Facebook says it will prioritize original reporting and ‘transparent authorship’ in the News Feed – TechCrunch

Facebook announced this morning that stories with original reporting will get a boost in the News Feed, while publications that don’t clearly credit their editorial staff will be demoted.

The change comes as a number of high-profile companies have said they will pull their advertising from Facebook as part of the #StopHateforProfit campaign, organized by civil rights groups as a way to pressure the social network to take stronger steps against hate speech and misinformation.

On Friday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company will start labeling — but not removing — “newsworthy” content from politicians and other public figures that violates its content standards. (He also said that content threatening violence or suppressing voter participation will be removed even if it’s posted by a public figure.)

Today’s blog post from VP of Global News Partnerships Campbell Brown and product manager Jon Levin doesn’t mention the ad boycott, and it suggests that these changes were developed in consultation with news publishers and academics. But these certainly sound like concrete steps the company can point to as part of its efforts against misinformation.

What gets prioritized in the News Feed has long been a thorny issue for publishers, particularly after a major change in 2016 that prioritized content from friends over content from publishers.

“Most of the news stories people see in News Feed are from sources they or their friends follow, and that won’t change,” Brown and Levin wrote. “When multiple stories are shared by publishers and are available in a person’s News Feed, we will boost the more original one which will help it get more distribution.”

As for “transparent authorship,” Facebook will be looking for article bylines, or for a staff page on the publisher’s website. As Brown and Levin noted, “We’ve found that publishers who do not include this information often lack credibility to readers and produce content with clickbait or ad farms, all content people tell us they don’t want to see on Facebook.”

While these seem like smart, straightforward changes (Google announced similar steps last fall), Brown and Levin also warned publishers not to expect “significant changes” in their Facebook traffic, as there are a “variety of signals” that go into how content gets ranked in the News Feed.

Also worth noting: These changes only apply to news content.

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With advertiser boycott growing, lawmakers press Facebook on white supremacy – TechCrunch

In a new letter to Mark Zuckerberg, three Democratic lawmakers pressed the Facebook chief executive for accountability on his company’s role in amplifying white supremacy and allowing violent extremists, like those in “boogaloo” groups, to organize on its platform.

Citing the “long-overdue” national reckoning around racial injustice, Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) wrote to Zuckerberg in an effort to highlight the rift between Facebook’s stated policies and its track record.

“The United States is going through a long-overdue examination of the systemic racism prevalent in our society. Americans of all races, ages and backgrounds have bravely taken to the streets to demand equal justice for all,” the senators wrote.

“While Facebook has attempted to publicly align itself with this movement, its failure to address the hate spreading on its platform reveals significant gaps between Facebook’s professed commitment to racial justice and the company’s actions and business interests.”

The letter demands answers to a number of questions, some of which are relatively superficial asks for further commitments from Facebook to enforce its existing rules. But a few hit on something more interesting, calling on Zuckerberg to name the Facebook employee whose job explicitly addresses the spread of white supremacy on the platform and asking the company to elaborate on the role that Joel Kaplan, vice president of global public policy and Facebook’s most prominent conservative voice, played in shaping the company’s approach to extremist content.

The senators also ask if Kaplan influenced Facebook’s puzzling decision to include The Daily Caller, the right-wing news site co-created by Tucker Carlson and linked to white supremacists, as a partner in its fact-checking program. A recent petition from racial justice group Color of Change also singled out Kaplan, calling for Facebook to fire him. “Change starts at the top and Joel Kaplan needs to go,” the petition’s authors wrote in their own letter to Zuckerberg.

The senators’ final question includes a thinly veiled threat to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law protecting platforms from legal liability for user generated content. Last month, President Trump launched his own attack against the vital legal shield, which makes internet businesses possible and also undergirds the modern social internet as we know it.

The letter from lawmakers comes as Facebook faces a fresh wave of scrutiny around its platform policies from the #StopHateforProfit campaign. Launched by a group of civil rights organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change and the NAACP, the Facebook advertising boycott has swelled to encompass a surprising array of huge mainstream brands including Coca-Cola, Best Buy, Ford and Verizon. Other brands on board include Adidas, Ben & Jerry’s, Reebok, REI, Patagonia and Vans.

