Facebook’s Libra currency to launch next year in limited format

Facebook’s Libra currency to launch next year in limited format

Enlarge (credit: NurPhoto | Getty Images)

The long-awaited Facebook-led digital currency Libra is preparing to launch as early as January, according to three people involved in the initiative, but in an even more limited format than its already downgraded vision.

The 27-strong Libra Association said in April that it had planned to launch digital versions of several currencies, plus a “digital composite” of all of its coins. This followed concerns from regulators over its initial plan to create one synthetic coin backed by a basket of currencies.

However, the association would now initially just launch a single coin backed one-for-one by the dollar, one of the people said. The other currencies and the composite would be rolled out at a later point, the person added.

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#bitcoin, #blockchain, #digital-currency, #facebook, #libra, #policy

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UK to set up ‘pro-competition’ regulator to put limits on big tech

The UK is moving ahead with a plan to regulate big tech, responding to competition concerns over a ‘winner takes all’ dynamic in digital markets.

It will set up a new Digital Market Unit (DMU) to oversee a “pro-competition” regime for Internet platforms — including those funded by online advertising, such as Facebook and Google — the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced today.

It’s moving at a clip — with the new Unit slated to begin work in April. Although the necessary law to empower the new regulator to make interventions will take longer. The government said it will consult on the Unit’s form and function in early 2021 — and legislate “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.

A core part of the plan is a new statutory Code of Conduct aimed at giving platform users more choice and third party businesses more power over the intermediaries that host and monetize them.

The government suggests the code could require tech giants to allow users to opt out of behavioral advertising entirely — something Facebook’s platform, for example, does not currently allow.

It also wants the code to support the sustainability of the news industry by “rebalancing” the relationship between publishers and platform giants, as it puts it.

Concern over how to support quality public interest journalism in an era of ad-funded user-generated-content giants has been stepping up in recent years as online disinformation has been actively weaponized to attack democracies and try to influence votes.

“The new code will set clear expectations for platforms that have considerable market power — known as strategic market status — over what represents acceptable behaviour when interacting with competitors and users,” DCMS writes in a press release.

It suggests the DMU will have powers to “suspend, block and reverse decisions of tech giants, order them to take certain actions to achieve compliance with the code, and impose financial penalties for non-compliance”. Although full details are set to be worked out next year.

Digital Markets Taskforce, which the government set up earlier this year to advise on the design of the competition measures, will inform the Unit’s work, including how the regime will work in practice, per DCMS.

The taskforce will also come up with the methodology that’s used to determine which platforms/companies should be designated as having strategic market status.

On that front it’s all but certain Facebook and Google will gain the designation, and be subject to the code and oversight by the DMU, although confirmation can only come from the Unit itself once it’s up and running. But UK policymakers don’t appear to have been fooled by bogus big tech talking points of competition being ‘only a click away’.

The move to set up a UK regulator for big tech’s market power follows a competition market review chaired by former U.S. president Barack Obama’s chief economic advisor, professor Jason Furman, which reported last year. The expert panel recommended existing competition policy was fit for purpose but that new tools were needed for it to tackle market challenges flowing from platform power and online network effects.

Crucially, the Furman report advocated for a ‘broad church’ interpretation of consumer welfare as the driver of competition interventions — encompassing factors such as choice, quality and innovation, not just price.

That’s key given big tech’s strategic application of free-at-the-point-of-use services as a tool for dominating markets by gaining massive marketshare which in turn gives it the power to set self-serving usage conditions for consumers and anti-competitive rules for third party businesses — enabling it to entrench its hold on the digital attention sphere.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) also undertook a market study of the digital advertising sector — going on to report substantial concerns over the power of the adtech duopoly. Although in its final report it deferred competitive intervention in favor of waiting for the government to legislate.

Commenting on the announcement of the DMU in a statement, digital secretary Oliver Dowden said: “I’m unashamedly pro-tech and the services of digital platforms are positively transforming the economy – bringing huge benefits to businesses, consumers and society. But there is growing consensus in the UK and abroad that the concentration of power among a small number of tech companies is curtailing growth of the sector, reducing innovation and having negative impacts on the people and businesses that rely on them. It’s time to address that and unleash a new age of tech growth.”

Business secretary Alok Sharma added: “The dominance of just a few big tech companies is leading to less innovation, higher advertising prices and less choice and control for consumers. Our new, pro-competition regime for digital markets will ensure consumers have choice, and mean smaller firms aren’t pushed out.”

The UK’s move to regulate big tech means there’s now broad consensus among European lawmakers that platform power must be curtailed — and that competition rules need properly resourcing to get the job done.

A similar digital market regime is due to be presented by EU lawmakers next month.

The European Commission has said the forthcoming ex ante pan-EU regulation — which it’s calling the Digital Markets Act — will identify platforms which hold significant market power, so-called Internet gatekeepers, and apply a specific set of fairness and transparency rules and obligations on them with the aim of rebalancing competition. Plans to open algorithmic blackboxes to regulatory oversight is also on the cards at the EU level.

A second piece of proposed EU legislation, the Digital Services Act, is set to update rules for online businesses by setting clear rules and responsibilities on all players in specific areas such as hate speech and illegal content.

The UK is also working on a similar online safety-focused regime — proposing to regulate a range of harms in its Online Harms white paper last year. Though it has yet to come forward with draft legislation.

This summer the BBC reported that the government has not committed to introduce a draft bill next year either — suggesting its planned wider Internet regulation regime may not be in place until 2023 or 2024.

It looks savvy for UK lawmakers to prioritize going after platform power since many of the problems that flow from harmful Internet content are attached to the reach and amplification of a handful of tech giants.

A more competitive landscape for social media could encourage competition around the quality of the community experienced for users — meaning that, for example, smaller platforms which properly enforce hate speech rules and don’t torch user privacy could gain an edge.

Although rules to enable data portability and/or interoperability are likely to be crucial to kindling truly vibrant and innovative competition in markets that have already been captured by a handful of data-mining adtech giants.

Given the UK’s rush to address the market power of big tech, it’s interesting to recall how many times the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg snubbed the DCMS committee’s calls for him to give evidence over online disinformation and digital campaigning (including related to the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal) — not once but so many times we lost count.

It seems UK lawmakers kept a careful note of that.

 

#digital-markets-unit, #digital-regulation, #europe, #facebook, #google, #platform-power, #policy, #uk

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Facebook’s latest ad tool fail puts another dent in its reputation

Reset yer counters: Facebook has had to ‘fess up to yet another major ad reporting fail.

This one looks like it could be costly for the tech giant to put right — not least because it’s another dent in its reputation for self reporting. (For past Facebook ad metric errors check out our reports from 2016 here, here, here and here.)

AdExchanger reported on the code error last week with Facebook’s free ‘conversion lift’ tool which it said affected several thousand advertisers.

The discovery of the flaw has since led the tech giant to offer some advertisers millions of dollars in credits, per reports this week, to compensate for miscalculating the number of sales derived from ad impressions (which is, in turn, likely to have influenced how much advertisers spent on its digital snake oil).

According to an AdAge report yesterday, which quotes industry sources, the level of compensation Facebook is offering varies depending on the advertiser’s spend — but in some instances the mistake means advertisers are being given coupons worth tens of millions of dollars.

The issue with the tool went unfixed for as long as 12 months, with the problem persisting between August 2019 and August 2020, according to reports.

The Wall Street Journal says Facebook quietly told advertisers this month about the technical problem with its calculation of the efficacy of their ad campaigns, skewing data advertisers use to determine how much to spend on its platform.

One digital agency source told the WSJ the issue particularly affects certain categories such as retail where marketers have this year increased spending on Facebook and similar channels by up to 5% or 10% to try to recover business lost during the early stages of the pandemic.

Another of its industry sources pointed out the issue affects not just media advertisers but the tech giant’s competitors — since the tool could influence where marketers chose to spend budget, so whether they spend on Facebook’s platform or elsewhere.

Last week the tech giant told AdExchanger that the bug was fixed on September 1, saying then that it was “working with impacted advertisers”.

In a subsequent statement a company spokesperson told us: “While making improvements to our measurement products, we found a technical issue that impacted some conversion lift tests. We’ve fixed this and are working with advertisers that have impacted studies.”

Facebook did not respond to a request to confirm whether some impacted advertisers are being offered millions of dollars worth of ad vouchers to rectify its code error.

It did confirm it’s offering one-time credits to advertisers who have been ‘meaningfully’ impacted by the issue with the (non-billable) metric, adding that the impact is on a case by case basis, depending on how the tool was used.

Nor did it confirm how many advertisers had impacted studies as a result of the year long technical glitch — claiming it’s a small number.

While the tech giant can continue to run its own reporting systems for b2b customers free from external oversight for now, regulating the fairness and transparency of powerful Internet platforms which other businesses depend upon for market access and reach is a key aim of a major forthcoming digital services legislative overhaul in the European Union.

Under the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act plan, the European Commission has said tech giants will be required to open up their algorithms to public oversight bodies — and will also be subject to binding transparency rules. So the clock may be ticking for Facebook’s self-serving self-reporting.

#ad-metrics, #advertising-tech, #digital-regulation, #facebook

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Instagram businesses and creators may be getting a Messenger-like ‘FAQ’ feature

Instagram is developing a new product, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), that will allow people to start conversations with businesses or creators’ accounts by tapping on a commonly asked question within a chat. Those who already have the feature available report they’re able to create set of up to four questions which can optionally be displayed at the beginning of a conversation with other users.

The feature could be useful for businesses that are often responding to customer inquiries about their products or services, or for creators who receive a number of inbound requests from fans or brands interested in collaborations, for example.

The product’s introduction highlights the extent that Instagram’s messaging platform now overlaps with Facebook Messenger, following the recent launch of the new Instagram messaging experience. In September, Facebook announced Instagram users would have the option to upgrade to a new inbox that now offers a number of Messenger-inspired features — like the ability to change your chat color, react with any emoji, set messages to disappear, and more. The upgrade also introduced cross-app communication between Instagram and Messenger’s platforms.

With these changes, it appears Facebook is paving a road towards making the Instagram messaging experience more on par with Messenger.

Today, the Messenger app offers a similar FAQ option for Facebook Page owners under the Automated Responses section in Messenger’s settings. Here, Page owners or admins can set up a series of frequently asked questions and their responses to those questions which can be presented at the beginning of conversations with their Page — just like this new Instagram feature offers.

The Instagram FAQ option had been spotted earlier this year while in development, but seemed to be only for Business accounts, according to the app’s code.

