Before the summer ends, California may pass the first US bill that would hold social media companies liable for product features that research has found are harmful to children. If passed, the law could have far-reaching consequences, potentially impacting how kids throughout the US use social media sites like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat.
Although much of prior reporting on the bill focused on its earlier goal to grant a parent’s right to sue over harm to individual children, WSJ reports that the amended version of the bill would instead “permit the state attorney general, local district attorneys, and city attorneys in California’s four largest cities to sue social media companies” for unfair business practices known to harm children.
Meta is facing a growing backlash for the charges imposed on apps created for its virtual reality headsets, as developers complain about the commercial terms set around futuristic devices that the company hopes will help create a multibillion-dollar consumer market.
Facebook’s parent has pledged to spend $10 billion a year over the next decade on the “metaverse,” a much-hyped concept denoting an immersive virtual world filled with avatars.
The investment is spurred by a desire to own the next computing platform and avoid being trapped by rules set by Big Tech rivals, as it has been by Apple and Google with their respective mobile app stores.
The status of legal access to abortion is now prohibited, restricted, or uncertain in more than half of the US. However, abortion pills are still deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration, and it’s still legal for consulted certified prescribers to mail abortion pills to patients in any state. Thousands took to social media to post and raise awareness of options for mail-ordering abortion pills, only to have their posts deleted within minutes, sparking user protests of censorship.
Facebook and Instagram confirmed in an Associated Press report that posts offering to mail abortion pills to people in states suddenly without access would continue to be removed.
These posts violate company policies that prohibit the gift or sale of pharmaceuticals or drugs on the platforms, a Meta spokesperson told AP.
A tracking tool installed on many hospitals’ websites has been collecting patients’ sensitive health information—including details about their medical conditions, prescriptions, and doctor’s appointments—and sending it to Facebook.
The Markup tested the websites of Newsweek’s top 100 hospitals in America. On 33 of them we found the tracker, called the Meta Pixel, sending Facebook a packet of data whenever a person clicked a button to schedule a doctor’s appointment. The data is connected to an IP address—an identifier that’s like a computer’s mailing address and can generally be linked to a specific individual or household—creating an intimate receipt of the appointment request for Facebook.
Development of a Meta smartwatch is on pause, Bloomberg reported Thursday, citing an anonymous “person with knowledge of the matter.”
Facebook’s parent company never confirmed it was making a smartwatch to rival the Apple Watch and Samsung’s Galaxy Watch. It also declined to comment on Bloomberg’s story. However, Bloomberg claimed that Meta has been working on a smartwatch, codenamed Milan, “for at least two years.”
The publication said Meta was aiming to release its smartwatch next spring for about $350, but workers “were told this week that the device is no longer on track for production.”
People who buy or sell guns on Facebook can violate the social network’s ban on gun purchases 10 times before they’re kicked off the service, The Washington Post reported Thursday. Facebook’s 10-strikes rule is detailed in “internal guidance obtained by The Washington Post,” the article said:
The policy, which has not previously been reported, is much more lenient than for users who post child pornography, which is illegal, or a terrorist image on Facebook, which prompts immediate removal from the platform.
A separate five-strikes policy extends even to gun sellers and purchasers who actively call for violence or praise a known dangerous organization, according to the documents.
The policy apparently used to be even more lenient. “Until 2020, the strike threshold for guns was more than 10,” the Post wrote, citing anonymous sources. “That threshold seemed ‘too high’ to many employees, who argued to reduce it to 10 strikes or lower.”
Facebook banned gun sales in 2016. Its gun policy says the “purchase, sale, or trade of firearms, ammunition, and explosives between private individuals isn’t allowed on Facebook.”
Mark Zuckerberg was sued Monday by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, who says the Facebook founder should be held financially responsible for the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. The lawsuit was filed in DC Superior Court and demands that Zuckerberg pay civil penalties and restitution or damages.
“We’re suing Mark Zuckerberg for his role in Facebook’s misleading privacy practices and failure to protect millions of users’ data,” Racine wrote on Twitter. “Our investigation shows extensive evidence that Zuckerberg was personally involved in failures that led to the Cambridge Analytica incident. This lawsuit is not only warranted, but necessary. Misleading consumers, exposing their data, and violating the law come with consequences, not only for companies that breach that trust, but also corporate executives.”
Racine’s lawsuit says that “Facebook’s 2010 decision to open up the Facebook Platform to third parties” was “the brainchild of Zuckerberg.” This change let developers “access the massive trove of user data that Facebook had collected through the ‘side door’ of applications,” the lawsuit said, continuing:
Twitch, the Amazon-owned livestreaming site that caters primarily to gamers, said it removed streamed footage of a shooting in Buffalo, New York, this weekend “less than two minutes after the violence started.”
