Facebook

Facebook prototypes a swipeable hybrid carousel of feed posts & Stories

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, Facebook, Facebook ads, Facebook News Feed, Facebook Stories, Facebook Stories Ads, Mobile, Snapchat Stories Clone, Social | No Comments

Feed and Stories unite! Facebook is so eager to preempt the shift to Stories that it might even let us use the same interface of horizontally swipeable cards to sift through News Feed posts. If users won’t scroll down any more, Facebook’s ad business could take a huge hit. But by allowing traditional feed posts and ads to appear amidst Stories in the same carousel you’re more prone to swipe through, it could squeeze more views and dollars out of that content. This would help Facebook gracefully transition to the post-News Feed era while it teaches advertisers how to use the full-screen Stories ad format.

In this image, you can see a user in mid-swipe through the hybrid carousel between a News Feed story about a friend updating their profile photo to an animated GIF-style video on the left and a Stories video on the right.

We’re awaiting comment from Facebook about this. There’s a chance it was just caused by a bug like the briefly side-scrollable Instagram feed that popped up in December, or that it will never be publicly tested, let alone launch. But given the significance of Facebook potentially reimagining navigation of its main revenue stream, we considered it worth covering immediately. After all, Facebook predicts that Stories sharing will surpass feed sharing across all social apps sometime this year. It already has 300 million daily users across Stories on Facebook and Messenger, plus another 500 million on Instagram Stories and 450 million on WhatsApp Status.

[Update: Facebook confirms that this feature is a very early-stage prototype of a new way to navigate News Feed posts. A Facebook spokesperson tells TechCrunch that “We are currently not testing this publicly” as the company still needs do a lot more user research before any public experimentation.]

This swipeable hybrid carousel was first spotted by reverse-engineering specialist and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. She discovered this unreleased feature inside the Android version of Facebook and screenrecorded the new navigation method. In this prototype, when a News Feed post’s header or surrounding space is tapped, users see a full-screen version of the post. From there they can swipe left to reveal the next content in the hybrid carousel, which can include both traditional News Feed posts, News Feed ads and purposefully vertical Stories and Stories ads.

Users can tap to Like, react to or comment on feed posts while still in the carousel interface. Facebook has been offering ways to syndicate your News Feed posts to Stories since last year, but those posts got reformatted to look like Stories rather than retaining their old design and white background as we see here.

Facebook is testing to turn News Feed into Story Feed pic.twitter.com/83H7VWcgmD

— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) April 15, 2019

If Facebook moved forward with offering this as an optional way to browse its social network, it would hedge the business against the biggest behavior change it’s seen since the move from desktop to mobile. Vertically scrolling News Feeds are useful for browsing text-heavy content, but the navigation requires more work. Users have to stop and start scrolling precisely to get a whole post in view, and it takes longer to move between pieces of content.

In contrast, swipeable Stories carousels offer a more convenient lean-back navigation style where posts always appear fully visible. All it takes to advance to the next full-screen piece of content is a single tap, which is easier on your joints. This allows rapid-fire fast-forwarding through friends’ lives, which works well with more visual, instantly digestible content. While cramming text-filled News Feed posts may not be ideal, at least they might get more attention. If Facebook combined all this with unskippable Stories ads like Snapchat is increasingly using, the medium shift could lure more TV dollars to the web.

The hybrid posts and Stories carousel can contain both traditional image plus caption News Feed posts and News feed ads as well as Stories

Facebook has repeatedly warned that it’s out of space for more ads in the News Feed, and that users are moving their viewing time to Stories, where advertisers are still getting acclimated. When Facebook made it clear on its Q2 2018 earnings call that this could significantly reduce revenue growth, its share price dropped 20 percent, vaporizing $120 billion in value. Wall Street is rightfully concerned that the Stories medium shift could upend Facebook’s massive business.

Stories is a bustling up-and-coming neighborhood. News Feed is a steadily declining industrial city that’s where Facebook’s money is earned but that’s on its way to becoming a ghost town. A hybrid Stories/posts carousel would build a super highway between them, connecting where Facebook users want to spend time with where the municipality generates the taxes necessary to keep the lights on.

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Instagram bug showed Stories to the wrong people

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, instagram, Instagram bug, Instagram Privacy, Instagram Stories, Mobile, privacy, Social, TC | No Comments

Today in “Facebook apps are too big to manage,” a glitch caused some users’ Instagram Stories trays to show Stories from people they don’t follow.

TechCrunch first received word of the problem from Twitter user InternetRyan who was confused about seeing strangers in his Stories Tray and tagged me in to investigate. The screenshots below show people in his Stories tray whom he doesn’t follow, as proven by the active Follow buttons on their profiles. TechCrunch inquired about the issue, and the next day Instagram confirmed that a bug was responsible and it had been fixed.

