Category Archives: Mobile

Facebook rolls out photo/video fact checking so partners can train its AI

Sometimes fake news lives inside of Facebook as photos and videos designed to propel misinformation campaigns, instead of off-site on news articles that can generate their own ad revenue. To combat these politically rather than financially-motivated meddlers, Facebook has to be able to detect fake news inside of images and the audio that accompanies video clips. Today its expanding its photo and video fact checking program from four countries to all 23 of its fact-checking partners in 17 countries.

“Many of our third-party fact-checking partners have expertise evaluating photos and videos and are trained in visual verification techniques, such as reverse image searching and analyzing image metadata, like when and where the photo or video was taken” says Facebook product manager Antonia Woodford. “As we get more ratings from fact-checkers on photos and videos, we will be able to improve the accuracy of our machine learning model.”

The goal is for Facebook to be able to automatically spot manipulated images, out of context images that don’t show what they say they do, or text and audio claims that are provably false.

In last night’s epic 3,260-word security manifesto, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that “The definition of success is that we stop cyberattacks and coordinated information operations before they can cause harm.” That means using AI to proactively hunt down false news rather than waiting for it to be flagged by users. For that, Facebook needs AI training data that will be produced as exhaust from its partners’ photo and video fact checking operations.

Facebook is developing technology tools to assist its fact checkers in this process. “we use optical character recognition (OCR) to extract text from photos and compare that text to headlines from fact-checkers’ articles. We are also working on new ways to detect if a photo or video has been manipulated” Woodford notes, referring to DeepFakes that use AI video editing software to make someone appear to say or do something they haven’t.

Image memes were one of the most popular forms of disinformation used by the Russian IRA election interferers. The problem is that since they’re so easily re-shareable and don’t require people to leave Facebook to view them, they can get viral distribution from unsuspecting users who don’t realize they’ve become pawns in a disinformation campaign.

Facebook could potentially use the high level of technical resources necessary to build fake news meme-spotting AI as an argument for why Facebook shouldn’t be broken up. With Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp combined, the company gains economies of scale when it comes to fighting the misinformation scourage.

 

Snapchat enlists 20 partners to curate Our Stories from submissions

Themed collections of user generated content chosen by news publishers for viewing on and off Snapchat are the teen social network’s next great hope for relevance. Today Snap launches Curated Our Stories with the help of 20 partners like CNN, Cosmopolitan, Lad Bible, and NowThis. Instead of sifting through and selecting submissions to Our Story all by itself around events, holidays, and fads, these publishers can create slideshows of Snaps about whatever they want. They’ll both be featured in Snapchat Discover that sees 75 million Our Stories viewers per month, but also on the publishers’ own properties thanks to Snap’s recently launched embeds.

To entice partners, Snap has built in monetization from day one, splitting revenue with publishers from ads run in the Our Stories they curate. That’s in sharp contrast to Snap’s work with independent creators, where it still won’t split revenue with them directly though at least it’s finally connecting them with brand sponsors.

Snap’s head of Stories everywhere Rahul Chopra tells me that in exchange for its cut, Snap provides a content management system that publishers can use to search through submitted Snaps using a variety of filters like keywords in captions and locations. A human at Snap will also moderate Curated Our Stories to ensure nothing objectionable slips through.

The new revenue stream could help Snap offset its declining user count by squeezing more cash out of each user by exposing them to more content and ads, or score it new users through embedded Curated Our Stories on its partners’ apps and sites. Snap beat revenue expectations last quarter but it still lost $353 million, contributing to a share price decline that hit an all-time low yesterday.

Snap first created Our Stories in 2014 to let people get the perspectives of tons of different attendees to music festivals and sporting matches. With time it expanded to creating college-specific Our Stories and ones of more relatable activities like enjoying Fridays. Snapchat also lets users search its publicly submitted content, but seems to have found people are too lazy or unimaginative to do it, or the uncurated content isn’t high quality enough to be worth watching.

The full list of publisher partners is: Brut, CNN, Cosmopolitan, Daily Mail, Daquan, Dodo, Harper’s Bazaar, iHeart, The Infatuation, Jukin, Lad Bible, Love Stories TV, Mic, NBC News, NBC Sports, NBC, Today Show, New York Post, NowThis, Overtime, Refinery 29, Telemundo, The Tab, Viacom, Wave.TV, and Whalar. They run the gambit from traditional publishers to online news sources, and includes Snapchat’s Yellow startup accelerator portfolio company Love Stroies TV, plus CNN’s return to Discover after cancelling its daily anchored news show there.

