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Daily Crunch: Facebook (possibly) considered buying Unity

Posted by | Daily Crunch, Facebook, Gaming, Oculus, unity-technologies | No Comments

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Facebook mulled multi-billion-dollar acquisition of gaming giant Unity, book claims

Less than a year after making a $3 billion investment into the future of virtual reality with the purchase of Oculus VR, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was considering another multi-billion-dollar bet by buying Unity, the popular game engine that’s used to build half of all gaming titles.

At least, that’s the claim made in a new book, “The History of the Future,” by Blake Harris, which digs deep into the founding story of Oculus and the drama surrounding the Facebook acquisition, subsequent lawsuits and personal politics of founder Palmer Luckey.

2. Alibaba’s Ant Financial buys UK currency exchange giant WorldFirst reportedly for around $700M

Although the companies were relatively quiet about the deal, it could end up being pretty significant, showing both the market connections between China and Europe and the margin pressures that many smaller remittance companies are under in the wake of larger companies like Amazon building their own money-moving services.

3. Nintendo makes the old new again with Mario, Zelda, Tetris titles for Switch

We round up everything Nintendo announced yesterday, from Super Mario Maker 2 to the unexpected remake of Game Boy classic Link’s Awakening.

Tesla dog mode

4. Tesla ‘Dog mode’ and ‘Sentry mode’ are now live to guard your car and pets

Dog mode is meant to accomplish two things: to keep dogs (or perhaps a hamster or cat) in a climate-controlled environment if left unattended in a vehicle, and to let passersby know their status.

5. Happy Valentine’s Day: your dating app account was hacked, says Coffee Meets Bagel

Users of the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel woke up this morning to find an email in their inboxes warning that their account information had been stolen by a third-party who gained unauthorized access to the company’s systems.

6. Apple is selling the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 in Germany again

Apple was forced to pull the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models from shelves in the country last month, after chipmaker Qualcomm posted security bonds to enforce a December court injunction.

7. Malt raises $28.6M for its freelancer platform

Malt has created a marketplace for companies and engineers working as freelancers. There are currently 100,000 freelancers on the platform and 15,000 companies using Malt regularly.

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Instagram is now testing a web version of Direct messages

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, instagram, Instagram Direct, messaging, Mobile, Snapchat, Social, TC | No Comments

Insta-chat addicts, rejoice. You could soon be trading memes and emojis from your computer. Instagram is internally testing a web version of Instagram Direct messaging that lets people chat without the app. If, or more likely, when this rolls out publicly, users on a desktop or laptop PC or Mac, a non-Android or iPhone or that access Instagram via a mobile web browser will be able to privately message other Instagrammers.

Instagram web DMs was one of the features I called for in a product wish list I published in December alongside a See More Like This button for the feed and an upload quality indicator so your Stories don’t look crappy if you’re on a slow connection.

A web version could make Instagram Direct a more full-fledged SMS alternative rather than just a tacked-on feature for discussing the photo and video app’s content. Messages are a massive driver of engagement that frequently draws people back to an app, and knowing friends can receive them anywhere could get users sending more. While Facebook doesn’t monetize Instagram Direct itself, it could get users browsing through more ads while they wait for replies.

Given Facebook’s own chat feature started on the web before going mobile and getting its own Messenger app, and WhatsApp launched a web portal in 2015 followed by desktop clients in 2016, it’s sensible for Instagram Direct to embrace the web too. It could also pave the way for Facebook’s upcoming unification of the backend infrastructure for Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram Direct that should expand encryption and allow cross-app chat, as reported by The New York Times’ Mike Isaac.

Mobile reverse-engineering specialist and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong alerted us to Instagram’s test. It’s not available to users yet, as it’s still being internally “dogfooded” — used heavily by employees to identify bugs or necessary product changes. But she was able to dig past security and access the feature from both a desktop computer and mobile web browser.

In the current design, Direct on the web is available from a Direct arrow icon in the top right of the screen. The feature looks like it will use an Instagram.com/direct/…. URL structure. If the feature becomes popular, perhaps Facebook will break it out with its own Direct destination website similar to https://www.messenger.com, which launched in 2015. Instagram began testing a standalone Direct app last year, but it’s yet to be officially launched and doesn’t seem exceedingly popular.