An 18-year-old white man used an assault rifle to fire on crowds of shoppers in a Buffalo supermarket Saturday, authorities said. The attack—which killed 10 and injured three, including 11 Black victims—is being investigated as a hate crime after the shooter allegedly posted a lengthy manifesto citing 4chan posts regarding the racist “great replacement theory” as his motivation.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Saturday that the shooter “had a camera and was livestreaming what he was doing” during the attack. The Twitch channel that had hosted that video has now been taken down, with its content marked as “currently unavailable due to a violation of Twitch’s community guidelines or terms of service.”
On May 9, Meta will double down on its metaverse sales pitch by… making people drive to California to sample its wares at a single physical location.
The uncreatively named Meta Store will showcase every physical product the company sells under its various branded umbrellas, particularly the Meta Quest 2 VR system (formerly Oculus Quest 2). The company’s first retail store will be housed in a 1,550-square-foot space on Meta’s Burlingame, California, campus, which houses a number of Meta’s VR- and AR-specific development efforts, and it will allow the public to test and purchase any of Meta’s physical products.
But it’s not a comprehensive Meta sales location, as its shelves will not include access to the reams of user data accumulated by the company’s network of criss-crossed sites—though we’ll keep our eyes peeled in case the Meta Store decides to unveil a Cambridge Analytica-themed aisle in the future.
Im #DealMonitorfür den 14. April werfen wir einen Blick auf die wichtigsten, spannendsten und interessantesten Investments und Exits des Tages in der DACH-Region. Alle Deals der Vortage gibt es im großen und übersichtlichen #DealMonitor-Archiv.
+++ Der noch junge Investor Embedded Capital, The Delta und Target Global, ein Berliner Geldgeber mit starken Russland-Beziehungen, investieren 30 Millionen Euro in die ehemalige Corona-App Luca – siehe auch FinanceFWD. Das Berliner Unternehmen, das von Patrick Hennig und Philipp Berger gegründet wurde, positioniert sich künftig als Gastro-App mit Finanzfunktionen. “Konkret soll Luca zu einer digitalen Geldbörse werden, in der die Nutzer Personalausweis, Impfzertifikat und Zahlungsmittel hinterlegen können”, heißt es im Bericht. Insgesamt 13 Bundesländer hatten die Luca-App, die von Smudo (Die Fantastischen Vier) mitkonzipiert wurde, im vergangenen Jahr für zusammengerechnet mehr als 20 Millionen Euro angeschafft und genutzt. Die App verfügt über 40 Millionen registrierte Nutzer:innen. Was wohl auch das massive Interesse der Investoren an der Anwendung erklärt.
+++ Der Food-Investor Zintinus und der Münchner Geldgeber G-Fund investieren 1,8 Millionen Euro in Kraftling. Die Jungfirma aus Köln, die 2018 von Friedrich Kalthoff und Maximilian Wermke gegründet wurde, setzt auf energiegeladene Saft-Kick-Drinks. “Das Investment fließt in den Ausbau von Marketingaktivitäten sowie in Vertriebsaktivitäten im Handel und dem Ausbau des Kraftling-Teams”, teilt das Unternehmen mit.
MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS
+++ Der Facebook-Mutterkonzern Meta übernimmt das Münchner Startup presize.ai – siehe Gründerszene. Die Jungfirma, die 2019 von Awais Shafique, Tomislav Tomov und Leon Szeli gegründet wurde, bietet seinen Nutzern mit einer mobilen Body-Scanning-Technologie die Möglichkeit, basierend auf einem Smartphone-Video ihres Körpers, die passende Größe bei Online-Bestellungen zu finden. In der achten Staffel der Vox-Show “Die Höhle der Löwen” investierte Carsten Maschmeyer 650.000 Euro in das junge Unternehmen. Außerdem investierten auch Plug & Play, UnternehmerTUM und mehrere Angel-Investoren in presize.ai. Insgesamt flossen rund 2 Millionen in presize.ai. Der Kaufpreis ist nicht bekannt. Der Snapchat-Betreiber Snap übernahm allerdings im Frühjahr 2021 das Berliner Startup Fit Analytics, das Kunden von Online-Shops hilft, die passende Kleidergröße zu finden. Snap zahlte damals 124,5 Millionen US-Dollar für die Jungfirma. Mehr über presize.ai
+++ Das amerikanische Unternehmen Handshake, eine s eine Karriereplattform für Studierende, übernimmt das Berliner Startup Talentspace. Das Unternehmen, das 2017 von Marco Eylert, Jason Reich und Markus Dücker gegründet wurde, wandelte sich im Zuge der Corona-Pandemie vom Event-Veranstalter zum Software-Unternehmen. “We don’t have an exact figure to understand the cost of the transaction, but Handshake hinted that it is between $10 million to $50 million”, schreibt TechCrunch zum Exit.
Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.
Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, announced some initial plans on Wednesday to allow content creators to monetize in its would-be Metaverse platform, Horizon Worlds. Meta’s planned revenue share for contributors’ creations could add up to nearly 50 percent.
