Facebook vows to restrict users if US election descends into chaos

United States Map - State with glow with malicious code background in a 1970 dot matrix font on a computer screen. 8K Resolution ready.

Enlarge / United States Map – State with glow with malicious code background in a 1970 dot matrix font on a computer screen. 8K Resolution ready. (credit: Matt Anderson Photography | Getty Images)

Facebook has said it will take aggressive and exceptional measures to “restrict the circulation of content” on its platform if November’s presidential election descends into chaos or violent civic unrest.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Nick Clegg, the company’s head of global affairs, said it had drawn up plans for how to handle a range of outcomes, including widespread civic unrest or “the political dilemmas” of having in-person votes counted more rapidly than mail-in ballots, which will play a larger role in this election due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are some break-glass options available to us if there really is an extremely chaotic and, worse still, violent set of circumstances,” Mr Clegg said, though he stopped short of elaborating further on what measures were on the table.

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#election, #facebook, #policy, #us


EU seeks new powers to penalize tech giants

Belgien, Brussel, Europaische Kommission, Berlaymont-Gebaude, Europa-Flaggen

Enlarge / Belgien, Brussel, Europaische Kommission, Berlaymont-Gebaude, Europa-Flaggen (credit: Westend61 | Getty Images)

The EU wants to arm itself with new powers to take on big technology companies, including the ability to force them to break up or sell some of their European operations if their market dominance is deemed to threaten the interests of customers and smaller rivals.

EU commissioner Thierry Breton told the Financial Times that the proposed remedies, which he said would only be used in extreme circumstances, also include the ability to exclude large tech groups from the single market altogether.

In addition, Brussels is considering a rating system that would allow the public and stakeholders to assess companies’ behavior in areas such as tax compliance and the speed with which they take down illegal content.

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#apple, #eu, #facebook, #google, #policy, #social-media


Facebook tries to clean up Groups with new policies

Facebook this morning announced a series of new rules designed to further penalize those who violate its Community Standards, specifically around Facebook Groups. It also introduced rules meant to crack down on the spread of misinformation through these more private networks. The changes will impact those who had helped lead groups that were later banned and members who participated in them. The rules will also remove some of the more potentially harmful groups from Facebook’s Group recommendations, among other things.

Facebook’s existing recidivism policy was meant to prevent people from creating new groups similar to those that were banned for violating its Community Standards. However, the rule had only applied to Group admins. Now, Facebook says both admins and moderators alike will not be able to create any new groups for “a period of time” after their group had been banned for a policy violation. Facebook tells us this period is 30 days. If after the 30 days, the admin or moderator tries to create another violating group, they’ll be again paused for 30 days.

In addition, Group members who had any Community Standards violations in a group will now require post approval for the next 30 days. That means all their posts will have to be pre-approved by a Group admin or moderator. This could help groups deal with those whose behavior is often flagged, but it could also overwhelm groups with a large number of users. And Facebook says if the admins or moderators then approve a post that violates Community Standards, the group will be removed.

Facebook will also require Groups have an active admin. Often, admins get busy and step down or leave their group. Facebook will now attempt to identify groups where an admin is not involved and proactively suggest admin roles to members who may be interested. You may have already received notifications from some of your Groups that an admin is needed. If so, it’s because Facebook identified you as someone who has the potential to lead the group, as you don’t have a history of violations.

The company will begin to archive groups without an active admin in the weeks ahead, it said. This will occur when admins leave and no one else assumes the admin role.

This change could help to crack down on the unmoderated flow of information across groups, which can lead to spam and misinformation spreading quickly. It is helpful to have direct moderation, as other forum sites like Reddit have shown, but it’s often not enough. Group culture, too, can help to encourage certain types of content — including content that violates Facebook’s rules — and admins are often willing participants in that.

Another change will impact which Groups are suggested to users.

Facebook says health groups will no longer be recommended, as “it’s crucial that people get their health information from authoritative sources,” the company said.

Unfortunately, this change alone can only mitigate the danger of misleading health information, but does little to actually stop it. Because health groups can still be found via Search, users will be able to easily surface groups that fit their beliefs, even when those beliefs are actively harmful to themselves or to others.

There are, today, a large number of groups that continue to spread misleading health information or push users to try alternative or untested cures. These group participants may have the “right” to have these discussions online, at least in Facebook’s view, but there’s disagreement on whether or not the groups should be allowed the same search billing and discoverability as more expert-led resources.

For instance, if you search Facebook today for vaccines, Facebook will gladly point you to several large groups that tell you not to get one. By doing so, Facebook has effectively taken away medical experts’ and doctors’ authority on health-related matters and handed it over to the general public. Multiply this at the scale of Facebook’s billions of users and across all subject matters, and it’s easy to see why simply not “recommending” some groups barely makes a dent.

Facebook is also tweaking its rules to reduce the spread of groups tied to violence. It already removes them from recommendations, restricts them from search, and in the near future, it says it will reduce their content in News Feed. These groups are also removed if they use veiled language and symbols in an attempt to avoid being flagged. Recently, 790 groups linked to QAnon were removed under this policy, Facebook said.

This change, however, comes too little, too late. QAnon, left unchecked for years, has tapped into the mainstream consciousness and is now involving people who may not even realize they’re being manipulated by QAnon-driven initiatives.

Then there is the not-small matter of whether Facebook can actually enforce the rules it comes up with. A quick glance at Facebook search results for QAnon indicate it cannot. It may have removed 790 QAnon groups, but after scrolling for a couple of minutes we couldn’t even reach the bottom of group search results for QAnon content. And they weren’t anti-QAnon groups.

That demonstrates that much of Facebook’s work in this area is performative, rather than effective. A one-time sweep of harmful groups is not the same as dedicating resources and personnel to the task of pushing these dangerous, fringe movements, violence-prone organizers, or anti-medical science believers to the edges of society — a position they once held back in the offline, unconnected era. Today’s Facebook gives these groups access to all the same tools to organize as anyone else, and only limits their spread in dribs and drabs over time.

For instance, Facebook’s policy on groups ties to violence practically contradicts itself. It claims to remove groups discussing violence, but simultaneously includes a number of rules about limiting these same groups in recommendations and downranking them in search. That indicates even Facebook understands it can’t remove these groups in a timely fashion.

People disagree whether Facebook’s role should involve moderating this sort of content or to what extent any this should be protected as “free speech.” But Facebook never really took a moral position here or argued that it’s not a governmental body, so it can make its own rules based on what it stands for. Instead, it built out massive internet infrastructure where content moderation has been an afterthought and a job to be outsourced to the less fortunate. Now Facebook wants accolades for its clean-up work, before it even effectively solves the problems it has created.

#facebook, #tc


Facebook launches Facebook Business Suite, an app for managing business accounts across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger

Facebook this morning launched a new app designed to make it easier for businesses to manage their pages and profiles across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger in a single place. The app, Facebook Business Suite, combines access to the business’s key updates and priorities, and offers a way to draft and schedule feed posts for both Facebook and Instagram, view insights and create ads.

To use the new app, business will first need to link their Facebook and Instagram business accounts, if they hadn’t already.

Once logged into Facebook, the Business Suite can be accessed on the desktop at business.facebook.com. On mobile, users of the existing Pages Manager App will see an option to join Business Suite instead. The app will also become available as a standalone download for both iOS and Android.

Image Credits: Facebook

Inside Business Suite, business owners will be able to see critical alerts, messages, comments and other activity taking place across Facebook and Instagram right in the new app’s homescreen. They can also set up personalized saved replies here, in order to respond to common customer inquiries.

The app offers tools for creating feed posts for Facebook and Instagram, scheduling posts, and provides insights on what’s working. Here, businesses can view their posts’ reach, engagement and performance across both Facebook and Instagram. They can also choose to create an ad to help boost that engagement and grow their audience, if needed.

Facebook says it’s initially building Facebook Business Suite with the needs of small businesses first, as so many have been forced by the pandemic to find new ways to reach customers and sell online. However, the long-term plan is to build out a set of tools that can be used by all businesses, including larger ones. The company aims to address that market sometime next year. Business Suite will also expand to include WhatsApp in the future.

Related to the news, Facebook published two surveys offering insights on small business trends. One, the monthly Global State of Small Business Report, produced in partnership with the World Bank and OECD, found that businesses that make more than 25% of sales online are more likely to be reporting higher sales this year, and are less likely to have laid off employees.

A second study details the impact of COVID-19 on consumer purchasing patterns and use of digital tools. Nearly half of respondents said they spent more money online overall since the outbreak, and 40% increased their use of social media and online messaging for product and business recommendations, Facebook says.

Of course, these fairly upbeat reports on the state of small businesses in the midst of the pandemic don’t provide the full picture. In the U.S., for example, Yelp is reporting that 60% of the U.S. businesses that closed due to COVID-19 won’t be re-opening. As of August, 163,735 of U.S. businesses have closed since the start of the pandemic, the report said, up 23% since mid-July.

These closures could impact Facebook as well, as the majority of Facebook’s advertisers are small and medium-sized businesses. But Facebook’s global nature protects it. Even if the U.S. loses more small businesses due to its mishandling of the pandemic, there are far more advertisers are outside the U.S. that Facebook taps into.

Facebook says the Business Suite will gradually roll out during the month of September. The app joins several others Facebook offers today for its business customers, including Facebook Pages Manager, Facebook Analytics, and Facebook Ads Manager. However, Facebook notes that its new Business Suite isn’t currently designed to serve those who use Ads Manager.

#advertising, #apps, #business, #businesses, #facebook, #marketing, #small-business, #social, #social-media


Daily Crunch: Facebook unveils the Oculus Quest 2

Facebook makes its next steps in VR, Apple releases iOS 14 and the PlayStation 5 gets a launch date. This is your Daily Crunch for September 16, 2020.

The big story: Facebook unveils the Oculus Quest 2

Facebook announced the smaller, more affordable follow-up to the Oculus Quest VR headset launching on October 13 at a starting price of $299. At the same time, Lucas Matney has already tried out the device and sounded very impressed in his review:

This is the most convincing argument Oculus has made for VR since its inception … It’s still largely for gamers and will still be in danger of getting mainstream users excited for a few weeks and then spending the rest of its life in the closet.

The announcement was part of today’s Facebook Connect event, where the company also debuted a virtual office space called Infinite Office, announced a fitness tracking device and revealed plans to launch smart glasses next year.

Meanwhile, R.I.P. Oculus Rift.

The tech giants

Apple burns developer goodwill with surprise release of iOS 14 — iOS 14 is now available for download, with yesterday’s surprise announcement leaving many developers scrambling to prepare their apps.

Amazon Music adds podcasts, including its own original shows — The first slate of originals on Amazon Music will include shows hosted by creators like DJ Khaled, Becky G, Will Smith, Dan Patrick and others.

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston says the pandemic forced the company to reevaluate what work means — Houston spoke at TechCrunch Disrupt, arguing that COVID has accelerated a shift to distributed work that will not go away.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Zwift, maker of a popular indoor training app, just landed a whopping $450 million in funding led by KKR — Zwift has now raised $620 million altogether and is valued at north of $1 billion.

Volocopter kicks off pre-sales for its first air taxi flights, with a wait time of 2-3 years — If your sad-faced technology mantra is “we were promised flying cars and all we got were these shitty internet trolls,” never fear, Volocopter is here.

