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A massive database containing contact information for millions of Instagram influencers, celebrities and brand accounts was found online by a security researcher.
We traced the database back to Mumbai-based social media marketing firm Chtrbox. Shortly after we reached out, Chtrbox pulled the database offline.
Last week, the Trump administration effectively banned Huawei from importing U.S. technology, a decision that forced several American companies, including Google, to take steps to sever their relationships. Now, the Department of Commerce has announced that Huawei will receive a “90-day temporary general license” to continue to use U.S. technology to which it already has a license.
GM is scaling back its Maven car-sharing company and will stop service in nearly half of the 17 North American cities in which it operates.
The actress who became famous playing Arya Stark on “Game of Thrones” has fresh funding for her startup.
The company, which operates popular app TikTok, has held discussions with music labels to launch the app as soon as the end of this quarter.
In its recent user research, Future Family found that around 70% of new customers had yet to see a fertility doctor. So today, the startup is rolling out a new membership plan that offers customers a dedicated fertility coach, and helps them find a doctor in their area.
Danny Crichton says it’s the best and worst time to be in semiconductors right now. (Extra Crunch membership required.)
In WeChat -dominated China, there’s no shortage of challengers out there claiming to create an alternative social experience. The latest creation comes from ByteDance, the world’s most valuable startup and the operator behind TikTok, the video app that has consistently topped the iOS App Store over the last few quarters.
The new offer is called Feiliao (飞聊), or Flipchat in English, a hybrid of an instant messenger plus interest-based forums, and it’s currently available for both iOS and Android. It arrived only four months after Bytedance unveiled its video-focused chatting app Duoshan at a buzzy press event.
Some are already calling Feiliao a WeChat challenger, but a closer look shows it’s targeting a more niche need. WeChat, in its own right, is the go-to place for daily communication in addition to facilitating payments, car-hailing, food delivery and other forms of convenience.
Feiliao, which literally translates to ‘fly chat’, encourages users to create forums and chat groups centered around their penchants and hobbies. As its app description writes:
Feiliao is an interest-based social app. Here you will find the familiar [features of] chats and video calls. In addition, you will discover new friends and share what’s fun; as well as share your daily life on your feed and interact with close friends.
Feiliao “is an open social product,” said ByteDance in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “We hope Feiliao will connect people of the same interests, making people’s life more diverse and interesting.”
It’s unclear what Feiliao means by claiming to be ‘open’, but one door is already shut. As expected, there’s no direct way to transfer people’s WeChat profiles and friend connections to Feiliao, and there’s no option to log in via the Tencent app. As of Monday morning, links to Feiliao can’t be opened on WeChat, which recently crossed 1.1 billion monthly active users.
On the other side, Alibaba, Tencent’s long-time nemesis, is enabling Feiliao’s payments function through the Alipay digital wallet. Alibaba has also partnered with Bytedance elsewhere, most notably on TikTok’s Chinese version Douyin where certain users can sell goods via Taobao stores.
In all, Flipchat is more reminiscent of another blossoming social app — Tencent-backed Jike — than WeChat. Jike (pronounced ‘gee-keh’) lets people discover content and connect with each other based on various topics, making it one of the closest counterparts to Reddit in China.
Jike’s CEO Wa Nen has taken noticed of Feiliao, commenting with the emoji on his Jike feed, saying no more.
“I think [Feiliao] is a product anchored in ‘communities’, such as groups for hobbies, key opinion leaders/celebrities, people from the same city, and alumni,” a product manager for a Chinese enterprise software startup told TechCrunch after trying out the app.
Though Feiliao isn’t a direct take on WeChat, there’s little doubt that the fight between Bytedance and Tencent has heated up tremendously as the former’s army of apps captures more user attention.
According to a new report published by research firm Questmobile, ByteDance accounted for 11.3 percent of Chinese users’ total time spent on ‘giant apps’ — those that surpassed 100 million MAUs — in March, compared to 8.2 percent a year earlier. The percentage controlled by Tencent was 43.8 percent in March, down from 47.5 percent, while the remaining share, divided between Alibaba, Baidu and others, grew only slightly from 44.3 percent to 44.9 percent over the past year.
Facebook is updating the News Feed ranking algorithm to incorporate data from surveys about who you say are your closest friends and which links you find most worthwhile. Today Facebook announced it’s trained new classifiers based on patterns linking these surveys with usage data so it can better predict what to show in the News Feed. The change could hurt Pages that share clickbait and preference those sharing content that makes people feel satisfied afterwards.