 

However, new reports and screenshots from one Instagram user with access to the feature indicate the FAQ will be available for creator accounts, in addition to businesses.

The feature was spotted on Monday by social media consultant Matt Navarra, who credited @thenezvm for the new discovery.

Given that @thenezvm has access to the feature now, as the above credited screenshots show, the FAQ option could either be in early testing or starting to roll out more broadly.

It’s likely the former, however, as Instagram declined to comment or provide details, when TechCrunch asked for more information.

#apps, #facebook, #facebook-messenger, #faq, #instagram, #instagram-direct, #messenger, #social, #social-media

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Ignore the social media echo chambers

After Election Day, NPR, The Washington Post and various blogs described America as bitterly divided or on the brink of civil war. These were by the same journalists, pundits and intellectuals who only know how to sell fear.

“They want to take away your guns!” and “They want to take your children away!” were their cries, while praising BLM’s protesters on one screen and promoting videos of the infinitesimal number of rioters on another.

The Atlantic speculated about widespread violence depending on the outcome, but I never believed these seemingly well-researched reports that have become commonplace in our clickbait-driven world. And as we saw, nothing of real concern happened; instead of violence, there were relatively small protests and dancing in the streets.
The gap that supposedly divides our nation is narrower than the doomsaying pundits, intellectuals, politicians and cause leaders want you to believe. Why do they want you to believe this? Because promoting division and conflict sells and grants a perverse glue that unites people within their tribal communities. Behind these labels of conflict are seeds of fear that can grow into irrational fears. Fears without reason, fears beyond facts. Sometimes these fears become things we hate  —  and our society and nation should have no place for hate, because it is an unproductive emotion without any possible positive outcome.

I’ve learned to ignore much of the headline-driven news and social media echo chambers where ridiculous ideas fester across our political spectrum. There are obviously ridiculous ideas, such as QAnon, but the subtly ridiculous ideas can be more dangerous and potentially even more destructive. These ideas can be diminished by simple questions to the average reasonable person.
One idea spawned in some progressive echo chambers was the notion that Trump would stage a coup d’état if Joe Biden won the election (i.e., “Did you see those unmarked federal police!?” which signaled to some that a coup was coming).

A basic element of a coup d’état is military support or control, which obviously Trump did not have. I would ask basic questions around this idea, but always ask the rhetorical question, “Do you know how difficult it is to conduct a coup d’état?” Meanwhile, in some conservative echo chambers, a similar concern made rounds that “defund the police” was an effort to install a “federal police force” that Biden would control once in the Oval Office. So there really isn’t much original thought inside the echo chambers of America.

Maybe both sides with such fantasies recently watched that Patrick Swayze classic, “Red Dawn,” where a tiny militia of high school students held off the combined forces of the old Soviet Union and Cuba. Or maybe they saw “300,” in which Sparta’s army held off more than 300,000 invaders. After watching either of these inspirational movies, I might possibly believe such a militia or “federal force” could overpower the whole might of the U.S. military. Ahem.

For those warmongers and soothsayers warning of civil war, where do they want the country to go? Static echo chambers of America, or a vision of suburban folks with pitchforks and handguns versus urban dwellers carrying machine guns and Blue Bottle coffee mugs?

Since the level of violence after the election did not in fact match the crystal balls of these oracles, the definitions and terms have of course changed. As Bertrand Russell stated, “fear is the main source of superstition”  —  to which I would add that fear is also the source of really stupid predictions and ideas.
And let’s be clear that while I do criticize the echo chambers of social media, they are only tools of promotion, because echo chambers are not limited to the online social media. Echo chambers can be homes, bars, lodge meetings, yoga studios and Sunday bridge clubs. The enablers are the pundits, intellectuals, politicians and cause leaders that seed these ideas.

Conspiracy theories, misinformation and outlandish statements were quite capable of spreading before the recommendation engines of Facebook and others were fully developed. For example, in 2006, over 50% of Democrats believed the U.S. government was involved in the 9/11 terrorist attack. More than half of registered Democrats believed in this conspiracy theory! And let’s not forget the Obama “birther” conspiracy, where at least 57% of Republicans continued to believe that President Obama was born in Kenya even after he released his birth certificate in 2008.

But today, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media sites have become extremely powerful accelerants for such provocative ideas and strange fictions. Tristan Harris, co-founder and president of the Center for Humane Technology, was recently featured in the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” where he discussed how social media tends to feed content to retain people’s attention and can spiral downward.

This can become an abyss of outright misinformation, or — even more importantly in my estimation — for subtle, ignorant ideas, such as coups d’état and civil wars. And those destructive ideas and irrational conspiracy theories from the 2000s that probably took months to spread, are now supercharged by today’s social media giants to infect our society in a matter of days or weeks.

The fabric of our nation was delicately woven, but after countless turns of the loom between conflicts and enlightenment, our country has proven itself extremely resilient. Indestructible beyond today’s calls for racism and ignorance, for anarchy and destruction, and for civil wars.

Biden is our President-elect with a mandate to lead our nation beyond this divide  —  a divide that I believe has been overstated. Many citizens met in the middle to provide Biden with a mandate to bridge the gap. The “blue wave” didn’t occur and House Republicans gained 10 seats, which means many Republicans and independents voted “red” down-ballot but also voted for Biden.

Trump had the largest number of minority votes for a Republican presidential candidate in history, including from 18% of Black male voters  —  and that number would have been much higher pre-pandemic. I see all of this as a positive, because our citizens are not voting party line or becoming beholden to one party.

In reality, many of the major issues that supposedly separate us are much closer than we know. For example, I’ve sat down behind closed doors with a senior adviser on healthcare for a major Republican leader, who stated that Obamacare isn’t far off from what they were planning. The difference was that their plan was more small business friendly and their cost savings would be among the younger demographic. I also sat down with a senior adviser for Obamacare, who explained that they believed it wasn’t sustainable unless the cost savings were for those 65 and above. So the differences on such critical policies are not miles apart but only steps away from each other. Although at times politics are about credit and conflict, hopefully such differences can be resolved in the near future.

I hope this election will change the temperament of our nation and its citizens. I hope it will lead more people to ignore the tactics of both political parties and organizations seeking their attention and support. Their shortsighted methods should be cast away like the relics of the past and conflict should not be the tool of this new America. Instead, let’s focus on productive dialogue to find common ground, and thoughtful, practical policies to move our nation forward.

#column, #donald-trump, #facebook, #government, #joe-biden, #media, #opinion, #qanon, #social, #social-media, #the-social-dilemma

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The downfall of ad tech means the trust economy is here

2020 has brought about much-needed social movements. In June, activists launched the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, a call to hold social media companies like Facebook accountable for the hate happening on their platforms.

The idea was to pull advertising spending to wake these social platforms up. More than 1,200 businesses and nonprofits joined the movement, including brands such as The North Face, Patagonia and Verizon. I led my company, Cheetah Digital, to join alongside some of our clients like Starbucks and VF Corp.

Stop Hate for Profit highlighted social media hitting its tipping point. Twitter and Snapchat chose to stand up against hate speech, banning political ads and taking action to flag misinformation. Facebook, unfortunately, has not yet been as proactive, or at best it’s been sporadic in its response.

While many thought the movement would come and go, the reality is it has only just begun. With America conducting arguably its most divisive election in history, these problems won’t just go away. For marketers, Stop Hate for Profit is more than a social movement — it is pointing to an issue with ad tech as a whole.

I believe we are seeing the downfall of ad tech as we know it with social media boycotts and data privacy leading the charge.

The social media quagmire

In May, Forrester released a report titled “It’s OK to Break Up with Social Media” that contained statistics indicating that consumers are fed up with social media: 70% of respondents said they don’t trust social media platforms with their data. Only 14% of consumers believe the information they read on social media is trustworthy. 37% of online adults in the U.S. believe social media does more harm than good.

Here is the reality we need to get back to: Social media isn’t built for marketers to reach consumers. In the beginning of the social media craze, brands rushed to get on board and join the conversations. What many brands discovered is these channels became a platform for customer complaints not for building positive brand perception. Furthermore, the social platforms marketers flocked to as an avenue to reach customers began charging marketers just to get to the customers.

The algorithms that define what content you see unfortunately make it harder for people to see opposing views, and this more than anything else polarizes society further. If you start looking at QAnon content, very soon that’s all the algorithms feed you. You might spend more time on social platforms fueling their ad dollars, but you have also lost a grip on reality. Marketers must admit things have gone too far on social media and it is okay to move on.

Privacy matters

Imagine you are in need of a minor surgery. Perhaps you take an Uber ride to the specialist for a consultation. Next, you go get the surgery and it is successful. Soon you find yourself at home recovering and all is well. That is, until you start scrolling Facebook. Suddenly advertisements pop up for medical malpractice lawyers, but you haven’t told anyone about the surgery and you certainly didn’t post about it on social media.

Here you are, just wanting to rest and recover at home, but instead you are being bombarded by advertisements. So how did those ads get there? You left a digital footprint, your data was sold and now you’re being hit with intrusive ads. To me, this story crystallizes the abuse ad tech has been fostering in the world around us. There’s an utter invasion of privacy and consumers aren’t blind to it.

Data privacy has been a focus of conversation for marketers for several years now. Just this year, America saw the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) go into effect and become enforceable. This legislation gives back control of data to the consumer. In June, Apple announced updates to make it harder for apps and publishers to track location data and use it for ad targeting. At the beginning of August, Meredith and Kroger announced a partnership to provide first-party sales data for advertising efforts in an attempt to move off of cookies. It is clear data privacy is not a fad going away anytime soon.

Where do marketers go from here?

I believe the future of marketing is the trust economy. The Stop Hate for Profit campaign, the invasion of privacy and shifting attitudes and behaviors of consumers point to the end of an era where marketers relied upon third-party data. Trust is now the most impactful economic power, not data. We conducted research earlier this year with eConsultancy, and our findings revealed that 39% of U.S. consumers don’t like personal ads driven from cookie data. People don’t want to be tracked and targeted as they click around the web. Ad tech’s roof is caving in and marketers must adjust.

The old methods of marketing won’t carry you through into the era of the trust economy. It is time to look to new channels and revisit old channels. We have to shift back to the channels where we own what is being said. Advertising on social platforms should be focused on driving consumers to owned channels where you can capture their permissions and data to connect with them directly. Consider email as a channel to focus on.

