EU parliament pushes for Zuckerberg hearing to be live streamed

There’s confusion about whether a meeting between Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the European Union’s parliament — which is due to take place next Tuesday — will go ahead as planned or not. The meeting was confirmed by the EU parliament’s president this week, and is the latest stop on Zuckerberg’s contrition tour, following the Cambridge Analytics data misuse story that blew up into a major public scandal in mid March.  However the discussion with MEPs that Facebook agreed to was due to take place behind closed doors. A private format that’s not only ripe with irony but was also unpalatable to a large number of MEPs. It even drew criticism from some in the EU’s unelected executive body, the European Commission, which further angered parliamentarians. Now, as the FT reports, MEPs appear to have forced the parliament’s president, Antonio Tajani, to agree to livestreaming the event. Guy Verhofstadt — the
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Vota turns your credit card transactions into recommendations, helps you spot fraud

Oh my god, someone’s doing Blippy again. If you’ve been around the internet as long as I have (too long), you’ll probably remember the meteoric rise of the social network for sharing your purchases, Blippy, which was hyped up to a $46.2 million valuation back in 2010 before the world realized that almost nobody wanted a dedicated network for sharing and viewing each others’ purchases. Well, guess what? Someone’s trying a Blippy-like thing again — this time, in the form of a new app called Vota, which automatically records your credit card purchases and the places you visit so you can share them with friends or family, or view them privately for your own reference. As a byproduct of this data collection, you may spot credit card fraud or other errant charges, too, or just get a handle on your spending. But why revisit this concept now, when
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A leaked look at Facebook’s search engine for influencer marketing

Facebook’s next money-maker could be this tool for connecting marketers to social media creators so they can team up on sponsored content Facebook ad campaigns. The Branded Content Matching search engine lets advertisers select the biographical characteristics of creators’ fans they want to reach, see stats about these audiences, and contact them to hammer out deals. Leaked screenshots of Facebook’s promotional materials for the tool were first attained and published in german by AllFacebook.de. TechCrunch has now confirmed with Facebook the existence of the test of the search engine. Facebook first vaguely noted it would build a creator-brand tool in March, but now we know what it looks like and exactly how it works. Even though Facebook will not actually broker or initially take a cut of the deals, the tool could equip brands with much more compelling and original marketing content. That could in turn encourage them to
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Facebook Stories reveals 150M daily viewers and here come ads

After 14 months of silence since launching, Facebook Stories has finally announced a 150 million daily active user count for its Snapchat Stories clone. And now it’s time to earn some money off it. Facebook Stories will start testing its first ads today in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil. They’re 5- to 15-second video ads users can skip, and while there’s no click-through or call to action now, Facebook plans to add that in the coming months. Advertisers can easily extend their Instagram Stories ads to this new surface, or have Facebook automatically reformat their News Feed ads with color-matched borders and text at the bottom. Facebook also plans to give businesses more metrics on their Stories performance to convince them the feature is worth their ad dollars.

Advertisers can extend their Instagram Stories ads to Facebook Stories (left), or have Facebook reformat their News Feed ads

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Instagram officially launches re-sharing of posts to Stories

No, it’s not a “regram” option. Sorry!  But today, Instagram is officially launching a new feature that will allow users to re-share someone’s Instagram post with their friends via Instagram Stories – something it confirmed was in testing earlier this year. The idea with the new re-sharing option is to give users a way to add their own commentary or react to a post, without repurposing it as their own – the way a regram (reposting to feed) feature would have permitted. For example, you can now re-share something you saw posted by a brand or influencer on Instagram that you like, or add your own comments on top of a funny meme, or even tag a friend on a post you want them to see. In fact, tagging friends through Instagram comments had become so common on the social network over the years, that it rolled out a
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Zuckerberg will meet with European parliament in private next week

Who says privacy is dead? Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to take European parliamentarians’ questions about how his platform impacts the privacy of hundreds of millions of European citizens — but only behind closed doors. Where no one except a handful of carefully chosen MEPs will bear witness to what’s said. The private meeting will take place on May 22 at 17.45CET in Brussels. After which the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, will hold a press conference to furnish the media with his version of events. It’s just a shame that journalists are being blocked from being able to report on what actually goes on in the room. And that members of the public won’t be able to form their own opinions about how Facebook’s founder responds to pressing questions about what Zuckerberg’s platform is doing to their privacy and their fundamental rights. Because the doors
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Bossa Studios launches Worlds Adrift, the first game built on Improbable’s SpatialOS

Bossa Studios, the London gaming startup backed by Atomico and behind popular titles ‘Surgeon Simulator’ and ‘I am Bread’, is embarking on its biggest and most ambitious project yet. Described as a “Community-Crafted MMO,” where players have literally co-built the game’s environment and will continue to do so, Worlds Adrift sees its wider public outing today via the Steam Early Access program. The new game, which has been three years in the making and was born out of a Bossa Studios “game jam,” akin to the kinds of internal ‘hackathons’ many startups routinely hold, is attempting to pull off a number of firsts. For starters (and probably most noteworthy to TechCrunch readers), it was the first game built on top of Improbable’s SpatialOS, the cloud-based platform for creating games and other virtual environments that need to go beyond the limitations of traditional server architectures. Improbable raised a whopping $502
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Bannon and Cambridge Analytica planned suppression of black voters, whistleblower tells Senate

