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.
Big changes are coming to the audience network placement for Facebook ads. Are you ready? Read to find out what these changes mean.
Read more at PPCHero.com
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.
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
“Peggy is one of those rare people who’s an expert across many different areas — from business management to finance operations to product development,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said of the change. “I know she will have great ideas that help us address both the opportunities and challenges facing our company.”
Alford, currently senior vice president of Core Markets for PayPal, will become the first black woman to serve on Facebook’s board. She previously served as the chief financial officer of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s massive charitable foundation.
Facebook announced some serious departures along with the news of Alford’s nomination. Longtime Facebook board members Reed Hastings and Erskine Bowles will leave the board, marking a major shakeup for the board’s composition. Both Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, and Bowles, a former Democratic political staffer, have served on the board since 2011. Both men have been critical of Facebook’s direction in recent years. Hastings reportedly clashed with fellow board member Peter Thiel over his support for the Trump administration and Bowles famously dressed down Facebook’s top brass over Russia’s political interference on the platform.
Alford’s nomination will come to a vote at Facebook’s May 30 shareholder meeting.
“What excites me about the opportunity to join Facebook’s board is the company’s drive and desire to face hard issues head-on while continuing to improve on the amazing connection experiences they have built over the years,” Alford said of her nomination. “I look forward to working with Mark and the other directors as the company builds new and inspiring ways to help people connect and build community.”
One of the great things about enterprise chat applications, beyond giving employees a common channel to communicate, is the ability to integrate with other enterprise applications. Today, Workplace, Facebook’s enterprise collaboration and communication application, and ServiceNow announced a new chatbot to make it easier for employees to navigate a company’s help desks inside Workplace Chat.
The beauty of the chatbot is that employees can get answers to common questions whenever they want, wherever they happen to be. The Workplace-ServiceNow integration happens in Workplace Chat and can can involve IT or HR help desk scenarios. A chatbot can help companies save time and money, and employees can get answers to common problems much faster.
Previously, getting these kind of answers would have required navigating multiple systems, making a phone call or submitting a ticket to the appropriate help desk. This approach provides a level of convenience and immediacy.
Companies can brainstorm common questions and answers and build them in the ServiceNow Virtual Agent Designer. It comes with some standard templates, and doesn’t require any kind of advanced scripting or programming skills. Instead, non-technical end users can adapt pre-populated templates to meet the needs, language and workflows of an individual organization.
This is all part of a strategy by Facebook to integrate more enterprise applications into the tool. In May at the F8 conference, Facebook announced 52 such integrations from companies like Atlassian, SurveyMonkey, HubSpot and Marketo (the company Adobe bought in September for $ 4.75 billion).
This is part of a broader enterprise chat application trend around making these applications the center of every employee’s work life, while reducing task switching, the act of moving from application to application. This kind of integration is something that Slack has done very well and has up until now provided it with a differentiator, but the other enterprise players are catching on and today’s announcement with ServiceNow is part of that.
Further details have emerged about when and how much Facebook knew about data-scraping by the disgraced and now defunct Cambridge Analytica political data firm.
Last year a major privacy scandal hit Facebook after it emerged CA had paid GSR, a developer with access to Facebook’s platform, to extract personal data on as many as 87 million Facebook users without proper consent.
Cambridge Analytica’s intention was to use the data to build psychographic profiles of American voters to target political messages — with the company initially working for the Ted Cruz and later the Donald Trump presidential candidate campaigns.
But employees at Facebook appear to have raised internal concerns about CA scraping user data in September 2015 — i.e. months earlier than Facebook previously told lawmakers it became aware of the GSR/CA breach (December 2015).
The latest twist in the privacy scandal has emerged via a redacted court filing in the U.S. — where the District of Columbia is suing Facebook in a consumer protection enforcement case.
Facebook is seeking to have documents pertaining to the case sealed, while the District argues there is nothing commercially sensitive to require that.
In its opposition to Facebook’s motion to seal the document, the District includes a redacted summary (screengrabbed below) of the “jurisdictional facts” it says are contained in the papers Facebook is seeking to keep secret.
According to the District’s account, a Washington, DC-based Facebook employee warned others in the company about Cambridge Analytica’s data-scraping practices as early as September 2015.
Under questioning in Congress last April, Mark Zuckerberg was asked directly by congressman Mike Doyle when Facebook had first learned about Cambridge Analytica using Facebook data — and whether specifically it had learned about it as a result of the December 2015 Guardian article (which broke the story).
Zuckerberg responded with a “yes” to Doyle’s question.
Damian Collins, the chair of the DCMS committee — which made repeat requests for Zuckerberg himself to testify in front of its enquiry into online disinformation, only to be repeatedly rebuffed — tweeted yesterday that the new detail could suggest Facebook “consistently mislead” the British parliament.
