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Facebook finally lets you banish nav bar tabs & red dots

22:43 | 11 November

Are those red notification dots on your Facebook home screen driving you crazy? Sick of Facebook Marketplace wasting your screen space? Now you can control what appears in the Facebook app’s navigation bar thanks to a new option called Shortcuts Bar Settings.

Over the weekend TechCrunch spotted the option to remove certain tabs like Marketplace, Watch, Groups, Events, and Dating or just silence their notification dots. In response to our inquiry, Facebook confirms that Shortcut Bar Settings is now rolling out to everyone, with most iOS users already equipped and the rest of Android owners getting it in the next few weeks.

The move could save the sanity and improve the well-being of people who don’t want their Facebook cluttered with distractions. Users already get important alerts that they could actually control via their Notifications tab. Constant red notification counts on the homescreen are an insidious growth hack, trying to pull in people’s attention to random Group feeds, Event wall posts, and Marketplace.

“We are rolling out navigation bar controls to make it easier for people to connect with the things they like and control the notifications they get within the Facebook app” a Facebook spokesperson tells me.

Back in July 2018, Facebook said it would start personalizing the navigation bar based on what utilities you use most. But the navigation bar seemed more intent on promoting features Facebook wanted to be popular like its Craigslist competitor Marketplace, which I rarely use, rather than its long-standing Events feature I access daily.

To use the Shortcuts Bar Settings options, tap and hold on any of the shortcuts in your navigation bar that’s at the bottom of the Facebook homescreen on iOS and the top on Android. You’ll see a menu pop up letting you remove that tab entirely, or leave it but disable the red notification count overlays. That clears space in your nav bar for a more peaceful experience.

You’ll also now find in the three-line More tab -> Settings & Privacy -> Settings -> Shortcuts menu the ability to toggle any of the Marketplace, Groups, Events, and Pages tabs on or off. Eagle-eyed reverse engineering specialist

spotted in June that Facebook was testing Notification Dots settings menu that’s now available too.

A Facebook spokesperson admits people should have the ability to take a break from notifications within the app. They tell me Facebook wanted to give users more control so they can have access to what’s relevant to them.

For all of Facebook’s talk about well-being, with it trying out hiding Like counts in its app and Instagram (this week starting in the US), there’s still plenty of low-hanging fruit. Better batching of Facebook notifications would be a great step, allowing users to get a daily digest of Groups or Events posts rather than a constant flurry. Its Time Well Spent dashboard that counts your minutes on Facebook should also say how many notifications you get of each type, how many you actually open, and let you disable the most common but useless ones right from there.

If Facebook wants to survive long-term, it can’t piss off users by trapping them in an anxiety-inducing hellscape of growth hacks that benefit the company. The app has become bloated and cramped with extra features over the last 15 years. Facebook could get away with more aggressive cross-promotion of some of these forgotten features as long as it empowers us to hide what we hate.

 


0

Facebook’s first experimental apps from its ‘NPE Team’ division focus on students, chat & music

00:05 | 9 November

This July, Facebook announced a new division called NPE Team which would build experimental consumer-facing apps, allowing the company to try out new ideas and features to see how people would react. It soon thereafter tapped former Vine GM Jason Toff to join the team as a Product Manager. The first apps to emerge from the NPE Team have now quietly launched. One, Bump, is a chat app that aims to help people make new friends through conversations, not appearances. Another, Aux, is a social music listening app.

Aux seems a bit reminiscent of an older startup, Turntable.fm, that closed its doors in 2013. As in Turntable.fm, the idea with Aux is that of a virtual DJ’ing experience where people instead of algorithms are programming the music. This concept of crowdsourced DJ’ing also caught on in years past with radio stations who put their audiences in control of the playlist through their mobile app.

Later, streaming music apps like Spotify experimented with party playlists, and various startups launched their own guest-controlled playlists.

The NPE Team’s Aux app is a slightly different take on this general idea of people-powered playlists.

The app is aimed at school-aged kids and teens who join a party in the app every day at 9 PM. They then choose the songs they want to play and compete for the “AUX” to get theirs played first. At the end of the night, a winner is chosen based on how many “claps” are received.

As the app describes it, Aux is a “DJ for Your School” — a title that’s a bit confusing, as it brings to mind music being played over the school’s intercom system, as opposed to a social app for kids who attend school to use in the evenings.