The curation possibilities are infinite. Partners could create reels of reactions to major news stories or shots from people with eyes on the ground at the scene of the action. They could highlight how people use a certain product, experience a particular place, or use a certain Snapchat creative feature. The publishers might produce daily or weekly collections around a topic or try a wide range of one-offs to surprise their viewers. You could think of it as a little bit like YouTube playlists, but cobbled together from real-time short-form submissions that might be too brief to make an impact on their own.

This is the start of Snapchat crowdsourcing not only content but curation to dig out the best citizen journalism, comedy, and beauty shot on its app and turn it into easily consumable compendiums. Given that Snapchat lost three million users last quarter, it could use the help keeping viewers coming back. But like most everything it launches, if Curated Our Stories blows up, you can bet Facebook and Instagram will turn on their copying machines.

 

Snapchat shares hit all-time low as search acquisition Vurb’s CEO bails

Snapchat’s sagging share price is making it tough to retain talent. Bobby Lo, founder and CEO of mobile search app Vurb that Snap Inc acquired for $114.5 million two years ago is leaving day-to-day operations at the company. That means Lo cut out early on his four-year retention package vesting schedule, which was likely influenced by Snapchat falling to new share price lows. Snap is trading around $9.15 today, compared to its $17 IPO price and $24 first-day close.

That’s down over 7 percent from yesterday following BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield gave Snap a sell rating with a target price of $5 saying “We are tired of Snapchat’s excuses for missing numbers and are no longer willing to give management ‘time’ to figure out monetization.” Greenfield is known as one of the top social network analysts, so people take him seriously when he says “We have been disappointed in SNAP’s product evolution (as have users) and see no reason to believe this will change.”

Vurb is a good example of this. The app let users make plans with friends to visit local places, allowing them to bundle restaurants, movie theaters, and more into shareable decks of search cards. It took over a year after the October 2016 acquisition for the tech to be integrated into Snapchat in the form of context cards in search. But Snap never seemed to figure out how to make its content-craving teen audience care about Vurb’s utility. Snap could have built powerful offline meetup tools out of the cards but never did, and lackluster Snap Map adoption furthered clouded the company’s path forward around local businesses.

Now Lo tells TechCrunch of his departure, “Building experiences at Snap has been a wonderful culmination of my seven-year startup journey with Vurb. My transition to an advisor at Snap lets me continue supporting the amazing people there while directing my time back into startups, starting with investing and advising in founders.”

Lo was early to embrace the monolithic app style pioneered by WeChat in China that’s become increasingly influential in the states. Snap confirmed the departure while trying to downplay it. A spokesperson tells me, “Bobby transitioned to an advisory role this summer, and we appreciate his continued contributions to Snap.”

Given Snap is known to back-weight its stock vesting schedules, Lo could be leaving over half of his retention shares on the table. That decision should worry investors. As a solo founder, Lo already made off with a big chunk of the acquisition price that including $21 million in cash and $83 million in stock, so with the company’s share price so low, he might have had little incentive to stay.

 

Snapchat Context Cards built from Vurb’s acquired technology

Since last July, Snap has lost a ton of talent including SVP of Engineering Tim Sehn, early employee Chloe Drimal, VP of HR and Legal Robyn Thomas and VP of Securities and Facilities Martin Lev, CFO Drew Vollero, VP of product Tom Conrad, TimeHop co-foudner Jonathan Wagener, Spectacles team lead Mark Randall, ad tech manager Sriram Krishnan, head of sales Jeff Lucas, and just last week, its COO Imran Khan.

With its user count shrinking, constant competition from Facebook and Instagram, and talent fleeing, it’s hard to see a bright future for Snap. Unless CEO Evan Spiegel, without the help of his departed liutenants, can come up with a groundbreaking new product that’s not easy to copy, we could be looking at downward spiral for the ephemeral app. At what point must Snap consider selling itself to Google, Apple, Tencent, Disney, or whoever will take on the distressed social network?

HQ Trivia nabs Target to sponsor game with biggest ever single winner prize of $100K

HQ Trivia is aiming to attract more players following a slight decline in downloads with a new, large prize. The company announced today it has bagged Target to sponsor to sponsor a special Emmy-themed game featuring its biggest-ever single winner prize of $100,000. The game will air on Monday, September 17 at 9 PM ET, but will be played in a different fashion than usual.

Typically, HQ Trivia players compete to win or split a cash prize, which often doesn’t amount to much more than enough for a cup of coffee. But this time around, HQ Trivia will run in a “one winner takes all” format, meaning only one individual will earn the winnings from the game.

