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Daily Crunch: Facebook bans deepfakes

January 7, 2020 No Comments

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

1. Facebook bans deceptive deepfakes and some misleadingly modified media

In a policy update announced late yesterday, Facebook’s Monika Bickert wrote that moving forward, the social network will take a stricter line on manipulated media content — removing content that’s been edited or synthesized “in ways that aren’t apparent to an average person and would likely mislead someone into thinking that a subject of the video said words that they did not actually say.”

However, edits for quality or cuts and splices to videos that simply curtail or change the order of words are not covered by the ban. So as Natasha Lomas notes, a more subtle form of political fakery will still be allowed.

2. TiVo announces a $ 49.99 device that combines streaming and live TV

CEO Dave Shull said the TiVo Stream 4K is launching the company “full on into the streaming wars.” It’s integrated with services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and HBO, and will also include content from TiVo+, the free, ad-supported movie and TV service that the company launched last fall. And it will include live TV and cloud DVR through Sling TV.

3. Union Square Ventures leads legal tech startup Juro’s $ 5M Series A

Juro’s business is focused on taking the tedium out of negotiating and drawing up contracts by making contract-building more interactive and trackable.

4. BMW launches gaze detection so your car knows what you’re looking at

Using its AI tools, the concept car’s systems can follow the driver’s gaze and interpret it. That means you will be able to get more information about a restaurant, or about which movies are playing at a cinema that you’re driving by.

5. Tech-driven change a key priority for new EC president

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has made responding to technology-driven change a key priority for her five-year term — which began last month — alongside challenges posed by climate change and demographic shifts, tacitly linking all three to a rise in regional unease. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Cloudflare acquires stealthy startup S2 Systems, announces Cloudflare for Teams

Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO at Cloudflare, says that this acquisition is part of a new suite of products called Cloudflare for Teams, which has been designed to protect an organization from threats on the internet. S2 developed a solution specifically to help prevent browser-based code attacks.

7. Mercedes-Benz and James Cameron built an Avatar-inspired car perfect for Pandora

Speaking of concept cars, Mercedes-Benz channeled the world of James Cameron’s hit movie “Avatar” for its latest — an electric autonomous vehicle covered in bionic flaps that aims to show how man and machine can merge and live responsibly in nature.


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How To Find Ads On Facebook and Instagram

January 6, 2020 No Comments

How to find your own ads on Facebook and Instagram and how to find the ads your competitors are running.

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Daily Crunch: Facebook acquires a cloud gaming startup

December 20, 2019 No Comments

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

1. Facebook acquires Madrid-based cloud gaming startup PlayGiga

Facebook is building out its gaming business — earlier this year, the company added its Gaming hub to the main navigation menu. And last month, it agreed to buy Beat Games, developer of popular virtual reality title Beat Saber.

PlayGiga, meanwhile has been working with telcos to create streaming game technology for 5G. It also developed a gaming-as-a-service platform, using Intel’s Visual Cloud platform, that will enable telcos and communication service providers to offer streaming games to their customers.

2. TiVo merges with technology licensor Xperi in $ 3 billion deal

Earlier this year, TiVo said it was preparing to split itself into two — a product and IP business — in order to make itself more attractive to buyers. Today, the company announced those plans have been put on hold as it has instead merged with technology licensor Xperi Corporation, in a $ 3 billion deal.

3. Spotify prototypes Tastebuds to revive social music discovery

Tastebuds (discovered by reverse engineering master Jane Manchun Wong) is designed to let users explore the music taste profiles of their friends. It will live as a navigation option alongside your Library and Home/Browse sections.

4. Uber’s ride-hailing business hit with ban in Germany

In Germany, Uber’s ride-hailing business works exclusively with professional and licensed private-hire vehicle companies — so the court ban essentially outlaws Uber’s current model in the country.

