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Main article: Twitter

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Twitter DMs now have emoji reactions

16:27 | 23 January

Twitter is pouring a little more fuel on the messaging fire. It’s added a heart+ button to its direct messaging interface which lets users shortcut to a pop-up menu of seven emoji reactions so they can quickly express how they’re feeling about a missive.

Emoji reactions can be added to text or media messages — either via the heart+ button or by double tapping on the missive to bring up the reaction menu.

The social network teased the incoming tweak a few hours earlier in a knowing

about sliding into DMs that actually revealed the full line-up of reaction emojis — which, in text form, can be described as: Crying lol; shocked/surprised; actually sad; heart; flame; thumb-up and thumb-down.

So instead of a smilie face Twitter users are being nudged towards an on-brand-message Twitter heart, in keeping with its long-standing pick for a pleasure symbol.

The flame is perhaps slightly surprising for a company that’s publicly professed to wanting to improve the conversational health of its platform.

If it’s there to stand in for appreciation a clap emoji could surely have done the trick. Whereas flame wars aren’t typically associated with constructive speech. But — hey — the flame icon does catch the eye…

Twitter is late to this extroverted party. Rival messaging platforms such as Apple iMessage and Facebook Messenger have had emoji reactions for years, whereas Twitter kept things relatively minimal and chat-focused in its DM funnel — to its credit (at least if you value the service as, first and foremost, an information network).

So some might say Twitter jumping on the emoji reaction bandwagon now is further evidence it’s trying to move closer to rivals like Facebook as a product. (See also: Last year’s major desktop product redesign by Twitter — which has been compared in look and feel to the Facebook News Feed.)

But if so this change at least is a relatively incremental one.

Twitter users have also, of course, always been able to react to an incoming DM by sending whatever emoji or combination of emoji they prefer as a standard reply. Though now lazy thumbs have shortcut to emote — so long as they’re down with Twitter’s choice of icons.

In an FAQ about the new DM emoji reactions, Twitter notes that emoting will by default send a notification to all conversation participants “any time a new reaction is added to a message”.

So, yes, there’s attention-spamming potential aplenty here…

Adjust your notification and DM settings accordingly.

You can only choose one reaction per missive. Each symbol is displayed under the message/media with a count next to it — to allow for group tallies to be totted up. 

While clicking on another symbol will swap out the earlier one — generating, er, more notification spam. And really annoying people could keep flipping their reaction to generate a real-time emoji streaming game of notification hell (hi growth hackers!) with folks they’ve been DMing with on Twitter. So that’s another good reason to lock down your settings.

Twitter users still running older version of its apps which don’t support message reactions will see a standard text emoji message per reaction sent — which kinda confusingly makes it look like the reaction sender has actually been liking/flaming their own stuff. All the more reason to not be spammy about emoji.

 


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Cross-border investments aren’t dead, they’re getting smarter

00:15 | 11 January

Yohei Nakajima Contributor
Yohei Nakajima is an investor at Scrum Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund based in San Francisco, and Senior Vice President at Scrum Studio, helping global corporations connect and work with innovative startups.

In recent years, the venture capital and startup worlds have seen a significant shift towards globalization. More and more startups are going global and breaking borders, such as payments giant Stripe and their recent expansion to Latin America, e-scooter startup Bird’s massive European expansion, or fashion subscription service (an investment in our portfolio) Le Tote’s entrance into China.

Likewise, more VC Funds are spanning geographies in both investment focus and the limited partners, or LPs, who fuel those investments. While Silicon Valley is very much seen as an epicenter for tech — it is no longer the sole proprietor for innovation — with new technology hubs rising across the world from Israel to the UK to Latin America and beyond.