Instead of a normal 12-question round with 10 second to answer, the game will continue until only one winner remains. Players can still use their extra lives, but only until question number 15. After that, they won’t work.

The game’s content will be Emmy Awards-themed, featuring questions about shows, actors, the Emmy telecast, and other historical facts.

Target is stepping up as the game’s sponsor for this winner-takes-all milestone game. The game itself will also be branded, but the exact nature of the creative is something Target is keeping under wraps for the time being as it’s a first for the retailer.

HQ Trivia has worked with a number of other big-name brands in the past through its game, including Warner Bros, Nike, MillerCoors, National Geographic, Chase, Viacom, and NBCUniversal.

The news of the milestone game comes at a time when HQ Trivia’s downloads have been trending slightly downwards. As TechCrunch’s Josh Constine reported last month for the app’s Apple TV launch, the iOS version of HQ Trivia had fallen from being the No. 1 U.S. trivia game to No. 10, and the No. 44 game to No. 196.

Today, it’s the No. 135 game and No. 467 Overall app.

According to data from Sensor Tower, the app has 12.8 million downloads across platforms, the majority of which (11M) were this year.

HQ Trivia claims the app continues to have the “largest live audience on mobile daily.”

The company responded at the time that games are a “hits business” and “don’t grow exponentially forever.” Rus Yusupov, CEO of HQ Trivia parent company Intermedia Labs, also noted that HQ was working on new game formats as a result.

Despite the fickle nature of mobile gamers, HQ Trivia has spawned a number of clones and other live games, including Fox’s FN Genius, ProveIt, FameGame, Gravy, MajorityRules, Cash Show, and many others. Even Facebook caught onto the trend, launching its own gameshows platform to support interactive video.

However, it remains to be seen if live game-playing is a lasting interest for mobile gamers, or just a flash in the pan.

Tinder launches its curated ‘Top Picks’ feature worldwide

Earlier this summer, Tinder began testing a new feature that surfaces a curated list of your best potential matches, called “Top Picks.” The feature, which is only available to paying subscribers on Tinder Gold, is now available worldwide, Tinder says.

Top Picks had also quietly launched in the U.S. and U.K. last week following initial tests in Germany, Brazil, France, Canada, Turkey, Mexico, Sweden, Russia and the Netherlands, in addition to the U.K. However, Tinder waited until the global rollout was underway to announce its arrival.

The idea behind Top Picks seems a bit inspired by the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel, which similarly focuses on curation of matches to reduce users’ impulse to continue swiping through what feels like an unlimited number of profiles. Humans don’t do well with too many choices – an overabundance of options can actually lead to anxiety, and – in the case of dating apps – an inability to settle on a decision, as users know there’s always another potential match just around the corner, or so it’s been argued.

Tinder’s solution for this is Top Picks, a more limited set of potential matches it thinks users will like based on information in users’ profiles like education, type of job, hobbies and interests. Tinder then uses this data to organize users into groupings, like “foodie” or “creative” or “adventurer” and so on.

This information is combined with users’ previous swiping behavior to determine the day’s Top Picks, which area available to toggle over to (via the diamond icon) on the app’s home screen.

While Top Picks will refresh daily, users can opt to buy more Top Picks in packs of 10, 20 or 30 a la carte, Tinder says. (Yes, by “packs” we do mean groups of user profiles – Tinder has turned people into in-app purchases you can buy. Yeah. Great.).

The feature is only available to Tinder Gold subscribers, meaning it varies in price. Tinder charges older users more for accessing Gold, and weights other factors like region, length of subscription, and recent in-app promotions when showing you its pricing.

Paid features like Top Picks have helped to fuel Tinder’s growth and its revenue.

Following the launch of its subscription service, Tinder Gold, the app quickly became the top grossing app in the App Store. And it has held a top spot ever since – even becoming the number 5 top grossing app of all-time, according to a recent report of the App Store’s biggest apps.

Paid subscribers are also soaring. Tinder parent company Match Group reported that Tinder added 299,000 paid members in the second quarter, totalling 1.7 million additions in the past year, and more than 3 million to date.

“We’re excited to finally share Top Picks with our users around the world given its early success,” said Brian Norgard, Chief Product Officer at Tinder, in a statement. “Data suggests users in test markets have loved the feature, and we’re happy to make one Top Pick available to all users each day with this global rollout. The feature refreshes every day, highlighting the diversity, talents and passions of our users in a simple, fun and useful manner.”

The launch of Top Picks arrives at the same time that a new documentary about Tinder’s outsized influence on dating culture, Swiped, has debuted on HBO.

