Facebook

Facebook quietly built “Popular Photos”, an in-app Instagram

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Facebook ads, facebook photos, instagram, Mobile, Social, TC | No Comments

Facebook is copying Instagram while simultaneously invading its acquisition with branding and links back to the mothership. TechCrunch has spotted Facebook testing a feature called Popular Photos, which affixes an endless scroll of algorithmically selected pics from friends beneath the full-screen view of a photo opened from the News Feed. The result is an experience that feels like the Instagram feed, but inside of Facebook.

Popular Photos could offer users a more relaxing, lean-back browsing experience that omits links you have to click through, status updates you have to read, and other content types that bog down the News Feed. Instead, users can just passively watch the pretty pictures go by.

Facebook’s text and link-heavy feed looks increasingly stodgy and exhausting compared to visual communication-based social networks like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Users have to do the work of digging into the meaning of News Feed each post rather than being instantly entertained. That experience doesn’t fit as well into short browsing sessions throughout the day, or when users are already drained from work, school, or family. Facebook used to have a dedicated Photos bookmark on desktop that would let you just browse that content type, but at some point it disappeared.

A Facebook spokesperson confirms that Facebook was running a small test of Popular Photos in October when we spotted it. That trial has concluded but the team is now iterating on the product and plans to do updated tests in the future. The company refused to disclose more details or its motives for Popular Photos. Given Facebook already has Stories, messaging, profiles, and its IGTV-esque Watch video hub, it’s only the Explore tab and a dedicated media feed that are missing from it being a full clone of Instagram.

Here’s how Popular Photos works. When users discover a photo in the News Feed or a profile, they can tap on it to see it full-screen on a black theater-view background. Typically, if users swipe or scroll on that photo, they’re just booted back out to where they came from. But with the Popular Photos feature, Facebook splays out more images for users to scroll through after the original.

By scrolling down past the Popular Photos title, they’ll see additional pics and a “See More Photos” label beckoning them to keep whipping through more public and friends-only images shared by friends and who they follow. Like on Instagram but unlike the News Feed, Facebook truncates the captions of Popular Photos after only around 65 characters so the stream doesn’t look overwhelmingly wordy. The black backgrounds give a more cinematic feel to the Popular Photos, putting emphasis on the imagery.

Facebook started showing Related Videos in 2014 when users scrolled past a video they’d opened full-screen. Now this “More Videos” feature will auto-play the next video and automatically bump users down the feed to view it. The feature even shows video ads. That could foreshadow Facebook inserting advertisers’ photos into the Popular Photos tab to monetize the extra browsing.

Facebook hasn’t been shy about trying to leverage Instagram to benefit itself. The company has placed an Open Facebook button in the Instagram navigation sidebar.

Previously, Instagram tried showing Facebook alerts in its own Notifications tab, and an annoying red counter for Facebook notifications on the three-line hamburger button that opens the Instagram sidebar in an attempt to drive referral traffic back to the Facebook app. Facebook has also tried notifying users in its app asking them to Like the Facebook Pages of people they follow on Instagram. And now, a “from Facebook” and new FACEBOOK logo can be found appended to the Instagram loading screen.

For Facebook to keep growing after 15 years in the market, it needs to fully embrace visual communication. It’s already copied Snapchat Stories and implemented the ephemeral photo and video format across its apps. Clearly it’s not above copying its own subsidiary Instagram to offer an alternative take on feed scrolling. I wonder how Instagram’s team feels about its parent company building a direct competitor?

Powered by WPeMatico

Facebook finally lets you banish nav bar tabs & red dots

Posted by | Apps, digital well-being, Facebook, Facebook Marketplace, Facebook Notifications, Facebook time well spent, Facebook Watch, Health, Mobile, Social, TC | No Comments

Are those red notification dots on your Facebook home screen driving you crazy? Sick of Facebook Marketplace wasting your screen space? Now you can control what appears in the Facebook app’s navigation bar thanks to a new option called Shortcut Bar Settings.

Over the weekend TechCrunch spotted the option to remove certain tabs like Marketplace, Watch, Groups, Events, Profile, Friend Requests, News, Today In, Gaming and Dating or just silence their notification dots. In response to our inquiry, Facebook confirms that Shortcut Bar Settings is now rolling out to everyone, with most iOS users already equipped and the rest of Android owners getting it in the next few weeks.

The move could save the sanity and improve the well-being of people who don’t want their Facebook cluttered with distractions. Users already get important alerts that they could actually control via their Notifications tab. Constant red notification counts on the homescreen are an insidious growth hack, trying to pull in people’s attention to random Group feeds, Event wall posts and Marketplace.

“We are rolling out navigation bar controls to make it easier for people to connect with the things they like and control the notifications they get within the Facebook app,” a Facebook spokesperson tells me.

Back in July 2018, Facebook said it would start personalizing the navigation bar based on which utilities you use most. But the navigation bar seemed more intent on promoting features Facebook wanted to be popular, like its Craigslist competitor Marketplace, which I rarely use, rather than its long-standing Events feature, which I access daily.

To use the Shortcut Bar Settings options, tap and hold on any of the shortcuts in your navigation bar that’s at the bottom of the Facebook homescreen on iOS and the top on Android. You’ll see a menu pop up letting you remove that tab entirely, or leave it but disable the red notification count overlays. That clears space in your nav bar for a more peaceful experience.

You’ll also now find in the three-line More tab -> Settings & Privacy -> Settings -> Shortcuts menu the ability to toggle any of the Marketplace, Groups, Events and Pages tabs on or off. Eagle-eyed reverse engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong spotted that Facebook was prototyping this menu and the Notification Dots settings menu that’s now available too.