Horizon Worlds is a network of shared 3D spaces that is currently exclusively available on Oculus Quest headsets. (Meta has plans to bring it to mobile, game consoles, and desktop VR in the coming months and years.)
There are already people creating spaces for Horizon Worlds, including a virtual yoga studio and a Second Life-like fast-food brand integration in the form of the “Wendyverse.” But to date, Horizon Worlds has not offered the tools for creators to make a living creating that content like they could on similar services like Roblox.
Facebook today reported an increase in attacks on accounts run by Ukraine military personnel. In some cases, attackers took over accounts and posted “videos calling on the Army to surrender,” but Facebook said it blocked sharing of the videos.
Specifically, Facebook owner Meta’s Q1 2022 Adversarial Threat Report said it has “seen a further spike in compromise attempts aimed at members of the Ukrainian military by Ghostwriter,” a hacking campaign that “typically targets people through email compromise and then uses that to gain access to their social media accounts across the Internet.” Ghostwriter has been linked to the Belarusian government.
“Since our last public update [on February 27], this group has attempted to hack into the Facebook accounts of dozens of Ukrainian military personnel,” Meta wrote today. Ghostwriter successfully hacked into the accounts in “a handful of cases” in which “they posted videos calling on the Army to surrender as if these posts were coming from the legitimate account owners. We blocked these videos from being shared.”
Meta has drawn up plans to introduce virtual coins, tokens and lending services to its apps, as Facebook’s parent company pursues its finance ambitions despite the collapse of a project to launch a cryptocurrency.
The company, led by chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, is seeking alternative revenue streams and new features that can attract and retain users, as popularity falls for its main social networking products such as Facebook and Instagram—a trend that threatens its $118 billion-a-year ad-based business model.
Facebook’s financial arm, Meta Financial Technologies, has been exploring the creation of a virtual currency for the metaverse, which employees internally have dubbed “Zuck Bucks,” according to several people familiar with the efforts.
That appears to be Facebook’s approach when it comes to countering the threat from TikTok, according to a new report in The Washington Post. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has hired Targeted Victory, a large Republican consulting firm, to place stories in op-eds in local newspapers and on local TV newscasts around the US, according to the report.
TikTok poses perhaps the most existential challenge to Meta and Facebook yet. The video-based social media platform has gained users at a swift pace, and it’s especially popular among younger users, a demographic that Facebook and Meta’s other platforms have struggled with in recent years.
The Department of Justice is throwing its weight behind an antitrust bill working its way through the Senate, with the department saying that it needs new tools to help police markets dominated by platforms such as Amazon, Meta (formerly Facebook), Apple, and Google.
“The Department views the rise of dominant platforms as presenting a threat to open markets and competition, with risks for consumers, businesses, innovation, resiliency, global competitiveness, and our democracy,” Peter Hyun, acting assistant attorney general, wrote in a letter to the Senate. “Discriminatory conduct by dominant platforms can sap the rewards from other innovators and entrepreneurs, reducing the incentives for entrepreneurship and innovation.” The letter was first obtained by The Wall Street Journal.
The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, cosponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), would limit Big Tech firms’ ability to “unfairly preference” their own products and services. For example, under the proposed bill, Amazon couldn’t boost search rankings of its private-label products, and Apple and Google couldn’t do the same for their apps in their app stores.
Facebook, which turned 18 last month, has developed something of a reputation for being the social network for older Americans. That reputation is not unearned—according to a Pew Research Center survey, nearly 72 million Americans over the age of 50 use Facebook. And while the platform still has more users under the age of 50 than over, Facebook remains many older Americans’ sole social network.
That’s something the AARP is looking to change, though. The nonprofit funded the creation of Senior Planet Community, a social media network that encourages users to join pre-existing groups around shared interests, including gardening, travel, fitness, food, and technology. In that way, it feels more like a pared-down version of reddit or a small collection of forums.
The social network was developed by an AARP affiliate, Older Adults Technology Services. OATS started out giving computer classes to older folks in New York City and has expanded its physical footprint over the years. During the pandemic, those classes moved online, and Senior Planet Community grew from that transition.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine grinds on, Meta is temporarily changing its policies to allow users on Facebook and Instagram to post calls for violence against—and even the deaths of—Russian soldiers and political figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
“As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as ‘death to Russian invaders,’” Meta spokesperson Andy Stone said on Twitter. “We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.”
The temporary policy exception was recently sent to Facebook and Instagram moderators, and emails detailing the change were revealed by Reuters. The exceptions mark the social media company’s latest attempt to adapt to the shifting geopolitical situation.
Regulators in Europe and the UK have opened an antitrust probe into a deal between Google and Meta on online advertising, in the latest effort to tackle the market power of the world’s biggest technology companies.
The move follows US antitrust investigators who are also probing an agreement informally known as “Jedi Blue.” The search engine giant and Facebook’s parent company have been accused of working together to carve up advertising profits, acting together to buttress their businesses.