While the unlikely mix of companies likely represents a similarly heterogenous mixture of motivations for temporarily suspending their Facebook ad spending, the initiative does make specific policy demands. On its webpage, the campaign advocates for some specific product changes, calling on Facebook to remove private groups centered on white supremacy and violent conspiracies, disable its recommendation engine for more hate and conspiracy groups and to hire a “C-suite level executive” who specializes in civil rights.

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Tech giants unveil breakthroughs at computer vision summit – TechCrunch

Computer vision summit CVPR has just (virtually) taken place, and like other CV-focused conferences, there are quite a few interesting papers. More than I could possibly write up individually, in fact, so I’ve collected the most promising ones from major companies here.

Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft all shared papers at the conference — and others too, I’m sure — but I’m sticking to the big hitters for this column. (If you’re interested in the papers deemed most meritorious by attendees and judges, the nominees and awards are listed here.)


Redmond has the most interesting papers this year, in my opinion, because they cover several nonobvious real-life needs.

One is documenting that shoebox we or perhaps our parents filled with old 3x5s and other film photos. Of course there are services that help with this already, but if photos are creased, torn, or otherwise damaged, you generally just get a high-resolution scan of that damage. Microsoft has created a system to automatically repair such photos, and the results look mighty good.

Image Credits: Google

The problem is as much identifying the types of degradation a photo suffers from as it is fixing them. The solution is simple, write the authors: “We propose a novel triplet domain translation network by leveraging real photos along with massive synthetic image pairs.” Amazing no one tried it before!

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Instagram’s latest test puts all Stories on one page – TechCrunch

Instagram Stories has grown to become one of Facebook’s best products to date. As of last year, roughly half of Instagram’s users — or 500 million people — were interacting with Stories on a daily basis. That’s nearly double the entire daily active user base of all of Snapchat, which first popularized the Stories format. Now, it appears Instagram is testing a way to expand the Stories experience, making it a more of a central focus in the Instagram app.

The company is newly testing a feature that will allow Instagram users to see more Stories at once, both on the home screen and in a new Stories-only experience.

In the test, users will initially see two rows of Stories instead of one at the top of the screen when they first open the Instagram app. A button will also appear beneath this expanded Stories area that lets you click to “See All Stories.”

This will then launch a new screen where you can view and scroll through all your available Stories in a full-screen experience.

The feature was first spotted by California-based social media manager Julian Gamboa late last week, who shared a screenshot of the new Stories interface to Twitter.

Instagram confirmed to TechCrunch this is a test with a small number of users for the time being. The company declined to provide further details, but said the test has been live for over a month.

It’s not surprising to see Facebook toying with ideas that would allow it to push more users to engage with Stories, given the product’s massive appeal, growth and increasing importance to Facebook advertisers.

In Q3 2019, Facebook called Stories one of its biggest growth areas, noting then that 3 million of its 7 million total advertisers were now advertising across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger Stories combined. By Q4, the number of advertisers using Story Ads had grown to 4 million.

Image Credits: Julian Gamboa (opens in a new window)

To cater to advertisers’ needs, Facebook last year introduced customizable templates where businesses can upload their photos and videos, then choose from different layouts, color and text options to make more engaging Stories. And to make it easier to participate in Stories, Facebook now allows advertisers to buy across Facebook, Messenger and Instagram all at once.

When Facebook reported its Q1 2020 earnings, it noted the total number of ad impressions across its services had grown by 39%. It attributed the jump to both engagement increases across feed products and Stories combined.

However, Facebook has often said that Stories ads monetize at lower rates than the News Feed — something the company believes will change in the long run as more advertisers migrate to Stories.

Given this context, it’s interesting to see Instagram testing a full-screen, scrollable Stories experience in the app. If Instagram decided to launch this product publicly, it could capture more daily users and then, in turn, more advertisers.

“We’re always testing new ways to improve the Instagram experience for our community,” a Facebook company spokesperson said, in reference to the test.

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Facebook discovers it shared user data with at least 5,000 app developers after a cutoff date – TechCrunch

Facebook says it accidentally allowed around 5,000 developers to access data from their app’s inactive users, even though that access should have been cut off. The company explained on Wednesday it recently discovered an issue that had allowed app developers to continue receiving this information beyond the 90 days of inactivity that is meant to cut off data access until the user returns to the app and again re-authenticates.