A Facebook spokesperson admits people should have the ability to take a break from notifications within the app. They tell me Facebook wanted to give users more control so they can have access to what’s relevant to them.

For all of Facebook’s talk about well-being, with it trying out hiding Like counts in its app and Instagram (this week starting in the U.S.), there’s still plenty of low-hanging fruit. Better batching of Facebook notifications would be a great step, allowing users to get a daily digest of Groups or Events posts rather than a constant flurry. Its Time Well Spent dashboard that counts your minutes on Facebook should also say how many notifications you get of each type, how many you actually open, and let you disable the most common but useless ones right from there.

If Facebook wants to survive long-term, it can’t piss off users by trapping them in an anxiety-inducing hellscape of growth hacks that benefit the company. The app has become bloated and cramped with extra features over the last 15 years. Facebook could get away with more aggressive cross-promotion of some of these forgotten features as long as it empowers us to hide what we hate.

Powered by WPeMatico

Facebook’s first experimental apps from its ‘NPE Team’ division focus on students, chat & music

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Mobile, npe team, Social, social media | No Comments

This July, Facebook announced a new division called NPE Team which would build experimental consumer-facing apps, allowing the company to try out new ideas and features to see how people would react. It soon thereafter tapped former Vine GM Jason Toff to join the team as a product manager. The first apps to emerge from the NPE Team have now quietly launched. One, Bump, is a chat app that aims to help people make new friends through conversations, not appearances. Another, Aux, is a social music listening app.

Aux seems a bit reminiscent of an older startup, Turntable.fm, that closed its doors in 2013. As in Turntable.fm, the idea with Aux is that of a virtual DJ’ing experience where people instead of algorithms are programming the music. This concept of crowdsourced DJ’ing also caught on in years past with radio stations that put their audiences in control of the playlist through their mobile app.

Later, streaming music apps like Spotify experimented with party playlists, and various startups launched their own guest-controlled playlists.

The NPE Team’s Aux app is a slightly different take on this general idea of people-powered playlists.

The app is aimed at school-aged kids and teens who join a party in the app every day at 9 PM. They then choose the songs they want to play and compete for the “AUX” to get theirs played first. At the end of the night, a winner is chosen based on how many “claps” are received.

As the app describes it, Aux is a “DJ for Your School” — a title that’s a bit confusing, as it brings to mind music being played over the school’s intercom system, as opposed to a social app for kids who attend school to use in the evenings.

Aux launched on August 8, 2019 in Canada, and has less than 500 downloads on iOS, according to data from Sensor Tower. It’s not available on Android. It briefly ranked No. 38 among all Music apps on the Canadian App Store on October 22, which may point to some sort of short campaign to juice the downloads.

The other new NPE Team app is Bump, which aims to help people “make new friends.”

Essentially an anonymous chat app, the idea here is that Bump can help people connect by giving them icebreakers to respond to using text. There are no images, videos or links in Bump — just chats.

Based on the App Store screenshots, the app seems to be intended for college students. The screenshots show questions about “the coolest place” on campus and where to find cheap food. A sample chat shown in the screenshots mentions things like classes and roommate troubles. 

There could be a dating component to the app, as well, as it stresses that Bump helps people make a connection through “dialog versus appearances.” That levels the playing field a bit, compared with other social apps — and certainly dating apps — where the most attractive users with the best photos tend to receive the most attention.

Chats in Bump take place in real time, and you can only message in one chat at a time. There’s also a time limit of 30 seconds to respond to messages, which keeps the chat active. When the chat ends, the app will ask you if you want to keep in touch with the other person. Only if both people say yes will you be able to chat with them again.

Bump is available on both iOS and Android and is live in Canada and the Philippines. Bump once ranked as high as No. 252 in Social Networking on the Canadian App Store on September 1, 2019, according to Sensor Tower. However, it’s not ranking at all right now.

What’s interesting is that only one of these NPE Team apps, Bump, discloses in its App Store description that the NPE Team is from Facebook. The other, Aux, doesn’t mention this. However, both do point to an App privacy policy that’s hosted on Facebook.com for those who go digging.

That’s not too different from how Google’s in-house app incubator, Area 120, behaves. Some of its apps aren’t clear about their affiliation with Google, save for a link to Google’s privacy policy. It seems these companies want to see if the apps succeed or fail on their own merit, not because of their parent company’s brand name recognition.

Facebook hasn’t said much about its plans for the NPE Team beyond the fact that they will focus on new ways of building community and may be shut down quickly if they’re not useful.

Facebook has been asked for comment about the new apps and we’ll update if one is provided.

Powered by WPeMatico

Facebook shares rise on strong Q3, users up 2% to 2.45B

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, Earnings, Facebook, Facebook ads, Facebook Earnings Q3 2019, Facebook Political ads, Finance, Mark Zuckerberg, Mobile, Social, TC | No Comments

Despite ongoing public relations crises, Facebook kept growing in Q3 2019, demonstrating that media backlash does not necessarily equate to poor business performance.

Facebook reached 2.45 billion monthly users, up 1.65%, from 2.41 billion in Q2 2019 when it grew 1.6%, and it now has 1.62 billion daily active users, up 2% from 1.587 billion last quarter when it grew 1.6%. Facebook scored $17.652 billion of revenue, up 29% year-over-year, with $2.12 in earnings per share.

Facebook Q3 2019 DAU

Facebook’s earnings beat expectations compared to Refinitiv’s consensus estimates of $17.37 billion in revenue and $1.91 earnings per share. Facebook’s quarter was mixed compared to Bloomberg’s consensus estimate of $2.28 EPS. Facebook earned $6 billion in profit after only racking up $2.6 billion last quarter due to its SEC settlement.