The EU and UK probes represent the latest assault on Big Tech from global regulators that are also preparing to unleash new rules designed to challenge the primacy of groups such as Google, Meta and Amazon. In response, US tech groups have launched lobbying efforts in Washington and Brussels in an effort to protect their interests.
Big Tech companies, for the most part, have been able to have their cake and eat it, too.
By pitching themselves as neutral platforms that prioritize free expression—while at the same time bowing to local pressure to remove or restrict certain content—they’ve enjoyed rather broad access to nearly all the world’s markets. Even Russia, which for decades during the Soviet era fought to keep Western media out, has let them in.
Over Zoom, Australia’s communications minister, Paul Fletcher, has the air of a man in the middle of a victory speech. He credits his team and the country’s competition regulator for succeeding where others had failed: forcing tech giants to pay for news. “There were a lot of people saying you can’t really succeed in taking on the global digital giants,” he says, sitting beneath strip lighting in his Sydney constituency office. But Fletcher and Australia’s federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, persevered. In 2020, when the Australian government asked the competition regulator to develop a law that would force tech giants to pay for the news that appears on their feeds, Fletcher was aware of the stories others used as warnings. When Germany’s biggest news publisher, Axel Springer, tried to block Google from running snippets of its articles in 2014, it backtracked after just two weeks once traffic plunged. When Spain tried to force Google to pay for news in 2014, the search giant just left—blocking Google News in the country for seven years.
Google threatened Australia with even more drastic action. In January 2021, the tech giant suggested Australians could lose access to its entire search engine if Fletcher and Frydenberg’s “news media bargaining code,” which would force platforms to pay news publishers for links, came into force. Facebook also lobbied hard against the code, arguing that news makes up less than 4 percentof the content people see in their news feed. On February 17, Australians woke up to discover that all news links had been wiped off the platform, leaving the Facebook pages of the country’s biggest media companies completely blank. Traffic to news websites sank 13 percent, illustrating exactly what the government said it was worried about. Facebook’s actions “confirm for all Australians [the] immense market power of these media digital giants,” Frydenberg said at the time.
In December, 43-year-old doctoral researcher Nina Jane Patel put on a headset and entered Meta’s virtual world to see what was happening that day. “Within seconds of being there, there were three avatars near me,” she says. “Suddenly they were taking selfies… I couldn’t see at first that they were groping the avatar’s upper body… They were yelling at me, ‘Don’t pretend you don’t like it, this is what you came for.’”
The incident took place in the metaverse, an immersive virtual world accessed via wearable technology in which tech groups expect us to spend a far greater proportion of time in the future, both playing and, crucially, working.
When it comes to employment laws, however, it is unclear what rules of engagement apply in a universal digital realm. What counts as harassment in the metaverse? Can an avatar be discriminated against, or worse? Will national legislation protect employees or does working in the metaverse require a new rule book altogether?
California lawmakers plan to introduce a new bill to protect children’s data online this Thursday, mirroring the UK’s recently introduced children’s code, as part of growing momentum globally for stricter regulation on Big Tech.
The California age-appropriate design-code bill will require many of the world’s biggest tech platforms headquartered in the state—such as social media group Meta and Google’s YouTube—to limit the amount of data they collect from young users and the location tracking of children in the state.
If passed into law, it will also place restrictions on profiling younger users for targeted advertising, mandate the introduction of “age-appropriate” content policies, and ban serving up behavioral nudges that might trick them into weakening their privacy protections.
Meta says it may have to abandon the European Union.
The note was buried in the company’s annual filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Meta said that if officials on both sides of the Atlantic can’t reach an agreement on data transfers and warehousing, the company may have to pull its Facebook and Instagram platforms from Europe.
“If a new transatlantic data transfer framework is not adopted… we will likely be unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe,” Meta said in its 10-K filing.
If last year was bad for Meta, this year might be worse.
The company’s earnings call last night painted a dismal picture. Its flagship Facebook platform lost about a million daily active users last quarter, the first time that has happened. Instagram and WhatsApp may still be growing but not by much—last quarter, the company added just 10 million users across all its apps. Meta lost $10 billion on its Reality Labs division, which handles VR and AR, the stuff it has been betting its future on. And the company said that it expects Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature to slash the coming year’s revenue by $10 billion, or about 10 percent.
The market did not react kindly to the news. Meta’s stock has taken a massive hit and is currently trading down around 24 percent below yesterday’s close, wiping around $200 billion off its market cap.
Spotify probably didn’t realize it, but it ceased being a tech company a few years ago.
It was excelling at all the tech startup things—attracting users and losing money—but like most businesses, it eventually wanted to make a profit. The company was having a tough time doing that simply by streaming music, which proved to be expensive since the labels demanded a hefty fee to access their catalogs. Without another product to sell alongside music, Spotify was hemorrhaging money.
So the company started looking afield, searching for a product that would complement its existing music offerings. It found one in podcasts.
