Author: Anthony Ha

Jack Dorsey says it’s time to rethink the fundamental dynamics of Twitter

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took the stage today at the TED conference. But instead of giving the standard talk, he answered questions from TED’s Chris Anderson and Whitney Pennington Rodgers.

For most of the interview, Dorsey outlined steps that Twitter has taken to combat abuse and misinformation, but Anderson explained why the company’s critics sometimes find those steps so insufficient and unsatisfying. He compared Twitter to the Titanic, and Dorsey to the captain, listening to passengers’ concerns about the iceberg up ahead — then going back to the bridge and showing “this extraordinary calm.”

“It’s democracy at stake, it’s our culture at stake,” Anderson said, echoing points made yesterday in a talk by journalist Carole Cadwalladr. So why isn’t Twitter addressing these issues with more urgency?

“We are working as quickly as we can, but quickness will not get the job done,” Dorsey replied. “It’s focus, it’s prioritization, it’s understanding the fundamentals of the network.”

He also argued that while Twitter could “do a bunch of superficial things to address the things you’re talking about,” that isn’t the real solution.

“We want the changes to last, and that means going really, really deep,” Dorsey said.

In his view, that means rethinking how Twitter incentivizes user behavior. He suggested that the service works best as an “interest-based network,” where you log in and see content relevant to your interests, no matter who posted it — rather than a network where everyone feels like they need to follow a bunch of other accounts, and then grow their follower numbers in turn.

Dorsey recalled that when the team was first building the service, it decided to make follower count “big and bold,” which naturally made people focus on it.

“Was that the right decision at the time? Probably not,” he said. “If I had to start the service again, I would not emphasize the follower count as much … I don’t think I would create ‘likes’ in the first place.”

Since he isn’t starting from scratch, Dorsey suggested that he’s trying to find ways to redesign Twitter to shift the “bias” away from accounts and towards interests.

More specifically, Rodgers asked about the frequent criticism that Twitter hasn’t found a way to consistently ban Nazis from the service.

“We have a situation right now where that term is used fairly loosely,” Dorsey said. “We just cannot take any one mention of that word accusing someone else as a factual indication of whether someone can be removed from the platform.”

He added that Twitter does remove users who are connected to hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party, as well those who post hateful imagery or who are otherwise guilty of conduct that violates Twitter’s terms and conditions — terms that Dorsey said the company is rewriting to make them “human readable,” and to emphasize that fighting abuse and hateful content is the top priority.

“Our focus is on removing the burden of work from the victims,” Dorsey said.

He also pointed to efforts that Twitter has already announced to measure (and then improve) conversational health and to use machine learning to automatically detect abusive content. (The company said today that 38 percent of abusive content that Twitter takes action against is found proactively.)

And while Dorsey said he’s less interested in maximizing time spent on Twitter and more in maximizing “what people take away from it and what they want to learn from it,” Anderson suggested that Twitter may struggle with that goal since it’s a public company, with a business model based on advertising. Would Dorsey really be willing to see time spent on the service decrease, even if that means improving the conversation?

“More relevance means less time on the service, and that’s perfectly fine,” Dorsey said, adding that Twitter can still serve ads against relevant content.

In terms of how the company is currently measuring its success, Dorsey said it focuses primarily on daily active users, and secondly on “conversation chains — we want to incentivize healthy contributions back to the network.”

Getting back to Dorsey himself, Rodgers wondered whether serving as the CEO of two public companies (the other is Square) gives him enough time to solve these problems.

“My goal is to build a company that is not dependent upon me and outlives me,” he said. “The situation between the two companies and how my time is spent forces me immediately to create frameworks that are scalable, that are decentralized, that don’t require me being in every single detail … That is true of any organization that scales beyond the original founding moment.”

Journalist Carole Cadwalladr says ‘the gods of Silicon Valley’ have broken democracy

On the same day that she became a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her work bringing the Cambridge Analytica scandal to light, journalist Carole Cadwalladr took the stage at TED to “address you directly, the gods of Silicon Valley.”