Instagram’s web experience has long lagged behind its native apps. You still can’t post Stories from the desktop like you can with Facebook Stories. It only added notifications on the web in 2016 and Explore, plus some other features, in 2017.

Instagram did not respond to requests for comment before press time. The company rarely provides a statement on internal features in development until they’re being externally tested on the public, at which point it typically tells us “We’re always testing ways to improve the Instagram experience.” [Update: Instagram confirms to TechCrunch it’s not publicly testing this, which is its go-to line when a product surfaces that’s still in internal development. Meanwhile, Wong notes that Instagram has now cut off her access to the web Direct feature.]

After cloning Snapchat Stories to create Instagram Stories, the Facebook-owned app decimated Snap’s growth rate. That left Snapchat to focus on premium video and messaging. Last year Instagram built IGTV to compete with Snapchat Discover. And now with it testing a web version of Direct, it seems poised to challenge Snap for chat too.

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Facebook and Google still offer the best value for mobile advertisers (Singular report)

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Facebook, Google, Mobile, Singular | No Comments

Among mobile ad networks, Facebook and Google remain the best bet for advertisers, according to the latest ROI Index from marketing startup Singular.

To pull together this year’s index, Singular says it sampled $1.5 billion in ad spending (from the $10 billion in spending that the company optimizes annually) and measured which networks are delivering the best return on investment. It also kept an eye out for ad fraud, apparently deleting a record 15 companies from the rankings because of “excessive” fraud.

So yes, Facebook followed by Google topped the list. As the report puts it, “Savvy marketers know they need more than just two media partners, but Google and Facebook are in virtually every mobile marketer’s game plan for good reason: they deliver.”

Singular ROI Index 2019 — iOS-AndroidAt the same time, Singular noted that Snap improved its rankings on virtually all the lists, and is now the No. 3 network for non-gaming ads on both iOS and Android. And Twitter did respectably as well, ranking second on iOS for retention.

Comparing the two big mobile platforms, it seems that Android is more volatile — one-third of the networks on the Android ROI list are appearing for the first time, and 80 percent of the remaining 10 networks changed position on the list. On iOS, on the other hand, 73 percent of the networks changed positions, but there were only two new ones on the list.

You can download the full index here.

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Is Europe closing in on an antitrust fix for surveillance technologists?

Posted by | Android, antitrust, competition law, data protection, data protection law, DCMS committee, digital media, EC, Europe, european commission, european union, Facebook, General Data Protection Regulation, Germany, Giovanni Buttarelli, Google, instagram, Margrethe Vestager, Messenger, photo sharing, privacy, Social, social media, social networks, surveillance capitalism, TC, terms of service, United Kingdom, United States | No Comments

The German Federal Cartel Office’s decision to order Facebook to change how it processes users’ personal data this week is a sign the antitrust tide could at last be turning against platform power.

One European Commission source we spoke to, who was commenting in a personal capacity, described it as “clearly pioneering” and “a big deal”, even without Facebook being fined a dime.

The FCO’s decision instead bans the social network from linking user data across different platforms it owns, unless it gains people’s consent (nor can it make use of its services contingent on such consent). Facebook is also prohibited from gathering and linking data on users from third party websites, such as via its tracking pixels and social plugins.

The order is not yet in force, and Facebook is appealing, but should it come into force the social network faces being de facto shrunk by having its platforms siloed at the data level.

To comply with the order Facebook would have to ask users to freely consent to being data-mined — which the company does not do at present.

Yes, Facebook could still manipulate the outcome it wants from users but doing so would open it to further challenge under EU data protection law, as its current approach to consent is already being challenged.

The EU’s updated privacy framework, GDPR, requires consent to be specific, informed and freely given. That standard supports challenges to Facebook’s (still fixed) entry ‘price’ to its social services. To play you still have to agree to hand over your personal data so it can sell your attention to advertisers. But legal experts contend that’s neither privacy by design nor default.

The only ‘alternative’ Facebook offers is to tell users they can delete their account. Not that doing so would stop the company from tracking you around the rest of the mainstream web anyway. Facebook’s tracking infrastructure is also embedded across the wider Internet so it profiles non-users too.

EU data protection regulators are still investigating a very large number of consent-related GDPR complaints.

But the German FCO, which said it liaised with privacy authorities during its investigation of Facebook’s data-gathering, has dubbed this type of behavior “exploitative abuse”, having also deemed the social service to hold a monopoly position in the German market.

