Author: Anthony Ha

Daily Crunch: Facebook lets you unsend recent messages

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. Facebook now lets everyone unsend messages for 10 minutes

For up to 10 minutes after sending a Facebook Message, the sender can tap on it and they’ll find the delete button has been replaced by “Remove for you” and “Remove for everyone” options. If you select the latter, recipients will see an alert saying that you removed a message, and they can still flag the message.

The feature could come in handy in those moments when you realize, right after hitting send, that you’ve made an embarrassing typo or said something dumb. It won’t, however, let people change ancient history.

2. Alphabet revenues are up 22% but the stock is still dropping

The company’s beat of analyst estimates would have been a miss if not for a $1.3 billion unrealized gain “related to a non-marketable debt security.”

3. Toyota’s new car subscription company Kinto is gamifying driving behavior

Toyota has officially launched Kinto, a company first revealed late last year that will manage a car subscription program and other mobility services in Japan, including the sale and purchase of used vehicles as well as automotive repair and inspection.

4. Apple pays millions in backdated taxes to French authorities

“The French tax administration recently concluded a multi-year audit on the company’s French accounts, and those details will be published in our public accounts,” the company told Reuters. French authorities can’t confirm the transaction due to tax secrecy.

5. Self-driving truck startup Ike raises $52 million

The startup was founded by veterans of Apple and Google, as well as Uber Advanced Technologies Group’s self-driving truck program. Its mission — expand and deploy — sounds a lot like other autonomous vehicle startups, but that’s where the parallels end.

6. Facebook bans four armed groups in Myanmar

Facebook has introduced new security features and announced plans to increase its team of Burmese language content translators to 100 people. While it doesn’t intend to open an office in Myanmar, it has ramped up its efforts to expel bad actors.

7. Backed by Benchmark, Blue Hexagon just raised $31 million for its deep learning cybersecurity software

According to co-founder Nayeem Islam, Blue Hexagon has created a real-time, cybersecurity platform that he says can detect known and unknown threats at first encounter, then block them in “sub seconds” so the malware doesn’t have time to spread.

Daily Crunch: Facebook fallout continues

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. We dismantle Facebook’s memo defending its ‘Research’

The fallout continues following TechCrunch reporting about a Facebook app that was paying people to collect a huge swath of data from their phones. For one thing, a new memo from Facebook’s VP of production engineering and security provides more detail about exactly what data Facebook was trying to collect from teens and adults in the U.S. and India.

We also learned that like Facebook, Google was using Apple enterprise certificates to circulate a consumer-facing data collection app — leading Apple to shut down, then restore access to Google’s internal iOS apps.

2. Amazon and Flipkart pull 100,000s of products to comply with new Indian law

Amazon has been forced to pull an estimated 400,000 products in India after new regulation limiting e-commerce businesses went into force in the country. And Flipkart could pull as many as one-quarter of its products in order to comply with the rule, according to analysis from consulting firm Technopak.

3. Apple fixes FaceTime eavesdrop bug, with software update incoming

“We have fixed the Group FaceTime security bug on Apple’s servers and we will issue a software update to re-enable the feature for users next week,” the company said.

4. H-1B changes will simplify application process

Danny Crichton does some table-napkin math to conclude that the changes will likely benefit advanced degree holders, while diminishing the chances for regular applicants.

5. Kleiner Perkins gets back to early-stage with its $600M 18th fund

The firm, which was recently rocked by the departure of legendary investor Mary Meeker, says it’s going “back to the future” with a focus on early-stage deals.

6. Amazon reports better than expected Q4, but lowers Q1 guidance

The online retail giant reported $72.4 billion in Q4 revenue, topping last year’s $60.45 billion and besting the analysts’ forecast of $71.92 billion. Amazon Web Services also played a key role, with a massive $2.2 billion operating income.

7. Vice Media will lay off 10 percent of its staff

Vice is the latest digital media company to announce major cuts. The goal is to allow Vice to focus on growth areas like branded content and film and TV production.

Facebook says it will invest $300M in local news

Facebook plans to make a significant investment in local news over the next three years, with $300 million going to a variety of initiatives and organizations.

