Category Archives: FaceBook

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 testing augmented reality ads in the News Feed

Facebook is giving advertisers new ways to show off their products, including with augmented reality.

At its F8 developer conference earlier this year, Facebook announced that it was working with businesses to use AR to show off products in Messenger. Now a similar experience will start appearing in the News Feed, with a select group of advertisers testing out AR ads.

Ty Ahmad-Taylor, vice president of product marketing for Facebook’s global marketing solutions, showed off ads that incorporated his face into Candy Crush gameplay footage, and other ads that allowed shoppers to see how virtual sunglasses and makeup would look on their own faces.

“People traditionally have to go into stores to do this,” Ahmad-Taylor said. “People still really love that experience, but they would like to try it at home” — so this “bridges the gap.”

These ads look like normal in-feed ads at first, but they include a “Tap to try it on” option, which opens up the AR capabilities. And of course if you like the way it looks in AR, you can go ahead and buy the product.

Facebook says Michael Kors was the first brand to test out AR ads in the News Feed, with Sephora, NYX Professional Makeup, Bobbi Brown, Pottery Barn, Wayfair and King planning their own tests for later this summer.

Ahmad-Taylor made the announcement this morning at a New York City event for journalists and marketers highlighting Facebook’s advertising plans for the holidays.

In addition, he announced a new Video Creation Kit, which will allow advertisers to incorporate existing images into templates for mobile video ads. According to weight loss company Noom, which has been testing out these tools, the resulting videos performed 77 percent better than the static images.

Lastly, Facebook says it will continue to expand its support for shopping in Instagram Stories. It made shopping tags available to select brands in Stories last month, and for the holidays, it plans to roll that out to all brands that have enabled shopping in Instagram. It’s also making its collections ad format available to all advertisers.

Facebook buys ads in Indian newspapers to warn about WhatsApp fakes

As Twitter finally gets serious about purging fake accounts, and YouTube says it will try to firefight conspiracy theories and fake news flaming across its platform with $25M to fund bona fide journalism, Facebook-owned WhatsApp is grappling with its own fake demons in India, where social media platforms have been used to seed and spread false rumors — fueling mob violence and leading to number of deaths in recent years.

This week Facebook has taken out full page WhatsApp -branded adverts in Indian newspapers to try to stem the tide of life-threatening digital fakes spreading across social media platforms in the region with such tragic results.

It’s not the first time the company has run newspaper ads warning about fake news in India, though it does appear to be first time it’s responded to the violence being sparked by fakes spreading on WhatsApp specifically.

The full page WhatsApp anti-fakes advert also informs users that “starting this week” the platform is rolling out a new feature that will allow users to determine whether a message has been forwarded. “Double check the facts when you’re not sure who wrote the original message,” it warns.

This follows tests WhatsApp was running back in January when the platform trialed displaying notifications for when a message had been forwarded many times.

Evidently WhatsApp has decided to take that feature forward, at least in India, although how effective a check it will be on technology-accelerated fakes that are likely also fueled by local prejudices remains to be seen.

Trying to teach nuanced critical thinking when there may be a more basic lack of education that’s contributing to fomenting mistrust and driving credulity, as well as causing the spread of malicious fakes and rumors targeting certain people or segments of the population in the first place, risks both being ineffectual and coming across as merely irresponsible fiddling around the edges of a grave problem that’s claimed multiple lives already.

Facebook also stands accused of failing to respond quickly enough to similar risks in Myanmar — where the UN recently warned that its platform was being weaponized to spread hate speech and used as a tool to fuel ethnic violence.

Reuters reports that the first batch of WhatsApp fake ads are running in “key Indian newspapers”, and images posted to Twitter show an English-language full-page advert — so you do have to question who these first ads are really intended to influence.

But the news agency reports that Facebook also intends to publish similar ads in regional dailies across India over the course of this week.

We’ve reached out to WhatsApp with questions and will update this story with any response.

“We are starting an education campaign in India on how to spot fake news and rumours,” a WhatsApp spokesman told Reuters in a statement. “Our first step is placing newspaper advertisements in English and Hindi and several other languages. We will build on these efforts.”

The quasi-educational WhatsApp fake news advert warns users about “false information”, offering ten tips to spot fakes — many of which boil down to ‘check other sources’ to try to verify whether what you’ve been sent is true.

Another tip urges WhatsApp users to “question information that upsets you” and, if they do read something that makes them “angry or afraid”, to “think twice before sharing it again”.

“If you are not sure of the source or concerned that the information may be untrue, think twice before sharing,” reads another tip.

The last tip warns that “fake news often goes viral” — warning: “Just because a message is shared many times, does not make it true.”

In recent times, Facebook has also run full-page ads in newspapers to apologize for failing to safeguard user data in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and taken out print adverts ahead of European elections to warn against attempts to spread fake news to try to meddle with democratic processes.

Facebook was never ephemeral, and now its Stories won’t have to be

Before Snapchat made social media about just today, Facebook made it about forever. The 2011 “Timeline” redesign of the profile and keyword search unlocked your past, encouraging you to curate colorful posts about your life’s top moments. That was actually an inspiration for Snapchat, as its CEO Evan Spiegel wrote in its IPO announcement that “We learned that creativity can be suppressed by the fear of permanence.”

Now Facebook is finding a middle ground by optionally unlocking the history of your Stories that otherwise disappear after 24 hours. Facebook will soon begin testing Stories Highlights, the company confirmed to TechCrunch. Similar to Instagram Stories Highlights, it will let you pick your favorite expired photos and videos, compile them into themed collections with titles and cover images and display them on your profile.