Don’t worry — it works. That same eConsultancy report found nearly three out of four consumers made a purchase in the last 12 months from an email sent by a brand or retailer and massively outperformed social ads when it came to driving sales. Similarly nine times as many U.S. consumers want to increase their participation in loyalty programs in 2020 than those that want to reduce their involvement. You have to ensure you are owning your data and loyalty programs are a treasure trove of consumer data you own. Emily Collins from Forrester does a good job of explaining why you can achieve this with a true loyalty strategy, not just a rewards program.

Your goal should be to build direct connections to consumers. Building trust means offering a value exchange for data and engagement, not going and buying it from a third-party. Fatemah Khatibloo, a principal analyst for Forrester wrote, “Zero-party data is that which a customer intentionally and proactively shares with a brand. It can include purchase intentions, personal context, and how the individual wants the brand to recognize her.” This zero-party data is foundational for the trust economy and you should check out her advice on how it helps you navigate privacy and personalization.

Take responsibility

The trust economy is really about asking yourself, as a marketer, what you stand for. How do you view your relationship with consumers? Do you care? What kind of relationship do you want? Privacy has to be part of this. Accountability is crucial. We must be accountable to where we are putting our money. It’s time to stop supporting hate, propping up the worst of society and fueling division. Start taking responsibility, caring about social issues and building meaningful relationships with consumers built on trust.

#advertising-tech, #column, #digital-marketing, #facebook, #marketing, #media, #online-advertising, #opinion, #social

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Facebook launches ‘Drives,’ a U.S.-only feature for collecting food, clothing and other necessities for people in need

Facebook today is introducing a new feature that will allow users in the U.S. to collect food, clothing, and other necessities for people in need. The feature, called “Drives,” is being made available through Facebook’s existing Community Help hub, which is the place where Facebook centralizes requests and offers for help within a local community.

The Community Help hub was first launched in 2017 as a way for Facebook users to centralize their resources in the wake of a crisis, like a man-made, accidental or natural disaster, ranging from weather events to terrorist attacks, and more. In 2020, however, the feature has been put to broader use as a part of Facebook’s COVID-19 efforts, which even saw a version of Community Help feature scaled globally to help those impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

Now, with the economic crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., millions are out of work and 12 million may lose their unemployment benefits in December when CARES Act provisions lapse. Food insecurity and an inability to pay bills, including rent and mortgage payments, as well as manage other household expenses, are impacting millions as well.

With Drives, Facebook will allow users to create and share their own efforts in collecting items for those in need, like a Canned Food Drive that’s looking to gather items for local shelters, a Clothing Drive, or any other event where someone is working to collect items to help others.

Image Credits: Facebook

To create a Drive, type “Community Help” into Facebook Search to find the shortcut that takes you to the Community Help hub. From there, click the “Request or Offer Help” button, and on the bottom sheet that appears, click “Create Drive.” You can then fill out the form, setting a goal for the number of items you want to collect. When you post the Drive, others will be able to see what’s still needed with this goal tracker. Once created, the Drive will appear in your News Feed and Timeline like a regular post, in addition to appearing in Community Help.

The feature is rolling out starting today, but it may not be widely available to all for “weeks,” Facebook says. That’s unfortunate, given that many people likely want to run holiday-related Drives within the hub to help get food for holiday meals or toys for families in need, for example.

Facebook notes that all posts in Community Help, including Drives, are reviewed to ensure they don’t violate Facebook’s Community Standards or its Community Help Product Policies. These policies prohibit insensitive and promotional content, spam, inauthentic posts, and posts from users under 18, among other things. If posts are found to be in violation, they’re taken down, the company says.

Drives is one of several efforts around holiday giving that Facebook announced today. The company also says it will match up to $7 million in eligible donations to U.S. nonprofits on GivingTuesday (Dec. 1), and is running its own fundraiser, “Peace Through Music: A Global Event For Social Justice” exclusively on Facebook Live. The event, on Dec. 1 at 12 PM ET, will feature Aloe Blacc, Billie Eilish, Becky G, Carlos Santana & Cindy Blackman Santana, Killer Mike, Ringo Starr, Skip Markey, and others. The event will support the Playing for Change Foundation, the United Nations Population FundSankofaSilkroad and The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation.

Meanwhile, Instagram will soon gain new fundraising tools. Today, Instagram users can fundraise with stickers on Stories and on Instagram Live. A new feature will allow Instagram users to post fundraisers to their Instagram Feed, too, but Facebook didn’t offer a timeframe as to when that feature would launch.

 

 

#community-help, #facebook, #fundraiser, #fundraising, #instagram, #instagram-feed, #social, #social-media, #united-states

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Apple moving forward with plan to limit “creepy” user tracking

A man glowers at an iPhone, just as ad firms are worried iOS users will when they discover how they are being tracked and that they can opt out of it.

Enlarge / A man glowers at an iPhone, just as ad firms are worried iOS users will when they discover how they are being tracked and that they can opt out of it. (credit: Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images)

Apple’s plan to add a new privacy feature to iOS to limit “invasive, even creepy” tracking by third-party firms is nothing but an abuse of market power to stifle competition, Facebook—a third-party tracking firm extraordinaire—claims.

Apple in June announced that iOS 14 would make a change requiring app developers to notify users if their app collects a unique device code, known as an IDFA (ID for Advertisers), and require that collection to be an opt-in setting. After pushback from Facebook and other firms, however, Apple delayed implementation of the new policy and launched iOS 14 in September without enabling it. The company said instead the feature would be added “early next year” to give developers more time to update their apps accordingly.

Apple stands behind its plan to implement the new app tracking transparency (ATT) feature next year and plans to move forward with it, Jane Horvath, senior director of global privacy at Apple, said in a letter to eight civil, human, and digital rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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#antitrust, #apple, #facebook, #ios, #policy, #privacy

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Google, Facebook and Twitter threaten to leave Pakistan over censorship law

Global internet companies Facebook, Google and Twitter and others have banded together and threatened to leave Pakistan after the South Asian nation granted blanket powers to local regulators to censor digital content.

Earlier this week, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan granted the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority the power to remove and block digital content that pose “harms, intimidates or excites disaffection” toward the government or in other ways hurt the “integrity, security, and defence of Pakistan.”

Through a group called the Asia Internet Coalition Asia (AIC), the tech firms said that they were “alarmed” by the scope of Pakistan’s new law targeting internet firms.” In addition to Facebook, Google, and Twitter, AIC represents Apple, Amazon, LinkedIn, SAP, Expedia Group, Yahoo, Airbnb, Grab, Rakuten, Booking.com, Line, and Cloudflare.

If the message sounds familiar, it’s because this is not the first time these tech giants have publicly expressed their concerns over the new law, which was proposed by Khan’s ministry in February this year.

After the Pakistani government made the proposal earlier this year, the group had threatened to leave, a move that made the nation retreat and promise an extensive and broad-based consultation process with civil society and tech companies.

That consultation never happened, AIC said in a statement on Thursday, reiterating that its members will be unable to operate in the country with this law in place.

“The draconian data localization requirements will damage the ability of people to access a free and open internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world. It’s chilling to see the PTA’s powers expanded, allowing them to force social media companies to violate established human rights norms on privacy and freedom of expression,” the group said in a statement.

“The Rules would make it extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses. If Pakistan wants to be an attractive destination for technology investment and realise its goal of digital transformation, we urge the Government to work with industry on practical, clear rules that protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm.”

Under the new law, tech companies that fail to remove or block the unlawful content from their platforms within 24 hours of notice from Pakistan authorities also face a fine of up to $3.14 million. And like its neighboring nation, India, — which has also proposed a similar regulation with little to no backlash — Pakistan now also requires these companies to have local offices in the country.

The new rules comes as Pakistan has cracked down on what it deems to be inappropriate content on the internet in recent months. Earlier this year, it banned popular mobile game PUBG Mobile and last month it temporarily blocked TikTok.

Countries like Pakistan and India contribute little to the bottomline for tech companies. But India, which has proposed several protectionist laws in recent years, has largely escaped any major protest from global tech companies because of its size. Pakistan has about 75 million internet users.

By contrast, India is the biggest market for Google and Facebook by users. “Silicon Valley companies love to come to India because it’s an MAU (monthly active users) farm,” Kunal Shah, a veteran entrepreneur, said in a conference in 2018.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #google, #pakistan, #policy, #social, #twitter

0

Facebook AI catches 95% of hate speech; company still wants mods back in office

Facebook logo on a street sign outside a wooded campus.

Enlarge / Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters as seen in 2017. (credit: Jason Doiy | Getty Images)

Facebook’s software systems get ever better at detecting and blocking hate speech on both the Facebook and Instagram platforms, the company boasted today—but the hardest work still has to be done by people, and many of those people warn that the world’s biggest social media company is putting them in unsafe working conditions.

About 95 percent of hate speech on Facebook gets caught by algorithms before anyone can report it, Facebook said in its latest community-standards enforcement report. The remaining 5 percent of the roughly 22 million flagged posts in the past quarter were reported by users.

That report is also tracking a new hate-speech metric: prevalence. Basically, to measure prevalence, Facebook takes a sample of content and then looks for how often the thing they’re measuring—in this case, hate speech—gets seen as a percentage of viewed content. Between July and September of this year, the figure was between 0.10 percent and 0.11 percent, or about 10-11 views of every 10,000.

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#content-moderation, #disinformation, #facebook, #labor, #misinformation, #policy

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Facebook details AI advances in catching misinformation and hate speech

Facebook’s battle against misinformation will never be over at this rate, but that doesn’t mean the company has given up. On the contrary it is only by dint of constant improvement to its automated systems that it is able to keep itself even remotely free of hate speech and misinformation. CTO Mike Schroepfer touted the latest of those improvements today in a series of posts.

The changes are to the AI-adjacent systems the social network uses to nip the likes of spam, misleading news items, and racial slurs in bud — that is to say before anyone, including Facebook’s own content moderators, sees those items.

One improvement is in the language analysis systems Facebook employs to detect things like hate speech. This is one area, Schroepfer explained, that the company has to be extremely careful. False positives in the ad space (like that something seems scammy) are low-risk, but false positives taking down posts because they’re mistaken for hate speech can be serious issues. So it’s important to be very confident when making that determination.

Unfortunately hate speech and adjacent content can be really subtle. Even something that seems indisputably racist can be inverted or subverted by a single word. Creating machine learning systems that reflect the complexity and variety of language(s) is a task that requires exponentially increasing amounts of computing resources.