Aux launched on August 8, 2019 in Canada, and has less than 500 downloads on iOS, according to data from Sensor Tower. It’s not available on Android. It briefly ranked No. 38 among all Music apps on the Canadian App Store on October 22, which may point to some sort of short campaign to juice the downloads.

The other new NPE Team app is Bump, which aims to help people “make new friends.”

Essentially an anonymous chat app, the idea here is that Bump can help people connected by giving them icebreakers to respond to using text. There are no images, videos or links in Bump — just chats.

Based on the App Store screenshots, the app seems to be intended for college students. The screenshots show questions about “the coolest place” on campus and where to find cheap food. A sample chat shown in the screenshots mentions things like classes and roommate troubles. 

There could be a dating component to the app, as well, as it stresses that Bump helps people make a connection through “dialog versus appearances.” That levels the playing field a bit, compared with other social apps — and certainly dating apps — where the most attractive users with the best photos tend to receive the most attention.

Chats in Bump take place in real-time, and you can only message in one chat at a time. There’s also a time limit of 30 seconds to respond to messages, which keeps the chat active. When the chat ends, the app will ask you if you want to keep in touch with the other person. Only if both people say yes will you be able to chat with them again.

Bump is available on both iOS and Android and is live in Canada and the Philippines. Bump once ranked as high as No. 252 in Social Networking on the Canadian App Store on September 1, 2019, according to Sensor Tower. However, it’s not ranking at all right now.

What’s interesting is that only one of these NPE Team apps, Bump, discloses in its App Store description that the NPE Team is from Facebook. The other, Aux, doesn’t mention this. However, both do point to an App privacy policy that’s hosted on Facebook.com for those who went digging.

That’s not too different from how Google’s in-house app incubator, Area 120, behaves. Some of its apps aren’t clear about their affiliation with Google, save for a link to Google’s privacy policy. It seems these companies want to see if the apps succeed or fail on their own merit, not because of their parent company’s brand name recognition.

Facebook hasn’t said much about its plans for the NPE Team beyond the fact that they will focus on new ways of building community and may be shut down quickly if they’re not useful.

Facebook has been asked for comment about the new apps and we’ll update if one is provided.

 


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With $6.5M in funding, Aircam offers a fast, easy way to share photos at events

17:39 | 7 November

Aircam is a new startup that allows anyone to get instant access to pictures taken by professional photographers at weddings, parties and other events.

The company was founded by brothers Evan and Ryan Rifkin, who previously co-founded Burstly, the company behind mobile app-testing service TestFlight (which was acquired by Apple).

In addition to officially launching Aircam today, they’re also announcing that the company has raised $6.5 million in seed funding led by Upfront Ventures, with participation from Comcast Ventures.

“The process of finding a great photographer still sucks and the tools photographers use to share photos are antiquated for an industry worth over $10 billion,” said Upfront Ventures Managing Partner Mark Suster in a statement. “Aircam provides real-time, location-aware and enhanced photos that today’s consumers expect with booking simplicity that will change the current playing field.”

The Rifkin brothers are pitching Aircam as “a real-time photo-sharing platform for professional and consumer photos.” To try out the technology, I visited the Aircam website and hit a button to see nearby photos. Then, as the Rifkins took photos with a DSLR camera, those photos appeared on the site nearly instantaneously. I, in turn, could send the photos to a printer in their office, or share photos from my phone.

Manufacturer already offer software to transfer photos wirelessly from their cameras to your computer. But with Aircam, the photos became accessible to everyone at an event, without requiring anyone except the photographer to install an app.

Aircam

Ryan explained that the company is taking advantage of cameras’ WiFi connections (it currently works with Canon, Nikon and Sony devices) to send the photos to an app on the photographer’s phone, which then uploads the photos to the cloud.

He also said the team initially believed that Aircam would become the repository for photos taken by everyone attending an event. But in early testing, they saw that “the opposite is happening — people are putting their phones away.”

In other words, once attendees realize that they have access professional-quality photos, they can spend less time worrying about taking their own pictures with their phones and instead focus on being present at the event.

This should also make life easier for photographers, particularly since Aircam includes automated photo editing — the photos are color corrected (with nice touches like teeth whitening) without requiring any extra work from the photographer.

“If you ask photographers what’s their least favorite part of photography — one, it’s finding new business, and two, it’s the edits,” Ryan said. “Some people limit the number of events they’ll accept because of the editing work … With automatic edits, they shoot and they’re done.”

