Verizon stops selling customer location to two data brokers after one is caught leaking it

Verizon is cutting off access to its mobile customers’ real-time locations to two third-party data brokers “to prevent misuse of that information going forward.” The company announced the decision in a letter sent to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who along with others helped reveal improper usage and poor security at these location brokers. It is not, however, getting out of the location-sharing business altogether.

Verizon sold bulk access to its customers’ locations to the brokers in question, LocationSmart and Zumigo, which then turned around and resold that data to dozens of other companies. This isn’t necessarily bad — there are tons of times when location is necessary to provide a service the customer asks for, and supposedly that customer would have to okay the sharing of that data. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch. This does not affect our coverage.)

That doesn’t seem to have been the case at LocationSmart customer Securus, which was selling its data directly to law enforcement so they could find mobile customers quickly and without all that fuss about paperwork and warrants. And then it was found that LocationSmart had exposed an API that allowed anyone to request mobile locations freely and anonymously, and without collecting consent.

When these facts were revealed by security researchers and Sen. Wyden, Verizon immediately looked into it, they reported in a letter sent to the Senator.

“We conducted a comprehensive review of our location aggregator program,” wrote Verizon CTO Karen Zacharia. “As a result of this review, we are initiating a process to terminate our existing agreements for the location aggregator program.”

“We will not enter into new location aggregation arrangements unless and until we are comfortable that we can adequately protect our customers’ location data through technological advancements and/or other practices,” she wrote later in the letter. In other words, the program is on ice until it can be secured.

Although Verizon claims to have “girded” the system with “mechanisms designed to protect against misuse of our customers’ location data,” the abuses in question clearly slipped through the cracks. Perhaps most notable is the simple fact that Verizon itself does not seem to need to be informed whether a customer has consented to having their location polled. That collection is the responsibility “the aggregator or corporate customer.”

In other words, Verizon doesn’t need to ask the customer, and the company it sells the data to wholesale doesn’t need to ask the customer — the requirement devolves to the company buying access from the wholesaler. In Securus’s case, it had abstracted things one step further, allowing law enforcement full access when it said it had authority to do so, but apparently without checking, AT&T wrote in its own letter to Wyden.

And there were 75 other corporate customers. Don’t worry, someone is keeping track of them. Right?

These processes are audited, Verizon wrote, but apparently not an audit that finds things like the abuse by Securus or a poorly secured API. Perhaps how this happened is among the “number of internal questions” raised by the review.

When asked for comment, a Verizon representative offered the following statement:

When these issues were brought to our attention, we took immediate steps to stop it.  Customer privacy and security remain a top priority for our customers and our company. We stand-by that commitment to our customers.

And indeed while the program itself appears to have been run with a laxity that should be alarming to all those customers for whom Verizon claims to be so concerned, some of the company’s competitors have yet to take similar action. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint were also named by LocationSmart as partners. Their own letters to Wyden stressed that their systems were similar to the others, with similar safeguards (that were similarly eluded).

Sen. Wyden called on the others to step up in a press release announcing that his pressure on Verizon had borne fruit:

Verizon deserves credit for taking quick action to protect its customers’ privacy and security. After my investigation and follow-up reports revealed that middlemen are selling Americans’ location to the highest bidder without their consent, or making it available on insecure web portals, Verizon did the responsible thing and promptly announced it was cutting these companies off. In contrast, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint seem content to continuing to sell their customers’ private information to these shady middle men, Americans’ privacy be damned.

AT&T actually announced that it is ending its agreements as well, after Wyden’s call to action was published.

The FCC, meanwhile, has announced that it is looking into the issue — with the considerable handicap that Chairman Ajit Pai represented Securus back in 2012 when he was working as a lawyer. Wyden has called on him to recuse himself, but that has yet to happen.

I’ve asked Verizon for further clarification on its arrangements and plans, specifically whether it has any other location-sharing agreements in place with other companies. These aren’t, after all, the only players in the game.

ICOs are becoming funds

What does a startup do with $48 million? $130 million? $1.7 billion? This question – one integral in the whole ICO craze – hasn’t quite been answered yet but it’s going to be far more interesting as ICOs and cryptocurrencies transform from purely product-oriented companies into actual funds.