Cadwalladr began her talk by recounting a trip she took after the Brexit referendum, back to her hometown in South Wales.

She recalled feeling “a weird sense of unreality” walking around a town filled with new infrastructure funded by the European Union, while being told by residents that the EU had done nothing for them. Similarly, she said they told her about the dangers of immigration, even though they lived in a town with “one of the lowest rates of immigration in the country.”

Cadwalladr said she began to understand where those sentiments were coming from after her story ran, and someone contacted her about seeing scary, misleading ads about Turkey and Turkish immigration on Facebook . Cadwalladr, however, couldn’t see those ads, because she wasn’t targeted, and Facebook offered no general archive of all ads that had run on the platform.

Eventually, Facebook began building that archive of ads. And the pro-Brexit campaign was found guilty of breaking British election laws by breaching campaign spending limits to fund campaigns on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Cadwalladr said her interest in these issues led her to Christopher Wylie, whose whistleblowing about Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook user data helped prompt broader scrutiny of the social network’s privacy practices.

Cadwalladr described Wylie as “extraordinarily brave,” particularly since Cambridge Analytica repeatedly threatened them with legal action. The final threat, she said, came a day before publication, and it came from Facebook itself.

“It said that if we published, they would sue us,” Cadwalladr said. “We did it anyway. Facebook, you were on the wrong side of history on that, and you are on the wrong side of history in this.”

The “this” in question is what she characterized as a failure by the social media platforms to fully reckon with the extent to which they’ve become tools for the spread of lies and misinformation. For example, she pointed to CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal thus far to appear before parliaments around the world that have asked him to testify.

Calling out executives like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Alphabet/Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey (who’s scheduled to take the stage tomorrow morning), Cadwalladr insisted that the stakes could not be higher.

“This technology you have invented has been amazing, but now it’s a crime scene, and you have the evidence,” she said. “It is not enough to say that you will do better in the future, because to have any hope of stopping this from happening again, we have to know the past.”

She went on to declare that the Brexit vote demonstrates that “liberal democracy is broken.”

“This is not democracy,” Cadwalladr said. “Spreading lies in darkness, paid for with illegal cash from God knows where — it’s subversion, and you are accessories to it.”

And for those of us who don’t run giant technology platforms, she added, “My question to everybody else is: Is this what we want? To let them get away with it, and to sit back and play with our phones as this darkness falls?”

Dote raises $12M and introduces livestreamed Shopping Parties

Mobile shopping startup Dote is announcing $12 million in new funding, as well as a new feature called Shopping Party.

Founder and CEO Lauren Farleigh said her initial goal was to create “a truly native mobile experience” that made it “easy to check out across a lot of different stores.”

Over time, recommendations from social media influencers have become a big part of the app. With Shopping Party, they’re taking center stage — the feature allows them to share live video while browsing different products on Dote and chatting with fans.

Farleigh said the idea came from a trip she took with Dote influencers to Fiji last fall. She described watching them shop and talk together at the airport, and in what she said was an “ah-ha moment,” she realized that there’s an experience that was “lost when we stopped going to the mall with our friends.”

She added that influencers embraced the idea, with some telling her, “We love going live on Instagram [but] it’s challenging because there’s no shared experience for us to have that meaningful interaction over. It usually turns into the same Q&A over and over again.”

Dote CEO Lauren Farleigh

Shopping Party offers one solution to that issue, because you’re actually browsing and talking about specific products in the a Dote app. Apparently this was a real technical challenge — Shopping Party is leveraging Apple’s ReplayKit 2 framework to deliver two livestreams (one from the phone camera, one from the Dote app) while also incorporating live chats.

Farleigh, who previously worked as a product manager at mobile gaming company Product Gems, also compared this to game streaming on Twitch, except for shopping.

To kick things off, Dote plans to host two Shopping Parties every hour from 6am to 10am Pacific time for the next two weeks. (The company says the average Shopping Party lasts about 15 minutes.) There will also be Shopping Parties sponsored by specific brands.

As for the funding, it was led by Goodwater Capital, with participation from Lightspeed Venture Partners and Harrison Metal. Dote has now raised a total of $23 million.