5. Snackpass snags $ 21M to let you earn friends free takeout

Sending people Snackpass rewards became a new way to flirt or show gratitude at Yale. And through the Venmo-esque Snackpass social feed, users could keep up with a fresh form of gossip while discovering restaurants.

6. PayPal completes GoPay acquisition, allowing the payments platform to enter China

Though China’s payment market today is led by local players, including eWallet providers like AliPay and WeChat Pay, there’s room for PayPal to grow in a market where digital payments per year are counted in the trillions, not billions, of dollars.

7. Tesla’s record stock price shows its investment in energy storage is finally paying off

A little over a year after sparking a legal firestorm for musing that he would take Tesla private for $ 420, Elon Musk is probably glad he didn’t. (Extra Crunch membership required.)


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Scammers peddling Islamophobic clickbait is business as usual at Facebook

December 6, 2019 No Comments

A network of scammers used a ring of established right-wing Facebook pages to stoke Islamophobia and make a quick buck in the process, a new report from the Guardian reveals. But it’s less a vast international conspiracy and more simply that Facebook is unable to police its platform to prevent even the most elementary scams — with serious consequences.

The Guardian’s multi-part report depicts the events like a scheme of grand proportions executed for the express purpose of harassing Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MI), Rashida Tlaib (D-MN) and other prominent Muslims. But the facts it uncovered point towards this being a run-of-the-mill money-making operation that used tawdry, hateful clickbait and evaded Facebook’s apparently negligible protections against this kind of thing.

The scam basically went like this: an administrator of a popular right-wing Facebook page would get a message from a person claiming to share their values that asked if they could be made an editor. Once granted access, this person would publish clickbait stories — frequently targeting Muslims, and often Rep. Omar, since they reliably led to high engagement. The stories appeared on a handful of ad-saturated websites that were presumably owned by the scammers.

That appears to be the extent of the vast conspiracy, or at least its operations — duping credulous conservatives into clicking through to an ad farm.

Its human cost, however, whether incidental or deliberate, is something else entirely. Rep. Omar is already the target of many coordinated attacks, some from self-proclaimed patriots within this country; just last month, an Islamophobic Trump supporter pleaded guilty in federal court to making death threats against her.

Social media is asymmetric warfare in that a single person can be the focal point for the firepower — figurative but often with the threat of literal — of thousands or millions. That a Member of Congress can be the target of such continuous abuse makes one question the utility of the platform on which that abuse is enabled.

In a searing statement offered to the Guardian, Rep. Omar took Facebook to task:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Facebook’s complacency is a threat to our democracy. It has become clear that they do not take seriously the degree to which they provide a platform for white nationalist hate and dangerous misinformation in this country and around the world. And there is a clear reason for this: they profit off it. I believe their inaction is a grave threat to people’s lives, to our democracy and to democracy around the world.

Despite the scale of its effect on Rep. Omar and other targets, it’s possible and even likely that this entire thing was carried out by a handful of people. The operation was based in Israel, the report repeatedly mentions, but it isn’t a room of state-sponsored hackers feverishly tapping their keyboards — the guy they tracked down is a jewelry retailer and amateur SEO hustler living in a suburb of Tel Aviv who answered the door in sweatpants and nonchalantly denied all involvement.

The funny thing is that, in a way, this does amount to a vast international conspiracy. On one hand, it’s a guy in sweatpants worming his way into some trashy Facebook pages and mass-posting links to his bunk news sites. But on the other, it’s a coordinated effort to promote Islamophobic, right-wing content that produced millions of interactions and doubtless further fanned the flames of hatred.

Why not both? After all, they represent different ways that Facebook fails as a platform to protect its users. “We don’t allow people to misrepresent themselves on Facebook,” the company wrote in a statement to the Guardian. Obviously, that isn’t true. Or rather, perhaps it’s true in the way that running at the pool isn’t allowed. People just do it anyway, because the lifeguards and Facebook don’t do their job.