Yet, many have commented on a shift or slowdown of globalization, or “slobalization,” in recent months. Whether it be from the current political climate or other factors, it’s been said that there’s been a marked decrease in cross-border investments of late — leading to the question: Is the world still interested in U.S. startups?
To answer this and better understand the hunger from foreign investors in participating in U.S. funding rounds, both from a geographic and stage perspective, I looked at Crunchbase data in U.S. seed and VC rounds between the years of 2009 to 2018. The data shows that cross-border investments are far from dead — but they are getting smarter and perhaps even more global with the rise of investments from Asia.

 


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Twitter will free up handles by deleting inactive accounts

23:56 | 26 November

Those who’ve attempted to snag their preferred Twitter handle know what a pain the process can be. Users can squat on an account for years, holding onto handles in spite of long stretches of inactivity. As spotted

, Twitter looks to finally be getting proactive about the situation.

The service confirmed the move in an email to TechCrunch, writing,

As part of our commitment to serve the public conversation, we’re working to clean up inactive accounts to present more accurate, credible information people can trust across Twitter. Part of this effort is encouraging people to actively log-in and use Twitter when they register an account, as stated in our Inactive Accounts Policy. We have begun proactive outreach to many accounts who have not logged into Twitter in over six months to inform them that their accounts may be permanently removed due to prolonged inactivity.

As noted, the service has an inactive account policy in place, though it traditionally hasn’t done much to enforce this. The company encourages users to, at the very least, log in and Tweet ever six months. Now it’s taking the added measure of reaching out to inactive users, prompting them to log in prior to December 11, or risk being deleted.

As for the timeline of opening up those accounts, Twitter’s not saying. And the fine print on the inactive account policy page still notes that the service does not “generally accept requests for usernames that seem inactive,” short of perceived trademark infringement. A spokesperson noted in an email to TechCrunch that the accounts “may” become available, though the process of removing old accounts will likely take a number of months. 

 


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Twitter says government demands for user data continue to rise

18:45 | 31 October

Twitter has reported a rise in the number of government demands for customer data.

In its latest transparency report covering the six-months between January and June, the social media giant said it received 7,300 requests for user data, up by 6% a year earlier, but that the number of accounts affected are down by 25%.

The company turned over some data in just under half of all cases.

U.S. government agencies demanded the most data, filing 2,120 demands for 4,150 accounts — accounting for about one-third of all requests. Japan was trailing behind with 1,742 demands for 2,445 accounts.

The company also had 33 requests for data on 86 Periscope video-streaming accounts, disclosing some information in 60% of cases.

Twitter also disclosed it was previously served with three so-called national security letters (NSLs), which can compel companies to turn over non-content data at the request of the FBI. These letters are not approved by a judge, and often come with a gag order preventing their disclosure. But since the Freedom Act passed in 2015, companies have been allowed to request the lifting of their gag orders.

The report also said Twitter saw a rise across the board in the amount of private information, sensitive media, hateful content, and abuse, but that it was continuing to take action.

Twitter said it removed 124,339 accounts for impersonation, and 115,861 accounts for promoting terrorism, a decline of 30% on the previous reporting period.

The company also removed 244,188 accounts for violations relating to child sexual exploitation.

 


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Facebook should ban campaign ads. End the lies.

02:59 | 14 October

Permitting falsehood in political advertising would work if we had a model democracy, but we don’t. Not only are candidates dishonest, but voters aren’t educated, and the media isn’t objective. And now, hyperlinks turn lies into donations and donations into louder lies. The checks don’t balance. What we face is a self-reinforcing disinformation dystopia.

That’s why if Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube don’t want to be the arbiters of truth in campaign ads, they should stop selling them. If they can’t be distributed safely, they shouldn’t be distributed at all.

No one wants historically untrustworthy social networks becoming the honesty police, deciding what’s factual enough to fly. But the alternative of allowing deception to run rampant is unacceptable. Until voter-elected officials can implement reasonable policies to preserve truth in campaign ads, the tech giants should go a step further and refuse to run them.

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This problem came to a head recently when Facebook formalized its policy of allowing politicians to lie in ads and refusing to send their claims to third-party fact-checkers. “We don’t believe, however, that it’s an appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny” Facebook’s VP of policy Nick Clegg wrote.

