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Main article: Social

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S’More is a new dating app that looks to suspend physical attraction for something more

18:00 | 12 November

According to former Chappy Managing Director Adam Cohen Aslatei, “something more” is one of the most common pieces of feedback that dating apps get from their users. That’s where S’More comes in.

S’More was founded by Aslatei to provide a dating app to users that goes beyond superficial looks.

Here’s how it works:

Rather than scrolling through a feed and swiping left and right, users are served five suggested profiles each day. Unlike other dating apps, user profiles on S’More consist of icons, rather than pictures and text, which reveal characteristics about the profile’s owner. For example, a user might put that they’re seeking romance, interested in hiking, and got an education from this or that university, all in the form of little tile icons.

When a user interacts with those icons — S’More calls this a ‘wink’ — more visual pieces of the profile start to unblur and unlock, revealing a profile photo and unlocking the person’s social media feeds, etc.

These interactions also unlock the ability to have a conversation, if they’re reciprocated, which creates a match.

As users continue to interact with others on the platform, S’More learns about what they’re looking for in a relationship and optimizes for those factors when suggesting other profiles.

“The greatest challenge is resetting expectations for consumers,” said Cohen Aslatei. “We know that the swiping mechanism largely doesn’t work, but we’re providing another option which is, if you truly want to get to know someone, suspend physical judgement before you decide if you like them.”

The company plans to generate revenue through a freemium model, charging users extra to access a Discover page on the app, allowing them to interact with and save more profiles than the allotted five per day.

Moreover, S’More asks all users to rank one another, not as prospective mates but as users of the platform. The hope is that the public-facing user rating promotes a healthy, safe environment for all users to meet and connect without the abuse that’s so common on dating apps. Ratings are also determined by a user’s activity on the platform and how complete their profile is.

The company also requires that users who register take a selfie for ID verification right at the point of signing up.

S’More is launching in beta to Boston and the D.C. area with plans to launch in New York soon.

 


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Dutch court orders Facebook to ban celebrity crypto scam ads after another lawsuit

15:04 | 12 November

A Dutch court has ruled that Facebook can be required to use filter technologies to identify and pre-emptively take down fake ads linked to crypto currency scams that carry the image of a media personality, John de Mol.

The Dutch celerity filed a lawsuit against Facebook in April over the misappropriation of his likeness to shill Bitcoin scams via fake ads run on its platform.

In an immediately enforceable preliminary judgement today the court has ordered Facebook to remove all offending ads within five days, and provide de Mol with data on the accounts running them within a week.

Per the judgement, victims of the crypto scams had reported a total of €1.7 million (~$1.8M) in damages to the Dutch government at the time of the court summons.

The case is similar to a legal action instigated by UK consumer advice personality, Martin Lewis, last year, when he announced defamation proceedings against Facebook — also for misuse of his image in fake ads for crypto scams.

Lewis withdrew the suit at the start of this year after Facebook agreed to apply new measures to tackle the problem: Namely a scam ads report button. It also agreed to provide funding to a UK consumer advice organization to set up a scam advice service.

In the de Mol case the lawsuit was allowed to run its course — resulting in today’s preliminary judgement against Facebook. It’s not yet clear whether the company will appeal but in the wake of the ruling Facebook has said it will bring the scam ads report button to the Dutch market early next month.

In court, the platform giant sought to argue that it could not more proactively remove the Bitcoin scam ads containing de Mol’s image on the grounds that doing so would breach EU law against general monitoring conditions being placed on Internet platforms.

However the court rejected that argument, citing a recent ruling by Europe’s top court related to platform obligations to remove hate speech, also concluding that the specificity of the requested measures could not be classified as ‘general obligations of supervision’.

It also rejected arguments by Facebook’s lawyers that restricting the fake scam ads would be restricting the freedom of expression of a natural person, or the right to be freely informed — pointing out that the ‘expressions’ involved are aimed at commercial gain, as well as including fraudulent practices.

Facebook also sought to argue it is already doing all it can to identify and take down the fake scam ads — saying too that its screening processes are not perfect. But the court said there’s no requirement for 100% effectiveness for additional proactive measures to be ordered. Its ruling further notes a striking reduction in fake scam ads using de Mol’s image since the lawsuit was announced

Facebook’s argument that it’s just a neutral platform was also rejected, with the court pointing out that its core business is advertising.

It also took the view that requiring Facebook to apply technically complicated measures and extra effort, including in terms of manpower and costs, to more effectively remove offending scam ads is not unreasonable in this context.

The judgement orders Facebook to remove fake scam ads containing de Mol’s likeness from Facebook and Instagram within five days of the order — with a penalty of €10k per day that Facebook fails to comply with the order, up to a maximum of €1M (~$1.1M).

The court order also requires that Facebook provides de Mol with data on the accounts that had been misusing his image within seven days of the judgement, with a further penalty of €1k per day for failure to comply, up to a maximum of €100k.

Facebook has also been ordered to pay the case costs.

