Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosts first test of Live Audio Rooms in U.S.

In April, Facebook announced a slew of new audio products, including its Clubhouse clone, called Live Audio Rooms, which will be available across both Facebook and Messenger. Since May, Facebook has been publicly testing the audio rooms feature in Taiwan with public figures, but today the company hosted its first public test of Live Audio Rooms in the U.S. The event itself was hosted by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who chatted with fellow execs and creators.

Joining Zuckerberg were Facebook VP and Head of Facebook Reality Labs Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, Head of Facebook App Fidji Simo, and three Facebook Gaming creators, including StoneMountain64, QueenEliminator, and TheFierceDivaQueen.

Image Credits: Facebook screenshot

The creators used their time in the Audio Room to talk more about their gaming journeys on Facebook, what kind of games they were streaming and other gaming-related matters. Zuckerberg also briefly teased new gaming features including a new type of post, coming soon, called “Looking for Players.” This post type will help creators find others in the community to play games with while they’re streaming.

In addition, badges that are earned from live streams will now carry over to fan groups, Zuckerberg said, adding that it was a highly requested feature by creators and fans alike.

Fan groups will also now become available to all partnered creators on Facebook Gaming, starting today, and will roll out to others in the coming weeks.

Image Credits: Facebook screenshot

The experience of using the Live Audio Room is very much like what you’d expect on another platform, like Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces. The event’s hosts appear in rounded profile icons at the top of the screen, while the listeners appear in the bottom half of the screen, as smaller icons. In between is a section that includes people followed by the speakers.

The active speaker is indicated with a glowing ring in shades of Facebook blue, purple and pink. If verified, a blue check appears next to their name.

Listeners can “Like” or otherwise react to the content as it streams live using the “Thumbs Up” button at the bottom of the screen. And they can choose to share the Audio Room either in a Facebook post, in a Group, with a friend directly, or through other apps.

A toggle switch under the room’s three-dot “more” menu lets you turn on or off auto-generated captions, for accessibility. From here, you can also report users or any issues or bugs you encountered.

The Live Audio Room today did not offer any option for raising your hand or joining the speakers on stage — it was more of a “few-to-many” broadcast experience.

Before today, TechCrunch received a couple of tips from users who reported seeing the Audio Rooms option appear for them in the Facebook app. However, the company told us it had only tested Live Audio Rooms in the U.S. with employees.

During the test period, Live Audio Rooms are only available on iOS and Android, we’re told.

Zuckerberg also used today’s event to talk more broadly about Facebook’s plans for the creator economy going forward.

“I think a good vision for the future is one where a lot more people get to do creative work and work that they enjoy, and fewer people have to do work that they just find a chore. And, in order to do that, a lot of what we need to do is basically build out a bunch of these different monetization tools,” explained Zuckerberg. “Not all creators are going to have the same business model. So having the ability to basically use a lot of different tools like Fiji [Simo] was talking about — for some people it might be, Stars or ad revenue share or subscriptions or selling things or different kinds of things like that — that will be important and part of making this all add up.”

He noted also that the tools Facebook is building go beyond gaming, saying that Facebook intends to support journalists, writers, and others — likely a reference to the company’s upcoming Substack clone, Bulletin, expected to launch later this month.

Zuckerberg additionally spoke about how the company won’t immediately take a cut of the revenue generated from creators’ content.

“Having this period where we’re not taking a cut and more people can get into these kinds of roles, I think is going to be a good thing to do — especially given how hard hit a lot of parts of the economy have been with COVID and the pandemic,” he said.

More realistically, of course, Facebook’s decision to not take an immediate cut of some creator revenue is a decision it’s making in order to help attract more creators to its service, in the face of so much competition across the industry.

Clubhouse, for example, is currently wooing creators with a payments feature, where creators keep 100% of their revenue. And it’s funding some creators’ shows. Twitter, meanwhile, is tying its audio product Spaces to its broader set of creator tools, which now include newsletters, tips, and soon, a subscription platform dubbed Super Follow.

Zuckerberg didn’t say during today’s event when Live Audio Rooms would be available to the public, but said the experience would roll out to “a lot more people soon.”

#audio, #audio-rooms, #broadcasting, #clubhouse, #creator-economy, #creators, #facebook, #facebook-gaming, #fidji-simo, #gaming, #live-audio, #mark-zuckerberg, #messenger, #mobile-applications, #social, #social-media, #social-software, #tc

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Instagram adds affiliate and shop features for creators

As Apple hosts their annual Worldwide Developers Conference, Instagram and Facebook chose this moment to pilot their first-ever Creator Week. This three-day event is geared toward aspiring and emerging digital creators, complete with 9:45 AM virtual DJ sets and panels on “Algorithm Mythbusting” and raising “zillions for a nonprofit you care about.”

During the first day of the event, Mark Zuckerberg made an announcement introducing new ways for creators to make money. In the coming months, Instagram will start testing a native affiliate tool, which allows creators to recommend products available on checkout, share them with followers and earn commissions for sales their posts drive. When creators make these posts, the text “eligible for commission” will appear beneath their username in the same way that sponsored content labels appear.

Available immediately, creators will be able to link their shops to their personal profiles, not just business ones. By the end of the year, eligible creators in the U.S. will be able to partner with one of Instagram’s merchandise partners (Bravado/UMG, Fanjoy, Represent and Spring) to drop exclusive product launches on the app.

During live Instagram videos, viewers can tip creators by sending them a Badge, which costs between $0.99 and $4.99. Facebook Gaming has a similar feature called Stars, in which one Star is valued at $0.01. Starting this week, creators can earn bonuses for accomplishing certain challenges, like going live with another account. In a promotional image, for example, Facebook offers a bonus of $150 for creators who earn 5,000 Stars, the equivalent of $50.

“To help more creators make a living on our platforms, we’re going to keep paid online events, fan subscriptions, badges, and our upcoming independent news products free for creators until 2023,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “And when we do introduce a revenue share, it will be less than the 30% that Apple and others take.”

Image Credits: Instagram

These updates mark the latest push by Instagram toward affiliate marketing and in-app shopping, like its redesigned Instagram Shop and Shopping in Reels, which debuted within the last year.

“Our goal is to be the best platform for creators like you to make a living. And if you have an idea that you want to share with the world, you should be able to create it and get it out there easily and simply — across Facebook and Instagram — and then earn money for your work,” Zuckerberg added during Creator Week.

Creators may be drawn to experiment with these affiliate and shop features, since for now, they won’t lose a cut of their profits to Instagram. But platforms like TikTok and YouTube offer monetization strategies that extend beyond e-commerce.

Last July, TikTok announced its $200 million TikTok Creator Fund, which allows popular posters to earn money from their videos. It’s unclear exactly how TikTok determines how much money to dole out, but it depends on the number of views, engaged views and other factors. In August 2020, the YouTuber-turned-TikToker Hank Green estimated that he would bring home about $700 from 20,000,000 TikTok views in one month, averaging to about 3.5 cents per 1,000 views.

Meanwhile, YouTube announced a $100 million fund last month for top creators on YouTube Shorts, its TikTok competitor. The platform pointed out that over the last three years it has paid $30 billion to content creators. Snapchat has been paying $1 million per day to creators on their own TikTok competitor, Spotlight.

For users who don’t have millions of followers, these creator funds might not pay the rent. Still, it offers an income stream based on views, outside of e-commerce or viewer tips. For now, Instagram can’t say the same.

#conference, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #instagram, #mark-zuckerberg, #online-events, #partner, #social, #software, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #video-hosting, #youtube

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Zuckerberg says WhatsApp will add multi-device support, introduce ‘view once’ disappearing feature

WhatsApp will soon let you use the popular instant messaging app simultaneously on multiple devices, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said. The instant messaging app, used by over 2 billion users, also plans to add more options to its disappearing messages feature, top executives said.

Zuckerberg confirmed to news outlet WaBetaInfo that multi-device support will be arriving on the instant messaging service “soon.” WhatsApp head Will Cathcart said users will be able to connect up to four devices to one account. The messaging firm is also working to introduce a dedicated WhatsApp app for the iPad, he said.

“It’s been a big technical challenge to get all your messages and content to sync properly across devices even when your phone battery dies, but we’ve solved this and we’re looking forward to getting it out soon!” Zuckerberg said.

The instant messaging service, which last year introduced the ability to set a seven-day timer on messages (disappearing mode), is now planning to expand this feature to let users share pictures and videos that can only be viewed once. “We’re also about to start rolling out ‘view once,’ so you can send content and have it disappear after the person sees it,” Zuckerberg said.

WhatsApp users will also get an option to enforce disappearing mode across the app for all new chats.

Zuckerberg and Cathcart told the news outlet — and it’s indeed the two of them talking — that these features will be available to users in public beta “in the next month or two.”

#apps, #facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #social, #whatsapp, #will-cathcart

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Facebook VR exec Hugo Barra is leaving

Four years after joining as Facebook’s first VP of VR, ex-Xiaomi exec Hugo Barra has left the company, he said in a social media post Tuesday.

Barra led Facebook’s VR efforts during a particularly tumultuous time for Oculus, coming aboard to helm the division as the once independent arm was folded deeper into its parent company after the departure of co-founder and CEO Brendan Iribe. During Barra’s time at Facebook, the company pivoted from PC-based VR systems towards all-in-one designs, relying on a partnership with Barra’s previous employer Xiaomi to help the company scale its entry-level Oculus Go headset which has since been discontinued.

The executive was eventually replaced in his role leading AR/VR inside Zuck’s inner circle by long-time Facebook veteran Andrew Bosworth and subsequently moved to a role leading partnerships. Barra leaves months after the launch of Facebook’s $299 Quest 2 headset, which arrived to positive reviews, and on the cusp of the company’s first foray into AR-based smart glasses.

“When Mark Zuckerberg approached me 5 years ago to come to Facebook to lead the Oculus team and work on virtual reality, I knew I was jumping into an ambitious journey to help build the next computing platform but I couldn’t have imagined just how much this team would get done in just a few years,” Barra wrote in a public Facebook post.

Barra didn’t detail where he’ll be landing next, but said he’s joining an effort in the healthcare technology space.