So there are now two lines of legal attack — antitrust and privacy law — threatening Facebook (and indeed other adtech companies’) surveillance-based business model across Europe.

A year ago the German antitrust authority also announced a probe of the online advertising sector, responding to concerns about a lack of transparency in the market. Its work here is by no means done.

Data limits

The lack of a big flashy fine attached to the German FCO’s order against Facebook makes this week’s story less of a major headline than recent European Commission antitrust fines handed to Google — such as the record-breaking $5BN penalty issued last summer for anticompetitive behaviour linked to the Android mobile platform.

But the decision is arguably just as, if not more, significant, because of the structural remedies being ordered upon Facebook. These remedies have been likened to an internal break-up of the company — with enforced internal separation of its multiple platform products at the data level.

This of course runs counter to (ad) platform giants’ preferred trajectory, which has long been to tear modesty walls down; pool user data from multiple internal (and indeed external sources), in defiance of the notion of informed consent; and mine all that personal (and sensitive) stuff to build identity-linked profiles to train algorithms that predict (and, some contend, manipulate) individual behavior.

Because if you can predict what a person is going to do you can choose which advert to serve to increase the chance they’ll click. (Or as Mark Zuckerberg puts it: ‘Senator, we run ads.’)

This means that a regulatory intervention that interferes with an ad tech giant’s ability to pool and process personal data starts to look really interesting. Because a Facebook that can’t join data dots across its sprawling social empire — or indeed across the mainstream web — wouldn’t be such a massive giant in terms of data insights. And nor, therefore, surveillance oversight.

Each of its platforms would be forced to be a more discrete (and, well, discreet) kind of business.

Competing against data-siloed platforms with a common owner — instead of a single interlinked mega-surveillance-network — also starts to sound almost possible. It suggests a playing field that’s reset, if not entirely levelled.

(Whereas, in the case of Android, the European Commission did not order any specific remedies — allowing Google to come up with ‘fixes’ itself; and so to shape the most self-serving ‘fix’ it can think of.)

Meanwhile, just look at where Facebook is now aiming to get to: A technical unification of the backend of its different social products.

Such a merger would collapse even more walls and fully enmesh platforms that started life as entirely separate products before were folded into Facebook’s empire (also, let’s not forget, via surveillance-informed acquisitions).

Facebook’s plan to unify its products on a single backend platform looks very much like an attempt to throw up technical barriers to antitrust hammers. It’s at least harder to imagine breaking up a company if its multiple, separate products are merged onto one unified backend which functions to cross and combine data streams.

Set against Facebook’s sudden desire to technically unify its full-flush of dominant social networks (Facebook Messenger; Instagram; WhatsApp) is a rising drum-beat of calls for competition-based scrutiny of tech giants.

This has been building for years, as the market power — and even democracy-denting potential — of surveillance capitalism’s data giants has telescoped into view.

Calls to break up tech giants no longer carry a suggestive punch. Regulators are routinely asked whether it’s time. As the European Commission’s competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, was when she handed down Google’s latest massive antitrust fine last summer.

Her response then was that she wasn’t sure breaking Google up is the right answer — preferring to try remedies that might allow competitors to have a go, while also emphasizing the importance of legislating to ensure “transparency and fairness in the business to platform relationship”.

But it’s interesting that the idea of breaking up tech giants now plays so well as political theatre, suggesting that wildly successful consumer technology companies — which have long dined out on shiny convenience-based marketing claims, made ever so saccharine sweet via the lure of ‘free’ services — have lost a big chunk of their populist pull, dogged as they have been by so many scandals.

From terrorist content and hate speech, to election interference, child exploitation, bullying, abuse. There’s also the matter of how they arrange their tax affairs.

The public perception of tech giants has matured as the ‘costs’ of their ‘free’ services have scaled into view. The upstarts have also become the establishment. People see not a new generation of ‘cuddly capitalists’ but another bunch of multinationals; highly polished but remote money-making machines that take rather more than they give back to the societies they feed off.

Google’s trick of naming each Android iteration after a different sweet treat makes for an interesting parallel to the (also now shifting) public perceptions around sugar, following closer attention to health concerns. What does its sickly sweetness mask? And after the sugar tax, we now have politicians calling for a social media levy.

