Author: Frederic Lardinois

Facebook expands its internet infrastructure projects

Like every year, Facebook is using MWC Barcelona to focus on its infrastructure projects. While you may mostly think of Facebook as a social network, the company started launching infrastructure projects for bringing more people online (and onto its network) many years ago.

These projects include things like the (now-cancelled) solar-powered Aquila drone and plenty of open-source software and hardware initiatives for carriers. Indeed, there are so many projects that range from physical devices and networks to software that it’s sometimes hard to keep up. That wide range is by design, though.

“The one thing that has been consistent since the very beginning is that there’s no silver bullet,” Facebook director of engineering Yael Maguire told me during an interview at MWC. “We try to contribute to different parts of the ecosystem. The ecosystem could be in dense urban markets where we’re doing things like Terragraph, or rural markets where we are doing Express Wi-Fi.”

At MWC, the company announced a number of new partnerships and projects that expand on its existing projects.

Maybe the most interesting of these projects is called Internet para Todos (IpT) Peru. What Facebook is trying to show here is that it’s possible to create an economically viable provider of rural mobile infrastructure. Facebook is building this together with Telefonica, IDB Invest and CAF (Development Bank of Latin America). It’s an open access network that will be open to all carriers. “It is very economically challenging to think about connecting small communities in rural parts of Peru, let alone other parts of the world,” Maguire said. “The idea is that we can create common infrastructure that is open access, let others innovate on business models and create competition etc. The hope is that a business case can close for IpT.” Over time, Facebook hopes to bring this model to other places, too — assuming it works, which Maguire admits is not a given since this is very much an experiment at this point. If the model works, though, then the hope is that commercial vendors will see that there’s money to be made by connecting these small rural communities.

As the company also announced today, Facebook is investing in a new 750km open-access fiber project in Nigeria, for example, which will provide fiber access to more than one million people. Facebook is co-investing in this project with a number of local state authorities. The company previously worked on a similar project in Uganda and as Maguire noted, it learned quite a bit from this experience, including how to make laying fiber through large bodies of water more economically viable. But it’s not just the logistics, it’s also working with the local bureaucracy — which Maguire says is harder than the technical challenges. “There’s not a lot of new technology that we are inventing for this right now,” he said, and also acknowledged that these are relatively small projects. But as the company learns, it plans to scale up these efforts and launch more projects in Africa, Latin America and Asia-Pacific.

The company is also announcing new partners for its Express Wi-Fi service, including Cell C in South Africa, Vodafone in Ghana and Globe in the Philippines. That’s on top of other partnerships in India, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and Indonesia. The idea of Express Wi-Fi is to work with internet providers and mobile operators to help them build their Wi-Fi businesses and to give local entrepreneurs the tools to provide internet access to their neighbors.

As far as open-source projects go, Facebook also today announced the launch of Magma, a new open-source platform that makes mobile network deployments easier for carriers. The launch partner for Magma is Telefonica, which is using it in Latin America, and BRCK, which is using it to pilot a new LTE network in Kenya.

Terragraph, one of the company’s most successful open-source infrastructure projects that helps bring high-speed connectivity to urban and suburban communities, is now seeing new trials in Athens, Greece and Curitiba, Brazil and it’s already in production usage in Canon, Ohio and Penang, Malaysia, as well as Alameda, California.

Those are still small-scale projects, though, even if the local impact is huge. What’s maybe more important, though, is that it’s seeing increased support from hardware vendors, which now include MikroTik and Cambium Networks, in addition to Nokia and Radwin, which previously came on board.

One thing Maguire also noted is that Facebook remains as committed to these infrastructure projects as it has ever been. “We are trying to make sure we are learning and reflecting on everything that is happening and it’s important that we understand the role we play in all of this, but it’s super important and tied to the mission of what we do,” he said.

Google+ for consumers will shut down on April 2nd

It’s no secret that Google planned to pull life support from the consumer version of Google+, its failure of a social network, in April. Until now, though, we didn’t know the exact date. That date, Google announced today, is April 2.

On that date, Google will start deleting all content, including Google+ pages, photos and videos, and everything else on the site. If you were one of the last few Google+ users — or you just feel nostalgic about the stuff you posted there — now is the time to download all of that data.

If your company uses Google+ (and there must be some companies that do), then rest assured you will still be able to use it for the foreseeable future. Google is only shutting down the consumer version, as well as all Google+ APIs. Indeed, those APIs, which turned out to be major security liabilities, will shut down on March 7.