#andrew-bosworth, #arkansas, #brendan-iribe, #companies, #computing, #display-technology, #executive, #facebook, #hugo-barra, #mark-zuckerberg, #mixed-reality, #oculus, #quest, #technology, #virtual-reality, #vr, #wearable-devices, #xiaomi, #zuck

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Facebook’s hand-picked ‘oversight’ panel upholds Trump ban — for now

Facebook’s content decision review body, a quasi-external panel that’s been likened to a ‘Supreme Court of Facebook’ but isn’t staffed by sitting judges, can’t be truly independent of the tech giant which funds it, has no legal legitimacy or democratic accountability, and goes by the much duller official title ‘Oversight Board’ (aka the FOB) — has just made the biggest call of its short life…

Facebook’s hand-picked ‘oversight’ panel has voted against reinstating former U.S. president Donald Trump’s Facebook account.

However it has sought to row the company back from an ‘indefinite’ ban — finding fault with its decision to impose an indefinite restriction, rather than issue a more standard penalty (such as a penalty strike or permanent account closure).

In a press release announcing its decision the board writes:

Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7.

However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an ‘indefinite’ suspension.

It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored.”

The board wants Facebook to revision its decision on Trump’s account within six months — and “decide the appropriate penalty”. So it appears to have succeeded in… kicking the can down the road.

The FOB is due to hold a press conference to discuss its decision shortly so stay tuned for updates.

This story is developing… refresh for updates…

It’s certainly been a very quiet five months on mainstream social media since Trump had his social media ALL CAPS megaphone unceremoniously shut down in the wake of his supporters’ violent storming of the capital.

For more on the background to Trump’s deplatforming do make time for this excellent explainer by TechCrunch’s Taylor Hatmaker. But the short version is that Trump finally appeared to have torched the last of his social media rule-breaking chances after he succeeded in fomenting an actual insurrection on U.S. soil on January 6. Doing so with the help of the massive, mainstream social media platforms whose community standards don’t, as a rule, give a thumbs up to violent insurrection…

#alan-rusbridger, #alex-stamos, #content-moderation, #donald-j-trump, #donald-trump, #facebook, #facebook-oversight-board, #fob, #freedom-of-speech, #hate-speech, #joe-biden, #mark-zuckerberg, #nick-clegg, #oversight-board, #policy, #social, #social-media, #united-states

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For Trump and Facebook, judgment day is around the corner

Facebook unceremoniously confiscated Trump’s biggest social media megaphone months ago, but the former president might be poised to snatch it back.

Facebook’s Oversight Board, an external Supreme Court-like policy decision making group, will either restore Trump’s Facebook privileges or banish him forever on Wednesday. Whatever happens, it’s a huge moment for Facebook’s nascent experiment in outsourcing hard content moderation calls to an elite group of global thinkers, academics and political figures and allowing them to set precedents that could shape the world’s biggest social networks for years to come.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Trump’s suspension from Facebook in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol attack. It was initially a temporary suspension, but two weeks later Facebook said that the decision would be sent to the Oversight Board. “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in January.

Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, a former British politician, expressed hope that the board would back the company’s own conclusions, calling Trump’s suspension an “unprecedented set of events which called for unprecedented action.”

Trump inflamed tensions and incited violence on January 6, but that incident wasn’t without precedent. In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by Minneapolis police, President Trump ominously declared on social media “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a threat of imminent violence with racist roots that Facebook declined to take action against, prompting internal protests at the company.

The former president skirted or crossed the line with Facebook any number of times over his four years in office, but the platform stood steadfastly behind a maxim that all speech was good speech, even as other social networks grew more squeamish.

In a dramatic address in late 2019, Zuckerberg evoked Martin Luther King Jr. as he defended Facebook’s anything goes approach. “In times of social turmoil, our impulse is often to pull back on free expression,” Zuckerberg said. “We want the progress that comes from free expression, but not the tension.” King’s daughter strenuously objected.

A little over a year later, with all of Facebook’s peers doing the same and Trump leaving office, Zuckerberg would shrink back from his grand free speech declarations.

In 2019 and well into 2020, Facebook was still a roiling hotbed of misinformation, conspiracies and extremism. The social network hosted thousands of armed militias organizing for violence and a sea of content amplifying QAnon, which moved from a fringe belief on the margins to a mainstream political phenomenon through Facebook.

Those same forces would converge at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 for a day of violence that Facebook executives characterized as spontaneous, even though it had been festering openly on the platform for months.

 

How the Oversight Board works

Facebook’s Oversight Board began reviewing its first cases last October. Facebook can refer cases to the board, like it did with Trump, but users can also appeal to the board to overturn policy decisions that affect them after they exhaust the normal Facebook or Instagram appeals process. A five member subset of its 20 total members evaluate whether content should be allowed to remain on the platform and then reach a decision, which the full board must approve by a majority vote. Initially, the Oversight Board was only empowered to reinstate content removed on Facebook and Instagram, but in mid-April began accepting requests to review controversial content that stayed up.

Last month, the Oversight Board replaced departing member Pamela Karlan, a Stanford professor and voting rights scholar critical of Trump, who left to join the Biden administration. Karlan’s replacement, PEN America CEO Susan Nossel, wrote an op-ed in the LA Times in late January arguing that extending a permanent ban on Trump “may feel good” but that decision would ultimately set a dangerous precedent. Nossel joined the board too late to participate in the Trump decision.

The Oversight Board’s earliest batch of decisions leaned in the direction of restoring content that’s been taken down — not upholding its removal. While the board’s other decisions are likely to touch on the full spectrum of frustration people have with Facebook’s content moderation preferences, they come with far less baggage than the Trump decision. In one instance, the Oversight Board voted to restore an image of a woman’s nipples used in the context of a breast cancer post. In another, the board decided that a quote from a famous Nazi didn’t merit removal because it wasn’t an endorsement of Nazi ideology. In all cases, the Oversight Board can issue policy recommendations, but Facebook isn’t obligated to implement them — just the decisions.

Befitting its DNA of global activists, political figures and academics, the Oversight Board’s might have ambitions well beyond one social network. Earlier this year, Oversight Board co-chair and former Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt declared that other social media companies would be “welcome to join” the project, which is branded in a conspicuously Facebook-less way. (The group calls itself the “Oversight Board” though everyone calls it the “Facebook Oversight Board.”)

“For the first time in history, we actually have content moderation being done outside one of the big social media platforms,” Thorning-Schmidt declared, grandly. “That in itself… I don’t hesitate to call it historic.”

Facebook’s decision to outsource some major policy decisions is indeed an experimental one, but that experiment is just getting started. The Trump case will give Facebook’s miniaturized Supreme Court an opportunity to send a message, though whether the takeaway is that it’s powerful enough to keep a world leader muzzled or independent enough to strike out from its parent and reverse the biggest social media policy decision ever made remains to be seen.

If Trump comes back, the company can shrug its shoulders and shirk another PR firestorm, content that its experiment in external content moderation is legitimized. If the board doubles down on banishing Trump, Facebook will rest easy knowing that someone else can take the blowback this round in its most controversial content call to date. For Facebook, for once, it’s a win-win situation.

 

#biden-administration, #ceo, #computing, #donald-trump, #elite, #facebook, #george-floyd, #king, #mark-zuckerberg, #nick-clegg, #oversight-board, #president, #schmidt, #social, #social-media, #social-media-platforms, #social-network, #social-networks, #software, #stanford, #supreme-court, #tc, #trump, #world-wide-web

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Facebook is expanding Spotify partnership with new ‘Boombox’ project

Facebook is deepening its relationship with music company Spotify and will allow users to listen to music hosted on Spotify while browsing through its apps as part of a new initiative called “Project Boombox,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Monday.

Facebook is building an in-line audio player that will allow users to listen to songs or playlists being shared on the platforms without being externally linked to Spotify’s app or website. Zuckerberg highlighted the feature as another product designed to improve the experience of creators on its platforms, specifically the ability of musicians to share their work, “basically making audio a first-class type of media,” he said.

The news was revealed in a wide-ranging interview with reporter Casey Newton on the company’s future pursuits in the audio world as Facebook aims to keep pace with upstart efforts like Clubhouse and increased activity in the podcasting world. Zuckerberg notably didn’t give a timeline on the feature rollout of “Project Boombox” and it was not further detailed in a company blog post summarizing the audio announcements.

“We think that audio is going to be a first-class medium and that there are all these different products to be built across this whole spectrum,” said Zuckerberg. “Of course, it includes some areas that, that have been, you know, popular recently like like podcasting and and kind of live audio rooms like this, but I also think that there’s some interesting things that are that are under explored in the area overall.”

Spotify has already supported a fairly product relationship with the Facebook and Instagram platforms. In recent years the music and podcasts platform has been integrated more deeply into Instagram Stories where users can share content from the service, a feature that’s also been available in Facebook Stories.

#ceo, #computing, #facebook, #instagram, #mark-zuckerberg, #operating-systems, #reporter, #social-media, #social-software, #software, #spotify, #tc, #the-social-network

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Facebook’s decision-review body to take “weeks” longer over Trump ban call

Facebook’s self-styled and handpicked ‘Oversight Board’ will make a decision on whether or not to overturn an indefinite suspension of the account of former president Donald Trump within “weeks”, it said in a brief update statement on the matter today.

The high profile case appears to have attracted major public interest, with the FOB tweeting that it’s received more than 9,000 responses so far to its earlier request for public feedback.

It added that its commitment to “carefully reviewing all comments” after an earlier extension of the deadline for feedback is responsible for the extension of the case timeline.

The Board’s statement adds that it will provide more information “soon”.

Trump’s indefinite suspension from Facebook and Instagram was announced by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on January 7, after the then-president of the U.S. incited his followers to riot at the nation’s Capitol — an insurrection that led to chaotic and violent scenes and a number of deaths as his supporters clashed with police.

However Facebook quickly referred the decision to the FOB for review — opening up the possibility that the ban could be overturned in short order as Facebook has said it will be bound by the case review decisions issued by the Board.

After the FOB accepted the case for review it initially said it would issue a decision within 90 days of January 21 — a deadline that would have fallen next Wednesday.

However it now looks like the high profile, high stakes call on Trump’s social media fate could be pushed into next month.

