News Brief: Deep Freeze, User Data Concerns, Trade Talks Severe cold paralyzes a portion of the U.S. Facebook and Google are scrutinized over apps that collected data from teenagers. And, it's the final day of trade talks between the U.S. and China.
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News Brief: Deep Freeze, User Data Concerns, Trade Talks

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News Brief: Deep Freeze, User Data Concerns, Trade Talks

News Brief: Deep Freeze, User Data Concerns, Trade Talks

News Brief: Deep Freeze, User Data Concerns, Trade Talks

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/690230665/690230668" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Severe cold paralyzes a portion of the U.S. Facebook and Google are scrutinized over apps that collected data from teenagers. And, it's the final day of trade talks between the U.S. and China.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How cold has it been in the Midwest?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We already know it is so cold that mail service was suspended in many places. And now we can add this. In Minneapolis, it is so cold, UPS driver Brendan Pena (ph) was told the decision to deliver packages is just up to him.

BRENDAN PENA: Boss has basically told us, at any point you feel like you don't want to work or it's too cold you can't feel your fingers, you can't feel your nose, your face, come back to the building.

INSKEEP: Good rule of thumb.

MARTIN: Right.

INSKEEP: Or of nose, anyway.

MARTIN: In nearby St. Paul, Minn., firefighters were told to work in 10-minute rotations. They are fighting a fire, with all the heat that it produces, and it was still so cold that 10 minutes was the maximum they could be outside. Even in places where it was a bit less cold, National Weather Service meteorologist Trent Frey has this warning.

TRENT FREY: Frostbite becomes a major concern for any exposed skin on the matter of about 15 minutes or so. You know, any prolonged exposure can be deadly in this case.

MARTIN: We should say at least eight people have died in connection with this cold weather. It is a good day to check on people who are home alone.

INSKEEP: Which is why I called my mom in Indiana, where temperatures were 6 below zero this morning, which would seem warm compared with La Crosse, Wis., where it is 30 below today. And that is where we find Wisconsin Public Radio's Hope Kirwan. Hope, good morning.

HOPE KIRWAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I guess this is the moment when you could say, oh, it's Wisconsin, we're used to cold weather. Are you saying that?

KIRWAN: No, I don't think people are saying that here in the state. Actually, Governor Tony Evers issued a state of emergency - declared a state of emergency earlier this week because of the cold temperatures. You know, we saw some wind chills get down to -55 degrees; that's 55 below zero. And so, you know, that's obviously a huge risk to people's health. And, you know, a lot of things were canceled yesterday and into today.

INSKEEP: You know, I noticed that here, where the temperatures were above zero but in the teens, it actually feels kind of nice if there's no wind blowing. But the second there's the slightest puff of wind, you want to get out of there. Is that what it's like there, only worse?

KIRWAN: Yeah. I mean, it's definitely that classic you feel just kind of your face freezing - any exposed skin that's, you know, exposed to the cold definitely constricts. And, you know, you immediately feel it as soon as you step outside.

INSKEEP: I would imagine that this is immediately a perilous situation if somebody's heat goes off. How are authorities making sure the heat stays on in Wisconsin?

KIRWAN: Well, we did see some outages - some power outages on Wednesday morning just due to power lines breaking because of the heat. But, you know, really, people are just encouraging people to keep their thermostats at a comfortable level and to just constantly check on pipes - water pipes and faucets, as well. That can be another, you know, just kind of infrastructure-related problem. And so people are just really, you know, encouraging people who are low-income to keep their thermostat up and worry about paying the utility bill later.

INSKEEP: In my hometown, I was told the schools are closed, of course, but the school buildings have remained open. People can go there if the heat goes off. Are people doing things like that where you are?

KIRWAN: Yeah, a lot of places have opened as emergency warming shelters. A police department in the town where I'm at actually opened, and it's open to anyone who needs to have a warm place.

INSKEEP: OK. Hope, I hope you are somewhere warm, at this moment, anyway.

KIRWAN: I am.

INSKEEP: OK. Hope Kirwan of Wisconsin Public Radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Is Facebook really paying a price for a string of data privacy scandals?

MARTIN: The social media giant faces yet another one. Both Facebook and Google, we should note, were exposed for getting around efforts to limit their harvesting of data. The companies offered cash and other gift incentives to users who would then allow apps on their phones that monitor almost everything that they do on their phones. Facebook was targeting users as young as 13 with this.

It is the latest in a string of revelations about privacy issues the company has faced, but they're still making money. Facebook announced record profits in its fourth quarter yesterday.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jasmine Garsd has been covering this story from New York. Jasmine, good morning.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: First, what does this mean - an app on your phone that monitors almost everything?

GARSD: Yeah, so both - in both these cases, these were apps which users gave permission for their data to be collected. And the point is for these companies to understand users better. Now, in the case of Facebook, it was particularly invasive. I mean, participants were giving permission to have pretty much everything monitored - social media messages, Internet activity, what other apps you have on your phone.

INSKEEP: Although somebody might say, well, people opted in to do this and got some kind of compensation for it. Why is that a big deal?