In 2018, Facebook announced a change to the way app developers would be able to access Facebook user data in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw the personal data of 87 million Facebook users compromised. Among many new restrictions to Facebook’s API platform, it introduced a stricter review process for the use of Facebook Login for apps and said it would block apps’ access to users’ personal data after three months of non-use.

This latter change is the one that was not adhered to, in the case of this latest data sharing incident.

Facebook Login, by way of background, gives app developers a way to make it easier for users to sign into apps using their Facebook sign-in credentials. But it also allows developers to request access to a subset of that person’s data on Facebook, including things like email, user likes, gender, location, birthday, age range and more. It’s unclear among the 5,000 apps how many access which specific user details. Facebook says apps accessed “for example, language or gender” but Facebook Login isn’t limited to just those two attributes when requesting user data.

According to Facebook’s announcement, the issue didn’t impact all apps using Facebook Login but only occurred in certain circumstances. For example, it said, if someone used a fitness app to invite friends to a workout, Facebook didn’t recognize that some of those invited friends had been inactive for many months — meaning, beyond the cutoff date of 90 days.

The estimate of 5,000 apps comes from a review of the past few months’ worth of data. Facebook didn’t say how many users were impacted. These users had granted permissions to these apps to begin with, to be clear, but those permissions were meant to have expired.

This new issue is not the same as the one that occurred during the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when an app’s user provided access to all their friend network’s user data, due to the app’s shady use of access permissions. But it is another example of how Facebook’s friend network leads to data being compromised through someone’s personal associations. In this case, the user data was inadvertently shared with developers because of a user’s connection to a friend who used an app and invited them to try it, too.

Facebook said the issue has since fixed and it’s continuing to investigate.

Related to this, the company also introduced new Platform Terms and Developer Policies to push more of the data-mining aspects, legally speaking, into developers’ hands. The terms now limit the information developers can share with third parties without explicit consent from users, strengthen data security requirements, and clarify when developers must delete data.

For instance, the terms now require developers to delete data that’s no longer required for a legitimate business purpose, if the app is shut down, if Facebook tells them to, or if data was received in error, the announcement states.

Those last two stipulations are interesting, as Facebook could reach out to developers in the future if it noticed other data access problems, like this latest, and inform the developer that they’ve received user data in error. Facebook’s Terms also allow Facebook to audit third-party apps by requesting either remote or physical access to the developers’ systems, according to these terms, to ensure compliance with its policies. Facebook could then ask the developer to delete the data that is non-compliant, as required by these new Terms.

To what extent the wider world would know about any later issues would be up to Facebook to disclose, as it does today by blog posts.

Developer policies were only one area that received an update. Facebook also updated its Business Terms, including its Business Tools Terms, to also cover data involved with certain usages of the Facebook SDK, Facebook Login, and social plug-ins. It’s making changes to its Commercial Terms to make the terms clearer, as well, it says.

It will take time to fully analyze what loopholes Facebook is closing with a comprehensive update to terms like this and how these will impact user data and transparency about subsequent data access issues.

Facebook says the new policies and terms will go into effect August 31, 2020. Developers don’t have to take any action to agree to the updates.

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Facebook is shutting down Lasso, its TikTok clone – TechCrunch

Facebook is no longer betting on Lasso, an app it launched a year and a half ago, to take on TikTok . The social juggernaut’s TikTok clone is shutting down on July 10, Lasso alerted users on Wednesday.

Launched in late 2018, Lasso was seen as Facebook’s answer to TikTok that’s gained ground with young users, both in China and in the West. Lasso allowed users shoot up to 15-second long videos and overlay popular songs. The app centered around an algorithmic feed of recommended videos, but also allowed users to tap through hashtags or a Browse page of themed collections.

As of February, Lasso was available in Colombia, Mexico, the U.S., Argentina, Chile, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Uruguay, research firm Sensor Tower told TechCrunch.

Lasso added support for Hindi language earlier this year, prompting speculation that Facebook may eventually bring the new app to India, the American tech firm’s biggest market by users account.

Lasso’s demise comes ahead of the launch of Instagram Reels — the new horse Facebook is counting on to steal TikTok’s lunch, said Josh Constine, who first spotted Lasso’s announcement.