Facebook shares rose 5.18% in after-hours trading, to $198.01 after earnings were announced, following a day where it closed down 0.56% at $188.25.

Notably, Facebook gained 2 million users in each of its core U.S. & Canada and Europe markets that drive its business, after quarters of shrinkage, no growth or weak growth there in the past two years. Average revenue per user grew healthily across all markets, boding well for Facebook’s ability to monetize the developing world where the bulk of user growth currently comes from.

Facebook says 2.2 billion users access Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger every day, and 2.8 billion use one of this family of apps each month. That’s up from 2.1 billion and 2.7 billion last quarter. Facebook has managed to stay sticky even as it faces increased competition from a revived Snapchat, and more recently TikTok. However, those rivals might more heavily weigh on Instagram, for which Facebook doesn’t routinely disclose user stats.

Facebook ARPU Q3 2019

Zuckerberg defends political ads policy

Facebook’s earnings announcement was somewhat overshadowed by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announcing it would ban all political ads — something TechCrunch previously recommended social networks do. That move flies in the face of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s staunch support for allowing politicians to spread misinformation without fact-checks via Facebook ads. This should put additional pressure on Facebook to rethink its policy.

Zuckerberg doubled-down on the policy, saying “I believe that the better approach is to work to increase transparency. Ads on Facebook are already more transparent than anywhere else,” he said. Attempting to dispel that the policy is driven by greed, he noted Facebook expects political ads to make up “less than 0.5% of our revenue next year.” Because people will disagree and the issue will keep coming up, Zuckerberg admitted it’s going to be “a very tough year.”

Facebook also announced that lead independent board member Susan D. Desmond-Hellmann has resigned to focus on health issues.

Earnings call highlights

Facebook expects revenue deceleration to be pronounced in Q4. But CFO David Wehner provided some hope, saying “we would expect our revenue growth deceleration in 2020 versus the Q4 rate to be much less pronounced.” That led Facebook’s share price to spike from around $191 to around $198.

However, Facebook will maintain its aggressive hiring to moderate content. While the company has touted how artificial intelligence would increasingly help, Zuckerberg said that hiring would continue because “There’s just so much content. We do need a lot of people.”

Zuckerberg Libra 1

Regarding Libra’s regulatory pushback, Zuckerberg explained that Facebook was already diversified in commerce if that doesn’t work out, citing WhatsApp Payments, Facebook Marketplace and Instagram shopping.

On anti-trust concerns, Zuckerberg reminded analysts that Instagram’s success wasn’t assured when Facebook acquired it, and it has survived a lot of competition thanks to Facebook’s contributions. In a new talking point we’re likely to hear more of, Zuckerberg noted that other competitors had used their success in one vertical to push others, saying “Apple and Google built cameras and private photo sharing and photo management directly into their operating systems.”

Scandals continue, but so does growth

Overall, it was another rough quarter for Facebook’s public perception as it dealt with outages and struggled to get buy-in from regulators for its Libra cryptocurrency project. Former co-founder Chris Hughes (who I’ll be leading a talk with at SXSW) campaigned for the social network to be broken up — a position echoed by Elizabeth Warren and other presidential candidates.

The company did spin up some new revenue sources, including taking a 30% cut of fan patronage subscriptions to content creators. It’s also trying to sell video subscriptions for publishers, and it upped the price of its Workplace collaboration suite. But gains were likely offset as the company continued to rapidly hire to address abusive content on its platform, which saw headcount grow 28% year-over-year, to 43,000. There are still problems with how it treats content moderators, and Facebook has had to repeatedly remove coordinated misinformation campaigns from abroad. Appearing concerned about its waning brand, Facebook moved to add “from Facebook” to the names of Instagram and WhatsApp.

It escaped with just a $5 billion fine as part of its FTC settlement that some consider a slap on the wrist, especially since it won’t have to significantly alter its business model. But the company will have to continue to invest and divert product resources to meet its new privacy, security and transparency requirements. These could slow its response to a growing threat: Chinese tech giant ByteDance’s TikTok.

Powered by WPeMatico

Facebook staff demand Zuckerberg limit lies in political ads

Posted by | 2020 Election, Advertising Tech, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Apps, Facebook, Facebook ads, Facebook Politics, Government, Mark Zuckerberg, Media, Mobile, Opinion, payments, Personnel, Policy, Social | No Comments

Submit campaign ads to fact checking, limit microtargeting, cap spending, observe silence periods or at least warn users. These are the solutions Facebook employees put forward in an open letter pleading with CEO Mark Zuckerberg and company leadership to address misinformation in political ads.

The letter, obtained by The New York Times’ Mike Isaac, insists that “Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing . . . Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for.” The letter was posted to Facebook’s internal collaboration forum a few weeks ago.

The sentiments echo what I called for in a TechCrunch opinion piece on October 13th calling on Facebook to ban political ads. Unfettered misinformation in political ads on Facebook lets politicians and their supporters spread inflammatory and inaccurate claims about their views and their rivals while racking up donations to buy more of these ads.

The social network can still offer freedom of expression to political campaigns on their own Facebook Pages while limiting the ability of the richest and most dishonest to pay to make their lies the loudest. We suggested that if Facebook won’t drop political ads, they should be fact checked and/or use an array of generic “vote for me” or “donate here” ad units that don’t allow accusations. We also criticized how microtargeting of communities vulnerable to misinformation and instant donation links make Facebook ads more dangerous than equivalent TV or radio spots.

Mark Zuckerberg Hearing In Congress

The Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, testified before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday October 23, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

More than 250 employees of Facebook’s 35,000 staffers have signed the letter, which declares, “We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy.” It suggests the current policy undermines Facebook’s election integrity work, confuses users about where misinformation is allowed, and signals Facebook is happy to profit from lies.