Kerry Washington explains why she became a startup investor — She also discussed her investment in The Wing, the female co-working startup that’s faced some recent scandals.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Four perspectives on Apple’s new service bundle — For one thing, Cupertino is engaging in a form of future-proofing to offset slowing hardware sales and potentially a loss of App Store income.

Dear Sophie: How can I get my 2-year foreign residency requirement for my J-1 waived? — Another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

JFrog and Snowflake’s aggressive IPO pricing point to strong demand for cloud shares — At their final IPO prices, the two debuts are aggressively valued, showing continued optimism amongst public investors that cloud shares are an attractive bet.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Sony’s PlayStation 5 arrives November 12, priced at $500 — On that date, the console will be available in North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

China tops 110 million 5G users in less than a year — This makes China the largest 5G market in terms of user size, according to the China Academy for Information and Communications Technology.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#daily-crunch, #facebook, #hardware, #oculus, #virtual-reality


Facebook is launching ‘smart glasses’ in 2021

At Facebook’s first big event since moving away from the Oculus brand and rebranding its AR and VR efforts as “Facebook Reality Labs,” the company kicked off with some big news.

At the fittingly virtual event, Facebook announced that not only will Facebook employees soon be testing a version of the company’s own forthcoming AR glasses, part of a research initiative known as Project Aria, but the company would launch “the next step on the road to augmented reality glasses” next year.

“We don’t have a product yet to share with you today but I am excited to share that we have formed a multi-year partnership starting with building and releasing our first pair of smart glasses next year,” Zuckerberg said.

Zuckerberg also announced a multi-year partnership with luxury eyewear giant Luxottica, which owns Ray-Ban and Oakley, among many other brands. Zuckerberg suggested that the Luxottica partnership would help accommodate an array of styles and preferences that people might have for the devices.

In a produced video that wasn’t a demo of the device itself, Facebook showed off some theoretical uses for its AR glasses: getting an overlay of street directions, music recommendations in a record store or even visual alert showing you where your lost keys went.

Image Credits: Facebook

Image Credits: Facebook

In 2018, Facebook confirmed that it was indeed building a pair of augmented reality glasses. “We want to see those glasses come into reality, and I think we want to play our part in helping to bring them there,” Facebook’s head of augmented reality Ficus Kirkpatrick told TechCrunch at the time.

Its own privacy scandals notwithstanding, Facebook seems to keenly recall the rocky early days of Google Glass, an ahead-of-its-time product with a launch marred by user privacy concerns over the device’s built-in camera. Andrew Bosworth, Head of Facebook Reality Labs, was quick to emphasize that Facebook will undergo testing with its device.

Bosworth notes that the test version of Project Aria glasses isn’t a working prototype, calling it a “precursor to working AR” that doesn’t have a functional heads-up display.

Beginning this month, a handful of “specially trained” Facebook employees and contract workers will be sporting Project Aria glasses to test the research device in real world conditions. Those testers will help Facebook understand things it can’t figure out in the lab, like what sensors need to go into the hardware and what kind of data the glasses should and shouldn’t collect.

#facebook, #facebook-connect-2020, #tc


Review: Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 is outstanding

Facebook’s virtual reality dreams have been a headache for the company.

At CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s prodding, the company has spent billions on Oculus and dealt with huge added complexities to their business, while encountering countless issues regarding the company’s founding team, a massive IP lawsuit, crippling supply chain issues and an impossible-to-satisfy user base. But for all the tears, that toil has given the tech world a weirdly poignant look at what’s possible when you attempt to brute-force an industry into existence.

Has Facebook convinced anyone out there that virtual reality is a technology we deeply need? Not so much.

And yet, six years after Facebook acquired Oculus VR, the company has released a device that feels meaningfully complete. In short, the new Quest 2 headset is a fantastic piece of hardware that showcases what a rewarding ecosystem can be built when you throw enough money and engineering talent at a dream. For all of the improvements that Facebook has driven to the Quest’s software since launch, I do still wish the platform was more diverse in its non-gaming offerings.

Quest 2 features

  • $299 (64GB) or $399 (256GB)
  • New two-tone design
  • More powerful Snapdragon XR2 Platform
  • 6GB RAM (Original Quest had 4GB)
  • 503g headset weight, 10% lighter than previous generation
  • Product Dimensions: ​191.5 mm x 102 mm x 142.5 mm (strap folded in)
  • 72hz 1832×1920 (per eye) Fast-switch LCD
  • Integrated speakers and microphone
  • 2-3 hours battery life
  • Adjustable IPD with three settings for 58, 63 and 68mm
  • Redesigned controllers

Arriving around 18 months after its predecessor launched, most users were likely expecting this update to host a minor spec bump, yet the Quest 2 is a true upgrade, making advances in about every way. It’s lighter, smaller, more powerful, easier to use and cheaper, now starting at $299. As the company kills off its Rift line of PC-only headsets, months after sunsetting its $199 Go headset, in some ways the Quest 2 feels like a last-ditch attempt at mainstream success.

I thoroughly enjoyed the original Quest but its limitations were staring you right in the face. Games were limited because of the aged Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 powering the headset and the device’s OLED display felt too pixelated.

Facebook has thankfully delivered substantial updates to both the CPU/GPU and display, and I don’t have many complaints. The Quest 2 now uses the recently launched Qualcomm XR2 platform which delivers some steady performance gains over the 835. Oculus was a little coy about just how much better it performed, so I ended up getting on the phone with Hugo Swart, Qualcomm’s head of XR, who walked me through some details.

He wouldn’t speak to the individual implementation of the XR2 chipset on Quest 2, but did offer up some broad comparisons between the chipset powering it compared with the first-generation Quest. The high-level is that the XR2 is wildly more powerful than the Snapdragon 835, think doubled gains when it comes to CPU and GPU performance. For developers, this could mean doubling the visual complexity of titles, something that would allow them to more easily port PC experiences to the standalone headset.

But before you get too excited, it’s unlikely that Quest 2 titles will be harnessing this full power. Having a chipset that’s 2x as powerful actually means two things: It can do things that are twice as complex, but it can also do things that are just as complex as its predecessor while using roughly half of the power. I would imagine Facebook will push developers to focus on the latter rather than the former, especially considering that the XR2 is now powering a higher resolution display.

Part of that is the result of launching a full successor 18 months after its predecessor and trying not to piss off early adopters who will also want to play the latest releases, but it’s also a result of Oculus choosing to optimize for form factor over software complexity. Oculus has shaved several ounces off of the device’s weight and part of this has actually come from reducing the size of the device’s battery. Oculus tells me the engineering team redesigned the battery for the Quest 2 and that it’s now 18% smaller and 29% lighter.

The new display moves from OLED to the Fast-switch LCD type that the company used on the Rift S. It still operates at 72hz, but Oculus says that it will be pushing 90hz refresh rates to the device “soon.” The most noticeable difference to users will be the enhanced clarity of the screen which boasts a different pixel layout as well as a lot more pixels than the previous generation, over 50% more in fact. In practical use, the new display is noticeably clearer and makes painful VR experiences like reading small paragraphs of text a lot less painful.

Another interesting change with the display is how IPD (inter-pupillary distance) is shifted. A big concern with early leaks of the Quest 2 was that users wouldn’t be able to adjust the distance between the lenses to account for different face shapes. Well, the Quest does indeed allow for multiple IPD adjustments, but it’s less precise and achieved in a different way. Instead of a button or dial, users just physically pull the lenses apart, snapping them into one of three settings, 58mm, 63mm and 68mm.

This won’t deliver a perfect experience for everyone, but is a relief for users that Oculus would follow in the footsteps of the Go and Rift S and just get rid of adjustable IPD altogether.

The new controllers are fine upgrades, taking more cues from the design of the original Rift Touch controllers and allowing for a larger thumb rest. The big upgrade is that the controllers are now more battery efficient, with Oculus telling me that the new controllers last four times longer on a single AA battery than the original Quest. No big updates beyond that for the controllers, I will say I’m not as wild about the two-tone look on the controllers as with the headset.

That brings me to the headset housing, it has ditched the fabric-covered enclosure of the original and is now completely hard-shelled with a new two-tone light gray and black design. I like the colors, which have more of a toy-like appearance and appear a bit friendlier. It feels significantly smaller than the original Quest and the 10% reduction in weight is also apparent to heavy users of the previous generation. I was worried a shift to a plastic shell would feel cheap like the Rift S did compared to the original Rift, but the new headset housing is a highlight of the new design.

The onboard speakers which are fit into the arms of the head-strap are, again, just okay. They work, though honestly you’ll probably want to score some good in-ear buds if you’re serious about getting immersed in the content.

I’m not as satisfied with the decision to redesign the head strap to a fabric-only adjustable strap, which is worse that the previous generation and doesn’t redistribute weight quite as nicely. I’m sure this was done to reduce the base weight of the headset and its packable size, but I’m not convinced it was the right choice. Oculus is notably launching a pair of add-on rigid head straps which are built more like PC headsets including the $49 Elite Strap as well as a bundle that adds a small external battery into the back of the headset to extend playtime and redistribute weight more aggressively.

On the note of battery life, the company says the Quest 2 is sticking to the 2-3 hours of battery life depending on usage. I think the sweet spot for a device like this would be a bit longer, so it’s too bad that the company opted to set this as the goal, especially given that they actually shrank the size of the battery in this release.

Oculus Elite Strap with Battery. Image Credits: Oculus

I want to touch on the Oculus software for a bit because it is actually crazy how much the Quest’s software experience has improved since its initial launch. All of these software perks have been evident to existing Quest owners who have seen the upgrades bringing items like hand-tracking and updates to the Oculus browser. Almost everything has been meaningfully improved from navigation to watching media content.

All of these improvements have highlighted some limitations with the platform, though; namely there’s still not enough non-gaming content. I worry that so many of the VR-curious platforms have already grown tired of VR and decided it’s not worth the effort of maintaining a separate app. I almost wish Oculus would start integrating Android apps to the screen to passively flip through in between gaming sessions and media viewing. The Oculus browser is passable but I’d love to get quicker slightly more native access to doing some of the things I can on my phone. It seems like the platform is ready to move more in that direction.

One clear difference in the onboarding for this device compared to past hardware is that a Facebook account is now required to activate the headset. For a small subsection of folks this might be a dealbreaker, but it’s not the most surprising development, as Facebook has been slowly opting to treat Oculus as more of an internal division rather than a distinct organization.

The fact is, a decent amount of people do hate Facebook. After I watched the so-so documentary The Social Dilemma on Netflix this weekend, it’s also becoming clearer to me that even if popular culture trends back towards an excitement and hopefulness surrounding the tech industry over time, the scrutiny being paid toward the impact of social media companies on society will probably continue to drive distaste for Facebook. That’s a liability for Oculus, but time will tell how substantial of one it is.

Final thoughts

It is surprising to see such a revamp coming just a bit more than one year after the original Quest’s launch, but the new hardware is a sign of Oculus itching to double down on a new direction wholly focused on a single, more accessible device driving their vision.

This is the most convincing argument Oculus has made for VR since its inception and pricing the device at $299, on par with a Nintendo Switch, will likely open up more folks to the vision. For existing Quest owners, this release will probably be a tad frustrating, because I think it’s worth the upgrade and its coming in so quickly even as Facebook has struggled to keep the original Quest in stock.