The world’s largest technology companies are pouring money into the biggest foreign policy think tanks in the US, as they seek to advance the argument that stricter competition rules will benefit China.
Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple are behind an increase in funding to four of Washington’s most prestigious research groups: the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Center for a New American Security, Brookings, and the Hudson Institute.
Total donations from Big Tech companies to the four think tanks have risen from at least $625,000 in 2017-18 to at least $1.2 million in 2019-20, according to a Financial Times analysis of financial disclosures. These figures could be as high as $1.2 million in 2017-18 to $2.7 million in 2019-20.
After years of effort, Meta’s cryptocurrency initiative has collapsed under the weight of regulatory scrutiny.
The Diem Association, formerly known as the Libra Association, is considering selling its assets and returning money to investors, according to a Bloomberg report. There’s not much to sell, though. The company doesn’t have much in the way of physical assets—just some intellectual property. Perhaps the most valuable part of the association is its engineers. Diem is reportedly looking for a “new home” for them.
Mark Zuckerberg first announced the project in 2019, back when his company was named Facebook and the project was named Libra. He said the cryptocurrency would serve as the foundation for payments within Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Zuckerberg managed to convince dozens of companies to become founding members of the backing organization, including Visa, MasterCard, Uber, Lyft, eBay, Spotify, and Andreessen Horowitz.
The Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust suit against Facebook may proceed, a federal judge has ruled. The company had filed a motion to dismiss the case, which the judge denied.
US District Judge James Boasberg had invited the FTC to refile the case after throwing out its initial attempt when he found it lacking. “Second time lucky?” Boasberg wrote in yesterday’s opinion. Apparently.
“The core theory of the lawsuit remains essentially unchanged,” he said of the FTC’s refiling. “The facts alleged this time around to fortify those theories, however, are far more robust and detailed than before, particularly in regard to the contours of Defendant’s alleged monopoly.”
When Susan Schaap, 61, travels from her Dutch hometown of Zeewolde to the nearest city of Leylystad, the 30-minute drive takes her through vast tulip fields, interrupted only by wind turbines and sometimes sheep. But if Facebook parent company Meta’s plans are approved, her view would be replaced by the Netherlands’ largest ever data center.
Meta’s data center is “too big for a small town like Zeewolde,” says Schaap, who has become one of the project’s most vocal opponents. “There are 200 data centers in the Netherlands already,” she argues, and the move would give huge swathes of farmland to just one company, “which is not fair.”
The sister of a slain federal security officer has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Facebook owner Meta. The lawsuit alleges that the killing of Dave Patrick Underwood in May 2020 “was not a random act of violence” but rather “the culmination of an extremist plot hatched and planned on Facebook by two men who Meta connected through Facebook’s groups infrastructure and its use of algorithms designed and intended to increase user engagement and, correspondingly, Meta’s profits.”
The lawsuit says that Meta “helped build” the antigovernment “boogaloo” community, which includes white supremacists, militia promoters, and far-right conspiracy theorists. This community “supported [the] criminal planning” of Underwood’s murderer and his accomplice, the complaint says, accusing Facebook of negligence.
The lawsuit was filed yesterday by Angela Underwood Jacobs in California Superior Court for Alameda County, and it seeks damages of at least $25,000. The lawsuit notes that Dave Underwood “was a Federal Protective Services Officer working under a contract with the Department of Homeland Security to provide security” at a federal building and courthouse in Oakland. On May 29, 2020, during protests over the police killing of George Floyd, the 53-year-old Underwood was stationed in a guard post outside the building and was killed in a drive-by shooting. He was shot in the neck and right flank and endured “extreme pain and suffering” before dying in the emergency room, the lawsuit said.
French regulators today ordered Google and Facebook to make rejecting cookies as simple as accepting them and fined the companies a total of €210 million for failing to comply with France’s Data Protection Act.
The CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés) said that “facebook.com, google.fr and youtube.com offer a button allowing the user to immediately accept cookies” but “do not provide an equivalent solution (button or other) enabling the Internet user to easily refuse the deposit of these cookies. Several clicks are required to refuse all cookies, against a single one to accept them.”
The process making it harder to reject cookies than to accept them “affects the freedom of consent of Internet users and constitutes an infringement of Article 82 of the French Data Protection Act,” the CNIL said. The agency announced fines of €150 million for Google and €60 million for Facebook and said it “ordered the companies to provide Internet users located in France with a means of refusing cookies as simple as the existing means of accepting them, in order to guarantee their freedom of consent, within three months. If they fail to do so, the companies will have to pay a penalty of 100,000 euros per day of delay.”
Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has pulled the plug on its current efforts to develop an operating system for AR and VR devices, The Information reported today.
Citing “two people familiar with the decision,” the article claims that Meta will return to the status quo of running Oculus devices—and perhaps future mixed reality devices—on a modified version of Google’s Android operating system for mobile phones.