Responding to the judgement in a statement, a Facebook spokesperson told us:

We have just received the ruling and will now look at its implications. We will consider all legal actions, including appeal. Importantly, this ruling does not change our commitment to fighting these types of ads. We cannot stress enough that these types of ads have absolutely no place on Facebook and we remove them when we find them. We take this very seriously and will therefore make our scam ads reporting form available in the Netherlands in early December. This is an additional way to get feedback from people, which in turn helps train our machine learning models. It is in our interest to protect our users from fraudsters and when we find violators we will take action to stop their activity, up to and including taking legal action against them in court.

One legal expert describes the judgement as “

“. Law professor Mireille Hildebrandt told us that it provides for as an alternative legal route for Facebook users to litigate and pursue collective enforcement of European personal data rights. Rather than suing for damages — which entails a high burden of proof.

Injunctions are faster and more effective, Hildebrandt added.

The judgement also raises

around the burden of proof for demonstrating Facebook has removed scam ads with sufficient (increased) accuracy; and what specific additional measures it might deploy to improve its takedown rate.

Although the introduction of the ‘report scam ad button’ does provide one clear avenue for measuring takedown performance.

The button was finally rolled out to the UK market in July. And while Facebook has talked since the start of this year about ‘envisaging’ introducing it in other markets it hasn’t exactly been proactive in doing so — up til now, with this court order. 

 


0

Snapchat Spectacles 3 review: Pretty, pricey

13:00 | 12 November

No one’s going to pay $380 for decent point-of-view video glasses and some trippy filters. But that’s kind of the point of Snapchat Spectacles 3. They’re merely a stepping stone towards true augmented reality eyewear — a public hardware beta for the Snap Lab R&D team that Apple and Facebook aren’t getting as they tinker in their bunkers.

Still, I hoped for something that could at least unlock the talents of forward-thinking video creators. Yet the unpredictable and uncontrollable AR effects sadly fail to make use of Spectacles‘ fashionable form factor in premium steel. The clunky software requires clips be uploaded for processing and then re-downloaded before you can apply the 10 starter effects like a rainbow landscape filter or a shimmering fantasy falcon. This all makes producing AR content a chore instead of a joy for something only briefly novel.

Spectacles 3 go on sale today for $380 in black ‘Carbon’ or rose gold-ish ‘Mineral’ color schemes on Spectacles.com, Neiman Marcus, and Ron Robinson in the UK, shipping in a week. Announced in August, they’re sunglasses with two stereoscopic lenses capable of capturing depth to produce “3D” photos, and videos you can add AR effects to on your phone. You also get a very nice folds-flat leather USB-C charging case that powers up the glasses four times, and a Google Cardboard-style VR viewer.

“Spectacles 3 is a limited production run. We’re not looking for massive sales here. We’re targeting people who are excited about these effects  — creative storytellers” says Matt Hanover of the Snap Lab team.

Gen 1 featured a “toy-like design to get people used to wearing tech on their face”, while Gen 2 and 2.1 had a more subdued look abandoning the coral color schemes to push mainstream adoption. What Gen 3 can’t do is force a $40 million write-off due to poor sales, as V1 did after only shipping 220,000 with hundreds of thousands more gathering dust somewhere. Snap is already losing $227 million per quarter as it scrambles to break even.

So it seems with Spectacles 3 that Snap is gathering data and biding its time, trying to avoid burning too much cash until it can build a version that overlays effects atop a user’s view through the glasses. “We’re still able to get feedback from the customer and inform the future of Spectacles. That’s really the goal for us” Hanover confirms.

His CEO Evan Spiegel agrees, telling me on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt that it would be 10 years until we see augmented reality glasses worthy of mainstream consumer adoption. That’s a long time for an unprofitable company to spend competing to invest in R&D versus cash-rich companies like Facebook and Apple.

tl;dr

Spectacles could be worth the steep $380 if you’re a videographer for a living, perhaps making futuristic social media clips like Karen X Cheng, a creator Snap hired to demonstrate the device’s potential. They’re cool enough looking that you could wear them around Cannes or Coachella without people getting weirded out like they did with Google Glass. And as Snap’s Lens Studio lets anyone build 3D effects for Spectacles 3, perhaps we’ll see some filters and imaginary characters that are more than just a momentary gimmick.

But for those simply seeking first-person camera glasses, I’d still recommend the Spectacles 2 at $150 to $200 depending on style. The 3D features don’t carry the weight of paying double the price for Spec 3s. And at least the 2nd-gen Specs are waterproof, which make them great for ocean play with fun underwater shooting when you don’t want to risk losing or fizzling your phone.

“We’re testing the price point and the premium aesthetic to see if it lands with this demographic” Hanover says. But Snap’s Director Of Communications Liz Markman notes that “there isn’t this perfect one-to-one overlap with the core Snap users.”

The result is that Spectacles 3 are really more for Snap’s benefit than yours.

Slick Eyewear, Now Where’s The AR?

The Spectacles 3 software is disappointing, but you’ll be delighted when you open the box. Slick black packaging reveal sturdily built metal sunglasses with a luxury matte finish. As they magnetically dislodge from their charging case, you definitely get they sense you’re trying on something futuristic.