GARSD: Well, absolutely. I mean, in the case of Facebook, they were targeting a very young audience, some as young as 13. And there's the argument that, yeah, they knew what they were getting into. I mean, but really, who is reading the fine print? That's what tech activists would say. It's probably not a 13-year-old.

And then there's the fact that Facebook keeps breaking Apple's terms and conditions with this kind of behavior.

INSKEEP: Oh, let's remember here, of course, Apple, huge maker of iPhones. They like to promote the iPhone as a refuge, a relatively private place. And they'd been trying to keep Facebook from doing this sort of thing. What's Apple have to say now?

GARSD: Well, you know, on Wednesday, Google took down its own app, and Apple banned Facebook's app. It also banned several of Facebook's internal apps - you know, the ones used by employees in-house. Facebook and Apple have reportedly had a very chilly relationship precisely because of this - because Apple is uncomfortable with Facebook's constant disregard of privacy issue. There's a history here. Here's Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly chastising Facebook.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM COOK: We could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer. But you are not our product.

INSKEEP: Just a different business model.

GARSD: Yeah.

INSKEEP: And so what is - when you say there's a history here, how have the two companies argued back-and-forth over time?

GARSD: Well, essentially, Tim Cook has said, you know, we don't want people to be our product. And Facebook very much gets its profit off of advertising. That's where Facebook's money comes from. And so Facebook is constantly in this conundrum of how to respect people's privacy while still making a profit.

INSKEEP: OK. So you just mentioned profit. Help me understand this. Facebook faces way more than a year - a couple years of horribly embarrassing headlines, congressional hearings, yet another scandal, and they just posted record profits.

GARSD: I think this is the big question of our moment. At what point do users say, enough is enough? I mean, the reality is whether or not people knew exactly what they were getting into with these apps, a lot of people, and a lot of young people, signed up to have a certain amount of their privacy explored by these companies and, in the case of Facebook, for just $20 a month. And I think it speaks to a younger generation that grew up with a very different concept of privacy than the rest of us. And they're going to have to grapple with this question of, when is it enough?

INSKEEP: Because as the profit notation demonstrates, Facebook does know how to make money off of the data that they are gathering on you.

GARSD: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Jasmine, thanks so much.

GARSD: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jasmine Garsd.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Some other news now - how much pressure does China really face to end a trade war?

MARTIN: The U.S. and China are in trade talks this week. President Trump is demanding big changes. He's already imposed tariffs on many billions of dollars' worth of Chinese imports. He is threatening to raise those tariffs in these talks that are happening this week and if those talks fail to force big changes in Chinese economic policies. Economists have pointed out that it's really American consumers who pay the taxes on imports, but it's also true China's economy is slowing down.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us now from Shanghai. Hey there, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. So these talks are taking place in Washington, right? There's a Chinese delegation here, where I am. And the head of that delegation meets President Trump himself. What's on their agenda?

SCHMITZ: So the head of the delegation is Liu He. And he's looking for a couple of things for China today. He's going to gauge President Trump on what China needs to do to make Trump comfortable about making a trade deal. He's also looking for how serious President Trump is on making that deal.

I spoke with China expert Bill Bishop about this, and he pointed out that from Liu's perspective, the Chinese delegation thought they had a deal in 2017 after meeting with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. And last year, they thought they had a deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. But...

BILL BISHOP: In both cases, President Trump said, it's not enough, and blew up the deal. And so I think they're very nervous that, unless they can get in the room and get the president to say, we're done, that they're going to be basically embarrassed yet again.

INSKEEP: This is something that the president's allies in Congress have had the same complaint about - that it's hard to know what he really wants, hard to get him on the record and keep him there.

SCHMITZ: Yeah, Steve. And what Bill means by getting him in the room here is that he thinks one of Liu's goals today will be to convince President Trump to meet with Xi Jinping to make a deal. And if you look at the president's calendar, he does have an outstanding meeting planned with Kim Jong Un somewhere in Asia in the near future, so perhaps the thinking here is to have President Trump swing by Beijing at that time to put an end to this trade war once and for all.

INSKEEP: The hope of imposing these tariffs is that China would feel pain and feel more and more pressure over time to make a deal. Is it working out that way?

SCHMITZ: China's economy is hurting. Just last night, in fact, more than 400 Chinese companies posted profit-loss warnings for 2018. And the impact from the trade war has only started. So the Chinese are likely prepared to make some concessions on items, like IP protection and reducing the trade deficit.

What's probably not going to happen that the U.S. is looking for is China making structural changes to its economy and reducing the power of its state-owned enterprises that are blamed for creating this unfair playing field for U.S. businesses. China's Communist Party exerts economic and political control through these companies. And Xi Jinping is unlikely to cede that to the Trump administration.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK. So structural changes - no. What about changes to the use of trade secrets or the stealing of trade secrets or the handing over of trade information? Is China willing to change that?

SCHMITZ: I think that's definitely going to be a part of what the Chinese will offer. This is something that the Chinese have already talked about when you look at their policy changes going forward - that they want to help IP protections inside of China, not only for U.S. businesses, but, you know, Chinese companies are now making stuff that's worth stealing, too, and so they want to protect their own business.

INSKEEP: OK. Rob, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rob Schmitz.

(SOUNDBITE OF B-SIDE'S "LOST DREAMS")

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