Facebook suspends analytics firm Crimson Hexagon over data use concerns

As part of its ongoing mission to close the barn doors after the cows have got out, Facebook has suspended the accounts of British data analytics firm Crimson Hexagon over concerns that it may be improperly handling user data. The ominously named company has for years used official APIs to siphon public posts from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other sources online, collating and analyzing for various purposes, such as to gauge public opinion on a political candidate or issue. It has clients around the world, serving Russia and Turkey as well as the U.S. and United Kingdom. Facebook, it seems, was not fully aware of the extent of Crimson Hexagon’s use of user data, however, including in several government contracts which it didn’t have the opportunity to evaluate before they took effect. The possibility that the company is not complying with its data use rules, specifically that they may
Continue reading "Facebook suspends analytics firm Crimson Hexagon over data use concerns"

Facebook, Google and more unite to let you transfer data between apps

The Data Transfer Project is a new team-up between tech giants to let you move your content, contacts, and more across apps. Founded by Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft, the DTP today revealed its plans for an open source data portability platform any online service can join. While many companies already let you download your information, that’s not very helpful if you can’t easily upload and use it elsewhere — whether you want to evacuate a social network you hate, back up your data somewhere different, or bring your digital identity along when you try a new app. The DTP’s tool isn’t ready for use yet, but the group today laid out a white paper for how it will work. Creating an industry standard for data portability could force companies to compete on utility instead of being protected by data lock-in that traps users because it’s tough to switch services.
Continue reading "Facebook, Google and more unite to let you transfer data between apps"

WhatsApp limits message forwarding in bid to reduce spam and misinformation

In a bid to cut down on the spread of false information and spam, WhatsApp recently added labels that indicate when a message has been forwarded. Now the company is sharpening that strategy by imposing limits on how many groups a message can be sent on to. Originally, users could forward messages on to multiple groups, but a new trial will see that forwarding limited to 20 groups worldwide. In India, however, which is WhatsApp’s largest market with 200 million users, the limit will be just five. In addition, a ‘quick forward’ option that allowed users to pass on images and videos to others rapidly is being removed from India. “We believe that these changes — which we’ll continue to evaluate — will help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app,” the company said in a blog post. The changes are designed to help
Continue reading "WhatsApp limits message forwarding in bid to reduce spam and misinformation"

Instagram adds a status indicator dot so people know when you’re ignoring them

In a blog post today, Instagram announced a new feature: a green status dot that indicates when a user is active on the app. If you’re cruising around Instagram, you can expect to see a green dot next to the profile pics of friends who are also Instagramming right then and there. The dot will show up in the direct messaging part of the app but also on your friends list when you go to share a post with someone. Instagram clarifies that “You will only see status for friends who follow you or people who you have talked to in Direct” so it’s meant to get you talking more to the people you’re already talking to. You can disable the status info in the “Activity Status” bit of the app’s settings menu, where it’s set to on by default. Prior to the advent of the green dot, Instagram
Continue reading "Instagram adds a status indicator dot so people know when you’re ignoring them"

Here’s what Facebook employees were saying about Holocaust denial … in 2009

Mark Zuckerberg has been in hot water this week thanks to comments he made during an interview with Kara Swisher about the kinds of content that should and shouldn’t be removed from the platform. Zuckerberg brought up Holocaust deniers as an example, saying he found them “deeply offensive,” then added, “But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong.” (In a follow-up email, Zuckerberg repeated that he found Holocaust denial to be “deeply offensive” and said, “I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”) In light of the ensuing controversy, it seems worth bringing up some old posts by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington — from all the way back in 2009, when Arrington highlighted an effort by Brian Cuban to get Holocaust denial
Continue reading "Here’s what Facebook employees were saying about Holocaust denial … in 2009"

How Facebook configures its millions of servers every day

When you’re a company the size of Facebook with more than two billion users on millions of servers, running thousands of configuration changes every day involving trillions of configuration checks, as you can imagine, configuration is kind of a big deal. As with most things with Facebook, they face scale problems few companies have to deal and often reach the limits of mere mortal tools. To solve their unique issues, the company developed a new configuration delivery process called Location Aware Delivery or LAD for short. Before developing LAD, the company had been using an open source tool called Zoo Keeper to distribute configuration data, and while that tool worked, it had some fairly substantial limitations for a company the size of Facebook. Perhaps the largest of those was being limited to 5 MB distributions with configurations limited to 2500 subscribers at a time. To give you a sense of
Continue reading "How Facebook configures its millions of servers every day"

Facebook and Instagram change to crack down on underage children

Facebook and Instagram will more proactively lock the accounts of users its moderators suspect are below the age of 13. Its former policy was to only investigate accounts if they were reported specifically for being potentially underage. But Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch that an ‘operational’ change to its policy for reviewers made this week will see them lock the accounts of any underage user they come across, even if they were reported for something else, such as objectionable content, or are otherwise discovered by reviewers. Facebook will require the users to provide proof that they’re over 13 such a government issued photo ID to regain access. The problem stems from Facebook not requiring any proof of age upon signup.