The Trump campaign was already running ads with false claims about Democrats trying to repeal the Second Amendment and weeks-long scams about a “midnight deadline” for a contest to win the one-millionth MAGA hat.

Trump Ad

After the announcement, Trump’s campaign began running ads smearing potential opponent Joe Biden with widely debunked claims about his relationship with Ukraine. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter refused to remove the ad when asked by Biden.

In response to the policy, Elizabeth Warren

claiming Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg endorses Trump because it’s allowing his campaign lies. She’s continued to
Facebook on the issue, asking “you can be in the disinformation-for-profit business, or you can hold yourself to some standards.”

It’s easy to imagine campaign ads escalating into an arms race of dishonesty.

Campaigns could advertise increasingly untrue and defamatory claims about each other tied to urgent calls for donations. Once all sides are complicit in the misinformation, lying loses its stigma, becomes the status quo, and ceases to have consequences. Otherwise, whichever campaign misleads more aggressively will have an edge.

“In open democracies, voters rightly believe that, as a general rule, they should be able to judge what politicians say themselves.” Facebook’s Clegg writes.

But as is emblematic of Facebook’s past mistakes, it’s putting too much idealistic faith in society. If all voters were well educated and we weren’t surrounded by hyperpartisan media from Fox News to far-left Facebook Pages, maybe this hands-off approach might work. But in reality, juicy lies spread further than boring truths, and plenty of “news” outlets are financially incentivized to share sensationalism and whatever keeps their team in power.

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Protecting the electorate should fall to legislators. But incumbents have few reasons to change the rules that got them their jobs. The FCC already has truth in advertising policies, but exempts campaign ads and a judge struck down a law mandating accuracy.

Granted, there have always been dishonest candidates, uninformed voters, and one-sided news outlets. But it’s all gotten worse. We’re in a post-truth era now where the spoils won through deceptive demagoguery are clear. Cable news and digitally native publications have turned distortion of facts into a huge business.

Most critically, targeted social network advertising combined with donation links create a perpetual misinformation machine. Politicians can target vulnerable demographics with frightening lies, then say only their financial contribution will let the candidate save them. A few clicks later and the candidate has the cash to buy more ads, amplifying more untruths and raising even more money. Without the friction of having to pick up the phone, mail a letter, or even type in a URL like TV ads request, the feedback loop is shorter and things spiral out of control.

This is why the social networks should halt sales of political campaign ads now. They’re the one set of stakeholders with flexibility and that could make a united decision. You’ll never get all the politicians and media to be honest, or the public to understand, but just a few companies could set a policy that would protect democracy from the world’s . And they could do it without having to pick sides or make questionable decisions on a case-by-case basis. Just block them all from all candidates.

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Facebook wrote in response to Biden’s request to block the Trump ads that “Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is.”

But banning campaign ads would still leave room for open political expression that’s subject to public scrutiny. Social networks should continue to let politicians say what they want to their own followers, barring calls for violence. Tech giants can offer a degree of freedom of speech, just not freedom of reach. Whoever wants to listen can, but they shouldn’t be able to jam misinformation into the feeds of the unsuspecting.

If the tech giants want to stop short of completely banning campaign ads, they could introduce a format designed to minimize misinformation. Politicians could be allowed to simply promote themselves with a set of stock messages, but without the option to make claims about themselves or their opponents.

Campaign ads aren’t a huge revenue driver for social apps, nor are they a high-margin business nowadays. The Trump and Clinton campaigns spent only a combined $81 million on 2016 election ads, a fraction of Facebook’s $27 billion in revenue that year. $284 million was spent in total on 2018 midterm election ads versus Facebook’s $55 billion in revenue last year, says Tech For Campaigns. Zuckerberg even said that Facebook will lose money selling political ads because of all the moderators it hires to weed out election interference by foreign parties.