The style concurs, with a flat black bar at the top connecting the round lenses with a camera on both corners. Unlike the old Specs that sat right on your nose, feeling heavy at times, Spectacles 3 offers adjustable acetate non-slip nose tips to keep the weight off. All the tech is built discreetly into the hinges and temples without appearing too chunky.

Tap the button either arm, and LED light swooshes in a circle to let people know you’re recording a video for 10 seconds, with multiple presses growing that to up to 60. Tap and hold to shoot a photo, and the light blinks. There’s no obnoxious yellow rubber ring to shout “these are cameras”, and the defused LEDs are more subtle than Gen 2’s dots while remaining an obvious enough signal to passersby so they’re not creepy.

One charge powers up to 70 captures and transfers to your phone over a combined Bluetooth built-in Wifi connection. The 4 gigabyte storage holds up to 100 videos or 1200 photos, and Spectacles 3 even have GPS and GLOSNASS on-board. A 4-mic array picks up audio from others and your own voice, though they’re susceptible to windshear if you’re biking or running.

The magnetically-sealing folding leather USB-C charging case is my favorite part. I wish I could get an even flatter one without a battery in it for my other sunglasses. It’s a huge improvement on the unpocketable bulky triangular case of the previous versions.

A Toy Not Fun Enough For The Price

So far so good, right? But then it comes time to actually see and augment what you shot.

Pairing and syncing is much easier than Gen 1. The glasses forge a Bluetooth connection, then spawn a WiFi network for getting media to your phone faster.

If you just want to share to Snapchat, you’re in luck. Spectacles content posts to Stories or messages in its cool circular format that lets viewers tilt their phones around while always staying full-screen to reveal the edges of your shots. Otherwise, you still have to go through the chore of exporting from Snapchat to your camera roll. Spectacles can at least now export in a variety of croppings for better sharing on Instagram and elsewhere.

What’s new are the 3D photos and videos. They utilize the space between the stereoscopic cameras in the corners of Spectacles employ parallax to sense the depth of a scene. After tapping the 3D button on a photo, you can wiggle the perspective of the image around to almost see around the edges of what you’re looking at. Spectacles will automatically pan back and forth for you, and export 3D photos as short Boomerang-esque six-second videos.

Unfortunately, I found that I didn’t get much sense of depth from most of the 3D photos I shot or saw. It takes a very particular kind of three-dimensional object from the right angle in the right light to much sense of movement from the wiggle. Snapchat’s algorithms also had a bad habit of mistakenly assigning bits of the foreground and background to each other, breaking the illusion. Occasionally you’ll have someone’s ear or their hair left behind and disembodied by the 3D effect. Don’t expect these to flood social media or convince prospective Spectacles buyers.

The biggest problem comes with the delay when playing with 3D videos. Snapchat has to do the depth processing on its servers, so you have to wait for your video to upload, get scanned, and be re-downloaded before you can apply the 3D AR filters. On WiFi that takes about 35 seconds per 10 second video, which is quite a bore. It takes forever over a mobile connection. That means you often won’t be able to apply the filters and see how they look until you’re home and unable to reshoot anything.

The filter set is also limited and haphazard. You can add a 3D bird or balloons around you, wander through golden snow or neon arcs, overlay flower projections or rainbow waves, or sprinkle on sparkles and light-bending blobs. While the bird is cute, and the rainbows and flowers are remarkably psychedelic, none of them are more than briefly entertaining.

The 3D objects often glitch through real pieces of scenery, and you can’t control them at all. No summoning the bird mid-video. My favorite trick, learned from Karen X Cheng, was to export unedited and filtered versions of a video and splice them together on my computer as scene in my demo video above. You can’t actually do that from within Snapchat.

Snap will have to build a lot cooler filters with interactivity if they’re going to compel creators to fork over $380 for Spectacles 3. It could hope to rely on its Lens Studio community platform, but so few developers or users will have the glasses that most will stick to making and using filters for phones.

Spectacles 3 are too expensive to be a toy, but don’t excel at being much more. Videography influencers might enjoy having a pair in their tool bag. But it’s hard to imagine anyone not sharing content professionally paying for the gadget.

Iteration vs Ideation

“We’re now pushing to elevate the technology and the design to master depth technically” Hanover tells me. “Holing ourselves up within an R&D center for years and years? That’s not our approach. It’s important to meet the customer where they are today and continue to iterate and get that feedback.”

But this iteration doesn’t feel like Snap meeting the customer where they are. That raises the question of whether Snapchat is really getting enough data out of the whole endeavor to justify publicly releasing Spectacles at all. The company will have to hope that testing short-term is worth thinking short-term, when it’s trying to win the long-term war in augmented reality eyewear.

 


0

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.

 


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Banning digital political ads gives extremists a distinct advantage

22:16 | 8 November

Jessica Alter Contributor
Jessica Alter is co-founder and chairman of Tech for Campaigns, an organization building the lasting tech and digital arm for Democrats and has helped over 200 campaigns on this front since 2017.