Facebook Messenger Kids is purposefully aimed at users under age 13

A tougher stance here could reduce Facebook and Instagram’s user counts and advertising revenue. The apps’ formerly more hands-off approach
Continue reading "Facebook and Instagram change to crack down on underage children"

Messenger Kids launches in Mexico

Messenger Kids, Facebook’s parent-controlled messaging app that lets kids text, call, video chat, and use face filters, has now arrived in Mexico. The launch follows Messenger Kids’ recent expansion outside the U.S., where in June it first became available to users in Canada and Peru. The app in Mexico works the same as it does elsewhere – parents have to approve all the contacts the child is allowed to talk to – whether that’s family members the child knows, like grandma and grandpa, or the child’s friends. Facebook has consulted with paid advisor Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and others on the development of Messenger Kids’ features focused on principles of social and emotional learning. For example, it recently introduced a section of guidelines that remind kids to “be kind” and “be respectful” and rolled out “kindness stickers” which are meant to encourage more positive emotions when communicating online.
Continue reading "Messenger Kids launches in Mexico"

Companies, like people, don’t change

Not a month goes by when we hear about another snafu or scandal about Facebook and Uber. And each time I wonder if they will change. It seems both these companies are genetically pre-programmed to obey what their DNA tells them — unfettered growth without consequences. And which makes me wonder, can companies change? Or the culture a company starts with becomes its defining characteristic. Here are my thoughts. Continue reading "Companies, like people, don’t change"

Announcing TechCrunch meetups in Buenos Aires and Santiago next week

TechCrunch is heading to Latin America for the first time and staging its first ever Startup Battlefield Latin America on Nov. 8 in São Paulo to find the next wave of early stage startups tackling big ideas! To spread the word, TechCrunch’s Jon Shieber and Anna Escher will visit Buenos Aires and Santiago next week to meet with the startup community and hold meetups for anyone interested in learning more about the Startup Battlefield. They’ll also spend time explaining how to apply. Tickets to the meetups are free, but they will go fast so sign up now. Here are the details:

Buenos Aires

Tuesday, July 24th, 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Innovation Lab Buenos Aires from Facebook @ Av. Cnel. Niceto Vega 4866, C1414BEF C1414BEF, Buenos Aires, Argentina Register here.

Santiago

Thursday, July 27th, 5:00pm – 7:00pm Startup Chile @ Monjitas 565, Santiago, Región Metropolitana, Chile Register Here. At the meetup, Founders
Continue reading "Announcing TechCrunch meetups in Buenos Aires and Santiago next week"

Undercover report shows the Facebook moderation sausage being made

An undercover reporter with the UK’s Channel 4 visited a content moderation outsourcing firm in Dublin and came away rather discouraged at what they saw: queues of flagged content waiting, videos of kids fighting staying online, orders from above not to take action on underage users. It sounds bad, but the truth is there are pretty good reasons for most of it and in the end the report comes off as rather naive. Not that it’s a bad thing for journalists to keep big companies (and their small contractors) honest, but the situations called out by Channel 4’s reporter seem to reflect a misunderstanding of the moderation process rather than problems with the process itself. I’m not a big Facebook fan, but in the matter of moderation I think they are sincere, if hugely unprepared. The bullet points raised by the report are all addressed in a letter from
Continue reading "Undercover report shows the Facebook moderation sausage being made"

Dems and GOP unite, slamming Facebook for allowing violent Pages

In a rare moment of agreement, members of the House Judiciary Committee from both major political parties agreed that Facebook needed to take down Pages that bullied shooting survivors or called for more violence. The hearing regarding social media filtering practices saw policy staffers from Facebook, Google, and Twitter answering questions, though Facebook absorbed the brunt of the ire. The hearing included Republican Representative Steve King ask “What about converting the large behemoth organizations that we’re talking about here into public utilities?” The meatiest part of the hearing centered on whether social media platforms should delete accounts of conspiracy theorists and those inciting violence, rather than just removing the offending posts. The issue has been a huge pain point for Facebook this week after giving vague answers for why it hasn’t deleted known faker Alex Jones’ Infowars Page, and tweeting that “We see Pages on both the left
Continue reading "Dems and GOP unite, slamming Facebook for allowing violent Pages"

“Fake Followers” are “Social Spam”

Just about 12 years ago, at a costume party hosted by Ruby Red Labs in the SOMA district of San Francisco, I got a chance to talk to one of the now-forgotten founders of Twitter, Noah Glass. He showed me Twitter (or Twttr as it was known back then). I tried it and must have liked it because I went home (admittedly just a few blocks away) and in a slightly inebriated state wrote about the product and Twitter was launched. It is perhaps why I retain a lot of affection for the product, and its co-founders. I am not shy about expressing my displeasure, but in general, Twitter has been a great little addition to my life. And perhaps that is why I was pleased to learn on my twelfth anniversary of using Twitter (which reminded me of that, obviously) I lost 200,000 followers. I was part of the big fake account and bot purge that Twitter has recently embarked on. The New York Times says that there are about 48 million active users are what it calls “automated accounts designed to simulate real people.) As The New York Times noted — Oprah ( down 1.4 million), Ellen (down 2 million), Justin Bieber (down over 3 million) and Kim Kardashian (down 3 percent) — lost many more. I would be happy to lose half or even more of my followers if that means cleaning up the service, increasing the signal and dampening the noise. I think the challenge for social platforms like Twitter is that real engagement is being drowned by the noise in the system – fake accounts and bots.  Continue reading "“Fake Followers” are “Social Spam”"

