Author: Ingrid Lunden

LinkedIn violated data protection by using 18M email addresses of non-members to buy targeted ads on Facebook

LinkedIn, the social network for the working world with close to 600 million users, has been called out a number of times for how it is able to suggest uncanny connections to you, when it’s not even clear how or why LinkedIn would know enough to make those suggestions in the first place.

Now, a run-in with a regulator in Europe illuminates how some of LinkedIn’s practices leading up to GDPR implementation in Europe were not only uncanny, but actually violated data protection rules, in LinkedIn’s case concerning some 18 million email addresses.

The details were revealed in a report published Friday by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner covering activities in the first six months of this calendar year. In a list of investigations that have been reported concerning Facebook, WhatsApp and the Yahoo data breach, the DPC revealed one investigation that had not been reported before. The DPC had conducted — and concluded — an investigation of Microsoft-owned LinkedIn, originally prompted by a complaint from a user in 2017, over LinkedIn’s practices regarding people who were not members of the social network.

In short: in a bid to get more people to sign up to the service, LinkedIn admitted that it was using people’s email addresses — some 18 million in all — in a way that was not transparent. LinkedIn has since ceased the practice as a result of the investigation.

There were two parts to the supervision, as the DPC describes it:

First, the DPC found that LinkedIn in the US had obtained emails for 18 million people who were not already members of the social network, and then used these in a hashed form for targeted advertisements on the Facebook platform, “with the absence of instruction from the data controller” — that is, LinkedIn Ireland — “as is required.”

Some backstory on this: LinkedIn, Facebook and others in the lead-up to GDPR coming into effect moved data processing that had been going through Ireland to the US.

The claim was that this was to “streamline” operations but critics have said that the moves could help to shield companies a bit more from any GDPR liability over how they use process data for non-EU users.

“The complaint was ultimately amicably resolved,” the DPC said, “with LinkedIn implementing a number of immediate actions to cease the processing of user data for the purposes that gave rise to the complaint.”

Second, the DPC then decided to conduct a further audit after it became “concerned with the wider systemic issues identified” in the initial investigation. There, it found that LinkedIn was also applying its social graph-building algorithms to build networks — to suggest professional networks for users, or “undertaking pre-computation,” as the DPC describes it.

The idea here was build up suggested networks of compatible professional connections to help users overcome the hurdle of having to build networks from scratch — that being one of the hurdles in social networks for some people.

“As a result of the findings of our audit, LinkedIn Corp was instructed by LinkedIn Ireland, as data controller of EU user data, to cease pre-compute processing and to delete all personal data associated with such processing prior to 25 May 2018,” the DPC writes. May 25 was the date that GDPR came into force.

LinkedIn has provided us with the following statement in relation to the whole investigation:

“We appreciate the DPC’s 2017 investigation of a complaint about an advertising campaign and fully cooperated,” said Denis Kelleher, Head of Privacy, EMEA, for LinkedIn. “Unfortunately the strong processes and procedures we have in place were not followed and for that we are sorry. We’ve taken appropriate action, and have improved the way we work to ensure that this will not happen again. During the audit, we also identified one further area where we could improve data privacy for non-members and we have voluntarily changed our practices as a result.”

(The ‘further area’ is the pre-computation.)

There are some takeaways from the incident:

Taking LinkedIn’s words at face value, it would seem that the company is trying to show that it is acting in good faith by going one step further than simply modifying what has been identified by the DPC, changing practices voluntarily before it gets called out.

Then again, LinkedIn would not be the first company to “ask for forgiveness, not permission,” when it comes to pushing the boundaries of what is considered permissible behavior.

If you are wondering why LinkedIn did not get fined in this process — which could be one lever for pushing a company to act right from the start, rather than only change practices after getting called out — that’s because until the implementation of GDPR at the end of May, the regulator had no power to enforce fines.

What we also don’t really know here — the DPC doesn’t really address it — is where LinkedIn obtained those 18 million email addresses, and any other related data, in the first place.

Other cases reviewed in the report, such as the inquiry into Facial Recognition usage by Facebook, and how WhatsApp and Facebook share user data between each other, are still ongoing. Others, such as the investigation Yahoo security breach that affected 500 million users, are now trickling down into the companies modifying their practices.

LinkedIn Learning now includes 3rd party content and Q&A interactive features

LinkedIn, the Microsoft-owned social network for the working world with some 580 million users, took a big step into professional development and education when it acquired Lynda.com for $1.5 billion and used it as the anchor for LinkedIn Learning.

Now, with 13,000 courses on the platform, LinkedIn is announcing two new developments to get more people using the service. It will now offer videos, tutorials and courses from third parties such as Treehouse and the publishing division of Harvard Business School. And in a social twist, people who use LinkedIn learning — the students and teachers — will now be able to ask and answer questions around LinkedIn Learning sessions, as well as follow instructors on LinkedIn, and see others’ feedback on courses.