Jack Dorsey’s announcement that Twitter will no longer run political ads because “political messages reach should be earned, not bought” has been welcomed as a thoughtful and statesmanlike contrast to Mark Zuckerberg’s and Facebook’s greedy acceptance of “political ads that lie.” While the 240-character policy sounds compelling, it’s both flawed in principle and, I fear, counterproductive in practice. 

First: like it or hate it, the U.S. political system is drowning in money. In 2018, a non-presidential year, it is estimated that over $9B was spent on the U.S. elections. And unless laws change, more will continue to flow. Banning digital ads will not reduce the amount of money in politics, and will simply shift it to less transparent channels. In an ideal world, it would be great if all “political messages were earned and not bought,”  but that is not how our system works. Candidates, Super PACs, C4s and others already allow the majority of their budgets to be swallowed up by other, less visible, accountable and cost-effective, channels — including television, mail, telephone, and radio.

More likely, at least some of the money will end up with even less transparent organizations that aren’t deemed “political,” but very much are. 

Second, banning digital political ads will not only hurt the very candidates people should want to help, it will also damage our democratic process. Analog mediums are significantly more expensive and inefficient than digital ones, so candidates who have a lot of money and/or have spent time cultivating their followings will continue to dominate. In other words, incumbent candidates, rich people and reality TV stars enjoy an outsized advantage when digital advertising is denied. 

A recent Stanford study found that, at the state house level, more than 10 times as many candidates advertise on Facebook than advertise on television. The research found that digital ads lowers advertising costs, which expands the set of candidates for whom advertising — and thus the potential to reach voters and seriously contest an election — is a real possibility. 

Lesser well-known, but often highly-qualified candidates at the state, local and federal level are precisely the people who have been celebrated for their new perspectives, creative ideas and commitment to shake up the system. People who put their heads down, do good work in their communities and decide to run because they want to make a difference will be the ones that are disadvantaged. 

You know who gets plenty of earned media opportunities? Donald Trump. He will be fine. In fact, he will be better than fine because we’ve just handed him and more extremist candidates like him a distinct advantage.

Democracy is about the combination of free speech and transparency. As the old adage goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant, so here are a few ideas that would be more effective than a ban:

  • Adding a “nutrition label” to political ads offers a more accessible, understandable and consistent way to identify the identities of the funder, their location, their budget and their target audience. This should be easily accessed, in any political ad via one click, just like we know where to find nutrition information on food we buy. 
  • Enhance “consumer beware” acknowledgments so that if digital political ads remain exempt from fact-checking (as they mostly are on television), platforms have a duty to make that clear with visual signals and user education.

Ultimately, decisions about what is permissible political speech and appropriate distribution and targeting is too important to be left to technology platforms and their conceptions of the public interest.

Do we want Google, Facebook and Twitter making the rules for all political ads and being responsible for enforcing them? What we need is a true oversight body — one with teeth. If non-political advertisers make false claims about their own products or those of their competitors, they can be fined by the FTC. This is an acknowledgment, not only that consumers need accurate facts, but also that companies can not police themselves. This is far too much power for them. 

This isn’t a way to let technology companies off the hook, as there is plenty more they can do as noted above. But we need a truly independent organization overseeing political ads — the rules that govern them and holding organizations accountable to following those rules. Is this the FEC? I’m not sure.

As I write this today, I worry that no agency truly has the capacity or the expertise to create these rules and challenge bad campaign practices. We should remedy this post-haste and get to finding true solutions. The alternative seems easier and even principled to fight for, but the unintended consequences will be swift — a government full of the types of people who we say we don’t want. 

 


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

California accuses Facebook of ignoring subpoenas in state’s Cambridge Analytica investigation

21:54 | 6 November

California’s attorney general Xavier Becerra has accused Facebook of “continuing to drag its feet” by failing to provide documents to the state’s investigation into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

The attorney general said in a court filing Wednesday that Facebook had provided a “patently deficient” response to two sets of subpoenas for the previously undisclosed investigation started more than a year ago. “Facebook has provided no answers for nineteen interrogatories and produced no documents in response to six document requests,” the filing said.

Among the documents sought are communications by executives, including chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, and documentation relating to the company’s privacy changes.

The filing said the social media giant was “failing to comply with lawfully issued subpoenas and interrogatories” for what the attorney general says involves “serious allegations of unlawful business practices by one of the richest companies in the world,” referring to Facebook.

Becerra is now asking a court to compel Facebook to produce the documents.

The now-defunct Cambridge Analytica scraped tens of millions of Facebook profiles as part of an effort to help the Trump presidential campaign decide which swing voters to target with election-related advertising. Facebook banned the analytics and voter data firm following the unauthorized scraping. Facebook was later fined $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for violating a privacy decree in 2012, which demanded that the company engaged in better privacy protections of its users’ data.

A Facebook spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Developing… more soon.