Take the news that the creator of the TRON token bought BitTorrent for $140 million purportedly to lend legitimacy to the platform. “One shareholder we spoke to says there are two plans,” wrote TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden. “First, it will be used to ‘legitimize’ Tron’s business, which has met with some controversy: it has been accused of plagiarizing FileCoin and Ethereum in the development of its technology. And second, as a potential network to help mine coins, using BitTorrent’s P2P architecture and wide network of users.”

Given a $4.8 billion market cap, the cost of buying a beloved network brand, even one as tainted by controversy as BitTorrent, is miniscule. Further, it allows TRON to fill its war chest with solid businesses even as its own efforts end laughably with ham-handed announcements about non-existent partnerships and failed pumping by the idiosyncratic John McAfee.

In short, all of those massive ICO raises aren’t going to Aeron chairs and food truck rodeos in the company parking lot. Those smart enough to machinate their way into an ICO raise aren’t interested in product, no matter what they claim. They are interested in becoming investors, gobbling up products and people in order to gain a stranglehold on the space. Further, these ICOed organizations are often already registered as broker-dealers in various jurisdictions and have all of the legalities in place to take and invest large sums of cash. In short, if you think any successful ICOed company will deliver actual product before it would buy itself into multiple iterations of that same product I have a few tokens to sell you.

Startups start small for a reason. None of the current crop of successful ICOs have any technical merits, no matter how dense their white papers. While PhDs and computer scientists have great ideas, ultimately their ideas fail when dashed against the realities of the market. Most startups die because they are underfunded but they are underfunded because the risk associated with their ideas are far too high to ensure a win.

ICOs on the other hand are wild bets that a person who is connected to the crypto space will know better what to do with unearned crypto riches than the owners of those riches. It is a bet that the ICOing org is willing to work a little harder to make 10,000 Ether or a few hundred Bitcoin pay off in the long run and it’s a bet that the congregation of all that crypto wealth will bring the true sharks out to help turn a small investment into a big one. And you never get rich releasing a single product. You get rich buying and controlling multiple products.

The other important consideration? VCs will soon find themselves fighting for deals with ICOed companies. While it won’t happen soon and perhaps the big houses won’t feel it at all, expect smaller VCs to lose LPs as those LPs dump their cash into Maltese ICOs and not Sand Hill Road. It’s an interesting and overdue turnaround.

So don’t expect these ICOed companies to invest in fancy offices and ping pong tables (although they will.) If you’re a startup founder expected these ICOed companies to invest in you.

Alexa, order room service: Amazon brings its voice assistant to hotels

alexa for hospitality launches amazon

Alexa may soon follow you outside your house and into your hotel — on Tuesday, June 19, Amazon unveiled Alexa for Hospitality, a version of the Amazon Echo designed for hotels, resorts, vacation rentals, and other travel destinations. With the new program, guests can use Alexa to order room service or ask for more towels, while travelers with an Alexa device at home can connect their account to access their own music and audiobooks.

The service uses the existing Echo device and gives the personal assistant a few new features designed specifically for hotels. But for travelers, the new Alexa means using voice control instead of a call down to the front desk for amenities, concierge, or even simple questions like asking what the pool hours are. Alexa can also play music when requested by guests.

Like the in-home Amazon Echo, the device’s capabilities can be customized by downloading different Alexa skills. Hotels can allow Alexa to control the lights, thermostat, and TV with other smart devices, while Alexa can also be programmed for other travel-friendly features, like asking Alexa about the wait at the airport. Since these skills are custom downloaded, travel destination can customize the voice assistant to each location or brand.

Alexa will also give the hotel feedback through analytics, which Amazon says will help the program improve based on the feedback from different guests.

While the hotel owners can give the in-room Alexas different skills, travelers can soon connect an Amazon account to make the hotel Alexa feel a bit more like the at-home Alexa. In a feature that isn’t yet on the device but is coming soon, Alexa for Hospitality will allow users to sign in from their hotel rooms. Once logged in, users have access to the music and audiobook connected to the account. Amazon says that Alexa will automatically log off during the check-out process.