It’s a fantastic VR device, but the question I’ve struggled with is whether a fantastic headset is still a great gadget. It’s still largely for gamers and will still fall danger to getting mainstream users excited for a few weeks and then spending the rest of its life in the closet.

#facebook, #facebook-connect-2020, #facebook-reality-labs, #oculus, #quest, #quest-2, #tc, #virtual-reality


Review: We do not recommend the $299 Oculus Quest 2 as your next VR system

It looks the same as its predecessor, but Oculus Quest 2 is quite different—and mostly in disappointing ways.

Enlarge / It looks the same as its predecessor, but Oculus Quest 2 is quite different—and mostly in disappointing ways. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

The long-rumored (and recently leaked) Oculus Quest 2 is here, in my home, on my face. I received it earlier this month, along with news that this would be Oculus’s cheapest “all-in-one” VR system yet: starting at $299 and shipping on October 13.

That’s one hell of a price for cutting-edge VR. But it comes at a cost.

Part of that comes from Facebook’s aggressive policy about making Facebook social media accounts (whose terms of service revolve around a “real name” policy) mandatory to use new Oculus VR headsets, including the Quest 2. Let me be blunt: that is a terrible idea. Attachment of a social media account and its massive Web of personally identifying data (as accumulated by everything from service log-ins to average Web-browsing cookies) to computing hardware (VR headsets, phones, computers, TVs, etc) is quite frankly an irresponsible move on Facebook’s part.

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#facebook, #features, #gaming-culture, #htc-vive, #oculus, #oculus-quest, #oculus-quest-2, #oculus-vr, #valve-index


Facebook’s latest hollow effort to fight climate change denial

This is fine.

Enlarge / This is fine. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Facebook this week implemented yet another new initiative meant to combat rampant, dangerous disinformation on the platform—this time, relating to the climate crisis. Unfortunately this initiative, like countless others before it, seems likely to generate positive headlines for about a week before disappearing unremarked into obscurity, solving exactly zero of Facebook’s deeper problems along the way.

“One of the biggest lessons we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is how powerful Facebook can be for connecting people to accurate, expert advice and information during a global crisis,” Facebook wrote in a corporate blog post. To that end, Facebook is launching a new “Climate Change Information Center” module and landing page that will, in theory, connect users to up-to-date, fact-based information grounded in reality.

Users in the US and a small handful of other countries may already have seen a notification about the new climate information center appear in their newsfeeds this week, either on desktop or on mobile. The green box implores you by name to “see how our climate is changing.”

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#climate-change, #climate-crisis, #facebook, #policy, #pr-stunts


Balderton’s Chandratillake doffs his cap to Clubhouse, says enterprise audio is next

Suranga Chandratillake has (almost) seen it all. After being the early CTO for Autonomy, he went on to found the blinkx video search engine in 2004, long before many thought we’d even need one. He scaled the company to San Francisco and the US market, eventually IPO’ing blinkx for over $1 billion. On his return to Europe, he joined Balderton Capital, of Europe’s top-tier VCs, and has invested in many of Europe’s hottest startups. As part of TechCrunch Disrupt 2020, we caught up with him.

Last year Balderton raised a $400 million fund. But has the way that fund is being invested changed because of COVID-19?

“In many ways, nothing has changed,” he said. ”We have been a series a focused pan-European VC for 20 years… If anything, I think COVID-19 has demonstrated how tech can help us get through various challenges, and I mean all of the work from home stuff…It’s been really weird, not being able to spend time in person with [entrepreneurs] those people… But the overall strategy of investing in tech in Europe, it’s exactly the same as it was before.”

Although it’s not that simple. For instance, Balderton invested in car rental startup Virtuo to the tune of 20 million euros. And travel is not exactly a great sector right now.

Chandratillake admitted, “some industries we have had challenges this year.” However, he said they “had a difficult April and May, but they’ve actually had a booming August” as holidays came back.

“I would say that by and large, most [startups] have navigated fairly well.” He noted that European governments have put in place funds to support tech companies, and of course, other sectors of tech have boomed.

During the pandemic lockdown, many consumers jumped into virtual networking via apps like Zoom and Houseparty, but Balderton did a small investment into a stealth-mode startup called Riff, which, not unlike Clubhouse, is using audio in a new way. He hinted that this will be an enterprise-play on Audio.

“Funnily enough, the closest to it right now is probably Discord which obviously is already a large network, but really a very much a vertical app aimed at gamers… But I think there’s a there’s an opportunity to do something similar in enterprise in the same way that Slack, you know, arguably got a lot of its initial cues from consumer messaging [such as] from WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. I think we’ll see a similar thing where the enterprise gets something that’s based a bit on what we’ve seen in consumer products.”

He said Riff solves the “classic cliche of the watercooler moment when you bump into someone in the office and have a chat, and it’s really hard to do that in this new reality.”

He also said there are interesting sub-markets following on in the coattails of Zoom “that also need to be worked out.” Balderton invested in a company called DemoDesk (a cloud-based screen sharing platform), which looks at, for example, “webinars and sales meetings and specific kinds of conversations like that, where the requirements are a bit different.”

Chandratillake is of the opinion that the world will have to live with COVID-19 for many years, but that new solutions will emerge to mitigate the downsides: “Anything that helps you stay more connected to your colleagues and your co-workers is going to be interesting from a VC point of view, right?”

In terms of the diversity issues thrown up by the Black Lives Matter movement, Balderton has backed initiatives such as Diversity VC in Europe.

“If you’ve got a more diverse venture capital industry, they will start to back more diverse founders doing more diverse things, and that will naturally propagate. That’s really important to me and that’s a big part of what we focused on….

“In the last three years, we’ve hired more women than we have men into the investment team. We recently hired our first female general partner directly into the firm… three more people of color in the partnership and so on. So it’s beginning to change to where it should be, but I think it’s one of these things where you have to battle on many fronts.”

#balderton-capital, #disrupt-2020, #europe, #facebook, #suranga-chandratillake, #tc, #virtuo, #zoom


Facebook addresses political controversy in India, monetization opportunities, startup investments

At the beginning of the previous decade, Facebook had a tiny presence in India. It had just started to slowly expand its team in the country and was inking deals with telecom operators to make access to its service free to users and even offer incentives such as free voice credit.

India’s internet population, now the second largest with more than 500 million connected users, itself was very small. In early 2011, the country had fewer than 100 million internet users.

But Facebook ended up playing a crucial role in the last decade. So much so that by the end of it, the social juggernaut was reaching nearly every internet user in the country. WhatsApp alone reaches more than 400 million internet users in India, more than any other app in the country, according to mobile insight firm App Annie.

This reach of Facebook in India didn’t go unnoticed. Politicians in the country today heavily rely on Facebook services, including WhatsApp, to get their message out. But it has also complicated things.

Rumors have spread on WhatsApp that cost lives, and politicians from both the large political parties in India in recent weeks have accused the company of showing favoritism to the other side.

To address these issues, and the role Facebook wishes to play in India, Ajit Mohan, the head of the company’s business in the country, joined us at Disrupt 2020. Following are some of the highlights.

On controversy

A recent report in WSJ claimed that Ankhi Das, one of Facebook’s top executives in India, decided against taking down a post from a politician from the ruling party. She did so, the report claimed, because she feared it could hurt the company’s business prospects in India.

In Mohan’s first interview since the controversy broke, he refuted the claims that any executive in the country holds power to influence how Facebook enforces its content policy.

“We believe that it’s important for us to be open and neutral and non-partisan,” he said. “We have deep belief and conviction that our enabling role is as a neutral party that allows speech of all kinds, that allows expression of all kinds, including political expression, and a lot of the guidelines that we have developed are to make sure that we really enable our diversity of expression and opinion so long as we’re able to make sure that the safety and security of people are protected.”

Mohan said the internal processes and systems inside Facebook are designed to ensure that any opinion and preference of an employee or a group of employees is “quite separate from the company and the company’s objective enforcement of its own policies.”

He said individuals can offer input on decisions, but nobody — including Ankhi Das — can unilaterally influence the decision Facebook takes on content enforcement.

“We do allow free expression inside the company as well. We don’t have any constraints on people expressing their point of view, but we see that separate from the enforcement of our content policy. […] The content policy itself, in the context of India, is a team that stands separate from the public policy team that is led by Ankhi,” he added.

This photo illustration shows an Indian newspaper vendor reading a newspaper with a full back page advertisement from WhatsApp intended to counter fake information, in New Delhi on July 10, 2018. (Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP)

On India and monetization

Even as Facebook has amassed hundreds of millions of users in India, the world’s second largest market contributes little to its bottom line. So why does Facebook care so much about the country?

“India is in the middle of a very exciting economic and social transformation where digital has a massive role to play. In just the last four years, more than 500 million users have come online. The pace of this transformation probably has no parallel in either human history or even in the digital transformation happening in countries around the world,” he said.

“For a company like ours, if you look at the family of apps across WhatsApp and Instagram, we believe we have a useful role to play in fueling this transformation,” he said.

Even as Facebook does not generate a lot of revenue from India, Mohan said the company has established itself as one of the most trusted platforms for marketers. “They look to us as a material partner in their marketing agenda,” he said.

He said the company is hopeful that advertising as a GDP will go up in India. “Therefore ad-revenue will become substantial over time,” he said.

For Facebook, India is also crucial because it allows the company to build some unique products that solve issues for India but could be replicated in other markets. The company is currently testing an integration of WhatsApp, which currently does not have a business model despite having over 2 billion users, with new Indian e-commerce JioMart, to allow users to easily track their orders.

“We think there is opportunity to build India-first models, experiment at scale, and in a world where we succeed, we see huge opportunity in taking some of these models global,” he said.

Facebook as a VC

Facebook does not usually invest in startups. But in India, the company has invested in social-commerce firm Meesho, online learning platform Unacademy — it even participated in its follow-up round — and it wrote a $5.7 billion check to Jio Platforms earlier this year. So why is Facebook taking this investment route in India?

“We wanted to create a program for taking minority investments in early-stage startups to figure out how we could be helpful to startup founders and the ecosystem as a whole. The starting point was backing teams that were building models that in some ways were unique to India and could go global. Since we made an investment in Meesho, they have made a strong thrust in Indonesia. These are the kind of companies where we feel we can add value as well as we can learn from these startups,” he said.

The partnership with Jio Platforms follows a different rationale. “The transformation we talked about in India in the last few years, Jio triggered it,” he said. Other than that, Facebook is exploring ways to work with Jio, such as with its partnership with Jio’s venture JioMart. “It can really fuel the small and medium business that is good for the Indian economy,” he said.

Mohan said the company continues to explore more opportunities in Indian startups, especially with those where the teams think Facebook can add value, but he said there is no mandate of any kind that Facebook has to invest in, say dozens of startups in three to four years. “It’s not a volume play,” he said.

But would these firms, including Reliance Industries, which operates Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, will receive any special access on Facebook’s services. What if Amazon, BigBasket, Grofers, or Flipkart want to integrate with WhatsApp, too? Mohan said Facebook platform is open for every firm and everyone will receive the same level of access and opportunities.