And there you have it. That’s the curtain call for Google+, the social network that could’ve been, from an era when Google desperately tried to catch up with Facebook and Twitter and integrated Google+ into every conceivable product. It even went so far as changing its sacred search results based on social signals (which really didn’t work all that well). The result was a bit of a disaster for Google and it took a while to right the ship.

Facebook will soon bring 3D photos to the news feed

Facebook made a small but interesting announcement at the end of its F8 keynote today: You’ll soon be able to post 3D photos to your news feed. For now, we know very little about this feature — or even how you’ll capture these photos — but chances are you’ll see them pop up in your friends’ status updates in the coming months.

How exactly Facebook will pull off this 3D effect, which looked pretty good in today’s demos, but also quite limited in how “3D” these photos actually are, remains to be seen. What’s most likely, though, is that Facebook will use some of its machine learning smarts to power some of this, especially given that the company also announced its (somewhat odd) 3D memories feature today, which uses machine learning to recreate the scenes of old photos in VR.

Facebook already supports 360-degree photos and video in the news feed, so the addition of 3D photos makes perfect sense in this context. For now, though, we’ll have to wait and see how exactly this will work.

Facebook’s Safety Check now lets people share first-person accounts from disaster zones

Facebook today announced an update to its Safety Check feature that expands the tool from simply allowing you to mark yourself as safe to sharing a bit more information about what’s happening on the ground. Facebook says it has activated the Safety Check feature, which launched back in 2014, more than 1,000 times.

These new first-person accounts will allow users to share information about road blockages, fires, flooding, electricity outages and other dangers during a disaster.

In addition to this, Facebook is also launching an update to its existing blood donation program. The company is launching a new hub today that will make it easier for clinics, blood banks and donors to find each other. Using this tool, blood banks can notify potential donors (who can share their blood type) of a blood shortage, for example, and steer them toward their location.

This is an expansion to the existing “Blood donations on Facebook” service now live in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan; so far, more than 8 million people have signed up for the service.

Instagram launches video chat

Facebook today announced that Instagram, its popular photo-sharing platform, is getting support for video chats, among a couple of other new features.

As Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted in his F8 keynote today, quite a few Instagram users already use the platform’s live video feature to chat with friends. “People use live video to just hang out,” he said. “It’s amazing how many of these tools are about bringing us together.”

We haven’t seen the new video chat in action, but chances are it’s a pretty straightforward feature that will expand on the existing messaging tools in Instagram.

In addition to these video chats, Instagram is also getting an improved Explore tab that, according to Zuckerberg, is “more focused on the things you are interested in.”

Instagram is also getting a new filter to protect users from bullying comments. “This new filter hides comments containing attacks on a person’s appearance or character, as well as threats to a person’s well-being or health,” the Instagram team writes today. In addition to the automatic filtering, Instagram will now also get alerts when there are repeated issues with an account.

But that’s not all; Instagram is also getting support for Facebook’s AR features with AR features from third parties.

The company made the announcement at its F8 developer conference in San Jose today, where the company also announced a somewhat related new feature: group video chats in WhatsApp.

These new features will roll out over the course of the next few weeks.

Facebook announces way to ‘Clear History’ of apps and sites you’ve clicked

Today is a big day for Facebook . The company is hosting its F8 developer conference in San Jose today and just before the event is scheduled to start, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dropped a bit of news: The company will soon launch a new privacy feature that will allow users to see and delete the data Facebook has collected from websites and apps that use its ads and analytics tool.

With this, you can scrub at least some of your browsing history from Facebook’s data store. Zuckerberg likens this feature to deleting cookies from your browser history.

“Once we roll out this update, you’ll be able to see information about the apps and websites you’ve interacted with, and you’ll be able to clear this information from your account,” Zuckerberg explains. “You’ll even be able to turn off having this information stored with your account.”

Facebook notes that when you delete information through this feature, the company will remove all identifying data from your history but will still provide aggregated analytics to developers.

The Facebook founder also stresses that his time before Congress taught him that he didn’t have “clear enough answers to some of the questions about data.” Unsurprisingly, he promises to make some changes there and notes that the company is working on new and clearer controls.

The Clear History feature is currently in development and will roll out in the coming months.

Today at our F8 conference I'm going to discuss a new privacy control we're building called "Clear History". In your…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, May 1, 2018




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