Monthly Archives: September 2018
Facebook will push users to register to vote through a partnership with TurboVote, has partnered with the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute nonprofits to monitor foreign election interference and will publish a weekly report of trends and issues emerging from its new political ads archive. Facebook has also confirmed that its election integrity war room is up and running and the team is now “red teaming” how it would react to problem scenarios such as a spike in voter suppression content.
These were the major announcements from today’s briefing call between Facebook’s election integrity team and reporters.
Much of the call reviewed Facebook’s past efforts, but also took time to focus on the upcoming Brazilian election. There, Facebook has engaged with over 1,000 prosecutors, judges and clerks to establish a dialog with election authorities. It’s partnered with three fact-checkers in the country and worked with them on Messenger bots like “Fátima” and “Projeto Lupe” that can help people spot fake news.
The voter registration drive mirrors Instagram’s plan announced yesterday to work with TurboVote to push users to registration info via ads. Facebook says it also will remind people to vote on election day and let them share with friends that “I voted.” One concern is that voter registration and voting efforts by Facebook could unevenly advantage one political party, for instance those with a base of middle-aged constituents who might be young enough to use Facebook but not so young that they’ve abandoned it for YouTube and Snapchat. If Facebook can’t prove the efforts are fair, the drive could turn into a talking point for congressional members eager to paint the social network as biased against their party.
The partnerships with the Institutes that don’t operate domestically are designed “to understand what they’re seeing on the ground in elections” around the world so Facebook can move faster to safeguard its systems, says Facebook’s director of Global Politics and Government Outreach Team Katie Harbath. Here, Facebook is admitting this problem is too big to tackle on its own. Beyond working with independent fact-checkers and government election commissions, it’s tasking nonprofits to help be its eyes and ears on the ground.
The war room isn’t finished yet, according to a story from The New York Times published in the middle of the press call. Still under construction in a central hallway between two of Facebook’s Menlo Park HQ buildings, it will fit about 20 of Facebook’s 300 staffers working on election integrity. It will feature screens showing dashboards about information flowing through Facebook to help the team quickly identify and respond to surges in false news or fake accounts.
Overall, Facebook is trying to do its homework so it’s ready for a “heat of the moment, last day before the election scenario” and won’t get caught flat-footed, says Facebook’s director of Product Management for News Feed Greg Marra. He says Facebook is “being a lot more proactive and building systems to look for problems so they don’t become big problems on our platform.” Facebook’s director of Product Management for Elections and Civic Engagement Samidh Chakrabarti noted, this is “one of the biggest cross-team efforts we’ve seen.”
It’s not that mobile wasn’t a priority for the team before this, but Tillman said, “In our previous company, we didn’t have a ton of resources — we always had to choose which thing to work on.” Apparently that changed last year with Ghostery’s acquisition by German browser company Cliqz.
The first big launch after the acquisition was Ghostery 8, the latest version of the team’s privacy-focused extension for desktop browsers. Next up: Bringing those features over to mobile.
Tillman said the goal was to create “a browser that can go toe-to-toe with Chrome” while also incorporating Ghostery’s privacy protection capabilities. Those capabilities include the ability to block different kinds of ad tracking by category (tracking for advertising, adult advertising and site analytics are turned on by default).
There’s also a built-in ad blocker, and Ghost Search, a privacy-focused search engine based on Cliqz technology that does not store any personally identifiable information. (If you’re not satisfied with the Ghost Search results, you can also see results from other search engines.) The presentation is different from a standard search engine, with three “dynamic result cards” that surface content as soon as you start entering search terms. And there’s Ghostery Tab, a home screen that highlights your favorite or most visited sites, as well as the latest news stories.
The Android version includes additional features, including AI-powered anti-tracking and “smart blocking” that’s supposed to improve page performance.
Tillman described the result as “a cleaner, faster, safer mobile browsing experience.” He also said that moving forward, Ghostery will be working to provide “an ecosystem of products” that “protect our users wherever they’re interacting with the Internet.”