Linformer (“linear”+”transformer”) is the new tool Facebook created to manage the ballooning resource cost of scanning billions of posts a day. It approximates the central attention mechanism of transformer-based language models rather than calculating it exactly, but with few trade-offs in performance. (If you understood all that, I congratulate you.)

That translates to better language understanding but only marginally higher computation costs, meaning they don’t have to, say, use a worse model for a first wave and then only run the expensive model on suspicious items.

The company’s researchers are also working on the slightly less well-shaped problem of understanding the interaction of text, images, and text in images. Fake screenshots of TV and websites, memes, and other things often found in posts are amazingly difficult for computers to understand, but are a huge source of information. What’s more, a single changed word can completely invert their meaning while almost all the visual details remain the same.

An example of two instances of the same misinformation with slightly different visual appearance. Aware of the left one, the system caught the right one.

Facebook is getting better at catching these in their infinite variety, Schroepfer said. It’s still very difficult, he said, but they’ve made huge strides in catching, for instance, COVID-19 misinformation images like fake news reports that masks cause cancer, even when the people posting them manipulate and change their look.

Deploying and maintaining these models is also complex, necessitating a constant dance of offline prototyping, deployment, online testing, and bringing that feedback to a new prototype. The Reinforcement Integrity Optimizer takes a new approach, monitoring the effectiveness of new models on live content, relaying that information to the training system constantly rather than in, say, weekly reports.

Determining whether or not Facebook can be said to be successful is not easy. On one hand, the statistics they publish paint a rosy picture of increasing proportions hate speech and misinformation taken down, with millions more pieces of hate speech, violent images, and child exploitation content removed versus last quarter.

I asked Schoepfer how Facebook can track or express their success or failure more accurately, since numbers increases might be due to either improved mechanisms for removal or simply larger volumes of that content being taken down at the same rate.

“The baseline changes all the time, so you have to look at all these metrics together. Our north star in the long run is prevalence,” he explained, referring to the actual frequency of users encountering a given type of content rather than whether it was preemptively removed or some such. “If I take down a thousand pieces of content that people were never going to see anyway, it doesn’t matter. If I take down the one piece of content that was about to go viral, that’s a massive success.”

Facebook now includes hate speech prevalence in its quarterly “community standards enforcement report,” and it defines it as follows:

Prevalence​ estimates the percentage of times people see violating content on our platform. We calculate hate speech prevalence by selecting a sample of content seen on Facebook and then labeling how much of it violates our hate speech policies. Because hate speech depends on language and cultural context, we send these representative samples to reviewers across different languages and regions.

And for its first measure of this new statistic:

From July 2020 to September 2020 was 0.10% to 0.11%. In other words, out of every 10,000 views of content on Facebook, 10 to 11 of them included hate speech.

If this number is not misleading, it implies that one in a thousand pieces of content online right now on Facebook qualifies as hate speech. That seems rather high. (I’ve asked Facebook for a bit more clarity on this number.)

One must question the completeness of these estimates as well — reports from war-torn areas like Ethiopia suggest that they are rife with hate speech that is inadequately detected, reported, and taken down. And of course the eruption of white supremacist and nationalist militia content and groups on Facebook has been well documented.

Schroepfer emphasized that his role is very squarely in the “implementation” side of things and that questions of policy, staffing, and other important parts of the social network’s vast operations are more or less out of his jurisdiction. Frankly that’s a bit of a disappointing punt by the CTO of one of the most powerful companies in the world, who seems to take these issues seriously. But one also wonders whether, had he and his teams not been so assiduous in pursuing technical remedies like the above, Facebook might have been completely snowed under with hate and fakery rather than being simply unavoidably shot through with it.

#artificial-intelligence, #facebook, #misinformation, #social, #tc

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Tech in the Biden era

President-elect Joe Biden may have spent eight years in an administration that doted on the tech industry, but that long honeymoon, punctuated by four years of Trump, looks to be over.

Tech is on notice in 2020. The Russian election interference saga of the 2016 election opened the floodgates for social media’s ills. The subsequent years unleashed dangerous torrents of homegrown extremism and misinformation that either disillusioned or radicalized regular people. A cluster of tech’s biggest data brokers further consolidated power, buying up any would-be competitor they stumbled across and steamrolling everything else. Things got so bad that Republicans and Democrats, in uncanny agreement, are both pushing plans to regulate tech.

Suddenly, allowing the world’s information merchants to grow, unmolested, into towering ad-fed behemoths over the last decade looked like a huge mistake. And that’s where we are today.

Biden and big tech

Biden didn’t make attacking tech a cornerstone of his campaign and mostly avoided weighing in on tech issues, even as Elizabeth Warren stirred the big tech backlash into the campaign conversation. His attitude toward the tech industry at large is a bit mysterious, but there are some things we do know.

The president-elect is expected to keep the Trump administration’s antitrust case against Google on track, potentially even opening additional cases into Facebook, Amazon and Apple. But his campaign also leaned on former Google CEO Eric Schmidt for early fundraising, so the relationship to Google looks a bit more complex than the Biden team’s open contempt for a company like Facebook.

As Biden picked up the nomination and the months wore on, it became clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s chumminess with Trump’s White House was unlikely to continue into a Biden administration. By September, the Biden campaign had penned a scathing letter to Mark Zuckerberg denouncing Facebook as the “foremost propagator” of election disinformation, and that frustration doesn’t seem to have dissipated. His deputy communications director recently criticized Facebook for “shredding” the fabric of democracy. It appears that Facebook could come to regret the many decisions it’s made to stay in the Trump administration’s good graces over the last four years.

Still, it’s not doom and gloom for all tech — big tech isn’t everything. There are plenty of potential bright spots, from Biden’s climate plans (lack of Senate control notwithstanding), which could crack open a whole new industry and shower it in federal dollars, to his intention to revitalize the nation’s infrastructure, from telecommunications and transportation to energy-efficient housing. 

And antitrust legislation, usually framed as an existential threat to “tech” broadly, actually stands to benefit the startup scene, where the largest tech companies have walled off many paths to innovation with years of anti-competitive behavior. If Congress, states and/or the Justice Department manages to get anywhere with the antitrust actions percolating now — and there are many things percolating — the result could open up paths for startups that would prefer a more interesting exit than being bought and subsumed (best case) or shuttered (worst case) into one of five or so tech mega-companies.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is another wildcard. Hailing from tech’s backyard, Harris brings a distinctly Bay Area vibe to the office. Most interesting is Harris’s brother-in-law Tony West. West is Uber’s chief legal officer and played a prominent role in pushing for California’s Proposition 22, which absolved gig economy companies like Lyft and Uber from the need to grant their workers benefits afforded to full-time employees. Siding with organized labor, Harris landed on the other side of the issue.

The extent of her relationships in the tech world isn’t totally clear, but she apparently has a friendly relationship with Sheryl Sandberg, who was a frontrunner for a Treasury or Commerce position four years ago in the advent of a Hillary Clinton win. 

The Biden administration will also have all kinds of quiet ties to power players in the tech world, many of whom served in the Obama years and then made a beeline for Silicon Valley. Apple’s Lisa Jackson, formerly of Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, and Jay Carney, a former Obama spokesman who sits comfortably as SVP of global corporate affairs at Amazon, are two examples there.

Transition names from tech

The Biden administration’s transition list is generously peppered with names from the tech industry, though some of them are likely grandfathered in from the Obama era rather than pulled directly for their more recent industry experience. The list named Matt Olsen, Uber’s chief trust and security officer, for his prior experience in the intel community under Obama rather than his ridesharing industry insights, for example.

The list doesn’t include any names fresh from Facebook or Google, but it does include four members from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and one from Eric Schmidt’s philanthropic project Schmidt Futures. The list also suggests a degree of continuity with the Obama era, with the inclusion of Aneesh Chopra, the first U.S. CTO, and Nicole Wong, a former deputy chief technology officer under Obama who previously worked at Twitter and Google. The transition also includes a smattering of names that served in the digital services agency 18F and some from the USDS, which borrows talent from the tech world to solve public problems.

Other names from the tech world include Airbnb’s Divya Kumaraiah and Clare Gallagher, Lyft’s Brandon Belford, Arthur Plews of Stripe, Dell CTO Ann Dunkin and quite a few more. These transition figures will help the administration fill the many open slots in a new government, but they’re less telling than who gets called to the cabinet. 

Tech in the cabinet? Maybe.

Beyond reading the tea leaves of the transition team and Biden’s previous statements here and there, we’re in for a wait. The administration’s picks for its cabinets will say a lot about its priorities, but for now we’re mostly left with the rumor mill. 

What does the rumor mill suggest? Meg Whitman, the former HP and eBay CEO most recently at the helm of failed short-form streaming platform Quibi, keeps coming up as a symbolic across-the-aisle pick for the Commerce Department, though Quibi’s spectacular dive probably doesn’t bode well for her chances.

Eric Schmidt’s name has bubbled up to lead some kind of White House tech task force, but that seems ill-fated considering the federal antitrust case against Google and the broader legislative appetite for doing something about big tech. But Alphabet board member Roger Ferguson, whose name has been floating around for Treasury Secretary, just stepped down from his current position at a finance firm, kicking up more speculation.

Seth Harris, who served in Obama’s Labor Department, made at least one list suggesting he could land a cabinet position. Harris, who is already involved in the Biden transition, also has the controversial distinction of proposing a “new legal category” of worker “for those who occupy the gray area between employees and independent contractors.” Lyft apparently cited his paper specifically after Prop 22 passed. With labor a hot issue in general right now — and Bernie Sanders himself potentially in the running for the same role — Harris would likely ignite a firestorm of controversy among labor activists if appointed to helm the department. 

On the other side of the coin, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra could be considered for a cabinet-level role in the Department of Justice. Becerra isn’t from the tech world, but as California’s AG he’s been stationed there and his department currently has its own antitrust case against Google simmering. In a recent interview with Bloomberg about antitrust issues under the Biden administration, Becerra denounced “behemoths” in the tech industry that stifle innovation, noting that state AGs have “taken the lead” on pressing tech companies on anti-competitive behavior.

“At the end of the day we all want competition, right?” Becerra said. “But here’s the thing, competition is essential if you want innovation.” Becerra, who succeeded Vice President-elect Kamala Harris when she left the Attorney General’s office for Congress, could also again follow in her footsteps, filling the vacant seat she will leave in the Senate come January.