The change further differentiates Facebook Stories from the Snapchat Stories feature it copied. It’s smart for Facebook, because highly compelling content was disintegrating each day, dragging potential ad views to the grave with it. And for its 150 million daily users, it could make the time we spend obsessing over social media Stories a wiser investment. If you’re going to interrupt special moments to capture them with your phone, the best ones should still pay dividends of self-expression and community connection beyond a day later.

Facebook Stories Highlights was first spotted by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong, who specializes in generating screenshots of unreleased features out of the APK files of Android apps. TechCrunch inquired about the feature, and a Facebook spokesperson provided this statement: “People have told us they want a way to highlight and save the Stories that matter most to them. We’ll soon start testing highlights on Facebook – a way to choose Stories to stay on your profile, making it easier to express who you are through memories.”

These Highlights will appear on a horizontal scroll bar on your profile, and you’ll be able to see how many people viewed them just like with your Stories. They’ll default to being viewable by all your friends, but you can also restrict Highlights to certain people or make them public. The latter could be useful for public figures trying to build an audience, or anyone who thinks their identity is better revealed through their commentary on the world that Stories’ creative tools offer, opposed to some canned selfies and profile pics.

Facebook paved the way for Highlights by launching the Stories Archive in May. This automatically backs up your Stories privately to your profile so you don’t have to keep the saved versions on your phone, wasting storage space. That Archive is the basis for being able to choose dead Stories to show off in your Highlights. Together, they’ll encourage users to shoot silly, off-the-cuff content without that “fear of permanence,” but instead with the opportunity. If you want to spend a half hour decorating a Facebook Story with stickers and drawing and captions and augmented reality, you know it won’t be in vain.

Facebook Stories constantly adds new features, like this Blur effect I spotted today

While many relentlessly criticize Facebook for stealing the Stories from Snapchat, its rapid iteration and innovation on the format means the two companies’ versions are sharply diverging. Snapchat still lacks a Highlights-esque feature despite launching its Archive-style Memories back in July 2016. Instead of enhancing the core Stories product that made the app a teen phenomenon, it’s concentrated on Maps, gaming, Search, professional Discover content, and a disastrously needless redesign.

Facebook’s family of apps seized on the stagnation of Snapchat Stories and its neglect of the international market. It copied whatever was working while developing new features like Instagram’s Superzoom and Focus portrait mode, the ability to reshare public feed posts as quote tweet-style Stories and the addition of licensed music soundtracks. While writing this article, I even discovered a new Facebook Stories option called Blur that lets you shroud a moving subject with a dream-like haze, as demonstrated with my dumb face here.

The relentless drive to add new options and smooth out performance has paid off. Now Instagram has 400 million daily Stories users, WhatsApp has 450 million and Facebook has 150 million, while Snapchat’s whole app has just 191 million. As Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom admitted about Snapchat, “They deserve all the credit.” Still, it hasn’t had a megahit since Stories and AR puppy masks. The company’s zeal for inventing new ways to socialize is admirable, though not always a sound business strategy.

At first, the Stories war was a race, to copy functionality and invade new markets. Instagram and now Facebook making ephemerality optional for their Stories signals a second phase of the war. The core idea of broadcasting content that disappears after a day has become commoditized and institutionalized. Now the winner will be declared not as who invented Stories, but who perfected them.

Facebook’s plan to make ads more transparent already has a big hole in it

Facebook’s new push to be more transparent have already hit a snag. The company recently introduced a new tool that lets users easily see any ads a particular Facebook Page is running, but advertisers have already found a way around it.

The social media giant is in the midst of dealing with a number of crises over privacy, security, and bad faith use of the tools on its platform. To deal with one of the bigger looming problems — bad actors potentially using the social network's ad network to covertly influence elections just as the Russia-linked Internet Research Agency did in 2016 — Facebook came up with a solution that emphasized transparency. Read more...

More about Facebook, Politics, Ads, Social Media, and Transparency

Stumbleupon died right when we needed it the most

Happy stumbling no more.

Stumbleupon shuttered recently after 16 years of bringing tailored content to users.

The unsocial media platform received multiple large name angel investors at its inception, people like self-help writer Tim Ferriss and early Google investor Ram Shriram. At one point, it had more publisher traffic than YouTube, Reddit, LinkedIn, and Google combined.

Stumbleupon's future seemed bright. It was named one of TIME's 50 best websites in 2007 and logged more than 1 billion stumbles per month in 2011. (I probably accounted for a couple thousand of those.) Read more...

More about Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Social Media, and Shut Down

Facebook confirms that it’s acquiring Bloomsbury AI

Facebook announced this morning that the London-based team at Bloomsbury AI will be joining the company.

My colleague Steve O’Hear broke the news about the acquisition yesterday, reporting that Facebook would deploy the team and technology to assist in its efforts to fight fake news and address other content issues.

In fact, Bloomsbury AI co-founder and Head of Research Sebastian Riedel also co-founded Factmata, a. startup that purports to have developed tools to help brands combat fake news.

Facebook doesn’t quite put it that way in the announcement post. Instead, it says the team’s “expertise will strengthen Facebook’s efforts in natural language processing research, and help us further understand natural language and its applications” — but it certainly seems possible that those applications could include detecting misinformation and other problematic content.

While financial terms were not disclosed, we reported that Facebook is paying between $23 and $30 million. Bloomsbury AI is an alumnus of Entrepreneur First, and it was also backed by Fly.VC, Seedcamp, IQ Capital, UCL Technology Fund, and the U.K. tax payer-funded London Co-investment Fund.