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Where to watch Zuckerberg’s meeting with EU MEPs on Tuesday

May 21, 2018 No Comments

The Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s meeting with elected representatives of the European Union’s ~500 million citizens will be livestreamed after all, it was confirmed today.

MEPs had been angered by the original closed door format of the meeting, which was announced by the EU parliament’s president last week. But on Friday a majority of the political groups in the parliament had pushed for it to be broadcast online.

This morning president Antonio Tajani confirmed that Facebook had agreed to the 1hr 15 minute hearing being livestreamed.

A Facebook spokesperson also sent us this short statement today: “We’re looking forward to the meeting and happy for it to be live streamed.”

When is the meeting?

The meeting will take place on Tuesday May 22 at 18.15 to 19.30CET. If you want to tune in from the US the meeting is scheduled to start at 9.15PT /12.15ET.

Tajani’s announcement last week said it would start earlier, at 17.45CET, so the meeting appears to have been bumped on by half an hour. We’ve asked Facebook whether Zuckerberg will meet in private with the parliament’s Conference of Presidents prior to the livestream being switched on and will update this story with any response.

Where to watch it online?

According to Tajani’s spokesperson, the meeting will be broadcast on the EU parliament’s website. At the time of writing it’s not yet listed in the EPTV schedule — but we’re expecting it to be viewable here.

Who will be meeting with Zuckerberg?

The Facebook founder will meet with EU parliament president Tajani, along with leaders of the parliament’s eight political groups, and with Claude Moraes, the chair of the EU parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee.

It’s worth noting that the meeting is not a formal hearing, such as the sessions with Zuckerberg in the US Senate and Congress last month. Nor is it a full Libe committee hearing — discussions remain ongoing for Facebook representatives to meet with the full Libe committee at a later date.

What will Zuckerberg be asked about?

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal, MEPs are keen to discuss concerns related to social media’s impact on election processes with Zuckerberg.

Indeed, the impact of social media spread online disinformation is also the topic of an ongoing enquiry by the UK parliament’s DCMS committee which spent some five hours grilling Facebook’s CTO last month. Although Zuckerberg has thrice declined the committee’s summons — preferring to meet with EU parliamentarians instead.

Other topics on the agenda will include privacy and data protection — with Moraes likely to ask about how Facebook’s business model impacts EU citizens’ fundamental rights, and how EU regulations might need to evolve to keep pace, as he explained to us on Friday.

Some of the political group leaders are also likely to bring up concerns around freedom of expression as pressure in the region has ramped up on online platforms to get faster at policing hate speech.


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EU parliament pushes for Zuckerberg hearing to be live-streamed

May 19, 2018 No Comments

There’s confusion about whether a meeting between Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the European Union’s parliament — which is due to take place next Tuesday — will go ahead as planned or not.

The meeting was confirmed by the EU parliament’s president this week, and is the latest stop on Zuckerberg’s contrition tour, following the Cambridge Analytics data misuse story that blew up into a major public scandal in mid March. 

However, the discussion with MEPs that Facebook agreed to was due to take place behind closed doors. A private format that’s not only ripe with irony but was also unpalatable to a large number of MEPs. It even drew criticism from some in the EU’s unelected executive body, the European Commission, which further angered parliamentarians.

Now, as the FT reports, MEPs appear to have forced the parliament’s president, Antonio Tajani, to agree to live-streaming the event.

Guy Verhofstadt — the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats group of MEPs, who had said he would boycott the meeting if it took place in private — has also tweeted that a majority of the parliament’s groups have pushed for the event to be streamed online.

And a Green Group MEP, Sven Giegold, who posted an online petition calling for the meeting not to be held in secret — has also tweeted that there is now a majority among the groups wanting to change the format. At the time of writing, Giegold’s petition has garnered more than 25,000 signatures.

MEP Claude Moraes, chair of the EU parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee — and one of the handful of parliamentarians set to question Zuckerberg (assuming the meeting goes ahead as planned) — told TechCrunch this morning that there were efforts afoot among political group leaders to try to open up the format. Though any changes would clearly depend on Facebook agreeing to them.

After speaking to Moraes, we asked Facebook to confirm whether it’s open to Zuckerberg’s meeting being streamed online — say, via a Facebook Live. Seven hours later we’re still waiting for a response, including to a follow up email asking if it will accept the majority decision among MEPs for the hearing to be live-streamed.

The LIBE committee had been pushing for a fully open hearing with the Facebook founder — a format which would also have meant it being open to members of the public. But that was before a small majority of the parliament’s political groups accepted the council of presidents’ (COP) decision on a closed meeting.

Although now that decision looks to have been rowed back, with a majority of the groups pushing the president to agree to the event being streamed — putting the ball back in Facebook’s court to accept the new format.