Unlimited access to LinkedIn Learning comes when a person pays for LinkedIn’s Premium Career tier which costs around $30/month, or when a company takes an enterprise team subscription for the Learning service. Today, LinkedIn tells me that it has around 11,000 enterprise customers, and it doesn’t break out how much traffic is has overall on LinkedIn, but says that there has been a 64 percent growth in paid learners since the start of 2017 — number that it’s clearly looking to boost with these new features.

James Raybould, the director of product for LinkedIn Learning, said that the third-party expansion will come slowly at first with a handful of partners getting access to integrate with LinkedIn Learning. Over time, this could expand to be a public API for anyone to integrate content, he added, but for now LinkedIn is doing the curating. The company has had a patchy history when it comes to sharing data and its platform with third parties, and it shut down full access to its API to everyone but a handful of partners several years ago.

Notably, he also said that LinkedIn itself is not planning on curtailing the amount of content it will continue to produce for Learning: it’s currently adding on average more than 70 new courses each week on average, he said.

The content in this first wave of third-party providers feels like a natural extension of the Influencer-based content that LinkedIn has been running in its main newsfeed: it runs the gamut from actual courses to learn new skills in specific disciplines, to the more nebulous area of professional development.

The first group includes Harvard ManageMentor (leadership development courses from Harvard Business School’s publishing arm); getAbstract (a Blinkist-style service that provides 10,000+ non-fiction book summaries plus TED talks); Big Think: 500 short-form videos on topics of the day (these are not so much ‘courses’ as they are ‘life lessons’ — subjects include organising activism and an explainer on how to end bi-partisan politics); Treehouse with courses on coding and product design skills; and Creative Live with courses and tutorials for professionals in the creative industries to improve their skills and business acumen.

The fact that LinkedIn is adding in more learning material that’s a natural extension of the kind of content it already offers to users in their timelines is not the only parallel between main LinkedIn and LinkedIn Learning. Raybould said that to help users discover content that might be most interesting to them, it uses data about what users browse and click on in the regular site.

“We have rich information about the network, including on engagement,” he said, and that helps LinkedIn’s algorithms suggest what to populate in individual learning libraries.

This is also, presumably, one of the reasons why third parties will want to integrate: to get new audiences that are more targeted to the kind of content they are producing:

“At Harvard Business Publishing, we work to create the world best learning experiences to help organizations discover new ways to solve their most pressing leadership development challenges,” said Rich Gravelin, Director, Partnerships and Alliances, at Harvard Business Publishing, in a statement. “As an inaugural partner in the LinkedIn Learning Content Partner Program, we are bringing rich leadership development content to professionals across the globe, helping them navigate today’s complex business landscape. Thanks to the robust platform that LinkedIn Learning has built, we’re able to meet learners where they are and provide them with the unique and personalized learning experiences they need to succeed in their organizations.”

The social features also follow this model. Last year, LinkedIn rolled out a mentorship product across selected markets to pair users with people who can give them steers on their career development. That product set out a precedent for how LinkedIn might use its wider social network and communication features to engage users in different ways, in the name of professional development.

The new addition of Q&A features follows on from that, giving those taking courses or watching videos a way of interacting and following up with those who are doing the teaching. Adding that in could see more engagement across the whole of the Learning product.

It’s a surprise, in a way, that it’s taken this long for LinkedIn to add an interactive Q&A feature in, considering that direct messaging and users interacting with each other has been a cornerstone of the product. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see if it proves to be a compelling enough feature to bring in more users to LinkedIn, luring them away from Udemy’s and Skillsofts of the world.

 

Handshake, a LinkedIn for university students and diversity, raises $40M

LinkedIn has created and — with 562 million users — leads the market in social platforms for people who want to network with others in their professions, and look for jobs. Now a startup that hopes to take it on in a specific niche — university students and recent grads, with a focus on diversity and inclusion — has raised a substantial round to grow. Handshake, a platform for both students looking to take their early career steps and employers who want to reach them, has raised $40 million in a Series C round of funding, after hitting 14 million users in the U.S. across 700 universities, and 300,000 employers targeting them.

The company is now valued at $275 million post-money, according to figures from PitchBook, a big leap on its valuation at the Series B stage two years ago, when it was valued at $108 million. Handshake says the number is not quite right: “While we don’t disclose valuation, I wanted to share that the Pitchbook number isn’t accurate.” I’m trying to get more…

The funding is notable not just for that valuation hike — and the implication that many think it could give Microsoft-owned LinkedIn a run for its money among 20-somethings — but for who is doing the backing.

The round was led by EQT Ventures, the investment arm of European holding company and PE firm EQT, with participation also from several investment organizations that have put a focus on backing interesting startups in the education sphere, including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Omidyar Network, Reach Capital; as well as True Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Spark Capital and KPCB Edge. Several of these are repeat investors and the total raised by Handshake — not to be confused with the B2B e-commerce platform of the same name — to $74 million.