 


0

Tinder’s interactive video series ‘Swipe Night’ is going international next year

20:58 | 6 November

Tinder’s big experiment with interactive content — the recently launched in-app series called Swipe Night — was a success. According to Tinder parent company Match during its Q3 earnings this week, “millions” of Tinder users tuned into to watch the show’s episodes during its run in October, and this drove double-digit increases in both matches and messages. As a result, Match confirmed its plans to launch Tinder’s new show outside the U.S. in early 2020. 

Swipe Night’s launch was something of a departure for the dating app, whose primary focus has been on connecting users for dating and other more casual affairs.

The new series presented users with something else to do in the Tinder app beyond just swiping on potential matches. Instead, you swiped on a story.

Presented in a “choose-your-own-adventure” style format that’s been popularized by Netflix, YouTube, and others, Swipe Night asked users to make decisions to advance a narrative that followed a group of friends in an “apocalyptic adventure.”

Swipe Night ChoiceThe moral and practical choices you made during Swipe Night would then be shown on your profile as a conversation starter, or as just another signal as to whether or not a match was right for you. After all, they say that the best relationships come from those who share common values, not necessarily common interests. And Swipe Night helped to uncover aspects to someone’s personality that a profile would not — like whether you’d cover for a friend who cheated, or tell your other friend who was the one being cheated on?

The 5-minute long episodes ran every Sunday night in October from 6 PM to midnight.

Though early reports on Tinder’s plans had somewhat dramatically described Swipe Night as Tinder’s launch into streaming video, it’s more accurate to call Swipe Night an engagement booster for an app that many people often find themselves needing a break from. Specifically, it could help Tinder to address issues around declines in open rates or sessions per user — metrics that often hide behind what otherwise looks like steady growth. (Tinder, for example, added another 437,000 subscribers in the quarter, leading to 5.7 million average subscribers in Q3).

Ahead of earnings, there were already signs that Swipe Night was succeeding in its efforts to boost engagement.

Tinder said in late October that matches on its app jumped 26% compared to a typical Sunday night, and messages increased 12%.

On Tinder’s earnings call with investors, Match presented some updated metrics. The company said Swipe Night led to a 20% to 25% increase in “likes” and a 30% increase in matches. And the elevated conversation levels that resulted from user participation continued for days after each episode aired. Also importantly, the series helped boost female engagement in the app.

“This really extended our appeal and resonated with Gen Z users,” said Match CEO Mandy Ginsberg. “This effort demonstrates the kind of creativity and team we have a tender and the kind of that we’re willing to make.”

Swipe Night

The company says it will make Season 1 of Swipe Night (a hint there’s more to come) available soon as an on-demand experience, and will roll out the product to international markets early next year.

Swipe Night isn’t the only video product Match Group has in the works. In other Match-owned dating apps, Plenty of Fish and Twoo, the company is starting to test live streaming broadcasts. But these are created by the app’s users, not as a polished, professional product from the company itself.

Match had reported better-than-expected earnings for the third quarter, with earnings of 51 cents per share — above analysts’ expectations for earnings of 42 cents per share. Match’s revenue was $541 million, in line with Wall St.’s expectations.

But its fourth-quarter guidance came in lower than expectations ($545M-$555M, below the projected $559.3M), sending the stock dropping. Match said it would have to take on about $10 million in expenses related to it being spun out from parent company IAC.

 

 

 


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Microsoft Teams gets Yammer integration, secure private channels, and more

17:00 | 4 November

You’re forgiven if you thought Yammer, Microsoft’s proto-Slack, not quite realtime, chat application was dead. But it’s actually still alive (and well) — and still serves a purpose as a slower-moving social network-like channel for company- and team-wide announcements. Today, Microsoft announced that, among other updates, it will offer a Yammer integration in Teams, its Slack competitor. Yammer in Teams will live in the left-hand sidebar.

With this, Microsoft’s two main enterprise communications platforms are finally growing together and will give users the option to Teams for fast-moving chats and Yammer as their enterprise social network in the same way Facebook messenger and its news feed complement each other.

Screen Shot 2019 10 31 at 2.36.27 PM

Oh, and Yammer itself has been redesigned, too, using Microsoft’s Fluent Design System across all platforms. And Microsoft is also building it into Outlook, too, to let you respond to messages right from your inbox. This new Yammer will roll out as a private preview in December.

With this update, Teams is getting a number of other new features, too. These include secure private channels, multiwindow chats and meetings, pinned channels and task integration with Microsoft To Do and Planner (because having one todo app is never enough). Microsoft is also making a number of enhancements to Teams Room, with upcoming support for Cisco WebEx and Zoom meetings, the Teams Phone System, which is getting emergency calling, and the IT management features that help admins keep Teams secure.

A Teams client for Linux is also in the works and will be available in public preview later this year.

 


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Twitter’s political ads ban is a distraction from the real problem with platforms

19:00 | 2 November

Sometimes it feels as if Internet platforms are turning everything upside down, from politics to publishing, culture to commerce, and of course swapping truth for lies.

This week’s bizarro reversal was the vista of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, a tech CEO famed for being entirely behind the moral curve of understanding what his product is platforming (i.e. nazis), providing an impromptu ‘tweet storm’ in political speech ethics.