The solutions suggested include:

  1. Don’t accept political ads unless they’re subject to third-party fact checks
  2. Use visual design to more strongly differentiate between political ads and organic non-ad posts
  3. Restrict microtargeting for political ads including the use of Custom Audiences since microtargeted hides ads from as much public scrutiny that Facebook claims keeps politicians honest
  4. Observe pre-election silence periods for political ads to limit the impact and scale of misinformation
  5. Limit ad spending per politician or candidate, with spending by them and their supporting political action committees combined
  6. Make it more visually clear to users that political ads aren’t fact-checked

A combination of these approaches could let Facebook stop short of banning political ads without allowing rampant misinformation or having to police individual claims.

Facebook’s response to the letter was “We remain committed to not censoring political speech, and will continue exploring additional steps we can take to bring increased transparency to political ads.” But that straw-man’s the letter’s request. Employees aren’t asking politicians to be kicked off Facebook or have their posts/ads deleted. They’re asking for warning labels and limits on paid reach. That’s not censorship.

Zuckerberg Elections 1

Zuckerberg had stood resolute on the policy despite backlash from the press and lawmakers, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). She left him tongue-tied during a congressional testimony when she asked exactly what kinds of misinfo were allowed in ads.

But then Friday, Facebook blocked an ad designed to test its limits by claiming Republican Lindsey Graham had voted for Ocasio-Cortez’s Green Deal he actually opposes. Facebook told Reuters it will fact-check PAC ads.

One sensible approach for politicians’ ads would be for Facebook to ramp up fact-checking, starting with presidential candidates until it has the resources to scan more. Those fact-checked as false should receive an interstitial warning blocking their content rather than just a “false” label. That could be paired with giving political ads a bigger disclaimer without making them too prominent-looking in general and only allowing targeting by state.

Deciding on potential spending limits and silent periods would be more messy. Low limits could even the playing field and broad silent periods, especially during voting periods, and could prevent voter suppression. Perhaps these specifics should be left to Facebook’s upcoming independent Oversight Board that acts as a supreme court for moderation decisions and policies.

fb arbiter of truth

Zuckerberg’s core argument for the policy is that over time, history bends toward more speech, not censorship. But that succumbs to utopic fallacy that assumes technology evenly advantages the honest and dishonest. In reality, sensational misinformation spreads much further and faster than level-headed truth. Microtargeted ads with thousands of variants undercut and overwhelm the democratic apparatus designed to punish liars, while partisan news outlets counter attempts to call them out.

Zuckerberg wants to avoid Facebook becoming the truth police. But as we and employees have put forward, there is a progressive approach to limiting misinformation if he’s willing to step back from his philosophical orthodoxy.

The full text of the letter from Facebook employees to leadership about political ads can be found below, via The New York Times:

We are proud to work here.

Facebook stands for people expressing their voice. Creating a place where we can debate, share different opinions, and express our views is what makes our app and technologies meaningful for people all over the world.

We are proud to work for a place that enables that expression, and we believe it is imperative to evolve as societies change. As Chris Cox said, “We know the effects of social media are not neutral, and its history has not yet been written.”

This is our company.

We’re reaching out to you, the leaders of this company, because we’re worried we’re on track to undo the great strides our product teams have made in integrity over the last two years. We work here because we care, because we know that even our smallest choices impact communities at an astounding scale. We want to raise our concerns before it’s too late.

Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing.

Misinformation affects us all. Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for. We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy.

Allowing paid civic misinformation to run on the platform in its current state has the potential to:

— Increase distrust in our platform by allowing similar paid and organic content to sit side-by-side — some with third-party fact-checking and some without. Additionally, it communicates that we are OK profiting from deliberate misinformation campaigns by those in or seeking positions of power.

— Undo integrity product work. Currently, integrity teams are working hard to give users more context on the content they see, demote violating content, and more. For the Election 2020 Lockdown, these teams made hard choices on what to support and what not to support, and this policy will undo much of that work by undermining trust in the platform. And after the 2020 Lockdown, this policy has the potential to continue to cause harm in coming elections around the world.

Proposals for improvement

Our goal is to bring awareness to our leadership that a large part of the employee body does not agree with this policy. We want to work with our leadership to develop better solutions that both protect our business and the people who use our products. We know this work is nuanced, but there are many things we can do short of eliminating political ads altogether.

These suggestions are all focused on ad-related content, not organic.

1. Hold political ads to the same standard as other ads.

a. Misinformation shared by political advertisers has an outsized detrimental impact on our community. We should not accept money for political ads without applying the standards that our other ads have to follow.

2. Stronger visual design treatment for political ads.

a. People have trouble distinguishing political ads from organic posts. We should apply a stronger design treatment to political ads that makes it easier for people to establish context.

3. Restrict targeting for political ads.

a. Currently, politicians and political campaigns can use our advanced targeting tools, such as Custom Audiences. It is common for political advertisers to upload voter rolls (which are publicly available in order to reach voters) and then use behavioral tracking tools (such as the FB pixel) and ad engagement to refine ads further. The risk with allowing this is that it’s hard for people in the electorate to participate in the “public scrutiny” that we’re saying comes along with political speech. These ads are often so micro-targeted that the conversations on our platforms are much more siloed than on other platforms. Currently we restrict targeting for housing and education and credit verticals due to a history of discrimination. We should extend similar restrictions to political advertising.

4. Broader observance of the election silence periods

a. Observe election silence in compliance with local laws and regulations. Explore a self-imposed election silence for all elections around the world to act in good faith and as good citizens.