It’s unclear why Facebook never expanded Lasso to more markets. But what is clear is that Lasso’s journey was troubled from the beginning. Brady Voss, who led the development of this app, left Facebook days after the launch of Lasso.

Lasso had fewer than 80,000 daily active users on Android — the highest it has ever had — in Mexico — its biggest market — on June 1, according to mobile insights firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. The app had so few users on iOS, and it struggled so much in other markets. that the figures were too low for App Annie to track.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced it was also shutting down Hobbi, an app that allowed users to document their personal projects. Hobbi, too, was an experimental project by Facebook.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

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Here’s what it got wrong – TechCrunch

The first wave of AR startups offering smart glasses is now over, with a few exceptions.

Google acquired North this week for an undisclosed sum. The Canadian company had raised nearly $200 million, but the release of its Focals 2.0 smart glasses has been cancelled, a bittersweet end for its soft landing.

Many AR startups before North made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion.

The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption.

A key error of this batch was thinking that an AR glasses company was hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on missing first-party software experiences. To succeed, the next generation of consumer AR glasses will have to nail this.

Image Credits: ODG

App ecosystems alone don’t create product-market fit

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Facebook bans ‘violent network’ of far-right boogaloo accounts – TechCrunch

Facebook took action to remove a network of accounts Tuesday related to the “boogaloo” movement, a firearm-obsessed anti-government ideology that focuses on preparing for and potentially inciting a U.S. civil war.

“As part of today’s action, we are designating a violent US-based anti-government network under our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy and disrupting it on our services,” Facebook wrote in the announcement. “As a result, this violent network is banned from having a presence on our platform and we will remove content praising, supporting or representing it.”

In its announcement, the company made a distinction between “the broader and loosely-affiliated boogaloo movement” and the violent group of accounts it identified and we’ve asked Facebook to clarify how or if it will distinguish between the two moving forward.

On Tuesday, Facebook removed 220 Facebook accounts, 28 pages, 106 groups (some public, some private) and 95 Instagram accounts related to the network it identified within the boogaloo movement.

A Facebook spokesperson clarified that today’s actions don’t mean all boogaloo content will be subject to removal. The company will continue concentrate on boogaloo activity that focuses on potential real-world violence, like the new cluster of content taken down. The new designation of some boogaloo networks as “dangerous organizations” does mean that Facebook will scan its platform for symbols connected to the accounts that meet that designation.

The company notes that it has been monitoring boogaloo content since 2019, but previously only removed the content when it posed a “credible” threat of offline violence, citing that the presence of that threat in its decision to more aggressively identify and remove boogaloo content.

“… Officials have identified violent adherents to the movement as those responsible for several attacks over the past few months,” the company wrote in its blog post. “These acts of real-world violence and our investigations into them are what led us to identify and designate this distinct network.”

Earlier this month, an Air Force sergeant found with symbols connected to the boogaloo movement was charged with murder for killing a federal security officer during protests in Oakland.

In an April report, the watchdog group Tech Transparency Project detailed how extremists committed to the boogaloo movement “[exchange] detailed information and tactics on how to organize and execute a revolt against American authorities” in Facebook groups, some private. Boogaloo groups appear to have flourished on the platform in the early days of the pandemic, with politicized state lockdowns, viral misinformation and general uncertainty fueling fresh interest in far-right extremism.

As the Tech Transparency Project report explains, the boogaloo movement initially used the cover of humor, memes and satire to disguise an underlying layer of real-world violent intent. Boogaloo groups have a mix of members with varying levels of commitment to real-world violence and race-based hate, but organizations studying extremism have identified overlap between boogaloo supporters and white supremacist groups.

Facebook’s action against the boogaloo movement come the same day that Democratic senators wrote a letter to the company demanding accountability for its role in amplifying white supremacy and other forms of far-right extremism. In the letter, addressed to Mark Zuckerberg, lawmakers cited activity by members of boogaloo groups as part of Facebook’s “failure to address the hate spreading on its platform.”