The film takes a fairly damning view of online dating via apps like Tinder, by highlighting some of its worst attributes – like the men ordering women to their home the way they do Seamless; the swipe addicts who always think there’s someone better out there; the unsolicited sexual photos women receive; as well as the overall decline in value for genuine human connections, due to the abundance of choice offered by dating apps’ massive “catalogs.”

Top Picks won’t necessarily solve these problems. At best, it may at least help users narrow their focus and begin to understand there aren’t actually endless dating options when you have certain criteria in mind. At worst, it may encourage users to view people as even more of a commodity, as they click to pay merely pennies for more Top Picks “packs.”

The feature is rolling out globally on iOS and Android as of Monday evening.

WhatsApp hits India’s Jio feature phones amidst fake news violence

False rumors forwarded on WhatsApp have led angry mobs to murder strangers in India, but the Facebook-owned chat app is still racing to add users in the country. Today it launched a feature phone version of WhatsApp for JioPhone 1 and 2’s KaiOS, which are designed to support 22 of India’s vast array of native languages. Users will be able to send text, photos, videos, and voice messages with end-to-end encryption, though it will lack advanced features like augmented reality and Snapchat Stories-style Status updates.

WhatsApp was supposed to launch alongside the JioPhone 2 that debuted last month for roughly $41, but was delayed. 40 million JioPhone 1s had already been sold, and it’s been estimated to control 27 percent of the Indian mobile phone market and 47 percent of the country’s feature phone market. Coming to JioPhone should open up a big new growth vector for WhatsApp as it strives to grow its 1.5 billion user count towards the big 2 billion milestone.

Meanwhile, it could make the Reliance-owned Jio mobile network more appealing. It could also strengthen the KaiOS operating system, developed by a San Diego startup of the same name that recently took a $22 million investment from Google. WhatsApp rolls out on the JioPhone AppStore today and should be available to everyone by September 20th, and we’ve asked if it will come to other KaiOS devices made by Nokia and Alcatel.

WhatsApp has scrambled to safeguard its app after numerous reports of rumors circulated on its app about gangs and child abductors led angry mobs to kill people in the streets. Five nomads were recently beaten to death in a rural village called Rainpada after residents watched inaccurate videos forwarded through WhatsApp about kidnappers supposedly rolling through the area, BuzzFeed reports.

WhatsApp recently limited how many people you can forward a message to, and began a radio PSA campaign in Hindi on 46 India stations warning people to verify things they hear on WhatsApp before acting on them. But it’s clear that parent company Facebook still sees spreading WhatsApp as part of its mission to bring the world closer together, even as that comes at a cost.

Jio’s “transition” phones that offer a few third-party apps but not full-fledged smartphone capabilities, alongside its affordable mobile data, have significantly reduced the cost and friction of being online in India. But with that access comes newfound dangers, especially if not combined with news literacy and digital skills education that could help users spot false information before it sparks violence.

Increasingly the tech world is learning that connecting people to the Internet also means connecting them to the worst elements of humanity. That will necessitate a new wave of pessimists and cynics as product managers in order to predict and thwart ways to abuse software instead of allowing idealists to blindly build tools that can be weaponized.

Twitter launches audio-only broadcasting feature on its iOS app and Periscope

Twitter is launching a new feature that allows users to create audio-only broadcasts directly from Twitter itself, as well as Twitter’s Periscope. The feature, which Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey confirmed in a tweet this morning, is available from the same interface where you would normally launch live video. It’s currently accessible on the Twitter for iOS app, as well as on Periscope.

Now, instead of only having the option to record video after you tap “Live,” there’s a button you can tap to pick audio-only broadcast.

The feature was seen in beta testing in recent weeks, but @Jack’s tweet – along with the mobile app’s update log  – indicates it has now rolled out to all.

Twitter also confirmed to TechCrunch the feature is currently available only on the Twitter app for iOS and on Periscope for the time being. It hasn’t provided a time frame for when it will reach other platforms.

While those users will only be the ones at present who can record audio, all Twitter users across platforms will be able to see the recordings and play them back.

As the update text explains, the feature is valuable for those times when you want viewers to hear you but not see you. This could allow people to share live news on Twitter of an audio-only nature, record sharable mini-podcasts, or post something to their followers that takes longer than 280 characters to explain.

Similar to live video, audio broadcasters will be able to view their stats, like number of live viewers, replay viewers, time watched and other metrics.

The company plans to share the news through an official Twitter Engineering blog post shortly.

Update: Twitter has now tweeted the news on its own account, as well.