To date, Handshake has only been active in the U.S. The company was founded in 2014 originally named Stryder by three graduates of Michigan Tech University University of Michigan — Garrett Lord (currently the CEO), Scott Ringwelski (CTO) and Ben Christensen (a board member). The plan is to use the new funding to expand into more markets like Europe, using EQT’s network of businesses in the region to help it along.

LinkedIn has been making a lot of efforts over the years to court younger users and bring them into the LinkedIn fold earlier.

In 2013, the company lowered its minimum age for users to 13 and launched dedicated pages for universities. In 2014, LinkedIn started to add in more tools for younger users to connect with universities and their university-related networks on the platform. And through various e-learning efforts, LinkedIn has been trying to create a bridge between the kind of learning you might do at university, and what you might do after you leave to further your career.

The behemoth also started to take baby steps into providing more insights into diversity for those doing hiring, by letting recruiters examine search results by gender; and by providing bigger insights into the wider pool of people on LinkedIn.

Part of the reason for the baby steps, I’m guessing, is that LinkedIn simply lacks the data from its users to do more faster, and so that leaves a lot of room for a rival to step in.

In that vein, it seems Handshake is trying to position itself as a platform that is considering and thinking about how to address diversity from the ground up, as a native part of its platform while it is still small and growing.

One of the ways that Handshake gets more details about its members is through its partnerships with universities, which helps to populate information about their profiles, rather than relying on a person filling out the details manually. (To register for an account, you use your university address, similar to how Facebook worked when it first launched.)

Handshake also has relationships with more than 100 minority-serving institutions, which include Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic Serving Institutions in the U.S., to bring them and their students more closely into that fold.

On the side of employers, it includes more search features for recruiters to search using more specific parameters in the effort to make more diverse hiring choices. “Candidates who might not have the right connections or privileged background can get in front of Fortune 500 companies,” the company notes.

“Our Handshake community is tackling the so-called ‘pipeline problem’ head on. Skilled students are on every campus in every corner of the country and we’re proud to help employers discover, recruit and hire up-and-coming talent from all backgrounds,” said Garrett Lord, Handshake Co-Founder and CEO, in a statement. “Students around the world experience the same inequality in the recruiting process, so we’re excited to partner with Alastair Mitchell” — the EQT partner leading the investment — “and EQT Ventures to expand our impact beyond the United States.”

That’s not to say that inclusion and diversity are the only issues that Handshake is tackling.

The company cites a 2018 Strada-Burning Glass Study that says more than 43 percent of graduates are underemployed — either not earning their full potential, or doing a job that doesn’t utilise their skills — in their first job out of college . “Of those who graduate underemployed, 50% remain underemployed 10 years after graduation.” There is, in other words, a big employment gap specifically with recent grads, and while many will land plum positions, many others flail, and the idea is that Handshake will help specifically to address that by improving how well people are matched to positions that are open.

This is, in fact, an interesting counterpoint to the fact that we also have a lot of ageism in certain fields, where older people are often overlooked — perhaps another niche market that is ripe for tackling?

Handshake today makes money much in the same way that LinkedIn does: it offers paid usage tiers for its users to unlock more features. In the startup’s case, a Premium employer tier called the Talent Engagement Suite was recently launched to let organizations search by diversity parameters and other more specific criteria. That appears to be the path that Handshake plans to follow going ahead, doubling its team to 200 with more people in product and engineering roles to build out more analytics and search and recommendations algorithms.

It’s also making some key hires for the next age. Christine Y. Cruzvergara, ex-Associate Provost and Executive Director for Career Education at Wellesley College, is joining as VP of Higher Education and Student Success, to work with institutions precisely on more inclusive initiatives and products.

“CZI is thrilled to support Handshake as it connects talented students to career opportunities that enable them to reach their full potential,”  said Vivian Wu, Managing Partner of Ventures at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, in a statement. “Handshake’s approach – expanding access, building student community and support, and showcasing accomplishments beyond college and degree – produces real results, especially for young people from communities that haven’t had access to high quality job and life opportunities.”

Updated to correct the name of the university that the three founders attended.

 

Facebook Workplace adds algorithmic feed, Safety Check and enhanced chat

Workplace, the version of Facebook tailored to enterprises that has over 30,000 organizations as paying customers, is ramping up the service today with a rush of new features to help it competes with the likes of Slack and Microsoft’s Teams.

The additions are being announced at a new, standalone conference called Flow — the first time Facebook has built what’s likely to become a recurring event for a specific product, Workplace’s head Julien Codorniou told me in an interview. He described Workplace as “Facebook’s first SaaS startup.” He tells us that for existing clients, the goal of Flow is to show off new features that deepen employee engagement with Workplace so they can’t imagine switching away. And for enterprise software partners Facebook integrates with, it’s to foster an ecosystem surrounding Workplace so it can adapt to any business.