Just this week the deputy leader of the main opposition party in the UK called for setting up a standalone Internet regulatory with the power to break up tech monopolies.

Talking about breaking up well-oiled, wealth-concentration machines is being seen as a populist vote winner. And companies that political leaders used to flatter and seek out for PR opportunities find themselves treated as political punchbags; Called to attend awkward grilling by hard-grafting committees, or taken to vicious task verbally at the highest profile public podia. (Though some non-democratic heads of state are still keen to press tech giant flesh.)

In Europe, Facebook’s repeat snubs of the UK parliament’s requests last year for Zuckerberg to face policymakers’ questions certainly did not go unnoticed.

Zuckerberg’s empty chair at the DCMS committee has become both a symbol of the company’s failure to accept wider societal responsibility for its products, and an indication of market failure; the CEO so powerful he doesn’t feel answerable to anyone; neither his most vulnerable users nor their elected representatives. Hence UK politicians on both sides of the aisle making political capital by talking about cutting tech giants down to size.

The political fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal looks far from done.

Quite how a UK regulator could successfully swing a regulatory hammer to break up a global Internet giant such as Facebook which is headquartered in the U.S. is another matter. But policymakers have already crossed the rubicon of public opinion and are relishing talking up having a go.

That represents a sea-change vs the neoliberal consensus that allowed competition regulators to sit on their hands for more than a decade as technology upstarts quietly hoovered up people’s data and bagged rivals, and basically went about transforming themselves from highly scalable startups into market-distorting giants with Internet-scale data-nets to snag users and buy or block competing ideas.

The political spirit looks willing to go there, and now the mechanism for breaking platforms’ distorting hold on markets may also be shaping up.

The traditional antitrust remedy of breaking a company along its business lines still looks unwieldy when faced with the blistering pace of digital technology. The problem is delivering such a fix fast enough that the business hasn’t already reconfigured to route around the reset. 

Commission antitrust decisions on the tech beat have stepped up impressively in pace on Vestager’s watch. Yet it still feels like watching paper pushers wading through treacle to try and catch a sprinter. (And Europe hasn’t gone so far as trying to impose a platform break up.) 

But the German FCO decision against Facebook hints at an alternative way forward for regulating the dominance of digital monopolies: Structural remedies that focus on controlling access to data which can be relatively swiftly configured and applied.

Vestager, whose term as EC competition chief may be coming to its end this year (even if other Commission roles remain in potential and tantalizing contention), has championed this idea herself.

In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today program in December she poured cold water on the stock question about breaking tech giants up — saying instead the Commission could look at how larger firms got access to data and resources as a means of limiting their power. Which is exactly what the German FCO has done in its order to Facebook. 

At the same time, Europe’s updated data protection framework has gained the most attention for the size of the financial penalties that can be issued for major compliance breaches. But the regulation also gives data watchdogs the power to limit or ban processing. And that power could similarly be used to reshape a rights-eroding business model or snuff out such business entirely.

#GDPR allows imposing a permanent ban on data processing. This is the nuclear option. Much more severe than any fine you can imagine, in most cases. https://t.co/X772NvU51S

— Lukasz Olejnik (@lukOlejnik) January 28, 2019

The merging of privacy and antitrust concerns is really just a reflection of the complexity of the challenge regulators now face trying to rein in digital monopolies. But they’re tooling up to meet that challenge.

Speaking in an interview with TechCrunch last fall, Europe’s data protection supervisor, Giovanni Buttarelli, told us the bloc’s privacy regulators are moving towards more joint working with antitrust agencies to respond to platform power. “Europe would like to speak with one voice, not only within data protection but by approaching this issue of digital dividend, monopolies in a better way — not per sectors,” he said. “But first joint enforcement and better co-operation is key.”

The German FCO’s decision represents tangible evidence of the kind of regulatory co-operation that could — finally — crack down on tech giants.

Blogging in support of the decision this week, Buttarelli asserted: “It is not necessary for competition authorities to enforce other areas of law; rather they need simply to identity where the most powerful undertakings are setting a bad example and damaging the interests of consumers.  Data protection authorities are able to assist in this assessment.”

He also had a prediction of his own for surveillance technologists, warning: “This case is the tip of the iceberg — all companies in the digital information ecosystem that rely on tracking, profiling and targeting should be on notice.”

So perhaps, at long last, the regulators have figured out how to move fast and break things.