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6 Facebook Ad Strategies All Ecommerce Brands Need

December 3, 2019 No Comments

Facebook ads are an effective and affordable way marketing method. Here are six essential strategies every ecommerce brand needs in 2020.

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Facebook prototypes Favorites for close friends microsharing

November 24, 2019 No Comments

Facebook is building its own version of Instagram Close Friends, the company confirms to TechCrunch. There are a lot people that don’t share on Facebook because it can feel risky or awkward as its definition of “friends” has swelled to include family, work colleagues and distant acquaintances. No one wants their boss or grandma seeing their weekend partying or edgy memes. There are whole types of sharing, like Snapchat’s Snap Map-style live location tracking, that feel creepy to expose to such a wide audience.

The social network needs to get a handle on microsharing. Yet Facebook has tried and failed over the years to get people to build Friend Lists for posting to different subsets of their network.

Back in 2011, Facebook said that 95% of users hadn’t made a single list. So it tried auto-grouping people into Smart Lists like High School Friends and Co-Workers, and offered manual always-see-in-feed Close Friends and only-see-important-updates Acquaintances lists. But they too saw little traction and few product updates in the past eight years. Facebook ended up shutting down Friend Lists Feeds last year for viewing what certain sets of friends shared.

Then a year ago, Instagram made a breakthrough. Instead of making a complicated array of Friend Lists you could never remember who was on, it made a single Close Friends list with a dedicated button for sharing to them from Stories. Instagram’s research found 85% of a user’s Direct messages go to the same three people, so why not make that easier for Stories without pulling everyone into a group thread? Last month I wrote that “I’m surprised Facebook doesn’t already have its own Close Friends feature, and it’d be smart to build one.”

How Facebook Favorites works

Now Facebook is in fact prototyping its a feature similar to Instagram Close Friends called Favorites. It lets users designate certain friends as Favorites, and then instantly send them their Facebook Story or a  camera-based post from Messenger to just those people, each in their own message thread.

The feature was first spotted inside Messenger by reverse engineering master and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. Buried in the Android app is the code that let Wong generate the screenshots (above) of this unreleased feature. They show how when users go to share a Story or camera post from Messenger, they can instantly send it over chat to everyone on in their Favorites, and edit who’s on that list by adding up to 10 people manually or from algorithmic suggestions. For now Favorites isn’t an audience for sharing Stories like Instagram Close Friends is, but you could imagine Facebook expanding Favorites to have that functionality down the line.

[Update: Facebook had originally confirmed Favorites was for sharing via Stories, but later corrected itself saying posts are sent to Favorites via Messenger.]

 

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to me that this feature is a prototype that the Messenger team created. It’s an early exploration of the microsharing opportunity, and the feature isn’t officially testing internally with employees or publicly in the wild. The spokesperson describes the Favorites feature as a type of shortcut for sharing to a specific set of people. They tell me that Facebook is always exploring new ways to share, and as discussed at its F8 conference this year, Facebook is focused on improving the experience of sharing with and staying more connected to your closest friends.

Unlocking creepier sharing

There are a ton of benefits Facebook could get from a Favorites feature if it ever launches. First, users might share more often if they can make content visible to just their best pals, as those people wouldn’t get annoyed by over-posting. Second, Facebook could get new, more intimate types of content shared, from the heartfelt and vulnerable to the silly and spontaneous to the racy and shocking — stuff people don’t want every single person they’ve ever accepted a friend request from to see. Favorites could reduce self-censorship.

“No one has ever mastered a close friends graph and made it easy for people to understand . . . People get friend requests and they feel pressure to accept,” Instagram director of product Robby Stein told me when it launched Close Friends last year. “The curve is actually that your sharing goes up and as you add more people initially, as more people can respond to you. But then there’s a point where it reduces sharing over time.” Google+, Path and other apps have died chasing this purposefully selective microsharing behavior.