Of course democracy can be a messy process at times, something Zuckerberg surely has a pretty sharp appreciation of these days. And if the Facebook founder pulls out of meeting simply because a majority of MEPs have voted to do the equivalent of “Facebook Live” the hearing, well, it’s hard to see a way for the company to salvage any face at all.

Zuckerberg has agreed to be interviewed onstage at the VivaTech conference in Paris next Thursday, and is scheduled to have lunch with French president Emmanuel Macron the same week. So pivoting to a last minute snub of the EU parliament would be a pretty high stakes game for the company to play. (Though it’s continued to deny a U.K. parliamentary committee any face time with Zuckerberg for months now.)

The EU Facebook agenda

The substance of the meeting between Zuckerberg and the EU parliament — should it go ahead — will include discussion about Facebook’s impact on election processes. That was the only substance detail flagged by Tajani in the statement on Wednesday when he confirmed Zuckerberg had accepted the invitation to talk to representatives of the EU’s 500 million citizens.

Moraes says he also intends to ask Zuckerberg wider questions — relating to how its business model impacts people’s privacy. And his hope is this discussion could help unblock negotiations around an update to the EU’s rules around online tracking technologies and the privacy of digital communications.

“One of the key things is that [Zuckerberg] gets a particular flavor of the genuine concern — not just about what Facebook is doing, but potentially other tech companies — on the interference in elections. Because I think that is a genuine, big, sort of tech versus real life and politics concern,” he says, discussing the questions he wants to ask.

“And the fact is he’s not going to go before the House of Commons. He’s not going to go before the Bundestag. And he needs to answer this question about Cambridge Analytica — in a little bit more depth, if possible, than we even saw in Congress. Because he needs to get straight from us the deepest concerns about that.

“And also this issue of processing for algorithmic targeting, and for political manipulation — some in depth questions on this.

“And we need to go more in depth and more carefully about what safeguards there are — and what he’s prepared to do beyond those safeguards.

“We’re aware of how poor US data protection law is. We know that GDPR is coming in but it doesn’t impact on the Facebook business model that much. It does a little bit but not sufficiently — I mean ePrivacy probably far more — so we need to get to a point where we understand what Facebook is willing to change about the way it’s been behaving up til now.

“And we have a real locus there — which is we have more Facebook users, and we have the clout as well because we have potential legislation, and we have regulation beyond that too. So I think for those reasons he needs to answer.”

“The other things that go beyond the obvious Cambridge Analytica questions and the impact on elections, are the consequences of the business model, data-driven advertising, and how that’s going to work, and there we need to go much more in depth,” he continues.

“Facebook on the one hand, it’s complying with GDPR [the EU’s incoming General Data Protection Regulation] which is fine — but we need to think about what the further protections are. So for example, how justified we are with the ePrivacy Regulation, for example, and its elements, and I think that’s quite important.

“I think he needs to talk to us about that. Because that legislation at the moment it’s seen as controversial, it’s blocked at the moment, but clearly would have more relevance to the problems that are currently being created.”

Negotiations between the EU parliament and the European Council to update the ePrivacy Directive — which governs the use of personal telecoms data and also regulates tracking cookies — and replace it with a regulation that harmonizes the rules with the incoming GDPR and expands the remit to include internet companies and cover both content and metadata of digital comms are effectively stalled for now, as EU Member States are still trying to reach agreement. The directive was last updated in 2009.

“When the Cambridge Analytica case happened, I was slightly concerned about people thinking GDPR is the panacea to this — it’s not,” argues Moraes. “It only affects Facebook’s business model a little bit. ePrivacy goes far more in depth — into data-driven advertising, personal comms and privacy.

“That tool was there because people were aware that this kind of thing can happen. But because of that the Privacy directive will be seen as controversial but I think people now need to look at it carefully and say look at the problems created in the Facebook situation — and not just Facebook — and then analyze whether ePrivacy has got merits. I think that’s quite an important discussion to happen.”

While Moraes believes Facebook-Cambridge Analytica could help unblock the log jam around ePrivacy, as the scandal makes some of the risks clear and underlines what’s at stake for politicians and democracies, he concedes there are still challenging barriers to getting the right legislation in place — given the fine-grained layers of complexity involved with imposing checks and balances on what are also poorly understood technologies outside their specific industry niches.

“This Facebook situation has happened when ePrivacy is more or less blocked because its proportionality is an issue. But the essence of it — which is all the problems that happened with the Facebook case, the Cambridge Analytica case, and data-driven advertising business model — that needs checks and balances… So we need to now just review the ePrivacy situation and I think it’s better that everyone opens this discussion up a bit.

“ePrivacy, future legislation on artificial intelligence, all of which is in our committee, it will challenge people because sometimes they just won’t want to look at it. And it speaks to parliamentarians without technical knowledge which is another issue in Western countries… But these are all wider issues about the understanding of these files which are going to come up.  