Instagram is still looking into the cause of the bug but says it was solved within hours of being brought to its attention. Luckily, if users clicked on the profile pic of someone they didn’t follow in Stories, Instagram’s privacy controls kicked it and wouldn’t display the content. Facebook Stories wasn’t impacted. But the whole situation shakes faith in the Facebook corporation’s ability to properly route and safeguard our data, including that of the 500 million people using Instagram Stories each day.

An Instagram spokesperson provided this statement: “We’re aware of an issue that caused a small number of people’s Instagram Stories trays to show accounts they don’t follow. If your account is private, your Stories were not seen by people who don’t follow you. This was caused by a bug that we have resolved.”

The problem comes after a rough year for Facebook’s privacy and security teams. Outside of all its scrambling to fight false news and election interference, Facebook and Instagram have experienced an onslaught of technical troubles. A Facebook bug changed the status update composer privacy setting of 14 million users, while another exposed up to 6.8 million users’ unposted photos. Instagram bugs have screwed up follower accounts, and made the feed scroll horizontally. And Facebook was struck by its largest outage ever last month, after its largest data breach ever late last year exposed tons of info on 50 million users.

Facebook and Instagram’s unprecedented scale make them extremely capital efficient and profitable. But that size also leaves tons of surfaces susceptible to problems that can instantly impact huge swaths of the population. Once Facebook has a handle on misinformation, its technical systems could use an audit.

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Instagram now demotes vaguely ‘inappropriate’ content

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Facebook Policy, instagram, Instagram Policy, Mobile, Policy, Social, TC | No Comments

Instagram is home to plenty of scantily clad models and edgy memes that may start to get fewer views starting today. Now Instagram says, “We have begun reducing the spread of posts that are inappropriate but do not go against Instagram’s Community Guidelines.” That means if a post is sexually suggestive, but doesn’t depict a sex act or nudity, it could still get demoted. Similarly, if a meme doesn’t constitute hate speech or harassment, but is considered in bad taste, lewd, violent or hurtful, it could get fewer views.

Specifically, Instagram says, “this type of content may not appear for the broader community in Explore or hashtag pages,” which could severely hurt the ability of creators to gain new followers. The news came amidst a flood of “Integrity” announcements from Facebook to safeguard its family of apps revealed today at a press event at the company’s Menlo Park headquarters.

“We’ve started to use machine learning to determine if the actual media posted is eligible to be recommended to our community,” Instagram’s product lead for Discovery, Will Ruben, said. Instagram is now training its content moderators to label borderline content when they’re hunting down policy violations, and Instagram then uses those labels to train an algorithm to identify.

These posts won’t be fully removed from the feed, and Instagram tells me for now the new policy won’t impact Instagram’s feed or Stories bar. But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s November manifesto described the need to broadly reduce the reach of this “borderline content,” which on Facebook would mean being shown lower in News Feed. That policy could easily be expanded to Instagram in the future. That would likely reduce the ability of creators to reach their existing fans, which can impact their ability to monetize through sponsored posts or direct traffic to ways they make money like Patreon.

Facebook’s Henry Silverman explained that, “As content gets closer and closer to the line of our Community Standards at which point we’d remove it, it actually gets more and more engagement. It’s not something unique to Facebook but inherent in human nature.” The borderline content policy aims to counteract this incentive to toe the policy line. Just because something is allowed on one of our apps doesn’t mean it should show up at the top of News Feed or that it should be recommended or that it should be able to be advertised,” said Facebook’s head of News Feed Integrity, Tessa Lyons.

This all makes sense when it comes to clickbait, false news and harassment, which no one wants on Facebook or Instagram. But when it comes to sexualized but not explicit content that has long been uninhibited and in fact popular on Instagram, or memes or jokes that might offend some people despite not being abusive, this is a significant step up of censorship by Facebook and Instagram.

Creators currently have no guidelines about what constitutes borderline content — there’s nothing in Instagram’s rules or terms of service that even mention non-recommendable content or what qualifies. The only information Instagram has provided was what it shared at today’s event. The company specified that violent, graphic/shocking, sexually suggestive, misinformation and spam content can be deemed “non-recommendable” and therefore won’t appear on Explore or hashtag pages.

[Update: After we published, Instagram posted to its Help Center a brief note about its borderline content policy, but with no visual examples, mentions of impacted categories other than sexually suggestive content, or indications of what qualifies content as “inappropriate.” So officially, it’s still leaving users in the dark.]

Instagram denied an account from a creator claiming that the app reduced their feed and Stories reach after one of their posts that actually violates the content policy taken down.