It’s a familiar development in Facebook-land. Delay has been a long time feature of the tech giant’s crisis PR response in the face of a long history of scandals and bad publicity attached to how it operates its platform. So the tech giant is unlikely to be uncomfortable that the FOB is taking its time to make a call on Trump’s suspension.

After all, devising and configuring the bespoke case review body — as its proprietary parody of genuine civic oversight — is a process that has taken Facebook years already.

In related FOB news this week, Facebook announced that users can now request the board review its decisions not to remove content — expanding the Board’s potential cases to include reviews of ‘keep ups’ (not just content takedowns).

This report was updated with a correction: The FOB previously extended the deadline for case submissions; it has not done so again as we originally stated

#donald-trump, #facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #oversight-board, #platform-regulation, #policy, #social, #social-media, #united-states

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Facebook denies its algorithms are a problem, but launches a tool to more easily view a non-algorithmic News Feed

Following years of backlash over its algorithms and their ability to push people to more extreme content, which Facebook continues to deny, the company today announced it would give its users new tools to more easily switch over to non-algorithmic views of their News Feed. This includes the recently launched “Favorites,” which shows you posts from up to 30 of your favorite friends and Pages, as well as the “Most Recent” view, which shows posts in chronological order. It also introduced new controls for adjusting who can comment on your posts, and other changes.

The features themselves aren’t entirely new, in some cases, but they’ve been made easier to get to with the addition of a Feed Filter Bar on mobile for changing the view of the News Feed, and an option menu on your posts to control who can comment.

The “Most Recent” view of the News Feed has long existed but has been buried in the extended “more” menu (the three-bar hamburger icon) on the Facebook mobile app. It’s not as useful as it sounds because it shows you all the posts from both friends and Pages in a single chronological view. If you’ve been on Facebook for many years, then you’ve probably “Liked” a number of Facebook Pages for brands, businesses and public figures. These Pages tend to post with more frequency than your friends, so the feed has become largely a long scroll through Page updates.

However, if you still prefer the “Most Recent” view, the Feed Filter Bar will give you a tool to easier switch back and forth between this and other views. The feature will launch on Android first, then roll out to iOS.

Meanwhile, Facebook has offered a way to prioritize who you see in your News Feed through a “See First” setting, but the newer “Favorites” feature rebrands this effort and gives you a single destination under Settings to select and deselect your Favorites, including favorite Pages.

The updated commenting controls are a new take on a habit many Facebook users have already adopted — when they share a post only to a given audience, like family or friends, while excluding other groups like work colleagues or even specific people. Now, users will have the option to instead share their posts but control who can engage in conversations. Public figures, for example, may choose to adopt the feature to restrict their audience to only those brands and profiles they’ve tagged.

Facebook says it will also show more context around suggestions it displays in the News Feed with its “Why am I seeing this?” feature that will explain how its algorithmic suggestions work. It says several factors may be at work here, in terms of what’s shown and why — including your location, whether you or people like you have engaged with related topics, groups or Pages, and more.

The changes arrive at a time when Facebook, along with other tech giants, has come under fire for its role in spreading misinformation leading to deadly events, like the storming of the U.S. Capitol, and serious public health crises, like vaccine hesitancy during a pandemic. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg last week testified before the House’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology about its failures to remove dangerous misinformation and its allowing of extremists to become more radicalized and to organize online.

Facebook’s official position, however, is that it doesn’t play a role in directing people towards problematic content — they seek it out. And people’s News Feeds are only a reflection of their own choices, in that way.

These thoughts and more were detailed today by Nick Clegg, VP of Global Affairs for Facebook, where he insists personalization algorithms are common across tech companies — Amazon and Netflix use them, too, for instance. And ranking simply makes what’s most relevant to the user appear first — effectively blaming users for the problems here. He also throws back the decisions to be made around Facebook’s role in misinformation peddling to the lawmakers, adding: “It would clearly be better if these [content] decisions were made according to frameworks agreed by democratically accountable lawmakers.”

#apps, #ceo, #facebook, #like-button, #mark-zuckerberg, #news-feed, #nick-clegg, #social, #social-media

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Bias, subtweets, and kids: Key takeaways from Big Tech’s latest outing on the Hill

There was no fancy Hill hearing room for this all-virtual event, so Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey dialed in from... a kitchen.

Enlarge / There was no fancy Hill hearing room for this all-virtual event, so Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey dialed in from… a kitchen. (credit: Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

A trio of major tech CEOs—Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey—once again went before Congress this week to explain their roles in the social media ecosystem. The hearing nominally focused on disinformation and extremism, particularly in the wake of the January 6 events at the US Capitol. But as always, the members asking the questions frequently ventured far afield.

The hearing focused less on specific posts than previous Congressional grillings, but it was mainly an exercise in people talking to plant their stakes. Considered in totality, fairly little of substance was accomplished during the hearing’s lengthy six-hour runtime.

Nonetheless, a few important policy nuggets did manage to come up.

Read 29 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#alphabet, #congress, #facebook, #google, #hearings, #jack-dorsey, #mark-zuckerberg, #policy, #sundar-pichai, #twitter, #youtube

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Facebook’s Clubhouse rival looks a lot like Clubhouse right now

Facebook is building a Clubhouse rival, The New York Times reported in February. But what that product will look like or how it will work have been questions that have remained unanswered. However, new screenshots of a Facebook audio product, still under development, show what appears to be a live audio broadcast experience that’s more of an extension of Facebook’s existing Messenger Rooms, rather than a standalone app experience. Facebook confirmed with TechCrunch the images are indeed examples of the company’s “exploratory audio efforts,” but cautioned that they don’t represent a live product at this time.

The company said also that detailing what a product may look like based on these images would be inaccurate. We’ve decided to publish them anyway with the caveat that, of course, in-development features are very different from live products. Anything and everything could still change between now and a public launch.

But the images at least help demonstrate how Facebook is thinking about live audio and where such a social experience could fit within Facebook’s existing app. And that’s worth considering.

The photos themselves have been shared by mobile developer and reverse engineer Alessandro Paluzzi, who came across Facebook’s live audio developments and user interface experiments within the Facebook Android app’s code. Like other reverse engineers, Paluzzi digs around in the code to uncover unreleased products in various stages of development. Some of the products he finds are tested and scrapped, while others eventually make it to market.

In Facebook’s case, the images he shared show a “Live Audio” option for Rooms — Facebook’s social Zoom competitor which first launched last May. At the time, people were hungry for video chat options before our collective Zoom fatigue set in as the pandemic wore on. Now we all want to turn our screens off, and hang out in Clubhouse instead.

Currently, when a Facebook user creates a Messenger Room — which you can do from either Messenger or the Status box on Facebook — it’s a group video chat. Here, friends and family can virtually hang out or even co-watch Facebook videos together. But while Rooms support up to 50 people, they’re not meant to offer a large, public broadcast experience.

The new images show an expansion of Rooms, where you’ll be able to pick from one of three different “types” of Rooms — either a private video room (much like you what’s available today), or either a public or private audio room. The private audio room would be just a place to voice chat with a group of friends, while the “Live Audio” room would instead be an audio-only room where you could broadcast to wider group of listeners.

The latter would be given its own Room Link, which speakers could then promote across Facebook — either in Messenger, through a Facebook post, or within a Facebook Group — or anywhere else on social media and the web.

Meanwhile, the Live Audio Room experience — which Paluzzi mocked up with images of Mark Zuckerberg’s face to represent the users profiles — looks a lot like Clubhouse. The speakers are shown at the top of the room where they’re represented with larger, circular profile pics, while the room listeners appear below. There’s also a “followed by speakers” section that leads the audience section — again, much like Clubhouse.

Paluzzi says the way the live audio rooms product is being developed, it would allow for rooms that anyone on Facebook could join, and those rooms could be accessible from Facebook itself — meaning you would not have to switch to Messenger to join a room. When not expanded to full-screen, the room would display its title, the number of speakers, and total listeners so you could get an idea of the room’s popularity.

Of course, what Paluzzi has come across is not a final product — it’s just a user interface, buried in the code, and none of the backend works. Facebook also stressed that the images were just audio experiments, as noted above.

But the images themselves are real and represent something Facebook has built. They’re worth examining, despite any attempts to downplay their importance.

“We’ve been connecting people through audio and video technologies for many years and are always exploring new ways to improve that experience for people,” a spokesperson said, commenting on the images Paluzzi had published.

It’s no secret that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is bullish on audio, of course. In fact, he’s already appeared on Clubhouse a couple of times, and recently spoke about the potential for social audio in a Clubhouse Room hosted last week by former TechCrunch editor Josh Constine, now an investor at SignalFire. During the chat, Zuckerberg said he believes audio has a number of advantages over other formats.

“You don’t have to prepare. You don’t have to look good before you get on to go to a podcast or Clubhouse or whatever you’re doing,” he noted, of the hosting experience. Plus, he added, “you can walk around a lot more easily. You can consume it without having to look at the screen and kind of do that in the background while doing something else.”

Zuckerberg also praised Clubhouse for what it had pioneered, saying it would end up “being one of the modalities around live audio broadcast.”

Image Credits: Alessandro Paluzzi

In other words, it appears Facebook sees Clubhouse as a feature it can reproduce — similar to how it borrowed the concept of Stories from Snapchat for Instagram, and the way it’s more recently copied the TikTok experience for Instagram Reels. It doesn’t have to launch a new app to counteract the Clubhouse threat, it just has to launch a place for people to use audio on Facebook. (And of course, there’s something to be said about praising Clubhouse on Clubhouse while simultaneously building a copy.)

“Overall, I think that this is going to be a pretty big space,” Zuckerberg said of social audio. “The work that we’re doing in this is trying to basically build out a bunch of the tools across the spectrum of how people would want to use audio. I’m really excited about this,” he added.

#apps, #audio, #clubhouse, #facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #messenger, #messenger-rooms, #social, #social-audio, #social-media, #social-software

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Zuckerberg: Facebook could be in “stronger position” after Apple tracking change

Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage during an Apple event in September 2018.

Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage during an Apple event in September 2018. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

With Apple’s big app-tracking policy change just around the corner, Chinese companies drew a warning from Cupertino that their efforts to circumvent the change will not be successful. At the same time, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared to shift his messaging about the change.