5. Spend caps for individual politicians, regardless of source

a. FB has stated that one of the benefits of running political ads is to help more voices get heard. However, high-profile politicians can out-spend new voices and drown out the competition. To solve for this, if you have a PAC and a politician both running ads, there would be a limit that would apply to both together, rather than to each advertiser individually.

6. Clearer policies for political ads

a. If FB does not change the policies for political ads, we need to update the way they are displayed. For consumers and advertisers, it’s not immediately clear that political ads are exempt from the fact-checking that other ads go through. It should be easily understood by anyone that our advertising policies about misinformation don’t apply to original political content or ads, especially since political misinformation is more destructive than other types of misinformation.

Therefore, the section of the policies should be moved from “prohibited content” (which is not allowed at all) to “restricted content” (which is allowed with restrictions).

We want to have this conversation in an open dialog because we want to see actual change.

We are proud of the work that the integrity teams have done, and we don’t want to see that undermined by policy. Over the coming months, we’ll continue this conversation, and we look forward to working towards solutions together.

This is still our company.

Powered by WPeMatico

Millions downloaded dozens of Android apps from Google Play that were infected with adware

Posted by | adware, Android, app-store, Apps, chrome web store, Facebook, Google, Google Play, Google Play Store, online advertising, online marketplaces, operating systems, Security | No Comments

Security researchers have found dozens of Android apps in the Google Play store serving ads to unsuspecting victims as part of a money-making scheme.

ESET researchers found 42 apps containing adware, which they say have been downloaded more than 8 million times since they first debuted in July 2018.

These apps look normal but act sneakily. Once an unsuspecting user installs an adware-infected app, the app will serve full-screen ads on the device’s display at semi-random intervals. Often the apps will delete their shortcut icon, making it more difficult to remove. The adware-infected apps will also mimic Facebook and Google’s apps to avoid suspicion, likely as a way to detract from the actual ad-serving app and keep the app on the device for as long as possible.

In the background, the apps were also sending back data about the user’s device — including if certain apps are installed and if the device allows apps from non-app store sources — which could be used to install more malicious software on a device.

“The adware functionality is the same in all the apps we analyzed,” said Lukas Stefanko, one of ESET’s security researchers.

The researchers also found that the apps would check to see if an affected device was connected to Google’s servers in an effort to prevent detection. If the apps think they are being tested by Google Play’s security mechanisms, which ostensibly keep the app store free from malicious apps, the adware payload will not be triggered.

Some of those apps include Video Downloader Master, which had five million downloads; and Ringtone Maker Pro, SaveInsta and Tank Classic, which had 500,000 downloads each.

The researchers say a Vietnamese college student may be behind the adware campaign.

Google removed all of the offending apps but the researchers warned that many were still available from third-party app stores. A spokesperson confirmed all of the apps have been removed, but the search and mobile giant does not usually comment beyond acknowledging their removal.

Read more:

Powered by WPeMatico

Lowlights from Zuckerberg’s Libra testimony in Congress

Posted by | Apps, blockchain, Congress, cryptocurrency, eCommerce, Facebook, facebook news, Finance, Libra, Libra Association, Mark Zuckerberg, Mobile, payments, Personnel, Social, TC | No Comments

“I don’t control Libra” was the central theme of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony today in Congress. The House of Representatives unleashed critiques of his approach to cryptocurrency, privacy, encryption and running a giant corporation during six hours of hearings. Zuckerberg tried to assuage their fears while stoking concerns that if Facebook doesn’t build Libra, the world will end up using China’s version. Yet Facebook won’t stop shaking up society, with Zuckerberg saying its News tab feature will be announced this week.

During the hearing before the House Financial Services Committee that you can watch here, Zuckerberg recommitted to only releasing Libra with full U.S. regulatory approval. But given the tone of the questioning and Zuckerberg’s lack of fresh answers since Facebook’s David Marcus testified about Libra in July, Libra now looks even less likely to launch in 2020.

The hearing started tensely, with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) declaring that “Perhaps you believe that you’re above the law, and it appears that you are aggressively increasing the size of your company, and are willing to step over anyone, including your competitors, women, people of color, you own users, and even our democracy to get what you want . . . In fact, you have opened up a serious discussion about whether Facebook should be broken up.

However, some members of Congress used their time to advocate for American dominance instead of heavy regulation. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) said “the question is, are we going to spend our time trying to devise ways for government planners to centralize and control as to who, when and how innovators can innovate.” Many Republicans complimented Zuckerberg on his business acumen, though none showed outright support for Libra.

Zuckerberg Libra testimony

With few highlights or positive moments coming from the hearing, here are the major takeaways followed by a chronicle of the top exchanges between Zuckerberg and Congress:

  • Zuckerberg claims China will soon have its own version, so regulators shouldn’t block Libra
  • He’s open to regulators requiring Libra to be majority-backed by the U.S. dollar
  • Zuckerberg would leave inheritance to his children in Libra since it’s backed one-to-one with real currency
  • He wouldn’t commit to blocking anonymous wallets but he’s open to baking more anti-money laundering into Libra’s network
  • Zuckerberg plans to expand verifying users via government ID to battle abuse of Facebook
  • He said Libra partners left because “it’s a risky project and there’s been a lot of scrutiny”
  • Zuckerberg confirmed the Libra Association has abandoned or modified its plan to deal themselves dividends on interest from the Libra reserve
  • Facebook will pull out of Libra if it does something Facebook can’t allow or that it’s prohibited from by regulators
  • Zuckerberg didn’t discuss Facebook’s policy allowing misinformation in political ads with President Trump during their meeting
  • He says Facebook is developing anti-deepfakes technology and a policy about takedowns
  • He repeated his call for more government regulation instead of Facebook making its own rules
  • Facebook will comply with subpoenas for info on discrimination in housing ads
  • Zuckerberg wouldn’t commit to trying out the role of Facebook content moderator
  • Facebook plans to announce its upcoming News tab this week
  • Congress’ questions were smarter than a year ago, but still pried little new information on Libra out of Zuckerberg
  • Zuckerberg repeatedly relied on the Libra Association’s independence from Facebook to avoid substantial answers

On Libra versus China

Zuckerberg tried to leverage nationalist sentiment to deflect scrutiny. “As soon as we put forward the white paper around the Libra project, China immediately announced a public private partnership, working with companies . . . to extend the work that they’ve already done with AliPay into a digital Renminbi as part of the Belt and Road Initiative that they have, and they’re planning on launching that in the next few months.” He later said that for Libra, “Chinese companies would be the primary competitors.”