One female creator with around a half-million followers likened receiving a two-week demotion that massively reduced their content’s reach to Instagram defecating on them. “It just makes it like, ‘Hey, how about we just show your photo to like 3 of your followers? Is that good for you? . . . I know this sounds kind of tin-foil hatty but . . . when you get a post taken down or a story, you can set a timer on your phone for two weeks to the godd*mn f*cking minute and when that timer goes off you’ll see an immediate change in your engagement. They put you back on the Explore page and you start getting followers.”

As you can see, creators are pretty passionate about Instagram demoting their reach. Instagram’s Will Ruben said regarding the feed/Stories reach reduction: No, that’s not happening. We distinguish between feed and surfaces where you’ve taken the choice to follow somebody, and Explore and hashtag pages where Instagram is recommending content to people.”

The questions now are whether borderline content demotions are ever extended to Instagram’s feed and Stories, and how content is classified as recommendable, non-recommendable or violating. With artificial intelligence involved, this could turn into another situation where Facebook is seen as shirking its responsibilities in favor of algorithmic efficiency — but this time in removing or demoting too much content rather than too little.

Given the lack of clear policies to point to, the subjective nature of deciding what’s offensive but not abusive, Instagram’s 1 billion user scale and its nine years of allowing this content, there are sure to be complaints and debates about fair and consistent enforcement.

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CleverTap lands $26M for its mobile-focused customer marketing service

Posted by | Accel, Asia, clevertap, Facebook, Fandango, funding, Fundings & Exits, go-jek, india, Media, Mobile, rakuten, Sequoia, Sequoia India, Singapore, Southeast Asia, tiger global, United States, Viber, WhatsApp | No Comments

CleverTap, an India-based startup that lets companies track and improve engagement with users across the web, has pulled in $26 million in new funding thanks to a round led by Sequoia India.

Existing investor Accel and new backer Tiger Global also took part in the deal, which values CleverTap at $150-$160 million, the startup disclosed. The deal takes CleverTap to around $40 million from investors to date.

Founded in 2015 and based in Mumbai, CleverTap competes with a range of customer experience services, including Oracle Cloud. Its service covers a range of touchpoints with consumers, including email, in-app activity, push notifications, Facebook, WhatsApp (for business) and Viber. Its service helps companies map out how their users are engaging across those vectors, and develop “re-engagement” programs to help reactive dormant users or increase engagement among others.

The company says its SDK is installed in more than 8,000 apps and its customers include Southeast Asia-based startups Go-Jek and Zilingo, Hotstar in India and U.S.-based Fandango . With a considerable customer base in Asia, CleverTap puts a particular focus on mobile because many of these markets are all about personal devices.

“Asia is mobile-first and massively growing,” CleverTap CEO and co-founder Sunil Thomas told TechCrunch in an interview. “A lot of engagement in this [part of the] world is timely… we were sort of born physically on the east side of the world, so we got to scale with all these diverse set of devices.”

That stands to benefit CleverTap as it seeks to grow market share outside of Asia, and in markets like the U.S. and Europe where mobile is — right now — just one part of the marketing and customer engagement process. The company believes that engagement by mobile has a long way to develop there.

“Engagement [in the West] is still email-heavy and not really timely,” Thomas said. “Whereas the East thinks of it as ‘Hey, let’s be proactive… instead of a user coming in to hunt for information, can I provide it when I think he or she will need it?’ ”

Of course, mobile push and in-app notifications can be easily abused.

Most people will know of an app on their phone that falls into that category. So, how does a company know what is too much or what isn’t enough?

“As long as you use push or in-app as an extension of your brand, then I think it’s extremely useful,” explained Thomas. “After all, this is a really competitive world; it isn’t just your app out there — if you can make your brand count when this person isn’t in your app, that’ll help you.”

More broadly, Thomas argued that CleverTap brings data to the table which, ultimately, “changes the whole context in real time.” So a customer can really look holistically at their online presence and figure out what is working, and with which users. In real terms, when used to acquire new users online, he said he believes that CleverTap typically doubles registration conversions and triples the buying rate.

“The cost of acquisition to first purchase is what we really effect,” said Thomas. “It’s that moment you get a new person into your house.”

CleverTap has an office in Sunnyvale and it has just landed in Singapore. Now it plans to add a location in Indonesia before the end of the year. Those expansions are centered around business development, with some customer support, since tech and other teams are in India. Already, according to Thomas, the company is looking to grow in Europe while it is weighing the potential to enter Latin America in a move that could include a local partnership.

The CleverTap CEO is also considering raising more money toward the end of the year, when he believes that the company can push its valuation as high as $400 million.