In the interview, Mohan, who ran the Disney-run Hotstar on-demand streaming service in India, also talked about the growing usage of video in India, the state of WhatsApp Pay’s rollout in the country, what Facebook thinks of India’s ban on Chinese apps, and much more. You can watch the full interview below.

#ajit-mohan, #apps, #asia, #disrupt, #disrupt-2020, #facebook, #facebook-india, #hotstar, #meesho, #social, #techcrunch-disrupt, #unacademy, #venture-capital, #whatsapp, #whatsapp-pay


Twitter flags Indian politician’s years-old tweet for violating its policy

Twitter has flagged a post from Indian politician T. Raja Singh for violating its policy days after TechCrunch asked the social giant about the three-year-old questionable tweet.

In a video tweet, Singh urged India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and others citizens in the country to move Rohingya Muslim immigrants, including those “who supported terrorism,” out of the nation as he feared that they would become a “headache for the nation” in the future. “#Deport RohingyaMuslims,” he tweeted.

Singh, who belongs to India’s ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party and has made hateful speeches in public appearances in the past, also urged his followers to make his tweet “viral” on the platform so that every “Hindu and [other] Indians” see it. He did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s a similar message that Singh had also posted on Facebook, which ultimately led the Menlo Park-headquartered firm to permanently ban him from the platform.

Facebook has received some of the harshest backlash it has seen to date in the country in part for its initial inaction on Singh’s posts. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that a top Facebook executive in India had decided to not take action on Singh’s posts as she feared it could hurt the company’s business prospects in the country.

In a statement to TechCrunch, a Twitter spokesperson said that Singh’s tweet was “actioned” for violating its hateful conduct policy.

“Twitter has zero-tolerance policies in place to address threats of violence, abuse and harassment, and hateful conduct. If we identify accounts that violate these rules, we’ll take enforcement action,” the spokesperson added.

A September 13 tweet, which Singh has retweeted from his account, shows a warning message from Twitter that says his account was locked for the aforementioned tweet. Singh has posted several tweets since September 13, suggesting the matter has been resolved. The aforementioned tweet still shows it is in violation of Twitter rules.

The slow reactions from Twitter and Facebook, both of which count India as an important market, illustrates lapses in their content moderation efforts in the world’s second largest market.

Twitter, which had about 70 million monthly active users on its official app in India last month (according to mobile insights firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch), has been particularly slow — or unresponsive — in the country in taking actions despite reports from users.

In January, India’s ruling party was accused of running a deceptive Twitter campaign to gain support for a controversial lawnothing new for Twitter in India — but the company never responded to questions. A month before that, snowfall in Kashmir, a highly sensitive region that hasn’t had internet connection for months, began trending on Twitter in the U.S. It mysteriously disappeared after many journalists questioned how it made it to the list.

A Twitter spokesperson in India pointed TechCrunch to an FAQ article at the time that explained how Trending Topics work. Nothing in the FAQ article addressed the question.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #india, #social, #twitter


Messenger VP details use of forwarding limits and fact-checking to fight misinformation

A few weeks ago, Facebook Messenger introduced new rules around message forwarding to limit the spread of misinformation on its platform. Speaking today at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020, Facebook Messenger VP Stan Chudnovsky offered more detail about how Facebook views its role in fighting the spread of misinformation and other harmful content across its messaging platform, while still balancing the idea that Messenger is meant to be a platform for private and, at times, encrypted conversations (aka “secret” messages).

Chudnovsky explained that Facebook’s goal is to make Messenger feel like the digital equivalent of having a private conversation between friends and family in the living room. But the company also acknowledged that with the rise of digital tools and new mediums, there are things that Facebook needs to be cognizant of, when it comes to how those tools can be abused.

“Messenger is obviously a private means of communicating. And we want to make sure it is private. This is a very important priority for us,” Chudnovsky started. But when users began forwarding messages at scale, Messenger is then no longer about having a private conversation. It becomes a tool for one-to-many information sharing, he explained.

“This is…more like a public broadcast,” he said.

Facebook had first announced last year that it was “adding friction” to message forwarding for Messenger users in Sri Lanka, so people could only share a particular message a certain number of times. The limit was set to five people or groups at the time. Those same rules have now expanded across the Messenger platform, with the same forwarding limit of five people or groups.

The new limits, the exec continued, aim to stop this spamming behavior. “Certain pieces of information cannot be forwarded too many times…that’s something that we think is really going to help in stopping the spread of the misinformation, especially in the times that we are in right now,” he added.

Chudnovsky also noted that because of how Messenger is connected to Facebook, when false information gets flagged by Facebook’s partnered fact checkers, that same warning about the information’s inaccuracy can then be inserted into any Messenger conversations, to warn users who may have been sent the misleading or otherwise harmful content.

“That doesn’t violate privacy at all because it all comes through the same big pipelines,” he pointed out.’

Facebook’s website that details how its fact-checking program works doesn’t yet include a mention of Messenger, only Facebook and Instagram.

One thing Facebook won’t consider is putting an end to link-sharing entirely, Chudnovsky said.

“I think those things are core to the internet,” Chudnovsky said of link-sharing and forwarding. “[Completely banning] the ability for people to exchange information on the internet defeats the purpose of [the] internet itself,” he said.

#disrupt-2020, #facebook, #facebook-messenger, #tc


Austin-based EmPath’s employee training and re-skilling service snags seed funding from B Capital

By the time Felix Ortiz III left the Army in 2006, the Brooklyn, NY native had spent time taking classes at the City University of New York and St. John’s. Those experiences led him to found ViridisLearning, which aimed to give universities a better way to track student development to help graduates land jobs.

Now he’s taken the learnings of that attempt to reshape education into the corporate world and raised over $1 million in financing from investors including B Capital, the investment firm launched jointly by the Boston Consulting Group and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and Subversive Capital.

The goal of Ortiz’s newest startup, EmPath, is to provide corporate employees with a clear picture of their current skills based on the work they’re already doing at a company and give them a roadmap to up-skilling and educational opportunities that could land them a better, higher paying job.

The company has an initial customer in AT&T, which has rolled out its services across its entire organization, according to Ortiz.

From starting out in a shared apartment in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, Ortiz’s family history took a turn as his father became assistant speaker of the house in New York’s legislature and his mother operated a mental health clinic in the city.

When Ortiz enlisted in the Army at 17, he continued to pursue his education, and served as a Judge Advocate General for the Army at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. From there, Ortiz launched his first education venture, a failed startup that attempted to teach skills for renewable energy jobs online. The Green University may no longer exist, but it was the young entrepreneur’s first foray into education.

A road that would continue with ViridisLearning and lead to the launch of EmPath.

Along the way, Ortiz enlisted the help of an experienced developer in the online education space — Adam Blum.

The creator of OpenEd, the largest educational open resource catalog online, which used machine learning to infer skills from the online activity of children, and the founder of Auger.ai, a toolkit to bring machine learning and predictive modeling to skill development, Blum immediately saw the opportunity EmPath presented.

“Inferring skills for employees using their corporate digital footprint and inferring those skills for potential jobs… where you identified skill gaps using inferred skills for courses to suggest remedial resources to plug education gaps,” just makes sense, Blum said. “It was a much more powerful vision.”

Blum still holds an equity stake in Auger.ai, but considers the work he’s doing with EmPath as the company’s chief technology officer to be his full time job now. “Building this out with felix was more exciting in terms of the impact it would have,” Blum said. 

EmPath already is fully deployed with AT&T and will be adding three Fortune 1,000 companies as customers by the end of the month, according to Ortiz.

The young startup also has a powerful and well-connected supporter in Carlos Gutierrez, the former chief executive officer of Kellogg, and the Secretary of Commerce in the George W. Bush White House.

“Lacking a college degree throughout my career, I had to develop my own skills to enable my climb up the corporate ladder. The technology didn’t exist to help guide me, but in today’s world, professionals should not have to upskill blindly,” said former Commerce Secretary and EmPath co-founder Carlos Gutierrez, in a statement. “We created a technology platform that can help transform an organization’s culture by empowering employees and strengthening talent development. This technology was a game changer even before the Covid-19 pandemic, and now that corporate budgets are tighter, it is even more important for companies to accelerate skills development and talent growth.” 

#army, #articles, #att, #b-capital, #bush, #business, #chief-executive-officer, #chief-technology-officer, #co-founder, #economy, #eduardo-saverin, #entrepreneurship, #facebook, #founder, #machine-learning, #north-carolina, #private-equity, #skill, #startup, #startup-company, #tc, #white-house


Facebook announces $4.3 million grant for small businesses in India, introduces support for gift cards

More than a third of small and medium-sized businesses on Facebook in India expect cash flow to be a challenge for them as they navigate through the coronavirus pandemic in the next few months, according to a report by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank.

Facebook, which reaches nearly every internet users in India and which collaborated with OECD and World Bank on the report, wants to help. The social giant today announced a grant of $4.3 million for more than 3,000 small businesses across Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore (Indian cities where the company has its offices).

In an interview with TechCrunch, Ajit Mohan, head of Facebook India, said the grant includes both cash and ad credits, with cash constituting the larger share. These businesses don’t have to advertise on Facebook to be eligible for the grant, he said. Businesses can apply for the grant starting today.

The India grant is part of the company’s $100 million global grant for small businesses that it announced in March.

Gift Cards on Facebook and Instagram

Additionally, Facebook and Instagram have also launched capabilities for businesses in India to sell gift cards. “During the pandemic, it’s been inspiring to see how people and businesses have come together on the Facebook family of apps to support their local communities,” said Mohan.

These gift cards, which will be issued by startups Quiksilver and PayU, are designed to help businesses get the immediate cash flow to stay afloat. Users can redeem these gift cards at these businesses later on.

The announcement today comes as Facebook begins to engage deeply with small businesses in the country. The company invested $5.7 billion in Jio Platforms earlier this year and said it would work with the Indian giant to explore ways to serve the nation’s 60 million businesses.

“The recovery of small businesses from the pandemic will be critical to the recovery of Indian economy, and we want to do everything we can to help. Today we’re building on our commitment by announcing the small business grant for India,” said Mohan.

Scores of businesses in India already use Facebook to reach potential customers. WhiteHat Jr., an 18-month-old startup that teaches coding to kids, is one of the businesses that has used Facebook extensively in recent quarters. The startup was acquired by Indian decacorn Byju’s for $300 million last month.

More on Facebook’s business in India tomorrow. Mohan will be joining us at Disrupt conference.

#apps, #asia, #coronavirus, #facebook, #india, #social


Sweeping internal Facebook memo: “I have blood on my hands”

Facebook logo photoshopped to appear spattered with blood.

Enlarge (credit: Facebook / Aurich Lawson)

After being fired by Facebook this month, a data scientist published a 6,600-word memo to the company’s internal communication systems breaking down 2.5 years of her experiences on the “fake engagement team.” The resulting stories, largely centered on misinformation campaigns with both subtle and clear links to government staffers and political parties around the world, were shared with BuzzFeed News and reprinted with various redactions on Monday, prompting the reporters to describe the memo as “a damning account of Facebook’s failures.”

Former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang pointed to activity across the world in nations such as Azerbaijan, Honduras, India, Ukraine, Spain, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Some of these stories include metrics for how many fake accounts Zhang purged, with one story in particular, about the potential spread of COVID-19 misinformation to United States users, linked to a ring of 672,000 accounts in Spain.