Evan Rifkin

Evan Rifkin

As for finding new business, Evan said that the company tested this out by allowing photographers to offer Aircam as an additional option for their customers. (The company charges the photographers $50 per event.

But once customers had seen Aircam in action, they wanted to order it again, so Aircam is also launching its own marketplace (currently focused on Southern California) where you can book professional photographers for $99 per hour, with the Aircam service included as part of the package.

Or, if you want to try it out without hiring a pro photographer, you’ll be able to upload photos from your iPhone for free.

The Rifkins told me that they haven’t had any issues around privacy or content moderation so far, but they also noted that customers who are concerned about these issues can limit their guests’ upload capabilities. They can also create a custom URL for their event rather than making it discoverable to anyone nearby.

 


0

Saudi Arabia reportedly recruited Twitter employees to steal personal data of activists

02:16 | 7 November

Saudi Arabian officials allegedly paid at least two employees of Twitter to access personal information on users the government there was interested in, according to recently unsealed court documents. Those users were warned of the attempt in 2015, but the full picture is only now emerging.

According to an AP report citing the federal complaint, Ahmad Abouammo and Ali Alzabarah were both approached by the Saudi government, which promised “a designer watch and tens of thousands of dollars” if they could retrieve personal information on certain users.

Abouammo worked for Twitter in media partnerships in the Middle East, and Alzabarah was an engineer; both are charged with acting as unregistered Saudi agents — spies.

Alzabarah reportedly met with a member of the Saudi royal family in Washington, D.C. in 2015, and within a week he had begun accessing data on thousands of users, including at least 33 that Saudi Arabia had officially contacted Twitter to request information on. These users included political activists and journalists critical of the royal family and Saudi government.

This did not go unnoticed and Alzabarah, when questioned by his supervisors, reportedly said he had only done it out of curiosity. But when he was forced to leave work, he flew to Saudi Arabia with his family literally the next day, and now works for the government there.

The attempt resulted in Twitter alerting thousands of users that they were the potential targets of a state-sponsored attack, but that there was no evidence their personal data had actually been exfiltrated. Last year, the New York Times reported that this event had been prompted by a Twitter employee groomed by Saudi officials for the purpose. And now we learn there was another employee engaged in similar activity.

The cases in question are still open and as such more information will likely come to light soon. I asked Twitter for comment on the events and what specifically it had done to prevent similar attacks in the future. It did not respond directly to these queries, instead providing the following statement:

We would like to thank the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice for their support with this investigation. We recognize the lengths bad actors will go to try and undermine our service. Our company limits access to sensitive account information to a limited group of trained and vetted employees. We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable. We have tools in place to protect their privacy and their ability to do their vital work. We’re committed to protecting those who use our service to advocate for equality, individual freedoms, and human rights.

 


0

Friended is a new social network that wants to get real

18:00 | 5 November

Though the social media landscape is dominated by a few major players, consumers still seem to want something new and different. Just look at TikTok.

Today, a new social app is launching called Friended, which is taking an altogether different strategy when it comes to connecting people online. Friended was started by Thumb cofounder and CEO Dan Kurani, Friended wants to give users a deeper and more meaningful connection to one another, which the company believes they crave.

On Friended, users can post to the community about what they’re thinking or feeling. But rather than catalyze a ‘town hall’-style group conversation, members of the community can respond privately to that post, offering their insights, anecdotes, or advice.

The idea is to give people a chance to share how they really feel in a vulnerable, one-to-one setting. In playing around with the app, I had conversations with people about how to make friends in NYC and why it sometimes feel like others don’t care about us as much as we care about them.

Anyone can respond to a thread, and comments on threads can be liked by the poster or respondent, but from the moment a response comes through, that conversation is one-on-one and private.

“People feel more lonely now than ever before,” said Kurani. “Part of the blame is the social media algorithms that only promote people’s highlights for more ad impressions. It’s isolating to see everyone’s happy moments, and, then get silence when you share something vulnerable. But, it’s also just plain hard to open up and share your feelings because of the pressure to be perfect.”

Because Friended wants to be a place where you always have someone to talk to, the company has eliminated ads as a possible revenue stream. Instead, the company is working to implement a premium tier.