— Damian Collins (@DamianCollins) March 21, 2019
The DCMS committee has previously accused Facebook of deliberately misleading its enquiry on other aspects of the CA saga, with Collins taking the company to task for displaying a pattern of evasive behavior.
The earlier charge that it mislead the committee refers to a hearing in Washington in February 2018 — when Facebook sent its U.K. head of policy, Simon Milner, and its head of global policy management, Monika Bickert, to field DCMS’ questions — where the pair failed to inform the committee about a legal agreement Facebook had made with Cambridge Analytica in December 2015.
The committee’s final report was also damning of Facebook, calling for regulators to instigate antitrust and privacy probes of the tech giant.
Meanwhile, questions have continued to be raised about Facebook’s decision to hire GSR co-founder Joseph Chancellor, who reportedly joined the company around November 2015.
The question now is if Facebook knew there were concerns about CA data-scraping prior to hiring the co-founder of the company that sold scraped Facebook user data to CA, why did it go ahead and hire Chancellor?
The GSR co-founder has never been made available by Facebook to answer questions from politicians (or press) on either side of the pond.
Last fall he was reported to have quietly left Facebook, with no comment from Facebook on the reasons behind his departure — just as it had never explained why it hired him in the first place.
But the new timeline that has emerged of what Facebook knew when makes those questions more pressing than ever.
Reached for a response to the details contained in the District of Columbia’s court filing, a Facebook spokeswomen sent us this statement:
Facebook was not aware of the transfer of data from Kogan/GSR to Cambridge Analytica until December 2015, as we have testified under oath
In September 2015 employees heard speculation that Cambridge Analytica was scraping data, something that is unfortunately common for any internet service. In December 2015, we first learned through media reports that Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica, and we took action. Those were two different things.
Facebook did not engage with questions about any of the details and allegations in the court filing.
A little later in the court filing, the District of Columbia writes that the documents Facebook is seeking to seal are “consistent” with its allegations that “Facebook has employees embedded within multiple presidential candidate campaigns who… knew, or should have known… [that] Cambridge Analytica [was] using the Facebook consumer data harvested by [[GSR’s]] [Aleksandr] Kogan throughout the 2016 [United States presidential] election.”
It goes on to suggest that Facebook’s concern to seal the document is “reputational,” suggesting — in another redacted segment (below) — that it might “reflect poorly” on Facebook that a DC-based employee had flagged Cambridge Analytica months prior to news reports of its improper access to user data.
“The company may also seek to avoid publishing its employees’ candid assessments of how multiple third-parties violated Facebook’s policies,” it adds, chiming with arguments made last year by GSR’s Kogan, who suggested the company failed to enforce the terms of its developer policy, telling the DCMS committee it therefore didn’t have a “valid” policy.
As we’ve reported previously, the U.K.’s data protection watchdog — which has an ongoing investigation into CA’s use of Facebook data — was passed information by Facebook as part of that probe, which showed that three “senior managers” had been involved in email exchanges, prior to December 2015, concerning the CA breach.
It’s not clear whether these exchanges are the same correspondence the District of Columbia has obtained and which Facebook is seeking to seal, or whether there were multiple email threads raising concerns about the company.
The ICO passed the correspondence it obtained from Facebook to the DCMS committee — which last month said it had agreed at the request of the watchdog to keep the names of the managers confidential. (The ICO also declined to disclose the names or the correspondence when we made a Freedom of Information request last month — citing rules against disclosing personal data and its ongoing investigation into CA meaning the risk of release might be prejudicial to its investigation.)
In its final report, the committee said this internal correspondence indicated “profound failure of governance within Facebook” — writing:
[I]t would seem that this important information was not shared with the most senior executives at Facebook, leading us to ask why this was the case. The scale and importance of the GSR/Cambridge Analytica breach was such that its occurrence should have been referred to Mark Zuckerberg as its CEO immediately. The fact that it was not is evidence that Facebook did not treat the breach with the seriousness it merited. It was a profound failure of governance within Facebook that its CEO did not know what was going on, the company now maintains, until the issue became public to us all in 2018. The incident displays the fundamental weakness of Facebook in managing its responsibilities to the people whose data is used for its own commercial interests.
We reached out to the ICO for comment on the information to emerge via the Columbia suit, and also to the Irish Data Protection Commission, the lead DPA for Facebook’s international business, which currently has 15 open investigations into Facebook or Facebook-owned businesses related to various security, privacy and data protection issues.
An ICO spokesperson told us: “We are aware of these reports and will be considering the points made as part of our ongoing investigation.”
Last year the ICO issued Facebook with the maximum possible fine under U.K. law for the CA data breach.
Shortly after, Facebook announced it would appeal, saying the watchdog had not found evidence that any U.K. users’ data was misused by CA.
A date for the hearing of the appeal set for earlier this week was canceled without explanation. A spokeswoman for the tribunal court told us a new date would appear on its website in due course.
This report was updated with comment from the ICO.
Flip the “days since last Facebook security incident” back to zero.