Several months ago, Apple announced that it will require user opt-in for IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers), a tool that advertisers use to identify and track users across apps and websites. If users opt in, it will be business as usual. But if they decline, the app in question will not be able to use that tracking method. The change will apply to all iPhone and iPad apps, and it will take full effect in iOS 14.5, which is due out sometime in the next few weeks.

ByteDance, Baidu, and others push back

Press coverage so far has focused on US and European countries grappling with the change, particularly Facebook, which ran ads and looked into the possibility of an antitrust lawsuit to battle Apple’s decision. Several reports over the past few days have indicated that some major Chinese tech companies are no less determined to fight or get around Apple’s new policy.

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#app-tracking, #app-store, #apple, #china, #id-for-advertisers, #idfa, #mark-zuckerberg, #privacy, #tech, #tim-cook, #tracking

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Facebook lifts ban on US political advertising

Facebook lifts ban on US political advertising

Enlarge (credit: KJ Parish)

Facebook will lift a ban on political advertising imposed after the US election to curb the spread of misinformation, and it has pledged to investigate whether its political ads systems need a further overhaul.

Advertisers would be able to resume running political ads on March 4, Facebook said in a blog post on Wednesday. It said it had introduced the temporary moratorium “to avoid confusion or abuse following Election Day.”

The social media company said it had received “feedback” about its ads system during the latest election cycle, including its inability to distinguish between ads from politicians and political groups and social issue ads from advocacy groups, for example.

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#donald-trump, #facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #policy

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Facebook can save itself by becoming a B Corporation

As Facebook confronts outrage among its employees and the public for mishandling multiple decisions about its role in shaping public discourse, it is becoming clear that it cannot solve its conundrums without a major change in its business model. And a new model is readily available: for-benefit status.

For decades, a misguided ideology has warped companies, economies and societies: that the sole purpose of corporations is to maximize short-term returns to one set of stakeholders — those who have bought shares. Neither law nor history requires this to be true.

But shareholder value-maximization ideology has become cemented in far too much corporate practice at the expense of societal well-being. This is manifested in many ways: a slavish adherence to the judgment of the “market,” even when other social signals are more powerful; executives enriched by stock options; companies fearful of “activist investors” who attack whenever stock prices fail to meet quarterly “expectations” and often-frivolous shareholder lawsuits pushing for stock gains at all costs.

The pandemic, however, has accelerated an already-spreading recognition that shareholder value maximization is often a harmful choice — not by any means a moral imperative or even a fiduciary responsibility.

Major institutions of capitalism are converging on a new vision for it. The 2019 Business Roundtable CEO statement said that corporate strategy should benefit all stakeholders – including shareholders, yes, but equally customers, employees, suppliers, and the communities in which companies operate. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s recent annual letters assert new views of how that investment company, the world’s largest, should invest the trillions it oversees.

Fink’s 2019 letter spelled out a new vision for corporate purpose; the subsequent 2020 and 2021 letters focused on business’ responsibility around climate change, particularly in light of the pandemic. The B Corporation and conscious capitalism movements are growing. The World Economic Forum is championing a “Fourth Sector,” combining purpose with profit. Business schools, facing student rebellions against a purely profit-maximizing curriculum, are rapidly changing what they teach.

And with society under siege, many more businesses, including social media, are scrambling to seem like good corporate citizens. They have no choice.

Facebook, for example, has doubled down on philanthropy and new efforts to combat misinformation, even as usage and share price soar. Platforms like WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) have become essential services to connect people whose physical ties have been abruptly severed during the global pandemic. Shelter-in-place has become, in many ways, shelter-in-Facebook-properties.

But Facebook and its brethren remain fragile. Since the 2016 presidential election in the U.S., Facebook has faced governmental hearings and regulation, public uproar (#deleteFacebook), and huge fines for invading privacy and undermining democracy. These calls were amplified in the weeks following the January 6 Capitol riot. Separately, it faces allegations of bias, largely (though not entirely) from the political right. These have led to calls for the revocation or reform of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants it immunity from the actions of its users.

A giant company that is simultaneously essential and pilloried is vulnerable. Just ask the ghosts of John D. Rockefeller and his fellow robber barons, whose huge monopolies industrialized America more than 100 years ago. Journalistic muckrakers and public outrage targeted them for their abusive practices until the government finally broke up their companies via antitrust legislation.

Because Mark Zuckerberg maintains complete majority control of Facebook, he could unilaterally quell public opprobrium and fend off heavy-handed regulation singlehandedly by transforming Facebook into a new kind of business: a for-benefit corporation.

Under the Public Benefit Corporation legal model, firms bind themselves to a public benefit mission statement and carry out required ongoing reporting on both the standard financials and on how the company is living up to its mission. That status protects the company against profit-demanding shareholder lawsuits, and also attracts employees and investors who want to combine profit with purpose.

Data.world is one of the thousands of certified B Corporations that have seen good returns on financial metrics. Allbirds, for example, launched in a few sustainable materials using a pro-sustainability process to manufacture comfortable shoes, quickly reaching revenues of $100 million and valuation of $1.7 billion in an industry fraught with sustainability and human rights concerns. Other household names that are B Corps include The Body ShopCourseraDanone, the Jamie Oliver GroupKing Arthur FlourNumi Tea and Patagonia.

Many companies that have not undergone formal B Certification from B Labs have nonetheless done well while transforming their business practices, such as the carpet and flooring company Interface. Some firms incorporate ESG principles into their management systems – the $24 billion (market cap) Dutch life sciences company DSM has for years had meaningful sustainability targets for its senior management that account for fully 50 percent of their annual bonuses. Both Interface and DSM attribute much of their commercial success to their attention to non-financial considerations.

A for-benefit Facebook could similarly relate to the world differently, avoiding many of the reputational shocks and regulatory responses that have led to huge stock dips and enormous fines. Its operations would align with Zuckerberg’s proclaimed purpose to enable the potential abundance that results from connecting everyone in the world.

Imagine a Facebook town hall as a true public square, not just another way to gather and sell people’s data without their explicit consent. Imagine a Facebook that put its users first and its advertisers second; that revealed where ads came from; that earned your attention in a way that you controlled rather than through machine-driven algorithms maximizing your attention for good or ill. Such a for-benefit Facebook could create true buy-in and transparency with its massive community around the world.

Of course, such steps as Facebook’s new Oversight Board, which may provide some meaningful review, don’t require a legal change. But if shareholders and employees continue to be rewarded primarily by the success of the problematic ad revenue model, a continuing conflict between private gain and public benefit makes it impossible to have confidence about what is happening behind the scenes. A shift to for-benefit incorporation and appropriate certification brings with it different performance metrics and accountability systems with public scores.

In changing Facebook into a for-benefit corporation, Zuckerberg could insulate himself against presidential rage while rehabilitating his reputation — and his company’s. It would likely create vast ripples both in Silicon Valley and beyond — and it might help transform capitalism itself.

#column, #ethics, #facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #opinion, #social, #startups

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Reducing the spread of misinformation on social media: What would a do-over look like?

The news is awash with stories of platforms clamping down on misinformation and the angst involved in banning prominent members. But these are Band-Aids over a deeper issue — namely, that the problem of misinformation is one of our own design. Some of the core elements of how we’ve built social media platforms may inadvertently increase polarization and spread misinformation.

If we could teleport back in time to relaunch social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and TikTok with the goal of minimizing the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories from the outset … what would they look like?

This is not an academic exercise. Understanding these root causes can help us develop better prevention measures for current and future platforms.

Some of the core elements of how we’ve built social media platforms may inadvertently increase polarization and spread misinformation.

As one of the Valley’s leading behavioral science firms, we’ve helped brands like Google, Lyft and others understand human decision-making as it relates to product design. We recently collaborated with TikTok to design a new series of prompts (launched this week) to help stop the spread of potential misinformation on its platform.

The intervention successfully reduces shares of flagged content by 24%. While TikTok is unique amongst platforms, the lessons we learned there have helped shape ideas on what a social media redux could look like.

Create opt-outs

We can take much bigger swings at reducing the views of unsubstantiated content than labels or prompts.

In the experiment we launched together with TikTok, people saw an average of 1.5 flagged videos over a two-week period. Yet in our qualitative research, many users said they were on TikTok for fun; they didn’t want to see any flagged videos whatsoever. In a recent earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg also spoke of Facebook users’ tiring of hyperpartisan content.

We suggest giving people an “opt-out of flagged content” option — remove this content from their feeds entirely. To make this a true choice, this opt-out needs to be prominent, not buried somewhere users must seek it out. We suggest putting it directly in the sign-up flow for new users and adding an in-app prompt for existing users.

Shift the business model

There’s a reason false news spreads six times faster on social media than real news: Information that’s controversial, dramatic or polarizing is far more likely to grab our attention. And when algorithms are designed to maximize engagement and time spent on an app, this kind of content is heavily favored over more thoughtful, deliberative content.

The ad-based business model is at the core the problem; it’s why making progress on misinformation and polarization is so hard. One internal Facebook team tasked with looking into the issue found that, “our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness.” But the project and proposed work to address the issues was nixed by senior executives.

Essentially, this is a classic incentives problem. If business metrics that define “success” are no longer dependent on maximizing engagement/time on site, everything will change. Polarizing content will no longer need to be favored and more thoughtful discourse will be able to rise to the surface.

Design for connection

A primary part of the spread of misinformation is feeling marginalized and alone. Humans are fundamentally social creatures who look to be part of an in-group, and partisan groups frequently provide that sense of acceptance and validation.

We must therefore make it easier for people to find their authentic tribes and communities in other ways (versus those that bond over conspiracy theories).

Mark Zuckerberg says his ultimate goal with Facebook was to connect people. To be fair, in many ways Facebook has done that, at least on a surface level. But we should go deeper. Here are some ways:

We can design for more active one-on-one communication, which has been shown to increase well-being. We can also nudge offline connection. Imagine two friends are chatting on Facebook messenger or via comments on a post. How about a prompt to meet in person, when they live in the same city (post-COVID, of course)? Or if they’re not in the same city, a nudge to hop on a call or video.

In the scenario where they’re not friends and the interaction is more contentious, platforms can play a role in highlighting not only the humanity of the other person, but things one shares in common with the other. Imagine a prompt that showed, as you’re “shouting” online with someone, everything you have in common with that person.