“This is the discussion we need to have now. We need to get that discussion right. And I think Facebook and other big companies are aware that we are legislating in these areas — and we’re legislating for more than one countries and we have the economies of scale — we have the user base, which is bigger than the US… and we have the innovation base, and I think those companies are aware of that.”

Moraes also points out that U.S. lawmakers raised the difference between the EU and U.S. data protection regimes with Zuckerberg last month — arguing there’s a growing awareness that U.S. law in this area “desperately needs to be modernized.”

So he sees an opportunity for EU regulators to press on their counterparts over the pond.

“We have international agreements that just aren’t going to work in the future and they’re the basis of a lot of economic activity, so it is becoming critical… So the Facebook debate should, if it’s pushed in the correct direction, give us a better handle on ePrivacy, on modernizing data protection standards in the US in particular. And modernizing safeguards for consumers,” he argues.

“Our parliaments across Europe are still filled with people who don’t have tech backgrounds and knowledge but we need to ensure that we get out of this mindset and start understanding exactly what the implications here are of these cases and what the opportunities are.”

In the short term, discussions are also continuing for a full meeting between the LIBE committee and Facebook.

Though that’s unlikely to be Zuckerberg himself. Moraes says the committee is “aiming for Sheryl Sandberg,” though he says other names have been suggested. No firm date has been conformed yet either — he’ll only say he “hopes it will take place as soon as possible.”

Threats are not on the agenda though. Moraes is unimpressed with the strategy the DCMS committee has pursued in trying (and so far failing) to get Zuckerberg to testify in front of the U.K. parliament, arguing threats of a summons were counterproductive. LIBE is clearly playing a longer game.

“Threatening him with a summons in UK law really was not the best approach. Because it would have been extremely important to have him in London. But I just don’t see why he would do that. And I’m sure there’s an element of him understanding that the European Union and parliament in particular is a better forum,” he suggests.

“We have more Facebook users than the US, we have the regulatory framework that is significant to Facebook — the UK is simply implementing GDPR and following Brexit it will have an adequacy agreement with the EU so I think there’s an understanding in Facebook where the regulation, the legislation and the audience is.”

“I think the quaint ways of the British House of Commons need to be thought through,” he adds. “Because I really don’t think that would have engendered much enthusiasm in [Zuckerberg] to come and really interact with the House of Commons which would have been a very positive thing. Particularly on the specifics of Cambridge Analytics, given that that company is in the UK. So that locus was quite important, but the approach… was not positive at all.”


Social – TechCrunch


Tinder’s upcoming location-based feature seems a bit creepy

May 14, 2018 No Comments

Do you want random Tinder users to see where you’ve been? Uh, no? Well, great news: an upcoming Tinder feature called Places will allow for just that. According to screenshots detailing Tinder Places uncovered by The Verge, the dating app is developing a feature that tracks your location via its app, then shows potential matches where you’ve been. The idea is to allow people to come across their real-life missed connections, similar to how the dating app Happn works today.

There are some caveats about the new feature. For starters, this is something Tinder has in testing – the way it works at launch could be different. Also, the feature can be shut off, the documentation says – a toggle in the app’s settings let you turn it on or off at any time. And we’ve learned that, thankfully, this feature will be opt-in.

However, that’s a decision you should approach with caution.

Above: Places documentation, image credit: The Verge

The way Tinder has implemented the location feature is concerning. Instead of allowing users to explicitly “check in” to a given place – like their favorite coffee shop or a cool restaurant or bar – Tinder continuously tracks users’ location with its app, then makes a determination about which of your “places” it will show to your potential matches.

The company, at least, thought to remove things like doctors, dentists, banks, and the place where you live or work from this automated location-sharing option. It also won’t add a place to your list until after you’ve left – though it doesn’t say how long it waits to do so. (The documentation hedges on the timeframe by saying things like “we’ll wait a while” or “it’ll take some time.”)

While Tinder says your recent places will expire after 28 days – meaning, other Tinder users won’t be able to see where you’ve been past that point – the company does appear to be keeping a wider history of users’ location and travels for itself. The documentation explains that Tinder will use this Places information in order to improve the product – by learning which places lead to matches, which users are always deleting, and it will use the data to improve its ability to show users better matches.

Above: Tinder Places, image credit: The Verge

In other words, Tinder will be tracking you, as well as giving potential matches the ability to narrow down the parts of the city you frequent – right down to your daily habits. That means potential matches could figure our things like which bar you regularly hit up for after-work drinks, where you work out, what your favorite breakfast spot is, and so on.

The advantage to daters gaining access to this information about other Tinder users is fairly limited. After all, simply hitting up the same Starbucks in the morning isn’t any sort of signal about someone’s potential as a love match.

But it does put a lot more data into the hands of potential stalkers, while offering Tinder access to a massive treasure trove of location data – the selling of which, even anonymized and in aggregate, could be a big business. Even if Tinder doesn’t aim to sell the data directly, it clearly paves the way for the company to show more specific location-based ads in its product.