The discovery was made in January, said Facebook’s Pedro Canahuati, as part of a routine security review. None of the passwords were visible to anyone outside Facebook, he said. Facebook admitted the security lapse months later, after Krebs said logs were accessible to some 2,000 engineers and developers.
Krebs said the bug dated back to 2012.
“This caught our attention because our login systems are designed to mask passwords using techniques that make them unreadable,” said Canahuati. “We have found no evidence to date that anyone internally abused or improperly accessed them,” but did not say how the company made that conclusion.
Facebook said it will notify “hundreds of millions of Facebook Lite users,” a lighter version of Facebook for users where internet speeds are slow and bandwidth is expensive, and “tens of millions of other Facebook users.” The company also said “tens of thousands of Instagram users” will be notified of the exposure.
Krebs said as many as 600 million users could be affected — about one-fifth of the company’s 2.7 billion users, but Facebook has yet to confirm the figure.
Facebook also didn’t say how the bug came to be. Storing passwords in readable plaintext is an insecure way of storing passwords. Companies, like Facebook, hash and salt passwords — two ways of further scrambling passwords — to store passwords securely. That allows companies to verify a user’s password without knowing what it is.
It’s the latest in a string of embarrassing security issues at the company, prompting congressional inquiries and government investigations. It was reported last week that Facebook’s deals that allowed other tech companies to access account data without consent was under criminal investigation.
It’s not known why Facebook took months to confirm the incident, or if the company informed state or international regulators per U.S. breach notification and European data protection laws. We asked Facebook but a spokesperson did not immediately comment beyond the blog post.
The Irish data protection office, which covers Facebook’s European operations, said the company “informed us of this issue” and the regulator is “currently seeking further information.”
Facebook’s gaming efforts and challenge to Twitch are taking another big leap today, as the social network begins the initial rollout of a dedicated Facebook Gaming tab in the main navigation of Facebook’s app. The goal with the new addition is to help people more easily find games, streamers and gaming groups they follow, as well as discover new content, based on their interests.
After clicking the new Gaming tab, there will be a feed of content that points you to instant games you can play with friends; videos to watch from top streamers, esports organizations, and game publishers; and updates from your various gaming groups, the company says.
The new Facebook Gaming tab builds on the gaming video destination the site launched last year as Fb.gg. That hub had offered a collection of all the video games streaming on Facebook, and a way to for gamers and fans to interact. As a top-level navigation item, Facebook’s new Gaming tab will now further extend the gaming hub’s reach.
While Twitch and YouTube are today dominating the gaming space, Facebook’s advantage – beyond its scale – are its promises of a reduced cut of transactions. On Fb.gg, gamers were able to attract new fans with the aid of Facebook’s personalized recommendations based on users’ activity, and then monetize those viewers through a virtual tipping mechanism.
Facebook’s cut of those tips ranges from 5 to 30 percent, with the cut getting smaller when users buy larger packs of the virtual currency. Meanwhile, Facebook’s fan subscriptions payments for streamers also see it taking a cut of up to 30 percent, the same as YouTube but smaller than Twitch’s roughly 50 percent.
That could potentially attract streamers who want to maximize their earnings and believe they can port their audience over to a new destination. Of course, some streamers may not trust Facebook to maintain those same percentages over time, nor believe it will ever offer the sorts of features and innovations that a more focused gaming destination like Twitch can.
Facebook also last year experimented with making its gaming hub mobile with the launch of Fb.gg as a standalone mobile app.
The app, like the web-based gaming hub, offered a way for gamers and fans to discover content, join communities, and even play instant games like Everwing, Words with Friends, Basketball FRVR, and others.
However, the strategy of keeping Facebook’s Gaming efforts more separated from Facebook’s main site may not have paid off – the Fb.gg Android app, for example, only has some 100,000+ installs according to Google Play.
Instead, much like YouTube recently decided – Facebook will now leverage the power of its platform to boost interest in its gaming content.
YouTube in September said it was giving its Gaming hub a new home right on the YouTube homepage, and would shut down its standalone Gaming app. (The latter doesn’t seem to have occurred, however). As YouTube noted, gaming was a popular category, but the majority of viewers weren’t looking for a separate app or experience – they were just visiting YouTube directly.
Similarly, Facebook today says that over 700 million people play games, watch gaming videos or engage in gaming groups on Facebook. That’s a far larger number than those who downloaded the Fb.gg app, and surely a much larger number than those who have been visiting the Fb.gg destination directly.
That said, Facebook is continuing its tests on mobile with a standalone (rebranded) Facebook Gaming app on Android, which will have more features that the Gaming tab.
Facebook says it will roll out the Gaming tab to a subset of the over 700 million Facebook game fans, and will expand it over time to more gaming enthusiasts across the network. If you don’t see the new tab in your main navigation bar, you can still find it by going to the Bookmarks menu on Facebook.