The project, which was internally called XROS, had reportedly been underway for years and “involved hundreds of employees.” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was talking up its potential only a few short months ago. The reasons for Meta’s decision to pull the plug are not publicly known at this time.
Growing tensions between Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet, Meta, and Apple lie behind the death of the Internet Association (IA), the nine-year-old lobby group that was Big Tech’s voice in Washington, according to insiders and industry observers.
The Washington-based group, which dubbed itself the “unified” voice of the internet industry, will shut at the end of the year after both Microsoft and Uber, among others, pulled their financial support, leaving an insurmountable funding gap.
“Our industry has undergone tremendous growth and change,” it said in a statement, adding that its closure was “in line with this evolution.”
Wish 2021 had been a better year? Facebook probably does, too. The company has long been maligned by politicians, media observers, and consumer advocates, but it wasn’t until 2021 that it felt like the tide truly began to turn.
Though Facebook had faced scandals in the past, from Cambridge Analytica to the Myanmar genocide, this year’s string of missteps and revelations may have tipped the company and its reputation past the point of no return.
For Facebook, trouble started shortly after the new year. On January 6, the company found itself enmeshed in the insurrection at the US Capitol. Both Facebook and Instagram played a key role in radicalizing users who later attended the deadly rally. While the company had acted swiftly in November 2020 to shutter the “Stop the Steal” group formed to undermine the results of the presidential election, it let splinter groups and individuals spawn a “harmful movement” that spread across its platforms. For two months, those groups operated more or less unfettered.
After a year of stunning and damning revelations, Meta, formerly Facebook, is facing calls from investors to allow an independent assessment of the company’s audit and risk oversight committee.
Investors and a public interest nonprofit have sent a letter to Meta’s corporate secretary requesting that its proposal be included in the company’s annual proxy to be voted on by shareholders.
“Shareholders request the board commission an independent assessment of the Audit and Risk Oversight Committee’s capacities and performance in overseeing company risks to public safety and the public interest and in supporting strategic risk oversight on these issues by the full board,” says the letter, which was obtained by Axios.
Thea-Mai Baumann had posted to Instagram using the @metaverse handle for nearly a decade when her account was disabled on November 2.
“Your account has been blocked for pretending to be someone else,” the app told her.
Baumann wasn’t exactly sure what had happened, but the timing was curious. The account block came just days after Facebook had announced its new name, Meta. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the name reflected the company’s new focus on its vision of the metaverse, a virtual world meant to facilitate commerce, communication, and more. Baumann’s @metaverse handle was suddenly a hot commodity.
In May Apple communicated its privacy changes to the wider public, launching an advert that featured a harassed man whose daily activities were closely monitored by an ever-growing group of strangers. When his iPhone prompted him to “Ask App Not to Track,” he clicked it and they vanished. Apple’s message to potential customers was clear—if you choose an iPhone, you are choosing privacy.
But seven months later, companies including Snap and Facebook have been allowed to keep sharing user-level signals from iPhones, as long as that data is anonymised and aggregated rather than tied to specific user profiles.
Rohingya refugees have filed a lawsuit against Meta, formerly known as Facebook, for its alleged role in the ethnic cleansing currently underway in Myanmar, sometimes known as Burma. The lawsuit says the social media giant is on the hook for “at least $150 billion” for “wrongful death, personal injury, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of property.”
This lawsuit claims that Meta’s Facebook product is defective and that the company acted negligently. The complaint was filed this week in San Mateo County Superior Court, the jurisdiction in which Meta is headquartered, on behalf of a Rohingya refugee living in Illinois. It’s seeking class-action status to encompass all of the more than 10,000 Rohingya refugees who have resettled in the US since 2012.
The lawsuit is among the first to leverage allegations made by former Facebook employees and whistleblowers, including Frances Haugen, who shared over 10,000 documents with Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Instagram? Sure! WhatsApp? Go nuts. But don’t mess with GIFs. That’s the strange position taken by Britain’s competition watchdog in choosing to block Meta’s takeover of GIF repository Giphy. Meta, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) ruled, must now sell all the GIFs—just 19 months after it reportedly paid $400 million for them. It’s a bold move—and a global first.
Never before has a tech giant been ordered to press undo on a completed deal rather than pay a fine or make promises about how the newly merged businesses would operate. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, isn’t pleased. A spokesperson says the company disagrees with the decision and that it is considering all options, including an appeal. Usually a cautious bunch, lawyers agree that the CMA’s decision is a significant moment in the global regulatory wrangling of Big Tech, as it means deals that slipped through in the past may now have a new bar to clear. “There’s been a realization that quite small deals over the years have not been scrutinized very extensively,” says Richard Pepper, a partner at the law firm Macfarlanes.
