the committee that the ICO has retained data related to the Cambridge Analytica investigation — which could be of potential use to other investigations still ongoing around the world. But she denied that her office had been asked by the US Senate Intelligence Committee to provide it with information obtained from Cambridge Analytica — seemingly contradicting an earlier report by the US committee that suggested it had been unable to obtain sought for information. (We’ve contacted the committee to ask about this.)
Denham did say evidence obtained from Cambridge Analytica was shared with the FTC, SEC and with states attorneys general, though.
We’ve also reached out to Facebook about its private arrangement with the ICO, and to ask again about the status of its post-Cambridge Analytica ‘app audit’. (And will update this report with any response.)
The company has produced periodic updates about the audit’s progress, saying in May 2018 that around 200 apps had been suspended as a result of the internal probe, for example.
Then in August 2019 Facebook also claimed to the DCMS committee that the app audit was “ongoing”.
In its original audit pledge — in March 2018 — Zuckerberg promised a root and branch investigation into any other ‘sketchy’ apps operating on Facebook’s platform, responding in a ‘crisis’ length Facebook post to the revelations that a third party had illicitly obtained data on millions of users with the aim of building psychographic profiles for voter targeting. It later turned out that an app developer, operating freely on Facebook’s platform under existing developer policies, had sold user data to Cambridge Analytica.
“We will investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform to dramatically reduce data access in 2014, and we will conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity,” Zuckerberg wrote at the time. “We will ban any developer from our platform that does not agree to a thorough audit. And if we find developers that misused personally identifiable information, we will ban them and tell everyone affected by those apps. That includes people whose data [Aleksandr] Kogan misused here as well.”
It’s notable that the Facebook founder did not promise to transparently and publicly report audit findings. This is of course what ‘self regulation’ looks like. Invisible final ‘audit’ reports.
An ‘audit’ that’s entirely controlled by an entity deeply implicated in core elements of what’s being scrutinized obviously isn’t worth the paper it’s (not) written on. But, in Facebook’s case, this opened-but-never-closed ‘app audit’ appears to have served its crisis PR purpose.
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