“I was the one who made the decision”

Arguably more egregious than the numbers was the silo that Zhang allegedly operated within, without institutional support, to take responsibility for whether particular rings of accounts were moderated. “Individually, the impact was likely small in each [country’s] case, but the world is a vast place,” Zhang wrote in her memo. “Although I made the best decision I could based on the knowledge available at the time, ultimately I was the one who made the decision not to push more or prioritize further in each case, and I know that I have blood on my hands by now.”

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#facebook, #policy


Leaked memo excoriates Facebook’s ‘slapdash and haphazard’ response to global political manipulation

A former Facebook data scientist dropped a detailed, damning memo on her last day there, calling the social network out for what she describes as an arbitrary, slow, and generally inadequate response to fake accounts and activity affecting politics worldwide.

BuzzFeed News acquired the full memo and has published excerpts in this report, which is well worth reading in its entirety.

Zhang was reportedly fired earlier in September for, as she describes it, ongoing disagreement with management about the company’s priorities and response to widespread manipulation.

In the 6,600-word memo, Zhang describes a system where the focus is very much on ordinary spam — which is of course a major problem for the platform — while “coordinated inauthentic behavior” (CIB) attempting to influence elections is not awarded as much priority or resources. Unless it’s politically expedient, for example if a botnet needs to be rolled up before testimony in Congress or pressure from the press.

As the memo reported by BuzzFeed News reads:

It’s an open secret within the civic integrity space that Facebook’s short-term decisions are largely motivated by PR and the potential for negative attention… It’s why I’ve seen priorities of escalations shoot up when others start threatening to go to the press, and why I was informed by a leader in my organization that my civic work was not impactful under the rationale that if the problems were meaningful they would have attracted attention, became a press fire, and convinced the company to devote more attention to the space.

Overall, the focus of my organization – and most of Facebook – was on large-scale problems, an approach which fixated us on spam. The civic aspect was discounted because of its small volume, its disproportionate impact ignored.

I’ve asked Facebook for comment on the memo, including the following specific claims reportedly made by Zhang:

  • Large scale political manipulation returned in Honduras weeks after Facebook made attempts to stop it
  • Her report of coordinated manipulation campaigns in Azerbaijan was not investigated for a year afterwards
  • More than 10 million fake reactions and accounts were removed from the US and Brazil 2018 elections and never disclosed
  • A major political influence campaign in Delhi, India this February was never reported
  • Some 672,000 accounts were removed this spring from COVID-related misinformation campaigns in Spain and the U.S., also never disclosed
  • Whether to pursue a misinformation campaign at all is often left to mid-level employees like Zhang, who claimed she had “no oversight whatsoever”
  • Zhang’s push to dedicate more resources to civic platform problems led to her dismissal

The memo states outright what many have suspected is the case all along: That Facebook “projects an image of strength and competence… but the reality is that many of our actions are slapdash and haphazard accidents.” Not only that, but that the picture of Facebook’s efforts to combat this sort of thing is highly tailored by the company itself and not, it seems, in any way a complete or accurate one.

This post will be updated if we receive any substantial comment from Facebook.

#facebook, #government, #policy, #social


Facebook leak reveals Oculus Quest 2 as a 4K standalone VR headset

Facebook has inadvertently revealed key information about its next VR headset, the Oculus Quest 2, ahead of an expected unveiling at the Facebook Connect conference later this week.

As discussed in videos posted briefly on Facebook’s Blueprint e-learning platform (and since archived on YouTube), the Oculus Quest 2 is presented as more of a spec upgrade to the existing Quest than a completely new generational split. The standalone headset, which doesn’t require external sensors or processing hardware, will play all original Quest games, according to the video. The Quest 2 can also display VR games running on a Windows PC via Oculus Link, just like the original headset.

The Quest 2 sports a SnapDragon XR2 processor, according to the videos, a significant upgrade from the Snapdragon 835 that was adapted for the Quest from mobile phones. Chipmaker Qualcomm says the XR2 can provide two times the CPU & GPU performance, four times the pixel throughput, and 11 times the AI operations per second, compared to the 835.

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#facebook, #gaming-culture, #headset, #oculus, #quest, #virtual-reality, #vr


Facebook launches a climate change information center and commits to eliminating ‘scope 3’ emissions by 2030

Even as Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, admits that climate change “is real” and that “the science is unambiguous and the need to act grows more urgent by the day” the platform appears unwilling to take steps to really stand up to the climate change denialism that circulates on its platform. 

The company is set to achieve net zero carbon emissions and be supported fully by renewable energy in its own operations this year.

But as the corporate world slaps a fresh coat of green paint on its business practices, Facebook is looking to get out in front with the launch of a Climate Science Information Center to “connect people with science-based information”.

The company is announcing a new information center, designed after its COVID-19 pandemic response. The center is designed to connect people to factual and up-to-date climate information, according to the company. So far, Facebook says that over 2 billion people have been directed to resources from health authorities with its COVID-19 response.

The company said that it will use The Climate Science Information Center to feature facts, figures, and data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and their global network of climate science partners, including the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and others. This center is launching in France, Germany, the UK and the US to start. 

While Facebook has been relatively diligent in taking down COVID-19 misinformation that circulates on the platform, removing 7 million posts and labeling another 98 million more for distributing coronavirus misinformation, the company has been accused of being far more sanguine when it comes to climate change propaganda and pseudoscience.

A July article from The New York Times revealed how climate change deniers use the editorial label to skirt Facebook’s policies around climate disinformation. In September 2019 a group called the CO2 Coalition managed to overturn a fact-check that would have labeled a post as misinformation by appealing to Facebook’s often criticized stance on providing and amplifying different opinions. By calling an editorial that contained blatant misinformation on climate science an editorial, the group was able to avoid the types of labels that would have redirected a Facebook user to information from recognized scientific organizations.  

Facebook disputes that characterization. “If it’s labeled an opinion piece, it’s subject to fact checking,” said Chris Cox, the chief product officer at Facebook.

“We look at the stuff that starts to go viral. There’s not a part of our policies that says anything about opinion pieces being exempted at all.”

With much of the Western coast of the United States now on fire, the issues are no longer academic. “We are taking important steps to reduce our emissions and arm our global community with science-based information to make informed decisions and tools to take action, and we hope they demonstrate that Facebook is committed to playing its part and helping to inspire real action in our community,” the company said in a statement.

Beyond its own operations, the company is also pushing to reduce operational greenhouse gases in its secondary supply chain by 75 percent and intends to reach net zero emissions for its value chain — including suppliers and employee commuting and business travel — by 2030, the company said. Facebook did not disclose how much money it would be investing to support that initiative.

#articles, #business-travel, #chris-cox, #climate-change, #facebook, #france, #germany, #national-oceanic-and-atmospheric-administration, #renewable-energy, #social-media, #tc, #the-new-york-times, #united-kingdom, #united-states


Courier raises $10.1M Series A to help developers integrate multi-channel notifications

Courier is an API platform with a no-code twist that helps developers add multi-channel user notifications to their applications. The company today announced that it has raised a $10.1 million Series A funding round led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Matrix Partners, Twilio and Slack Fund also participated in this round.

Previously, the company raised a $2.3 million seed round led by Matrix Partners, with participation from Y Combinator. That round, which closed in April 2019, was previously unreported. Bessemer Venture Partners’ Byron Deeter and Matrix Partners’ Patrick Malatack, the previous VP of Product at Twilio, will join Courier’s Board of Directors.

“While at Twilio, I saw developers wrestling with integrating multiple channels together into a single experience,” says Malatack in today’s announcement. “Courier’s vision of a single platform for connecting and managing multiple channels really compliments the channel explosion I was seeing customers struggle with.”

Image Credits: Courier

Courier founder and CEO Troy Goode previously led an engineering group at marketing automation firm Eloqua, which was acquired by Oracle in 2012, and as the CTO and Head of Product at logistics software provider Winmore. Eloqua is clearly where he drew his inspiration for Courier from, though, which he built out during his time at Y Combinator.

“And one of the things that I noticed and became very frustrated by was that with Eloqua, Marketo, HubSpot, there were a ton of different tools for marketing teams to use to communicate with prospects and our leads,” Goode told me. “But as soon as somebody became a customer, as soon as somebody became a user, we weren’t using those platforms. All of a sudden, we were manually plugging in infrastructure level systems like SendGrid and Twilio.”

The idea behind Courier is to provide development teams with a one-stop service for all their notification and communication infrastructure needs without having to build it from scratch. As Goode noted, large companies like Airbnb and LinkedIn can afford to build and maintain these systems to send out transactional emails to their users, often with teams that have dozens of engineers on them. Small teams can build less sophisticated solutions, but there’s really no need for every company to reinvent the wheel.

Today, Courier integrates with the likes of Slack, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, SendGrid, Postmark, Mailgun, MessageBird, Twilio and Nexmo, among others.

One thing that makes the service stand out is that it offers both a no-code system for users to build their massaging flows and templates, as well as the APIs for developers to integrate these into their applications. That means anybody within a company can, for example, build rules to route messages through specific channels and providers based on their needs, on top of managing the content and the branding of the messages that are being sent.

Image Credits: Courier

“You’ve got this broad array of potential providers,” Good said. “And what you need to do is figure out, okay, which provider am I going to use? And sometimes, especially at large organizations, the answer is multiple providers. And or email, you might need a backup email service in case your primary goes down, or you need to warm up an IP pool for SMS . You might have different providers per geography for both deliverability and price reasons. That’s really hard stuff to build yourself.”

But in addition, different recipients also have different preferences, too, and while users can build rules around that today, the company is looking at how to automate this process over time so that it can, for example, automatically ping users on the channel where they are most likely to respond (or purchase something) at a given time of the day.

Goode noted that it may be hard to convert big businesses to move to its platform given that they have already invested a lot into their own systems. But like Stripe, which faced a similar problem given that most potential users weren’t waiting to rip out their existing payment infrastructure, he believes that partnering with companies early and having patience will pay off in the long run.

#airbnb, #api, #bessemer-venture-partners, #byron-deeter, #ceo, #computing, #courier, #eloqua, #facebook, #hubspot, #mailgun, #marketo, #matrix-partners, #messenger, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #operating-systems, #oracle, #recent-funding, #sendgrid, #slack, #slack-fund, #sms, #software, #startups, #twilio, #whatsapp


Graphic video of suicide spreads from Facebook to TikTok to YouTube as platforms fail moderation test

A graphic video of a man committing suicide on Facebook Live has spread from there to TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and now YouTube, where it ran alongside ads and attracted thousands more views. Do what they will, these platforms can’t seem to stop the spread, echoing past failures to block violent acts and disinformation.

The original video was posted to Facebook two weeks ago and has made its way onto all the major video platforms, often beginning with innocuous footage then cutting to the man’s death. These techniques go back many years in the practice of evading automatic moderation; By the time people have flagged the video manually, the original goal of exposing unwitting viewers to it will have been accomplished.

It’s similar in many ways to the way in which COVID-19 disinformation motherlode Plandemic spread and wreaked havoc despite these platforms deploying their ostensibly significant moderating resources towards preventing that.

For all the platforms’ talk of advanced algorithms and instant removal of rule-violating content, these events seem to show them failing when they count the most: In extremity.