The launch comes as the big Internet platforms face growing scrutiny over how they handle user data. Tillman argued that by simply giving consumers a more privacy-friendly alternative, “We’re sort of collectively negotiating a better Internet for them” — and he’s hoping Ghostery can be more involved as publishers try to find alternatives to advertising.
“Our goal isn’t to, say, topple Google and Facebook, but to provide that alternative to those that want it — both for content creators but also for users themselves,” he said.
UiPath is bringing automation to repetitive processes inside large organizations and it seems to have landed on a huge pain point. Today it announced a massive $ 225 million Series C on a $ 3 billion valuation.
The round was led by CapitalG and Sequoia Capital. Accel, which invested in the companies A and B rounds also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $ 408 million, according to Crunchbase, and comes just months after a $ 153 million Series B we reported on last March. At that time, it had a valuation of over $ 1 billion, meaning the valuation has tripled in less than six months.
There’s a reason this company you might have never heard of is garnering this level of investment so quickly. For starters, it’s growing in leaps in bounds. Consider that it went from $ 1 million to $ 100 million in annual recurring revenue in under 21 months, according to the company. It currently has 1800 enterprise customers and claims to be adding 6 new ones a day, an astonishing rate of customer acquisition.
The company is part of the growing field of robotic process automation or RPA . While the robotics part of the name could be considered a bit of a misnomer, the software helps automate a series of mundane tasks that were typically handled by humans. It allows companies to bring a level of automation to legacy processes like accounts payable, employee onboarding, procurement and reconciliation without actually having to replace legacy systems.
Phil Fersht, CEO and chief analyst at HfS, a firm that watches the RPA market, says RPA isn’t actually that intelligent. “It’s about taking manual work, work-arounds and integrated processes built on legacy technology and finding way to stitch them together,” he told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year.
It isn’t quite as simple as the old macro recorders that used to record a series of tasks and execute them with a keystroke, but it is somewhat analogous to that approach. Today, it’s more akin to a bot that may help you complete a task in Slack. RPA is a bit more sophisticated moving through a workflow in an automated fashion.
Ian Barkin from Symphony Ventures, a firm that used to do outsourcing, has embraced RPA. He says while most organizations have a hard time getting a handle on AI, RPA allows them to institute fundamental change around desktop routines without having to understand AI.
If you’re worrying about this technology replacing humans, it is somewhat valid, but Barkin says the technology is replacing jobs that most humans don’t enjoy doing. “The work people enjoy doing is exceptions and judgment based, which isn’t the sweet spot of RPA. It frees them from mundaneness of routine,” he said in an interview last year.
Whatever it is, it’s resonating inside large organizations and UiPath, is benefiting from the growing need by offering its own flavor of RPA. Today its customers include the likes of Autodesk, BMW Group and Huawei.
As it has grown over the last year, the number of employees has increased 3x and the company expects to reach 1700 employees by the end of the year.
Q4 is right around the corner, and that means digital marketers need to be on top of their game in planning, building, executing, and converting. But when you are looking to really scale revenue and new customers this holiday season, you’ll have to incorporate some branding strategies.
Now, I work for a performance digital marketing agency, so everything we do is always tied back to the question, ‘Well, is it improving performance?’ So when I say branding, I’m talking about the avenues that will allow you to get very targeted so that you can be sure you are hitting relevant audiences for your business. Better yet for performance marketers, there is a way where (to some extent) you can measure the effects these branding plays have on performance (I’ll get to that in a bit).
In this post, I’ll break down channels to test for branding, and then I’ll talk about how to measure the performance of those branding channels/campaigns. Let’s get started.
This channel has huge reach, and it’s a great way to cast a wide net and get exposure for your brand. The biggest downside with YouTube is that, if you’re not careful, you can spend a lot of your budget ineffectively.
Here are a few targeting recommendations to effectively get in front of the right audiences and have a positive impact on performance:
- In-market audiences – With this targeting, Google identifies users who are actively shopping for certain categories. Additionally, if you know the demographics of your target audience, you can layer on gender and age targeting to get more selective about the folks who see your ad.
- Custom intent audiences – You can also take things one step beyond in-market audiences and develop your own custom intent audiences. With custom intent audiences, you enter a list of search terms that align with what your ideal audience uses to find your product/service. Google will then use that list to define and reach the ideal audience for your business; this lets you go beyond Google’s predefined audience segments and reach people as they’re making a purchase decision.
