Facebook Spying on teenagers, terrorist kidnapping Twitter accounts and sexual abuse on Bing and Giphy were among the ugly truths revealed by TechCrunch's investigation reports in 2019 of abuse of power. Whether out of malice, naivety or greed, there was a lot of wrongdoing that could be spied on.
Under the leadership of our security expert Zack Whittaker, TechCrunch has conducted in-depth research this year to address these growing issues. Our coverage of fundraisers, product launches and glamorous exits tells only half the story. As perhaps the largest and longest running news agency for startups (and the giants they become), we are responsible for ensuring that these companies remain honest and are committed to a more ethical and transparent use of technology.
If you have a tip that may be worth investigating, contact TechCrunch at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the form of our anonymous tip series.
Here are our top ten studies from 2019 and their implications:
Facebook pays teenagers to spy on their data
Josh Constine's groundbreaking investigation found that Facebook paid teenagers and adults $ 20 a month gift cards to install a VPN that sent Facebook all of its sensitive mobile data for market research purposes. The list of problems with Facebook Research included informing 187,000 users about sharing the data with Facebook until they signed up for "Project Atlas", failed to get proper parental consent for more than 4,300 minors, and could face legal action if a user did so Program spoke publicly about the project. The program also abused Apple's corporate certificate program, which was designed only for the distribution of employee-only apps within companies to bypass the app store verification process.
The rainfall was enormous. Legislators wrote angry letters to Facebook. TechCrunch soon discovered a similar Google market research program called Screenwise Meter, which the company immediately shut down. Apple punished both Google and Facebook by shutting down all employee apps for one day only, causing interruptions in the office because Facebookers couldn't access their shuttle schedule or lunch menu. Facebook attempted to claim the program was overboard, but eventually responded and closed Facebook Research and all paid data collection programs for users under the age of 18. Above all, the investigation led Facebook to close its Onavo app that offered a VPN. In reality, however, tons of mobile usage data were sucked in to find out which competitors had to be copied. Onavo helped Facebook realize the acquisition of messaging competitor WhatsApp for $ 19 billion. The company is now at the center of the antitrust investigation. TechCrunch's reporting has weakened Facebook's exploitative market surveillance, pitted technology giants against each other, and raised the bar for transparency and ethics in data collection.
Protection of the WannaCry Kill Switch
Zack Whittaker's profile of heroes who helped protect the Internet from the rapidly expanding WannaCry ransomware reveals the precarious nature of cyber security. The exciting story that documents Marcus Hutchin's benevolent work to set up the WannaCry Kill switch could have helped a judge to sentence him to just one year in prison for an independent allegation that he made malware as a teenager has condemned.
The dangers of the Elon Musk tunnel
TechCrunch researcher's Mark Harris found that the emergency exits were insufficient and Elon Musk's plan to build a tunnel from Washington DC to Baltimore was even more problematic. Harris, who works with fire safety and tunneling experts, is a strong argument for why state and local governments should be suspected of technology thieves that paralyze public infrastructure.
Bing image search is full of child abuse
Josh Constine's investigation found that Bing's image search results revealed both images of child sexual abuse and search terms for innocent users who would come across this illegal material. A tip prompted Constine to commission a report from anti-abuse startup AntiToxin (now L1ght), which forced Microsoft to commit to UK regulators to make significant changes to prevent this. However, a review by the New York Times citing the TechCrunch report found that Bing had made little progress.
Reported despite relief data
Zack Whittaker's investigation revealed conflicting evidence in a case of suspected tampering by Tufts student Tiffany Filler, which was questioned. The article raises serious doubts about the allegations, and this could help the student get a fair overview of future academic or professional endeavors.
Burnt from an educational laptop
Natasha Lomas & # 39; Chronicle of problems launching computer hardware in education, including a device malfunction that injured a U.S. student. An internal email revealed that the student had suffered a "very bad finger injury" from a Pi-Top 3 laptop that was designed to be disassembled. Reliability problems increased and layoffs occurred. The report highlights how startups operating in the physical world, especially near sensitive populations such as students, must make security a top priority.
Giphy does not block images of child abuse
Sarah Perez and Zack Whittaker have partnered with child protection startup L1ght to uncover Giphy's negligence in blocking images of sexual abuse. The report revealed how criminals used the site to distribute illegal images that were accidentally indexed by search engines. TechCrunch's research has shown that not only public tech giants need to be more careful with their content.
Airbnb's weakness in anti-discrimination
Megan Rose Dickey investigated a botched case of Airbnb's enforcement of discrimination policies when a blind and deaf traveler 's reservation was canceled because he has a guide dog. Airbnb just tried to "educate" the host, who was accused of discrimination rather than imposing a real punishment, until thicknessy's report forced him to suspend him for a month. The research shows what efforts Airbnb is making to protect its money-generating hosts and how political issues could affect the IPO.
Expired emails make terrorists tweet propaganda
Zack Whittaker discovered that the Islamic state's propaganda was spread through hijacked Twitter accounts. His investigation found that attackers could re-register the email address associated with a Twitter account to gain access and then get password resets sent by Twitter. The article revealed the wise, but not necessarily sophisticated, way in which terrorist groups are exploiting the security flaws of major technology, and identified a dangerous void that must be closed for all websites.
Apps for porn and gambling pass Apple
Josh Constine found dozens of pornography and real money gambling apps broke Apple's rules, but prevented the App Store from verifying that he was abusing his corporate certificate program – many based in China. The report revealed the weak and easy to defraud requirements to get a company certificate. Seven months later, Apple revealed an increase in requests from China to abolish porn and gambling apps. The investigation could force Apple to tighten corporate certificate guidelines, and it may turn out that the company has many of its own problems to solve, even though CEO Tim Cook often takes action against other technology giants' guidelines.
Bonus: HQ Trivia employees quit because they tried to remove the CEO
This Game Of Thrones-worthy story was too intriguing to skip, though the effects were more of a warning to all start-up executives. Josh Constine's look at gaming startup HQ Trivia revealed a saga of employee revolt in response to its CEO's inability and inaction when the company fled. Employees who organized a petition to the board to dismiss the CEO were fired, resulting in further talent losses and stagnation. The purpose of the investigation was to remind start-up managers that they are responsible to their employees who can exercise power through collective action or exodus.
If you have a tip for Josh Constine you can reach him by encrypted signal or text at (585) 750-5674, joshc at TechCrunch dot com or via Twitter DMs