All told, we’re seeing some familiar names in the mix, but 2020 isn’t 2008. Tech companies that emerged as golden children over the last ten years are radioactive now. Regulation looms on the horizon in every direction. Whatever policy priorities emerge out of the Biden administration, Obama’s technocratic gilded age is over and we’re in for something new.

#amazon, #antitrust, #apple, #facebook, #government, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #tc, #the-battle-over-big-tech, #white-house

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Is the internet advertising economy about to implode?

Advertising drives the modern digital economy. Whether it’s reading news sites like this one or perusing your social media feeds, advertising is the single most important industry that came out of the development of the web. Yet, for all the tens of billions of dollars poured into online advertising just in the United States alone, how much does that money actually do its job of changing the minds of consumers?

Tim Hwang has a contrarian stance: it doesn’t. In his new book published as a collaboration between Logic Magazine and the famed publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux, he argues in “Subprime Attention Crisis” that the entire web is staring into an abyss of its own making. Advertising is overvalued due to the opaqueness of the market, and few actors are willing to point out that the advertising emperor has no clothes. Much like the subprime mortgage crisis, once people come to realize the true value of digital ads, the market could crater. I found the book provocative, and I wanted to chat further with Hwang about his thoughts on the market.

Hwang formerly worked at Google on policy and has developed many, many projects across a whole swath of tech-oriented policy issues. He’s currently a research fellow at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

TechCrunch: Let’s dive straight into the book. How did you get started on this topic of the “subprime attention economy”?

Tim Hwang: There were two incidents where I was like, something is going on here. I was having conversations with a couple of friends who are product managers at Facebook, and I remember making the argument that that there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that this whole adtech thing is maybe just mostly garbage. The most interesting thing that they said was, “Oh, like, advertising works but we can’t really tell you how.” That’s like talking to someone from the national security establishment and they’re like, “Oh yeah, we can stop terrorists but, like, we can’t tell you exactly how that goes down.”

I think one thing that got me really interested in it was how opaque a lot of these things are. The companies make claims that data-driven programmatic advertising really is as effective as it is but then they’re kind of strangely hesitant to show evidence of that.

Second, I was doing research with a lot of people who I think you’d rightly call sort of tech critics — strong critics of the power that these platforms have. I think one of the most interesting things is that even among the strongest critics of tech, I think a lot of them have just bought this claim that advertising and particularly data-driven advertising is as powerful as industry says it is.

It’s a kind of strange situation. Tech optimists and tech pessimists don’t agree on a whole lot, but they do seem to agree on the idea that this sort of advertising works. That was what I wanted to explore in the book.

Why don’t we talk a bit about the thesis?

The thesis of the book is really quite simple, which is you look around and basically our modern experience of the web is almost entirely shaped by advertising. The way social media is constructed, for example, is largely as a platform for delivering ads. Engagement with content is really good for creating profiles and it’s really good for delivering ads. It really has been the thing that has powered the current generation of companies in the space.

As you sort of look closer though, it really starts to resemble the market bubbles that we know of and have seen in other places. So explicitly, the metaphor of the book is the subprime mortgage crisis. I think the idea though is that you have this market that is highly opaque, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the value of ads is misidentified, and you have a lot of people interested in boosting it even in spite of all that.

For the book, I wanted to look at that market and then what the internet could look like after all this. Are there other alternative business models that we want to adopt for the web going forward?

#adtech, #advertising-tech, #book-review, #digital-advertising, #facebook, #finance, #google, #online-advertising, #tim-wu

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PayPal launches a new crowdsourced fundraising platform, the Generosity Network

PayPal is expanding its fundraising efforts with today’s launch of the Generosity Network. Unlike the PayPal Giving Fund, which helps people support charities through online donations, the new Generosity Network lets people raise money for themselves, other individuals in need, or organizations like a small business or a charity. This puts the network more directly in competition with other crowdsourced fundraising platforms, like GoFundMe or Facebook Fundraisers, for example.

At launch, the Generosity Network will be open to PayPal customers in the U.S. only and will allow them to create fundraising campaigns of up to $20,000 over a 30-day period.

The company says it was motivated to create the new service after seeing the growth in the peer-to-peer fundraising market following the coronavirus outbreak. It also noted the pandemic has made it difficult for traditional charitable organizations to raise as they had before. More than half of charities in the U.S. now expect to raise less money than in 2019 as a result of the economic hardships driven by the pandemic, PayPal said, citing a survey (PDF) by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

In addition, over 65 million Americans filed for unemployment at some point over the course of the pandemic, PayPal says, which often led to them turning to family, friends and their community for extra support.

This isn’t the first product PayPal has developed that focused on social fundraisers. A few years ago, it launched Money Pools, which would let friends and family donate towards a shared expense — like a surprise party, group gift, travel fund, and more. The Generosity Network is an expansion on that earlier effort.

The new Generosity Network fundraisers can be created directly from PayPal’s website and donations are deposited directly into the organizer’s account for them to distribute as needed. The campaigns are also more broadly shared on the Generosity Network platform, which allows them to reach millions of more people than the organizer may have been able to reach through their own posts and shares across social media and the web.

Already, PayPal users are raising funds for disaster relief, funeral expenses, medical expenses, community efforts, and other organizations.

Like other fundraising platforms, PayPal’s Generosity Network will include fees. But, at launch, the website says it’s waiving those fees for donations made through credit and debit cards for a limited time. Cross-border fees and currency conversions fees will still apply, however.

For comparison, Facebook doesn’t charge fees for donations to charitable organizations, but does for personal fundraisers. (In the U.S., it’s 2.60% + $0.30). GoFundMe’s U.S. transaction fees are $2.9% + $0.30.

We’ve asked PayPal to disclose its fees schedule for the new platform and will update if one is provided. (The website offers no information about fees, in fact — its FAQ even links to the Money Pools FAQ, which seems to imply this Generosity Network is not yet a fully-fleshed out product.)

PayPal is likely hoping to acquire users during the increased fundraising that generally occurs over the holiday season, and believes that a platform that waives fees will give it an edge against the established competition.

“From collecting money for grocery deliveries to high-risk populations to fundraising campaigns in support of teachers and frontline workers, we’ve seen an outpouring of generosity from the PayPal community using our platform to help one another during this unprecedented year,” said PayPal VP of Giving, Oktay Dogramaci, in a statement. “The Generosity Network was designed to provide an accessible, easy and secure way for our customers to raise money on behalf of causes, and connect them with millions of PayPal customers who can offer their support this holiday season and beyond,” he said.

 

#facebook, #finance, #fundraising, #money, #paypal, #paypal-giving-fund, #peer-to-peer, #united-states

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Instagram revamps its mobile messaging app Threads

Instagram is continuing to develop its standalone messaging app, Threads. Last month, the company modified the app to make it possible for users to message everyone, instead of just “close friends,” as its other messaging app, Direct, once did. Today, Instagram is releasing a redesigned version of the Threads app with updated navigation and a Status tab, as well as support for posting photos and videos to your Instagram Story.

The changes address some of Threads’ shortcomings in usability. Though the app offered a way to update your Status or even automatically update it, based on your location, it was difficult to move between the different sections of the app.

The redesign attempts to make it easier for Threads users to view and interact with friends’ statuses and their Stories, or quickly switch back to the Camera interface or their messaging inbox, through a new navigation bar at the bottom of the screen. This navigation change, which adds the Status tab, will go live globally starting on November 19, says Instagram.

In addition, Instagram says Threads users can now take a photo or video and share it out to their Instagram Story, in addition to only their Close Friends Story directly in the Threads app.

The more recent change to the inbox, which added a new tab for “Everyone Else,” is also now globally available, as of today’s update.

These changes represent another step away from Threads being an app only meant to be used to keep with close friends.

The updates to Threads follow a period of overhaul for Facebook’s family of mobile messaging apps, including Messenger and Instagram itself, which saw another set of updates to its own inbox in recent weeks. Yesterday, Facebook announced that more features that were a part of the big overhaul of the Instagram messaging experience had become available, including an expanded co-watching feature, Watch Together, which now lets users watch IGTV, Reels and TV shows together in real-time over video chat.

It also rolled out chat themes, including a new one that featured characters representing the seven members of BTS. The company in September had announced cross-app communication with Messenger for users who upgraded their messaging experience on Instagram. That update had included the ability to change your chat color, react with any emoji, among other new features. Vanish mode is still to come to Instagram, but should arrive soon, Facebook said.

These changes, focused on Facebook’s flagship apps, may have left some wondering what would become of Threads — an app that hasn’t gone mainstream. As of the time of writing, the app was ranked No. 66 in the Photo & Video category on the U.S. App Store, and No. 1,031 Overall. But as these new efforts show, Instagram is continuing to tweak the user experience on Threads, in an effort to cater to those often use Instagram for messaging.

To be clear, some users may have had access to the new features ahead of today’s announcement, but they’re now broadly available.

 

#apps, #facebook, #facebook-applications, #instagram, #instagram-story, #messaging-apps, #messenger, #social-media, #social-software, #tc

0

African fintech startup Chipper Cash raises $30M backed by Jeff Bezos

African cross-border fintech startup Chipper Cash has raised a $30 million Series B funding round led by Ribbit Capital with participation of Bezos Expeditions — the personal VC fund of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Chipper Cash was founded in San Francisco in 2018 by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled. The company offers mobile-based, no fee, P2P payment services in seven countries: Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya.

Parallel to its P2P app, the startup also runs Chipper Checkout — a merchant-focused, fee-based payment product that generates the revenue to support Chipper Cash’s free mobile-money business. The company has scaled to 3 million users on its platform and processes an average of 80,000 transactions daily. In June 2020, Chipper Cash reached a monthly payments value of $100 million, according to CEO Ham Serunjogi .

As part of the Series B raise, the startup plans to expand its products and geographic scope. On the product side, that entails offering more business payment solutions, crypto-currency trading options, and investment services.

“We’ll always be a P2P financial transfer platform at our core. But we’ve had demand from our users to offer other value services…like purchasing cryptocurrency assets and making investments in stocks,” Serunjogi told TechCrunch on a call.

Image Credits: Chipper Cash

Chipper Cash has added beta dropdowns on its website and app to buy and sell Bitcoin and invest in U.S. stocks from Africa — the latter through a partnership with U.S. financial services company DriveWealth.

“We’ll launch [the stock product] in Nigeria first so Nigerians have the option to buy fractional stocks — Tesla shares, Apple shares or Amazon shares and others — through our app. We’ll expand into other countries thereafter,” said Serunjogi.