“Customers tell us they love how easy it is to get information, enjoy entertainment, and control connected devices by simply asking Alexa, and we want to offer those experiences everywhere customers want them,” Daniel Rausch, an Amazon vice president, said in a statement. “Alexa for Hospitality makes your hotel stay a little more like being at home and gives hospitality providers new ways to create memorable stays for their guests.”

The feature is coming first to Marriott International properties, including selected Marriott Hotels, Westin Hotels and Resorts, St. Regis Hotels and Resorts, and Autograph Collection Hotels. Some properties will get the travel-friendly Alexa beginning today, June 19, while other properties are rolling out the feature over the summer. Availability for hotel and rental owners is launching by invitation only.

Editors’ Recommendations

Facebook launches gameshows platform with interactive video

Rather than build its own HQ trivia competitor, Facebook is launching a gameshow platform. Today the company announced a new set of interactive live and on-demand video features that let creators adds quizzes, polls, challenges, and gamification so players can be eliminated from a game for a wrong answer. The features could help Facebook achieve its new mission to push healthier active video consumption rather than passive zombie watching that hurts people’s well-being. Creators and publishers who want early access can sign up here.

Gameshow launch partners include Fresno’s What’s In The Box where viewers guess what’s inside, and BuzzFeed News’ Outside Your Bubble where contestants have to guess what their opponents are thinking. Plus, Facebook is testing the ability to award prize money with (Business) INSIDER’s Confetti, where viewers answer trivia questions and can see friends’ responses, with winners splitting the cash.

“Video is evolving away from just passive consumption to more interactive two-way formats”, Simo tells TechCrunch. “We think creators will want to reward people. If this is something that works will with Insider and Confetti, we may consider rolling out payments tools.”

When asked if Facebook was inspired by HQ, Simo repeatedly dodged the question and avoiding mentioning the startup’s name, but relented in saying “I think they’re part of a much broader trend that is making content interactive. We’ve seen that across much more than one player.”

Facebook won’t be taking a share of the prize money in this test. For now, it’s also forgoing its cut of its $4.99 per month subscriptions option that lets fans pay for exclusive content, which rolls out today to more creators. Facebook also just launched its Brand Collabs Manager that we scooped in May, which helps brands browse creators by demographic and portfolio so they can set up sponsored content and product placement deals.

Initially Facebook is not taking a cut there either. For all three of these features, though, Simo says “that doesn’t mean we never will.” Creators can sign up for these monetization options here.

The new interactive video features will be available to all publishers and creators, alongside the global launch of the Android version of Facebook’s Creator app for web celebs. The tools range from offering basic in-video polls to creating a full trivia gameshow. Creators and will be able to write out their trivia questions and designate correct answers, as well as “write down the logic of the game” says Simo.

While polls will work for Live and on-demand videos, gamification that impacts the outcome of the broadcast is only for Live. Brent Rivera and That Chick Angel are two creators who will be testing the features in the coming weeks. Facebook already found that fans enjoyed polling on its Watch show Help Us Get Married, which let viewers influence the wedding planning decisions about themes and the venue.

Facebook’s last attempt at original video, its Watch hub, saw mediocre adoption as the content felt also-ran rather than something special or must-see. That’s why Facebook is expanding Watch to offer a broader range of shows for more creators, including potentially longer or non-episodic content. That includes bringing Facebook videos originally only hosted on Pages into the Watch destination.

Facebook’s family of apps will get another chance at an original video home run when Instagram launches its long-form video hub tomorrow, according to TechCrunch’s sources.

What we’re seeing here is positioning that diverges Facebook and Instagram’s video efforts. Facebook’s might be more interactive, about playing and watching with friends, and embrace more novel new formats like mobile gameshows. Instagram, with its history of polished photos, could house more traditional high-end entertainment content.

“We’re not trying to do one show or one trivia game. We’re trying to get every creator to create such gameplay. The beauty of the creators space is that they each have a unique audience” Facebook’s VP of video product Fidji Simo tells me. With 2.2 billion users, making an in-house one-size-fits-all game may have been impossible.

