photo sharing

Sex tech companies and advocates protest unfair ad standards outside Facebook’s NY HQ

Posted by | Advertising Tech, computing, digital advertising, Facebook, Gadgets, Google, instagram, internet culture, Lora DiCarlo, online ads, operating systems, photo sharing, social media, Software, TC, United States | No Comments

A group of sex tech startup founders, employees and supporters gathered outside of Facebook’s NY office in Manhattan to protest its advertising policies with respect to what it classifies as sexual content. The protest, and a companion website detailing their position we reported on Tuesday, are the work of “Approved, Not Approved,” a coalition of sex health companies co-founded by Dame Products and Unbound Babes.

These policies as applied have fallen out of step with “the average person’s views of what should or shouldn’t be approved of ads,” according to Janet Lieberman, co-founder and CTO of Dame Products.

“If you look at the history of the sex toy industry, for example, vibrators were sexual health products until advertising restrictions were put on them in the 1920s and 1930s — and then they became dirty, and that’s how the industry got shady, and that’s why we have negative thoughts towards them,” she told me in an interview at the protest. “They’re moving back towards wellness in people’s minds, but not in advertising policies. There’s a double standard for what is seen as obscene, talking about men’s sexual health versus women’s sexual health and talking about products that aren’t sexual, and using sex to sell them, versus taking sexual products and having completely non-sexual ads for them.”

facebook ad protest nyc

Credit: TechCrunch

It’s a problem that extends beyond just Facebook and Instagram, Lieberman says. In fact, her company is also suing NYC’s MTA for discrimination for its own ad standards after it refused to run ads for women’s sex toys in their out-of-home advertising inventory. But it also has ramifications beyond just advertising, because in many ways what we see in ads helps define what we see as acceptable in terms of our everyday lives and conversations.

“Some of this stems from society’s inability to separate sexual products from feeling sexual, and that’s a real problem that we see that hurts women more than men, but hurts both genders, in not knowing how to help our sexual health,” Lieberman said. “We can’t talk about it without being sexual, and that we can’t bring things up, without it seeming like we’re bringing up something that is dirty.”

IMG 9739

Credit: Unbound / Dame Products

“A lot of the people you see here today have Instagrams that have been shut down, or ads that have been not approved on Facebook,” said Bryony Cole, CEO at Future of Sex, in an interview. “Myself, I run Future of Sex, which is a sex tech hackathon, and a podcast focused on sex tech, and my Instagram’s been shut down twice with no warning. It’s often for things that Facebook will say they consider phallic imagery, but they’re not […] and yet if you look at images for something like HIMS [an erectile dysfunction medication startup, examples of their ads here], you’ll see those phallic practice images. So there’s this gross discrepancy, and it’s very frustrating, especially for these companies where a lot of the revenue in their business is around community that are online, which is true for sex toys.”

Online ads aren’t just a luxury for many of these startup brands and companies — they’re a necessary ingredient to continued success. Google and Facebook together account for the majority of digital advertising spend in the U.S., according to eMarketer, and it’s hard to grow a business that caters to primarily online customers without fair access to their platforms, Cole argues.

“You see a lot of sex tech or sexual wellness brands having to move off Instagram and find other ways to reach their communities,” she said. “But the majority of people, that’s where they are. And if they’re buying these products, they’re still overcoming a stigma about buying the product, so it’s great to be able to purchase these online. A lot of these companies started either crowdfunding, like Dame Products, or just through e-commerce sites. So the majority of their business is online. It’s not in a store.”

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Credit: Unbound / Dame Products

Earlier this year, sex tech company Lora DiCarlo netted a win in getting the Consumer Technology Association to restore its CES award after community outcry. Double standards in advertising is a far more systemic and distributed problem, but these protests will hopefully help open up the conversation and prompt more change.

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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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Samsung fakes test photo by using a stock DSLR image

Posted by | a8, Computer Hardware, computing, EyeEm, Gadgets, Getty-Images, huawei, malaysia, mobile software, photo sharing, photographer, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, TC, technology | No Comments

Samsung’s Malaysian arm has some explaining to do. The company, in an effort to show off the Galaxy A8 Star’s amazing photo retouching abilities, used a cleverly shot portrait, modified it and then ostensibly passed it off as one taken by the A8.

The trouble began when Serbian photographer Dunja Djudjic noticed someone had bought one of her photos from a service called EyeEm that supplies pictures to Getty Images, a renowned photo reseller. Djudjic, curious as to the buyer, did a quick reverse search and found her image — adulterated to within an inch of its life — on Samsung’s Malaysian product page.

Djudjic, for her part, was a good sport.