What makes Instagram’s stories feature so great is that it takes advantage of all of Facebook’s granular targeting capabilities, which means you can get right in front of the specific personas you want to target (including interests, demographic, behavioral, as well as lookalikes and custom audiences). You can also get specific with the devices you want to target, so if you know, for instance, that your core purchasers are typically iPhone users, you can limit targeting to those devices.
I would recommend initially starting off with your top-performing Facebook audience and refine testing from there.
Native is a great way to deliver your ads to massive audiences who are in the mindset of consuming content. Native offers tons of channels: Outbrain, Taboola, Yahoo Gemini, etc. My recommendation is to start with Yahoo Gemini – in particular, the following ad types.
Yahoo mail ads appear within your Yahoo mailbox. You can leverage Yahoo’s capabilities to target by age, gender, interests, and custom audiences. Typically, I recommend targeting users interested in your competitors as they would be highly relevant; that, coupled with layering on age/gender data, will get you close to the personas you want to go after.
Additionally, as you test across Yahoo’s wider network with native, one highly recommended ad format to use would be carousel ads, which come in either desktop or mobile format.
Desktop carousel ads allow advertisers to show a more premium format for their ads:
Mobile carousel ads allow advertisers to use up to 5 images to tell a visual story:
One caveat: not all sites are set up to take carousel ad formats. The sites that are set up for carousel ads tend to be higher-quality properties, so it’s a nice bit of self-selecting when you put carousel ads into play.
How to measure branding performance
Okay, now that you’re casting a wide net and building awareness for your brand, how can you quantify the value of those efforts? Although it’s not easy to assign value to every aspect, we’ve found some strategies to be helpful.
One technique we use is by tagging our ads with utm parameters, indicating the channel, campaign, targeting and ad that a user is coming through on when they click the ad.
Then we develop remarketing campaigns or ad sets specifically targeting our brand awareness efforts. (For example, we remarket specifically to those who have clicked on our Instagram Story ad.) This separates our brand awareness efforts within our remarketing campaigns, which allows us to quantify conversions (and conversion rates) of those who have been exposed to our brand via our broader branding initiatives. It’s not perfect, but it helps us define how successful our branding efforts are.
With users brought in through branding campaigns, it’s important to remember that the buying journey can be longer – even if you’re a retail brand in Q4. If you’re looking to capitalize on your user base for the holiday season, there’s no time like the present to bring in this new audience and get the nurture/remarketing engine running.
Your Twitter prayers are answered! Well, maybe not the prayers about harassment or the ones about an edit tweet button, but your other prayers.
Today in a series of tweets, the company announced that it had heard the cries of its various disgruntled users and will bring back a form of the pure chronological timeline that users can opt into. Twitter first took an interest in a more algorithmic timeline three-ish years ago and committed to it in 2016.
4/ So, we’re working on providing you with an easily accessible way to switch between a timeline of Tweets that are most relevant for you and a timeline of the latest Tweets. You’ll see us test this in the coming weeks.
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) September 17, 2018
Some users were under the impression that they were living that algo-free life already by toggling off the “Show the best Tweets first” option in the account settings menu. Unfortunately for all of us, unchecking this box didn’t revert Twitter to ye olde pure chronological timeline so much as it removed some of the more prominent algorithmic bits that would otherwise be served to users first thing. Users regularly observed non-chronological timeline behaviors even with the option toggled off.
As Twitter Product Lead Kayvon Beykpour elaborated, “We’re working on making it easier for people to control their Twitter timeline, including providing an easy switch to see the most recent tweets.”
Nostalgic users who want regular old Twitter back can expect to see the feature in testing “in the coming weeks.”
We’re ready to pull the switch, just tell us when.
Late last week, Congress moved one step closer to passing the American Innovation Act of 2018, a bill that would make accounting and tax changes that would likely increase the valuation of startups in an acquisition.