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Facebook will reveal who uploaded your contact info for ad targeting

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, Facebook, Facebook ads, Facebook Custom Audiences, facebook privacy, Mobile, Policy, TC | No Comments

Facebook’s crack down on non-consensual ad targeting last year will finally produce results. In March, TechCrunch discovered Facebook planned to require advertisers to pledge that they had permission to upload someone’s phone number or email address for ad targeting. That tool debuted in June, though there was no verification process and Facebook just took businesses at their word despite the financial incentive to lie. In November, Facebook launched a way for ad agencies and marketing tech developers to specify who they were buying promotions “on behalf of.” Soon that information will finally be revealed to users.

Facebook’s new Custom Audiences transparency feature shows when your contact info was uploaded and by whom, and if it was shared between brands and partners

Facebook previously only revealed what brand was using your contact info for targeting, not who uploaded it or when

Starting February 28th, Facebook’s “Why am I seeing this?” button in the drop-down menu of feed posts will reveal more than the brand that paid for the ad, some biographical details they targeted and if they’d uploaded your contact info. Facebook will start to show when your contact info was uploaded, if it was by the brand or one of their agency/developer partners and when access was shared between partners. A Facebook spokesperson tells me the goal is to keep giving people a better understanding of how advertisers use their information.

This new level of transparency could help users pinpoint what caused a brand to get hold of their contact info. That might help them change their behavior to stay more private. The system could also help Facebook zero in on agencies or partners that are constantly uploading contact info and might not have attained it legitimately. Apparently seeking not to dredge up old privacy problems, Facebook didn’t publish a blog post about the change but simply announced it in a Facebook post to the Facebook Advertiser Hub Page.

The move comes in the wake of Facebook attaching immediately visible “paid for by” labels to more political ads to defend against election interference. With so many users concerned about how Facebook exploits their data, the Custom Audiences transparency feature could provide a small boost of confidence in a time when people have little faith in the social network’s privacy practices.

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Daily Crunch: Facebook lets you unsend recent messages

Posted by | Apps, Daily Crunch, Facebook, facebook messenger, Mobile, Social | No Comments

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here:

1. Facebook now lets everyone unsend messages for 10 minutes

For up to 10 minutes after sending a Facebook Message, the sender can tap on it and they’ll find the delete button has been replaced by “Remove for you” and “Remove for everyone” options. If you select the latter, recipients will see an alert saying that you removed a message, and they can still flag the message.

The feature could come in handy in those moments when you realize, right after hitting send, that you’ve made an embarrassing typo or said something dumb. It won’t, however, let people change ancient history.

2. Alphabet revenues are up 22% but the stock is still dropping

The company’s beat of analyst estimates would have been a miss if not for a $1.3 billion unrealized gain “related to a non-marketable debt security.”

3. Toyota’s new car subscription company Kinto is gamifying driving behavior

Toyota has officially launched Kinto, a company first revealed late last year that will manage a car subscription program and other mobility services in Japan, including the sale and purchase of used vehicles as well as automotive repair and inspection.

4. Apple pays millions in backdated taxes to French authorities

“The French tax administration recently concluded a multi-year audit on the company’s French accounts, and those details will be published in our public accounts,” the company told Reuters. French authorities can’t confirm the transaction due to tax secrecy.

5. Self-driving truck startup Ike raises $52 million

The startup was founded by veterans of Apple and Google, as well as Uber Advanced Technologies Group’s self-driving truck program. Its mission — expand and deploy — sounds a lot like other autonomous vehicle startups, but that’s where the parallels end.

6. Facebook bans four armed groups in Myanmar

Facebook has introduced new security features and announced plans to increase its team of Burmese language content translators to 100 people. While it doesn’t intend to open an office in Myanmar, it has ramped up its efforts to expel bad actors.

7. Backed by Benchmark, Blue Hexagon just raised $31 million for its deep learning cybersecurity software

According to co-founder Nayeem Islam, Blue Hexagon has created a real-time, cybersecurity platform that he says can detect known and unknown threats at first encounter, then block them in “sub seconds” so the malware doesn’t have time to spread.