“That’s very doable based on revenue growth,” he said. “We think that the revenue will demand that valuation.”

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New privacy assistant Jumbo fixes your Facebook & Twitter settings

Posted by | amazon alexa, Apps, Facebook, facebook privacy, funding, Fundings & Exits, google search, Mobile, Policy, privacy, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, TC, Twitter, Twitter Privacy | No Comments

Jumbo could be a nightmare for the tech giants, but a savior for the victims of their shady privacy practices.

Jumbo saves you hours as well as embarrassment by automatically adjusting 30 Facebook privacy settings to give you more protection, and by deleting your old tweets after saving them to your phone. It can even erase your Google Search and Amazon Alexa history, with clean-up features for Instagram and Tinder in the works.

The startup emerges from stealth today to launch its Jumbo privacy assistant app on iPhone (Android coming soon). What could take a ton of time and research to do manually can be properly handled by Jumbo with a few taps.

The question is whether tech’s biggest companies will allow Jumbo to operate, or squash its access. Facebook, Twitter and the rest really should have built features like Jumbo’s themselves or made them easier to use, since they could boost people’s confidence and perception that might increase usage of their apps. But since their business models often rely on gathering and exploiting as much of your data as possible, and squeezing engagement from more widely visible content, the giants are incentivized to find excuses to block Jumbo.

“Privacy is something that people want, but at the same time it just takes too much time for you and me to act on it,” explains Jumbo founder Pierre Valade, who formerly built beloved high-design calendar app Sunrise that he sold to Microsoft in 2015. “So you’re left with two options: you can leave Facebook, or do nothing.”

Jumbo makes it easy enough for even the lazy to protect themselves. “I’ve used Jumbo to clean my full Twitter, and my personal feeling is: I feel lighter. On Facebook, Jumbo changed my privacy settings, and I feel safer.” Inspired by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he believes the platforms have lost the right to steward so much of our data.

Valade’s Sunrise pedigree and plan to follow Dropbox’s bottom-up freemium strategy by launching premium subscription and enterprise features has already attracted investors to Jumbo. It’s raised a $3.5 million seed round led by Thrive Capital’s Josh Miller and Nextview Ventures’ Rob Go, who “both believe that privacy is a fundamental human right,” Valade notes. Miller sold his link-sharing app Branch to Facebook in 2014, so his investment shows those with inside knowledge see a need for Jumbo. Valade’s six-person team in New York will use the money to develop new features and try to start a privacy moment.

How Jumbo works

First let’s look at Jumbo’s Facebook settings fixes. The app asks that you punch in your username and password through a mini-browser open to Facebook instead of using the traditional Facebook Connect feature. That immediately might get Jumbo blocked, and we’ve asked Facebook if it will be allowed. Then Jumbo can adjust your privacy settings to Weak, Medium, or Strong controls, though it never makes any privacy settings looser if you’ve already tightened them.

Valade details that since there are no APIs for changing Facebook settings, Jumbo will “act as ‘you’ on Facebook’s website and tap on the buttons, as a script, to make the changes you asked Jumbo to do for you.” He says he hopes Facebook makes an API for this, though it’s more likely to see his script as against policies.

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For example, Jumbo can change who can look you up using your phone number to Strong – Friends only, Medium – Friends of friends, or Weak – Jumbo doesn’t change the setting. Sometimes it takes a stronger stance. For the ability to show you ads based on contact info that advertisers have uploaded, both the Strong and Medium settings hide all ads of this type, while Weak keeps the setting as is.

The full list of what Jumbo can adjust includes Who can see your future posts?, Who can see the people?, Pages and lists you follow, Who can see your friends list?, Who can see your sexual preference?, Do you want Facebook to be able to recognize you in photos and videos?, Who can post on your timeline?, and Review tags people add to your posts the tags appear on Facebook? The full list can be found here.

For Twitter, you can choose if you want to remove all tweets ever, or that are older than a day, week, month (recommended), or three months. Jumbo never sees the data, as everything is processed locally on your phone. Before deleting the tweets, it archives them to a Memories tab of its app. Unfortunately, there’s currently no way to export the tweets from there, but Jumbo is building Dropbox and iCloud connectivity soon, which will work retroactively to download your tweets. Twitter’s API limits mean it can only erase 3,200 tweets of yours every few days, so prolific tweeters may require several rounds.

Its other integrations are more straightforward. On Google, it deletes your search history. For Alexa, it deletes the voice recordings stored by Amazon. Next it wants to build a way to clean out your old Instagram photos and videos, and your old Tinder matches and chat threads.