It also lets Tinder group users into cohorts regarding their interests – without explicitly asking for that data, like Facebook does. For example, Tinder would know if someone shows up at church every week, or regularly takes their dog to a dog park – things it could use to classify users and match them accordingly.

That’s useful to some extent, in a handful of cases – but just because you have a dog, doesn’t mean you need to date someone with a dog, too. In the end, it’s less useful to have “things” in common with people – it’s more useful to share the same values, experts say. And those values are more important than the initial attraction (which fades as the hormones wear off), and more important than a set of common interests – those can be negotiated in a relationship.

In the end, there’s far more for Tinder to gain here, than users to gain from the Places feature – especially with the downside regarding its potential for harassment or stalking.

One serious concern was whether Places would be opt out or opt in – the documentation The Verge found didn’t make this clear. However, we’re relieved to hear (from people familiar with product) that Places is an opt-in experience.

This feature’s impending launch is not really a surprise. Tinder already said it was working on rolling out a new location feature this year during its earnings calls, something it described as having the potential to bring in a new audience and “expand the definition of dating.” That could imply the company wants to make Places more of a social networking, or friend-finding feature, rather than just an option for finding dates.


Social – TechCrunch


On Fridays, HQ Trivia will let you see your friends’ answers during the game

May 9, 2018 No Comments

HQ, the live trivia game that is now seeing up to 2 million players per game, is introducing some new social features, including answer sharing with friends.

The company has been testing this feature across a small group of users already, but on Friday the feature will roll out to all HQ users.

Here’s how it works: Users can connect their address book to HQ and add their friends. Once they have added friends, they can see which of their friends are playing the game alongside them. Users can put their own avatar on the answer to a question to share their choice, which is viewable by friends.

The idea is that answer sharing mimics what many people do while playing HQ IRL, yelling out answers to their coworkers in the office or sharing with their friends and family in a bar or at home.

“We understand the power of the crowd and playing together,” said HQ product manager James Ruben. “That doesn’t necessarily exist everywhere. Our goal is to spread that power to people who maybe aren’t playing in the office together.”

This comes on the heels of HQ’s introduction of “Friends on HQ” from April, which let users see friends playing in the same quiz and see their progress through the game. Answer sharing simply takes that a step further.

Interestingly, answer sharing won’t be available on each HQ Trivia quiz. Instead, the feature will debut on Friday of this week, and continue to be available on Friday games.

“We understand that it’s a change to the game play,” said Ruben. “Friday is an interesting time to experiment and try out answer sharing because Fridays tend to be a bit more social than other days.”

Alongside answer sharing, HQ is also adding yet another social layer to the game with Nearby Friends. The feature will allow HQ players to see other people (not in their address book) who are in the same quiz as them and physically nearby, perhaps in the same office building or in the same bar or restaurant.

Finally, HQ is making it easier to upload the address book and connect with friends on the app.

HQ is an interesting business in that it’s taking an almost old-school approach to advertising/sponsorship. As opposed to social networks like Facebook, which collect as much data as possible about users to sell advertisements against that data, HQ is focused more on getting as many engaged eyeballs in the same place as possible, a bit like television advertising.

HQ doesn’t have that much information on users beyond their phone number, device type, username, and other basic information commonly gleaned by app developers. With the introduction of Friends on HQ, the company gets a bit more insight into users. But that’s not necessarily the reason for the update.

Instead, HQ wants to make these games as engaging as possible, and what’s more engaging than competing with or cheering along your friends and family.

The company is also taking a measured approach to advertising and sponsorship, working with partners that make sense for the HQ community and making those sponsorships as native as possible.

For example, HQ recently ran a $ 250,000 game with Warner Brothers as a sponsor, plugging the film Ready Player One within the graphics and even in some of the questions. The company also had Duane “The Rock” Johnson host a $ 300,000 game as part of the actor’s promotion of his upcoming movie Rampage.

Answer sharing will be available to everyone on Friday, but easier address book upload and Nearby Friends are soon to come for Android users.


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Twitter has an unlaunched ‘Secret’ encrypted messages feature

May 7, 2018 No Comments

Buried inside Twitter’s Android app is a “Secret conversation” option that if launched would allow users to send encrypted direct messages. The feature could make Twitter a better home for sensitive communications that often end up on encrypted messaging apps like Signal, Telegram or WhatsApp.

The encrypted DMs option was first spotted inside the Twitter for Android application package (APK) by Jane Manchun Wong. APKs often contain code for unlaunched features that companies are quietly testing or will soon make available. A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on the record. It’s unclear how long it might be before Twitter officially launches the feature, but at least we know it’s been built.

The appearance of encrypted DMs comes 18 months after whistleblower Edward Snowden asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for the feature, which Dorsey said was “reasonable and something we’ll think about.”

Twitter has gone from “thinking about” the feature to prototyping it. The screenshot above shows the options to learn more about encrypted messaging, start a secret conversation and view both your own and your conversation partner’s encryption keys to verify a secure connection.