For close friends, Facebook surveyed users about which people they were closest too. It then detected how this matches up with who you are tagged in photos with, constantly interact with, like the same post and check in to the same places as, and more. That way if it recognizes those signals about other people’s friendships, it can be confident those are someone’s closest friends they’ll want to see the most of. You won’t see more friend content in total, but more from your best pals instead of distant acquaintances.
For worthwhile content, Facebook conducted surveys via News Feed to find out which links people said were good uses of their time. Facebook then detected which types of link posts, which publishers and how much engagement the posts got and matched that to survey results. This then lets it determine that if a post has a similar style and engagement level, it’s likely to be worthwhile and should be ranked higher in the feed.
The change aligns with CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent comments declaring that Facebook’s goal isn’t total time spent, but time well spent with meaningful content you feel good about. Most recently, that push has been about demoting unsafe content. Last month Facebook changed the algorithm to minimize clickbait and links to crappy ad-filled sites that receive a disproportionately high amount of their traffic from Facebook. It cracked down on unoriginality by hiding videos ripped off from other creators, and began levying harsher demotions to repeat violators of its policies. And it began to decrease the distribution of “borderline content” on Facebook and Instagram that comes close to but doesn’t technically break its rules.
While many assume Facebook just juices News Feed to be as addictive in the short-term as possible to keep us glued to the screen and viewing ads, that would actually be ruinous for its long-term business. If users leave the feed feeling exhausted, confused and unfulfilled, they won’t come back. Facebook’s already had trouble with users ditching its text-heavy News Feed for more visual apps like Instagram (which it luckily bought) and Snapchat (which it tried to). While demoting clickbait and viral content might decrease total usage time today, it could preserve Facebook’s money-making ability for the future while also helping to rot our brains a little less.
With the look of someone betrayed, Facebook’s CEO has fired back at co-founder Chris Hughes and his brutal NYT op-ed calling for regulators to split up Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. “When I read what he wrote, my main reaction was that what he’s proposing that we do isn’t going to do anything to help solve those issues. So I think that if what you care about is democracy and elections, then you want a company like us to be able to invest billions of dollars per year like we are in building up really advanced tools to fight election interference” Zuckerberg told France Info while in Paris to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Zuckerberg’s argument boils down to the idea that Facebook’s specific problems with privacy, safety, misinformation, and speech won’t be directly addressed by breaking up the company, and that would instead actually hinder its efforts to safeguard its social networks. The Facebook family of apps would theoretically have fewer economies of scale when investing in safety technology like artificial intelligence to spot bots spreading voter suppression content.
Hughes claims that “Mark’s power is unprecedented and un-American” and that Facebook’s rampant acquisitions and copying have made it so dominant that it deters competition. The call echoes other early execs like Facebook’s first president Sean Parker and growth chief Chamath Palihapitiya who’ve raised alarms about how the social network they built impacts society.
But Zuckerberg argues that Facebook’s size benefits the public. “Our budget for safety this year is bigger than the whole revenue of our company was when we went public earlier this decade. A lot of that is because we’ve been able to build a successful business that can now support that. You know, we invest more in safety than anyone in social media” Zuckerberg told journalist Laurent Delahousse.
The Facebook CEO’s comments were largely missed by the media, in part because the TV interview was heavily dubbed into French with no transcript. But written out here for the first time, his quotes offer a window into how deeply Zuckerberg dismisses Hughes’ claims. “Well [Hughes] was talking about a very specific idea of breaking up the company to solve some of the social issues that we face” Zuckerberg says before trying to decouple solutions from anti-trust regulation. “The way that I look at this is, there are real issues. There are real issues around harmful content and finding the right balance between expression and safety, for preventing election interference, on privacy.”
Claiming that a breakup “isn’t going to do anything to help” is a more unequivocal refutation of Hughes’ claim than that of Facebook VP of communications and former UK deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg . He wrote in his own NYT op-ed today that “what matters is not size but rather the rights and interests of consumers, and our accountability to the governments and legislators who oversee commerce and communications . . . Big in itself isn’t bad. Success should not be penalized.”
Something certainly must be done to protect consumers. Perhaps that’s a break up of Facebook. At the least, banning it from acquiring more social networks of sufficient scale so it couldn’t snatch another Instagram from its crib would be an expedient and attainable remedy.