The video of Ronnie McNutt’s suicide originated on August 31, and took nearly three hours to take down in the first place, by which time it had been seen and downloaded by innumerable people. How could something so graphic and plainly violating the platform’s standards, being actively flagged by users, be allowed to stay up for so long?

In a “community standards enforcement report” issued Friday, Facebook admitted that its army of (contractor) human reviewers, whose thankless job it is to review violent and sexual content all day, had been partly disabled due to the pandemic.

With fewer content reviewers, we took action on fewer pieces of content on both Facebook and Instagram for suicide and self-injury, and child nudity and sexual exploitation on Instagram.

The number of appeals is also much lower in this report because we couldn’t always offer them. We let people know about this and if they felt we made a mistake, we still gave people the option to tell us they disagreed with our decision.

McNutt’s friend and podcast co-host Josh Steen told TechCrunch that the stream had been flagged long before he killed himself. “I firmly believe, because I knew him and how these interactions worked, had the stream ended it would’ve diverted his attention enough for SOME kind of intervention,” Steen wrote in an email. “It’s pure speculation, but I think if they’d have cut his stream off he wouldn’t have ended his life.”

When I asked Facebook about this, I received the same statement others have: “We are reviewing how we could have taken down the livestream faster.” One certainly hopes so.

But Facebook cannot contain the spread of videos like this — and the various shootings and suicides that have occurred on its Live platform in the past — once they’re out there. At the same time, it’s difficult to imagine how other platforms are caught flat-footed: TikTok had the video queued up in users’ “For You” page, exposing countless people by an act of algorithmic irresponsibility. Surely even if it’s not possible to keep the content off the service entirely, there ought to be something preventing it from being actively recommended to people.

YouTube is another, later offender: Steen and others have captured many cases of the video being run by monetized accounts. He sent screenshots and video showing ads from Squarespace and the Motley Fool running ahead of the video of McNutt.

It’s disappointing that the largest video platforms on the planet, which seem to never cease crowing about their prowess in shutting down this kind of content, don’t seem to have any serious response. TikTok, for instance, bans any account that makes multiple attempts to upload the clip. What’s the point of giving people a second or third chance here?

Facebook couldn’t seem to decide whether the content is in violation or not, as evidenced by several re-uploads of the content in various forms that were not taken down when flagged. Perhaps these are just the ones slipping through the cracks, while thousands more are nipped in the bud, but why should we give a company like Facebook, which commands billions of dollars and tens of thousands of employees, the benefit of the doubt when they fail for the nth time on something so important?

“Facebook went on record in early August saying they were returning back to normal moderation rates, but that their AI tech actually had been improved during the COVID slow downs,” Steen said. “So why’d they totally blow their response to the livestream and the response time after?”

“We know from the Christchurch Live incident that they have the ability to tell us a couple of things that really need to be divulged at this point because of the viral spread: how many people in total viewed the livestream and how many times was it shared, and how many people viewed the video and how many times was it shared? To me these stats are important because it shows the impact that the video had in real time. That data will also confirm, I think, where the viewships spiked in the livestream,” he continued.

On Twitter and Instagram, entire accounts have popped up just to upload the video, or impersonate McNutt using various transformations of his username. Some even add “suicide” or “dead” or the like to the name. These are accounts created with the singular intent of violating the rules. Where are the fake and bot activity precautions?

Videos of the suicide have appeared on YouTube and are indifferently taken down. Others simply use McNutt’s image or the earlier parts of his stream to attract viewers. Steen and others who knew McNutt have been reporting these regularly, with mixed success.

One channel I saw had pulled in more than half a million views by leveraging McNutt’s suicide, originally posting the live video (with preroll ad) and then using his face to perhaps attract morbid users. When I pointed these out to YouTube, they demonetized them and removed the one shown above — though Steen and his friends had reported it days ago. I can’t help but feel that the next time this happens — or more likely, elsewhere on the platform where it is happening right now — there will be less or no accountability because there are no press outlets making a fuss.

The focus from these platforms is on invisible suppression of the content and retention of users and activity; if stringent measures reduce those all-important metrics, they won’t be taken, as we’ve seen on other social media platforms.

But as this situation and others before it demonstrate, there seems to be something fundamentally lacking from the way this service is provided and monitored. Obviously it can be of enormous benefit, as a tool to report current events and so on, but it can be and has been used to stream horrific acts and for other forms of abuse.

“These companies still aren’t fully cooperating and still aren’t really being honest,” said Steen. “This is exactly why I created #ReformForRonnie because we kept seeing over and over and over again that their reporting systems did nothing. Unless something changes it is just going to keep happening.”

Steen is feeling the loss of his friend, of course, but also disappointment and anger at the platforms that allow his image to be abused and mocked with only a perfunctory response. He’s been rallying people around the hashtag to put pressure on the major social platforms to say something, anything substantial about this situation. How could they have prevented this? How can they better handle it when it is already out there? How can they respect the wishes of loved ones? Perhaps none of these things are possible — but if that’s the case, don’t expect them to admit it.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. International resources are available here.

#facebook, #facebook-live, #tc, #tiktok, #youtube


Defying crackdowns, QAnon continues its relentless global spread

BOSTON—A man wearing a QAnon vest held a flag during a No Mandatory Flu Shot Massachusetts rally held outside of the State House in Boston on Aug. 30, 2020, to demonstrate against Gov. Charlie Baker's order for mandatory influenza vaccinations for all students under the age of 30, an effort to lower the burden on the health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enlarge / BOSTON—A man wearing a QAnon vest held a flag during a No Mandatory Flu Shot Massachusetts rally held outside of the State House in Boston on Aug. 30, 2020, to demonstrate against Gov. Charlie Baker’s order for mandatory influenza vaccinations for all students under the age of 30, an effort to lower the burden on the health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic. (credit: Boston Globe | Getty Images)

The online phenomenon known as QAnon is evolving beyond its pro-Trump roots and spreading rapidly into new global communities, despite efforts by social media platforms to stamp out the world’s most persistent conspiracy theory.

Cryptic posts by the group or individual known as “Q” first began appearing on the imageboard 4chan in 2017, propagating a theory that swiftly gained traction online in which the US president is leading a battle against a “deep state” that wields control over the country.

In July, TikTok blocked several hashtags, while Twitter banned thousands of accounts. Last month, Facebook launched a sweeping crackdown on the movement, including shutting down 790 QAnon-related groups.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#facebook, #gaming-culture, #policy, #qanon, #social-media


Trump and Twitter are on likely showdown path with expanded misinfo rules

Trump and Twitter are on likely showdown path with expanded misinfo rules

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

With just over 50 days to go before the 2020 US presidential election, everything is—predictably—hitting the fan. Foreign interference is of course an ever present threat, with known actors both attempting to amplify social discord as well as literally hack campaigns. But good old homegrown deliberate misinformation is also a significant threat to this year’s entire electoral process.

Misinformation spreads rapidly thanks to the advent of social media—especially Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Facebook already announced its (weak) plan for combating rampant falsehoods, and this week Twitter and Google both made their plans public as well.

Tweet, tweet…

Twitter’s existing policy prohibits users from posting content that includes “false claims on how to participate in civic processes” or “content that could intimidate or suppress participation.” In other words, at a very high level you’re not allowed to use Twitter to lie about voting or tell people not to vote.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#2020-election, #biz-it, #donald-trump, #elections, #facebook, #google, #lies, #misinformation, #policy, #twitter, #youtube


Facebook seeks fresh legal delay to block order to suspend its transatlantic data transfers

Facebook is firing up its lawyers to try to block EU regulators from forcing it to suspend transatlantic data transfers in the wake of a landmark ruling by Europe’s top court this summer.

The tech giant has applied to judges in Ireland to seek a judicial review of a preliminary suspension order, it has emerged.

Earlier this week Facebook confirmed it had received a preliminary order from its lead EU data regulator — Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) — ordering it to suspend transfers.

That’s the logical conclusion after the so-called Schrems II ruling which struck down a flagship EU-US data transfer arrangement on the grounds of US surveillance overreach — simultaneously casting doubt on the legality of alternative mechanisms for EU to US data transfers in cases where the data controller is subject to FISA 702 (as Facebook is).

Today The Currency reported that Dublin commercial law firm, Mason Hayes + Curran, filed papers with the Irish High Court yesterday, naming Ireland’s data protection commissioners as defendant in the judicial review action.

Facebook confirmed the application — sending us this statement: “A lack of safe, secure and legal international data transfers would have damaging consequences for the European economy. We urge regulators to adopt a pragmatic and proportionate approach until a sustainable long-term solution can be reached.”

In further remarks the company did not want directly quoted it told us it believes the preliminary order is premature as it said it expects further regulator guidance in the wake of the Schrems II ruling.

It’s not clear what further guidance Facebook is hankering for, nor what grounds it is claiming for seeking a judicial review of the DPC’s process. We asked it about this but it declined to offer any details. However the tech giant’s intent to (further) delay regulatory action which threats its business interests is crystal clear.

The original complaint against Facebook’s transatlantic data transfers dates all the way back to 2013.


Ireland’s legal system allows for ex parte applications for judicial review. So all Facebook had to do to file an application to the High Court to challenge the DPC’s preliminary order is a statement of grounds, a verifying affidavit and an ex parte docket (plus any relevant court fee). Oh and it had to be sure this paperwork was submitted on A4.

The DPC’s deputy commissioner, Graham Doyle, declined to comment on the latest twist in the neverending saga.

#cjeu, #data-transfers, #europe, #facebook, #irish-dpc, #lawsuit, #max-schrems, #privacy, #schrems-ii, #social


Facebook launches poll worker recruitment push in the News Feed

With the election looming and a pandemic still raging through the U.S., a shortage of poll workers is just one of many threats to voting this November — but it’s a big one.

In a Facebook post Friday, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company will launch a poll worker recruitment drive on the platform. Beginning this weekend, U.S. Facebook users over the age of 18 will see a message on their news feeds linking them to state poll worker registration pages. The company also includes that information in its voting information center, a hub of U.S. election resources that the company launched last month.


Facebook will join a number of other large employers including Microsoft, Starbucks, Old Navy and Target in offering paid time off to employees who want to volunteer at the polls. The company has also offered free advertising to state election authorities for the poll worker recruitment push and expects several states to be joining California in running those campaigns soon.

While poll worker shortages were already an issue, a dearth of poll worker is a much bigger concern in 2020. Poll workers skew older, making them generally more vulnerable to the threat of COVID-19 and making poll worker recruitment even more essential than it would be in a normal year.

As a Pew state policy report observed in 2018, poll workers are critical to elections running smoothly. A shortage of poll workers could mean “long lines, mass confusion and miscounted ballots.” And that’s without even taking the pandemic into account.

“They greet you at the plastic folding table set up in your neighborhood’s library, church or fire station, asking you for your name, address and, depending on your state, photo ID before handing you a ballot or directing you to a voting machine,” the Pew report reads.

“More than just glorified receptionists, these underpaid few are really the gatekeepers to democracy.”

#2020-election, #facebook, #tc


Daily Crunch: Facebook launches a college-only network

Facebook returns to its college roots, Alexa gets a printing feature and we take a deep dive into Unity’s business. This is your Daily Crunch for September 10, 2020.