Platforms should also disallow anonymous accounts, or at minimum encourage the use of real names. Clubhouse has good norm-setting on this: In the onboarding flow they say, “We use real names here.” Connection is based on the idea that we’re interacting with a real human. Anonymity obfuscates that.

Finally, help people reset

We should make it easy for people to get out of an algorithmic rabbit hole. YouTube has been under fire for its rabbit holes, but all social media platforms have this challenge. Once you click a video, you’re shown videos like it. This may help sometimes (getting to that perfect “how to” video sometimes requires a search), but for misinformation, this is a death march. One video on flat earth leads to another, as well as other conspiracy theories. We need to help people eject from their algorithmic destiny.

With great power comes great responsibility

More and more people now get their news from social media, and those who do are less likely to be correctly informed about important issues. It’s likely that this trend of relying on social media as an information source will continue.

Social media companies are thus in a unique position of power and have a responsibility to think deeply about the role they play in reducing the spread of misinformation. They should absolutely continue to experiment and run tests with research-informed solutions, as we did together with the TikTok team.

This work isn’t easy. We knew that going in, but we have an even deeper appreciation for this fact after working with the TikTok team. There are many smart, well-intentioned people who want to solve for the greater good. We’re deeply hopeful about our collective opportunity here to think bigger and more creatively about how to reduce misinformation, inspire connection and strengthen our collective humanity all at the same time.

#column, #facebook, #internet-culture, #mark-zuckerberg, #misinformation, #opinion, #qanon, #social, #software, #tiktok

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Zuckerberg responds to Apple’s privacy policies: “We need to inflict pain”

Facebook co-founder, chairman, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg departs after testifying before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018, in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / Facebook co-founder, chairman, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg departs after testifying before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018, in Washington, DC. (credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees close to him, “we need to inflict pain” on Apple for comments by Apple CEO Tim Cook that Zuckerberg described as “extremely glib.”

This and other insights into an ongoing rift between the two companies appeared in a report in The Wall Street Journal this weekend. The article indicates that based on first-hand reports, Zuckerberg has taken Cook and Apple’s public criticisms of Facebook’s privacy policies, whether direct or indirect, as personal affronts.

For example, Cook publicly responded to Facebook’s 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal by saying such a scandal would never happen to Apple because Apple does not treat its customers like products. When asked what he would do in Zuckerberg’s position, he said, “I wouldn’t be in this situation,” calling Facebook’s approach “an invasion of privacy.” This was one of the comments that has led Zuckerberg to see Apple as an opponent.

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#apple, #facebook, #idfa, #mark-zuckerberg, #privacy, #tech, #tim-cook

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Institutional trust is the real meme

Hello friends, this is Week in Review.

Last week, I dove into the AR maneuverings of Apple and Facebook and what that means for the future of the web. This week, I’m aiming to touch the meme stock phenomenon that dominated American news cycles this week and see if there’s anything worth learning from it, with an eye towards the future web.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox every Saturday morning from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


Robin Hood statue in Nottingham

(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

The big thing

This week was whatever you wanted it to be. A rising up of the proletariat. A case of weaponized disinformation. A rally for regulation… or perhaps deregulation of financial markets. Choose your own adventure with the starting point being one flavor of chaos leading into a slightly more populist blend of chaos.

At the end of it, a lot of long-time financiers are confused, a lot of internet users are using rent money to buy stock in Tootsie Roll, a lot of billionaires are finding how intoxicating adopting a “for-the-little-guy!” persona on Twitter can be, and here I am staring at the ceiling wondering if there’s any institution in the world trustworthy enough that the internet can’t turn it into a lie.

This week, my little diddy is about meme stocks, but more about the idea that once you peel away the need to question why you actually trust something, it can become easier to just blindly place that faith in more untrustworthy places. All the better if those places are adjacent to areas where others place trust.

The Dow Jones had its worst week since October because retail investors, organized in part on Reddit, turned America’s financial markets into the real front page of the internet. Boring, serious stocks like Facebook and Apple reported their earnings and the markets adjusted accordingly, but in addition to the serious bits of news, the Wall Street page was splashed with break neck gains from “meme stocks.” While junk stocks surging is nothing new, the idea that a stock can make outrageous gains based on nothing and then possibly hold that value based on a newly formed shared trust is newer and much more alarming.

The most infamous of these stocks was GameStop. (If you’re curious about GameStop’s week, there are at least 5 million stories across the web to grab your attention, here’s one. Side note: collectively we seem to have longer attention spans post-Trump.)

So, Americans already don’t have too much institutional faith. Looking through some long-standing Gallup research, compared to the turn of the century, faith in organized religion, the media, most wings of government, big business and banks has decreased quite a bit. The outliers in what Americans do seem to trust more than they did 20 or so years ago are small businesses and the military.

This is all to say that it’s probably not stellar that people don’t trust anything, and me thinking that the internet could probably disrupt every trusted institution except the military probably only shows my lack of creative thinking when it comes to how the web could democratize the Defense Department. As you might guess from that statement, I think democratizing access to certain institutions can be bad. I say that with about a thousand asterisks leading to footnotes that you’ll never find. I also don’t think the web is done disrupting institutional trust by a long shot, for better or worse.

Democratizing financial systems sounds a lot better from a populist lift, until you realize that the guys users are competing against are playing a different game with other people’s money. This saga will change plenty of lives but it won’t end particularly well for a most people exposed to “infinite upside” day trading.

Until this week, in my mind Robinhood was only reckless because it was exposing (or “democratizing access to” — their words) consumers to risk in a way that most of them probably weren’t equipped to handle. Now, I think that they’re reckless because they didn’t anticipate that OR how democratized access could lead to so many potential doomsday scenarios and bankrupt Robinhood. They quietly raised a $1 billion liquidity lifeline this week after they had to temporarily shut down meme stock trading, a move that essentially torched their brand and left them the web’s most hated institution. (Facebook had a quiet week)

This kind of all feeds back into this idea I’ve been feeding that scale can be very dangerous. Platforms seem to need a certain amount of head count to handle global audiences, and almost all of them are insufficiently staffed. Facebook announced this week in its earnings call that it has nearly 60,000 employees. This is a company that now has its own Supreme Court; that’s too big. If your institution is going to be massive and centralized, chances are you need a ton of people to moderate it. That’s something at odds with most existing internet platforms. Realistically, the internet would probably be happier with fewer of these sweeping institutions and more intimate bubbles that are loosely connected. That’s something that the network effects of the past couple decades have made harder but regulation around data portability could assist with.

Writing this newsletter, something I’m often reminded is that while it feels like everything is always changing, few things are wholly new. This great NYT profile from 2001 written by Michael Lewis is a great reminder of that, chronicling a 15-year-old who scammed the markets by using a web of dummy accounts and got hounded by the SEC but still walked away with $500k. Great read.

In the end, things will likely quiet down at Robinhood. There’s also the distinct chance that they don’t and that those meme traders just ignited a revolution that’s going to bankrupt the company and torch the globals markets, but you know things will probably go back to normal.

 

Until next week,
Lucas Matney


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law

(Photo by MANDEL NGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things

SEC is pissed
I’ll try to keep these updates GameStop free, but one quick note from the peanut gallery. The SEC isn’t all that happy about the goings ons in the market this week and they’re mad, probably mostly at Robinhood. They got pretty terse with their statement. More

Facebook Oversight Board wants YOU
Zuckerberg’s Supreme Court wants public comment as it decides whether Facebook should give Trump his Instagram and Facebook accounts back. I’m sure any of Facebook’s executives would’ve stopped building the platform dead in its tracks in the years after its founding if they knew just how freaking complicated moderation was going to end up being for them, but you could probably have changed their mind back by showing them the market cap. More

Apple adtech-killing update drops in spring
After delaying its launch, Apple committed this week to the spring rollout of its “App Tracking Transparency” feature that has so much of the adtech world pissed. The update will force apps to essentially ask users whether they’d like to be tracked across apps. More

Robert Downey Jr. bets on startups
Celebrity investing has been popular forever, but it’s gotten way more common in the venture world in recent years. Reputation transfer teamed with the fact that money is so easy to come by for top founders, means that if you are choosing from some second-tier fund or The Chainsmokers, you might pick The Chainsmokers. On that note, actor Robert Downey Jr. raised a rolling fund to back climate tech startups, we’ve got all the deets. More

WeWork SPAC
Ah poor Adam Neumann, poor SoftBank. If only they’d kept their little “tech company” under wraps for another couple years and left that S-1 for a kinder market with less distaste for creative framing. It seems that WeWork is the next target to get SPAC’d and be brought onto public markets via acquisition. I’m sure everything will go fine. More

Tim Cook and Zuckerberg spar
Big tech is a gentlemen’s game, generally big tech CEOs play nice with each other in public and save their insults for the political party that just fell out of power. This week, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg were a little less friendly. Zuckerberg called out Apple by name in their earnings investor call and floated some potential unfair advantages that Apple might have. Them’s fighting words. Cook was more circumspect as usual and delivered a speech that was at times hilariously direct in the most indirect way possible about how much he hates Facebook. More


Extra things

Tidbits from our paywalled Extra Crunch content:
The 5 biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder
“I and the rest of the leadership team would work 12-hour days, seven days a week. And that trickled down into many other employees doing the same. I didn’t think twice about sending emails, texts or slacks at night and on weekends. As with many startups, monster hours were simply part of the deal.”

Fintechs could see $100 billion of liquidity in 2021
“For the fourth straight year, the publicly traded fintechs massively outperformed the incumbent financial services providers as well as every mainstream stock index. While the underlying performance of these companies was strong, the pandemic further bolstered results as consumers avoided appearing in-person for both shopping and banking. Instead, they sought — and found — digital alternatives.”

Rising African venture investment powers fintech, clean tech bets in 2020
“What is driving generally positive venture capital results for Africa in recent quarters? Giuliani told TechCrunch in a follow-up email that ‘investment in Africa is being driven on the one hand by a broadening base for early-stage ecosystem support organizations, including accelerators, seed funds, syndicates and angel investing,” and “consolidation,” which is aiding both “growth-stage deals and a burgeoning M&A market.’”