My first reaction was to burst out into laughter. Just look at the Photoshop job they did on my face and hair! I’ve always liked my natural hair color (even though it’s turning gray black and white), but I guess the creator of this franken-image prefers reddish tones. Except in the eyes though, where they removed all of the blood vessels.

Whoever created this image, they also cut me out of the original background and pasted me onto a random photo of a park. I mean, the original photo was taken at f/2.0 if I remember well, and they needed the “before” and “after” – a photo with a sharp background, and another one where the almighty “portrait mode” blurred it out. So Samsung’s Photoshop master resolved it by using a different background.

This move follows a decision by Huawei to pull the same stunt with a demo photo in August.

To be fair, Samsung warned us this would happen. “The contents within the screen are simulated images and are for demonstration purposes only,” they write in the fine print, way at the bottom of the page. Luckily for Djudjic, Samsung paid her for her photo.

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Fabric offers an alternative to Facebook sharing with a private timeline of personal moments

Posted by | Apps, fabric, journaling, Mobile, photo sharing, Social, Startups, Y Combinator | No Comments

Fabric, a personal journaling app that emerged from Y Combinator’s 2016 batch of startups, is relaunching itself as a Facebook alternative. The app is giving itself a makeover in the wake of Facebook’s closure of the Moves location tracker, by offering its own tool to record your activities, photos, memories and other moments shared with friends and family. But unlike on Facebook, everything in Fabric is private by default and data isn’t shared with marketers.

Instead, the startup hopes to build something users will eventually pay for, via premium features or subscriptions.

The idea for the startup came from two people who helped create Facebook’s core features.

Co-founders Arun Vijayvergiya and Nikolay Valtchanov worked for several years at the social network, where Vijayvergiya built the product that would later become Facebook Timeline at an internal hackathon. He also worked on products like Friendship Pages, Year in Review and On This Day, while Valtchanov developed integrations between Facebook and fitness applications.

After leaving Facebook, both were inspired to work on Fabric because of their interest in personal journaling – and that became the key focus for the original version of the Fabric app. But while other journaling apps may offer a blank space for recording thoughts, Fabric automates the process by pulling in photos, posts from elsewhere on social media, places you visited, and more, and put those on its map interface.

The longer-term goal is that Fabric users will be able to look back across their personal history to answer any kind of question about where they had been, what they did, and who they were with – but in a more private environment than what’s available on Facebook.

Facebook could have built something similar, but its focus has been more on how personal profile data could be useful to advertisers.

Despite numerous check-ins, posts where you tagged friends, shared photos and more, there’s still not an easy way to ask Facebook about that great Indian restaurant you tried last March, or who was on that group beach trip with you a few years ago, for example. At best, Facebook offers memory flashbacks through its On This Day feature (now available at any time via the Memories tab), or round-ups and collages that appear at various times throughout the year.

As a search engine for your own memories, it’s not that great.

What’s New 

This is where Fabric comes in. It will automatically record your activities, checking you in to places you visit, to which you can then choose to add friends.

While the idea of automatic location gathering may turn off a good number of users, the difference is that Fabric’s data collection is meant for your eyes only, unless you explicitly choose to share something with friends.

Fabric doesn’t use third-party software for its location system – it’s written in-house, so the data is never touched by a third-party. It also uses industry standard encryption for data transfer and storage, and login information is stored in a separate system from the rest of your data as an added precaution.

Notably, Fabric doesn’t plan to generate revenue by selling data or offering it to advertisers for targeting purposes. Instead, the company hopes users will eventually pay for its product – perhaps as a subscription or through premium upgrades. (It’s not doing this yet, however.)

“The whole motivation behind Fabric is that many meaningful parts of your life do not belong in the public sphere,” explains Vijayvergiya. “In order to be able to capture these moments, user trust is essential and is something we have baked into our company culture. Internally, we refer to ourselves as a ‘private-first’ company. Everything on Fabric is private by default. You have to choose to include friends in your moments. We don’t share any data with marketers, and we don’t intend to share personally identifiable information with advertisers,” he says.

Since its 2016 release, Fabric has been downloaded 70,000 times by users across 117 countries, and has seen 112 million automatic check-ins.

The new version of the app has been redesigned to be something users engage with more often, as opposed to the more passive journaling app it was before.

The app now offers an outline of your activities, which it also calls Timeline. Here, you can add people, photos and memorable anecdotes to those automated entries. You can jump back to any day to see your history with any person or place that appears on the Timeline.

You can also turn any moment into one you collaborate on with friends, by allowing others to add photos and comments. That is, instead of broad post to a group of so-called “friends” on Facebook, you share the moment with those who really matter. This isn’t all that different from how people use private messaging apps and group chats today – in order to share things with people that aren’t necessarily meant for everyone to see.