Actually he was schooling Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg — another techbro renowned for his special disconnect with the real world, despite running a massive free propaganda empire with vast power to influence other people’s lives — in taking a stand for the good of democracy and society.

So not exactly a full reverse then.

In short, Twitter has said it will no longer accept political ads, period.

Whereas Facebook recently announced it will no longer fact-check political ads. Aka: Lies are fine, so long as you’re paying Facebook to spread them.

You could argue there’s a certain surface clarity to Facebook’s position — i.e. it sums to ‘when it comes to politics we just won’t have any ethics’. Presumably with the hoped for sequitur being ‘so you can’t accuse us of bias’.

Though that’s actually a non sequitur; by not applying any ethical standards around political campaigns Facebook is providing succour to those with the least ethics and the basest standards. So its position does actually favor the ‘truth-lite’, to put it politely. (You can decide which political side that might advantage.)

Twitter’s position also has surface clarity: A total ban! Political and issue ads both into the delete bin. But as my colleague Devin Coldewey quickly pointed out it’s likely to get rather more fuzzy around the edges as the company comes to defining exactly what is (and isn’t) a ‘political ad’ — and what its few “exceptions” might be.

Indeed, Twitter’s definitions are already raising eyebrows. For example it has apparently decided climate change is a ‘political issue’ — and will therefore be banning ads about science. While, presumably, remaining open to taking money from big oil to promote their climate-polluting brands… So yeah, messy.

There will clearly be attempts to stress test and circumvent the lines Twitter is setting. The policy may sound simple but it involves all sorts of judgements that expose the company’s political calculations and leave it open to charges of bias and/or

.

Still, setting rules is — or should be — the easy and adult thing to do when it comes to content standards; enforcement is the real sweating toil for these platforms.

Which is also, presumably, why Facebook has decided to experiment with not having any rules around political ads — in the (forlorn) hope of avoiding being forced into the role of political speech policeman.

If that’s the strategy it’s already looking spectacularly dumb and self-defeating. The company has just set itself up for an ongoing PR nightmare where it is indeed forced to police intentionally policy-provoking ads from its own back-foot — having put itself in the position of ‘wilfully corrupt cop’. Slow hand claps all round.

Albeit, it can at least console itself it’s monetizing its own ethics bypass.

Twitter’s opposing policy on political ads also isn’t immune from criticism, as we’ve noted.

Indeed, it’s already facing accusations that a total ban is biased against new candidates who start with a lower public profile. Even if the energy of that argument would be better spent advocating for wide-ranging reform of campaign financing, including hard limits on election spending. If you really want to reboot politics by levelling the playing field between candidates that’s how to do it.

Also essential: Regulations capable of enforcing controls on dark money to protect democracies from being bought and cooked from the inside via the invisible seeding of propaganda that misappropriates the reach and data of Internet platforms to pass off lies as populist truth, cloaking them in the shape-shifting blur of microtargeted hyperconnectivity.

Sketchy interests buying cheap influence from data-rich billionaires, free from accountability or democratic scrutiny, is our new warped ‘normal’. But it shouldn’t be.

There’s another issue being papered over here, too. Twitter banning political ads is really a distracting detail when you consider that it’s not a major platform for running political ads anyway.

During the 2018 US midterms the category generated less than $3M for the company.

And, secondly, anything posted organically as a tweet to Twitter can act as a political call to arms.

It’s these outrageous ‘organic’ tweets where the real political action is on Twitter’s platform. (Hi Trump.)

Including inauthentically ‘organic’ tweets which aren’t a person’s genuinely held opinion but a planted (and often paid for) fake. Call it ‘going native’ advertising; faux tweets intended to pass off lies as truth, inflated and amplified by bot armies (fake accounts) operating in plain sight (often gaming Twitter’s trending topics) as a parallel ‘unofficial’ advertising infrastructure whose mission is to generate attention-grabbing pantomimes of public opinion to try and sway the real thing.

In short: Propaganda.

Who needs to pay to run a political ad on Twitter when you can get a bot network to do the boosterism for you?

Let’s not forget Dorsey is also the tech CEO famed for not applying his platform’s rules of conduct to the tweets of certain high profile politicians. (Er, Trump again, basically.)

So by saying Twitter is banning political ads yet continuing to apply a double standard to world leaders’ tweets — most obviously by allowing the US president to bully, abuse and threaten at will in order to further his populist rightwing political agenda — the company is trying to have its cake and eat it.

More recently Twitter has evolved its policy slightly, saying it will apply some limits on the reach of rule-breaking world leader tweets. But it continues to run two sets of rules.

To Dorsey’s credit he does foreground this tension in his tweet storm — where he writes [emphasis ours]:

Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.

These challenges will affect ALL internet communication, not just political ads. Best to focus our efforts on the root problems, without the additional burden and complexity taking money brings. Trying to fix both means fixing neither well, and harms our credibility.