Uber tests cheaper fares for riders who are willing to wait a few minutes

Uber is testing a new feature that could offer cheaper rides to customers who are willing to wait a few minutes, according to a (since-deleted) tweet from an Uber employee found by Quartz that showed off the feature.

In a statement released to Quartz, an Uber representative confirmed that the feature was being tested by employees, saying, “Affordability is a top reason riders choose shared rides, and we’re internally experimenting with a way to save money in exchange for a later pickup.” Uber already offers a similar sort of feature for its Uber Pool carpooling service with Uber Express Pool, where users are able to walk a bit farther and wait a bit longer in exchange for cheaper fares.

Image: Quartz

Uber’s fluctuating fares based on time and demand is nothing new. Take, for example, the company’s infamous “surge pricing,” which would issue dramatically higher prices during high-volume times (like New Year’s Eve). In more recent years, Uber has done its best to hide those changes in price from users by displaying the fares upfront, so offering the choice for customers to minimize their fares in exchange for taking more time seems like a reasonable option.

There’s no word yet on whether or not Uber is planning to expand the option to more users or if it will just remain a test. Cheaper fares tend to be a popular thing among customers, though, so hopefully the test will roll out to customers soon.

Oppo Find X: Flagship specs, no notch, and an amazing secret

oppo find x news akrales 180614 2657 0139
Amelia Holowaty Krales/The Verge

Oppo may not be a household name in the United States, but the Oppo Find X could well be the smartphone to change that. While it comes with all the specs you’d hope for in a 2018 flagship phone, there are some interesting features in the Chinese manufacturers newest phone that may catch you by surprise — and are certainly worth taking a second look. Here’s everything you need to know about the Oppo Find X.

Design

At first glance, the Find X looks very 2018. It’s all glass and metal, with smooth curves. You’d be forgiven for mistaking it for the Samsung Galaxy S9, and the way the screen curves around the body is certainly reminiscent of Samsung’s flagship. But there’s one important difference that stands out: The incredibly high screen-to-body ratio.

Oppo has managed to shrink down bezels around the screen to the point where there’s barely any bezel around the top and sides of the phone, and only a tiny chin at the bottom. Mathematically, it’s 92.25 percent screen, an incredible piece of engineering. For context, the iPhone X is only 82.9 percent screen, and could only accomplish that with the divisive notch at the top. The Find X has no notch, and the 6.4-inch OLED display dominates the front of the phone in a way we’ve rarely seen before.

Amelia Holowaty Krales/The Verge

But where’s the front-facing camera? Here’s where the real trickery lies — open the camera app and the front-facing camera appears, the top section rising out of the phone’s chassis on a motor. Close the camera app and it disappears back into the phone again. Oppo claims that this process only takes 0.5 of a second to complete, and if that’s the case, it’s no longer than most camera apps already take to start.

The front-facing camera itself is a 25-megapixel monster, and it’s joined by a 3D face-scanning array too. It’s not just the front-facing camera hidden here too — the rear camera suite is contained in the rising compartment too, and you’ll find a 20-megapixel and 16-megapixel lens here.  However, there’s no fingerprint scanner — all biometric options are contained within the front-facing 3D face scanner.

Amelia Holowaty Krales/The Verge

Specs

With all that excitement out of the way, you might expect Oppo to have played it safe with the specs. Thankfully, that’s not the case, and Oppo has packed a whole load of numbers into the Find X.

The inclusion of the Snapdragon 845 isn’t surprising, but it is welcome. It’s one of the most powerful mobile processors in the world, setting great benchmarks and providing amazing performance — and it means we expect great things from the Oppo Find X. Backing that up is 8GB of RAM, which should make sure the phone is able to multitask extremely well.

There’s plenty of space for media too, with up to 256GB of storage. The battery is enormous — a 3,700mAh behemoth that comes with Oppo’s VOOC fast charging. The one disappointment may be the comparatively low 1080p resolution — with the display being so large, it’s likely the display will not be as sharp as competitors with 4K resolutions.