Twitter’s DMs have become a powerful way for people to contact strangers without needing their phone number or email address. Whether it’s to send a reporter a scoop, warn someone of a problem, discuss business or just “slide into their DMs” to flirt, Twitter has established one of the most open messaging mediums. But without encryption, those messages are subject to snooping by governments, hackers or Twitter itself.

Twitter has long positioned itself as a facilitator of political discourse and even uprisings. But anyone seriously worried about the consequences of political dissonance, whistleblowing or leaking should be using an app like Signal that offers strong end-to-end encryption. Launching encrypted DMs could win back some of those change-makers and protect those still on Twitter.


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Facebook is still falling short on privacy, says German minister

May 6, 2018 No Comments

Germany’s justice minister has written to Facebook calling for the platform to implement an internal “control and sanction mechanism” to ensure third-party developers and other external providers are not able to misuse Facebook data — calling for it to both monitor third party compliance with its platform policies and apply “harsh penalties” for any violations.

The letter, which has been published in full in local mediafollows the privacy storm that has engulfed the company since mid March when fresh revelations were published by the Observer of London and the New York Times — detailing how Cambridge Analytica had obtained and used personal information on up to 87 million Facebook users for political ad targeting purposes.

Writing to Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, justice minister Katarina Barley welcomes some recent changes the company has made around user privacy, describing its decision to limit collaboration with “data dealers” as “a good start”, for example.

However she says the company needs to do more — setting out a series of what she describes as “core requirements” in the area of data and consumer protection (bulleted below). 

She also writes that the Cambridge Analytica scandal confirms long-standing criticisms against Facebook made by data and consumer advocates in Germany and Europe, adding that it suggests various lawsuits filed against the company’s data practices have “good cause”.

Unfortunately, Facebook has not responded to this criticism in all the years or only insufficiently,” she continues (translated via Google Translate). “Facebook has rather expanded its data collection and use. This is at the expense of the privacy and self-determination of its users and third parties.”

“What is needed is that Facebook lives up to its corporate responsibility and makes a serious change,” she says at the end of the letter. “In interviews and advertisements, you have stated that the new EU data protection regulations are the standard worldwide for the social network. Whether Facebook consistently implements this view, unfortunately, seems questionable,” she continues, critically flagging Facebook’s decision to switch the data controller status of ~1.5BN international users this month so they will no longer be under the jurisdiction of EU law, before adding: “I will therefore keep a close eye on the further measures taken by Facebook.

Since revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data snowballed into a global privacy scandal for the company this spring, the company has revealed a series of changes which it claims are intended to bolster data protection on its platform.

Although, in truth, many of the tweaks Facebook has announced were likely in train already — as it has been working for months (if not years) on its response to the EU’s incoming GDPR framework, which will apply from May 25.

Yet, even so, many of these measures have been roundly criticized by privacy experts, who argue they do not go far enough to comply with GDPR and will trigger legal challenges once the framework is being applied.

For example, a new consent flow, announced by Facebook last month, has been accused of being intentionally manipulative — and of going against the spirit of the new rules, at very least.

Barley picks up on these criticisms in her letter — calling specifically for Facebook to deliver:

  • More transparency for users
  • Real control of users’ data processing by Facebook
  • Strict compliance with privacy by default and consent in the entire ecosystem of Facebook
  • Objective, neutral, non-discriminatory and manipulation-free algorithms
  • More freedom of choice for users through various settings and uses

On consent, she emphasizes that under GDPR the company will need to obtain consent for each data use — and cannot bundle up uses to try to obtain a ‘lump-sum’ consent, as she puts it.

Yet this is pretty clearly exactly what Facebook is doing when it asks Europeans to opt into its face recognition technology, for example, by suggesting this could help protect users against strangers using their photos; and be an aid to visually impaired users on its platform; yet there’s absolutely no specific examples in the consent flow of the commercial uses to which Facebook will undoubtedly put the tech.

The minister also emphasizes that GDPR demands a privacy-by-default approach, and requires data collection to be minimized — saying Facebook will need to adapt all of its data processing operations in order to comply. 

Any data transfers from “friends” should also only take place with explicit consent in individual cases, she continues (consent that was of course entirely lacking in 2014 when Facebook APIs allowed a developer on its platform to harvest data on up to 87 million users — and pass the information to Cambridge Analytica).

Barley also warns explicitly that Facebook must not create shadow profiles, an especially awkward legal issue for Facebook which US lawmakers also questioned Zuckerberg closely about last month.

Facebook’s announcement this week, at its f8 conference, of an incoming Clear History button — which will give users the ability to clear past browsing data the company has gathered about them — merely underscores the discrepancies here, with tracked Facebook non-users not even getting this after-the-fact control, although tracked users also can’t ask Facebook never to track them in the first place.