Right now, users can only post a conversation starter every eight hours. The premium tier, which costs $4.99/week, allows users to post as frequently as they want, and also includes a few other premium features like the ability to talk to people in your location.

Friended has raised a $500K seed round from investors such as Jonah Goodhart, Dr. Lara Otte, Jared Fliesler, and Bobby Goodlatte. Though the company won’t disclose monthly active user numbers, it did say that it has 500,000 registered users with an average of 11 sessions per day per active user during its beta. More than 2.5 million messages were sent last month.

 


0

TikTok expands its influence to third-party apps with new developer program

18:56 | 4 November

TikTok is looking to expand its influence by integrating with popular third-party video creation and editing apps. The company today announced a new TikTok for Developers program which will introduce tools for third-party app developers, including those that allow them to access TikTok’s creative offerings as well as push content from their apps to TikTok directly. The first of these tools is the new Share to TikTok SDK, which will let users edit videos in other apps then publish them from that app to TikTok.

One of the key launch partners for the new SDK is Adobe Premiere Rush, Adobe’s mobile app for video editing. With the new TikTok integration, Premiere Rush users can access video editing features like aspect ratio switching, transitions, color filters, timelapse and slo-mo, audio control and more, then share instantly to TikTok and other video destinations.

In addition to Adobe, the apps supporting the Share to TikTok SDK at launch also include looping video creator Plotaverse, AR app Fuse.it, gaming highlights recorder Medal, Momento GIF Maker, PicsArt, and Enlight Videoleop.

For some of the smaller, single-purpose apps being able to become a useful tool for the creator community can have an outsized impact on their growth and revenues. For example, Facetune’s maker Lightricks has built a profitable business across its suite of photo and video editing apps, including Enlight Videoleap, and has now raised a total of $205 million.

In addition to built-in sharing features, apps that integrate with the new TikTok SDK will also gain access to a wider selection of creative tools, says TikTok.

But the apps will benefit in another way, too — when creators share their videos, they’ll include the specified partner hashtag along with the content. This will help to give the app the ability to gain exposure among even more TikTok users.

“This new Share to TikTok feature enriches the content available on TikTok, diversifies the types of videos users can discover, and offers more editing choices for users to explore in addition to TikTok’s built-in creative tools,” explained TikTok, in an announcement. “Most importantly, it gives users multiple avenues to create new original, high-quality content using platforms with exciting creative tools,” the company said.

The TikTok for Developers program also includes tools to embed videos on the web, and offers developer documentation, demos, and more. The program’s terms of service restricts developers from collecting users’ personal data or other nefarious activity, and threatens developers’ access could be removed if terms are violated.

TikTok didn’t say what other plans its has in store for the developers program, only that it will continue to expand access to its own creative tools further across the wider app ecosystem.

 


0

Daily Crunch: Twitter is banning political ads

19:55 | 31 October

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Jack Dorsey says Twitter will ban all political ads

Arguing that “internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse,” CEO Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter will be banning all political advertising — albeit with “a few exceptions” like voter registration.

Not only is this a decisive move by Twitter, but it also could increase pressure on Facebook to follow suit, or at least take steps in this direction.

2. Apple beats on Q4 earnings after strong quarter for wearables, services

Apple’s iPhone sales still make up over half of its quarterly revenues, but they are slowly shrinking in importance as other divisions in the company pick up speed.

3. Facebook shares rise on strong Q3, users up 2% to 2.45B

More earnings news: Despite ongoing public relations crises, Facebook kept growing in Q3 2019, demonstrating that media backlash does not necessarily equate to poor business performance.

4. Driving license tests just got smarter in India with Microsoft’s AI project

Hundreds of people who have taken the driver’s license test in Dehradun (the capital of the Indian state of Uttarakhand) in recent weeks haven’t had to sit next to an instructor. Instead, their cars were affixed with a smartphone that was running HAMS, an AI project developed by a Microsoft Research team.

5. Crunchbase raises $30M more to double down on its ambition to be a ‘LinkedIn for company data’

Good news for our friends at Crunchbase, which got its start as a part of TechCrunch before being spun off into a separate business several years ago. CEO Jager McConnell also says the site currently has tens of thousands of paying subscribers.

6. Deadspin writers quit after being ordered to stick to sports

The relationship between new management at G/O Media (formerly Gizmodo Media Group/Gawker Media) and editorial staff seems to have been deteriorating for months. This week, it turned into a full-on revolt over auto-play ads and especially a directive that Deadspin writers must stick to sports.