This is good stuff from Dorsey. Surprisingly good, given his and Twitter’s long years of free speech fundamentalism — when the company gained a reputation for being wilfully blind and deaf to the fact that for free expression to flourish online it needs a protective shield of civic limits. Otherwise ‘freedom to amplify any awful thing’ becomes a speech chiller that disproportionately harms minorities.

Aka freedom of speech is not the same as freedom of reach, as Dorsey now notes.

Even with Twitter making some disappointing choices in how it defines political issues, for the purposes of this ad ban, the contrast with Facebook and Zuckerberg — still twisting and spinning in the same hot air; trying to justify incoherent platform policies that sell out democracy for a binary ideology which his own company can’t even stick to — looks stark.

The timing of Dorsey’s tweet-storm, during Facebook’s earnings call, was clearly intended to make that point.

“Zuckerberg wants us to believe that one must be for or against free speech with no nuance, complexity or cultural specificity, despite running a company that’s drowning in complexity,” writes cultural historian, Siva Vaidhyanathan, confronting Facebook’s moral vacuousness in a recent Guardian article responding to another Zuckerberg ‘manifesto’ on free speech. “He wants our discussions to be as abstract and idealistic as possible. He wants us not to look too closely at Facebook itself.”

Facebook’s position on speech does only stand up in the abstract. Just as its ad-targeting business can only run free of moral outrage in unregulated obscurity, where the baked in biases — algorithmic and user generated — are safely hidden from view so people can’t joins the dots on how they’re being damaged.

We shouldn’t be surprised at how quickly the scandal-prone company is now being called on its ideological BS. We have a savvier political class as a result of the platform-scale disinformation and global data scandals of the past few years. People who have have seen and experienced what Facebook’s policies translate to in real world practice. Like compromised elections and community violence.

With lawmakers like these turning their attention on platform giants there is a genuine possibility of meaningful regulation coming down the pipe for the antisocial media business.

Not least because Facebook’s self regulation has always been another piece of crisis PR, designed to preempt and steer off the real thing. It’s a cynical attempt to maintain its profitable grip on our attention. The company has never been committed to making the kind of systemic change necessary to fix its toxic speech issues.

The problem is, ultimately, toxicity and division drives engagement, captures attention and makes Facebook a lot of money.

Twitter can claim a little distance from that business model not only because it’s considerably less successful than Facebook at generating money by monopolizing attention, but also because it provides greater leeway for its users to build and follow their own interest networks, free from algorithmic interference (though it does do algorithms too).

It has also been on a self-proclaimed reform path for some time. Most recently saying it wants to be responsible for promoting “conversational health on its platform. No one would say it’s there yet but perhaps we’re finally getting to see some action. Even if banning political ads is mostly a quick PR win for Twitter.

The really hard work continues, though. Namely rooting out bot armies before their malicious propaganda can pollute the public sphere. Twitter hasn’t said it’s close to being able to fix that.

Facebook is also still failing to stem the tide of ‘organic’ politicized fake content on its platform. Fakes that profit at our democratic expense by spreading hate and lies.

For this type of content Facebook offers no searchable archive (as it now does for paid ads which it defines as political) — thereby providing ongoing cover for dark money to do its manipulative hack-job on democracy by free-posting via groups and pages.

Plus, even where Facebook claims to be transparently raising the curtain on paid political influence it’s abjectly failing to do so. Its political ads API is still being blasted by research academics as not fit for purpose. Even as the company policy cranks up pressure on external fact-checkers by giving politicians the green light to run ads that lie.

It has also been accused of applying a biased standard when it comes to weeding out “coordinated inauthentic behavior”, as Facebook euphemistically calls the networks of fake accounts set up to amplify and juice reach — when the propaganda in question is coming from within the US and leans toward the political right.

 

Facebook denies this, claiming for example that a network of pages on its platform reported to be exclusively boosting content from US conservative news site, The Daily Wire, arereal pages run by real people in the U.S., and they don’t violate our policies. (It didn’t offer us any detail on how it reached that conclusion.) 

A company spokesperson also said: “We’re working on more transparency so that in the future people have more information about Pages like these on Facebook.”

So it’s still promising ‘more transparency’ — rather than actually being transparent. And it remains the sole judge interpreting and applying policies that aren’t at all legally binding; so sham regulation then. 

Moreover, while Facebook has at times issued bans on toxic content from certain domestic hate speech preachers’, such as banning some of InfoWars’ Alex Jones’ pages, it’s failed to stop the self-same hate respawning via new pages. Or indeed the same hateful individuals maintaining other accounts on different Facebook-owned social properties. Inconsistency of policy enforcement is Facebook’s DNA.

Set against all that Dorsey’s decision to take a stance against political ads looks positively statesmanlike.

It is also, at a fundamental level, obviously just the right thing to do. Buying a greater share of attention than you’ve earned politically is regressive because it favors those with the deepest pockets. Though of course Twitter’s stance won’t fix the rest of a broken system where money continues to pour in and pollute politics.

We also don’t know the fine-grained detail of how Twitter’s algorithms amplify political speech when it’s packaged in organic tweet form. So whether its algorithmic levers are more likely to be triggered into boosting political tweets that inflame and incite, or those that inform and seek to unite.