The big story: Facebook launches a college-only network

If you’re old and decrepit like me, you remember when Facebook was only for college students and required a college email address to join. Well, it seems everything old is new again, because the company is piloting a new feature called Facebook Campus … which is only for college students and requires a college email address to join.

Facebook’s Charmaine Hung argued that the product is particularly relevant now: “With COVID-19, we see that many students aren’t returning to campus in the fall. Now, classes are being held online and students are trying to react to this new normal of what it’s like to connect to clubs and organizations that you care about, when you’re not together.”

Of course, this could also be a way for Facebook to try to stay relevant to a younger demographic, before they move on to other apps.

The tech giants

Amazon launches Alexa Print, a way to print lists, recipes, games and educational content using your voice — The feature works with any second-generation Echo device or newer, as well as a range of printers.

Google says it’s eliminating Autocomplete suggestions that target candidates or voting — The company says that it will now remove any Autocomplete predictions that seem to endorse or oppose a candidate or a political party, or that make a claim about voting or the electoral process.

Microsoft Surface Duo review — Brian Heater calls it a beautiful, expensive work in progress.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Orchard real estate platform raises $69 million Series C led by Revolution Growth — Orchard (formerly Perch) launched in 2017 with a mission to digitize the entire experience of buying and selling a home.

How Unity built a gaming engine for the future — Eric Peckham offers an in-depth look at the company’s financials as it prepares to go public.

India’s Zomato raises $100M from Tiger Global, says it is planning to file for IPO next year — In an email to employees, CEO Deepinder Goyal said the food delivery startup has about $250 million cash in the bank, with several more “big name” investors preparing to join the current round.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Use ‘productive paranoia’ to build cybersecurity culture at your startup — We asked Casey Ellis, founder, chairman and chief technology officer at Bugcrowd, to share his ideas for how startups can improve their security posture.

What’s driving API-powered startups forward in 2020? — It’s not hard to find startups with API-based delivery models that are doing well this year.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Announcing the Startup Battlefield companies at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020 — This is our most competitive batch to date.

$3 million Breakthrough Prize goes to scientist designing molecules to fight COVID-19 — David Baker’s work over the last 20 years has helped validate the idea that computers can help us understand and create complex molecules like proteins.

Recorded music revenue is up on streaming growth, as physical sales plummet — With vastly more people stuck inside seeking novel methods of entertainment, paid subscriptions are up 24% year-over-year.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#daily-crunch, #facebook, #mobile, #social


Facebook returns to its roots with Campus, a college student-only social network

Facebook is getting back to its roots as a college-focused social network. The company announced today the launch of a new social networking platform, Facebook Campus, which offers college students a private place to connect with classmates, join groups, discover upcoming campus events, get updates from their school’s administration and chat with other students from their dorm, clubs or any other campus group.

The new platform requires a school email address (@.edu) to join and will live within a dedicated section of the Facebook app. It will be accessible from a tab at the bottom of the screen or from the “More” menu alongside sections like Watch, Dating, Gaming, News, Marketplace and others.

“We wanted to create a product where it was easy for classmates to meet each other, foster new relationships and also easily start conversations,” explains Facebook Campus Product Manager Charmaine Hung. “And we really think that Campus is more relevant than ever right now. With COVID-19, we see that many students aren’t returning to campus in the fall. Now, classes are being held online and students are trying to react to this new normal of what it’s like to connect to clubs and organizations that you care about, when you’re not together,” she added.

More broadly, Facebook likely wanted to address its “teen problem,” and Facebook Campus is its solution.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook, according to reports, has been losing its grip on the younger demographic, as they’ve shifted their attention to other social apps, like YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram. According to a 2018 study from the Pew Research Center, only 51% of U.S. users ages 13 through 17 said they used Facebook, down from 71% who said the same in 2015. Meanwhile, a 2019 survey by Edison Research indicated that Facebook had lost 15 million users since 2017, with the biggest drop coming from the 12 to 34-year-old group.

Facebook Campus is built to bring these users back by offering a more exclusive place for private networking within Facebook. It’s similar, in some ways, to Facebook’s effort to address the needs of corporate users with Facebook Workplace. Instead of being new ideas for social networking, these platforms leverage Facebook’s existing technology, like News Feed and Groups, to deliver solutions for particular demographics.

At launch, Facebook Campus is only available at around 30 colleges and universities across the U.S. (see full list below), but the company plans to expand over time.

Some of the colleges have a deeper partnership with Facebook and have signed up to publish updates and news to their students’ Facebook Campus feed, as well. In these cases, the college or university may encourage various student leaders to join the network, too.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook will market the new app both within its app and offline. Students may be prompted to join Campus through a prompt in News Feed if Facebook has enough data to indicate they’re likely a student at a supported college. For example, if a Facebook user regularly visited a supported university’s Facebook Page, Facebook may display the Facebook Campus sign-up prompt. There are also student-led incentive programs where students who increase enrollment are rewarded with Facebook Campus swag, like t-shirts and towels.

In addition to requiring a .edu email address, Facebook Campus requires a graduation year — and it will need to be no more than five years out from the present.

After signing up, students create their Facebook Campus profile. While this is linked on the back end to the student’s main Facebook profile, it lets them add college-specific details that won’t automatically appear anywhere else on Facebook. Here, Campus users can add their graduation year, dorm, major and minor, classes they’re taking, hometown, Instagram profile and more.

Image Credits: Facebook

This information can only be viewed by other Facebook Campus users who attend the same school. It also helps power Campus’ student directory, where Facebook Campus users can search students by name, year, major or class, or browse to find classmates to add as friends, including those who are in their same dorm or clubs.

Image Credits: Facebook

Within Facebook Campus, students can also discover and join Groups and Events for their school. These can be those associated with official student clubs or Greek organizations, those associated with a particular dorm or even those just focused on a particular interest, like photography, cooking, writing, hiking, etc. Students can create buy/sell groups or roommate search groups, too, or anything else not in violation of Facebook’s terms.

These groups and events essentially function like those on Facebook itself, with the exception being that they can only be viewed, joined and accessed by students.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook Campus also has its own private Chat section, which is kept separate from Facebook and Messenger. These group chats work a little differently, as users don’t actually have to find and invite members. Instead, students in a particular group can opt to join its associated chat, if they choose.

All updates from your groups, clubs and events are in the Facebook Campus News Feed. But unlike on Facebook proper, students can’t post to their personal profile within Campus. They can only post to groups, events or chats.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook says this decision helps cut down on spam and allows users to focus their energy on engaging with smaller communities they’re involved with.

A small handful of universities have already partnered with Facebook to distribute announcements to their Facebook Campus channel for their students to see. However, any school can choose to opt-in to this feature at launch.

At launch, the following universities and colleges will support Facebook Campus:

Benedict College; Brown University; California Institute of Technology; College of William & Mary; Duke University; Florida International University; Georgia Southern University; Georgia State University; Johns Hopkins University; Lane College; Lincoln University (Pennsylvania); Middlebury College; New Jersey Institute of Technology; Northwestern University; Rice University; Sarah Lawrence College; Scripps College; Smith College; Spelman College; Stephen F. Austin State University; Tufts University; University at Albany – State University of New York; University of Hartford; University of Louisville; University of Pennsylvania; University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; Vassar College; Virginia Tech; Wellesley College; and Wesleyan University.

While Facebook’s early days saw it targeting Ivy League schools, the company says these first Facebook Campus schools were selected for diversity’s sake. That is, diversity of the student population, diversity of geography and diversity of school specialties (like liberal arts). They also represent a mix of public and private schools.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook Campus, notably, won’t include advertising in its Feed. But it will support Facebook’s advertising business. Advertisers won’t be able to specifically target Facebook Campus users, but they can target users by interest — even if the only place the user indicated they had that interest was within Campus. For example, a user who joined a cooking club in Facebook Campus could be targeted by an advertiser looking to reach users interested in cooking.

Hung said Facebook hasn’t tested Facebook Campus before today, even with small groups. Instead, this launch is considered a pilot for the new experience. The company did spend time conducting roundtables with universities and with student groups to gain product insight and feedback, however.


#apps, #facebook, #mobile, #social, #social-media, #tc, #teens


Times Internet is growing despite influx of US firms in India

Times Internet said on Thursday it reaches more than 557 million active users in India each month and over 111 million users a day as several of its digital offerings demonstrated strong growth in the past year.

The Indian conglomerate — which operates over three-dozen properties, including on-demand streaming services MX Player and Gaana, and newspapers Times of India and Economic Times — added 107 million monthly active users in the financial year that ended in March, it said.

Its platform clocked over 67 billion page views in FY 2020, up from 47 billion from the year prior.

MX Player, which has now amassed over 200 million monthly active users, and Gaana, which now reaches 185 million monthly active users, grew 75% in the year, Satyan Gajwani, vice chairman of Times Internet told TechCrunch in an interview.

These figures put Times Internet, a subsidiary of 182-year-old Bennett Coleman and Company Limited (BCCL), at the centre of the world’s largest open battleground (well, almost), which is otherwise dominated by Google, Facebook and Amazon.

According to analytics firm Comscore, Google reached 98% of the digital population in India on web (desktop as well as mobile) in the month of June. During the same month, Facebook reached 94.9% of the population, Times Internet 77.7% and Amazon settled at fourth place with 76%. (The figures do not include app usage data.)

Founded over 20 years ago, Times Internet had a huge headstart over nearly every firm that dominates the digital landscape today. But it largely failed to cash in on that for several years, critics say. Under the current leadership, however, the firm has followed a steady path and grown.

Comscore data for the month of May (Image credit: Times Internet)

Gajwani acknowledged that some of Times Internet’s offerings weren’t in great shape at the beginning of the last decade. “So we put a lot more emphasis on just product quality during 2013 to 2016. The next few years after that we also bought and built good products.”

“We’ve sold products or exited products where we didn’t think we could be competitive. We’ve got a reasonably strong portfolio now,” he added.

The most recent phase of Times Internet’s growth, said Gajwani, is the push to find revenue channels beyond ads. Gaana, MX Player, ET Prime (ad-free tier for Economic Times) and Times Prime (which bundles and resells a range of third-party subscription offerings) are helping it find subscribers, while MensXP’s e-commerce section, ETMoney, MagicBricks, GradeUp and Dineout are driving transactions.

Overall, Times Internet said its revenue grew 24% to $221.5 million in FY20. The firm did not disclose how much revenue it clocked from subscriptions, but said it had over 2 million paying subscribers and its transacting businesses grew 68%. Its ad business was also up 22%.

But its heavy reliance on ads means it has also been hit by the coronavirus, which slashed consumers’ spendings across the industry, resulting in advertisers cutting their budget.

Gajwani said the month of March saw a “big drop” in ad revenue for the firm, but the next three months were “soft” and July and August delivered a big rebound. “The gains of July and August have now made up for the losses of April, May, June in terms of our net year over year,” he added.

The virus and New Delhi’s ban on Chinese apps in recent months haven’t been a complete downer. Both MX Player and Gaana are attempting to fill the void left by the ban on TikTok in India and have received better traction than some of the more heavily-funded firms such as Twitter-backed ShareChat, according to mobile insight firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch.

MX TakaTak, the short-video app from MX Player, has amassed over 10 million daily active users and 45 million monthly active users, it claimed earlier this week. Users have uploaded more than 15 million videos on the app and clocked over a billion views within a month, it said.