Nor is it clear what Facebook does with any derivatives it gleans from this tracked personal data — i.e. whether those insights are also dissociated from an individual’s account.

Sure, Facebook might delete a web log of the sites you visited — like a gambling site or a health clinic — when you hit the button but that does not mean it’s going to remove all the inferences it’s gleaned from that data (and added to the unseen profile it holds of you and uses for ad targeting purposes).

Safe to say, the value of the Clear History button looks mostly as PR for Facebook — so the company can point to it and claim it’s offering users another ‘control’ as a strategy to try to deflect lawmakers’ awkward questions (just such disingenuousness was on ample show in Congress last month — and has also been publicly condemned by the UK parliament).

We asked Facebook our own series of questions about how Clear History operates, and why — for example — it is not offering users the ability to block tracking entirely. After multiple emails on this topic, over two days, we’re still waiting for the company to answer anything we asked.

Facebook’s processing of non-users’ data, collected via tracking pixels and social plugins across other popular web services, has already got Facebook into hot water with some European regulators. Under GDPR it will certainly face fresh challenges to any consent-less handling of people’s data — unless it radically rethinks its approach, and does so in less than a month. 

In her letter, Barley also raises concerns around the misuse of Facebook’s platform for political influence and opinion manipulation — saying it must take “all necessary technical and organizational measures to prevent abuse and manipulation possibilities (e.g. via fake accounts and social bots)”, and ensure the algorithms it uses are “objective, neutral and non-discriminatory”.

She says she also wants the company to disclose the actions it takes on this front in order to enable “independent review”.

Facebook’s huge sprawl and size — with its business consisting of multiple popular linked platforms (such as WhatsApp and Instagram), as well as the company deploying its offsite tracking infrastructure across the Internet to massively expand the reach of its ecosystem — “puts a special strain on the privacy and self-determination of German and European users”, she adds.

At the time of writing Facebook had not responded to multiple requests for comment about the letter.


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Instagram quietly launches payments for commerce

May 4, 2018 No Comments

Get ready to shop the ‘Gram. Instagram just stealthily added a native payments feature to its app for some users. It lets you register a debit or credit card as part of a profile, set up a security pin, then start buying things without ever leaving Instagram. Not having to leave for a separate website and enter payment information any time you want to purchase something could make Instagram a much bigger player in commerce.

TechCrunch reader Genady Okrain first tipped us off to the payment feature. When we asked Instagram, a spokesperson confirmed that native payments for booking appointments like at restaurants or salons is now live for a limited set of partners.

One of the first equipped is dinner reservation app Resy. Some of its clients’ Instagram Pages now offer this native payment for booking. And in the future, Instagram says you can expect direct payments for things like movie tickets through the app. Instagram initially announced in March 2017 that “we’ll roll out the ability to book a service with a business directly from their profile later this year,” but never mentioned native payments.

Instagram’s native appointment booking

We’ve confirmed that the payment settings are now visible; some, but not all, users in the U.S. have it while at least some in the U.K. don’t. A tap through to the terms of service reveals that Instagram Payments are backed by Facebook’s Payments rules.

With its polished pictures and plethora of brands, shopping through Instagram could prove popular and give businesses a big new reason to advertise on the app. If they can get higher conversion rates because people don’t quit in the middle of checkout as the fill in their payment info, brands might prefer to push people to buy via Instagram.

Instagram’s existing Shoppable Tags feature forces you out to a business’ website to make a purchase, unlike the new payments feature

Facebook started dabbling in native commerce around 2013, and eventually started rolling out peer-to-peer payments through Messenger. But native payment for shopping is still in closed beta in the chat app. It’s unclear if peer-to-peer payments might come to Instagram, but having a way to add a credit or debit card on file is a critical building block to that feature.

It’s possible that the payments option will work with Instagram’s “Shoppable Tags,” which first started testing in 2016 to let you see which products were in a post and tap through to buy them on the brand’s site. Since then, Instagram has partnered with storefront platforms BigCommerce and Shopify to get their clients hooked up, and expanded the feature to more countries in March. For now, though, none of Instagram’s previous shopping feature partners like Warby Parker or Kate Spade let you checkout within Instagram, and still send you to their site.

But the whole point of Instagram not allowing links in captions is to keep you in a smooth, uninterrupted browsing flow. Getting booted out to the web to buy something broke that. Instagram Payments could make impulse buys much quicker, enticing more businesses to get on board. Even if Instagram takes no cut of the revenue, brands are likely to boost ad spend to get their shoppable posts seen by more people if the native payments mean more of them actually complete a purchase.

Instagram isn’t the only one who sees this potential. Snapchat started testing its own native payments and checkout feature in February.


Social – TechCrunch


Stories are about to surpass feed sharing. Now what?