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Facebook now lets everyone unsend messages for 10 minutes

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, facebook messenger, Facebook unsend, Mark Zuckerberg, Mobile, Policy, Social, TC | No Comments

Facebook has finally made good on its promise to let users unsend chats after TechCrunch discovered Mark Zuckerberg had secretly retracted some of his Facebook Messages from recipients. Today Facebook Messenger globally rolls out “Remove for everyone” to help you pull back typos, poor choices, embarrassing thoughts or any other message.

For up to 10 minutes after sending a Facebook Message, the sender can tap on it and they’ll find the delete button has been replaced by “Remove for you,” but there’s now also a “Remove for everyone” option that pulls the message from recipients’ inboxes. They’ll see an alert that you removed a message in its place, and can still flag the message to Facebook, which will retain the content briefly to see if it’s reported. The feature could make people more comfortable having honest conversations or using Messenger for flirting since they can second-guess what they send, but it won’t let people change ancient history.

The company abused its power by altering the history of Zuckerberg’s Facebook’s messages in a way that email or other communication mediums wouldn’t allow. Yet Facebook refused to say if it will now resume removing executives’ messages from recipients even long after they’re delivered after telling TechCrunch in April that “until this feature is ready, we will no longer be deleting any executives’ messages.”

For a quick recap, here’s how Facebook got to Unsend:

-Facebook Messenger never had an Unsend option, except in its encrypted Secret messaging product where you can set an expiration timer on chats, or in Instagram Direct.

-In April 2018, TechCrunch reported that some of Mark Zuckerberg’s messages had been removed from the inboxes of recipients, including non-employees. There was no trace of the chats in the message thread, leaving his conversation partners looking like they were talking to themselves, but email receipts proved the messages had been sent but later disappeared.

-Facebook claimed this was partly because it was “limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages” for security purposes in the wake of the Sony Pictures hack, yet it never explained why only some messages to some people had been removed.

-The next morning, Facebook changed its tune and announced it’d build an Unsend button for everyone, providing this statement: “We have discussed this feature several times . . . We will now be making a broader delete message feature available. This may take some time. And until this feature is ready, we will no longer be deleting any executives’ messages. We should have done this sooner — and we’re sorry that we did not.”

-Six months later in October 2018, Facebook still hadn’t launched Unsend, but then TechCrunch found Facebook had been prototyping the feature.

-In November, Facebook started to roll out the feature with the current “Remove for everyone” design and 10-minute limit.

-Now every iOS and Messenger user globally will get the Unsend feature.

So will Facebook start retracting executives’ messages again? It’d only say that the new feature would be available to both users and employees. But in Zuckerberg’s case, messages from years ago were removed in a way users still aren’t allowed to. Remove for everyone could make messaging on Facebook a little less anxiety-inducing. But it shouldn’t have taken Facebook being caught stealing from the inboxes of its users to get it built.

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Daily Crunch: Facebook fallout continues

Posted by | Daily Crunch, Facebook, Mobile, Social | No Comments

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here:

1. We dismantle Facebook’s memo defending its ‘Research’

The fallout continues following TechCrunch reporting about a Facebook app that was paying people to collect a huge swath of data from their phones. For one thing, a new memo from Facebook’s VP of production engineering and security provides more detail about exactly what data Facebook was trying to collect from teens and adults in the U.S. and India.

We also learned that like Facebook, Google was using Apple enterprise certificates to circulate a consumer-facing data collection app — leading Apple to shut down, then restore access to Google’s internal iOS apps.

2. Amazon and Flipkart pull 100,000s of products to comply with new Indian law

Amazon has been forced to pull an estimated 400,000 products in India after new regulation limiting e-commerce businesses went into force in the country. And Flipkart could pull as many as one-quarter of its products in order to comply with the rule, according to analysis from consulting firm Technopak.

3. Apple fixes FaceTime eavesdrop bug, with software update incoming

“We have fixed the Group FaceTime security bug on Apple’s servers and we will issue a software update to re-enable the feature for users next week,” the company said.

4. H-1B changes will simplify application process

Danny Crichton does some table-napkin math to conclude that the changes will likely benefit advanced degree holders, while diminishing the chances for regular applicants.

5. Kleiner Perkins gets back to early-stage with its $600M 18th fund

The firm, which was recently rocked by the departure of legendary investor Mary Meeker, says it’s going “back to the future” with a focus on early-stage deals.