Appearing before the Senate Judiciary committee today as part of the ongoing investigation of Cambridge Analytica and various forms of meddling in the 2016 elections, former employee and whistleblower Christopher Wylie said that the company and its then-VP Steve Bannon were pursuing voter suppression tactics aimed at black Americans. Although Wylie insisted that he himself did not take part in these programs, he testified to their existence. “One of the things that provoked me to leave was discussions about ‘voter disengagement’ and the idea of targeting African Americans,” he said. “I didn’t participate on any voter suppression programs, so I can’t comment on the specifics of those programs.” “I can comment on their existence, and I can comment more generally on my understanding of what they were doing,” he explained under questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). “If it suited the client’s objective, the firm [SCL, Cambridge Analytica’s parent
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Facebook faces fresh criticism over ad targeting of sensitive interests

Is Facebook trampling over laws that regulate the processing of sensitive categories of personal data by failing to ask people for their explicit consent before it makes sensitive inferences about their sex life, religion or political beliefs? Or is the company merely treading uncomfortably and unethically close to the line of the law? An investigation by the Guardian and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation has found that Facebook’s platform allows advertisers to target users based on interests related to political beliefs, sexuality and religion — all categories that are marked out as sensitive information under current European data protection law. And indeed under the incoming GDPR, which will apply across the bloc from May 25. The joint investigation found Facebook’s platform had made sensitive inferences about users — allowing advertisers to target people based on inferred interests including communism, social democrats, Hinduism and Christianity. All of which would be classed
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To make Stories global, Facebook adds Archive and audio posts

Facebook’s future rests on convincing the developing world to adopt Stories. But just because the slideshow format will soon surpass feed sharing doesn’t mean people use them the same way everywhere. So late last year, Facebook sent a team to India to learn what features they’d need to embrace Stories across a variety of local languages on phones without much storage. Today, Facebook will start rolling out three big Stories features in India, which will come to the rest of the world shortly after. First, to lure posts from users who don’t want to type or have a non-native language keyboard, as well as micropodcasters, Facebook Stories will allow audio posts combining a voice message with a colored background or photo. Facebook Stories will get an Archive similar to Instagram Stories that automatically saves your clips privately after they expire so you can go back to check them out or re-share
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Index and Atomico back Teatime Games, a stealthy new startup from QuizUp founders

Teatime Games, a new Icelandic “social games” startup from the same team behind the hugely popular QuizUp (acquired in by Glu Mobile), is disclosing $9 million in funding, made up of seed and Series A rounds. Index Ventures led both, but have been joined by Atomico, the European VC fund founded by Skype’s Niklas Zennström, for the $7.5 million Series A round. I understand this is the first time the two VC firms have done a Series A deal together in over a decade. Both VCs have a decent track record in gaming. Index counts King, Roblox and Supercell as previous gaming investments, whilst Atomico also backed Supercell, along with Rovio, and most recently Bossa Studios. As part of the round, Guzman Diaz of Index Ventures, Mattias Ljungman of Atomico, and David Helgason, founder of Unity, have joined the Teatime Games board of directors. Meanwhile, Teatime Games
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Twitter algorithm changes will hide more bad tweets and trolls

Twitter’s latest effort to curb trolling and abuse on the site takes some of the burden off users and places it on the company’s algorithms. If you tap on a Twitter or real-world celebrity’s tweet, more often than not there’s a bot as one of the first replies. This has been an issue for so long it’s a bit ridiculous, but it all has to do with the fact that Twitter really only arranges tweets by quality inside search results and in back-and-forth conversations. Twitter is making some new changes that calls on how the collective Twitterverse is responding to tweets to influence how often people see them. With these upcoming changes, tweets in conversations and search will be ranked based on a greater variety of data that takes into account things like the number of accounts registered to that user, whether that tweet prompted people to block the accounts
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Zuckerberg again snubs UK parliament over call to testify

Facebook has once again eschewed a direct request from the UK parliament for its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, to testify to a committee investigating online disinformation — without rustling up so much as a fig-leaf-sized excuse to explain why the founder of one of the world’s most used technology platforms can’t squeeze a video call into his busy schedule and spare UK politicians’ blushes. Which tells you pretty much all you need to know about where the balance of power lies in the global game of (essentially unregulated) U.S. tech platforms giants vs (essentially powerless) foreign political jurisdictions. At the end of an 18-page letter sent to the DCMS committee yesterday — in which Facebook’s UK head of public policy, Rebecca Stimson, provides a point-by-point response to the almost 40 questions the committee said had not been adequately addressed by CTO Mike Schroepfer in a prior hearing last month — Facebook
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WhatsApp revamps Groups to fight Telegram

Facebook just installed its VP of Internet.org as the new head of WhatsApp after its CEO Jan Koum left the company. And now Facebook is expanding its mission to get people into “meaningful” groups to WhatsApp. Today, WhatsApp launched a slew of new features for Groups on iOS and Android that let admins set a description for their community and decide who can change the Groups settings. Meanwhile, users will be able to get a Group catch up that shows messages they were mentioned in, and search for people in the group.

