Author: Anthony Ha

Facebook’s collections are becoming shareable, just in time for the holidays

This holiday season, Facebook is hoping you’ll use a relatively little-known feature to share your gift ideas.

With collections, users can already save Facebook content — whether it’s a post, an ad, a video in Facebook Watch or a listing on the Marketplace. Now the company says that you’ll be able to share these collections with your Facebook friends.

The idea is to turn collections into more of a collaborative tool. To do so, you’ll need to open up a collection and then click the “invite” button. Then you can invite other users to become contributors to that collection.

A Facebook blog post explains how this collaboration might work:

If you and a group of friends are planning a holiday party, one of them can create a collection called “holiday recipes” and share with each person helping to plan. Those invited can add holiday recipes they’ve discovered on Facebook and save in the shared collection. The possibilities extend beyond the holiday season and can be useful for coordinating with friends on things like summer vacation planning, wedding registry ideas, furnishing a new apartment and more.

If you had no idea that this feature existed before now, I’m right there with you. Apparently Facebook has been testing “save” capabilities since 2014, which (quietly) evolved into the collections feature last year.

The company says “millions” of people are already using collections. Now that they’re becoming more of a social tool, it seems that Facebook is ready to do more to promote them.

Now you can read the controversial Definers research about George Soros and Facebook

Facebook is still dealing with the fallout from a New York Times report outlining the company’s strategy to fight back against criticism, particularly its work with Definers Public Affairs, an opposition research firm with ties to the Republican Party.

That work included a document that Definers sent to reporters suggesting ties between George Soros and progressive political groups criticizing Facebook. The Times story described the broad strokes of the claims made by Definers, but the document itself has not been shared with the public — until today, when it was published by BuzzFeed.

At this point, the contents aren’t particularly revelatory, but the document is still worth reading, since it’s at the center of the recent controversy.

It’s titled “Freedom From Facebook Potential Funding,” and it begins:

Recently, a number of progressive groups came together to form the Freedom From Facebook campaign which has a six-figure ad budget. It is not clear who is providing the large amount of funding for the campaign but at least four of the groups in the coalition receive funding or are aligned with George Soros who has publicly criticized Facebook. It is very possible that Soros is funding Freedom From Facebook.

The document goes on to point out connections between Soros and several of the groups involved in Freedom From Facebook, and it notes Soros’ public criticism of Facebook and Google. On its own, the document seems “largely innocuous” (as BuzzFeed put it), but it’s become controversial for potentially playing into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Soros.

A Freedom From Facebook spokesperson has said that no money from Soros was used to fund the campaign — in fact, Axios reported that its initial funding came from David Magerman, a Pennsylvania-based philanthropist and former hedge fund executive.

According to BuzzFeed, this is one of at least two documents that Definers prepared after Soros made critical remarks about Facebook and Google at Davos.

Meanwhile, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg have denied knowledge of Definers’ work for Facebook, and outgoing head of public policy Elliot Schrage took responsibility for hiring the firm. But Facebook later acknowledged that Sandberg had asked the communications team to research Soros’ financial ties after he criticized the company, and reporting by my colleague Taylor Hatmaker suggests that Sandberg was more aware of Definers’ work than initially acknowledged.

When reached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson pointed us to Schrage’s post and said the company has nothing further to add.

Twitter beats Wall St Q3 estimates with $758M in revenue

Twitter came in ahead of analysts’ financial estimates in its third quarter, reporting $758 million in revenue (a 29 percent year-over-year increase) and earnings per share of 21 cents.

Analysts had predicted revenue of $703 million and EPS of 14 cents per share. Ad revenue was also up 29 percent, to $650 million, and Twitter says total ad engagements increased 50 percent year over year.

However, user growth didn’t quite match expectations, with 326 monthly active users, lower than predictions of 330 million, and also a decline from the same period last year, when Twitter had 335 million MAUs.

In the earnings release, the company says its user growth was “impacted by a number of factors including: GDPR, decisions we have made to prioritize the health of the platform and not move to paid SMS carrier relationships in certain markets, as well as a product change that reduced automated usage and a technical issue that temporarily reduced the number of notifications sent.”

In a statement, CEO Jack Dorsey similarly suggested that the company has been focusing on the “health” of the community, rather than pursuing growth at all costs.