Surely, there would be some unfortunate repercussions from blocking campaign ads. New candidates in local to national elections would lose a tool for reducing the lead of incumbents, some of which have already benefited from years of advertising. Some campaign ads might be pushed “underground” where they’re not properly labeled, though the major spenders could be kept under watch.

If the social apps can still offer free expression through candidates’ own accounts, aren’t reliant on politicians’ cash to survive, won’t police specific lies in their promos, and would rather let the government regulate the situation, then they should respectfully decline to sell campaign advertising. Following the law isn’t enough until the laws adapt. This will be an ongoing issue through the 2020 election, and leaving the floodgates open is irresponsible.

If a game is dangerous, you don’t eliminate the referee. You stop playing until you can play safe.

 


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Twitter’s latest test lets users subscribe to a tweet’s replies

16:33 | 12 August

Twitter in more recent months has been focused on making conversations on its platform easier to follow,

in, and in some cases, block. The company’s latest test, announced via a tweet ahead of the weekend, will allow users to subscribe to replies to a particularly interesting tweet they want to follow, too, in order to see how the conversation progresses. The feature is designed to complement the existing notifications feature you may have turned on for your “must-follow” accounts.

Many people already have Twitter alert them via a push notification when an account they want to track sends out a new tweet. Now you’ll be able to visit that tweet directly and turn on the option to receive reply notifications, if you’re opted in to this new test.

If you have the new feature, you’ll see a notification bell icon in the top-right corner of the screen when you’re viewing the tweet in Twitter’s mobile app.

When you click the bell icon, you’ll be presented with three options: one to subscribe to the “top” replies, another to subscribe to all replies, and a third to turn reply notifications off.

Twitter says top replies will include those from the author, anyone they mentioned, and people you follow.

This is the same set of “interesting” replies that Twitter has previously experimented with highlighting in other ways — including through the use of labels like “Original Tweeter” or “Author,” and as of last month, with icons instead of text-based labels. For example, one test displayed a microphone icon next to a tweet from the original poster in order to make their replies easier to spot.

The larger goal of those tests and this new one is to personalize the experience of participating in Twitter conversations by showcasing what the people you follow are saying, while also making a conversation easier to follow by seeing when the original poster and those they mentioned have chimed in.

This latest test takes things a step further by actually subscribing you to those sorts of replies — or even all the replies to a tweet, if you choose.

The new experiment comes at a time when Twitter is attempting to solve the overwhelming problem of conversation health in other ways, too. Beyond attempting to write and enforce tougher rules regarding online abuse and harassment, it also last month officially launched a “Hide Replies” feature in Canada that would allow the original poster to put replies they didn’t feel were valuable behind an icon so they weren’t prominently displayed within the conversation. It’s unclear how “Hide Replies” would work with this new reply notifications option, however — presumably, you’d still get alerts when someone you follow responded, even if the original poster hid their reply from view.

Twitter says the new test is available on iOS or Android.

 


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Twitter ‘fesses up to more adtech leaks

11:57 | 7 August

Twitter has disclosed more bugs related to how it uses personal data for ad targeting that means it may have shared users data with advertising partners even when a user had expressly told it not to.

Back in May the social network disclosed a bug that in certain conditions resulted in an account’s location data being shared with a Twitter ad partner, during real-time bidding (RTB) auctions.

In a blog post on its Help Center about the latest “issues” Twitter says it “recently” found, it admits to finding two problems with users’ ad settings choices that mean they “may not have worked as intended”.

It claims both problems were fixed on August 5. Though it does not specify when it realized it was processing user data without their consent.

The first bug relates to tracking ad conversions. This meant that if a Twitter user clicked or viewed an ad for a mobile application on the platform and subsequently interacted with the mobile app Twitter says it “may have shared certain data (e.g., country code; if you engaged with the ad and when; information about the ad, etc)” with its ad measurement and advertising partners — regardless of whether the user had agreed their personal data could be shared in this way.