But the sharpest point of Hughes’ op-ed was how he identified that users are trapped on Facebook. “Competition alone wouldn’t necessarily spur privacy protection — regulation is required to ensure accountability — but Facebook’s lock on the market guarantees that users can’t protest by moving to alternative platforms” he writes. After Cambridge Analytica “people did not leave the company’s platforms en masse. After all, where would they go?”
That’s why given critics’ call for competition and Zuckerberg’s own support for interoperability, a core tenet of regulation must be making it easier for users to switch from Facebook to another social network. As I’ll explore in an upcoming piece, until users can easily bring their friend connections or ‘social graph’ somewhere else, there’s little to compel Facebook to treat them better.
Instagram isn’t just pretty pictures. It now also harbors bullying, misinformation and controversial self-expression content. So today Instagram is announcing a bevvy of safety updates to protect users and give them more of a voice. Most significantly, Instagram will now let users appeal the company’s decision to take down one of their posts.
A new in-app interface (rolling out starting today) over the next few months will let users “get a second opinion on the post,” says Instagram’s head of policy, Karina Newton. A different Facebook moderator will review the post, and restore its visibility if it was wrongly removed, and they’ll inform users of their conclusion either way. Instagram always let users appeal account suspensions, but now someone can appeal a takedown if their post was mistakenly removed for nudity when they weren’t nude or hate speech that was actually friendly joshing.
Blocking vaccine misinfo hashtags
On the misinformation front, Instagram will begin blocking vaccine-related hashtag pages when content surfaced on a hashtag page features a large proportion of verifiably false content about vaccines. If there is some violating content, but under that threshold, Instagram will lock a hashtag into a “Top-only” post, where Recent posts won’t show up, to decrease visibility of problematic content. Instagram says that it will test this approach and expand it to other problematic content genres if it works. Instagram will also be surfacing educational information via a pop-up to people who search for vaccine content, similar to what it’s used in the past for self-harm and opioid content.
Instagram says now that health agencies like the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization are confirming that VACCINES DO NOT CAUSE AUTISM, it’s comfortable declaring contradictory information as verifiably false, and it can be aggressively demoted on the platform.
The automated system scans and scores every post uploaded to Instagram, checking them against classifiers of prohibited content and what it calls “text-matching banks.” These collections of fingerprinted content it’s already banned have their text indexed and words pulled out of imagery through optical character recognition so Instagram can find posts with the same words later. It’s working on extending this technology to videos, and all the systems are being trained to spot obvious issues like threats, unwanted contact and insults, but also those causing intentional fear-of-missing-out, taunting, shaming and betrayals.
If the AI is confident a post violates policies, it’s taken down and counted as a strike against any hashtag included. If a hashtag has too high of a percentage of violating content, the hashtag will be blocked. If it had fewer strikes, it’d get locked in Top-Only mode. The change comes after stern criticism from CNN and others about how hashtag pages like #VaccinesKill still featured tons of dangerous misinformation as recently as yesterday.
One other new change announced this week is that Instagram will no longer determine whether to suspend an account based on the percentage of their content that violates policies, but by a tally of total violations within a certain period of time. Otherwise, Newton says, “It would disproportionately benefit those that have a large amount of posts,” because even a large number of violations would be a smaller percentage than a rare violation by someone who doesn’t post often. To prevent bad actors from gaming the system, Instagram won’t disclose the exact time frame or number of violations that trigger suspensions.
Instagram recently announced at F8 several new tests on the safety front, including a “nudge” not to post a potentially hateful comment a user has typed, “away mode” for taking a break from Instagram without deleting your account and a way to “manage interactions” so you can ban people from taking certain actions like commenting on your content or DMing you without blocking them entirely.
The announcements come as Instagram has solidified its central place in youth culture. That means it has intense responsibility to protect its user base from bullying, hate speech, graphic content, drugs, misinformation and extremism. “We work really closely with subject matter experts, raise issues that might be playing out differently on Instagram than Facebook, and we identify gaps where we need to change how our policies are operationalized or our policies are changed,” says Newton.
Facebook today announced a series of changes to the way it ranks videos on its social network, which determines how widely they’re distributed. According to the updated guidelines, Facebook will now prioritize videos that focus on original content, those where users are engaged for longer periods of time and those where users return repeatedly to watch more.
The company wants to feature more high-quality videos, and less of those that feature “unoriginal or repurposed content” from other sources where there’s been little value added, it says. That seems to imply a bit of crackdown on the prolific video memes — those that lift someone else’s content (sometimes without proper credit) and then publish it to their own Page to cash in.