“We’re achieving meaningful progress in our efforts to make Twitter a healthier and valuable everyday service,” Dorsey said. “We’re doing a better job detecting and removing spammy and suspicious accounts at sign-up. We’re also continuing to introduce improvements that make it easier for people to follow events, topics and interests on Twitter, like adding support for U.S. TV shows in our new event infrastructure. This quarter’s strong results prove we can prioritize the long-term health of Twitter while growing the number of people who participate in public conversation.”

While Twitter still attracts plenty of criticism for its approach to safety, harassment and misinformation (it was slower than the other major online platforms to ban Alex Jones and Infowars, for example), it has taken steps in the past few months to suspend accounts that were “engaging in coordinated manipulation,” as well as those who tried to get around previous suspensions.

The company says that the average number of daily active users actually increased 9 percent year-over-year, and the investor relations account tweeted that “DAU growth continues to be the best measure of our success in driving the use of Twitter as a daily utility.”

As of 7:55am Eastern, Twitter shares were up nearly 15 percent in pre-market trading.

Facebook expands its video Ad Breaks to 21 new countries

Facebook Ad Breaks, the social network’s pre-roll and mid-roll video ads, are launching in 21 new countries.

Facebook announced that Ad Breaks were generally available last month in five countries: the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Now it’s adding territories in Europe, Latin and South America and Asia to the list.

Maria Smith, Facebook’s director of product for the news feed and media monetization, noted that Facebook first started testing these ad units more than a year ago.

“We started very conservatively,” she said. “It’s a very new initiative for us … We needed to get the user experience right.”

In particular, she said the company found that that these ads work best with longer videos, which is why there’s now a minimum length of three minutes.

Facebook has rolled out other improvements too, like the ability to automatically detect the best moments to insert the ad (though video publishers can still place the Ad Breaks manually, if they choose).

“As you watch a video, there are points in this video where the pause or Ad Break feels natural to the viewer,” Smith said. “For example, between scenes, or where it doesn’t interrupt speech, where the story line feels good to take a break — those are all signals” used to select Ad Break locations.

Beyond the minimum length for individual videos, Facebook also requires that Pages participating in the Ad Breaks program have at least 10,000 followers and need to have received at least 30,000 one-minute views on videos that are at least one minute long. They also need to meet Facebook’s general monetization standards.

The Ad Breaks sign-up page will now automatically tell creators whether they’re eligible to participate. Smith described these standards as a way to ensure “a really positive experience” for video creators, advertisers and regular users. (After concerns that ads were being played before inappropriate or controversial content, YouTube set a higher bar for eligibility earlier this year, though that’s led to widespread complaints from creators.)

Here are the new countries where Ad Breaks are generally available: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru and Thailand. As part of this expansion, Facebook is adding support for five new languages, namely French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.

“We’re making sure we’re very thoughtful, rolling this out in phases,” Smith said. “As we get ready to honor our commitment to our partners to enable them to monetize, we’re very excited.”

Salesforce research: Yep, consumers are worried about their data

Recent headlines at TechCrunch and elsewhere have been filled with news about data breaches, data misuse and other data-related scandals. But has that actually affected how consumers think about their personal data?

A new report from Salesforce Reserach sheds some light on this question. In a survey of 6,723 individuals globally, Salesforce found that 59 percent of of respondents believe their personal information is vulnerable to security breach, while 54 percent believe that the companies with that data don’t have their best interests in mind.

Respondents also said that these feelings will affect their choices as consumers — for example, 86 percent said that if they trust a company, they’re more likely to share their experiences, and that number goes up to 91 percent among millennials and Gen Zers.

The findings seem similar to (if more general than research from Pew showing that Americans have become more cautious and and critical in how they use Facebook.

At the same time, it sounds like people do want some degree of personalization in their marketing — the same personalization that requires data. Eighty-four percent of respondents said they want to be treated “like a person, not a number,” and 54 percent said current marketing messages aren’t as relevant as they’d like.

Salesforce says that while this might seem like a paradox, personalization and trust are not mutually exclusive. To illustrate this, it notes that 86 percent of respondents said they’re more likely to trust a company with their personal information if it explains how that information leads to a better customer experience, and 68 percent said they’re more likely to trust companies with that info if they’ll use it to fully personalize the customer experience.

“With technologies like AI driving more personalized customer experiences, customer trust needs to be grounded in a deeper understanding of the technologies’ value,” the report says. “Among millennials and Gen Zers, 91% are more likely to trust companies with their persona information if they explain how its use will deliver a better experience — suggesting that strict security and privacy protocols alone may not be enough.”