It suggests this leak of data has been happening since May 2018 — which is also the day when Europe’s updated privacy framework, GDPR, came into force. The regulation mandates disclosure of data breaches (which explains why you’re hearing about all these issues from Twitter) — and means that quite a lot is riding on how “recently” Twitter found these latest bugs. Because GDPR also includes a supersized regime of fines for confirmed data protection violations.

Though it remains to be seen whether Twitter’s now repeatedly leaky adtech will attract regulatory attention…

Twitter specifies that it does not share users’ names, Twitter handles, email or phone number with ad partners. However it does share a user’s mobile device identifier, which GDPR treats as personal data as it acts as a unique identifier. Using this identifier, Twitter and Twitter’s ad partners can work together to link a device identifier to other pieces of identity-linked personal data they collectively hold on the same user to track their use of the wider Internet, thereby allowing user profiling and creepy ad targeting to take place in the background.

The second issue Twitter discloses in the blog post also relates to tracking users’ wider web browsing to serve them targeted ads.

Here Twitter admits that, since September 2018, it may have served targeted ads that used inferences made about the user’s interests based on tracking their wider use of the Internet — even when the user had not given permission to be tracked.

This sounds like another breach of GDPR, given that in cases where the user did not consent to being tracked for ad targeting Twitter would lack a legal basis for processing their personal data. But it’s saying it processed it anyway — albeit, it claims accidentally.

This type of creepy ad targeting — based on so-called ‘inferences’ — is made possible because Twitter associates the devices you use (including mobile and browsers) when you’re logged in to its service with your Twitter account, and then receives information linked to these same device identifiers (IP addresses and potentially browser fingerprinting) back from its ad partners, likely gathered via tracking cookies (including Twitter’s own social plug-ins) which are larded all over the mainstream Internet for the purpose of tracking what you look at online.

These third party ad cookies link individuals’ browsing data (which gets turned into inferred interests) with unique device/browser identifiers (linked to individuals) to enable the adtech industry (platforms, data brokers, ad exchanges and so on) to track web users across the web and serve them “relevant” (aka creepy) ads.

“As part of a process we use to try and serve more relevant advertising on Twitter and other services since September 2018, we may have shown you ads based on inferences we made about the devices you use, even if you did not give us permission to do so,” it how Twitter explains this second ‘issue’.

“The data involved stayed within Twitter and did not contain things like passwords, email accounts, etc.,” it adds. Although the key point here is one of a lack of consent, not where the data ended up.

(Also, the users’ wider Internet browsing activity linked to their devices via cookie tracking did not originate with Twitter — even if it’s claiming the surveillance files it received from its “trusted” partners stayed on its servers. Bits and pieces of that tracked data would, in any case, exist all over the place.)

In an explainer on its website on “personalization based on your inferred identity” Twitter seeks to reassure users that it will not track them without their consent, writing:

We are committed to providing you meaningful privacy choices. You can control whether we operate and personalize your experience based on browsers or devices other than the ones you use to log in to Twitter (or if you’re logged out, browsers or devices other than the one you’re currently using), or email addresses and phone numbers similar to those linked to your Twitter account. You can do this by visiting your Personalization and data settings and adjusting the Personalize based on your inferred identity setting.

The problem in this case is that users’ privacy choices were simply overridden. Twitter says it did not do so intentionally. But either way it’s not consent. Ergo, a breach.

“We know you will want to know if you were personally affected, and how many people in total were involved. We are still conducting our investigation to determine who may have been impacted and If we discover more information that is useful we will share it,” Twitter goes on. “What is there for you to do? Aside from checking your settings, we don’t believe there is anything for you to do.

“You trust us to follow your choices and we failed here. We’re sorry this happened, and are taking steps to make sure we don’t make a mistake like this again. If you have any questions, you may contact Twitter’s Office of Data Protection through this form.”

While the company may “believe” there is nothing Twitter users can do — aside from accept its apology for screwing up — European Twitter users who believe it processed their data without their consent do have a course of action they can take: They can complain to their local data protection watchdog.