WhatsApp’s new Group descriptions

WhatsApp Group participant search

Group improvements will help WhatsApp better compete with Telegram, which has recently emerged as an insanely popular platform for chat groups, especially around cryptocurrency. Telegram has plenty of admin controls of its own, but the two apps will be competing over who can make it easiest to digest these
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Instagram has an unlaunched “time spent” Usage Insights dashboard

Instagram may be jumping into the time well spent movement, following the unveiling of Google’s new time management controls last week. Code buried in Instagram’s Android app reveals a “Usage Insights” feature that will show users their “time spent”. It’s not exactly clear whether that will be your total time spent in Instagram ever, which could be a pretty scary number to some users, or within some shorter time frame like a day, week, or month. By being upfront with users about how much of their lives they’re investing in their favorite apps, tech giants could encourage people to adopt healthier habits and avoid the long, passive, anti-social browsing sessions that can harm their well-being. These features could also help parents keep track of what their kids are doing online. Both might lead people to spend less time on apps like Instagram, but they could be happier with companies like
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Anyone could download Cambridge researchers’ 4-million-user Facebook dataset for years

A dataset of over 3 million Facebook users and a variety of their personal details collected by Cambridge researchers was available for anyone to download for some four years, New Scientist reports. It’s likely only one of many places where such huge sets of personal data collected during a period of permissive Facebook access terms have been obtainable. The data were collected as part of a personality test, myPersonality, which according to its own wiki (now taken down) was operational from 2007 to 2012, but new data was added as late as August of 2016. It started as a side project by the Cambridge Psychometrics Centre’s David Stillwell (now deputy director there), but graduated to a more organized research effort later. The project “has close academic links,” the site explains, “however, it is a standalone business.” (Presumably for liability purposes; the group never charged for access to the data.
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Tinder’s upcoming location-based feature seems a bit creepy

Do you want random Tinder users to see where you’ve been? Uh, no? Well, great news: an upcoming Tinder feature called Places will allow for just that. According to screenshots detailing Tinder Places uncovered by The Verge, the dating app is developing a feature that tracks your location via its app, then shows potential matches where you’ve been. The idea is to allow people to come across their real-life missed connections, similar to how the dating app Happn works today. There are some caveats about the new feature. For starters, this is something Tinder has in testing – the way it works at launch could be different. Also, the feature can be shut off, the documentation says – a toggle in the app’s settings let you turn it on or off at any time. And we’ve learned that, thankfully, this feature will be opt-in. However, that’s a decision you
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Favstar says it will shut down June 19 as a result of Twitter’s API changes for data streams

As Twitter develops an ever-closer hold on how it manages services around its real-time news and social networking service, a pioneer in Twitter analytics is calling it quits. Favstar, an early leader in developing a way to track and review how your and other people’s Tweets were getting liked and retweeted by others on the network, has announced that it will be shutting down on June 19 — a direct result, its creator Tim Haines notes, of changes that Twitter will be making to its own APIs, specifically around its Account Activity API, which is coming online at the same time that another API, User Streams, is being depreciated. Favstar and others rely on User Streams to power its services. “Twitter… [has] not been forthcoming with the details or pricing,” Favstar’s creator Tim Haines said of the newer API. “Favstar can’t continue to operate in this environment of uncertainty.
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Facebook suspends ~200 suspicious apps out of “thousands” reviewed so far

Did you just notice a Facebook app has gone AWOL? After reviewing “thousands” of apps on its platform following a major data misuse scandal that blew up in March, Facebook has announced it’s suspended around 200 apps — pending what it describes as a “thorough investigation” into whether or not their developers misused Facebook user data. The action is part of a still ongoing audit of third party applications running on the platform announced by Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal where a third party developer used quiz apps to extract and pass Facebook user data to the consultancy for political ad targeting purposes. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the app audit on March 21, writing that the company would “investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform to dramatically reduce data access in 2014, and we
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Whitney Wolfe Herd doesn’t care what she’s supposed to do

It’s 4:55pm Central Time on a Tuesday at Bumble headquarters in Austin, Texas. Whitney Wolfe Herd, the 28-year-old founder and CEO of the woman-led dating app is showing me around the nearly four-year-old startup’s office before we sit down to talk. Our first stop is the standard startup watering hole, with a few twists. The fridges are stocked with Topo Chico instead of La Croix and the built-in taps are purely for decoration. Maybe one day they’ll be filled with Kombucha or iced coffee, a team member tells me. But no mention of beer. We’re not in Silicon Valley anymore. As Wolfe Herd pours two glasses of white wine and plops in a few ice cubes, she briefly pauses to ask if I’m okay with the drink selection. Her question quickly caused my mind to wander back to my 21st birthday when a waiter told me men aren’t supposed to drink
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