“[Dote’s] customer-centric shopping platform uniquely blends innovative technologies such as live-streaming with relevant and fun social features, setting the standard for how all major brands and retailers will connect with Gen Z,” said Goodwater Managing Partner Eric Kim in a statement. “We’re thrilled to partner with them to accelerate this transformation.”

Daily Crunch: The lonely death of Google+

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. RIP Google+

This is the end for Google+, Google’s failed social network that once tried to take on Facebook and Twitter. As scheduled, the company has now started deleting user accounts and their data.

If you’re feeling nostalgic, we’ve got a recap of some of our coverage over the years.

2. Andreessen Horowitz isn’t alone in leaving behind VC as we know it — and more company is coming

A story in Forbes suggests that Andreessen Horowitz — whose agency-like model has been widely replicated by other big venture firms — is re-shaping venture capital a second time. It’s doing this by turning itself into a registered investment advisor.

3. iPhones get a price drop in China

Apple has lowered the price on a number of key hardware lines in China, including AirPods, Macs, iPads and, most notably, the iPhone. The move is believed to be the direct result of a 3 percent tax cut that took effect in the country yesterday.

4. DOJ reportedly warns Academy about changing Oscar rules to exclude streaming

The Department of Justice sent the Academy a letter stating that Oscar eligibility changes designed to exclude Netflix and other streaming services “may raise antitrust concerns.”

5. WhatsApp adds a new privacy setting for groups in another effort to clamp down on fake news

Through a new feature, users can control who has permission to add them to groups. The company says this will “help to limit abuse” and keep people’s phone numbers private.

6. Foursnap? Snapchat tries ‘Status’ location check-ins

Snapchat is now testing Status, an option to share to the Snap Map a Bitmoji depicting what you’re up to at a certain place. You could show your avatar playing video games, watching TV, asking friends to hit you up and more.

7. Singapore’s proposed ‘fake news’ law could stifle free speech

The “Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill” had its first reading on Monday and one of the key takeaways is that it will allow the government to force “corrections” to be added to online content that is deemed to be “false.”

Daily Crunch: Telegram soars after Facebook outage

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. Telegram gets 3M new signups during Facebook apps’ outage

In a message sent to his Telegram channel, founder Pavel Durov wrote, “I see 3 million new users signed up for Telegram within the last 24 hours.” Durov doesn’t offer an explicit explanation for Telegram’s sudden spike in signups, but he does take a thinly veiled swipe at social networking giant Facebook.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Facebook and its related family of apps went down for most of Wednesday.

2. Google removed 2.3B bad ads, banned ads on 1.5M apps + 28M pages, plans new Policy Manager this year

Using both manual reviews and machine learning, Google said that in 2018 it removed 2.3 billion “bad ads” that violated its policies — which at their most general forbid ads that mislead or exploit vulnerable people.

3. Uber reportedly raising $1B in deal that values self-driving car unit at up to $10B

Uber is in negotiations with investors, including the SoftBank Vision Fund, to secure an investment as large as $1 billion for its autonomous vehicles unit. The deal would value the business at between $5 billion and $10 billion, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

4. Opportunity’s last Mars panorama is a showstopper

The Opportunity Mars Rover may be officially offline for good, but its legacy of science and imagery is ongoing — and NASA just shared the last (nearly) complete panorama the robot sent back before it was blanketed in dust.

5. AI photo startup Polarr raises an $11.5 million Series A

At the moment, Polarr is probably best known for its photography app for iOS and Android, which utilizes machine learning and AI to improve image editing. The company says it has around four million monthly active users.

6. WeWork Labs is launching a food tech accelerator

WeWork is committing $1 million to back the first batch of companies.

7. Facebook won’t store data in countries with human rights violations — except Singapore

When Mark Zuckerberg said in a lengthy blog post that Facebook would not build data centers in countries with poor human rights, he chose to ignore Singapore — known for a lack of privacy and freedom of expression.