Facebook’s executives have repeatedly leaned on this “let us, or China will” argument we chronicle here.

What if the Libra Association chooses to add the Chinese currency to the basket used to back Libra and reduces the U.S. dollar’s fraction of the basket? “I think it would be completely reasonable for our regulators to try to [implement] a restriction that says that it has to be primarily U.S. dollars,” Zuckerberg responded in one of his most substantial answers of the day. Zuckerberg was receptive to feedback that the Libra Association should keep its white paper updated.

As for why Libra isn’t just backed 100% with the U.S. dollar, Zuckerberg explained that “I think from a U.S. regulatory perspective, it would probably be significantly simpler. But because we’re trying to build something that can also be a global payment system that works in other places, it may be less welcome in other places if it’s only 100% based on the dollar.” Still, Zuckerberg said he would leave his children their inheritance in Libra because it’s backed one-to-one by the Libra reserve.

On Libra and regulation

Zuckerberg wouldn’t commit to blocking anonymous Libra wallets that could facilitate money laundering, only saying Facebook’s own Calibra wallet would have strong identity checks. He did say Libra was exploring whether it could encode “know your customer” protections at the network level instead of relying on developers to build this into their wallets.

On whether Facebook will increasingly seek to verify users’ identities through government ID, Zuckerberg was enthusiastic. “This is an area where I think we are going to do a lot more in the years to come. We started with political ads . . .  over the coming years for anything that people are doing that is sensitive, we’re likely going to increasingly require verification either by government ID or other things so we can have a clear sense of people’s authentic identity.”

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) mentioned this could be a competitive advantage, implying Facebook’s size and resources might allow it to embark on a verification initiative other companies couldn’t.

Calibra Know Your Customer

Facebook has assured regulators that Calibra’s data would be kept separate from the social network. But Facebook said the same when it acquired WhatsApp, then reneged and integrated its data. This time around, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez declared that “we’re going to need to make sure that . . . you learned that you should not lie.”

When pushed on why Libra Association members like Visa, Stripe and eBay left the organization, Zuckerberg admitted, “I think because it’s a risky project and there’s been a lot of scrutiny.” Zuckerberg struck back at finance incumbents, saying “I think that the U.S. financial industry . . . is just frankly behind where it needs to be to innovate and continue American financial leadership going forward.”

In an awkward moment, Zuckerberg could not answer which Libra members were run by women, minorities or LGBTQ+ people. “Is it true that the overwhelming majority of persons associated with this endeavor are white men?,” Rep. Al Green (D-TX) asked. “Congressman, I don’t know off the top of my head,” Zuckerberg responded.

Zuckerberg was criticized for trying to profit and potentially helping money laundering while claiming Libra is designed to help the unbanked. Zuckerberg said the Libra Association “hadn’t nailed down policies” about whether anonymous payments are allowed.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said “for the richest man in the world to come here and hide behind the poorest people in the world, and say that’s who you’re really trying to help. You’re trying to help those for whom the dollar is not a good currencydrug dealers, terrorists.” Some members of Congress like Sherman chose to use their entire time monologuing instead of actually asking questions. 

Zuckerberg got a chance to clear up a major snafu from Marcus’ testimony, where he said the Libra Association was in contact with the Swiss data regulator, which CNBC reported hadn’t heard from Libra. Zuckerberg explained today that the Libra Association had been in contact with the primary Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority instead. He says Facebook plans to earn money from Libra on ads from small businesses if cheap transactions lead to more e-commerce.

In one revealing exchange, Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX) asked if the Libra Association still planned to offer profit incentives by offering dividends based on interest earned on currency in the Libra reserve after expenses are paid. Zuckerberg said the idea had either been “modified or abandoned.”

Screen Shot 2019 10 23 at 11.51.30 AM

The highlighted section detailing how Libra Association members earn dividends on Libra reserve interest has been removed from the Libra whitepaper

 

 

 

 

 

Claiming Facebook isn’t Libra

Throughout the testimony, Zuckerberg tried to distance himself and Facebook from the Libra Association’s decision making process. “We might be required to pull out if the Association independently decides to move forward on something that we’re not comfortable with,” Zuckerberg said. That means if Facebook can’t launch Libra, it could still theoretically launch without the social network, though it does most of the engineering heavy-lifting.

The strategy was crystallized by Zuckerberg’s response to whether he could commit to moving Libra’s headquarters from Switzerland to the U.S. “At this point, we do not control the independent Libra Association so I don’t think we can make that decision.” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) refuted this position, stating, “Mr. Zuckerberg, Libra is Facebook, and Facebook is you.”

Mark Zuckerberg Hearing In Congress

The Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, testified before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday October 23, 2019 Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

 

The “we don’t control Libra” argument provides Facebook and Libra an escape hatch from criticism, because any member and even the newly appointed chairperson and board can’t unilaterally control or make promises about its actions.