 

#adam-neumann, #africa, #america, #apple, #apple-inc, #banking, #computing, #department-of-defense, #facebook, #gamestop, #lucas-matney, #mark-zuckerberg, #mike, #robinhood, #softbank, #supreme-court, #tc, #technology, #the-social-network, #tim-cook, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #week-in-review, #wework

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Why Facebook and Apple are going to war over privacy

Tim Cook

Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers a speech on privacy at a virtual conference. (credit: CPDP)

Today, Apple announced plans to finally roll out its previously delayed change in policy on apps’ use of IDFA (ID for Advertisers) to track users for targeted advertising. The feature will be in the next beta release of iOS 14 (the company just rolled out the public release of iOS 14.4 this week) and will reach all iOS devices supported by iOS 14 “in early spring.”

Apple made the announcement with a white paper and Q&A targeted at its users. To illustrate the benefits Apple claims the change will offer to users, the document describes in detail a typical scenario where a father and daughter would have data about them tracked and updated while doing normal, everyday things in the current digital ecosystem.

Apple’s document goes on to explain Apple’s stated philosophy on user data protection and privacy, and it announces the release window for this upcoming change. The document explains the change this way:

Read 25 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#advertising, #apple, #facebook, #idfa, #ios, #ios-14, #ios-14-5, #iphone, #mark-zuckerberg, #tech, #tim-cook

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Facebook predicts ‘significant’ obstacles to ad targeting and revenue in 2021

While Facebook’s fourth quarter earnings report included solid user and revenue numbers, the company sounded a note of caution for 2021.

In the “CFO outlook” section of the earnings release, Facebook said it anticipates facing “more significant advertising headwinds” this year.

“This includes the impact of platform changes, notably iOS 14, as well as the evolving regulatory landscape,” the company wrote. “While the timing of the iOS 14 changes remains uncertain, we would expect to see an impact beginning late in the first quarter.”

Facebook has already been waging a bit of a campaign against Apple’s upcoming privacy changes, which will require app developers to ask users for permission in order to use their IDFA identifiers for ad targeting — although the PR focus has been the impact on small businesses, not Facebook.

Facebook also highlighted two broad economic trends that it says it has benefited from during the pandemic: The “ongoing shift toward online commerce” and “the shift in consumer demand toward products and away from services.” But again, it took a cautious stance, writing that “a moderation or reversal in one or both of these trends could serve as a headwind to our advertising revenue growth.”

As for those fourth quarter earnings earnings, Facebook reported $28.1 billion in revenue, of which $27.2 billion came from ads, with earnings per share of $3.88. Wall Street analysts had predicted EPS of $3.22 and revenue of $26.4 billon.

Facebook also reported an average of 1.84 billion daily active users and 2.8 billion monthly active users for the quarter, up 11% and 12% year over year, respectively.

“We had a strong end to the year as people and businesses continued to use our services during these challenging times,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a statement. “I’m excited about our product roadmap for 2021 as we build new and meaningful ways to create economic opportunity, build community and help people just have fun.”

As of 4:45 p.m. EST, Facebook shares were up 0.7% in after-hours trading.

#advertising-tech, #earnings, #facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #privacy

0

Mark Zuckerberg threatened to end Facebook’s UK investment in private 2018 meeting with digital chief, warning over “anti-tech” tone

Round of applause for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism — which fought for two years to obtain details of a closed door meeting between Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the UK secretary of state in charge of digital issues at the time, Matt Hancock (now health secretary).

Freedom of information requests for minutes of the 2018 closed-door meeting between Zuckerberg and Hancock, which took place amist Cambridge Analytica-related tensions, were repeatedly refused by the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS).

An order by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office finally forced the government to hand them over — with the ICO concluding that transparency and openness are clearly in the public interest where Facebook’s business and CEO is concerned.

Last year the UK government set out an intent to regulate online platforms, publishing its Online Harms White Paper — which proposes to place a legal duty of care on social media platforms to protect users against a range of harms, from bullying to illegal content. Although there’s no sign of a draft law.

The government has only said it will lay one before parliament ‘as soon as possible’. (And this summer refused to commit to doing so next year.)

Additional context specific to Facebook is Zuckerberg repeatedly refused to appear before the UK parliament’s DCMS committee in 2018 to answer questions about online disinformation and the role of Facebook’s ad-targeting tools in the UK’s Brexit referendum — sending a variety of minions in his stead despite multiple requests for face-time.

It’s now clear that Zuckerberg took time to meet privately with Hancock, on the sidelines of the Paris VivaTech conference in late May 2018.

There, according to the minutes obtained by the Bureau, the Facebook CEO accused the UK of having an “anti-tech government” — and joked about making it one of two countries he would not visit. (The other is redacted from the documents but may have been a reference to China.)

Zuckerberg also threatened to pull Facebook’s investment from the UK — saying that while it was the “obvious” place for them to invest in Europe they were now “considering looking elsewhere”.

The tech giant employs thousands of staff at its London base, which is a major engineering hub for the company.

At the start of this year Facebook announced it would add another 1,000 jobs — bringing its total headcount up to 4,000+ in the city. A new HQ it’s preparing in London’s King’s Cross, to consolidate its existing London offices, is intended to house 6,000 staff in total when running at full capacity.

Per the minutes, Hancock responded to Zuckerberg by offering “a new beginning” for the government’s relationship with social media platforms — and offered to change its approach from “threatening regulation to encouraging collaborative working to ensure legislation is proportionate and innovation-friendly”.

He is also said to have sought “increased dialogue” with Zuckerberg — in order to “bring forward the message that he has support from Facebook at the highest level”.

While Zuckerberg is reported to have expressed support for UK policy and its intent to regulate the Internet — but said he was “worried about tone”.

We’ve reached out to DCMS for comment on the meeting and remarks made by its former digital secretary and to ask why it fought disclosure of the information for two years. We’ll update this report with any response.

Around the time Zuckerberg met Hancock Facebook employed around 2,300 staff in the UK. The tech giant signed the lease on the King’s Cross office space in July 2018 — a few months after Zuckerberg’s meeting with Hancock — generating headlines which couched it as a ‘major vote of confidence in the UK capital‘.

Reached for comment on the revelations that Zuckerberg branded the UK “anti-tech” and threatened to pull the plug on its local investments, Facebook sent us this statement — attributed to ‘a spokesperson’:

Facebook has long said we need new regulations to set high standards across the internet. In fact last year Mark Zuckerberg called on governments to establish new rules around harmful content, privacy, data portability, and election integrity. The UK is our largest engineering hub outside of the US and just this year we created 1,000 new roles in the country.

Also responding to the Bureau’s story in a series of tweets today, Damian Collins, the former chair of the DMCS committee said the minutes show Facebook did not like the inquiry; and that Zuckerberg was “determined not to appear as a witness”.

Collins was highly critical of Zuckerberg’s refusal to testify to the UK parliament, issuing a summons for him to do so on May 1, 2018 should he ever deign to step onto UK soil, and publicly lambasting the company for displaying an evasive “pattern of behavior”.

“The context of Mark Zuckerberg’s 2018 meeting with Matt Hancock was that it was two months after the Cambridge Analytica scandal had broken and MZ was refusing our requests for him to appear before [DCMS committee] to discuss it,” Collins tweeted.

“The notes from this meeting clearly show that Mark Zuckerberg was running scared of the DCMS committee investigation on disinformation and fake news and was actively seeking to avoid being questioned by us about what he knew and when about the Cambridge Analytica scandal.”

“It shows how afraid Mark Zuckerberg is of scrutiny that Facebook saw questions about the safety of users data on their platform, and how they worked with Cambridge Analytica as an ‘anti-tech’ agenda,” he added.

Outstanding questions related to the Cambridge Analytica include how much and when Zuckerberg personally knew about the scandal. It has previously emerged that Facebook staff raised internal alerts about Cambridge Analytica’s activity as early as September 2015 — yet the company was not booted off its ad platform until 2018.

A Facebook-instigated post-scandal app audit has also never fully reported findings.

Nor do we know why the tech giant hired the co-founder of the company that sold user data to Cambridge Analytica — around the same time it heard about the ‘sketchy’ company.

Zuckerberg’s question dodging over his personal level of responsibility vis-a-vis the scandal has been highly successful, even as his business empire has faced increased scrutiny and lawmakers around the world have new appetite to regulate the Internet.

The UK’s ICO issue no final report on its own investigation into the data misuse scandal. But in a letter to the DCMS committee in October it confirmed Facebook user data had been transferred to Cambridge Analytica and incorporated into a pre-existing database containing “voter file, demographic and consumer data for US individuals” — with the aim of predicting partisanship to target US voters with political messaging.

The ICO’s investigation did not find any evidence that the Facebook data which was sold to Cambridge Analytica had been used to target voters in the UK’s Brexit Referendum vote.

In its final report for the disinformation inquiry, the DCMS called for Facebook’s business to be investigated — citing competition and data protection concerns.

Last month the UK government announced a plan to set up a “pro-competition” regulator for big tech.

 

#cambridge-analytica, #dcms, #europe, #facebook, #government, #mark-zuckerberg, #matt-hancock, #social, #tc

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Facebook and Twitter CEOs to testify before Congress in November on how they handled the election

Shortly after voting to move forward with a pair of subpoenas, the Senate Judiciary Committee has reached an agreement that will see the CEOs of two major social platforms testify voluntarily in November. The hearing will be the second major congressional appearance by tech CEOs arranged this month.

Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg will answer questions at the hearing, set for November 17 — two weeks after election day. The Republican-led committee is chaired by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who set the agenda to include the “platforms’ censorship and suppression of New York Post articles.”

According to a new press release from the committee, lawmakers also plan to use the proceedings as a high-profile port-mortem on how Twitter and Facebook fared on and after election day — an issue that lawmakers on both sides will undoubtedly be happy to dig into.

Republicans are eager to press the tech CEOs on how their respective platforms handled a dubious story from the New York Post purporting to report on hacked materials from presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. They view the incident as evidence of their ongoing claims of anti-conservative political bias in platform policy decisions.

While Republicans on the Senate committee led the decision to pressure Zuckerberg and Dorsey into testifying, the committee’s Democrats, who sat out the vote on the subpoenas, will likely bring to the table their own questions about content moderation, as well.