Across the board, Jumbo is designed to never see any of your data. “There isn’t a server-side component that we own that processes your data in the cloud,” Valade says. Instead, everything is processed locally on your phone. That means, in theory, you don’t have to trust Jumbo with your data, just to properly alter what’s out there. The startup plans to open source some of its stack to prove it isn’t spying on you.

While there are other apps that can clean your tweets, nothing else is designed to be a full-fledged privacy assistant. Perhaps it’s a bit of idealism to think these tech giants will permit Jumbo to run as intended. Valade says he hopes if there’s enough user support, the privacy backlash would be too big if the tech giants blocked Jumbo. “If the social network blocks us, we will disable the integration in Jumbo until we can find a solution to make them work again.”

But even if it does get nixed by the platforms, Jumbo will have started a crucial conversation about how privacy should be handled offline. We’ve left control over privacy defaults to companies that earn money when we’re less protected. Now it’s time for that control to shift to the hands of the user.

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A powerful spyware app now targets iPhone owners

Posted by | Android, app maker, app-store, computing, data security, Facebook, iOS, iPhone, iTunes, Lookout, mobile app, online marketplaces, privacy, Security, spy | No Comments

Security researchers have discovered a powerful surveillance app first designed for Android devices can now target victims with iPhones.

The spy app, found by researchers at mobile security firm Lookout, said its developer abused their Apple-issued enterprise certificates to bypass the tech giant’s app store to infect unsuspecting victims.

The disguised carrier assistance app once installed can silently grab a victim’s contacts, audio recordings, photos, videos and other device information — including their real-time location data. It can be remotely triggered to listen in on people’s conversations, the researchers found. Although there was no data to show who might have been targeted, the researchers noted that the malicious app was served from fake sites purporting to be cell carriers in Italy and Turkmenistan.

Researchers linked the app to the makers of a previously discovered Android app, developed by the same Italian surveillance app maker Connexxa, known to be in use by the Italian authorities.

The Android app, dubbed Exodus, ensnared hundreds of victims — either by installing it or having it installed. Exodus had a larger feature set and expanded spying capabilities by downloading an additional exploit designed to gain root access to the device, giving the app near complete access to a device’s data, including emails, cellular data, Wi-Fi passwords and more, according to Security Without Borders.

Screenshots of the ordinary-looking iPhone app, which was silently uploading a victim’s private data and real-time location to the spyware company’s servers (Image: supplied)

Both of the apps use the same backend infrastructure, while the iOS app used several techniques — like certificate pinning — to make it difficult to analyze the network traffic, Adam Bauer, Lookout’s senior staff security intelligence engineer, told TechCrunch.

“This is one of the indicators that a professional group was responsible for the software,” he said.

Although the Android version was downloadable directly from Google’s app store, the iOS version was not widely distributed. Instead, Connexxa signed the app with an enterprise certificate issued to the developer by Apple, said Bauer, allowing the surveillance app maker to bypass Apple’s strict app store checks.

Apple says that’s a violation of its rules, which prohibits these certificates designed to be used strictly for internal apps to be pushed to consumers.

It follows a similar pattern to several app makers, as discovered by TechCrunch earlier this year, which abused their enterprise certificates to develop mobile apps that evaded the scrutiny of Apple’s app store. Every app served through an app store has to be certified by Apple or they won’t run. But several companies, like Facebook and Google, used their enterprise-only certificates to sign apps given to consumers. Apple said this violated its rules and banned the apps by revoking enterprise certificates used by Facebook and Google, knocking both of their illicit apps offline, but also every other internal app signed with the same certificate.

Facebook was unable to operate at full capacity for an entire working day until Apple issued a new certificate.

The certificate Apple issued to Connexxa (Image: supplied)

But Facebook and Google weren’t the only companies abusing their enterprise certificates. TechCrunch found dozens of porn and gambling apps — not permitted on Apple’s app store — signed with an enterprise certificate, circumventing the tech giant’s rules.

After researchers disclosed their findings, Apple revoked the app maker’s enterprise certificate, knocking every installed app offline and unable to run.

The researchers said they did not know how many Apple users were affected.

Connexxa did not respond to a request for comment. Apple did not comment.

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Snap is channeling Asia’s messaging giants with its move into gaming

Posted by | alibaba, Apps, Asia, Australia, Bitmoji, Canada, China, computing, e-commerce, epic games, Evan Spiegel, Facebook, food, France, game developers, Gaming, instagram, Instant Messaging, Japan, josh constine, Kakao, Los Angeles, messaging apps, Messenger, nhn japan, Nintendo, operating systems, player, Snap, Snapchat, Social, social media, social network, Software, Southeast Asia, Startups, Tencent, United Kingdom, United States, WeChat, WhatsApp | No Comments

Snap is taking a leaf out of the Asian messaging app playbook as its social messaging service enters a new era.