On misinformation and encryption

Many Congress members remain fixated on Facebook’s recently solidified policy of refusing to submit political ads for fact-checking. Rep Sean Casten (D-IL) asked if in Zuckerberg’s recent meeting with President Trump, “Did anyone discuss the policy change along the exemption of political figures and parties from misinformation prohibition on Facebook?” Zuckerberg responded, “Congressman, that did not come up,” quieting theories that Trump pushed for the policy that would exempt false claims in his ads.

Zuckerberg defended the policy to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), saying “I think lying is bad, and I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie, that would be bad,” but that outside of calls for violence or voter suppression, Facebook thinks it’s best to leave lies in ads from politicians so they can be scrutinized by the press and public. Yet that too heavily leans on the media to scrutinize thousands of ad variants being run as part of multi-hundred-million-dollar political ad campaigns.

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) chided Zuckerberg, saying “you’re not working hard enough” to stop the spread of child exploitation imagery online despite Facebook submitting millions of reports. She brought up worries that Facebook moving entirely to encrypted messaging could hide child abusers, and Zuckerberg merely said “I think we work harder than any other company.” He failed to explain how Facebook would continue improving detection through encryption.

Oddly, Zuckerberg was directly confronted about his views on vaccines since Facebook works to hide vaccine hoaxes and avoid recommending groups spreading unverified information about them. “I don’t think it would be possible for anyone to be 100% confident, but my understanding of the scientific consensus is that it is important that people get their vaccines,” Zuckerberg said, defending Facebook’s decision to hide some of this content.

In another strange moment, Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) demanded if Facebook had bought blocks of hotel rooms at Trump properties but never used them just to curry favor with the president. Zuckerberg said he’d never heard of that and would be surprised if it was true.

On deepfakes, Zuckerberg confirmed that “I think deepfakes are clearly one of the emerging threats that we need to get in front of and develop policy around to address. We’re currently working on what the policy should be to differentiate between media that has manipulated and been manipulated by AI tools like deepfakes, with the intent to mislead people.” Zuckerberg later said the doctored Nancy Pelosi video should have been flagged sooner, and highlighted Facebook needs a separate deepfakes policy. Yet Facebook’s policy allows politicians’ ads to mislead people, weakening faith that it will properly address this new problem.

Questions about Facebook’s fair practices led Zuckerberg to reiterate his call for regulation, saying “I think we need federal privacy legislation. I think we need data portability legislation. I think clear rules on elections-related content would be helpful too because it’s not clear to me that we want private companies making so many decisions on these important areas by themselves.”

On diversity, discrimination and moderation

Regarding housing discrimination via Facebook ads, Zuckerberg committed to working with regulators to provide information under subpoena, noted Facebook has banned discriminatory housing ads, and said “Nobody wants to redline and I’m sure that was accidental.”

Zuckerberg received his heaviest criticism of the day from Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), who grilled him about not knowing if diverse bankers manage Facebook’s cash or if diverse law firms handle its court cases. She chastised Facebook for a lack of diverse leadership, saying “this is appalling and disgusting to me.” Of COO Sheryl Sandberg, who leads Facebook’s civil rights task force, Beatty said “we know she’s not really civil rights.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Testifies Before The House Financial Services Committee

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 23: Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg testified about Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency Libra, how his company will handle false and misleading information by political leaders during the 2020 campaign and how it handles its users’ data and privacy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Some of the day’s most astute questioning came from Congresswoman Katherine Porter (D-CA). She hammered Zuckerberg about Facebook lawyers fighting to avoid liability over data breaches. Then she trapped Zuckerberg on the issue of the mental health harms of being a Facebook content moderator that reviews horrific and graphic violence.

Would you be willing to commit to spending one hour a day for the next year, watching these videos and acting as a content monitor and only accessing the same benefits available to your workers?,” she asked.I’m not sure that would serve our community for me to spend my time,” Zuckerberg said. “What you’re saying is you’re not willing to do it,” she replied.

Rep. Katie Porter challenges Mark Zuckerberg to work as a content moderator and view the same violent, disturbing videos Facebook contractors do https://t.co/iVB9nAcvHO pic.twitter.com/TfPuXkiJp8

— Bloomberg Technology (@technology) October 23, 2019

Facebook will announce news service

There’ll be more major launches from Facebook that could raise questions about its impact on society, Zuckerberg revealed. “Later this week we actually have a big announcement coming up on launching a big initiative around news and journalism, where we’re partnering with a lot of folks to build a new product that’s supporting high-quality journalism.” Facebook plans to launch a News section featuring headlines from top outlets, though only some will be paid.

“I think that there’s an opportunity within Facebook in our services to build a dedicated surface, a tab within the apps for example, where people who really want to see high quality curated news, not just social content . . . I’m looking forward to discussing that in more length in the coming days.” That service is sure to trigger debates about whether Facebook is trustworthy enough to be a formal conduit for news.

Overall, the questioning today was much more intelligent than the vague and easily-Googleable queries launched at Zuckerberg by Congress in April 2018. We had no “Senator, we run ads” moments. Instead, it was Zuckerberg who repeatedly used the separation between Facebook and the Libra Association plus the fact that Libra’s policies are still being defined to avoid giving many substantial answers. Combined with the short five-minute Q&A period per member of Congress, Zuckerberg was often able to just repeat existing talking points.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Testifies Before The House Financial Services Committee

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 23: Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg testified about Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency Libra, how his company will handle false and misleading information by political leaders during the 2020 campaign and how it handles its users’ data and privacy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In one of the few lighthearted moments of the day, Rep. Juan Vargas recognized the tough position Zuckerberg has gotten himself into. “It’s good to have someone that’s sturdy and resilient. You’re probably the right person at the right time to take this beating.” Yet Rep. McHenry depressingly concluded that, after six hours, “I’m not sure we’ve learned anything new here.”