The House Ways and Means committee approved a bill containing text that would improve the treatment of Net Operating Losses (NOLs) for startups. While many startup founders would probably rather watch paint dry (or build their companies) than dive into complex tax code changes, the provisions in the bill could greatly improve the ability of startups to invest in growth activity, and could drive meaningfully positive impacts to valuations, acquisition prices, capital markets participation and venture returns.
First, though, what are NOLs? Each year, if a company loses money, it can claim the losses as a deduction off of its future taxes. Traditionally, the U.S. tax code has allowed companies to cumulatively track and carry forward NOLs to offset taxable income in future years, reducing the amount of cash required to pay taxes. These NOLs are essentially a cash-like asset, and they can be exchanged in the event that a company is acquired.
However, a long-standing IRS provision, Section 382, which was originally implemented to prevent companies with large tax appetites from acquiring those with large operating losses exclusively to reduce taxes, limits the use of NOL carry-forwards in instances of ownership change.
Currently, in cases of an ownership change, specified as a more than 50 percent change in the ownership of shareholders who own at least 5 percent of a company’s stock, the amount of taxable income for the “post-change” company that can be offset by existing NOLs cannot exceed the value of the “pre-change” company, multiplied by the long-term tax exempt rate set by the IRS.
(Yes, this is why you hire a tax attorney.)
The net-net is that this provision has been particularly challenging for startups, which often trigger this limiting condition, given they frequently operate in the red through growth stages and often see frequent, sizable changes in their ownership structure due to fundraising, public offerings and acquisitions.
The House bill would alleviate this complication by protecting these tax offsets and creating an exception to the section 382 provision for startups, allowing the application of NOLs and R&D tax credits realized in the first three years of operations regardless of ownership change limitations.
These changes have a number of benefits for startups. It would provide increased flexibility around early-stage financing activities and remove potential issues that could arise with capital markets activity. Additionally, with startups more easily maintaining tax offsets to reduce their cash taxes, startups would have larger cash balances to invest in growth efforts.
The protection of the NOL from ownership change limitations could also have serious impacts to company valuations and the attractiveness of startups as acquisition candidates. With acquirers better able to utilize existing tax offsets, startups should benefit from higher purchase prices from the inclusion of NOL balances in valuations, helping founder and VC returns.
The bill passed through committee through a voice vote with no objections and is now expected to be voted on by the rest of the House later this month before advancing to the Senate. The bill has 23 co-sponsors, all Republican.
What does this consolidation mean for you? Will we have easier access to the video and display ads for vendor central? This could mean a whole new level of advertising we previously didn’t have access to.
Read more at PPCHero.com
Facebook is hiring a director of human rights policy to work on “conflict prevention” and “peace-building”
Facebook is advertising for a human rights policy director to join its business, located either at its Menlo Park HQ or in Washington DC — with “conflict prevention” and “peace-building” among the listed responsibilities.
In the job ad, Facebook writes that as the reach and impact of its various products continues to grow “so does the responsibility we have to respect the individual and human rights of the members of our diverse global community”, saying it’s:
… looking for a Director of Human Rights Policy to coordinate our company-wide effort to address human rights abuses, including by both state and non-state actors. This role will be responsible for: (1) Working with product teams to ensure that Facebook is a positive force for human rights and apply the lessons we learn from our investigations, (2) representing Facebook with key stakeholders in civil society, government, international institutions, and industry, (3) driving our investigations into and disruptions of human rights abusers on our platforms, and (4) crafting policies to counteract bad actors and help us ensure that we continue to operate our platforms consistent with human rights principles.
Among the minimum requirements for the role, Facebook lists experience “working in developing nations and with governments and civil society organizations around the world”.
It adds that “global travel to support our international teams is expected”.
The company has faced fierce criticism in recent years over its failure to take greater responsibility for the spread of disinformation and hate speech on its platform. Especially in international markets it has targeted for business growth via its Internet.org initiative which seeks to get more people ‘connected’ to the Internet (and thus to Facebook).
More connections means more users for Facebook’s business and growth for its shareholders. But the costs of that growth have been cast into sharp relief over the past several years as the human impact of handing millions of people lacking in digital literacy some very powerful social sharing tools — without a commensurately large investment in local education programs (or even in moderating and policing Facebook’s own platform) — has become all too clear.