In a big upgrade to the “chat” features of Workplace (conversations that happen outside the news feed, first launched last year), users will now be able to start chats, calls and video conversations either one-to-one or in groups, in the style of WhatsApp or Messenger. Facebook is also making it easier to navigate through high volumes of messages in your channels by adding in replies, do not disturb and pinning features — Facebook’s first move to bring in algorithmic sorting to Workplace. And Facebook is also bringing its Safety Check feature from the main app to Workplace, delivered via Workchat, as a tool that can be controlled by admins to check on the status of employees during a critical incident.

Workplace has picked up 30,000 businesses as customers in the two years since it launched (including some biggies like Walmart, the world’s largest employer); and today it also added a couple of notable large enterprises to the mix: GSK, Astra Zeneca, Chevron, Kantar, Telefonica, Securitas, Clarins UK, Jumia and GRAB.

But Facebook has never revealed how many users (or “seats”, in enterprise parlance) it has on Workplace. As a point of comparison, Slack today has 8 million users across 70,000 organizations, and Facebook hasn’t updated its 30,000 figure in a year.

Facebook Workplace multi-company chat

The range of features Facebook is introducing today are notable both for their breadth and for what they are aiming to do. Some help put Workplace more on par with the core Facebook experience in terms of functionality, but ultimately they are all squarely aimed at making Workplace into something that fits more closely with how enterprises already use IT.

The chat features that are being incorporated build on the minimal chat features that were already present in Workplace and essentially create something like WhatsApp or Messenger that sits within the same secure framework as Workplace itself. It’s effectively Facebook’s first step forward into unified communications — a specific branch of enterprise IT that used to be centred around PBXs and other expensive physical equipment, but has more recently become more virtualised with the rise of voice of IP and cloud-based systems that can be used over any internet connection.

Workplace had already had a feature in place for up to 50 companies to converse in multi-organizational conversations on the platform, and now if some members of those groups want to take the conversation to a more direct channel potentially with voice or video calling, they can do that directly from within the app without having to open a separate messaging client (which may or may not be under the control of IT). Up to 50 people can join a video call in Workplace.

The three features that help you better organise your conversations — do not disturb, replies and pinning important items — will be especially welcome to people who have especially “noisy” channels on Workplace.

Replies, Codorniou said, will work “like on WhatsApp” — where you can select a message and reply to it and it will appear with its mini thread later in the feed.

But they are perhaps most notable of all because they will be the first time that Facebook is introducing “algorithmic” sorting to Workplace. For those who already use normal Facebook, or Twitter, or other social media services, algorithmic sorting is something that is well-known, as it plays with the sequence of posts to show you what is deemed to be more important, versus what’s most recent.

In the case of pinning, Facebook is letting the IT admins, and users, effectively play a part in the algorithmic sorting: Admins can pin “important” posts to the top of a feed, and that will affect what users see and can respond to first. “If the CEO posts a message, this might be more important than something posted an intern,” he said.

Do not disturb, meanwhile, will let users set times when they do not get pinged with messages, but when you “return” again to Workplace, Facebook decides what gets sorted to the top of what you view.

Facebook’s VP of Workplace Julien Codorniou

Codorniou notes that Facebook uses machine learning and AI “to make sure that if you don’t use Workplace for two weeks [as an example] you have the most relevant information on top of the news feed.” Signals that it uses to sort include who you work with, and which groups you are most active in. “It’s algorithmic by default,” he noted, and added that this was something that was requested by Workplace users. “People don’t believe in the chronological feed anymore,” he said. “It’s important to guarantee reach to communications teams.”

The Safety Check also fits into this concept. Here, Facebook will be putting IT managers/Workplace admins into the driver’s seat, “giving them the keys to the feature”, said Codorniou, and letting them control the use and distribution of a feature that in regular Facebook is controlled by Facebook itself.

Frederic takes a deeper diver into Safety Check here, but the main idea, as Codorniou described it to me, is that it allows companies “to track and clear who is safe and who is not” when a particular location has been through an emergency or critical incident. There are apps that companies can use to run safety checks, or sometimes they might use SMS, but these tend to work more manually and are harder to execute quickly, he said. Facebook doesn’t reveal how well penetrated their apps are at organizations like Walmart and Starbucks, but this potentially becomes one lever to helping get Workplace distributed more widely.

“Employees are a company’s number-one asset of the company, and this helps make sure you are safe,” he added. “People don’t want to play Candy Crush, but things like Live” — which Workplace launched last year — “and Safety Check are relevant. They help turn companies into communities.”

(Community, of course, is the big theme for Facebook these days.)

All these updates are happening at a time when many people have been scrutinising Facebook for its approach to user privacy and personal data.

The issue was notably highlighted over the Cambridge Analytica scandal many months ago, specifically over how third parties were able to access users’ information; and then more recently Facebook faced criticism two weeks ago, when it emerged that a bug in one of its features exposed user information to malicious hackers. Both of these problems were squarely about Facebook’s core consumer app, but I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of an impact it has had on the company’s enterprise business — given that levels of security in workplace networks typically tend to be higher as they are connected to corporate information.