You can read the full research brief here.

Kids’ gaming platform Roblox raises $150M

Roblox, which allows kids to create 3D worlds and games, has raised an additional $150 million in funding.

The company didn’t disclose its valuation in the announcement, but a source with knowledge of the deal told us that it valued Roblox at more than $2.5 billion — the price that Microsoft paid to acquire Minecraft four years ago.

“This is a big year for us that fortifies the dream,” said co-founder and CEO David Baszucki .

Earlier this year, Roblox announced that it had become cash-flow positive, and Baszucki told me the company remains “extremely profitable.” So why raise more money?

“First and foremost, the reason to fundraise is to have a war chest, to have a buffer, to have the opportunity to do acquisitions, to have a strong balance sheet as we grow internationally,” he said.

In order to support that growth, Baszucki said Roblox will be opening offices in some regions like China (“most likely with a partner that hasn’t been announced yet”), but it also requires building out infrastructure like local language and local payment support.

Roblox has now raised a total of $185 million in equity funding. The new round was led by Greylock Partners and Tiger Global, with participation from existing investors Altos Ventures, Index Ventures, Meritech Capital Partners and others.

Greylock’s David Sze has had big successes in both gaming and social media, having backed Facebook, LinkedIn, SGN and others. But he said Roblox is the first company he’s seen to “unify those two together on a platform in a magical kind of way.”

Apparently, Sze has known Baszucki for a long time — their kids went to the same school, and Sze remembered Baszucki bringing an early version of Roblox to the science fair. Gaming companies can be a risky investment, because their business relies on creating new hits, but Sze said Roblox is different.

“They aren’t making the games,” Sze said. “They’re letting the long tail of developers develop all the games on the platform, they’re let users decide what the successes are. It’s much more like a YouTube or much more like an Apple with the App Store.”

In a blog post about the funding, Sze even suggested that some of the next big gaming franchises could emerge from the Roblox platform, a prediction he repeated in our interview

“I’d be surprised if there aren’t some huge, high quality games that aren’t originated on Roblox in the next three-to-five years,” he said.

Roblox says it now has more than 70 million monthly active users, with more than 4 million creators who have built more than 40 million-plus experiences.

Of course, having a big platform with lots of user-generated content also creates risks — as illustrated in a recent incident where characters mimed gang raping a young girl’s avatar. (Roblox said a single server had been hacked, allowing users to upload code that violated the company’s rules.)

Asked whether these risks gave him any pause, Sze said, “User protection, user safety, all the aspects of having of having youth on your platform, it takes those things extremely seriously.”

“Are we perfect? No,” he said. “But I can tell you from inside the company that it’s an incredibly high priority. They’ve already done lots of things to help protect and make the user experience the best, and they have a list of stuff that they’re already working on.”

I’ll be interviewing Baszucki on-stage at Disrupt SF this afternoon, so stay tuned to TechCrunch (or come on out to the event!) for more on the funding and his future plans.

This story has been updated with the corrected amount for Roblox’s total funding.

TikTok adds video reactions to its newly-merged app

Just about a month after the merger of the short-form video apps Musical.ly and TikTok, the app is introducing a new social feature, allowing users to post their reactions to the videos that they watch.

Instead of text comments, these reactions will take the form of videos that are essentially superimposed on top of existing clips. The idea of a reaction video should be familiar to anyone who’s spent some time on YouTube, but TikTok is incorporating the concept in way that looks like a pretty seamless.

To post a reaction, users just need to choose the React option in the Share menu for a given video. The app will then record your audio and video as the clip plays. You can also decide where on the screen you want your reaction video to appear.

If you don’t recognize the TikTok name, that’s probably because the app only launched in the United States at the beginning of August, but it’s been available in China for a couple of years.

Back in 2017, Bytedance — the Chinese company behind TikTok as well as news aggregator Toutia — acquired Musical.ly for around $1 billion. It eventually merged the two apps to combine their audiences and features; Musical.ly users were moved over with their existing videos and settings.

The company says Reactions will be available in the updated app on Google Play and the Apple App Store over the next day or two.

Twitter announces new policy and certification process for ‘issue ads’

Twitter continues to roll out new policies aimed at increasing transparency, particularly around political advertising.