The question is what array of Libra and Facebook executives would Congress need to have testify together to get real answers to critical questions about how to keep the two from harming the global economy.

The hearing is ongoing and we’ll continue to update this article with major take-aways.

Powered by WPeMatico

MediaLab acquires messaging app Kik, expanding its app portfolio

Posted by | Apps, california, Facebook, Instant Messaging, Kik, Kik Messenger, lightspeed venture partners, Los Angeles, Media, michael heyward, Mobile, operating systems, programmatic advertising, secret, Sequoia, shasta ventures, social media, social network, social networks, Software, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, whisper, Yik Yak | No Comments

Popular messaging app Kik is, indeed, “here to stay” following an acquisition by the Los Angeles-based multimedia holding company, MediaLab.

It echoes the same message from Kik’s chief executive Tim Livingston last week when he rebuffed earlier reports that the company would shut down amid an ongoing battle with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Livingston had tweeted that Kik had signed a letter-of-intent with a “great company,” but that it was “not a done deal.”

Now we know the the company: MediaLab. In a post on Kik’s blog on Friday the MediaLab said that it has “finalized an agreement” to acquire Kik Messenger.

Kik is one of those amazing places that brings us back to those early aspirations,” the blog post read. “Whether it be a passion for an obscure manga or your favorite football team, Kik has shown an incredible ability to provide a platform for new friendships to be forged through your mobile phone.”

MediaLab is a holding company that owns several other mobile properties, including anonymous social network Whisper and mixtape app DatPiff. In acquiring Kik, the holding company is expanding its mobile app portfolio.

MediaLab said it has “some ideas” for developing Kik going forwards, including making the app faster and reducing the amount of unwanted messages and spam bots. The company said it will introduce ads “over the coming weeks” in order to “cover our expenses” of running the platform.

Buying the Kik messaging platform adds another social media weapon to the arsenal for MediaLab and its chief executive, Michael Heyward .

Heyward was an early star of the budding Los Angeles startup community with the launch of the anonymous messaging service, Whisper nearly 8 years ago. At the time, the company was one of a clutch of anonymous apps — including Secret and YikYak — that raised tens of millions of dollars to offer online iterations of the confessional journal, the burn book, and the bathroom wall (respectively).

In 2017, TechCrunch reported that Whisper underwent significant layoffs to stave off collapse and put the company on a path to profitability.

At the time Whisper had roughly 20 million monthly active users across its app and website, which the company was looking to monetize through programmatic advertising, rather than brand-sponsored campaigns that had provided some of the company’s revenue in the past. Through widgets, the company had an additional 10 million viewers of its content per-month using various widgets and a reach of around 250 million through Facebook and other social networks on which it published posts.

People familiar with the company said at the time that it was seeing gross revenues of roughly $1 million and was going to hit $12.5 million in revenue for that calendar year. By 2018 that revenue was expected to top $30 million, according to sources at the time.

The flagship Whisper app let people post short bits of anonymous text and images that other folks could like or comment about. Heyward intended it to be a way for people to share more personal and intimate details —  to be a social network for confessions and support rather than harassment.

The idea caught on with investors and Whisper managed to raise $61 million from investors including Sequoia, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Shasta Ventures . Whisper’s last round was a $36 million Series C back in 2014.

Fast forward to 2018 when Secret had been shut down for three years while YikYak also went bust — selling off its engineering team to Square for around $1 million. Whisper, meanwhile, seemingly set up MediaLab as a holding company for its app and additional assets that Heyward would look to roll up. The company filed registration documents in California in June 2018.

According to the filings, Susan Stone, a partner with the investment firm Sierra Wasatch Capital, is listed as a director for the company.

Heyward did not respond to a request for comment.

Zack Whittaker contributed reporting for this article. 

Powered by WPeMatico

VR/AR startup valuations reach $45 billion (on paper)

Posted by | ar/vr, augmented reality, Entertainment, Facebook, Gadgets, Goldman Sachs, Magic Leap, Microsoft, niantic, Oculus, Venture Capital, Virtual reality, Wearables | No Comments

Despite early-stage virtual reality market and augmented reality market valuations softening in a transitional period, total global AR/VR startup valuations are now at $45 billion globally — include non-pure play AR/VR startups discussed below, and that amount exceeds $67 billion. More than $8 billion has been returned to investors through M&A already, with the remaining augmented and virtual reality startups carrying more than $36 billion valuations on paper. Only time will tell how much of this value gets realized for investors.

(Note: this analysis is of AR/VR startup valuations only, excluding internal investment by large corporates like Facebook . Again, this analysis is of valuation, not revenue.)

Digi-Capital AR/VR Analytics Platform

Selected AR/VR companies that have raised funding or generated significant revenue, plus selected corporates as of September 2019.

There is significant value concentration, with just 18 AR/VR pure plays accounting for half of the $45 billion global figure. Some of the large valuations are for Magic Leap (well over $6 billion), Niantic (nearly $4 billion), Oculus ($3 billion from exit to Facebook), Beijing Moviebook Technology ($1 billion+) and Lightricks ($1 billion). While there are unicorns, the market hasn’t seen an AR/VR decacorn yet.

Across all industries — not just AR/VR — around 60% of VC-backed startups fail, not 90% as often quoted. That doesn’t mean this many startups crash and burn, but that 60% of startups deliver less than 1x return on investment (ROI) to investors (i.e. investors get less back than they put in). To better understand what’s happening in AR/VR, let’s analyze the thousands of startup valuations in Digi-Capital’s AR/VR Analytics Platform to see where the smart money is by sector, stage and country.

Powered by WPeMatico