 

#congress, #facebook, #government, #jack-dorsey, #mark-zuckerberg, #policy, #tc, #twitter

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Facebook bans Holocaust denial amid rapid rise in “deceptive” content

Facebook's Menlo Park, California, headquarters as seen in 2017.

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

Facebook today is, once again, theoretically ramping up enforcement against hate speech, this time with a new policy prohibiting Holocaust denial on the platform.

The change is due to a “well-documented rise in anti-Semitism globally,” Facebook executive Monika Bickert wrote in a corporate blog post today.

The policy is a complete 180 for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who in a 2018 interview specifically described Holocaust denial as the kind of “deeply offensive” speech he nonetheless felt should be permitted on the platform. The next day, amid blowback, he “clarified” his position:

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#anti-semitism, #biz-it, #extremism, #facebook, #holocaust, #holocaust-denial, #mark-zuckerberg, #misinformation, #policy, #racism

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Senate votes to issue subpoenas to Facebook, Twitter, Google CEOs

The dome of the United State Capitol Building against a deep blue sky in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / The dome of the United State Capitol Building in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Phil Roeder)

The Senate Commerce Committee this morning voted unexpectedly to issue subpoenas to the heads of Facebook, Twitter, and Google to compel them to testify in a hearing—most likely before Election Day.

The committee agreed in a unanimous, bipartisan vote to require Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to appear (virtually) after none of the three executives had agreed by today to appear voluntarily.

Zuckerberg and Pichai, along with Apple CEO Tim Cook and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee earlier this year. That hearing, nominally about antitrust issues, instead squeezed two completely disparate realities together into one small room, as Democratic members primarily asked about competition issues and Republican members primarily complained about the Internet’s alleged (and unproven) “bias” against conservative voices.

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#alphabet, #bias, #congress, #facebook, #google, #jack-dorsey, #mark-zuckerberg, #policy, #section-230, #senate, #senate-judiciary-committee, #sundar-pichai, #twitter

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‘The Real Facebook Oversight Board’ launches to counter Facebook’s ‘Oversight Board’

Today a group of academics, researchers and civil rights leaders go live on with ‘The Real Facebook Oversight Board’ which is designed to criticize and discuss the role of the platform in the upcoming US election. The group includes Facebook’s ex-head of election security, leaders of the #StopHateForProfit campaign and Roger McNamee, early Facebook investor. Facebook launched its own ‘Oversight Board’ last November to deal with thorny issues of content moderation, but Facebook has admitted it will not be overseeing any of Facebook’s content or activity during the course of the US election, and will only adjudicate on issues after the event.

The press conference for the launch is streamed live today, below:

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg claimed last November that the Oversight Board was “an incredibly important undertaking” and would “prevent the concentration of too much decision-making within our teams” and promote “accountability and oversight”.

The move was seen as an acknowledgment of the difficulty of decision-making inside Facebook. Decisions on what controversial posts to remove fall on the shoulders of individual executives, hence why the Oversight Board will act like a ‘Supreme Court’ for content moderation.

However, the Oversight Board has admitted it will take up to three months to make a decision and will only make judgments about content that has been removed from the platform, not what stays up. 

Facebook has invested $130 million in this board and announced its first board members in May, including ex-prime minister of Denmark, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and the ex-editor-in-chief of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger.

The activist-led ‘Real Facebook Oversight Board’ includes the ex-President of Estonia, Toomas Henrik Ilves, an outspoken critic of Facebook and Maria Ressa, the journalist currently facing imprisonment in the Philippines for cyberlibel.

Board members also include Shoshana Zuboff, author of Surveillance Capitalism, Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, Yael Eisenstat, former head of election integrity at Facebook, Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League .

This issue of how Facebook moderates its content and allows its users to be targetted by campaigns has become ever more pressing as the US election looms closer. It’s already been revealed by Channel 4 News in the UK that 3.5 million Black Americans were profiled and categorized on Facebook, and other social media, as needing to be deterred from voting by the Trump campaign.

#anti-defamation-league, #articles, #author, #ceo, #computing, #denmark, #editor-in-chief, #estonia, #europe, #facebook, #facebook-oversight-board, #inside-facebook, #journalist, #maria-ressa, #mark-zuckerberg, #naacp, #oversight-board, #philippines, #president, #roger-mcnamee, #social-media, #software, #supreme-court, #surveillance-capitalism, #tc, #the-guardian, #trump, #united-kingdom, #united-states

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Writer Anand Giridharadas on tech’s billionaires: “Are they even on the same team as us?”

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, America’s roughly 640 billionaires have seen their fortunes soar by $845 billion in combined assets or 29% collectively, widening the already yawning gap between the very richest and the rest of the U.S.

Many of those billions were made by tech founders, including Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk, whose companies have soared in value and, in tandem, their net worth. In fact, so much has been made so fast and by so few relatively, that it’s easy to wonder if greater equality is now forever out of reach.

To talk about the question, we reached out earlier this week to Ananad Giridharadas, a former New York Times correspondent whose 2018 book, “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” became a best-seller

Giridharadas’s message at the time was largely that the generosity of the global elite is somewhat laughable — that many of the same players who say they want to help society are creating its most intractable problems. (Think, for example of Bezos, whose company paid zero in federal tax in 2017 and 2018 and who is now on the cusp of opening a tuition-free preschool called the Bezos Academy for underserved children.)

Given the aggressive escalation over the last six months of the same trends Giridharadas has tracked for years, we wondered how he views the current situation. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity.

TC: You have a weekly newsletter where you make the point that Jeff Bezos could give every one of Amazon’s 876,000 employees a ‘pandemic’ bonus of $105,000 and he would still have as much money as he did in March.

AG: There’s this way in which these crises are not merely things that rich and powerful survive. They’re things that they leverage and exploit, and it starts to raise the question of: are they even on the same team as us? Because when you have discussions about stimulus relief around what kind of policy responses you could have to something like the 2008 financial crisis or the pandemic, there’s initially some discussion and clamor for universal basic income, or substantial monthly checks for people, or even the French approach of nationalizing people salaries… and those things usually die. And they die thanks to corporate lobbyists and advocates of the rich and powerful, and are replaced by forms of relief that are upwardly redistributive that essentially exploit a crisis to transfer wealth and power to the top.

TC: Earlier in the 20th century, there was this perception that industry would contribute to solving a crisis with government. In this economy, we just didn’t see a lot of the major tech companies, or a lot of the companies that were benefiting from this crisis, really sacrificing something to help the U.S. Do you see things that way?

AG: I think that’s right. I’m always wary of idealizing certain periods in the past, and I think there were a lot of problems in that time. But I think there’s no question that it was not as difficult back then, as it is today, to summon some kind of sense of common purpose and even the need to sacrifice values like profit seeking for other values.

I mean, after 9/11, President George W. Bush told us all to go shopping as the way to advance the common good. Donald Trump is now 18 levels of hell further down that path, not even telling us that we need to do anything for each other and [instead describing earlier this week] a pandemic that has killed 200,000 people as being something that doesn’t really affect most people.

So there’s just been a coarsening. And that kind of selfish trajectory of our culture, after 40 years of being told that what we do alone is better than what we do together, that what we do to create wealth is more important than what we do to advance shared goals — that quite dismal, dull message has had its consequences. And when you get a pandemic like this, and you suddenly need to be able to summon people to all socially distance at a minimum or, more ambitiously, pull for the common good or pay higher taxes are things that might even cost them a little bit, it’s very hard to do because the groundwork isn’t there.

TC: You’ve talked quite a bit over the years about “fake change.”

AG: Silicon Valley is the new Rome of our time, meaning a place in the world that ends up deciding how a lot of the rest of the world lives. No matter where you lived on the planet Earth, when the Roman Empire started to rise, it had plans for you one way or another, through your legal system, or your language, or culture, or something else. The Roman Empire was coming for you.

Silicon Valley is that for our time. It’s the new Rome [in] that you can’t live on planet Earth and be unaffected, directly or indirectly, by the decisions made in this relatively small patch of [of the world]. So the question then becomes, what does that new Rome want? And my impression of having reported on that world is that it’s an incredibly homogeneous world of people at the top of this new Rome. It’s white male dominated in a way that even other white male dominated sectors of the American economy are not . . . and it’s a lot of a certain kind of man who often is actually more obtuse about understanding human society and sociological dynamics and human beings than the average person.

Maybe they didn’t spend a lot of time negotiating human dynamics at sleepovers, which is fine. But when you end up with a new Rome and it’s hyper dominated by people of one race and one gender, many of whom are disproportionately socially unintelligent, running the platforms through which most human sociality now occurs — democratic discourse, family community, so on and so forth — we all start to live in a world created by people who, frankly are just quite limited. They are smart at the thing they’re smart at and they’ve become in charge of a lot of how the world works. And there’s simply not up to the task. And we see evidence of that every day.

TC: Are you speaking about empathy?

AG: Empathy is absolutely one of [the factors]. The ability to understand the more amorphous, non technological, non quantifiable things . . . it’s so interesting, because it’s people who are clearly very smart in a certain area but  just honestly do not understand democratic theory. There’s just so much work that’s been done — deep, complicated thinking going back to Plato and Aristotle, but also modern sociological work, including why a safety net and welfare is complicated. And there’s a certain kind of personality type that I have found very dominant in Silicon Valley, where it’s these men who just don’t really have a lens for that.

They’re often geniuses. It’s a certain kind of particular personality type where you care a lot about one thing and you go deep on that one thing, and it’s probably the same personality type that Beethoven had. It’s a great thing, actually. It’s just not great for governing us, and what these people are doing is privately governing us, and they have no humility about the limitations of their worldview

TC: We’re talking largely about social media here. Is it reasonable to expect some kind of government action. Do you think that’s naive? 

AG: It’s absolutely essential that the tech industry be brought into the same kind of sensible regulatory regime. I mean, you have kids, I have kids. If you’ve ever read the side of their car seats or any of the other products in their lives, you understand how much regulation there is for our benefit. . . I often say that the government at its best is like a lawyer for all of us. The government is like ‘Why don’t we check out these car seats for you and create some rules around them and then you can just buy a car seat and not have to wonder whether it’s the kind that protects your child or crumbles?’ That’s what the government does for all kinds of things.