In addition, Fabric allows you to add your friends to the app, so you can be automatically tagged when you both spend time together in the real world. This also simplifies sharing because you won’t have to think about which posts should be shared with which audience.

For instance, Vijayvergiya says, “this means you can add your mom as a friend, and only share with her the moments you spend together in the same place.”

The most compelling feature in the updated app may not be check-ins or sharing, but search.

In Fabric, you can now search for past events in your life similar to how you search the web. That is, you could type in “restaurant rome 2017” or “camila los angeles birthday” and find the matching posts, Vijayvergiya suggests. And because you can import your Facebook, Instagram, and Camera Roll to Fabric, it’s now offering the search engine that Facebook itself forgot to build. (You can import your Facebook Moves history, too, ahead of its shutdown.)

Fabric’s search will also be available on the desktop web, where it’s currently in beta.

Fabric’s real challenger, as it turns out, may not be Facebook, though. It’s Google Photos.

Because of advances in image recognition technology, Google Photos (and some other photo apps) have built advanced search capabilities that let you pull up not places, things, people, and more, using data recognized in the image itself. Users can also share those photos with others, collaborate on albums, and leave notes as comments.

The difference is that Fabric offers import from a variety of sources and encourages journaling. But that may not be enough to attract a large user base, especially when automatic check-ins rely on the app’s use of background location which has some impact on battery life.

Fabric is a free download on iOS.

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Snapchat adds GIF stickers via Giphy, plus new Friends and Discover screen tabs

Posted by | Apps, computing, digital media, giphy, instagram, Mobile, mobile software, photo sharing, snap inc, Snapchat, Social, social media, Software, sticker, TC | No Comments

 Snapchat is bringing one of the best recent features of Instagram Stories to its own app, with the ability to add GIF stickers from Giphy to your posts. This is a notable reversal of the typical pattern we’ve seen of Instagram cloning Snapchat features, but it’s a good one for users since GIF stickers for Stories are basically the greatest thing ever invented on social media. The… Read More

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Cambassy lets you be your country’s digital ambassador

Posted by | Apps, cambassy, computing, Facebook Applications, instagram, Lonely Planet, Mobile, photo sharing, social media, Software, Startups, TC | No Comments

 Cambassy is a new app that lets you share the favorite things about your town, city, or country. You can think of it as a sort of breadcrumb travelogue that you leave behind for others to find and lets you include phots, tips, and comments about your favorite locations.
Created by Khalid Twaim and Omar Rabea, the company one a pitch-off in Oman and showed their early versions at Disrupt in Berlin. Read More

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Facebook said to be working on dedicated video chat device

Posted by | computing, Facebook, Gadgets, hardware, photo sharing, Social, social media, Software, TC, world wide web | No Comments

 Facebook is reportedly working on dedicated video chat hardware, per a new report by Bloomberg. The device is said to be the inaugural major product from Facebook’s hardware-focused Building 8 product development lab, and will include a notebook-sized display. It’s intended to make video chat participants separated geographically feel like they’re together in the same space,… Read More

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Figure 1, a knowledge-sharing app for doctors, launches sponsored content

Posted by | app monetization, Apps, Figure 1, gregory levey, Health, medical education, medicine, Mobile, mobile apps, monetization, photo sharing, science, Startups, TC | No Comments

 Since its launch in 2013, Figure 1, a photo- and knowledge-sharing app for medical professionals, has focused on “traction” that is winning over new users and keeping them around. The app now boasts registered users in 190 countries, with three-quarters of U.S. med students using Figure 1. Today, the Toronto- and New York-based startup revealed how it has begun to generate revenue. Read More

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Snap reportedly looked at drones as a product option

Posted by | california, Gadgets, GoPro, imaging, Instant Messaging, Media, Mobile, photo sharing, Snap, snap inc, Snapchat, social media, spectacles, TC, technology | No Comments

snap-drone Snap’s camera company ambitions included exploring drones as a possible product line, according to a new report from the New York Times. The drone plans would’ve given users the potential to take photos and videos from an eagle-eye perspective to share on Snapchat, its social network, and would’ve offered another hardware option alongside Spectacles as a way to help users… Read More

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Instagram testing multi-photo album posts

Posted by | Apps, instagram, Mobile, mobile software, photo sharing, Social, social media, Software, TC | No Comments

unknown-2 Sometimes when you’re looking at your Instagram selects and you can’t quite decide between a few options, or when you want to post something from your trip but also don’t want to overwhelm your followers with a bunch of different pictures in a row, you feel keenly the absence of the ability to post a gallery as a single update. Especially if you’ve seen ads that feature… Read More

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