Moving forward, Gajwani said the firm will also continue to try to deepen its relationship with users. “The number of people who consumed two or more of our businesses grew 48%. And the number of people who consumed three or more of our businesses, grew 120%,” he said, without disclosing the number of users.

BCCL has engaged in conversations with investors in recent months to sell stake in Times Internet, a person familiar with the matter said. The deal, if secured, would make Times Internet — which employs more than 6,000 people, up from 5,000 last year — financially stronger to explore more acquisition opportunities, the person said. Gajwani declined to comment. Bloomberg first reported about the talks.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #google, #india, #satyan-gajwani, #times-internet


Facebook told it may have to suspend EU data transfers after Schrems II ruling

Ireland’s data protection watchdog, the DPC, has sent Facebook a preliminary order to suspend data transfers from the EU to the US, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing people familiar with the matter and including a confirmation from Facebook’s VP of global affairs, Nick Clegg.

The preliminary suspension order follows a landmark ruling by Europe’s top court this summer which both struck down a flagship data transfer arrangement between the EU and the US and cast doubt on the legality of an alternative transfer mechanism (aka SCCs) — certainly in cases where data is flowing to a non-EU entity that falls under US surveillance law. 

Facebook’s use of Standard Contractual Clauses to claim a legal basis for EU data transfers therefore looks to be fast running out of borrowed time.

European privacy campaigner Max Schrems, whose surname is colloquially attached to the CJEU ruling (aka Schrems II) — and to an earlier ruling which invalidated the prior EU-US data transfer deal, Safe Harbor, on the same grounds of US surveillance overreach — filed his original complaint about Facebook’s use of SCCs all the way back in 2013. So the tech giant has had more than half a decade to get its European data ducks in order.

Reached for comment on the WSJ report, Facebook pointed us to a freshly published blog post, also penned by Clegg — who acknowledges “significant uncertainty” for businesses operating online services that rely on transatlantic data flows in the wake of the Schrems II ruling.

In the blog post the former deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom goes on to advocate for “global rules that can ensure consistent treatment of data around the world”.

“The Irish Data Protection Commission has commenced an inquiry into Facebook controlled EU-US data transfers, and has suggested that SCCs cannot in practice be used for EU-US data transfers,” Cleggs writes. “While this approach is subject to further process, if followed, it could have a far reaching effect on businesses that rely on SCCs and on the online services many people and businesses rely on.”

Facebook’s blog post lobbying for global rules to ensure “stability” for cross-border data transfers paints a picture of how the Schrems II ruling might negatively affect European startups — claiming it could result in local businesses being unable to use US-based cloud providers or run operations across multiple time zones.

The blog post doesn’t have anything much to say on how Facebook itself having to stop using SCCs might affect Facebook’s own business — but we’ve discussed that before here. (The short version is Facebook may need to split its infrastructure in two, and offer a federated version of its service to EU users — which would clearly be expensive and time consuming for Facebook.)

“Businesses need clear, global rules, underpinned by the strong rule of law, to protect transatlantic data flows over the long term,” Clegg goes on, before lobbying for regulatory leniency in the meanwhile, as Facebook continues to transfer EU data to the US in what he claims is “good faith” — despite the acknowledged legal uncertainty and the complaint in question dating back well over half a decade at this point.

Here he is pleading for data transfer mercy on behalf of other businesses who are not involved in this specific complaint: “While policymakers are working towards a sustainable, long-term solution, we urge regulators to adopt a proportionate and pragmatic approach to minimise disruption to the many thousands of businesses who, like Facebook, have been relying on these mechanisms in good faith to transfer data in a safe and secure way.”

EU lawmakers warned recently that there would be no quick fix for US data transfers, despite some parallel Commission noises about working with the US on an enhanced replacement mechanism for the now defunct ‘Privacy Shield’. (Although for businesses that aren’t, as Facebook is, subject to FISA 702 there may be ways to use SCCs for US transfers that are legal, or at least law firms willing to suggest measures you could take… )

Speaking to the EU Parliament last week, justice commissioner Didier Reynders suggested changes to US surveillance law will be needed to bridge the legal schism between US surveillance law and EU privacy rights.

And of course legislative changes require both time and political will. Although it’s interesting to see Facebook’s global VP feeling moved to wade in and call for global solutions for cross-border data transfers. Perhaps the tech giant will funnel some of its multi-million dollar domestic lobbying budget on making the case for reforming US surveillance law in future.

Ireland’s data protection regulator declined to comment on the WSJ report when we got in touch.

Schrems, meanwhile, is not sitting on his hands. In a statement following the newspaper’s report he said his digital rights not-for-profit, noyb, was not informed about the preliminary order by the DPC — speculating the information was leaked to the newspaper by Facebook to draw political attention to its cause.

He also reveals an intent by noyb to start a legal procedure against the DPC, saying it informed Ireland’s regulator this week that it plans to file an interlocutory injunction over the opening a ‘second’ procedure into the matter — arguing this move is in breach of a 2015 court order and is essentially the equivalent of letting Facebook carry on a multi-year game of legal whack-a-mole where it never actually faces enforcement for breaking each specific law.

“Facebook is knowingly in violation of the law since 2013. So far the DPC has covered them and for seven years refused to enforce the law. It seems after the second judgement by the Court of Justice not even the DPC can deny that Facebook’s international data transfers are built on sand,” Schrems told TechCrunch.

“At the same time, Facebook has in internal communication indicated that it has again shifted its legal basis from the SCCs to [the GDPR] Article 49 and the contract they allegedly sign with users. We are therefore very concerned that the DPC is again only investigating one of two legal basis that Facebook uses. This approach could lead to another frustrated case, like the ‘Safe Harbor’ case in 2015.”

What’s new since 2015 is Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — which came into application in May 2018 and has led EU lawmakers to claim standard-setting geopolitical glory, as the issue of data privacy has risen up the agenda around the world, propelled by the deforming effects of platform power on societies and democracies.

However the two-year-old framework has so far failed to deliver anything much at all on major cross-border complaints which pertain to platform giants like Facebook (or indeed to the adtech industry). This summer a Commission review of the regulation highlighted what it described as a lack of uniformly vigorous enforcement.

Ireland’s DPC is fully in the spotlight on this front too, as the lead regulator for a large number of US tech firms.

It finally submitted the first draft decision on a cross border complaint earlier this summer — but a final decision on that case (relating to a Twitter security breach) has been delayed as the draft failed to gain the backing of all the region’s data supervisors, triggering further procedures related to joint working under the GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism.

Any order from the DPC to Facebook to suspend SCCs would similarly need to gain the backing of the bloc’s other regulators (or at least a majority of them). Per the WSJ’s report, Ireland’s regulator has given Facebook until mid-September to respond to the order — after which a new draft would be sent to the other supervisors for joint approval.

So there’s further delay built into the GDPR process before any final suspension order could be issued against Facebook in this seven year+ case. Move fast and break things this most certainly is not.

The WSJ also speculates that Facebook could try to challenge such an order in court. “Internally, Facebook considers the preliminary order and its future implications a big deal,” it adds, citing one of its unnamed sources.

#data-protection-commission, #eu-data-protection-law, #europe, #facebook, #gdpr, #ireland, #max-schrems, #policy, #privacy, #privacy-shield, #sccs


Facebook boots Patriot Prayer, a far-right group with a history of violence

Facebook removed accounts belonging to far-right group Patriot Prayer and its leader Joey Gibson on Friday, citing a new effort to eradicate “violent social militias” from the platform.

That effort emerged through a policy update in mid-August to the company’s rules around “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations.” Those changes resulted in the removal of a number of groups and pages linked to the pro-Trump conspiracy theory known as QAnon and some militia organizations, as well as groups and pages linked to Antifa, a decentralized left-leaning ideology that opposes fascism.

“… We have seen growing movements that, while not directly organizing violence, have celebrated violent acts, shown that they have weapons and suggest they will use them, or have individual followers with patterns of violent behavior,” Facebook wrote in a blog post addressing the push to remove potentially violent groups.

Patriot Prayer is a Vancouver, Washington-based far-right group known for staging confrontational events in left-leaning urban centers. Patriot Prayer’s events, which often result in violence and street fighting, have historically attracted individuals from other extremist groups, including the Proud Boys and the neo-Nazi group Identity Evropa.

Last year, Gibson pled not guilty to felony riot charges stemming from a street fight in Portland in which he “pushed a woman, taunted a number of people and physically threatened others,” according to court documents obtained by KOIN News.

The group attracted national attention this week when one of its supporters, Aaron “Jay” Danielson, was shot and killed on Saturday night after a caravan of armed Trump supporters drove into downtown Portland to clash with racial justice protesters who have been demonstrating in the city center for more than three months.

A suspect in Danielson’s death, Michael Reinoehl, was shot and killed Thursday night when a task force of federal agents and local law enforcement made an effort to apprehend him near Olympia, Washington. Reinoehl appears to have been a self-described anti-fascist and a regular attendee of Portland’s ongoing protests.

Screenshot via Facebook

TechCrunch reached out to YouTube and Twitter to see if those platforms have any plans to take action on Patriot Prayer’s accounts and will update this story if we learn more. The group has a Twitter account with more than 16,000 followers and the YouTube account “Joey Gibson Patriot Prayer USA” boasts more than 50,000 subscribers.

On Thursday, Gibson seemed to anticipate that the national attention might lead to his group being kicked off Facebook and encouraged Patriot Prayer supporters to follow him on the small conservative social network Parler.

“Facebook might ban me any minute,” Gibson wrote.

#facebook, #facebook-policy, #online-extremism, #tc


Palantir’s concentrated governance is great for execs, but what about shareholders?

A few days ago I wrote down a few notes making a bullish case for Palantir, searching to find good news amidst the company’s huge historical deficits.

Heading into the next phase of Palantir’s march to the public markets, I was very curious to see how the company would hone its S-1 filing to give itself the best possible shot during its impending debut.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

And we finally did get a new S-1/A filing, a document that our own Danny Crichton quickly parsed and covered. What he found was a set of amendments that seem to increase the chance that three Palantir insiders will control more than 50% of the company’s voting power forever, possibly making it a controlled company which would loose the firm from select regulatory requirements.

Danny dryly noted that “given the diminished voting power of employee and investor shares, it is possible that these voting provisions will negatively impact the final price of those shares.” That’s being polite.

Mulling this over this morning, I kept thinking about Snap, which sold stock in its IPO that gave new shareholders no votes at all, and Facebook, which is controlled by Mark Zuckerberg as his personal fiefdom. The two are not alone in this matter. There are a number of other public tech companies that provide certain groups of pre-IPO shareholders more votes than others on a per-share basis, though perhaps to a smaller degree than what Facebook has managed.

It feels like many startups (and former startups) have decided over time that having material shareholder input is a bad idea. That, in effect, they must run companies as not merely monarchies, but unquestioned ones to boot.

I am not entirely convinced that this is the best way to create long-term shareholder wealth.

If you are on the other side of this particular fence, I understand. After all, Facebook is a global juggernaut and Snap has finally managed to eke out stock-market gains to bring its value it back where it was around when it went public. (A three-year journey.)

But those arguments are only so good. You could easily argue that the two companies could have done much more with less self-sabotage (Facebook) and a bit more spend discipline (Snap).