“We had a few questions of course but we have no reason to believe that Workplace was affected,” Codorniou said. He noted that there had once been a feature to log in to Workplace using a user’s Facebook ID, but that was disabled some time go. “We have been investigating, but most customers are on single sign on,” he noted, which uses services like Okta, One Login and Ping to connect and sign in employees to their Workplace spaces.

Facebook’s scale brings it huge advantages in the enterprise. The consumerization of the office stack means Facebook can easily port over its familiar features. It’s big enough to extensively dogfood Workplace within the company. And it already has advertising relationships with many of the world’s top brands. But being a tech giant comes with the associated scandals and constant criticism. Facebook will have to convince business leaders that its social troubles won’t muddy their suits.

LinkedIn steps into business intelligence with the launch of Talent Insights

LinkedIn may be best known as a place where people and organizations keep public pages of their professional profiles, using that as a starting point for networking, recruitment and more — a service that today that has racked up more than 575 million users, 20 million companies and 15 million active job listings. But now under the ownership of Microsoft, the company has increasingly started to build a number of other services; today sees the latest of these, the launch of a new feature called Talent Insights.

Talent Insights is significant in part because it is LinkedIn’s first foray into business intelligence, that branch of enterprise analytics aimed at helping execs and other corporate end users make more informed business decisions.

Talent Insights is also notable because it’s part of a trend, where LinkedIn has been launching a number of other services that take it beyond being a straight social network, and more of an IT productivity tool. They have included a way for users to look at and plan commutes to potential jobs (or other businesses); several integrations with Microsoft software including resume building in Word and Outlook integrations; and adding in more CRM tools to its Sales Navigator product.

Interestingly, it has been nearly a year between LinkedIn first announcing Talent Insights and actually launching it today. The company says part of the reason for the gap is because it has been tinkering with it to get the product right: it’s been testing it with a number of customers — there are now 100 using Talent Insights — with employees in departments like human resources, recruitment and marketing using it.

The product that’s launching today is largely similar to what the company previewed a year ago: there are two parts to it, one focused on people at a company, called “Talent Pool,” and another focused on data about a company, “Company Report.”

[gallery ids="1719596,1719598,1719600,1719601"]

The first of these will let businesses run searches across the LinkedIn database to discover talent with characteristics similar to those what a business might already be hiring, and figure out where they are at the moment (in terms of location and company affiliation), and where they are moving, what skills they might have in common, and how to better spot those who might be on the way up based on all of this.

The second set of data tools (Company Report) provides a similar analytics profile but about your organisation and those that you would like to compare against it in areas like relative education levels and schools of the respective workforces; which skills employees have or don’t have; and so on.

Dan Francis, a senior product manager running Talent Insights, said in an interview that for now the majority of the data that’s being used to power Talent Insights is primarily coming from LinkedIn itself, although there are other data sources also added into it, such as material from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (And indeed, even some of LinkedIn’s other data troves, for example in its recruitment listings, or even in its news/content play, the material that populates both comes from third parties.)

He also added that letting companies feed in their own data to use that in number crunching — either for their own reports or those of other companies — “is on our roadmap,” an indication that LinkedIn sees some mileage in this product.

Adding in more data sources could also help the company appear more impartial and accurate: although LinkedIn is huge and the biggest repository of information of its kind when it comes to professional profiles, it’s not always accurate and in some cases can be completely out of date or intentionally misleading.

(Related: LinkedIn has yet to launch any “verified”-style profiles for people, such as you get on Facebook or Twitter, to prove they are who they say they are, that they work where they claim to work, and that their backgrounds are what they claim them to be. My guess as to why that has not been rolled out is that it would be very hard, if not impossible, to verify everything in a clear way, and so LinkedIn relies on the power of public scrutiny to keep people mostly honest.)

“We’re pretty transparent about this,” said Francis. “We don’t position this as a product as comprehensive, but as a representative sample. Ensuring data quality is good is something that we are careful about. We know sometimes data is not perfect. In some cases it is directional.”

Alex Jones and Infowars permanently suspended from Twitter and Periscope after new content violations

Twitter has finally put an end to the ongoing controversy over how it has refused to completely shut down the accounts of Alex Jones and his online media site Infowars after a number of people complained about abusive content posted by both: it has finally banned both, on Twitter and its video platform Periscope.

“Today, we permanently suspended @realalexjones and @infowars from Twitter and Periscope,” the Twitter Safety account Tweeted moments ago. “We took this action based on new reports of Tweets and videos posted yesterday that violate our abusive behavior policy, in addition to the accounts’ past violations.

“As we continue to increase transparency around our rules and enforcement actions, we wanted to be open about this action given the broad interest in this case. We do not typically comment on enforcement actions we take against individual accounts, for their privacy.

“We will continue to evaluate reports we receive regarding other accounts potentially associated with @realalexjones or @infowars and will take action if content that violates our rules is reported or if other accounts are utilized in an attempt to circumvent their ban.