That realization means regulators everywhere will now be on high alert for what the legal world calls “killer acquisitions”—where an established company buys an innovative startup in an attempt to squash the competition it could pose in the future. The CMA’s decision is also significant because Facebook’s Instagram takeover was waved through by its predecessor, the Office of Fair Trading, back in 2012, in what was the most high-profile probe into the deal outside the US. “The same worldwide enforcers that allowed Facebook to suck up Instagram and WhatsApp are now very wary of even small purchases by the major platforms,” says Eleanor Tyler, a legal analyst at Bloomberg Law, a legal research company. “What this shows is a change in attitude, and that’s critical.”
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) today ordered Facebook owner Meta to sell Giphy, saying the merger “would reduce competition between social media platforms and that the deal has already removed Giphy as a potential challenger in the display advertising market.”
Facebook bought Giphy in May 2020 for a reported $400 million “but has been required to hold the businesses separate” since June 2020, when the CMA imposed an Initial Enforcement Order (IEO), the UK government body said in a summary of its final report today. After the 17-month investigation, “we have decided that the only effective way to address the competition issues that we have identified is for Facebook to sell Giphy, in its entirety, to a suitable buyer,” the CMA wrote.
The CMA said it found that “Facebook would be able to increase its already significant market power in relation to other social media platforms by denying or limiting other platforms’ access to Giphy GIFs, driving more traffic to Facebook-owned sites—Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram—which already account for 73 percent of user time spent on social media in the UK” and by “changing the terms of access by, for example, requiring TikTok, Twitter, and Snapchat to provide more user data in order to access Giphy GIFs.”
Facebook today announced it will stop letting advertisers use certain targeting options related to “sensitive” characteristics such as race, religion, sexual orientation, health causes, and political beliefs. In today’s announcement, Facebook owner Meta said:
Starting January 19, 2022 we will remove Detailed Targeting options that relate to topics people may perceive as sensitive, such as options referencing causes, organizations, or public figures that relate to health, race or ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, or sexual orientation. Examples include:
Health causes (e.g., “Lung cancer awareness,” “World Diabetes Day,” “Chemotherapy”)
Sexual orientation (e.g., “same-sex marriage” and “LGBT culture”)
Religious practices and groups (e.g., “Catholic Church” and “Jewish holidays”)
Political beliefs, social issues, causes, organizations, and figures
Facebook cites concerns from civil rights experts
Facebook’s Detailed Targeting feature lets advertisers buy ads that are displayed to narrow groups of people. This is also known as “microtargeting.” Facebook said it decided to make these changes to “address feedback from civil rights experts, policymakers, and other stakeholders on the importance of preventing advertisers from abusing the targeting options we make available.”
“It is important to note that the interest targeting options we are removing are not based on people’s physical characteristics or personal attributes, but instead on things like people’s interactions with content on our platform,” Facebook wrote. “However, we’ve heard concerns from experts that targeting options like these could be used in ways that lead to negative experiences for people in underrepresented groups.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced a bill that would force social media platforms to allow people to use the site without algorithms that filter or prioritize the content that users see. The bill joins a similar act proposed in the Senate, and together, the bills suggest that lawmaker animus toward social media companies isn’t going away.
“Consumers should have the option to engage with Internet platforms without being manipulated by secret algorithms driven by user-specific data,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said in a statement to Ars. Buck introduced the bill with three cosponsors, Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), and Burgess Owens (R-Utah).
“Facebook and other dominant platforms manipulate their users through opaque algorithms that prioritize growth and profit over everything else,” Rep. Cicilline said in a statement. “And due to these platforms’ monopoly power and dominance, users are stuck with few alternatives to this exploitative business model, whether it is in their social media feed, on paid advertisements, or in their search results.”
Facebook/Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the virtual reality-fueled future could bring new privacy risks to our homes and workplaces, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen said.
Last month, Zuckerberg announced that he would focus his company on the metaverse. While the concept has many meanings, to Zuckerberg, it’s an “even more immersive and embodied Internet,” where users can meet with friends, connect with colleagues, shop for goods and services, and so on. In other words, Zuckerberg wants to take people’s lives and put them inside a metaverse, preferably one he controls.
To Haugen, that’s a red flag. “Facebook should have a transparency plan for the metaverse before they start building all this stuff because they’ve demonstrated with regard to Facebook that they can hide behind a wall, they keep making unforced errors, they keep making things that prioritize their own profits over our safety,” she said in an interview with the Associated Press.
These days it seems like everybody and their corporate parent company is talking about “the metaverse” as the next big thing that’s going to revolutionize our online lives. But everyone seems to have their own idea of what “the metaverse” means—that is, if they have any real idea what it means at all.
The term “metaverse” was originally coined in Neal Stephenson’s seminal 1992 cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash. In the book, the Metaverse (always capitalized in Stephenson’s fiction) is a shared “imaginary place” that’s “made available to the public over the worldwide fiber-optics network” and projected onto virtual reality goggles. In it, developers can “build buildings, parks, signs, as well as things that do not exist in Reality, such as vast hovering overhead light shows, special neighborhoods where the rules of three-dimensional spacetime are ignored, and free-combat zones where people can go to hunt and kill each other.”