Facebook Favorites could stimulate lots of sharing of content unique to its network, thereby driving usage. After all, Facebook said in April that it had 500 million daily Stories users across Facebook and Messenger posting from the camera, and the same number as Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status.

Before Instagram launched Close Friends, it actually tested the feature under the name Favorites and allowed you to share feed posts as well as Stories to just that subset of people. And last month Instagram launched the Close Friends-only messaging app Threads that lets you share your Auto-Status about where or what you’re up to.

Facebook Favorites could similarly unlock whole new ways to connect. Facebook can’t follow some apps like Snapchat down more privacy-centric product paths because it knows users are already uneasy about it after 15 years of privacy scandals. Apps built for sharing to different graphs than Facebook have been some of the few social products that have succeeded outside its empire, from Twitter’s interest graph, to TikTok’s fandoms of public entertainment, to Snapchat’s messaging threads with besties.

Instagram Threads

A competent and popular Facebook Favorites could let it try products in location, memes, performances, Q&A, messaging, live streaming and more. It could build its own take on Instagram Threads, let people share exact location just with Favorites instead of just what neighborhood they’re in with Nearby Friends or create a dedicated meme resharing hub like the LOL experiment for teens it shut down. At the very least, it could integrate with Instagram Close Friends so you could syndicate posts from Instagram to your Facebook Favorites.

The whole concept of Favorites aligns with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s privacy-focused vision for social networking. “Many people prefer the intimacy of communicating one-on-one or with just a few friends,” he writes. Facebook can’t just be the general purpose catch-all social network we occasionally check for acquaintances’ broadcasted life updates. To survive another 15 years, it must be where people come back each day to get real with their dearest friends. Less can be more.


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Facebook says government demands for user data are at a record high

November 14, 2019 No Comments

Facebook’s latest transparency report is out.

The social media giant said the number of government demands for user data increased by 16% to 128,617 demands during the first half of this year compared to the second half of last year.

That’s the highest number of government demands it has received in any reporting period since it published its first transparency report in 2013.

The U.S. government led the way with the most number of requests — 50,741 demands for user data resulting in some account or user data given to authorities in 88% of cases. Facebook said two-thirds of all the U.S. government’s requests came with a gag order, preventing the company from telling the user about the request for their data.

But Facebook said it was able to release details of 11 so-called national security letters (NSLs) for the first time after their gag provisions were lifted during the period. National security letters can compel companies to turn over non-content data at the request of the FBI. These letters are not approved by a judge, and often come with a gag order preventing their disclosure. But since the Freedom Act passed in 2015, companies have been allowed to request the lifting of those gag orders.

The report also said the social media giant had detected 67 disruptions of its services in 15 countries, compared to 53 disruptions in nine countries during the second half of last year.

And, the report said Facebook also pulled 11.6 million pieces of content, up from 5.8 million in the same period a year earlier, which Facebook said violated its policies on child nudity and sexual exploitation of children.

The social media giant also included Instagram in its report for the first time, including removing 1.68 million pieces of content during the second and third quarter of the year.

Read more:


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Optimizing Facebook Ads for Content Engagement: 4 Custom Conversion Ideas

November 4, 2019 No Comments

Ever wanted to optimize your Facebook Ads for something other than a form submission? We have used Google Tag Manager triggers to define 4 Custom Conversions for content engagement.

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Facebook sues OnlineNIC for domain name fraud associated with malicious activity

November 2, 2019 No Comments

Facebook today announced it has filed suit in California against domain registrar OnlineNIC and its proxy service ID Shield for registering domain names that pretend to be associated with Facebook, like www-facebook-login.com or facebook-mails.com, for example. Facebook says these domains are intentionally designed to mislead and confuse end users, who believe they’re interacting with Facebook.

These fake domains are also often associated with malicious activity, like phishing.

