Facebook changes algorithm to demote “borderline content” that almost violates its policy

Facebook has changed its News Feed algorithm to demote content that comes close to violating its policies prohibiting misinformation, hate speech, violence, bullying, clickbait so it’s seen by fewer people even it’s highly engaging. In a 5000-word letter by Mark Zuckerberg published today, he explained how a “basic incentive problem” that “when left unchecked, people will engage disproportionately with more sensationalist and provocative content. Our research suggests that no matter where we draw the lines for what is allowed, as a piece of content gets close to that line, people will engage with it more on average  — even when they tell us afterwards they don’t like the content.”

Without intervention, the engagement with borderline content looks like the graph above, increasing as it gets closer to the policy line. So Facebook is intervening, artificially suppressing the News Feed distribution of this kind of content so engagement looks
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Spotify alums create Canopy content suggester that won’t steal your data

Personalization comes at a steep price. All your data gets sucked up into a company’s servers where they can do whatever they want with it. But Canopy is a new content discovery startup that’s invented impressive technology that lets it learn about you anonymously while all your data stays on your device. Built by the co-founder and CTO of Echo Nest, the music data startup Spotify acquired to power its recommendations, Canopy wants to turn privacy into a competitive advantage. It plans to equip any content app with its tech that crunches your biographical and behavior data on your phone or computer so all it sends along are clues to what you want to see or hear next.

But first, Canopy will launch its own proof of concept app early next year that suggests long-form articles and podcasts based on your taste and activity. “There hasn’t been a great solution
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Bunch scores $3.8M to turn mobile games into video chat LAN parties

The best parts of gaming are the jokes and trash talk with friends. Whether it was four-player Goldeneye or linking up PCs for Quake battles in the basement, the social element keeps video games exciting. Yet on mobile we’ve lost a lot of that, playing silently by ourselves even if we’re in a squad with friends somewhere else. Bunch wants to bring the laughter back to mobile gaming by letting you sync up with friends and video chat while you play. It already works with hits like Fortnite and Roblox, and developers of titles like Spaceteam are integrating Bunch’s SDK to inspire longer game sessions.

Bunch is like Discord for mobile, and the chance to challenge that gaming social network unicorn has attracted a $3.8 million seed round led by London Venture Partners and joined by Founders Fund, Betaworks, North Zone, Streamlined Ventures, 500 Startups and more. With Bunch
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Standard Cognition raises $40M to replace retailers’ cashiers with cameras

The Amazon Go store requires hundreds of cameras to detect who’s picking up what items. Standard Cognition needs just 27 to go after the $27 trillion market of equipping regular shops with autonomous retail technology.

Walk into one of its partners’ stores and overhead cameras identify you by shape and movement, not facial recognition. Open up its iOS or Android app and a special light pattern flashes, allowing the cameras to tie you to your account and payment method. Grab whatever you want, and just walk out. Standard Cognition will bill you. It even works without an app. Shop like normal and then walk up to kiosk screen, the cameras tell it what items you nabbed, and you can pay with cash or credit card. That means Standard Cognition stores never exclude anyone, unlike Amazon Go. “Our tagline has been ‘rehumanizing retail'” co-founder Michael Suswal tells me. “We’re removing the
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Airtable, maker of a coding platform for non-techies, raises $100M at a $1.1B valuation

If data is the new oil, you might think of apps are the cars that need it to move. Now, a startup that has built a platform to let everyone — not just those with technical expertise — make and drive their own “cars” has raised a significant round of funding to grow its business. Airtable — which uses a simple interface built on spreadsheets and other tools familiar to knowledge workers as a frontend to produce apps and other web-based experiences — has raised $100 million in funding to expand its business with more talent and offices outside the US. Along with the funding, the company has now catapulted to a $1.1 billion valuation.

Catapult is the key word here: according to PitchBook the company was only valued at $152 million in its last round — eight months ago. Airtable’s tools are now in use by some
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Sweet Escape connects travelers to photographers for truly Insta-worthy holiday pics

The rise of smartphone cameras and social media in recent years has fuelled a new level of marking and sharing memories using photos, but one startup is betting that people are prepared to go the next level and spend money to hire professional photographers to make their photos even better.

Focused on travel, Sweet Escape is an Indonesia-based startup that to work with over 2,000 photographers across over 400 cities in some 100 countries. The idea is simple. If you’re traveling — overseas or locally — and want high quality photos of your trip, or just part of it, you can use Sweet Escape to find and book out a local snapper for you and your group. Photo shoots last for two hours and are charged at $300, Sweet Escape founder David Soong told TechCrunch in an interview, while activities vary from regular holiday snaps, to weddings and honeymoons, proposals, anniversaries,
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Facebook Messenger starts rolling out Unsend. Here’s how it works

Facebook secretly retracted messages sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, TechCrunch reported seven months ago. Now for the first time, Facebook Messenger users will get the power to unsend too so they can remove their sent messages from the recipient’s inbox. Messages can only be unsent for the first ten minutes after they’re delivered so that you can correct a mistake or remove something you accidentally pushed, but you won’t be able to edit ancient history. Using the “Remove For Everyone” button also leaves a “tombstone” indicating a message was retracted. And to prevent bullies from using the feature to cover their tracks, Facebook will retain unsent messages for a short period of time so if they’re reported, it can review them for policy violations.