Facebook says it’s also now going to demote videos from Pages that are involved in Sharing Schemes. These are programs run by unethical content mills that compensate other Page owners for posting content and running ads to promote it.
In addition, Facebook will reward videos that have a more engaged and loyal fan base.
Before, Facebook encouraged video creators to keep their viewers watching for at least a minute. Going forward, it will actively add more weight in rankings to those videos where viewers watch for at least three minutes.
And it will reward videos where viewers repeatedly return to watch week after week.
The goal with the changes is to promote those videos that people value, the company says, while also helping great video creators reach more people across the social network by way of improved distribution.
The changes come at a time when Facebook’s video effort, Facebook Watch, is facing increased competition for viewers’ time and interest from a range of players, including Apple’s streaming service Apple TV+, as well as number of places to watch free, ad-supported content, like The Roku Channel or Amazon’s IMDb, for example, in addition to, of course, YouTube. And soon, the highly anticipated streaming service from Disney will eat into more of viewers’ time, too.
Facebook Watch has also been dinged for featuring low-quality content compared to newcomers like Apple TV+, which has signed big-name talent like Spielberg, Witherspoon and Oprah. Meanwhile, Facebook Watch has focused on things like MTV’s “The Real World” or “Buffy” re-runs in terms of its “premium” content.
With YouTube recently promising its own original content will become free and ad-supported in time, Facebook needed to keep up by making its own video site less meme-filled and more engaging than before. That can only happen if it promotes videos when they meet certain quality thresholds — which is what these guidelines aim to address.
Twitter is unveiling a number of new content deals and renewals tonight at its NewFronts event for digital advertisers.
It’s only been two years since Twitter first joined the NewFronts. At the time, coverage suggested that executives saw the company’s video strategy as a crucial part of turning things around, but since then, the spotlight has moved on to other things (like rethinking the fundamental social dynamics of the service).
And yet the company is still making video deals, with 13 of them being unveiled tonight. That’s a lot of announcements, though considerably less than the 30 revealed at last year’s event. The company notes that it has already announced a number of partnerships this year, including one with the NBA.
“When you collaborate with the top publishers in the world, you can develop incredibly innovative ways to elevate premium content and bring new dimensions to the conversations that are already happening on Twitter,” said Twitter Global VP and Head of Content Partnerships Kay Madati in a statement. “Together with our partners, we developed this new slate of programming specifically for our audiences, and designed the content to fuel even more robust conversation on Twitter.”
Here’s a quick rundown of all the news:
- A partnership with Univision covering Spanish-language sports, news and entertainment content, including 2020 election analysis and reporting.
- A multi-year extension of Twitter’s deal with the NFL, which includes highlights and analysis.
- The Players’ Tribune and Twitter are announcing a live talk show called “Don’t @ Me,” where two athletes with debate topics chosen in part by Twitter users.
- A multi-year extension of Twitter’s deal with Major League Soccer.
- Continued programming from ESPN, including new ESPN Onsite branding to highlight shows filmed on location at big events.
- Bleacher Report is bringing “House of Highlights” back for a second season.
- Blizzard Entertainment will be sharing content from BlizzCon in November, including the entire opening ceremony.
- The Wall Street Journal is launching WSJ What’s Now, an original video show for Twitter. The deal will also include live-streamed content from Wall Street Journal events.
- Bloomberg’s TicToc will expand its coverage to include events like the G20 Summit, United Nations General Assembly and World Economic Forum.
- CNET is announcing a new partnership with Twitter, which will cover major tech industry events.
- Time is developing new video content for Twitter around the Time Person of the Year and Time 100.
- Live Nation is bringing a new concert series exclusively to Twitter this fall, with 10 concerts in 10 weeks.
- At the Video Music Awards, Viacom-owned MTV will offer a Stan Cam where fans can share their own live-streamed reactions to the show. Viacom will also be live-streaming red carpet coverage from its other events.
Facebook is cracking down on services that promise to help Instagram users buy themselves a large following on the photo app. The social network said today that it has filed a lawsuit against a New Zealand-based company that operates one such ‘follower-buying service.’
The suit is in a U.S. court and is targeting the three individuals running the company, which has been named as Social Media Series Limited.
We were not initially able to get a copy of the lawsuit, but have asked Facebook for further details.
This action comes months after a TechCrunch expose identified 17 follower-buyer services that were using Instagram’s own advertising network to peddle their wares to users of the service.