6. Amazon reports better than expected Q4, but lowers Q1 guidance

The online retail giant reported $72.4 billion in Q4 revenue, topping last year’s $60.45 billion and besting the analysts’ forecast of $71.92 billion. Amazon Web Services also played a key role, with a massive $2.2 billion operating income.

7. Vice Media will lay off 10 percent of its staff

Vice is the latest digital media company to announce major cuts. The goal is to allow Vice to focus on growth areas like branded content and film and TV production.

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Facebook shares shoot up after strong Q4 earnings despite data breach

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, Facebook, Facebook breach, Facebook Earnings, Facebook Security, Mobile, Social, TC | No Comments

Facebook managed to beat Wall Street’s estimates in its Q4 earnings amidst a constant beat down in the press. Facebook hit 2.32 billion monthly users, up 2.2 perecent from 2.27 billion last quarter, speeding up its growth rate. Facebook climbed to 1.52 billion daily active users from 1.49 billion last quarter for a 2 percent growth rate that dwarfed last quarter’s 1.36 percent.

Facebook earned $16.91 billion off all those users with a $2.38 GAAP earnings per share. Those numbers handily beat Wall Street’s expectations of $16.39 billion in revenue and $2.18 GAAP earnings per share, plus 2.32 billion monthly and 1.51 billion daily active users. Facebook’s daily to monthly user ratio, or stickiness, held firm at 66 percent where it’s stayed for years, showing those still on Facebook aren’t using it much less.

Facebook shares had closed today at $150.42 but shot up over 11 percent following the record revenue and profit announcements to hover around $167. A big 30 percent year-over-year boost in average revenue per user in North America fueled those gains. Yet that’s still down from $186 where it was a year ago and a peak of $217 in July.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg went beyond his usual intro to the earnings report where he assures investors things are going well and highlights new opportunities. This quarter he noted “We’ve fundamentally changed how we run our company to focus on the biggest social issues, and we’re investing more to build new and inspiring ways for people to connect.”

Squeezing Money From The Olds

Facebook managed to grow its DAU in both the critical US & Canada and Europe markets where it earns the most money after stagnation or shrinkage in previous quarters. The fact that Facebook is no longer dwindling it its most lucrative markets is surely contributing to its share price climb. Facebook’s monthly active user plateaued in North America but roared up in Europe. That was shored up by a reversal of last quarter’s decline in Rest Of World average revenue per user, which fell 4.7% in Q3 but bounced back with 16.5 percent growth in Q4.

 

Facebook raked in $6.8 billion in profit this quarter as it slowed down hiring and only grew headcount 5 percent from 33,606 to 35,587. It seems Facebook has gotten to a comfortable place with its security staff-up in the wake of election interference, fake news, and content moderation troubles. Its revenue is up 30 percent year-over-year while profits grew 61 percent, which is pretty remarkable for a 15-year old technology company.

Earnings Call

Facebook’s plan to concentrate on product innovation in 2019 after focusing on security in 2018 was the core of today’s earnings call. Zuckerberg laid out a product roadmap for more ephemerality and encryption, how unifying the infrastructure of Facebook’s messaging apps will better connect Marketplace to WhatsApp, Groups will become an organizing function for more of the Facebook experience, and shopping features will crop up across the family of apps. You can read Zuckerberg’s full opening statement here.

New stats included 500 million daily Instagram Stories users and 2 million advertisers on Stories. Zuckerberg said he was pleasantly surprised by Facebook Portal sales but didn’t give specifics. He revealed 2.7 billion people now use Facebook’s family of apps each month. However, CFO David Wehner warned the company would eventually stop sharing Facebook-only stats, presumably to mask the shift of younger users to its other apps. He also cautioned that due to the shift of users from feeds to Stories that Facebook has less experience monetizing, and targeting headwinds due to increased privacy scrutiny, Facebook predicts mid-single digit revenue growth rate reductions each quarter this year.

We just released our community update and quarterly results.We’ve fundamentally changed how we run our company to…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday, January 30, 2019

While the quarter went well, morale isn’t quite as rosy. It’s been a brutal quarter for Facebook At least its swifter user growth rates show Facebook survived its biggest ever data breach without scaring off too many people. Meanwhile it’s continuously struggled with scandals like hiring opposition research firm Definers, and it saw its new teen app Lasso largely flop. Facebook will have to convince investors it knows how to win back the next generation, or at least keep squeezong a lot more money out of the last one like it did in Q4.

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