7. What Berlin’s top VCs want to invest in right now

As we gear up for our Disrupt Berlin conference in December, we check in with top VCs on the types of startups that they’re looking to back right now. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

 


0

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.

 


0

Twitter banning political ads is the right thing to do, so it will be attacked mercilessly

00:58 | 31 October

Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey announced abruptly — though the timing was certainly not accidental — that the platform would soon disallow any and all political advertising. This is the right thing to do, but it’s also going to be hard as hell for a lot of reasons. As usual in tech and politics, no good deed goes unpunished.

Malicious actors state-sponsored and otherwise have and will continue to attempt to influence the outcome of U.S. elections via online means including political ads and astroturfing. Banning such ads outright is an obvious, if rather heavy-handed solution — but given that online platforms seem to have made little progress on more targeted measures, it’s the only one realistically available to deploy now.

“Not allowing for paid disinformation is one of the most basic, ethical decisions a company can make,”

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in a tweet following the news. “If a company cannot or does not wish to run basic fact-checking on paid political advertising, then they should not run paid political ads at all.”

One of the reasons Facebook has avoided restricting political ads and content is that by doing so it establishes itself as the de facto arbiter between “appropriate” and “inappropriate,” and the fractal-complex landscape that creates across thousands of cultures, languages, and events. Don’t cry for Mark Zuckerberg, though — this is a monster of his own creation. He should have retired when I suggested it.

But Twitter’s decision to use a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel doesn’t remove the inherent difficulties in the process. Twitter is just submitting itself for a different kind of punishment. Because instead of being the arbiter of what is appropriate, it will be the arbiter of what is political.

This is slightly less fraught than Facebook’s task, but Twitter will not be able to avoid accusations — perhaps even true ones — of partisanship and bias.

For instance, the fundamental decision to disallow political advertising seems pretty straightforward and nonpartisan. Incumbents rely on traditional media more and progressives tend to be younger and more social media–savvy. So is this taking away a tool suited to left-leaning challengers? But incumbents tend to have bigger budgets and their spend on social media has been increasing, so could this be considered a way to curb that trend? Who this affects and how is not a clear-cut fact but something campaigns and pundits will squabble about endlessly.

Or consider the announcement Dorsey made right off the bat that “ads in support of voter registration will still be allowed.” Voter registration is a good nonpartisan goal, right? In fact it’s something many conservative lawmakers have consistently opposed, because unregistered voters, for a multitude of reasons, skew toward the liberal side. So this too will be considered a partisan act.

Twitter will put out official guidelines in a few weeks, but it’s hard to see how they can be satisfactory. Will industry groups be able to promote tweets about how their new factory is thriving because of a government grant? Will an advocacy organization be able to promote a tweet about a serious situation on the border? Will news outlets be able to promote a story about the election? What about a profile of a single candidate? What about an op-ed on an issue?

The difference between patrolling the interior of the politics world, and patrolling its borders, so to speak, may appear significant — but it’s really just a different kind of trouble. Twitter is entering a world of pain.

But at least it’s moving forward. It’s the right decision, even if it’s a hard one and could hit the bottom line pretty hard (not that Twitter has ever cared about that). The decision to do this while Facebook is dismantling its credibility with a series of craven, self-interested actions is a canny one. Even if Twitter fails to get this right, it can at least say it’s trying.

And lastly it should be said that it also happens to be a good choice for users and voters, a rare exception to the parade of user-hostile decisions coming out of the big tech and media companies. Going into an election year, we can use all the good news we can get.

 


0

Facebook agrees to pay UK data watchdog’s Cambridge Analytica fine but settles without admitting liability

18:09 | 30 October

Facebook has reached a settlement with the UK’s data protection watchdog, the ICO, agreeing to pay in full a £500,000 (~$643k) fine following the latter’s investigating into the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal.

As part of the arrangement Facebook has agreed to drop its legal appeal against the penalty. But under the terms of the settlement it has not admitted any liability in relation to paying the fine, which is the maximum possible monetary penalty under the applicable UK data protection law. (The Cambridge Analytica scandal predates Europe’s GDPR framework coming into force.)

Facebook’s appeal against the ICO’s penalty was focused on a claim that there was no evidence that U.K. Facebook users’ data had being mis-used by Cambridge Analytica .