Instagram responded by saying it had removed all ads as well as disabled all the Facebook Pages and Instagram accounts of the services that we reported were violating its policies. However, just one day later, TechCrunch found advertising from two of the companies Instagram, while a further five were found to be paying to promote policy-violating follower-growth services.
Facebook has stepped up its efforts to crack down on “inauthentic behavior” on its platforms in recent months. That’s included removing accounts and pages from Facebook and Instagram in countries that include India, Pakistan, the Philippines, the U.K, Romania, Iran, Russia, Macedonia and Kosovo this year. Higher-profile action has included the suspension of removal of UK far-right activist Tommy Robinson from Facebook and in Myanmar, where Facebook has been much-criticized, the company banned four armed groups.
Note: the original version of this article has been updated to include the name of the company
An Indian state court has reversed its ban on TikTok, allowing the short-video app to return to both Apple and Google’s app stores, according to a report this morning from Reuters. Earlier this month, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had ordered TikTok be removed from app stores, after a High Court in Madras determined the app was encouraging pornography and other illicit content.
Though the removal only affected new users who were looking to download TikTok’s app to their devices for the first time — not those who already had it installed — the ban was a major blow to TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance. The company said in a court filing the ban was resulting in a $ 500,000 daily loss, and was putting more than 250 jobs at risk.
India had become a large and growing market for TikTok, with nearly 300 million users in the country out of over 1 billion total downloads, according to Sensor Tower. (TikTok notes it had over 120 million monthly actives in India.)
India had also accounted for 27 percent of TikTok’s total installs between December 2017 and December 2018, Sensor Tower found, which meant the app was a huge source of TikTok’s overall growth.
However, some Indian politicians and parents believe the app’s content is inappropriate, particularly with regard to its use by minors. And the Tamil Nadu court — which ruled against TikTok — said the app could expose children to sexual predators, as well.
The ban, had it been upheld, could have foretold increased legal action and regulation against other social media apps in India.
This wasn’t the first time TikTok has come under fire by government regulators.
In February, the FTC in the U.S. fined TikTok $ 5.7 million for violating children’s privacy law (COPPA) and required the app to implement an age gate.
ByteDance, in a statement, welcomed the court’s decision to reverse the ban, saying:
We are glad about this decision and we believe it is also greatly welcomed by our thriving community in India, who use TikTok as a platform to showcase their creativity. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue serving our users better. While we’re pleased that our efforts to fight against misuse of the platform has been recognised, the work is never “done” on our end. We are committed to continuously enhancing our safety features as a testament to our ongoing commitment to our users in India
Twitter shut down Dom Hoffman’s app Vine, giving away the short-form video goldmine to China’s TikTok. Now a year and half since Hoffman announced he’d reimagine the app as V2 then scrapped that name, his follow-up to Vine called Byte has finally sent out the first 100 invites to its closed beta. Byte will let users record or upload short, looped vertical videos to what’s currently a reverse-chronological feed.
the byte beta we’ve been running with friends and family *feels* exactly like the vine friends and family beta, down to the weird but appealing randomness of the videos. that’ll change as we expand, but it’s a pretty good sign pic.twitter.com/rBbQrNtTJ7
— dom hofmann (@dhof) April 22, 2019
It will be a long uphill climb for Byte given TikTok’s massive popularity. But if it differentiates by focusing less on lip syncing and teen non-sense so it’s less alienating to an older audience, there might be room for a homegrown competitor in short-form video entertainment.
Hoffman tells TechCrunch that he’s emboldened by the off-the-cuff nature of the beta community, which he believes proves the app is compelling even before lots of creative and funny video makers join. He says his top priority is doing right by creators so they’ll be lined up to give Byte a shot when it officially launches even if they could get more views elsewhere.
For now, Hoffman plans to keep running beta tests, adding and subtracting features for a trial by fire to see what works and what’s unnecessary. The current version is just camera recordings with no uploads, and just a feed with Likes and comments but no account following. Upcoming iterations from his seven-person team will test video uploads and profiles.
One reassuring point is that Hoffman is well aware that TikTok’s epic rise has changed the landscape. He admits that Byte can’t win with the exact same playbook Vine did when it faced an open field, and it must bring something unique. Hoffman tells me he’s a big fan of TikTok, and sees it as one evolutionary step past Vine, but not in the same direction as his new app
Does the world need Vine back if TikTok already has over 500 million active users? We’ll soon find out of Hoffman can take a Byte of that market.