Release date

This phone is particularly important because it’s going to be the first Oppo phone to be available fully in North America and Europe. While details aren’t yet available about pricing and carrier availability, we expect that information will be made available in the coming weeks. The Find X will be available for pre-order in China today, June 19, and while pricing isn’t available, it’s expected the Oppo Find X will cost less than other comparatively priced phones.

Updated on June 19: Following the reveal of the Oppo Find X, we’ve updated this article with everything you need to know.

Editors’ Recommendations

The US Patent Office has issued 10 million patents

The US Patent and Trademark Office just issued the 10 millionth utility patent using its current numbering system, which dates back to 1836. Patent #10,000,000 was issued to Joseph Marron and Raytheon, for “Coherent LADAR Using Intra-Pixel Quadrature Detection,” which describes a method of bouncing lasers off of targets to figure out their range and velocity. You know, radar, but with lasers. LADAR. Go with it.

The very first US patent was signed by George Washington in 1790, but the numbering system reset with the Patent Act of 1836, which was written by Sen. John Ruggles. The first patent granted under the act, Patent #1, was granted to… Sen. John Ruggles. Well done.

Anyway, the USPTO has a fun website that’s full of factoids / incredible self-owns along those lines, but I really just want to show you this chart, which shows the incredible explosion of utility patents over the past two decades:

patent numbers over time

It took 155 years, from 1836 to 1991, for the United States to issue its first 5 million patents. It took just 27 years to issue the next 5 million. What happened?

What most people argue is that in 1982, Congress moved all patent appeals to the Federal Circuit, meaning just one court now creates the vast majority of patent law precedent. The Federal Circuit is known to be extremely patent-friendly, and the body of law it created led to a flood of patents. It’s been a push and pull, with the Supreme Court invalidating tons of specious patent classes, Congress passing the Leahy-Smith America Invents patent reform act, and all of our favorite tech companies suing each other endlessly around the world. Apple and Samsung: still going at it!

Happy 10 million, patent nerds. Please, please read the claims before publishing the drawings with a headline that says Apple is working on a super VR headset phone. I beg you.

The IoT’s Perplexing Security Problems

Worldwide spending on the Internet of Things will total nearly US$773 billion this year, IDC has predicted.

The IoT will sustain a compound annual growth rate of 14.4 percent, and spending will hit $1.1 trillion by 2021, according to the firm’s forecast late last year.

Consumer IoT spending will total $62 billion this year, making it the fourth largest industry segment, after manufacturing, transportation and utilities. The leading consumer use cases will be related to the smart home, including home automation, security and smart appliances, IDC said.

Cross-industry IoT spending, which encompasses connected vehicles and smart buildings, will gobble up $92 billion this year, and will be among the top areas of spending for the next three years.

IoT growth will get a boost from new approaches coming from firms such as China’s Tuya Smart, for example, which combines hardware access, cloud services, and app development in a process that lets manufacturers transform standard products into smart products within one day.

Shadow IoT Devices on Enterprise Networks

One third of companies in the U.S., the UK and Germany have more than 1,000 shadow IoT devices connected to their network on a typical day, according to a recent Infoblox survey of 1,000 IT directors across the U.S., the UK, Germany and the UAE.

The reported shadow IoT devices included the following:

  • Fitness trackers – 49 percent;
  • Digital assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home – 47 percent;
  • Smart TVs – 46 percent;
  • Smart kitchen devices such as connected microwaves – 33 percent; and
  • Gaming consoles – 30 percent.

There were 1,570 identifiable Google Home assistants deployed on enterprise networks in the U.S. as of March, according to the Infoblox survey. There were 2,350 identifiable smart TVs deployed on enterprise networks in Germany, and nearly 6,000 identifiable cameras deployed on UK enterprise networks.

Shadow IoT devices are devices connected to the company network but not purchased or managed by the IT department, according to Infoblox.

“Often IoT devices are added to the network without the direct knowledge of IT,” noted Bob Noel, director of strategic relationships and marketing for Plixer.