The last 24 hours of Jones’ Twitter feed, which you can still see in its cached form on Google, include Tweets calling CNN fake news, criticism of Marco Rubio and Bob Woodward, and questioning the authenticity of the anonymous source writing in the New York Times about the turmoil in the Trump White House. This is, in one regard, relatively mild compared to some of what Jones has put out in the past.

But the last 24 hours also saw CEO Dorsey appear on Capitol Hill, interrogated by the House Energy Committee over its policies of “shadow banning” and general attitude to conservative politics. The company agreed yesterday to a civil rights audit and abuse transparency reports, so this might potentially be seen as Twitter finally trying way of getting ahead of the process, in what has already become a messy and very tough situation for the company.

The company and Dorsey have been roundly criticised by people in recent weeks, who believed that the company was not being strict enough with enforcing its abusive content policies when it came to Jones. While Dorsey had said that he was doing it in the name of “free speech,” cynics believed it was more related to a reluctance to alienate supporters who make up a substantial chunk of Twitter users. (And to be fair, the criticism has been going on for years at this point, with many people quitting the platform in protest.)

Instead, Twitter took incremental steps to try to handle the situation, including 7-day read-only bans and longer explanations to justify why it was not doing more.

Twitter was essentially the last holdout among a throng of social media platforms — including Facebook and YouTube — that had stopped allowing Jones and Infowars from peddling what many believed not just to be “fake news”, but outright damaging and dangerous false information.

Slack is raising $400M+ with a post-money valuation of $7B or more

Slack — the app that lets coworkers and others in professional circles chat with each other and call in data from hundreds of integrated apps in the name of getting more work done (or at least procrastinating in an entertaining way) — has been on a growth tear in the last few years, most recently passing 8 million daily active users, 3 million of them paying. Now, the company is planning to capitalise on that with some more funding.

TechCrunch has learned that Slack is raising another round, this time in the region of $400 million or possibly more, with a post-money valuation of at least $7 billion — adding a whopping $2 billion on top of the company’s last valuation in September 2017, when SoftBank led a $250 million round at a $5.1 billion valuation.

We’ve heard from multiple sources that a new investor, General Atlantic, is leading this round, with possibly another new backer, Dragoneer, also in the mix. It’s not clear which other investors might be involved; the company counts no less than 41 other backers on its cap table already, according to PitchBook. (You might even say Several People Are Funding…) We also don’t know whether this round has closed.

At $400 million, this would make it Slack’s biggest round to date. That size underscores a few different things.

First, it points to the existing opportunity in enterprise messaging. Consumerisation has taken hold, and apps that let users easily start and carry on a mix of serious and diverting conversations, infused with GIFs or whatever data they might need from other applications, are vying to replace other ways that people communicate in the workplace, such as email, phone conferences and in-person chats, even when people are in the same vicinity as each other. With consumer messaging apps like WhatsApp topping 1.5 billion users, there’s plenty of room for enterprise messaging to grow.

Second, the round and valuation emphasize Slack’s position as a leader in this area. While there were other enterprise social networking apps in existence before Slack first launched in 2013 — Yammer, Hipchat and Socialcast among them — nothing had struck a chord quite as Slack did. “Things have been going crazy”, was how co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield described it to me when Slack exited beta: teams trialling it were seeing usage from “every single team member, every day.”

That growth pace has continued. Today, the company counts 70,000 paid teams including Capital One, eBay, IBM, 21st Century Fox, and 65 percent of Fortune 100 companies among its bigger users; and with customers in 100 countries, half of its DAUs are outside North America (UK, Japan, Germany, France and India are its biggest international markets).

But thirdly — and this could be key when considering how this funding will be used — Slack is not the only game in town.

Software giant Microsoft has launched Teams, and social networking behemoth Facebook has Workplace. Using their respective dominance in enterprise software and social mechanics, these two have stolen a march on picking up some key customer wins among businesses that have opted for products that are more natural fits with what their employees were already using. Microsoft reported 200,000 paying organizations earlier this year, and Facebook has snagged some very large customers like Walmart.

Slack’s bottom-up distribution strategy could give it an edge against these larger companies and their broader but more complex products. The lightweight nature of Slack’s messaging-first approach allows it more easily be inserted into a company’s office stack. Nearly every type of employee needs office messaging, creating potential for Slack to serve as an identity layer for enterprise software. It’s own Slack Fund invests in potential companies that plug in, as the company hopes to build an ecosystem of partners that can fill in missing functionality.

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 15: Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack speaks onstage at ‘Stewart Butterfield in Conversation with Farhad Manjoo’ during the 2016 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Austin Convention Center on March 15, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Mindy Best/Getty Images for SXSW)

Alongside dozens of other, smaller rivals offering comparative mixes of tools, it’s no surprise that last month Slack tightened up its bootlaces to take on the role of consolidator, snapping up IP and shutting down Hipchat and Stride from Atlassian, with the latter taking a stake in Slack as part of the deal.

Slack, which has a relatively modest 1,000+ employees, has ruled out an IPO this year, so this latest round will help it shore up cash in the meantime to continue growing, and competing.