The company unveiled a series of new strategies that are aimed at breathing fresh life into the service that has been ruthlessly cloned by Facebook across Instagram, WhatsApp and even its primary social network. The result? Snap has consistently lost users since going public in 2017. It managed to stop the rot with a flat Q4, but resting on its laurels isn’t going to bring back the good times.

Snap has taken a three-pronged approach: extending its stories feature (and ads) into third-party apps and building out its camera play with an AR platform, but it is the launch of social games that is the most intriguing. The other moves are logical, and they fall in line with existing Snap strategies, but games is an entirely new category for the company.

It isn’t hard to see where Snap found inspiration for social games — Asian messaging companies have long twinned games and chat — but the U.S. company is applying its own twist to the genre.

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WhatsApp’s Brian Acton to talk Signal Foundation and leaving Facebook at Disrupt SF

Posted by | Apps, Brian Acton, Facebook, Mobile, Policy, privacy, signal, signal foundation, Talent, TC, TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019, WhatsApp | No Comments

“We give them the power. That’s the bad part. We buy their products. We sign up for these websites. Delete Facebook, right?”

That’s WhatsApp founder Brian Acton’s most recent quote about his former employer, Facebook. Acton has seemingly been fueled by his experience running WhatsApp from within Facebook, which has been scrutinized for profiting from collecting data on users.

Which explains why now, two years after leaving Facebook, Acton has found a new groove as founder and executive chairman of the Signal Technology Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to doing the foundational work around making private communication accessible, secure and ubiquitous. Acton invested $50 million of his own money to start Signal Foundation in February of 2018.

At TechCrunch Disrupt SF in October, we’ll hear more from Acton about Signal Foundation and his predictions for the future of communication and privacy. And, of course, we’ll try to learn more about what Facebook was up to with WhatsApp, why he left and how it felt leaving $850 million on the table.

Though he was rejected for positions at Facebook and Twitter in 2009, Acton is actually a Silicon Valley veteran, working in the industry (mostly as a software builder) for more than 25 years at places like Apple, Yahoo and Adobe before founding WhatsApp.

The chat app he built with co-founder Jan Koum grew to 1.5 billion users and, eventually, saw a $19 billion buyout from Mark Zuckerberg in 2014. But when Facebook wanted to lay the basis for targeted ads and commercial messaging within the encrypted chat app he’d spent years building, he walked away.

The Signal Foundation is all about ensuring people have access to private communication that doesn’t cost their own personal data.

“We believe there is an opportunity to act in the public interest and make a meaningful contribution to society by building sustainable technology that respects users and does not rely on the commoditization of personal data,” Acton wrote when it was first announced. In many ways, the Signal Foundation is a symbol and a continuation of Acton’s most expensive moral stand.

We’re thrilled to hear from Acton about what’s next at Signal Foundation. We’ll also try to learn more about his exit at Facebook and his feelings about the products he spent so much time building there.

After all, unsavvy regulators, legions of competitors and user backlash have all failed to compel Facebook to treat people better. But the real power lies with the talent that tech giants fight over. When people like Acton speak up or walk out, employers are forced to listen.

“No filter” is Acton’s style, so get ready for some fireworks when we sit down with him onstage at Disrupt SF.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center. Tickets are available here.

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India’s Mswipe raises $30M to grow its smart point-of-sale terminal business

Posted by | Android, Asia, b capital, ceo, Co-founder, Eduardo Saverin, Facebook, Finance, financial services, funding, Fundings & Exits, india, inventory management, manish patel, money, online payments, Turkey | No Comments

Mswipe, an Indian fintech company that develops point-of-sale terminals for merchants, has pulled $30 million in new funding as it bids to triple its reach to 1.5 million merchants over the next year.

The company’s previous funding as a Series D in 2017 that ended up at just over $40 million, thanks to a $10 million extension from B Capitalthe investment firm set up by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin that’s backed by BCG. This time around, B Capital has provided the funding alongside other returning investors that include Falcon Edge, Epiq Capital and DSG Growth Partners. The deal takes the startup to $95 million raised to date.

We wrote extensively about the company’s strategy back at the time of that 2017 round, and essentially the thesis is that POS devices remain essential despite the proliferation of new fintech like mobile wallets. With that in mind, Mswipe makes its terminals cheaper than the competition while it can also work on more limited internet connections, even 2G, to help merchants and retailers in more remote areas or those on a modest budget.

More critically, Mswipe CEO and founder Manish Patel believes the country is “ripe for disruption” because it has so few terminals. With less than three million terminals in operation across the whole of India, even Turkey, with a significantly smaller population of 80 million, has more.