On the business financial services side, the startup plans to offer more API payments solutions. “We’ve been getting a lot of requests from people on our P2P platform, who also have business enterprises, to be able to collect payments for sale of goods,” explained Serunjogi.

Chipper Cash also plans to use its Series B financing for additional country expansion, which the company will announce by the end of 2021.

Jeff Bezos’s backing of Chipper Cash follows a recent string of events that has elevated the visibility of Africa’s startup scene. Over the past decade, the continent’s tech ecosystem has been one of the fastest growing in the world by year year-over-year expansion in venture capital and startup formation, concentrated in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

Africa Top VC Markets 2019

Image Credits: TechCrunch/Bryce Durbin

Bringing Africa’s large unbanked population and underbanked consumers and SMEs online has factored prominently. Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data.

As such, fintech has become Africa’s highest-funded tech sector, receiving the bulk of an estimated $2 billion in VC that went to startups in 2019. Even with the rapid venture funding growth over the last decade, Africa’s tech scene had been performance light, with only one known unicorn (e-commerce venture Jumia) a handful of exits, and no major public share offerings. That changed last year.

In April 2019, Jumia — backed by investors including Goldman Sachs and Mastercard — went public in an NYSE IPO. Later in the year, Nigerian fintech company Interswitch achieved unicorn status after a $200 million investment by Visa.

This year, Network International purchased East African payments startup DPO for $288 million and in August WorldRemit acquired Africa focused remittance company Sendwave for $500 million.

One of the more significant liquidity events in African tech occurred last month, when Stripe acquired Nigerian payment gateway startup Paystack for a reported $200 million.

In an email to TechCrunch, a spokesperson for Bezos Expeditions confirmed the fund’s investment in Chipper Cash, but declined to comment on further plans to back African startups. Per Crunchbase data, the investment would be the first in Africa for the fund. It’s worth noting Bezos Expeditions is not connected to Jeff Bezo’s hallmark business venture, Amazon.

For Chipper Cash, the $30 million Series B raise caps an event-filled two years for the San Francisco-based payments company and founders Ham Serunjogi and Maijid Moujaled. The two came to America for academics, met in Iowa while studying at Grinnell College and ventured out to Silicon Valley for stints in big tech: Facebook for Serunjogi and Flickr and Yahoo! for Moujaled.

Chipper Cash founders Ham Serunjogi (R) and Maijid Moujaled; Image Credits: Chipper Cash

The startup call beckoned and after launching Chipper Cash in 2018, the duo convinced 500 Startups and Liquid 2 Ventures — co-founded by American football legend Joe Montana — to back their company with seed funds. The startup expanded into Nigeria and Southern Africa in 2019, entered a payments partnership with Visa in April and raised a $13.8 million Series A in June.

Chipper Cash founder Ham Serunjogi believes the backing of his company by a notable tech figure, such as Jeff Bezos (the world’s richest person), has benefits beyond his venture.

“It’s a big deal when a world class investor like Bezos or Ribbit goes out of their sweet spot to a new area where they previously haven’t done investments,” he said. “Ultimately, the winner of those things happening is the African tech ecosystem overall, as it will bring more investment from firms of that caliber to African startups.”

#500-startups, #africa, #amazon, #america, #apple, #banking, #bezos-expeditions, #chipper-cash, #e-commerce, #facebook, #financial-services, #ghana, #goldman-sachs, #ham-serunjogi, #hsbc, #interswitch, #iowa, #jeff-bezos, #joe-montana, #kenya, #liquid-2-ventures, #maijid-moujaled, #mastercard, #mobile-payments, #nigeria, #online-payments, #p2p, #paystack, #ribbit, #ribbit-capital, #rwanda, #san-francisco, #series-b, #south-africa, #stripe, #tanzania, #tc, #tesla, #uganda, #united-states, #venture-capital, #visa, #worldremit, #yahoo

0

Facebook content moderators demand safer working conditions

A group of more than 200 Facebook content moderators, as well as some full-time employees,* are demanding the tech company “stop needlessly risking moderators’ lives,” they wrote in an open letter to Facebook and the company’s contractors that manage content moderators, Accenture and Covalen. This comes after The Intercept reported how Facebook content moderators were required to come back into the office during the pandemic. Shortly after they returned to the office, a Facebook content moderator reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

“After months of allowing content moderators to work from home, faced with intense pressure to keep Facebook free of hate and disinformation, you have forced us back to the office,” the group wrote. “Moderators who secure a doctors’ note about a personal COVID risk have been excused from attending in person.[1] Moderators with vulnerable relatives, who might die were they to contract COVID from us, have not.”

Moderators are now demanding Facebook allow those who are high-risk or live with someone who is high-risk for having a severe case of COVID-19 to be able to work from home indefinitely. Additionally, moderators generally want Facebook to maximize the amount of work people can do from home, offer hazard pay, offer healthcare and psychiatric care and employ moderators rather than outsource them.

“We appreciate the valuable work content reviewers do and we prioritize their health and safety,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch in a statement. “While we believe in having an open internal dialogue, these discussions need to be honest. The majority of these 15,000 global content reviewers have been working from home and will continue to do so for the duration of the pandemic. All of them have access to health care and confidential wellbeing resources from their first day of employment, and Facebook has exceeded health guidance on keeping facilities safe for any in-office work.”

In the letter, moderators argue that Facebook’s algorithms are nowhere near where they need to be in order to successfully moderate content. They argue they’re “the heart” of Facebook.

“Without our work, Facebook is unusable,” the moderators wrote. “Its empire collapses. Your algorithms cannot spot satire. They cannot sift journalism from disinformation. They cannot respond quickly enough to self-harm or child abuse. We can.”

The group represents content moderators in throughout the U.S. and Europe and has support from legal advocacy firm Foxglove. Foxglove said in a tweet that it’s the “biggest joint international effort of Facebook content moderators yet.”

This post has been updated to reflect that full-time Facebook employees are also demanding these changes in solidarity with content moderators.

#content-moderation, #diversity, #facebook, #labor, #tc

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Facebook launches E.gg, an experimental collage making app

Facebook’s internal R&D group, NPE Team, has today officially launched its latest app, E.gg, to a broader audience. The app, a freeform creation tool described as a “GIF collage bonanza,” was announced earlier this year, but was only onboarding users via a waitlist until now. Today, it’s available in the App Store for anyone to download.

The app allows users to create and share canvases, which are basically mixed media “artsy” collages created using a combination of text, images, and/or GIFs. The latter leverages Facebook’s acquisition of the GIF repository Giphy from May. Anything you make in E.gg can be given its own unique URL, allowing others to view your content even if they don’t have the app installed themselves.

Image Credits: Facebook

However, if you do use E.gg, you can browse through other people’s work directly in the app. And when you discover something on their pages you like, you can easily reuse that content on your own pages with attribution.

When first introducing E.gg this summer, Facebook Product Manager Jason Toff described it as an “experimental new platform for weird and wonderful expressions of who you are and what you love,” adding that the inspiration for the project was the “raw and exploratory spirit on the early Interwebz.”

In other words, the early days of the web resulted in a lot more weird and offbeat creativity, because users were experimenting with what was possible — from dancing baby GIFs to awful font choices to tacky website backgrounds.

The question E.gg aims to answer is whether a more low-pressure, creative tool can help give people the power to express themselves more freely.

Facebook says that during its beta testing phase, people used E.gg to create create fan pagesguidestributesprofilescollagesrecipes and more.

Unfortunately, the app during its beta period had also been met with complaints from artists who claimed it was stealing their work. They said the tool had pulled in their GIFs without permission or credit. Facebook responded at the time to acknowledge the issues and noted that the reason the app was still in a beta testing phase was to get feedback about the sort of problems it needed to correct before going live. The company said it would hold off on expanding E.gg until it fixed these problems.

Presumably, Facebook has addressed the attribution issues, as the app is now live.

E.gg is available as a free download from the iOS App Store in the U.S. Users can also browse others’ creations via http://e.gg.

#app-store, #apps, #collage, #creativity, #facebook, #giphy, #instagram, #ios-apps, #jason-toff, #npe-team, #social, #social-media

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Twitter and Facebook’s diverging philosophies were on display in the latest tech hearing

The latest tech hearing was a study in contrasts. Contrasts between lawmakers who made an effort to stay on topic in a hearing ostensibly about social media and the 2020 election and those who… just talked about whatever was on their minds.

Also contrasts between then and now. Social media companies previously treated any attempt at Section 230 reform as radioactive; now, they’ve now come around to cooperating so they’re not cut out of the conversation altogether.

But most of all it was a study in contrasts for the two men on the virtual witness stand: Facebook’s equivocating chief executive, who always manages to speak too much in the service of saying very little and Twitter’s laconic business mystic who came off as measurably more poised to meet the moment, wizard beard and all.

In a signal that the hearing’s stated purpose would not reflect the grab bag of gripes on display Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s own chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham, threw the plan out early and asked the two CEOs if they had seen any evidence that their platforms were addictive.

Zuckerberg responded with characteristic defensiveness, arguing that the research in this area was not “conclusive.”

“We certainly do not want our products to be addictive,” Zuckerberg said, contradicting behavioral scientists, Facebook defectors, and common sense observations of its products. “We want people to use them because they are meaningful,” he added, casting aspersions on “the memes and misinformation out there” about what makes Facebook’s business tick. The response fit neatly into a narrative a few lawmakers pushed that big tech operates out of big tobacco’s playbook.

Given the same question, Dorsey was less disingenuous. “I do think like anything else, these tools can be addictive and we should be aware of that and acknowledge it,” Dorsey said. His statement perhaps stops short of acknowledging the degree to which social media has reshaped the course of modern human behavior, but ultimately it bodes better for Twitter’s health as a platform and for its users’ addled brains.

The two CEOs also sharply contrasted on questions about their algorithms.

When Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked if social platforms should provide more transparency around the algorithms they use to decide what users see, Dorsey proposed more transparency through user control. “I think a better option is providing more choice to be able to turn off the algorithms or choose a different algorithm so that people can see how effects ones’ experience,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey also suggested that Twitter could expand those options through something like a third-party “marketplace” where users could select ranking algorithms they suited their needs.

Zuckerberg, for his part, didn’t go near this idea with a 10-foot pole, instead lauding the existence of Facebook’s third-party fact checking program (never mind the too-restrained way Facebook presents those fact checks) and the company’s community standards reports, which present aggregated numbers on the rule-breaking content that Facebook removes. Facebook’s algorithm is a black box that users are locked inside and that’s that. (Naturally, the box prints ad dollars.)