“Companies need to pay attention to the deployment of IoT devices, which are regularly put online with default passwords, legacy code riddled with known vulnerabilities, and a lack of defined policies and procedures to monitor them, leaving companies extremely vulnerable,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

More than 80 percent of organizations surveyed said security was the top consideration in IoT purchase decisions, said Brent Iadarola, VP of mobile & wireless communications at Frost & Sullivan.

However, “the unfortunate reality today is that unknown assets and unmanaged networks continue to exist in enterprise networks and are often overlooked by vulnerability scanners and solutions that monitor network changes,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Still, “we have started to see some movement towards integrated IoT security solutions that offer end-to-end data collection, analysis and response in a single management and operations platform,” Iadarola noted.

Security for the IoT

“IoT security is highly fragmented and many devices are vulnerable,” observed Kristen Hanich, research analyst at Parks Associates.

“There are a large number of devices out there with known weaknesses that can easily be exploited by commonly available attacks,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Most of these devices won’t receive protective updates, Hanich said, and “as most IoT devices are put in place for years or even decades, this will lead to hundreds of millions of vulnerable devices.”

Cybercriminals have been launching newer and more creative attacks on IoT devices, either to compromise them or to leverage them in botnets.

For example, Wicked — the latest version of the Mirai botnet malware, originally released in 2016 — leverages at least three new exploits.

A new version of the “Hide-and-Seek” botnet, which controls more than 32,000 IoT devices, uses custom-built peer-to-peer communication and multiple anti-tampering techniques, according to BitDefender.

“We should be preparing ourselves for many years of attacks powered by IoT botnets,” Sean Newman, director of product management for Corero Security, told the E-Commerce Times.

Cost is a problem with IoT security, Parks Associates’ Hanich noted. “Security must be built-in from the onset, which takes time and effort. It also requires regular maintenance and updates after selling the devices, potentially for many years.”

Many device makers are skipping security to keep their prices down, she pointed out, as security “does not drive unit sales of their products.”

Medical Devices and IoT Security

The IoT’s healthcare component includes connected medical devices and consumer wearables such as smartwatches and fitness trackers.

Medical device manufacturers increasingly have been incorporating connectivity to the Internet, but 53 percent of healthcare providers and 43 percent of medical device manufacturers don’t test their medical devices for security, noted Siddharth Shah, a healthcare industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Few have taken significant steps to avoid being hacked, he told the E-Commerce Times.

Network-connected medical devices “promise an entirely new level of value for patients and doctors,” said Frost & Sullivan healthcare industry analyst Kamaljit Behera.

However, “they also introduce new cybersecurity vulnerabilities that could affect clinical operations and put patient care at risk,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“The perceived risk from connected medical devices within the hospital is high, but steps are now being taken to prevent attacks,” said Frost’s Shah. “Still, there’s lots to be done.”

The risk to enterprise networks of being hacked through consumer healthcare-related devices “isn’t a big issue,” according to Greg Caressi, global business unit leader for transformational health at Frost & Sullivan.

“Personal devices are not commonly connected to private corporate networks other than healthcare IT vendors,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Google and Apple have been leading the charge of smart devices into the healthcare realm, with other companies, such as fitness device manufacturers, following suit.


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

Pew: Social media still growing in emerging markets but stalled elsewhere

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s (so far) five-year project to expand access to the Internet in emerging markets makes plenty of business sense when you look at the latest report by the Pew Research Center — which shows social media use has plateaued across developed markets but continues to rise in the developing world.

In 2015-16, roughly four-in-ten adults across the emerging nations surveyed by Pew said they used social networking sites, and as of 2017, a majority (53%) use social media. Whereas, over the same period, social media use has generally been flat in many of the advanced economies surveyed.

Internet use and smartphone ownership have also stayed level in developed markets over the same period vs rising in emerging economies.

Pew polled more than 40,000 respondents in 37 countries over a roughly three month period in February to May last year for this piece of research.

The results show how developing markets are of clear and vital importance for social behemoth Facebook as a means to eke continued growth out of its primary ~15-year-old platform — plus also for the wider suite of social products it’s acquired around that. (Pew’s research asked people about multiple different social media sites, with suggested examples being country-specific — though Facebook and Twitter were staples.)