While some who register such domains hope to eventually sell them back to Facebook at a marked-up price, earning a profit, others have worse intentions. And with the launch of Facebook’s own cryptocurrency, Libra, a number of new domain cybersquatters have emerged. Facebook was recently able to take down some of these, like facebooktoken.org and ico-facebook.org, one of which had already started collecting personal information from visitors by falsely touting a Facebook ICO.

Facebooks’ new lawsuit, however, focuses specifically on OnlineNIC, which Facebook says has a history of allowing cybersquatters to register domains with its privacy/proxy service, ID Shield. The suit alleges that the registered domains, like hackingfacebook.net, are being used for malicious activity, including “phishing and hosting websites that purported to sell hacking tools.”

The suit also references some 20 other domain names that are confusingly similar to Facebook and Instagram trademarks, it says.

Screen Shot 2019 10 31 at 1.27.38 PM

OnlineNIC has been sued before for allowing this sort of activity, including by Verizon, Yahoo, Microsoft and others. In the case of Verizon (disclosure: TechCrunch parent), OnlineNIC was found liable for registering more than 600 domain names similar to Verizon’s trademark, and the courts awarded $ 33.15 million in damages as a result, Facebook’s filing states.

Facebook is asking for a permanent injunction against OnlineNIC’s activity, as well as damages.

The company says it took this issue to the courts because OnlineNIC has not been responsive to its concerns. Facebook today proactively reports instances of abuse with domain name registrars and their privacy/proxy services, and often works with them to take down malicious domains. But the issue is widespread — there are tens of millions of domain names registered through these services today. Some of these businesses are not reputable, however. Some, like OnlineNIC, will not investigate or even respond to Facebook’s abuse reports.

The news of the lawsuit was previously reported by Cnet and other domain name news sources, based on courthouse filings.

Attorney David J. Steele, who previously won the $ 33 million judgement for Verizon, is representing Facebook in the case.

“By mentioning our apps and services in the domain names, OnlineNIC and ID Shield intended to make them appear legitimate and confuse people. This activity is known as cybersquatting and OnlineNIC has a history of this behavior,” writes Facebook, in an announcement. “This lawsuit is one more step in our ongoing efforts to protect people’s safety and privacy,” it says.

OnlineNIC has been asked for comment and we’ll update if it responds.


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Daily Crunch: Facebook launches its News section

October 28, 2019 No Comments

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

1. Facebook starts testing News, its new section for journalism

Facebook’s news section, which was previously reported to be imminent, is here: The company is rolling out Facebook News in a limited test in the U.S. as a home screen tab and bookmark in the main Facebook app.

Should publishers trust Facebook? Well, Josh Constine argues that none of them have learned the right lessons from the last 10 years.

2. Pixelbook Go review: a Chromebook in search of meaning

The Go is clearly Google’s attempt to lead the way for manufacturers looking to explore Chromebook life outside the classroom. It has some nice hardware perks, but it’s not the revolution or revelation ChromeOS needs.

3. SpaceX wants to land Starship on the Moon before 2022, then do cargo runs for 2024 human landing

SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell shed a little more light on her company’s current thinking with regards to the mission timelines for its forthcoming Starship spacefaring vehicle.

4. After its first earnings miss in two years, Amazon shares get walloped in after-hours trading

Amazon shares fell by nearly 7% in after-hours trading on Thursday after the company reported its first earnings miss in two years.

5. Lawmakers ask US intelligence chief to investigate if TikTok is a national security threat

In a letter by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), the lawmakers asked the acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire if the app maker could be compelled to turn Americans’ data over to Chinese authorities.

6. The SaaS gold rush will become the ‘Hunger Games’

Enterprise software investor Rory O’Driscoll says that while the cloud is obviously here to stay, the next five years in cloud investing will neither be the same nor as easy as the last 10. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. Learn how to raise your first euros at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin

Startup funding experts — including Forward Partners managing partner Nic Brisbourne, Target Global partner Malin Holmberg and DocSend co-founder and chief executive officer Russ Heddleston — will sit down together on the Extra Crunch Stage at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.


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