As I say, the whole of Twitter’s platform can sum to political advertising. And the company does apply algorithms to surface or suppress tweets based on its proprietary (and commercial) determination of ‘engagement quality’. So its entire business is involved in shaping how visible (or otherwise) tweeted speech is.

That very obviously includes plenty of political speech. Not for nothing is Twitter Trump’s platform of choice.

Nothing about its ban on political ads changes all that. So, as ever, where social media self-regulation is concerned, what we are being given is — at best — just fiddling around the edges.

A cynical eye might say Twitter’s ban is intended to distract attention from more structural problems baked into these attention-harvesting Internet platforms.

The toxic political discourse problem that democracies and societies around the world are being forced to grapple with is as a consequence of how Internet platforms distribute content and shape public discussion. So what’s really key is how these companies use our information to program what we each get to see.

The fact that we’re talking about Twitter’s political ad ban risks distracting from the “root problems” Dorsey referenced in passing. (Though he would probably offer a different definition of their cause. In the tweet storm he just talks about “working hard to stop people from gaming our systems to spread misleading info”.)

Facebook’s public diagnosis of the same problem is always extremely basic and blame-shifting. It just says some humans are bad, ergo some bad stuff will be platformed by Facebook — reflecting the issue back at humanity.

Here’s an alternative take: The core issue underpinning all these problems around how Internet platforms spread toxic propaganda is the underlying fact of taking people’s data in order to manipulate our attention.

This business of microtargeting — or behavioral advertising, as it’s also called — turns everyone into a target for some piece of propaganda or other.

It’s a practice that sucks regardless of whether it’s being done to you by Donald Trump or by Disney. Because it’s asymmetrical. It’s disproportionate. It’s exploitative. And it’s inherently anti-democratic.

It also incentivizes a pervasive, industrial-scale stockpiling of personal data that’s naturally hostile to privacy, terrible for security and gobbles huge amounts of energy and computing resource. So it sucks from an environmental perspective too.

And it does it all for the very basest of purposes. This is platforms selling you out so others can sell you stuff. Be it soap or political opinions.

Zuckerberg’s label of choice for this process — “relevant ads” — is just the slick lie told by a billionaire to grease the pipes that suck out the data required to sell our attention down the river.

Microtargeting is both awful for the individual (meaning creepy ads; loss of privacy; risk of bias and data misuse) and terrible for society for all the same reasons — as well as grave, society-level risks, such as election interference and the undermining of hard-won democratic institutions by hostile forces.

Individual privacy is a common good, akin to public health. Inoculation — against disease or indeed disinformation — helps protect the whole of us from damaging contagion.

To be clear, microtargeting is also not only something that happens when platforms are paid money to target ads. Platforms are doing this all the time; applying a weaponizing layer to customize everything they handle.

It’s how they distribute and program the masses of information users freely upload, creating maximally engaging order out of the daily human chaos they’ve tasked themselves with turning into a compelling and personalized narrative — without paying a massive army of human editors to do the job.

Facebook’s News Feed relies on the same data-driven principles as behavioral ads do to grab and hold attention. As does Twitter’s ‘Top Tweets’ algorithmically ranked view.

This is programmed attention-manipulation at vast scale, repackaged as a ‘social’ service. One which uses what the platforms learn by spying on Internet users as divisive glue to bind our individual attention, even if it means setting some of us against each another.

That’s why you can publish a Facebook post that mentions a particular political issue and — literally within seconds — attract a violently expressed opposing view from a Facebook ‘friend’ you haven’t spoken to in years. The platform can deliver that content ‘gut punch’ because it has a god-like view of everyone via the prism of their data. Data that powers its algorithms to plug content into “relevant” eyeballs, ranked by highest potential for engagement sparks to fly.

It goes without saying that if a real friendship group contained such a game-playing stalker — who had bugged everyone’s phones to snoop and keep tabs on them, and used what they learnt to play friends off against each other — no one would imagine it bringing the group closer together. Yet that’s how Facebook treats its captive eyeballs.

That awkward silence you could hear as certain hard-hitting questions struck Zuckerberg during his most recent turn in the House might just be the penny dropping.

It finally feels as if lawmakers are getting close to an understanding of the real “root problem” embedded in these content-for-data sociotechnical platforms.

Platforms that invite us to gaze into them in order that they can get intimate with us forever — using what they learn from spying to pry further and exploit faster.

So while banning political ads sounds nice it’s just a distraction. What we really need to shatter the black mirror platforms are holding against society, in which they get to view us from all angles while preventing us from seeing what they’re doing, is to bring down a comprehensive privacy screen. No targeting against personal data.

Let them show us content and ads, sure. They can target this stuff contextually based on a few generic pieces of information. They can even ask us to specify if we’d like to see ads about housing today or consumer packaged goods? We can negotiate the rules. Everything else — what we do on or off the platform, who we talk to, what we look at, where we go, what we say — must remain strictly off limits.

 


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