The company has had a rocky relationship with news publishers recently. While it’s funded programming from partners like CNN and Fox News, it’s also played a role in some of the industry’s most dispiriting trends, like the so-called “pivot to video” — and several of the digital publishers that bet big on the platform have been struggling (to say the least).

So initiatives like this one (and a similar investment that Google announced last year) can seem like attempts to ameliorate the damage that the big digital platforms have already done to the news ecosystem. Or perhaps they’re simply protecting an important content source at a time when the local news business is under tremendous pressure.

Regardless of motivation, if it helps, it helps.

As for why Facebook is focusing on local news specifically, Vice President of Global News Partnerships Campbell Brown said in a blog post that after examining “what kind of news people want to see on Facebook” and talking to industry partners, “We heard one consistent answer: people want more local news, and local newsrooms are looking for more support.”

Brown said the investments will go into two broad areas — supporting journalists and newsrooms in the newsgathering process, and helping them build sustainable business models. More specifically, the company says it will invest:

  • $5 million in the Pulitzer Center (with a $5 million matching gift from Emily Rauh Pulitzer) to launch “Bringing Stories Home,” an initiative offering reporting grants to cover topics that affect local communities.
  • $2 million in Report for America, an initiative to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms across America over the next five years.
  • $1 million for the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, which is trying to create a hub for evaluating and improving how technology is used in U.S. newsrooms.
  • a $1 million investment in the Local Media Association and the Local Media Consortium, to helping their 2,000-plus member newsrooms develop branded content revenue streams (both on and off Facebook).
  • a $1 million commitment to the American Journalism Project, which is using “venture philanthropy” to support local news organizations.
  • $6 million for the Community News Project, which is partnering with U.K. publishers to recruit trainee “community journalists” and place them in local newsrooms over a two-year period.
  • More than $20 million to expand Facebook’s Accelerator program to help local publishers with their membership and subscription models.

“We are grateful for Facebook’s commitment to helping us meet the challenges of today’s journalism, especially in smaller cities where the survival of news outlets depends on new models of reporting and community engagement,” said Pulitzer Center founder and executive director Jon Sawyer in a statement. “We also applaud Facebook’s commitment to the editorial independence that is absolutely essential to our success.”

Captiv8 report highlights data for spotting fake followers

Captiv8, a company offering tools for brands to manage influencer marketing campaigns, has released its 2018 Fraud Influencer Marketing Benchmark Report. The goal is to give marketers the data they need to spot fake followers — and thus, to separate the influencers with a real following from those who only offer the illusion of engagement.

The report argues that that this a problem with a real financial impact (it’s something that Instagram is working to crack down on), with $2.1 billion spent on influencer marketing on Instagram in 2017 and 11 percent of the engagement coming from fraudulent accounts.

“For influencer marketing to truly deliver on its transformative potential, marketers need a more concrete and reliable way to identify fake followers and engagement, compare their performance to industry benchmarks, and determine the real reach and impact of social media spend,” Captiv8 says.

So the company looked at a range of marketing categories (pets, parenting, beauty, fashion, entertainment, travel, gaming, fitness, food and traditional celebrity) and randomly selected 5,000 Instagram influencer accounts in each one, pulling engagement from August to November of this year.

The idea is to establish a baseline for standard activity, so that marketers can spot potential red flags. Of course, everyone with a significant social media audience is going to have some fake followers, but Captiv8 suggests that some categories have a higher rate of fraud than others — fashion was the worst, with an average of 14 percent of fake activity per account, compared to traditional celebrity, where the average was just 4 percent.

So what should you look out for? For starters, the report says the average daily change in follower counts for an influencer is 1.2 percent, so be on the lookout for shifts that are significantly larger.

The report also breaks down the average engagement rate for organic and sponsored content by category (ranging from 1.19 percent for sponsored content in food to 3.51 percent in entertainment), and suggests that a lower engagement rate “shows a high probability that their follower count is inflated through bots or fake followers.”

Conversely, it says it could also be a warning sign if a creator’s audience reach or impressions per user is higher than the industry benchmarks (for example, image posts in fashion have an average audience reach of 23.69 percent, with 1.32 impressions per unique user).

You can download the full report on the Captiv8 website.

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.