In contrast, Twitter has committed to a kind of openness that’s not perfect, but it’s at least refreshing. The company treats its platform policy decisions as a kind of living document, tweeting updates about the most high profile decisions in near real-time, admitting mistakes and emphasizing that it’s learning and changing things as it goes.

One example of Twitter’s experimental approach: The company universally disabled one-click retweets before the U.S. election, hoping to make user behavior less reactive while slowing down viral election misinformation. The changes were part of Twitter’s recent experiments with introducing more friction to the platform. Twitter also hid tweets and restricted sharing for some particularly egregious bits of misinformation — some of it coming from President Trump. Facebook stuck to “labels,” the current bare minimum content moderation gesture.

Dorsey’s company is still plagued by rampant harassment, brain-melting conspiracies and, for now, a lame duck president actively seeking to destabilize American democracy, but it at least seems open to changes that could shift the dynamics of the platform in the interest of making it better.

#congress, #facebook, #government, #tc, #twitter

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Facebook’s Messenger Kids app redesigned to look more like Messenger

Facebook today is rolling out an updated version of its Messenger Kids app with the goal of making it easier for kids to interact with their friends and family, navigate the app, and personalize their experience with features like custom chat bubble colors. The redesign also gives the kid-friendly app a look-and-feel that’s more like Messenger itself.

The updated app does away with the larger, colorful blocks that would flash when messages arrive for a more traditional messaging app design where chats are stacked in a vertical list. The child’s unread messages, now at the top of the inbox, are in bold with a blue dot next to them to call the eye’s attention. Media and message previews have also been added, too, allowing kids to more easily see updates for their conversations.

The redesign introduces new navigation with two dedicated “Chat” and “Explore” navigation tabs at the bottom of the screen, allowing for kids to switch between their conversations and the other in-app activities the app provides, like its mini-games

And with a new swipe gesture, kids can start a call from their inbox.

Finally, the update introduces a new option to personalize conversations, including both individual and group chats, with a custom chat bubble color.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook refers to the update as a “test,” but the changes here are not small tweaks to the layout, navigation or feature set — they’re a revamp. That makes it less likely that this is just some experiment that will later be rolled back based on user feedback. Instead, by referring to it as a test, Facebook gives itself more time before committing to a global rollout.

The company says the new features will first roll out to kids using iPhones in the U.S. and Canada. The update will later expand to other devices and markets in the months ahead.

The changes arrive shortly after Messenger itself received a significant update of its own, which included a visual makeover and new features, including support for chat themes, custom reactions, selfie stickers and vanish mode, in addition to support for cross-app communication with Instagram users. Those updates could have led to the Messenger Kids makeover as well, given there’s likely some underlying messaging infrastructure that’s shared here.

The Messenger Kids app has been steadily updated in the years since its launch, most recently with a big explainer on what Facebook is doing with all that data it’s collecting.

Image Credits: Facebook

Parents should be aware this app today collects a lot of personal information, including names, profile photos, demographic details (gender and birthday), a child’s connection to parents, contacts’ information (like most frequent contacts), app usage information, device attributes and unique identifiers, data from device settings (like time zones or access to camera and photos), network information and information provided from things like bug reports or feedback/contact forms. While some of this does allow the app to properly function, there’s also concern from some parents about how this data is really being used.

While the app does offer a suite of parental controls that make it easier for parents to monitor and restrict how and when their children chat online, Messenger Kids’ privacy policy still leaves itself a lot of wiggle room about how the data may be used to “evaluate, troubleshoot, improve, create, and develop our products” and be shared with other Facebook Companies. Parents should carefully weigh the risks of allowing their child to use a Facebook product with the conveniences of being able to use an app with a robust set of parental controls.

#apps, #facebook, #facebook-messenger, #instant-messaging, #messaging-apps, #messenger, #messenger-kids, #social, #social-media, #tc

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Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg will face Congress again, this time about the election

After giving in to the looming threat of subpoenas, two of tech’s most high profile CEOs will again be grilled by Congress.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will host Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg for what’s likely to be another multi-hour airing of assorted grievances. In this round, Republican lawmakers called the hearing to press the tech titans on “Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election.” The hearing, which was scheduled before the election, was apparently inspired by the platforms’ decisions to limit the reach of a dubious New York Post story presenting leaked information purporting to implicate now President-elect Joe Biden and his son Hunter in a corrupt political influence scheme in Ukraine.

If the last hearing is any indication, and it likely is, Tuesday’s tech vs. Congress showdown will be less about cornering the two tech platform CEOs on the stated topic than it will be a far-ranging complaint session about Republicans’ ongoing complaints about anti-conservative bias punctuated by bipartisan soliloquies on lawmakers’ various pet topics. While that hearing, held last month in the Senate Commerce Committee, was ostensibly about Section 230 reform, the pressing policy issue barely came up.

Tuesday will be the first post-election Congressional appearance from social media leaders, so we can also expect a war of competing political realities. In one, President Trump, unfairly assailed by tech and the media alike, is somehow still a contender for the presidency. In the other reality (the real one), President-elect Joe Biden won the election decisively but his victory remains mired in social media misinformation. The latter scenario has played out in spite of a mixed bag of special tools and rules devised by Twitter and Facebook to rein in looming post-election conspiracies.

If you’re interested in subjecting yourself to Tuesday’s proceedings, you can watch the hearing live on the committee’s own page or on C-SPAN Tuesday at 7AM PT. If you’re not, and we can’t exactly suggest it, circle back after things are over and we’ll catch you up. But before we leave you, one question: How does YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki keep staying out of these things?

#congress, #facebook, #government, #section-230, #tc, #twitter

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What is Parler, and why is everyone suddenly talking about it?

What is Parler, and why is everyone suddenly talking about it?

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Hundreds of millions of Americans—and our counterparts worldwide—watched the US election and its high-drama aftermath unfold on social media over the past week or so. Most of us were using Facebook or Twitter, but in the immediate wake of Election Day, a new social media platform suddenly rocketed to the top of the app download charts: Parler.

Conservative politicians, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), have been evangelizing Parler to their followers for more than a year and have been joined by right-wing media personalities. Conservatives have now redoubled their efforts to evade “censorship,” as Twitter works overtime to fact-check false claims about the election.

What is Parler?

Parler is a Twitter-style social media platform that first launched in 2018. As with Twitter, it’s built around a newsfeed of accounts you can choose to follow, and users can upload images in addition to creating posts of up to 1,000 characters (Twitter caps posts at 280). In addition to being available by Web, Parler has both iOS and Android apps available.

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#facebook, #gab, #parler, #policy, #social-media, #twitter, #voat

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Facebook’s Snapchat-like ‘Vanish Mode’ feature arrives on Messenger and Instagram

Facebook today announced its new Snapchat-like feature for disappearing messaging, Vanish Mode, is arriving on Messenger and Instagram. The feature, meant for more casual conversations, allows users to set chats to automatically delete after the message is seen and the chat is closed.

In Vanish Mode, Messenger and Instagram users can send text chats, emoji, pictures, GIFs, voice messages, and stickers, which will disappear after they’ve been seen and users leave the chat, Facebook explains.

Image Credits: Facebook

However, unlike on Snapchat, Vanish Mode is not a default setting. Instead, users are meant to enable it from within an existing chat by swiping up on their mobile device’s screen while in the chat.

Upon first launch, a screen will appear explaining how Vanish Mode works. It also notes that users will be alerted if someone takes a screenshot of the conversation — as Snapchat does.

For safety purposes, Facebook supports blocking and reporting in Vanish Mode. If a user in the conversation reports a chat, the disappearing messages will be included for up to 1 hour after they disappear, the company explains. This allows Facebook to review the reported conversation and take action, if need be.

Image Credits: Facebook

Vanish Mode is also an opt in experience — meaning you can can choose whether to enter a Vanish Mode chat. And it only works with people you’re connected to, Facebook says.

Once in Vanish Mode, the screen goes dark to signal the change. To exit Vanish Mode, you tap on the “Turn Off Vanish Mode” button at the top of the screen.

Facebook’s plans for Vanish mode were announced earlier as part of its overhaul of the Instagram messaging experience in September. This update had included the ability for Instagram and Messenger users to communicate across apps, along with other “fun” features.

As a part of that update, Instagram received many Messenger-inspired additions — like the ability to change the chat color or react with any emoji, for example. But though announced, the Vanish Mode feature was then said to be coming “soon.”

Image Credits: Facebook

To be clear, Vanish Mode is not designed to cater to those looking to secure an entire conversation. Though the feature is end-to-end encrypted, Facebook already offers a fully end-to-end encrypted conversations feature, Secret Conversations. Instead, Vanish Mode’s main focus is to chip away at yet another advantage held by rival Snapchat.

That’s part for the course for Facebook these days. The company already copied the Stories format popularlized Snapchat, and now that product alone on each of its platforms is used by more people (500M+) than all of Snapchat. (249M).

To get Vanish Mode, and other recent updates to the Instagram messaging experience, users have to opt-in to the upgrade. Essentially, these new features are being used as lures to get Instagram users to agree to the upgrade.

The upgrade then locks them further inside the Facebook universe as they then also receive the ability to communicate cross-platform with users on Facebook. Eventually, WhatsApp may become a part of this cross-platform communication strategy, as well.

Once upgraded, people can use just one messaging apps to reach friends and family on two of the largest social networks in the world. And with additions like Vanish Mode, they won’t miss out on things found on competitors’ apps. Meanwhile, with Reels on Instagram, Facebook aims to retain TikTok users, too.

Facebook says Vanish Mode is launching starting today on Messenger in the U.S. Canada, Mexico, Peru and Bangladesh, and on Instagram (soon) in Canada, Argentina, Chile, Peru and a few other countries. It will soon roll out to other countries across both platforms, the company says.

 

#apps, #facebook, #facebook-messenger, #instagram, #messaging-apps, #messenger, #snapchat, #social, #social-media, #social-networks

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Facebook loses final appeal in defamation takedown case, must remove same and similar hate posts globally

Austria’s Supreme Court has dismissed Facebook’s appeal in a long running speech takedown case — ruling it must remove references to defamatory comments made about a local politician worldwide for as long as the injunction lasts.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment on the ruling.

Green Party politician, Eva Glawischnig, successfully sued the social media giant seeking removal of defamatory comments made about her by a user of its platform after Facebook had refused to take down the abusive postings — which referred to her as a “lousy traitor”, a “corrupt tramp” and a member of a “fascist party”. 