Zooming out, there are also major legal question marks hanging over behaviourally targeted ads in Europe.

The UK’s privacy regulator warned in June that systematic profiling of web users via invasive tracking technologies such as cookies is in breach of pan-EU privacy laws — following multiple complaints filed in the region that argue RTB is in breach of the GDPR.

While, back in May Google’s lead regulator in Europe, the Irish Data Protection Commission, confirmed it has opened a formal investigation into use of personal data in the context of its online Ad Exchange.

So the wider point here is that the whole leaky business of creepy ads looks to be operating on borrowed time.

 


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Instagram and Facebook are experiencing outages

19:43 | 4 August

Users reported issues with Instagram and Facebook Sunday morning.

The mobile apps wouldn’t load for many users beginning in the early hours of the morning, prompting thousands to take to Twitter to complain about the outage. #facebookdown and #instagramdown are both trending on Twitter at time of publish.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for more information and when they are expecting services to come back online. We’ll update this story when we hear back.

 

 


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The dreaded 10x, or, how to handle exceptional employees

20:26 | 30 July

The “10x engineer.” Shudder. Wince. I have rarely seen my Twitter feed unite against an idea so loudly, or in such harmony.

I refer of course to the

last month by Accel India’s Shekhar Kirani, explaining “If you have a 10x engineer as part of your first few engineers, you increase the odds of your startup success significantly” and then going on to address, in his opinion, “How do you spot a 10x engineer?”

The resulting scorn was tsunami-like. The very concept of a 10x engineer seems so… five years ago. Since then, the Valley has largely come to the collective conclusion that 1) there is no such thing as a 10x engineer 2) even if there were, you wouldn’t want to hire one, because they play so poorly with others.

The anti-10x squad raises many important and valid — frankly, obvious and inarguable — points. Go down that Twitter thread and you’ll find that 10x engineers are identified as: people who eschew meetings, work alone, rarely look at documentation, don’t write much themselves, are poor mentors, and view process, meetings, or training as reasons to abandon their employer. In short, they are unbelievably terrible team members.

Is software a field like the arts, or sports, in which exceptional performers can exist? Sure. Absolutely. Software is Extremistan, not Mediocristan, as Nassim Taleb puts it.

 


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Twitter gives Retweets an upgrade

00:41 | 7 May

Twitter is finally letting you do more with Retweets. In a small but useful update rolled out today, Twitter will now allow users to add a photo, video, or GIF to a Retweet, instead of only text.

The feature is live today on iOS, Android, and Twitter’s mobile website.

Though a seemingly minor upgrade, the addition is notable because of its potential to significantly impact the amount of media that’s shared to Twitter.

Today, retweeting with a comment is a common user behavior — so opening up the Retweet to support media will likely lead to a sizable increase of the amount of non-text content you see on your Twitter timeline when you scroll through.

The update also represents yet another step further away from Twitter’s original goal of offering a sort of public SMS-type platform with all the accompanying limitations of that format. In addition to its support for media, live streaming video from users, live video from media partners, and audio broadcasting, the company also doubled the character limit to 280 back in 2017. Now, it’s working to making conversations easier to follow by prototyping a new user interface for threaded replies in a test app called twttr.

Combined, the changes speak to a platform that’s looking to shed its reputation for “text status updates,” in favor of something more media rich and engaging. That could increase users’ time on Twitter, which then helps to boost ad revenues.

The company said the updates to the Retweet feature required teamwork and collaboration across multiple teams, as the changes impacted things like the tweet detail page, timelines, accessibility features, and parity across Twitter clients.

“The most exciting part of this project was that we were working on a feature that many people asked for,” wrote the Twitter Engineering account, in an update today. “We’re very excited to launch this feature across Twitter, and we can’t wait to see it being used by all of you.”

Hopefully the company remembers how we’re all asking for a couple of other things, too…

 


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