Right now, Mswipe claims to have reached over 400,000 merchants — up from 290,000 at the end of 2017 — and Patel said today that the aim is to grow that figure to 1.5 million over the next year.

To reach that ambitious target, Mswipe is once again trying to put more than just a terminal inside a terminal.

Beyond offering hardware that simply works and ties into newer types of payment, Mswipe has a vision of additional services for merchants. It is developing a new ‘smart’ POS — Wise POS Plus — that is developed on Android which allows applications like billing, inventory management and logistics to be pulled in, too. Indeed, the second piece to that is its own dedicated app store — MoneyStore — which is in development now and is aimed at housing a suite of productivity apps and related services for smaller retailers.

Mswipe is betting on a new Android-based smart terminal that will give its merchants access to productivity and management apps, too

“WisePOS Plus… powered by a suite of productivity apps, can enable a merchant to save thousands of rupees and hundreds of hours that go into running computer-based billing and inventory solutions with integrated payments. At the same time, we are also creating a huge opportunity for app developers with MoneyStore,” Patel said in a prepated statement.

The second major prong that he believes can bring this growth is the adoption of UPI, the government-backed real-time payments system in India. Mswipe said it is “all set to enable” the system which will allow QR payments at terminals. Mswipe is also working with lending startup Cashe on a co-branded card for consumers following a deal announced in December.

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The danger of ‘I already pay for Apple News+’

Posted by | Apple, apple news, Apps, eCommerce, Facebook, Media, Mobile, Opinion, TC | No Comments

Apple doesn’t care about news, it cares about recurring revenue. That’s why publishers are crazy to jump into bed with Apple News+. They’re rendering their own subscription options unnecessary in exchange for a sliver of what Apple pays out from the mere $10 per month it charges for unlimited reading.

The unfathomable platform risk here makes Facebook’s exploitative Instant Articles program seem toothless in comparison. On Facebook, publishers became generic providers of dumb content for the social network’s smart pipe that stole the customer relationship from content creators. But at least publishers were only giving away their free content.

Apple News+ threatens to open a massive hole in news site paywalls, allowing their best premium articles to escape. Publishers hope they’ll get exposure to new audiences. But any potential new or existing direct subscriber to a publisher will no longer be willing to pay a healthy monthly fee to occasionally access that top content while supporting the rest of the newsroom. They’ll just cherry pick what they want via News+, and Apple will shave off a few cents for the publisher while owning all the data, customer relationship and power.

“Why subscribe to that publisher? I already pay for Apple News+” should be the question haunting journalists’ nightmares. For readers, $10 per month all-you-can-eat from 300-plus publishers sounds like a great deal today. But it could accelerate the demise of some of those outlets, leaving society with fewer watchdogs and storytellers. If publishers agree to the shake hands with the devil, the dark lord will just garner more followers, making its ruinous offer more tempting.

There are so many horrifying aspects of Apple News+ for publishers, it’s best just to list each and break them down.

No relationship with the reader

To succeed, publishers need attention, data and revenue, and Apple News+ gets in the way of all three. Readers visit Apple’s app, not the outlet’s site that gives it free rein to promote conference tickets, merchandise, research reports and other money-makers. Publishers don’t get their Apple News+ readers’ email addresses for follow-up marketing, cookies for ad targeting and content personalization, or their credit card info to speed up future purchases.

At the bottom of articles, Apple News+ recommends posts by an outlet’s competitors. Readers end up without a publisher’s bookmark in their browser toolbar, app on their phone or even easy access to them from News+’s default tab. They won’t see the outlet’s curation that highlights its most important content, or develop a connection with its home screen layout. They’ll miss call-outs to follow individual reporters and chances to interact with innovative new interactive formats.

Perhaps worst of all, publishers will be thrown right back into the coliseum of attention. They’ll need to debase their voice and amp up the sensationalism of their headlines or risk their users straying an inch over to someone else. But they’ll have no control of how they’re surfaced…

At the mercy of the algorithm

Which outlets earn money on Apple News+ will be largely determined by what Apple decides to show in those first few curatorial slots on screen. At any time, Apple could decide it wants more visual photo-based content or less serious world news because it placates users even if they’re less informed. It could suddenly preference shorter takes because they keep people from bouncing out of the app, or more generic shallow-dives that won’t scare off casual readers who don’t even care about that outlet. What if Apple signs up a publisher’s biggest competitor and sends them all the attention, decimating the first outlet’s discovery while still exposing its top paywalled content for cheap access?