After a preliminary injunction in 2016 Glawischnig won local removal of the defamatory postings the next year but continued her legal fight — pushing for similar postings to be removed and take downs to also be global.

Questions were referred up to the EU’s Court of Justice. And in a key judgement last year the CJEU decided platforms can be instructed to hunt for and remove illegal speech worldwide without falling foul of European rules that preclude platforms from being saddled with a “general content monitoring obligation”. Today’s Austrian Supreme Court ruling flows naturally from that.

Austrian newspaper Der Standard reports that the court confirmed the injunction applies worldwide, both to identical postings or those that carry the same essential meaning as the original defamatory posting.

It said the Austrian court argues that EU Member States and civil courts can require platforms like Facebook to monitor content in “specific cases” — such as when a court has identified user content as unlawful and “specific information” about it — in order to prevent content that’s been judged to be illegal from being reproduced and shared by another user of the network at a later point in time with the overarching aim of preventing future violations.

The case has important implications for the limitations of online speech.

Regional lawmakers are also working on updating digital liability regulations. Commission lawmakers have said they want to force platforms to take more responsibility for the content they fence and monetize — fuelled by concerns about the impact of online hate speech, terrorist content and divisive disinformation.

A long-standing EU rule, prohibiting Member States from putting a general content monitoring obligation on platforms, limits how they can be forced to censor speech. But the CJEU ruling has opened the door to bounded monitoring of speech — in instances where it’s been judged to be illegal — and that in turn may influence the policy substance of the Digital Services Act which the Commission is due to publish in draft early next month.

In a reaction to last year’s CJEU ruling, Facebook argued it “opens the door to obligations being imposed on internet companies to proactively monitor content and then interpret if it is ‘equivalent’ to content that has been found to be illegal”.

“In order to get this right national courts will have to set out very clear definitions on what ‘identical’ and ‘equivalent’ means in practice. We hope the courts take a proportionate and measured approach, to avoid having a chilling effect on freedom of expression,” it added.

#censorship, #content-takedowns, #defamation, #europe, #eva-glawischnig, #facebook, #free-speech, #freedom-of-expression, #hate-speech, #lawsuit, #platform-regulation

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To own an AR future, Niantic wants to build a smarter map of the world

Niantic is continuing to bet heavily on the idea that it knows where consumer computing is headed, namely towards augmented reality.

The game development startup behind Pokémon Go has some good company with companies like Apple, Facebook and Snap making similar bets, but stakes are high for the studio which hopes it can build an early advantage in foundational AR infrastructure and bring third-party developers on board, edging out efforts from companies that are quite a bit larger.

Niantic’s experiments are still being bankrolled by their 2016 first-party hit Pokémon Go, which SensorTower estimates is having its best year ever in 2020. A report from the firm suggests that the title has pulled in more than $1 billion in revenue since the start of the year, a marked increase since 2019 that might be surprising given the social effects of a global pandemic. Those revenues have allowed Niantic to be one of the more active acquirers in the AR infrastructure space, buying up small buzzy AR startups like Escher Reality, Matrix Mill and, most recently, 6D.ai.

That latest purchase in particular has acted as a signal for what the company’s next plans are for its augmented reality platform. 6D.ai was building cloud AR mapping software with companies like Airbnb among its early customers. The tech allowed users to quickly gather 3D information of a space just by holding up their phone to the world. Since the acquisition, Niantic has been integrating the tech into their developer platform and have been aiming to juice the technology with their own advances in semantic understanding so that they can not only quickly gather what the geometry of a space looks like, but also peer into the context of what the objects are that makes up that 3D mesh.

“We ultimately have this vision that for an AR experience, everything has to come together for it to be really magical,” Joel Hesch, Niantic’s Senior Director of Engineering, told TechCrunch. “You want precise location information so that you can see content in the right location and experience things together with others who are in the same location. You want the geometric information for things like occlusion or physics interactions. And you want to know about what things mean from a semantic perspective so that your characters can interact with the world in an intelligible way.”

While they’ve been building out the tech, they’ve also been pushing users to try it out. Niantic has been urging Pokémon Go players to actively capture videos of certain landmarks and destinations, visual data from which is fed back into bulking up models and improving experiences for subsequent users. As users gain access to more advanced tech like the LiDAR sensor inside the new iPhone 12 Pro, it’s likely that Niantic will gain access to more quality data themselves.

The ultimate goal of this data collection, the startup says, is to build an ever-updating 3D map of the world. Their latest tech allows them to peer into this map and distinguish what types of objects and scenes are in these scans, distinguishing buildings from water from the sky. The real question is how useful all of this data will actually prove to be in practice, compared to more high-level geographic insights like the Google Maps API .

Though the company has been talking about their Real World Platform since 2018, they’ve been slow to officially expand it as the enthusiasm behind phone-based AR has seemed to recede since Apple’s initial unveil of ARKit in 2017 prompted a groundswell of attention in the space. “We’ve primarily been focused on first party games and applications, but we are very excited about extending the platform to be something that more people can use,” Hesch says.

For Niantic and other companies that are bullish on an AR future, their best bet seem to be quietly building and hoping that their R&D will give them a years-long advantage when the technology potentially starts landing more consumer hits.

#airbnb, #api, #apple, #augmented-reality, #escher-reality, #facebook, #fed, #games, #ingress, #iphone, #matrix, #matrix-mill, #niantic, #pokemon, #pokemon-go, #snap, #software, #tc, #video-games

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Facebook extends its temporary ban on political ads for another month

The election is settled, but the nation is far from it.

Before Election Day in the U.S., Facebook hit pause on all political and social issue ads. At the time, the company made it clear that the precautionary measure designed to turn off one potential faucet of misinformation would be temporary, but it couldn’t say how long the policy would remain in effect.

Now, Facebook says the temporary ban will continue for at least another month. The decision to extend the special policy was implemented Wednesday, four days after Joe Biden’s election victory — and four days after it became clear that Trump had no intention of conceding a lost election.

“The temporary pause for ads about politics and social issues in the US continues to be in place as part of our ongoing efforts to protect the election,” the company wrote in an update to its previous announcement. “Advertisers can expect this to last another month, though there may be an opportunity to resume these ads sooner.”

Facebook’s ongoing political ad pause throws a wrench into things in Georgia, where two January runoff elections will decide which party will control the Senate heading into President-Elect Biden’s administration. A friendly Senate is essential for many of Biden’s biggest proposals, including a $2 trillion climate package that could reshape the American economy and push the country toward an electrified future that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels.

Over the last few days, a shocking number of Republicans have “humored” the president’s refusal to transfer power in spite of an unambiguous election call and Biden’s decisive win in Pennsylvania, which cut off any potential paths to victory for his opponent. The Trump campaign’s last-ditch flurry of legal challenges have presented little of substance so far, and they might ultimately be more about dividing a nation and sowing doubt than prevailing in court.

#2020-election, #advertising, #facebook, #facebook-political-ads, #government, #social, #tc

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India approves Google’s $4.5 billion deal with Reliance’s Jio Platforms

India’s antitrust watchdog has approved Google’s proposed investment of $4.5 billion in the nation’s largest telecom platform Jio Platforms, it said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Google announced in July that it would be investing $4.5 billion for a 7.73% stake in the top Indian telecom network. As part of the deal, Google and Jio Platforms plan to collaborate on developing a customized-version of Android mobile operating system to build low-cost, entry-level smartphones to serve the next hundreds of millions of users, the two companies said.

Jio Platforms is planning to launch as many as 200 million smartphones in the next three years, according to a pitch the telecom giant has made to several developers. These smartphones, as is the case with nearly 40 million of Jio’s feature phones in circulation today, will have an app store with only a few dozen apps, all vetted and approved by Jio, according to one developer who was pitched by Jio Platforms. An industry executive described Jio’s store as a walled garden.

The Indian watchdog, Competition Commission of India (CCI), was said to be interested in reviewing the data sharing agreement between Google and Jio, Indian newspaper Economic Times reported last month, citing an unidentified source.

The announcement today comes days after the CCI announced it had directed an in-depth investigation into Google to verify the allegations of whether the Android-maker promotes its payments service during the installation of an Android smartphone (and whether phone vendors have a choice to avoid this); and if Google Play Store’s billing system is designed “to the disadvantage of both i.e. apps facilitating payment through UPI, as well as users.”

The call for this in-depth investigation was prompted after the CCI concluded in its initial review that requiring Google Pay to be used to buy apps or make in-app payments was an “imposition of unfair and discriminatory condition, denial of market access for competing apps of Google Pay and leveraging on the part of Google,” the watchdog said.

Jio Platforms, which has amassed over 400 million subscribers, has this year raised over $20 billion from 13 high-profile investors including Facebook, which alone invested $5.7 billion into the Indian firm. That deal has also been approved by the CCI. Jio Platforms is a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, India’s most valued firm. It is run by Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man.

#asia, #facebook, #google, #government, #india, #jio-platforms, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms

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Facebook and Twitter struggle with online fury from Trump supporters

HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA - NOVEMBER 05: A child holds a sign as dozens of people calling for stopping the vote count in Pennsylvania due to alleged fraud against President Donald Trump gather on the steps of the State Capital on November 05, 2020 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The activists, many with flags and signs for Trump, have made allegations that votes are being stolen from the president as the race in Pennsylvania continues to tighten in Joe Biden's favor.

Enlarge / HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA – NOVEMBER 05: A child holds a sign as dozens of people calling for stopping the vote count in Pennsylvania due to alleged fraud against President Donald Trump gather on the steps of the State Capital on November 05, 2020 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The activists, many with flags and signs for Trump, have made allegations that votes are being stolen from the president as the race in Pennsylvania continues to tighten in Joe Biden’s favor. (credit: Spencer Platt | Getty Images)

Facebook and Twitter are struggling to contain rising anger from Donald Trump’s supporters online, as a wave of momentum builds around the US president’s claims that the election is being stolen from him.

In the past 24 hours, Facebook has invoked emergency measures to make it harder for users to share posts that contain misleading information, to remove such posts from people’s news feeds, and to restrict the circulation of poll-related livestreams.

The social media company has also expanded its warning labels from posts by political candidates to a wider web of rightwing influencers, many of whom were echoing Mr. Trump’s messages, saying that it was flagging individuals based on whether their posts were going viral.

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#2020-election, #facebook, #gaming-culture, #policy, #social-media, #trump, #twitter

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