In Myanmar Facebook’s tools have been used to spread hate and accelerate ethic cleansing and/or the targeting of political critics of authoritarian governments — earning the company widespread condemnation, including a rebuke from the UN earlier this year which blamed the platform for accelerating ethnic violence against Myanmar’s Muslim minority.
In the Philippines Facebook also played a pivotal role in the election of president Rodrigo Duterte — who now stands accused of plunging the country into its worst human rights crisis since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and 80s.
While in India the popularity of the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging platform has been blamed for accelerating the spread of misinformation — leading to mob violence and the deaths of several people.
Facebook famously failed even to spot mass manipulation campaigns going on in its own backyard — when in 2016 Kremlin-backed disinformation agents injected masses of anti-Clinton, pro-Trump propaganda into its platform and garnered hundreds of millions of American voters’ eyeballs at a bargain basement price.
So it’s hardly surprising the company has been equally naive in markets it understands far less. Though also hardly excusable — given all the signals it has access to.
In Myanmar, for example, local organizations that are sensitive to the cultural context repeatedly complained to Facebook that it lacked Burmese-speaking staff — complaints that apparently fell on deaf ears for the longest time.
The cost to American society of social media enabled political manipulation and increased social division is certainly very high. The costs of the weaponization of digital information in markets such as Myanmar looks incalculable.
In the Philippines Facebook also indirectly has blood on its hands — having provided services to the Duterte government to help it make more effective use of its tools. This same government is now waging a bloody ‘war on drugs’ that Human Rights Watch says has claimed the lives of around 12,000 people, including children.
Facebook’s job ad for a human rights policy director includes the pledge that “we’re just getting started” — referring to its stated mission of helping people “build stronger communities”.
But when you consider the impact its business decisions have already had in certain corners of the world it’s hard not to read that line with a shudder.
Citing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (and “our commitments as a member of the Global Network Initiative”), Facebook writes that its product policy team is dedicated to “understanding the human rights impacts of our platform and to crafting policies that allow us both to act against those who would use Facebook to enable harm, stifle expression, and undermine human rights, and to support those who seek to advance rights, promote peace, and build strong communities”.
Clearly it has an awful lot of “understanding” to do on this front. And hopefully it will now move fast to understand the impact of its own platform, circa fifteen years into its great ‘society reshaping experience’, and prevent Facebook from being repeatedly used to trash human rights.
As well as representing the company in meetings with politicians, policymakers, NGOs and civil society groups, Facebook says the new human rights director will work on formulating internal policies governing user, advertiser, and developer behavior on Facebook. “This includes policies to encourage responsible online activity as well as policies that deter or mitigate the risk of human rights violations or the escalation of targeted violence,” it notes.
The director will also work with internal public policy, community ops and security teams to try to spot and disrupt “actors that seek to misuse our platforms and target our users” — while also working to support “those using our platforms to foster peace-building and enable transitional justice”.
So you have to wonder how, for example, Holocaust denial continuing to be being protected speech on Facebook will square with that stated mission for the human rights policy director.
At the same time, Facebook is currently hiring for a public policy manager in Francophone, Africa — who it writes can “combine a passion for technology’s potential to create opportunity and to make Africa more open and connected, with deep knowledge of the political and regulatory dynamics across key Francophone countries in Africa”.
That job ad does not explicitly reference human rights — talking only about “interesting public policy challenges… including privacy, safety and security, freedom of expression, Internet shutdowns, the impact of the Internet on economic growth, and new opportunities for democratic engagement”.
As well as “new opportunities for democratic engagement”, among the role’s other listed responsibilities is working with Facebook’s Politics & Government team to “promote the use of Facebook as a platform for citizen and voter engagement to policymakers and NGOs and other political influencers”.
So here, in a second policy job, Facebook looks to be continuing its ‘business as usual’ strategy of pushing for more political activity to take place on Facebook.
And if Facebook wants an accelerated understanding of human rights issues around the world it might be better advised to take a more joined up approach to human rights across its own policy staff board, and at least include it among the listed responsibilities of all the policy shapers it’s looking to hire.