Daily Crunch: Facebook pulls Warren ads criticizing Facebook

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’s ad team shoots itself in the foot by pulling Elizabeth Warren campaign ads

Facebook’s advertising department pulled Elizabeth Warren campaign ads touting the senator’s proposal to break up big tech. According to Politico, the offending ads were pulled over their use of the Facebook brand in their copy.

The removal appears to be short-lived, but it has given the Warren campaign ammunition for their argument.

2. Marking 30 years of the web, Tim Berners-Lee calls for a joint fight against disinformation

“If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us,” said the inventor of the World Wide Web in an open letter. “We will have failed the web.”

3. Google paid $105 million to two executives accused of sexual harassment

The suit, filed by shareholder James Martin, confirms the board of directors approved a $90 million exit package for Andy Rubin “as a goodbye present to him. No mention, of course, was made about the true reason for Rubin’s ‘resignation’ — his egregious sexual harassment while at Google.”

4. Twitter’s new prototype app ‘twttr’ launches today

Initially, the new twttr app will focus on testing new designs for conversations. As the company demonstrated at CES, the app will show a different format for replies, where conversations themselves have a more rounded chat-like shape and are indented so they’re easier to follow.

5. Russia blocks encrypted email provider ProtonMail

The block was ordered by the state Federal Security Service, formerly the KGB, according to a Russian-language blog, which obtained and published the order after the agency accused the company and several other email providers of facilitating bomb threats.

6. Hulu and Spotify launch an even more steeply discounted bundle of $9.99 per month

This effectively lowers the price of Hulu’s ad-supported service to nothing.

7. Amazon reportedly nixes its price parity requirement for third-party sellers in the US

Amazon will stop forbidding third-party merchants who list on its e-commerce platform in the United States from selling the same products on other sites for lower prices, according to Axios.

Barstool Sports founder reportedly blames company ‘idiots’ for copyright controversy

In a recent Twitter thread, comedian Miel Bredouw recounted some shady behavior by Barstool Sports’ legal team. In fact, even Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy isn’t trying to defend it, and instead reportedly described it as “moronic,” admitting it, “makes us look like assholes.”

According to Bredouw (who backed up her account with screenshots of key correspondence), Barstool Sports uploaded one of her videos — a performance of “Slob on my Knob” set to the tune of “Carol of the Bells” — without attribution. When her request for credit was ignored, she filed a DMCA complaint, and the video was taken down.

However, she said various members of the Barstool team then began contacting her asking her to retract the complaint. They offered her a $50 gift card to Barstool’s online store, which was eventually upped to an offer of a $500 payment, and then $2,000 — the last one made in an email from the company’s general counsel Mark Marin.

What was going on? Bredouw theorized, “If they get too many DMCA copyright strikes, Twitter has to legally delete their account. I believe they get six. How much you want to bet mine was their fifth?”

Barstool founder Dave Portnoy seemed to confirm this in an email to Business Insider, where he said Barstool filed had to file a counter-notice in order to avoid getting shut down on Twitter.

“Unfortunately Barstool Sports has idiots in our company much like many other companies and those idiots acted like idiots,” Portnoy said. “I regret our lawyer offering a 50 dollar gift card to our store not because it’s illegal in any manner but it’s just so moronic and makes us look like assholes. That’s why lawyers should not be on social media.”

Speaking of the counter-notice — Twitter has apparently told Bredouw that as a result, she needs to file for a court order, or the company will “cease disabling access to the materials within 10 business days.”

When asked for comment, a Twitter spokesperson just pointed to the site’s copyright policy, which says that accounts facing copyright takedowns can file a counter-notice “if you believe that materials reported in the copyright complaints were misidentified or removed in error.”  When that happens, Twitter says:

If the copyright owner disagrees that the content was removed in error or misidentification, they may pursue legal action against you. If we do not receive notice within 10 business days that the original reporter is seeking a court order to prevent further infringement of the material at issue, we may replace or cease disabling access to the material that was removed.

We’ve also reached out to Barstool Sports for comment and will update if we hear back.