Remember when Facebook wanted to build the world’s personalized newspaper and delivered tons of referral traffic, then abruptly decided to favor “friends and family content” while leaving publishers to starve? Now outlets are giving Apple News+ the same iron grip on their businesses. They might hire a ton of talent to give Apple what it wants, only for the strategy to change. The Wall Street Journal says it’s hiring 50 staffers to make content specifically for Apple News+. Those sound like some of the most precarious jobs in the business right now.

Remember when Facebook got the WSJ, Guardian and more to build “social reader apps” and then one day just shut off the virality and then shut down the whole platform? News+ revenue will be a drop in the bucket of iPhone sales, and Apple could at any time decide it’s not thirsty any more and let News+ rot. That and the eventual realization of platform risk and loss of relationship with the reader led the majority of Facebook’s Instant Articles launch partners like The New York Times, The Washington Post and Vox to drop the format. Publishers would be wise to come to that same conclusion now before they drive any more eyeballs to News+.

News+ isn’t built for news

Apple acquired the magazine industry’s self-distribution app Texture a year ago. Now it’s trying to cram in traditional text-based news with minimal work to adapt the product. That means National Geographic and Sports Illustrated get featured billing with animated magazine covers and ways to browse the latest “issue.” News outlets get demoted far below, with no intuitive or productive way to skim between articles beyond swiping through a chronological stack.

I only see WSJ’s content below My Magazines, a massive At Home feature from Architectural Digest, a random Gadgets & Gear section of magazine articles, another huge call-out for the new issue of The Cut plus four pieces inside of it, and one more giant look at Bloomberg’s profile of Dow Chemical. That means those magazines are likely to absorb a ton of taps and engagement time before users even make it to the WSJ, which will then only score few cents per reader.

Magazines often publish big standalone features that don’t need a ton of context. News articles are part of a continuum of information that can be laid out on a publisher’s own site where they have control, but not on Apple News+. And to make articles more visually appealing, Apple strips out some of the cross-promotional recirculation, sign-up forms and commerce opportunities on which publishers depend.

Shattered subscriptions

The whole situation feels like the music industry stumbling into the disastrous iTunes download era. Musicians earned solid revenue when someone bought their whole physical album for $16 to listen to the single, then fell in love with the other songs and ended up buying merchandise or concert tickets. Then suddenly, fans could just buy the digital single for $0.99 from iTunes, form a bond with Apple instead of the artist and the whole music business fell into a depression.

Apple News+’s onerous revenue-sharing deal puts publishers in the same pickle. That occasional flagship article that’s a breakout success no longer serves as a tentpole for the rest of the subscription.

Formerly, people would need to pay $30 per month for a WSJ subscription to read that article, with the price covering the research, reporting and production of the whole newspaper. Readers felt justified paying the price because they got access to the other content, and the WSJ got to keep all the money even if people didn’t read much else or declined to even visit during the month. Now someone can pop in, read the WSJ’s best or most resource-intensive article, and the publisher effectively gets paid à la carte like with an iTunes single. Publishers will be scrounging for a cut of readers’ $10 per month, which will reportedly be divided in half by Apple’s oppressive 50 percent cut, then split between all the publishers someone reads — which will be heavily skewed towards the magazines that get the spotlight.

I’ve already had friends ask why they should keep paying if most of the WSJ is in Apple News along with tons of other publishers for a third of the price. Hardcore business news addicts that want unlimited access to the finance content that’s only available for three days in Apple News+ might keep their WSJ subscription. But anyone just in it for the highlights is likely to stop paying WSJ directly — or never start.

I’m personally concerned because TechCrunch has agreed to put its new Extra Crunch $15 per month subscription content inside Apple News+ despite all the warning signs. We’re saving some perks, like access to conference calls just for direct Extra Crunch subscribers, and perhaps a taste of EC’s written content might convince people they want the bonus features. But even more likely seems the possibility that readers would balk at paying again for just some extra perks when they already get the rest from Apple News, and many newsrooms aren’t set up to do anything but write articles.

It’s the “good enough” strategy we see across tech products playing out in news. When Instagram first launched Stories, it lacked a ton of Snapchat’s features, but it was good enough and conveniently located where people already spent their time and had their social graph. Snapchat didn’t suddenly lose all its users, but there was little reason for new users to sign up and growth plummeted.

Apple News is pre-loaded on your device, where you already have a credit card set up, and it’s bundled with lots of content, at a cheaper price than most individual news outlets. Even if it doesn’t offer unlimited, permanent access to every WSJ Pro story, Apple News+ will be good enough. And it gets better with each outlet that allies with this Borg.

But this time, good enough won’t just determine which tech giant wins. Apple News+ could decimate the revenue of a fundamental pillar of society we rely on to hold the powerful accountable. Yet to the journalists that surrender their content, Apple will have no accountability.

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