The Remove feature rolls out in Poland, Bolivia, Colombia, and Lithuania today on Messenger for iOS and Android. A Facebook spokesperson tells me the plan is to
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With ‘Rivals Week,’ Tinder tests an expansion of its well-performing Tinder U

Starting this weekend, Tinder will allow college students on its Tinder U service to match with others outside their own university for the first time. The dating app is positioning this market test of a potential Tinder U expansion as the  “Rivals Week” — a way to match users with those who attend a rival university (for a limited period of time).

Tinder U’s Rivalry Week starts November 17 in the U.S. for students attending four-year, degree-granting colleges and universities. It ends November 24, Tinder says. Tinder U itself is still a relatively new feature, having only launched a few months ago as a way to attract more younger users to its service and re-engaged lapsed users. College students can choose to opt into Tinder U by signing up with their “.edu” email address. Once enrolled, the users can switch over to Tinder U using a toggle switch
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No display for your Mac Mini? No problem.

Astropad’s Luna Display isn’t just for your MacBook. It turns out that you can take advantage of that tiny little red dongle to turn your iPad into your one and only Mac Mini display.

The Luna Display was designed to extend your laptop display. Many desktop users who travel tend to feel limited with a 13-inch or 15-inch display. That’s why the Luna Display turns any iPad into a second monitor. It works wirelessly and pretty well.
But the team behind the device tried a fun experiment. Many Mac Mini users tend to use the Mac Mini as a headless server. It sits below your TV, near your router or in a closet. In that case, there’s no display connected to your Mac Mini. You can control it using screen sharing or a VNC client. And of course, you can also enable SSH access to control it using the command
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Google My Business app revamp challenges Facebook Pages

Google is giving its business customers a new way to reach their customers. The company is today starting the rollout of a revamped Google My Business mobile application for iOS and Android that will offer new tools for viewing customer info — including followers, reviews and messages — as well as a way to quickly create content to publish to their business profile on Google.

The changes arrive shortly after a recent update to Google Maps that introduced a new “Follow” button for tracking businesses, in order to stay informed about promotions, events and other news. The move made Google’s business profiles more of a direct competitor with Facebook Pages. In the redesigned Google My Business app, a new “Customers” tab will centralize a business’s customers and their potential customers — like those who have chosen to follow the business, as noted above. Here, the business owner can track their
Photocentric posting experience - Scale
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Uber launches rider loyalty Rewards like credits & upgrades 9 cities

Uber’s new loyalty program incentivizes you not to check Lyft or the local competitor. Riders earn points for all the money they spend on Uber and Uber Eats that score them $5 credits, upgrades to nicer cars, access to premium support, and even flexible cancellations that waive the fee if they rebook within 15 minutes.

Uber Rewards launches today in nine cities before rolling out to the whole US in the next few months, with points for scooters and bikes coming soon. And as a brilliant way to get people excited about the program, it retroactively counts your last six months of Uber activity to give you perks as soon as you sign up for free for Uber Rewards. You’ll see the new Rewards bar on the homescreen of your app today if you’re in Miami, Denver, Tampa, New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego, or anywhere in New
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Netflix is testing a mobile-only subscription to make its service more affordable

Netflix is testing a cut-price mobile-only subscription as it explores new packages aimed at widening its appeal in Asia and other emerging markets.

CEO Reed Hastings told Bloomberg last week that the company would test lower-priced packages and it hasn’t taken long for those experiments to come to light. The first reports are from Malaysia, where Netflix quietly rolled out a mobile-only tier priced at RM17, or around $4, each month. That’s half the price of the company’s next cheapest package — ‘Basic’ — which retails for RM33, or around $7.90, per month in Malaysia. A Netflix spokesperson confirmed the Malaysia trial. They added that similar trials are “running in a few countries” although they declined to provide details. It remains to be seen if this new subscription tier will roll out to other parts of the world.

Discover the next messaging giant at Disrupt Berlin

Truecaller may already be a familiar name, but many of you probably don’t know that it’s slowly becoming a significant messaging app. That’s why I’m excited to announce that Truecaller co-founder and CEO Alan Mamedi will join us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

Truecaller first started as a call screening app. Some countries are more affected than others. But it’s clear that text and call spam is the most intrusive form of spam. The Swedish company then leveraged this user base to quietly turn the app into a full-fledged messaging app with one focus in particular — India. With the acquisition of Chillr, the company shows that it wants to recreate a sort of WeChat for India. The company launched payment features — Truecaller Pay lets you pay other Truecaller users as well as pay your bills. Eventually, Truecaller wants to open up its platform to third-party services. Back in April,
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Snap is being probed over its IPO because some investors are salty about losing money

Here’s something I didn’t expect to read today. The U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission has subpoenaed Snap for details on its IPO apparently in connection with a lawsuit from disgruntled shareholders who claim the company played down its rivalry with Instagram.