May 2, 2018 No Comments

We’re at the cusp of the visual communication era. Stories creation and consumption is up 842 percent since early 2016, according to consulting firm Block Party. Nearly a billion accounts across Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Messenger now create and watch these vertical, ephemeral slideshows. And yesterday, Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox showed a chart detailing how “the Stories format is on a path to surpass feeds as the primary way people share things with their friends sometime next year.”

The repercussions of this medium shift are vast. Users now consider how every moment could be glorified and added to the narrative of their day. Social media platforms are steamrolling their old designs to highlight the camera and people’s Stories. And advertisers must rethink their message not as a headline, body text, and link, but as a background, overlays, and a feeling that lingers even if viewers don’t click through.

WhatsApp’s Stories now have over 450 million daily users. Instagram’s have over 300 million. Facebook Messenger’s had 70 million in September. And Snapchat as a whole just reached 191 million, about 150 million of which use Stories according to Block Party. With 970 million accounts, it’s the format of the future. Block Party calculates that Stories grew 15X faster than feeds from Q2 2016 to Q3 2017. And that doesn’t even count Google’s new AMP Stories for news, Netflix’s Stories for mobile movie previews, and YouTube’s new Stories feature.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even admitted on last week’s earnings call that the company is focused on “making sure that ads are as good in Stories as they are in feeds. If we don’t do this well, then as more sharing shifts to Stories, that could hurt our business.” When asked, Facebook confirmed that it’s now working on monetization for Facebook Stories.

From Invention To Standard

“They deserve all the credit”, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told me about Snapchat when his own app launched its clone of Stories. But what sprouted as Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel and his team reimagining the Facebook News Feed through the lens of its 10-second disappearing messages has blossomed into the dominant way to see life from someone else’s perspective. And just as Facebook and Twitter took FriendFeed and refined it with relevancy sorting, character constraints, and all manners of embedded media, the Stories format is still being perfected. “This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it” Systrom followed up.

Snapchat is trying to figure out if Stories from friends and professional creators should be separate, and if they should be sorted by relevancy or reverse chronologically. Instagram and Facebook are opening Stories up to posts from third-party apps like Spotify that makes them a great way to discover music. WhatsApp is pushing the engineering limits of Stories, figuring out ways to make the high-bandwidth videos play on slow networks in the developing world.

Messenger is removing its camera from the navigation menu, and settling in as a place to watch Stories shared from Facebook and Instagram. Meanwhile, Messenger is merging augmented reality, commerce, and Stories so users can preview products in AR and then either share or buy them. Facebook created a Stories carousel ad that lets businesses share a slideshow of three photos or videos together to string together a narrative. And perhaps most tellingly, Facebook is testing a new post composer for its News Feed that actually shows an active camera and camera roll preview to coerce you into sharing Stories instead of a text status. Companies who refuse the trend may be left behind.

Social Media Bedrock

As I wrote two years ago when Snapchat with the only app with Stories:

“Social media creates a window through which your friends can watch your life. Yet most social networks weren’t designed that way, because phones, screen sizes, cameras, and mobile network connections weren’t good enough to build a crystal-clear portal.

With all its text, Twitter is like peering through a crack in a fence. There are lots of cracks next to each other, but none let you see the full story. Facebook is mostly blank space. It’s like a tiny jail-cell window surrounded by concrete. Instagram was the closest thing we had. Like a quaint living room window, you can only see the clean and pretty part they want you to see.

Snapchat is the floor-to-ceiling window observation deck into someone’s life. It sees every type of communication humans have invented: video, audio, text, symbols, and drawings. Beyond virtual reality and 360 video — both tough to capture or watch on the go — it’s difficult to imagine where social media evolves from here.” It turns out that over the next two years, social media would not evolve, but instead converge on Stories. 

What comes next is a race for more decorations, more augmented reality, more developers, and more extendability beyond native apps and into the rest of the web. Until we stop using cell phones all together, we’ll likely see most of sharing divided between private messaging and broadcasted Stories.

The medium is a double-edged sword for culture, though. While a much more vivid way to share and engender empathy, they also threaten to commodify life. When Instagram launched Stories, Systrom said it was because otherwise you “only get to see the highlights”.

But he downplayed how a medium for capturing more than the highlights would pressure people around the world to interrupt any beautiful scene or fit of laughter or quiet pause with their camera phone. We went from people shooting and sharing once or a few times a day to constantly. In fact, people plan their activities not just around a picture-perfect destination, but turning their whole journey into success theater.

If Stories are our new favorite tool, we must learn to wield them judiciously. Sometimes a memory is worth more than an audience. When it’s right to record, don’t get in the way of someone else’s experience. And after the Story is shot, return to the moment and save captioning and decoration for down time. Stories are social media bedrock. There’s no richer way to share, so they’re going to be around for a while. We better learn to gracefully coexist.


Social – TechCrunch


Twitter announces new video partnerships with NBCUniversal and ESPN

May 1, 2018 No Comments

Twitter is hosting its Digital Content NewFronts tonight, where it’s unveiling 30 renewals and new content deals — the company says that’s nearly twice as many as it announced last year.