But there’s a further twist here in that the company had secured a win, from a first tier legal tribunal — which held in June that “procedural fairness and allegations of bias” on the part of the ICO should be considered as part of its appeal.

The decision required the ICO to disclose materials relating to its decision-making process regarding the Facebook fine. The ICO, evidently less than keen for its emails to be trawled through, appealed last month. It’s now withdrawing the action as part of the settlement, Facebook having dropped its legal action.

In a statement laying out the bare bones of the settlement reached, the ICO writes: “The Commissioner considers that this agreement best serves the interests of all UK data subjects who are Facebook users. Both Facebook and the ICO are committed to continuing to work to ensure compliance with applicable data protection laws.”

An ICO spokeswoman did not respond to additional questions — telling us it does not have anything further to add than its public statement.

As part of the settlement, the ICO writes that Facebook is being allowed to retain some (unspecified) “documents” that the ICO had disclosed during the appeal process — to use for “other purposes”, including for furthering its own investigation into issues around Cambridge Analytica.

“Parts of this investigation had previously been put on hold at the ICO’s direction and can now resume,” the ICO adds.

Under the terms of the settlement the ICO and Facebook each pay their own legal costs. While the £500k fine is not kept by the ICO but paid to HM Treasury’s consolidated fund.

Commenting in a statement, deputy commissioner, James Dipple-Johnstone, said:

The ICO welcomes the agreement reached with Facebook for the withdrawal of their appeal against our Monetary Penalty Notice and agreement to pay the fine. The ICO’s main concern was that UK citizen data was exposed to a serious risk of harm. Protection of personal information and personal privacy is of fundamental importance, not only for the rights of individuals, but also as we now know, for the preservation of a strong democracy. We are pleased to hear that Facebook has taken, and will continue to take, significant steps to comply with the fundamental principles of data protection. With this strong commitment to protecting people’s personal information and privacy, we expect that Facebook will be able to move forward and learn from the events of this case.

In its own supporting statement, attached to the ICO’s remarks, Harry Kinmonth, director and associate general counsel at Facebook, added:

We are pleased to have reached a settlement with the ICO. As we have said before, we wish we had done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica in 2015. We made major changes to our platform back then, significantly restricting the information which app developers could access. Protecting people’s information and privacy is a top priority for Facebook, and we are continuing to build new controls to help people protect and manage their information. The ICO has stated that it has not discovered evidence that the data of Facebook users in the EU was transferred to Cambridge Analytica by Dr Kogan. However, we look forward to continuing to cooperate with the ICO’s wider and ongoing investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes.

A charitable interpretation of what’s gone on here is that both Facebook and the ICO have reached a stalemate where their interests are better served by taking a quick win that puts the issue to bed, rather than dragging on with legal appeals that might also have raised fresh embarrassments. 

That’s quick wins in terms of PR (a paid fine for the ICO; and drawing a line under the issue for Facebook), as well as (potentially) useful data to further Facebook’s internal investigation of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

We don’t know exactly it’s getting from the ICO’s document stash. But we do know it’s facing a number of lawsuits and legal challenges over the scandal in the US. 

The ICO announced its intention to fine Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica scandal just over a year ago.

In March 2018 it had raided the UK offices of the now defunct data company, after obtaining a warrant, taking away hard drives and computers for analysis. It had also earlier ordered Facebook to withdraw its own investigators from the company’s offices.

Speaking to a UK parliamentary committee a year ago the information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, and deputy Dipple-Johnstone, discussed their (then) ongoing investigation of data seized from Cambridge Analytica — saying they believed the Facebook user data-set the company had misappropriated could have been passed to more entities than were publicly known.

The ICO said at that point it was looking into “about half a dozen” entities.

It also told the committee it had evidence that, even as recently as early 2018, Cambridge Analytica might have retained some of the Facebook data — despite having claimed it had deleted everything.

“The follow up was less than robust. And that’s one of the reasons that we fined Facebook £500,000,” Denham also said at the time. 

Some of this evidence will likely be very useful for Facebook as it prepares to defend itself in legal challenges related to Cambridge Analytica. As well as aiding its claimed platform audit — when, in the wake of the scandal, Facebook said it would run a historical app audit and challenge all developers who it determined had downloaded large amounts of user data.

The audit, which it announced in March 2018, apparently remains ongoing.

 


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