Reuters first reported on the subpoenas which Snap has confirmed. Precise details aren’t clear at this point but Snap told Reuters that the probe is likely “related to the previously disclosed allegations asserted in the class action about our IPO disclosures.” Snap went public last March with sharing popping over 40 percent on its debut to give it a valuation of $30 billion. It’s market cap today is a more modest $8.9 billion due to numerous factors including, most prominently, the efforts of rival Facebook to compete with Instagram, which has rolled out a series of features that mimic Snap’s core user
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Facebook Lasso app lead Brady Voss leaves for Netflix right after launch

Facebook Lasso has a steep uphill climb ahead as it hopes to chase the musical video app it cloned, China’s TikTok (which merged with Musically). Lasso lets you overlay popular songs on 15-second clips of you lip syncing, dancing, or just being silly — kind of like Vine with a soundtrack. It’s off to a slow start since launching Friday, having failed to reach the overall app download charts as it falls from #169 to #217 on the US iOS Photo and Video App chart, according to App Annie.

Forme Facebook Lead Product Designer Brady Voss

And now one of the Lasso team’s bosses Brady Voss is leaving Facebook for a job at Netflix. He’d spent five years as a lead product designer at Facebook working on standalone apps like Hello and major feature launches like Watch, Live, 360 video, and the social network’s smart TV app. He previously designed
🙃
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Senators urge FTC to look into shady ad practices in apps for kids

For us jaded adults, the long-running trend towards making apps and games free to download but stuffing them with paid options is just an annoyance or perhaps a logical progression of the business model. But kids haven’t developed our cynicism and wariness of manipulation — and they’re getting targeted nevertheless. Several Senators have asked the FTC to look into the ugly practice of monetizing kids’ apps.

“We write regarding the manipulative marketing practices by apps designed for children,” write Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in their letter (PDF). “Children should be able to entertain themselves and play without being bombarded by promotional messages, which young people may not be able to accurately assess and identify as marketing.” The letter comes in the wake of a study released last month that found that some 9 out of 10 apps and games aimed at kids
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DeepMind hands off role as health app provider to parent Google

DeepMind’s recent foray into providing software as a service to U.K. hospitals has reached the end of its run.

The Google -owned AI division has just announced it will be stepping back from providing a clinical alerts and task management healthcare app to focus on research — handing off the team doing the day to day delivery of the Streams to its parent, Google. 

Announcing the move in a blog post entitled “Scaling Streams with Google,” DeepMind’s co-founders write: “Our vision is for Streams to now become an AI-powered assistant for nurses and doctors everywhere — combining the best algorithms with intuitive design, all backed

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Fintonic users offered 0% interest on Amazon.es purchases

Personal finance management app maker Fintonic has teamed up with ecommerce behemoth Amazon to offer users in Spain interest free purchases on the local Amazon .es marketplace.

The 0% finance offer is being timed to coincide with the annual Black Friday shopping fest that kicks off later this month. Qualifying Fintonic users can apply for Amazon Gift cards ranging from €200 to €1,000 via the app — and be able to defer payments for up to four months. The balance of the offered gift cards has a shelf life of ten years before expiry. Fintonic is asking interested users to sign up to a guest list in time for the offer to launch on November 23. The Madrid-based fintech startup offers a free app for consumers to manage their money, focusing on Spanish speaking markets. It pairs a financial assistant app with a brokering business model that’s based on taking a
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Spotify officially launches its Apple Watch app

Following reports of its testing, Spotify today has launched its long-awaited Apple Watch app. The app allows users to control the playback of Spotify’s streaming service from their Watch’s screen, as well as connect to devices like their computer, Wi-Fi speaker and more through Spotify Connect, toggle on Shuffle, access music playlists and other recently played items, favorite tracks with a heart, and more.

The news was announced today on Spotify’s blog, where it details the app’s features, which also include the ability to play podcasts, in addition to music. “We know the importance of having music on the go, which is why we’re excited to bring a new Spotify app to our highly mobile users on Apple Watch,” the company said. “With this new app, users can enjoy an improved experience with better control and the ability to seamlessly connect to your speakers or devices.” The App
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Amazon’s Alexa Fund invests in on-demand parking service, ParkWhiz

ParkWhiz, a startup that’s something of an Open Table for available parking spots, is adding $5 million in new equity to its recently announced Series D round. The new funds come from strategic investors Amazon’s Alexa Fund, Alate Partners, Chaifetz Group and Purple Arch Ventures. Combined with the earlier round led by NewSpring Capital, the total raise was $25 million.

The parking service has expanded over the past couple of years across the U.S. and Canada, and now counts 40 million customers to date who have used ParkWhiz to find parking in garages and lots. The service today powers transactional parking services for hundreds of partners, including sports teams and venues, events, travel providers, airlines, hotels, automotive OEMs, and navigation systems within their own apps and sites, it says. For Amazon, the value in partnering with ParkWhiz has to do with its adoption of voice-based computing. Using Amazon’s Alexa
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