Contacted for this story, Slack said that it does not comment on rumors or speculation.

UK’s Information Commissioner will fine Facebook the maximum £500K over Cambridge Analytica breach

Facebook continues to face fallout over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which revealed how user data was stealthily obtained by way of quizzes and then appropriated for other purposes, such as targeted political advertising. Today, the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced that it would be issuing the social network with its maximum fine, £500,000 ($662,000) after it concluded that it “contravened the law” — specifically the 1998 Data Protection Act — “by failing to safeguard people’s information.”

The ICO is clear that Facebook effectively broke the law by failing to keep users data safe, when their systems allowed Dr Aleksandr Kogan, who developed an app, called “This is your digital life” on behalf of Cambridge Analytica, to scrape the data of up to 87 million Facebook users. This included accessing all of the friends data of the individual accounts that had engaged with Dr Kogan’s app.

The ICO’s inquiry first started in May 2017 in the wake of the Brexit vote and questions over how parties could have manipulated the outcome using targeted digital campaigns.

Damian Collins, the MP who is the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that has been undertaking the investigation, has as a result of this said that the DCMS will now demand more information from Facebook, including which other apps might have also been involved, or used in a similar way by others, as well as what potential links all of this activity might have had to Russia. He’s also gearing up to demand a full, independent investigation of the company, rather than the internal audit that Facebook so far has provided. A full statement from Collins is below.

The fine, and the follow-up questions that U.K. government officials are now asking, are a signal that Facebook — after months of grilling on both sides of the Atlantic amid a wider investigation — is not yet off the hook in the U.K. This will come as good news to those who watched the hearings (and non-hearings) in Washington, London and European Parliament and felt that Facebook and others walked away relatively unscathed. The reverberations are also being felt in other parts of the world. In Australia, a group earlier today announced that it was forming a class action lawsuit against Facebook for breaching data privacy as well. (Australia has also been conducting a probe into the scandal.)

The ICO also put forward three questions alongside its announcement of the fine, which it will now be seeking answers to from Facebook. In its own words:

  1. Who had access to the Facebook data scraped by Dr Kogan, or any data sets derived from it?
  2. Given Dr Kogan also worked on a project commissioned by the Russian Government through the University of St Petersburg, did anyone in Russia ever have access to this data or data sets derived from it?
  3. Did organisations who benefited from the scraped data fail to delete it when asked to by Facebook, and if so where is it now?

The DCMS committee has been conducting a wider investigation into disinformation and data use in political campaigns and it plans to publish an interim report on it later this month.

Collins’ full statement:

Given that the ICO is saying that Facebook broke the law, it is essential that we now know which other apps that ran on their platform may have scraped data in a similar way. This cannot by left to a secret internal investigation at Facebook. If other developers broke the law we have a right to know, and the users whose data may have been compromised in this way should be informed.

Facebook users will be rightly concerned that the company left their data far too vulnerable to being collected without their consent by developers working on behalf of companies like Cambridge Analytica. The number of Facebook users affected by this kind of data scraping may be far greater than has currently been acknowledged. Facebook should now make the results of their internal investigations known to the ICO, our committee and other relevant investigatory authorities.

Facebook state that they only knew about this data breach when it was first reported in the press in December 2015. The company has consistently failed to answer the questions from our committee as to who at Facebook was informed about it. They say that Mark Zuckerberg did not know about it until it was reported in the press this year. In which case, given that it concerns a breach of the law, they should state who was the most senior person in the company to know, why they decided people like Mark Zuckerberg didn’t need to know, and why they didn’t inform users at the time about the data breach. Facebook need to provide answers on these important points. These important issues would have remained hidden, were it not for people speaking out about them. Facebook’s response during our inquiry has been consistently slow and unsatisfactory.

The receivers of SCL elections should comply with the law and respond to the enforcement notice issued by the ICO. It is also disturbing that AIQ have failed to comply with their enforcement notice.

Facebook has been in the crosshairs of the ICO over other data protection issues, and not come out well.

Facebook is shutting down Hello, Moves and the anonymous teen app tbh due to ‘low usage’

Facebook, the world’s largest social network with 2.2 billion users, is all about capitalizing on scale, and so today it announced that it would be sunsetting three apps in its stable that simply weren’t keeping up. After failing to gain traction, Hello, Moves and tbh will all be depreciated in the coming weeks, the company announced today. The three apps are being shut down at varying times we’re noting below. Facebook says that all user data from all three of these apps will be deleted within 90 days.

“We regularly review our apps to assess which ones people value most. Sometimes this means closing an app and its accompanying APIs,” said Facebook. “We know some people are still using these apps and will be disappointed — and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for their support. But we need to prioritize our work so we don’t spread ourselves too thin. And it’s only by trial and error that we’ll create great social experiences for people.”

