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Recode Daily: Facebook is in trouble with Apple, and Mark Zuckerberg wants to change the subject

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Plus: Foxconn is reconsidering that $10 billion Wisconsin manufacturing plant; Americans received more than 26 billion robocalls last year; if summer ever returns, Roomba is ready with a robot lawn mower.

Facebook is at the center of another privacy scandal. This time it hasn’t just angered its users — it has also angered Apple. The short version: Apple says Facebook broke an agreement it made with Apple by publishing a “research” app for iOS and Android users that allowed the social giant to collect all kinds of personal data about those teenage and young adult users — who were paid up to $20 a month for allowing the app to be installed on their devices. Instead, Facebook apparently took advantage of an Apple developer program that lets approved partners, like Facebook, test and distribute apps specifically for use by their own employees. Apple was upset, and punished Facebook big-time, revoking its distribution license for the developer program, thus shutting down its ability to distribute internal beta versions of iOS apps, and hindering the company’s product development. It turns out that Google also distributed a private app that monitored how people use their iPhones, rewarding users with gift cards for letting Google collect information on their internet usage; the app has since been disabled. [Kurt Wagner / Recode]

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Despite Facebook’s past two years of chaos, the social giant’s business is bigger than ever. Sales in Q4 were better than expected, and Facebook brought in almost $56 billion in revenue last year, a 37 percent jump over 2017. Facebook added users in the US and Canada for the first time in almost a year. And its Instagram Stories product now has 500 million daily users, approaching three times as many users as Snapchat. And CEO Mark Zuckerberg seems ready to change the subject away from sequential crises — on an earnings call with analysts, he said one of his key priorities for the year is “building new experiences.” [Kurt Wagner / Recode]

A mercenary team of former US government intelligence operatives hacked into the iPhones of activists, diplomats, and rival foreign leaders using a sophisticated spying tool called Karma. The cyber tool allowed the United Arab Emirates to monitor hundreds of targets beginning in 2016, from the Emir of Qatar and a senior Turkish official to a Nobel Peace laureate human-rights activist in Yemen. Operatives of the hacking unit, code-named Project Raven, described Karma as a tool that could remotely grant access to iPhones simply by uploading phone numbers or email accounts into an automated targeting system; Karma was used to obtain photos, emails, text messages, and location information from iPhones; the technique also helped the hackers harvest saved passwords, which could be used for other intrusions. [Joel Schectman and Christopher Bing / Reuters]

Foxconn is reconsidering its plans to build a $10 billion flat-screen TV manufacturing facility in Wisconsin, saying that the building will instead mostly serve as a research and development hub staffed by scientists and engineers. The Foxconn deal — which was lured with $4 billion in tax incentives and was supposed to hire as many as 13,000 US workers — was hailed by President Donald Trump last year as an example of his success in attracting foreign investment in jobs for blue-collar Americans. Citing “new realities” in the global marketplace, the Taiwanese company best known for manufacturing iPhones says that instead of making screens, it wants to create a “technology hub” in Wisconsin that would largely consist of research facilities along with packaging and assembly operations. [Jess Macy Yu and Karl Plume / Reuters]

Americans received more than 26 billion robocalls last year, up 46 percent from 2017, according to spam-monitoring service Hiya. The FCC received 52,000 consumer complaints about caller-ID spoofing alone in 2018, and federal regulators have moved to crack down on unwanted and spam communications. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon have committed to implementing a type of caller authentication known as Shaken/Stir, which follows the same principles as website encryption; the FCC-endorsed protocol is part of an industry-wide push to limit the effects of caller-ID spoofing, which is when a spammer poses as a caller from a nearby area code in an effort to trick recipients into picking up the phone. [Brian Fung / The Washington Post]

Top stories from Recode

Mellody Hobson thinks too many all-white, all-male companies are committing “corporate suicide.”Hobson is one of the most prominent black women in finance, and she’s not happy with how her industry is doing. [Theodore Schleifer]

Two early executives at Lime have quietly left the scooter company.It’s a season of change in the leadership ranks of what was once the hot new thing. [Theodore Schleifer]

BuzzFeed layoffs show that “winter is here for digital news,” says former NYT editor Jill Abramson.On the latest Recode Media, Abramson talks about her new book, Merchants of Truth, which profiles the New York Times, the Washington Post, Vice, and BuzzFeed. [Peter Kafka]

This is cool

When — if — summer returns, Roomba is ready with a robot lawn mower.

The seductiveness of Insta-nostalgia.


Correction: An item in yesterday’s newsletter misstated Marie Kondo’s net worth; it is $8 million, not $8 billion.

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