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Facebook shuts down Hobbi, its experimental app for documenting personal projects – TechCrunch

Facebook’s recently launched app, Hobbi, an experiment in short-form content creation around personal projects, hobbies, and other Pinterest-y content, is already shutting down. The app first arrived on iOS in February as one of now several launches from Facebook’s internal R&D group, the NPE Team.

Hobbi users have now been notified by way of push notification that the app is shutting down on July 10, 2020. The app allows users to export their data from its settings.

In the few months it’s been live on the U.S. App Store, Hobbi only gained 7,000 downloads, according to estimates from Sensor Tower. Apptopia also reported the app had under 10K downloads and saw minimal gains during May and June.

Though Hobbi clearly took cues from Pinterest, it was not designed to be a pinboard of inspirational ideas. Instead, Hobbi users would organize photos of their projects — like gardening, cooking, arts & crafts, décor, and more — in a visual diary of sorts. The goal was to photograph the project’s progress over time, adding text to describe the steps, as needed.

The end result would be a highlight reel of all those steps that could be published externally when the project was completed.

But Hobbi was a fairly bare bones app. There was nothing else to do but document your own projects. You couldn’t browse and watch projects other users had created, beyond a few samples, nor could you follow top users across the service. And even the tools for documentation were underdeveloped. Beyond a special “Notes” field for writing down a project’s steps, the app experience felt like a watered-down version of Stories.

Image Credits: Hobbi

Facebook wasn’t alone in pursuing the potential of short-form creative content. Google’s internal R&D group, Area 120, also published its own experiment in this area with the video app Tangi. And Pinterest was recently spotted testing a new version of Story Pins, that would allow users to showcase DIY and creative content in a similar way.

It’s not surprising to see Hobbi wind down so quickly, given its lack of traction. Facebook already said its NPE Team experiments would involve apps that changed very rapidly and would shut down if consumers didn’t find them useful.

In addition to Hobbi, the NPE Team has launched a number of apps since last summer, including meme creator Whale, conversational app Bump, music app Aux, couples app Tuned, Apple Watch app Kit, audio calling app CatchUp, collaborative music app Collab, live event companion Venue, and predictions app Forecast. Before Hobbi, the only one to have shut down was Bump. (Some are not live in the U.S., either.)

Of course, Facebook may not intend to use these experiments to create a set of entirely new social apps built from the ground-up. Instead, it’s likely looking to collect data about what features resonate with users and how different creation tools are used. This is data that can inform Facebook’s development of features for its main set of apps, like Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment but one had not been provided at the time of publication.

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Facebook launches Avatars, its Bitmoji competitor, in India – TechCrunch

Facebook Avatars, which lets users customize a virtual lookalike of themselves for use as stickers in chat and comments, is now available in India, the social juggernaut’s biggest market by users account.

The American firm said Tuesday it had launched Avatars to India as more social interaction moves online amid a nationwide lockdown in the world’s second largest internet market. The company said Avatars supports a variety of faces, hairstyles, outfits that are customized for users in India.

Avatars’ launch comes to India at the height of a backlash against Chinese apps in the country — some of which have posed serious competition to Facebook’s ever-growing tentacles in Asia’s third-largest economy. On Monday evening, New Delhi ordered to ban TikTok and nearly 60 other apps developed by Chinese firms.

The social giant’s Avatars, a clone of Snapchat’s popular Bitmoji, was first unveiled last year. The feature, which Facebook sees as an expression tool, aims at turning engagements on the social service fun, youthful, visually communicative, and “more light-hearted.”

Users can create their avatar from the sticker tray in the comment section of a News Feed post or in Messenger. Facebook has expanded Avatars, initially available to users in Australia and New Zealand, to Europe and the U.S. in recent weeks.

Scores of companies including Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi have attempted to replicate Bitmoji in recent years — though no one has expanded it like Snapchat.

Earlier this year, Snapchat introduced Bitmoji TV, a series of 4-minute comedy cartoons with users’ avatars. At the time, Snapchat said that about 70% of its daily active users, or 147 million of its 210 million users, had created their own Bitmojis.

Snapchat is preparing to launch the Spectacles, its AR glasses, in India. The California-headquartered firm has so far struggled to gain ground in India, where it had about 30 million monthly active users last month, according to mobile insights firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. Facebook has amassed over 350 million users in India and its instant messaging service WhatsApp has more than 400 million users in the country.

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