Daily Crunch: TikTok faces children’s privacy fine

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. FTC ruling sees Musical.ly (TikTok) fined $5.7M for violating children’s privacy law, app updated with age gate

In an app update released yesterday, all users will need to verify their age, and the under 13-year-olds will then be directed to a separate, more restricted in-app experience that protects their personal information and prevents them from publishing videos to TikTok .

And if you’re confused about Musical.ly versus TikTok: The Federal Trade Commission had begun looking into TikTok back when it was known as Musical.ly, and the ruling itself is a settlement with Musical.ly.

2. How Disney built Star Wars, in real life

Over the course of the past five years, Walt Disney Imagineering has been hard at work making the world of Star Wars a reality on Earth. Matthew Panzarino has all the details, with plenty of tantalizing images.

3. Amazon Prime members can choose a weekly delivery date with launch of ‘Amazon Day’

The option lets shoppers pick a day of the week to take delivery of their recent orders. The boxes will then arrive together on the selected Amazon Day, in fewer boxes.

4. Zūm, a ridesharing service for kids, raises $40M

Zūm is a mobile app that enables parents to schedule rides for their kids from fully vetted drivers. It also partners with school districts to support their transportation needs.

5. Dow Jones’ watchlist of 2.4 million high-risk individuals has leaked

The data, since secured, is the financial giant’s Watchlist database, which companies use as part of their risk and compliance efforts.

6. SoftBank’s Vision Fund invests $1.5B in Chinese second-hand car startup Chehaoduo

The Beijing-based company operates two main sites — peer-to-peer online marketplace Guazi for used vehicles, and Maodou, which retails new sedans through direct sales and financial leasing.

7. Netflix may be losing $192M per month from piracy, cord cutting study claims

As many as one in five people today are mooching off of someone else’s account when streaming video from Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Video, according to a new study from CordCutting.com. Of these, Netflix tends to be pirated for the longest period.

Facebook announces new program for premium video ads

Facebook is expanding its efforts around premium video advertising with a new program called Facebook Showcase.

This follows the announcement last fall of what the company calls In-Stream Reserve advertising — video ads with a curated list of hundreds of publishers, at a set price, with Nielsen-verified audiences. In fact, Facebook said at a press event today that In-Stream Reserve ads are reaching nearly 100 million U.S. viewers each month.

“That’s TV-like scale,” said Head of U.S. Agency Sales Erik Geisler (pictured above). He added that Facebook offers an effective way to reach the younger audiences that are moving away from linear TV, since 43 percent of In-Stream Reserve viewers are between the ages of 18 and 34.

How does Showcase change things? It combines this video advertising with the ability to run ads on a specific content category (including sports, fashion/beauty and the new additions of food and news), and to exclusively sponsor individual shows. And now advertisers can buy those ads for the 2019-2020 broadcast year.

“It takes In-Stream Reserve from a quarter-by-quarter opportunity [to something] more in line with the upfronts,” Geisler said.

Facebook’s video destination Watch doesn’t exactly seem like a runaway success. In fact, Digiday just reported that Facebook won’t be renewing two-thirds of the news shows that it commissioned for Watch. However, Matthew Henick, who leads Facebook’s content and planning strategy, said he actually expects news content on Facebook to grow.

“We’re not cutting two-thirds of what our final output would be, we’re reexamining previous commitments,” he said.

More broadly, Facebook has said that Watch is attracting 400 million viewers who are watching at least one minute of video each month, and 75 million viewers who are watching at least one minute per day. And those daily viewers are actually averaging 20 minutes per day.

Henick said that there are “three main pillars” to Facebook’s video strategy: community, interactivity and the ability to “co-watch” a show with others.

He also announced a new animated comedy called “Human Discoveries,” which will star Zac Efron and Anna Kendrick and premiere sometime this year, while also revealing more details about Facebook’s upcoming revival of “The Real World” — apparently it will also be streaming old seasons of the show, as voted on by Facebook users.

And while Watch is at the center of Facebook’s premium video strategy, it’s worth noting that Showcase ads aren’t limited to Watch; they can be viewed across Watch, the News Feed and Facebook Pages.

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.