Meta (formerly Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues mentioned the word “metaverse” 80+ times in under 90 minutes during last week’s Facebook Connect keynote presentation, where the company announced its new name. But Stephenson has made it abundantly clear that “there has been zero communication between me and FB & no biz relationship.” That means Facebook’s interpretation of “the metaverse” might end up being quite different from what Stephenson originally described.
Facebook introduced facial recognition in 2010, allowing users to automatically tag people in photos. The feature was intended to ease photo sharing by eliminating a tedious task for users. But over the years, facial recognition became a headache for the company itself—it drew regulatory scrutiny along with lawsuits and fines that have cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
Today, Facebook (which recently renamed itself Meta), announced that it would be shutting down its facial recognition system and deleting the facial recognition templates of more than 1 billion people.
The change, while significant, doesn’t mean that Facebook is forswearing the technology entirely. “Looking ahead, we still see facial recognition technology as a powerful tool, for example, for people needing to verify their identity, or to prevent fraud and impersonation,” said Jérôme Pesenti, Facebook/Meta’s vice president of artificial intelligence. “We believe facial recognition can help for products like these with privacy, transparency and control in place, so you decide if and how your face is used. We will continue working on these technologies and engaging outside experts.”
Facebook has a demographic problem. Even before investigations revealed that the company’s products were destroying teens’ mental health, interest in its flagship product was dropping off a cliff. Since 2019, teen usage of the app has declined by 13 percent, and over the next two years, it’s expected to drop another 45 percent.
“Aging up is a real issue” a researcher wrote in an internal memo revealed last week. Perhaps that’s why Facebook was considering new products targeted at children as young as six years old, according to a new document handed over to Congress by whistleblower Frances Haugen.
“Our company is making a major investment in youth and has spun up a cross-company virtual team to make safer, more private, experiences for youth that improve their and their household’s well-being,” the internal post from April 9 said. “For many of our products, we historically haven’t designed for under 13 (with the exception of Messenger Kids) and the experiences built for those over 13 didn’t recognize distinctive maturity levels across the age spectrum.”
“I really do care about [the metaverse], and I buy into the vision,” Carmack said, before quickly adding, “I have been pretty actively arguing against every single metaverse effort that we have tried to spin up internally in the company from even pre-acquisition times.” The reason for that seeming contradiction is a somewhat ironic one, as Carmack puts it: “I have pretty good reasons to believe that setting out to build the metaverse is not actually the best way to wind up with the metaverse.”
Today, Carmack said, “The most obvious path to the metaverse is that you have one single universal app, something like Roblox.” That said, Carmack added, “I doubt a single application will get to that level of taking over everything.” That’s because a single bad decision by the creators of that walled-garden metaverse can cut off too many possibilities for users and makers. “I just don’t believe that one player—one company—winds up making all the right decisions for this,” he said.
Facebook just won’t stay idle. After announcing on Thursday that Facebook’s parent company will be changing its name to Meta, it seems the tech giant may be planning another big move that it hasn’t even mentioned yet. An image spotted on one of its apps suggests that the company is working on a smartwatch to compete with the likes of the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy watches.
As reported by Bloomberg last night, an app developer named Steve Moser spotted an image of a smartwatch on Facebook View, an app for controlling the Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses. The publication described the picture as showing a smartwatch with rounded corners, a button on the side, and a white band that is reportedly detachable. Meta has not commented on the report.
On the watch’s face is a notch for an integrated camera, which could allow support for video calls. This would be a standout feature, as Apple and Samsung smartwatches don’t have cameras. In June, The Verge said we will see a Facebook smartwatch with two cameras—one on the front for video calls and one on the back for taking photos and video.
“As we’ve focused more on work, and as we’ve heard feedback from the VR community more broadly, we’re working on new ways to log in to Quest that won’t require a Facebook account, landing sometime next year,” Andrew Bosworth wrote in a Facebook post following yesterday’s Connect keynote. “This is one of our highest priority areas of work internally.”
“I know this is a big deal for a lot of people,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during yesterday’s Connect keynote when talking about the coming login change. “Not everyone wants their social media profile linked to all these other experiences. I get that, especially as the metaverse expands. I’ll share more about that later.”
Facebook is battling its gravest crisis since the Cambridge Analytica scandal after a whistleblower accusing the company of placing “profit over safety” shed light on its inner workings through thousands of pages of leaked memos.
The documents were disclosed to US regulators and provided to Congress in redacted form by Frances Haugen’s legal counsel. A consortium of news organisations, including the Financial Times, has obtained the redacted versions received by Congress.
Earlier this month, Haugen testified in Congress that the social media company does not do enough to ensure the safety of its 2.9 billion users, plays down the harm it can cause to society and has repeatedly misled investors and the public. The Wall Street Journal also ran a series of articles called the Facebook Files.