Reminder: Other people’s lives are not fodder for your feeds

#PlaneBae You should cringe when you read that hashtag. Because it’s a reminder that people are being socially engineered by technology platforms to objectify and spy on each other for voyeuristic pleasure and profit. The short version of the story attached to the cringeworthy hashtag is this: Earlier this month an individual, called Rosey Blair, spent all the hours of a plane flight using her smartphone and social media feeds to invade the privacy of her seat neighbors — publicly gossiping about the lives of two strangers. Her speculation was set against a backdrop of rearview creepshots, with a few barely there scribbles added to blot out actual facial features. Even as an entire privacy invading narrative was being spun unknowingly around them. #PlanePrivacyInvasion would be a more fitting hashtag. Or #MoralVacuumAt35000ft And yet our youthful surveillance society started with a far loftier idea associated with it: Citizen journalism. Once
Continue reading "Reminder: Other people’s lives are not fodder for your feeds"

Facebook reportedly hires AI chip head from Google

Facebook is continuing to devote more resources to the development of AI-focused chips, bringing aboard a senior director of engineering from Google who worked on chips for Google’s products to lead its efforts, Bloomberg reports. We’ve reached out to Google and Facebook for confirmation.

Shahriar Rabii spent nearly seven years at Google before joining Facebook this month as its VP and Head of Silicon according to his LinkedIn profile.

Facebook’s work on AI-focused custom silicon has been the topic of rumors and reports over the past several months. It’s undoubtedly a bold direction for the company, though it’s unclear how interested Facebook is in creating custom silicon for consumer devices or if they’re more focused on building for their server business as they also look to accelerate their own research efforts. Rabii’s work at Google seemed to encompass a good deal of work on chips for consumer devices, specifically work on
Continue reading "Facebook reportedly hires AI chip head from Google"

Does Silicon Valley have a conscience?

Silicon Valley’s recruiting pitch has long been: Work with us to change the world. Employees are encouraged to make their work life synonymous with their social identity, and many internalize those utopian ideals. “People who signed up to be tech heroes don’t want to be implicated in human rights abuses,” says a senior Google employee.

A close look at the emergence of employee dissent at big tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft over issues that matter to them. One notable omission: Facebook. Perhaps they think that their company is pristine, flawless.

Television content creation in China

Content creation has seen immense growth in recent years, with a shift in focus from mainstream content providers such as traditional television studious to internet-era startups either seeking to expand their portfolios or seeking to increase premium user memberships through exclusive content introduction. In America, this scene has been predominately owned by Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, introducing critically acclaimed titles such as The Man in the High Castle, Orange Is the New Black and The Handmaid’s Tale, respectively, with many other industry giants scrambling to catch up (with Apple already signing a deal with Steven Spielberg to produce an Amazing Stories-reboot, Facebook spending as much as $1 billion on original content, Google announcing plans to potentially spend up to $3 million per drama episode and even Disney with their purported streaming service, among many others). Similarly, in China’s growing television industry, a select few, namely Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, continue to
Continue reading "Television content creation in China"

Facebook is using machine learning to self-tune its myriad of services

Regardless of what you may think of Facebook as a platform, they run a massive operation and when you reach their level of scale you have to get more creative in how you handle every aspect of your computing environment. Engineers quickly reach the limits of human ability to track information to the point that checking logs and analytics becomes impractical and unwieldy on a system running thousands of services. This is a perfect scenario to implement machine learning and that is precisely what Facebook has done. The company published a blog post today about a self-tuning system they have dubbed Sprial. This is pretty nifty and what it does is essentially flip the idea of system tuning on its head. Instead of looking at some data and coding what you want the system to do, you teach the system the right way to do it and it does it
Continue reading "Facebook is using machine learning to self-tune its myriad of services"

Facebook will allow you to see all the active ads from any Page

Facebook made two announcements about ad transparency today — one around the ads purchased by any Page and another around expanding its recently announced archive of political ads. It seems like ad transparency is a big focus today, as Twitter just launched its own Ads Transparency Center, allowing anyone to see ads bought by any account. In terms of bringing more transparency to Facebook Pages, the company says there will be a new section in Pages allowing users to bring up general information about Pages (like recent name changes and date of creation), and another where anyone can view all the active ads the Page is currently running. As with any ad on Facebook, you’ll be able to flag ads viewed this way if you think they violate Facebook policies, and they will then be reviewed. Speaking to journalists via videoconference, Rob Leathern, a director of product management on
Facebook Pages transparency
Continue reading "Facebook will allow you to see all the active ads from any Page"