Amidst ongoing concerns about Russian election interference and misinformation on social media, the company recently announced political ad guidelines and launched an Ads Transparency Center where you can find more information about advertisers.

Initially, however, Twitter’s stricter standards were limited to ads for U.S. federal election candidates and campaigns. Now it’s announced a policy around the broader category of “issue ads.”

In a blog post, Twitter’s vice president of trust and safety Del Harvey and its general manager of revenue product Bruce Falck said the policy affects two categories:

* Ads that refer to an election or a clearly identified candidate, or
* Ads that advocate for legislative issues of national importance

In both cases, advertisers will need to apply for certification, which involves verifying their identity and location in the United States. Like election ads, issue ads will be labeled as such in the Twitter timeline, and they’ll allow users to click through and learn more about the advertiser. They’ll also be included in the Ads Transparency center.

As examples of the kinds of issues that would be covered, Harvey and Falck cited “abortion, civil rights, climate change, guns, healthcare, immigration, national security, social security, taxes, and trade,” though they also said that list will likely evolve over time.

News organizations that want to run ads around their political coverage can apply for an exemption. (Since the definition of what is and isn’t a news organization can be blurry, there are specific criteria that they’d need to meet, like providing editorial staff information online and not being “dedicated to advocating on a single issue.”)

“We don’t believe that news organizations running ads on Twitter that report on these issues, rather than advocate for or against them, should be subject to this policy,” Harvey and Falck wrote.

Twitter says it will start enforcing the policy (which, to be clear, is currently U.S.-only) on September 30.

Crimson Hexagon regains Facebook data access

Analytics company Crimson Hexagon says Facebook has reinstated its data access to Facebook and Instagram.

That access was suspended last month, with Facebook saying it was investigating whether the company had violated any of its data use policies. (The social network, of course, has been dealing with the fallout from a separate controversy over user data.)

In this case, the issue appears to be related to some of Crimson Hexagon’s contracts with the U.S. government, with Facebook saying it wasn’t aware of those contracts when contacted by The Wall Street Journal.

What followed, according to a blog post by Crimson Hexagon Dan Shore, was “several weeks of constructive discussion and information exchange.” It seems that Facebook was satisfied with what it learned and ended Crimson Hexagon’s suspension.

Shore said that government customers make up less than 5 percent of the company’s business, adding, “To our knowledge, no government customer has used the Crimson Hexagon platform for surveillance of any individual or group.”

“Over time we have enhanced our vetting procedures for government customers,” he said. “Nevertheless, we recognize it is important to go beyond vetting by monitoring these government customers on an ongoing basis to ensure the public’s expectations of privacy are met. As governments and government-sponsored organizations change how they use data, we too must change.”

Tinder founders sue parent companies Match and IAC for at least $2B

A group of Tinder founders and executives has filed a lawsuit against parent company Match Group and its controlling shareholder IAC.

The plaintiffs in the suit include Tinder co-founders Sean Rad, Justin Mateen and Jonathan Badeen — Badeen still works at Tinder, as do plaintiffs James Kim (the company’s vice president of finance) and Rosette Pambakian (its vice president of marketing and communications).

We’ve reached out to IAC for comment, as well as Pambakian, who’s served as our main contact at Tinder. We’ll update the post if we hear back.

The suit alleges that IAC and Match Group manipulated financial data in order to create “a fake lowball valuation” (to quote the plaintiffs’ press release), then stripped Rad, Mateen, Badeen and others of their stock options. It points to the removal of Rad as CEO, as well as other management changes, as moves designed “to allow Defendants to control the valuation of Tinder and deprive Tinder optionholders of their right to participate in the company’s future success.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Greg Blatt, the Match CEO who became CEO of Tinder as well, groped and sexually harassed Pambakian at the company’s 2016 holiday party, supposedly leading the company to “whitewash” his actions long enough for him to complete the valuation of Tinder and its merger with Match Group, and then to announce his departure.

In response, the plaintiffs are asking for “compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at trial, but not less than $2,000,000,000.”

“We were always concerned about IAC’s reputation for ignoring their contractual commitments and acting like the rules don’t apply to them,” Rad said in the release. “But we never imagined the lengths they would go to cheat all the people who built Tinder. The Tinder team — especially the plaintiffs who are currently senior leaders at the company — have shown tremendous strength in exposing IAC/Match’s systematic violation of employees’ rights.”

As-filed complaint.pdf by TechCrunch on Scribd