Especially — as Pew also found — of those who use the internet, people in developing countries often turn out to be more likely than their counterparts in advanced economies to network via social platforms such as Facebook (and Twitter) .

Which in turn suggests there are major upsides for social platforms getting into an emerging Internet economy early enough to establish themselves as a go-to networking service.

This dynamic doubtless explains why Facebook has been so leaden in its response to some very stark risks attached to how its social products accelerate the spread and consumption of misinformation in some developing countries, such as Myanmar and India.

Pulling the plug on its social products in emerging markets essentially means pulling the plug on business growth.

Though, in the face of rising political risk attached to Facebook’s own business and growing controversies attached to various products it offers, the company has reportedly rowed back from offering its ‘Free Basics’ Internet.org package in more than half a dozen countries in recent months, according to analysis by The Outline.

In March, for example, the UN warned that Facebook’s platform was contributing to the spread of hate speech and ethnic violence in crisis-hit Myanmar.

The company has also faced specific questions from US and EU lawmakers about its activities in the country — with scrutiny on the company dialed up to 11 after a major global privacy scandal that broke this spring.

And, in recent months, Facebook policy staffers have had to spend substantial quantities of man-hours penning multi-page explanations for all sorts of aspects of the company’s operations to try to appease angry politicians. So it looks pretty safe to conclude that the days of Facebook being able to pass off Internet.org-fueled business expansion as a ‘humanitarian mission’ are well and truly done.

(Its new ‘humanitarian project’ is a new matchmaking feature — which really looks like an attempt to rekindle stalled growth in mature markets.)

Given how the social media usage gap is closing between developed vs developing countries’ there’s also perhaps a question mark over how much longer Facebook can generally rely on tapping emerging markets to pump its business growth.

Although Pew’s survey highlights some pretty major variations in usage even across developed markets, with social media being hugely popular in Northern America and the Middle East, for example, but more of a patchwork story in Europe where usage is “far from ubiquitous” — such as in Germany where 87% of people use the internet but less than half say they use social media.

Cultural barriers to social media addiction are perhaps rather harder for a multinational giant to defeat than infrastructure challenges or even economic barriers (though Facebook does not appear to be giving up on that front either).

Outside Europe, nations with still major growth potential on the social media front include India, Indonesia and nations in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Pew research. And Internet access remains a major barrier to social growth in many of these markets.

“Across the 39 countries [surveyed], a median of 75% say they either use the internet occasionally or own a smartphone, our definition of internet use,” it writes. “In many advanced economies, nine-in-ten or more use the internet, led by South Korea (96%). Greece (66%) is the only advanced economy surveyed where fewer than seven-in-ten report using the internet. Conversely, internet use is below seven-in-ten in 13 of the 22 emerging and developing economies surveyed. Among these countries, it is lowest in India and Tanzania, at a quarter of the adult population. Regionally, internet use is lowest in sub-Saharan Africa, where a median of 41% across six countries use the internet. South Africa (59%) is the only country in the region where at least half the population is online.”

India, Indonesia and sub-Saharan Africa are also regions where Facebook has pushed its controversial Internet.org ‘free web’ initiative. Although India banned zero-rated mobile services in 2016 on net neutrality grounds. And Facebook now appears to be at least partially rowing back on this front itself in other markets.

In parallel, the company has also been working on a more moonshot-y solar-powered high altitude drone engineering to try to bring Internet access (and thus social media access) to remoter areas that lack a reliable Internet connection. Although this project remains experimental — and has yet to deliver any commercial services.

Pew’s research also found various digital divides persisting within the surveyed countries, related to age, education, income and in some cases gender still differentiating who uses the Internet and who does not; and who is active on social media and who is inactive.

Across the globe, for example, it found younger adults are much more likely to report using social media than their older counterparts.

While in some emerging and developing countries, men are much more likely to use social media  than women — in Tunisia, for example, 49% of men use social networking sites, compared with just 28% of women. Yet in advanced countries, it found social networking is often more popular among women.

Pew also found significant differences in social media use across other demographic groups: Those with higher levels of education and those with higher incomes were found to be more likely to use social network sites.