Those include partnerships with the big players in media — starting with NBCUniversal, which will be sharing live video and clips from properties including NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo.

Twitter also announced some of the shows it will be airing as part of the ESPN deal announced earlier today: SportsCenter Live (a Twitter version of the network’s flagship) and Fantasy Focus Live (a live stream of the fantasy sports podcast).

Plus, the company said it’s expanding its existing partnership with Viacom with shows like Comedy Central’s Creator’s Room, BET Breaks and MTV News.

During the NewFronts event, Twitter’s head of video Kayvon Beykpour said daily video views on the platform have nearly doubled in the past year. And Kay Madati (pictured above), the company’s head of content partnerships, described the company as “the ultimate mobile platform where video and conversation share the same screen.”

Twitter NewFronts

Jack Dorsey

As Twitter continues to invest in video content, it’s been emphasizing its advantage in live video, a theme that continued in this year’s announcement.

“Twitter is the only place where conversation is tied to video and the biggest live moments, giving brands the unique ability to connect with leaned in consumers who are shaping culture,” said Twitter Global VP of Revenue and Content Partnerships Matthew Derella in a statement. “That’s our superpower.”

During the event, Derella also (implicitly) contrasted Twitter with other digital platforms that have struggled with questions about transparency and whether ads are running in an appropriate environment. Tonight, he said marketers could say goodbye to unsafe brand environments and a lack of transparency: “And we say hello to you being in control of where your video aligns … we say hello to a higher measure of transparency, we say hello to new premium inventory and a break from the same old choices.”

On top of all the new content, Twitter is also announcing new ad programs. There are Creator Originals, a set of scripted series from influencers who will be paired up with sponsored brands. (The program is powered by Niche, the influencer marketing startup that Twitter acquired a few years ago.) And there’s a new Live Brand Studio — as the name suggests, it’s a team that works with marketers to create live video.

AM to DM

Here are some other highlights from the content announcements:

  • CELEBrate, a series where people get heartwarming messages from their idols from Ellen Digital Studios.
  • Delish Food Day and IRL from Hearst Magazines Digital Media.
  • Power Star Live, which is “inspired by the cultural phenomenon of Black Twitter” and live streamed from the Atlanta University Center, from Will Packer Media.
  • BuzzFeed News is renewing AM to DM until the end of 2018.
  • Vice News is launching a new series called The New Space Race.
  • Pattern, a new brand focused on weather- and science-related news.
  • #HereWeAre programming from the Huffington Post (which, like TechCrunch, is owned by Verizon/Oath), History, Vox and BuzzFeed News that highlights women around the world.
  • The Call of Duty World League will air highlights and Championship Sunday for the rest of the season.

CEO Jack Dorsey closed the event by thanking advertisers: “We want to continue to serve. We want to contineu to serve the public conversation, and we want to continue to serve you.”


Social – TechCrunch


Facebook warns GDPR could flatten or reduce European user count

April 26, 2018 No Comments

Europe’s sweeping privacy law GDPR goes into effect May 25th, and Facebook is being forced to push users through new agreements to terms of service changes required to comply with the law. That’s why during today’s successful Q1 2018 earnings report call, Facebook CFO David Wehner warned that “we believe MAU or DAU might be flat or down in Q2 due to the GDPR rollout.” He also said that while Facebook doesn’t expect a significant impact on ads from GDPR, there may be a slight impact and it will be monitoring for that. Wehner notes that GDPR will impact the global online advertising industry so it may be hard to tell what the exact repercussions are for Facebook.

Wehner later clarified that’s “what we’re expecting given that you’re having to bring people through these consent flows, and we have been modeling it and expect there would be a flat to down impact on MAU and DAU.” Facebook went on to describe how if users change their ad privacy settings through the GDPR prompts to allow less targeting, ads could be less effective, so advertisers would pay less for them.

“Fundamentally we believe we can continue to build a great ads business” while continuing to protect people’s privacy, Wehner explained. He said what’s important is Facebook’s relative value to advertisers, which theoretically shouldn’t change since all ad platforms are impacted by GDPR.

Facebook unveiled its GDPR-related changes and how users will be asked to consent to them last week, and drew heavy criticism. Facebook employed “dark patterns” in the design of the consent flow, coercing users to agree to the changes without fully considering them. Meanwhile, it minimized the size and visual prominence of the buttons to revoke permissions from Facebook or reject the changes outright and terminate their account.

Facebook was likely trying to minimize the disruption to the user experience and thereby its user count with this shady design methodology. Just the fact that Wehner said Facebook has to “bring people through these consent flows” rather than describing them as giving user choice or anything about Facebook’s commitment to privacy shows that it views GDPR as merely a hurdle, not something users deserve for protection.

Read our full story on Facebook’s Q1 2018 earnings:


Social – TechCrunch