TC: You’ve talked about billionaires who don’t want to pay taxes yet don’t hesitate to make a donation because they have control over where their money is spent and they get their name on a building, and it’s true. Many companies whose founders also consider themselves philanthropists, like Salesforce and Netflix, paid no federal tax in 2018, which amounts to billions of dollars lost. If you had to prioritize between taking antitrust action or closing the tax loopholes, what would you choose?

AG: They’re both important. But I think I would prioritize taxation.

One way to think about it is this pre distribution and redistribution. The monopoly issue in a way is pre distribution, which is how much money you get to make in the first place. If you get to be a monopoly because we don’t enforce antitrust laws, you’re going to end up making pre tax a lot more money than you would otherwise have made if you had to compete in an actual free market.

Once you’ve made that money, the tax question comes up. So both are important, but I think you can’t overestimate the extent to which the tax thing is just totally foundational. If you look at the report that the 400 richest families in America pay a lower effective tax rate than the bottom half of families, it’s appalling.

We live in a complicated world. A lot of different things have been going on, including just in the last few months. But if you have to really summarize the drift and the shift of the last 40 years, it’s been a war on taxation. And it’s been a massive redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top of American life through taxation. Since the ’80s, the top 1% has gained $21 trillion of wealth, and the bottom half of Americans have lost $900 billion of wealth on average —  and much of that was prosecuted through the tax code.

Awkward! Above, Giridharadas shaking hands with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos at a Wired event in 2018.

#amazon, #anand-giridharadas, #billionaires, #diversity, #elon-musk, #inequality, #jeff-bezos, #mark-zuckerberg, #opinion, #policy, #social-media, #tc, #technology, #wealth-disparity

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Facebook changes name of its annual VR event and its overall AR/VR organization

Facebook is moving further away from the Oculus brand.

The company says it is changing the name of their augmented reality and virtual reality division to “Facebook Reality Labs,” a division which will encompass the company’s AR/VR products under the Oculus, Spark and Portal brands.

The company’s AR/VR research division had its title changed from Oculus Research to Facebook Reality Labs back in 2018. That division will now be known as FRL Research.

Facebook has also announced that Oculus Connect, its annual virtual reality developer conference, will be renamed Facebook Connect and will be occurring entirely virtually on September 16.

Oculus has held a very different existence inside Facebook than other high-profile acquisitions like Instagram or WhatsApp . The org has been folded deeper into the core of the company, both in terms of leadership and organizational structure. The entire AR/VR org is run by Andrew Bosworth, a long-time executive at the company who is a close confidant of CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Bosworth

In some sense, the name change is just an indication that the product ambitions of Facebook in the AR/VR world have grown larger since its 2014 Oculus acquisition.

Facebook is now no longer just building headsets, they’re also building augmented reality glasses, they’re adding AR software integrations into their core app and Instagram through Spark AR and, yes, they’re still doing some stuff with Facebook Portal.

In another sense, adding the term “Labs” to the end of a division that’s several years old with several products you’ve spent billions of dollars to realize, seems to be Facebook doubling down on the idea that everything contained therein is (1) pretty experimental and (2) not contributing all that much to the Facebook bottom line. This seems like the likely home for future Facebook moonshots.

The change will likely upset some Oculus users. Facebook’s reputation problems anecdotally seem to have a particularly strong hold among PC gamers leaving some Oculus fans generally unhappy with any news that showcases the Oculus brand coming further beneath the core Facebook org. Last week, the company shared that new Oculus headset users will need to sign into the platform with their Facebook account and that they would be phasing out Oculus accounts over time, a change that was met with hostility from insiders who believed that Facebook would keep more distance between the core social app and its virtual reality platform.

At this point, Oculus is still the brand name of the VR headsets Facebook sells and the company maintains that the brand isn’t going anywhere, but directionally it seems that Facebook is aiming to bring the brand closer beneath its wing.

#andrew-bosworth, #augmented-reality, #ceo, #computing, #digital-media, #executive, #facebook, #instagram, #mark-zuckerberg, #oculus, #oculus-rift, #oculus-vr, #tc, #virtual-reality, #wearable-devices, #whatsapp

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Facebook trails expanding portability tools ahead of FTC hearing

Facebook is considering expanding the types of data its users are able to port directly to alternative platforms.

In comments on portability sent to US regulators ahead of an FTC hearing on the topic next month, Facebook says it intends to expand the scope of its data portability offerings “in the coming months”.

It also offers some “possible examples” of how it could build on the photo portability tool it began rolling out last year — suggesting it could in future allow users to transfer media they’ve produced or shared on Facebook to a rival platform or take a copy of their “most meaningful posts” elsewhere.

Allowing Facebook-based events to be shared to third party cloud-based calendar services is another example cited in Facebook’s paper.

It suggests expanding portability in such ways could help content creators build their brands on other platforms or help event organizers by enabling them to track Facebook events using calendar based tools.

However there are no firm commitments from Facebook to any specific portability product launches or expansions of what it offers currently.

For now the tech giant only lets Facebook users directly send copies of their photos to Google’s eponymous photo storage service — a transfer tool it switched on for all users this June.

“We remain committed to ensuring the current product remains stable and performant for people and we are also exploring how we might extend this tool, mindful of the need to preserve the privacy of our users and the integrity of our services,” Facebook writes of its photo transfer tool.

On whether it will expand support for porting photos to other rival services (i.e. not just Google Photos) Facebook has this non-committal line to offer regulators: “Supporting these additional use cases will mean finding more destinations to which people can transfer their data. In the short term, we’ll pursue these destination partnerships through bilateral agreements informed by user interest and expressions of interest from potential partners.”

Beyond allowing photo porting to Google Photos, Facebook users have long been able to download a copy of some of the information it holds on them.

But the kind of portability regulators are increasingly interested in is about going much further than that — meaning offering mechanisms that enable easy and secure data transfers to other services in a way that could encourage and support fast-moving competition to attention-monopolizing tech giants.

The Federal Trade Commission is due to host a public workshop on September 22, 2020, which it says will  “examine the potential benefits and challenges to consumers and competition raised by data portability”.

The regulator notes that the topic has gained interest following the implementation of major privacy laws that include data portability requirements — such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

It asked for comment submissions by August 21, which is what Facebook’s paper is responding to.

In comments to the Reuters news agency, Facebook’s privacy and public policy manager, Bijan Madhani, said the company wants to see “dedicated portability legislation” coming out of any post-workshop recommendations.

It reports that Facebook supports a portability bill that’s doing the rounds in Congress — called the Access Act, which is sponsored by Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal and Mark Warner, and Republican senator Josh Hawley — which would require large tech platforms to let their users easily move their data to other services.

Albeit Madhani dubs it a good first step, adding that the company will continue to engage with the lawmakers on shaping its contents.

“Although some laws already guarantee the right to portability, our experience suggests that companies and people would benefit from additional guidance about what it means to put those rules into practice,” Facebook also writes in its comments to the FTC .

Ahead of dipping its toe into portability via the photo transfer tool, Facebook released a white paper on portability last year, seeking to shape the debate and influence regulatory thinking around any tighter or more narrowly defined portability requirements.

In recent months Mark Zuckerberg has also put in facetime to lobby EU lawmakers on the topic, as they work on updating regulations around digital services.

The Facebook founder pushed the European Commission to narrow the types of data that should fall under portability rules. In the public discussion with commissioner Thierry Breton, in May, he raised the example of the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data misuse scandal, claiming the episode illustrated the risks of too much platform “openness” — and arguing that there are “direct trade-offs about openness and privacy”.

Zuckerberg went on to press for regulation that helps industry “balance these two important values around openness and privacy”. So it’s clear the company is hoping to shape the conversation about what portability should mean in practice.

Or, to put it another way, Facebook wants to be able to define which data can flow to rivals and which can’t.

“Our position is that portability obligations should not mandate the inclusion of observed and inferred data types,” Facebook writes in further comments to the FTC — lobbying to put broad limits on how much insight rivals would be able to gain into Facebook users who wish to take their data elsewhere.

Both its white paper and comments to the FTC plough this preferred furrow of making portability into a ‘hard problem’ for regulators, by digging up downsides and fleshing out conundrums — such as how to tackle social graph data.

On portability requests that wrap up data on what Facebook refers to as “non-requesting users”, its comments to the FTC work to sew doubt about the use of consent mechanisms to allow people to grant each other permission to have their data exported from a particular service — with the company questioning whether services “could offer meaningful choice and control to non-requesting users”.

“Would requiring consent inappropriately restrict portability? If not, how could consent be obtained? Should, for example, non-requesting users have the ability to choose whether their data is exported each time one of their friends wants to share it with an app? Could an approach offering this level of granularity or frequency of notice could lead to notice fatigue?” Facebook writes, skipping lightly over the irony given the levels of fatigue its own apps’ default notifications can generate for users.

Facebook also appears to be advocating for an independent body or regulator to focus on policy questions and liability issues tied to portability, writing in a blog post announcing its FTC submission: “In our comments, we encourage the FTC to examine portability in practice. We also ask it to recommend dedicated federal portability legislation and provide advice to industry on the policy and regulatory tensions we highlight, so that companies implementing data portability have the clear rules and certainty necessary to build privacy-protective products that enhance people’s choice and control online.”

In its FTC submission the company goes on to suggest that “an independent mechanism or body” could “collaboratively set privacy and security standards to ensure data portability partnerships or participation in a portability ecosystem that are transparent and consistent with the broader goals of data portability”.

Facebook then further floats the idea of an accreditation model under which recipients of user data “could demonstrate, through certification to an independent body, that they meet the data protection and processing standards found in a particular regulation, such as the [EU’s] GDPR or associated code of conduct”.

“Accredited entities could then be identified with a seal and would be eligible to receive data from transferring service providers. The independent body (potentially in consultation with relevant regulators) could work to assess compliance of certifying entities, revoking accreditation where appropriate,” it further suggests.

However its paper also notes the risk that requiring accreditation might present a barrier to entry for the small businesses and startups that might otherwise be best positioned to benefit from portability.

#apps, #congress, #data-portability, #data-protection, #digital-media, #digital-rights, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #facebook, #federal-trade-commission, #ftc, #gdpr, #general-data-protection-regulation, #google, #josh-hawley, #mark-warner, #mark-zuckerberg, #policy, #richard-blumenthal, #social, #terms-of-service, #thierry-breton, #united-states

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