But “low usage” is a pretty wide range, it turns out. Sensor Tower notes that Hello had only 570,000 installs — that is, total downloads — but tbh had 6.4 million and Moves 13 million. Still, these numbers are all just blips in comparison to billions of downloads and users of Facebook and the other popular apps that it owns: Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.

The three getting sunset are all examples of the different angles that Facebook has explored over the years to evolve its business into newer areas — not all of which have panned out.

Moves came to Facebook by way of an acquisition four years ago of the fitness and tracking app. At the time, Facebook appeared to be interested in exploring more about how people might use their Facebook social graphs to share more data about their own fitness regimes, and to possibly use Facebook not just as a place to share but to track progress. With its acquisition of Moves, it might have been the case that Facebook believed that it could take a more direct role in that process.

Early on, there was promise: Moves already had amassed four million downloads before the acquisition. However, things simply did not continue to bulk up much after that point, either because Facebook saw that there wasn’t a large enough critical mass of people interested in making fitness social, or because its own spin on how to do that wasn’t where the market has moved. (You could argue that there has always been a huge social element in exercise — gyms and exercise classes being two obvious examples — but these are more about people in physical spaces doing things together.)

In the end, Moves the app hasn’t been updated in more than a year, and it languishes at around 616 in the fitness category today. It will be shut down in the coming weeks, Facebook said.

Hello, launched in 2015, was part of Facebook’s wider strategy to build more communications services to bridge the gap with users, targeting those specifically in emerging markets.

In the case of Hello, the app was Android-only and worked in the U.S., Nigeria and Brazil. The app is a bit like TrueCaller: people could link up their Facebook accounts to a dialer, which would then show you the Facebook identity of a caller so you could decide whether or not you would like to take the call.

As with Moves, Hello came amid a time when many thought Facebook had big plans for communications, with rumors abounding of Facebook phones and Facebook wanting to take on carriers with its own voice services. Hello, however, never expanded — neither in geography nor features — and so now we say goodbye. The Hello app and its API are both getting depreciated on July 31. The app was actually removed from the Android store on June 26, when it had a ranking of 509.

Lastly, tbh is the youngest of the apps to be getting the chop — in more ways than one. The “anonymous compliment” app was made specifically for teens, a relatively new category for Facebook, and the company was only acquired by the social network in October 2017. Indeed, tbh was young and hardly ubiquitous when Facebook snapped it up, and although the company seemed interested in letting it run its course, to be honest, it’s no surprise to see it also go away.

Facebook is not giving a date for its disappearance: the app is still live at the moment. App Annie, however, notes that its ranking currently in the U.S. is 205 in social networking.

Facebook is no stranger to spring cleaning and clearing out unpopular apps, as well as a wide swathe of other services such as APIs that are no longer core to what it’s working on. Other dead app efforts have included M, the personal assistant app, its Snapchat clone Lifestage and its Groups app. And just today, it issued a notice of several APIs that would be shut down to better reign in how its user data is tapped by third parties.

LinkedIn adds Microsoft-powered translations and QR codes to connect more of its users faster

LinkedIn — the social network with more than 560 million members who connect around work-related topics and job-seeking — continues to add more features, integrating technology from its new owner Microsoft, both to improve engagement on LinkedIn as well as to create deeper data ties between the two businesses.

Today, the company announced two more: users can now instantly view translations of content on the site when it appears in a language that is not the one set as a default; and they can now use QR codes to quickly swap contact details with other LinkedIn members.

In both cases, the features are likely overdue. The lingua franca of LinkedIn seems to be English, but the platform has a large global reach, and as it continues to try to expand to a wider range of later adopters and different categories of users, having a translation feature seems to be a no-brainer. It would also put it in closer line with the likes of Twitter and Facebook, which have had translation options for years.

The QR code generator, meanwhile, has become a key way for people to swap their details when they are not already connected on a network. And with LinkedIn this makes a lot of sense: there are so many people with the same name and it can be a challenge figuring out which “Mark Smith” you might want to connect with after coming across him at an event. And given that LinkedIn has been looking for more ways of making its app useful in in-person situations, this is an obvious way to enable that.

Translations are coming by way of the Microsoft Text Analytics API, the same Azure Cognitive Service  that powers translations on Bing, Skype and Office (as well as third-party services like Twitter). It will be available in more than 60 languages, with more coming soon, LinkedIn says, to a “majority” of members using either the desktop or mobile web versions of LinkedIn.

The company says that it will be coming to LinkedIn’s iOS and Android apps in due course, as well. Users will get the “see translation” link based on a number of signals you’re providing to LinkedIn that include your language setting on the platform, the country where you are accessing content and the language you have used in your profile.

Content covered by the option to translate will include the main feed, the activity section on a person’s profile and posts if you click on them in the feed or share it.

Meanwhile, with QR codes, you trigger the ability to capture one by clicking in the search box on the iOS or Android app. Through that window, you can also pick up your own code to share with others.

LinkedIn suggests that the QR code can effectively become the replacement for the business card for people when they are at in-person events. But another option is that you can use this now in any place where you might want to provide a shortcut to your profile.