Homeis adds community tools for Mexican immigrants

Homeis, a startup building networking tools for immigrant communities, officially launched its community for Mexican immigrants this week.

Co-founder and CEO Ran Harnevo (pictured above) previously founded video syndication company 5min, which was acquired by AOL, where he served as the global president of the company’s video division. (AOL also bought TechCrunch and then was acquired, in turn, by Verizon.)

The company’s goal is to create networks that are focused on the needs of specific immigrant communities — starting with Israeli, French and Indian Communities — helping them find things like new friends and job opportunities.

In the launch announcement, the startup says that its Mexican community will “address specific pain points for Mexican immigrants,” for example by helping them find trusted immigration lawyers.

And if building tools for immigrants seems like a political act in 2019, that’s something Harnevo (an Israeli immigrant himself) seems to be embracing.

“It’s our personal mission to empower immigrants, and that has never been more critical,” he said in a statement. “The increased tension and hostility towards immigration has made it clear that tech companies must step up. With the launch of our Mexican community, we are able to share our technology and resources with the largest immigrant community in the U.S. As immigrants ourselves, that means a lot to us.”

Homeis raised a $12 million Series A led by Canaan Partners and Spark Capital earlier this year.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/14/homeis-mexican-community/

This ride-hailing PR pitch shows platforms and digital campaign ‘dark arts’ want democracy to be pay to play

A UK PR firm pitching to run an account for Ola has proposed running a campaign to politicize ride-hailing as a tactic to shift regulations in its favor.

The approach suggests that, despite the appearance of ride-hailing platforms taking a more conciliatory position with regulators that are now wise to earlier startup tactics in this space, there remains a calculus involving realpolitik, propaganda and high-level lobbying between companies that want to enter or expand in markets, and those who hold the golden tickets to do so.

In 2017 Estonia-based ride-hailing startup Taxify tried to launch in London ahead of regulatory approval, for example, but city authorities clamped down straight away. It was only able to return to the UK capital 21 months later (now known as Bolt).

In Western markets ride-hailing companies are facing old and new regulatory roadblocks that are driving up costs and creating barriers to growth. In some instances unfavorable rule changes have even led companies to pull out of cities or regions all together. Even as there are ongoing questions around the employment classification of the drivers these platforms depend on to deliver a service.

The PR pitch, made by a Tufton Street-based PR firm called Public First, suggests Ola tackle legislative friction in UK regions with a policy influence campaign targeted at local voters.

The SoftBank-backed Indian ride-hailing startup launched in the U.K. in August, 2018 and currently offers services in a handful of regional locations including South Wales, Merseyside and the West Midlands. Most recently it gained a licence to operate in London, and last month launched services in Coventry and Warwick — saying then that passengers in the UK had clocked up more than one million trips since its launch.

Manchester is also on its target list — and features as a focus in the strategy proposal — though an Ola spokesman told us it has no launch date for the city yet. The company met with Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, during a trade mission to India last month.

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The Public First proposal suggests a range of strategies for Ola to get local authorities and local politicians on-side, and thus avoid problems in potential and future operations, including the use of engagement campaigns and digital targeting to mobilize select coalitions around politicized, self-serving talking points — such as claims that public transport is less safe and convenient; or that air quality improves if fewer people drive into the city — in order to generate pressure on regulators to change licensing rules.

Another suggestion is to position the company less as a business, and more as an organization representing tens of thousands of time-poor people.

Public First advocates generally for the use of data- and technology-driven campaign methods, such as microtargeted digital advertising, as more effective than direct lobbying of local government officials — suggesting using digital tools to generate a perception that an issue is politicized will encourage elected representatives to do the heavy lifting of pressuring regulators because they’ll be concerned about losing votes.

The firm describes digital campaign elements as “crucial” to this strategy.

“Through a small, targeted online digital advertising campaign in both cities, local councillors’ email inboxes would begin to fill with requests from a number of different people (students, businesses, and other members of [a commuter advocacy group it proposes setting up to act as a lobby vehicle]) for the local authority to change its approach on local taxi licensing — in effect, to make it easier for Ola to launch,” it offers as a proposed strategy for building momentum behind Ola in Manchester and Liverpool.

Public First confirmed it made the pitch to Ola but told us: “This was merely a routine, speculative proposal of the sort we generate all the time as we meet people.”

“Ola Cabs has no relationship whatsoever with Public First,” it added.

A spokesperson for Ola also confirmed that it does not have a business relationship with Public First. “Ola has never had a relationship with Public First, does not currently have one and nor will it in the future,” the spokesman told us.

“Ola’s approach in the UK has been defined by working closely and collaborating with local authorities and we are committed to being fully licensed in every area we operate,” he added, suggesting the strategy it’s applying is the opposite of what’s being proposed.

We understand that prior to Public First pitching their ideas to a person working in Ola’s comms division, Ola’s director of legal, compliance and regulation, Andrew Winterton, met with the firm over coffee — in an introductory capacity. But that no such tactics were discussed.

It appears that, following first contact, Public First took the initiative to draw up the strategy suggesting politicizing ride-hailing in key target regions which it emailed to Winterton but only presented to a more junior Ola employee in a follow-up meeting the legal director did not attend.

Ola has built a major ride-hailing business in its home market of India — by way of $3.8BN in funding and aggressive competition. Since 2018 it has been taking international steps to fuel additional growth. In the U.K. its approach to date has been fairly low key, going to cities and regional centers outside of high-profile London first, as well as aiming to serve areas with big Indian populations to help recruit riders and drivers.

It’s a strategy that’s likely been informed by being able to view the track record of existing ride-hailing players — and avoid Uber-style regulatory blunders.

The tech giant was dealt a major shock by London’s transport regulator in 2017, when TfL denied it a licence renewal — citing concerns over Uber’s approach to passenger safety and corporate governance, including querying its explanation for using proprietary software that could be used to evade regulatory oversight.

The Uber story looks to be the high water mark for blitzscaling startup tactics that relied on ignoring or brute forcing regulators in the ride-hailing category. Laws and local authorities have largely caught up. The name of the game now is finding ways to get regulators on side.

Propaganda as a service

The fact that strategic proposals such as Public First’s to Ola are considered routine enough to put into a speculative pitch is interesting, given how the lack of transparency around the use of online tools for spreading propaganda is an issue that’s now troubling elected representatives in parliaments all over the world. Tools such as those offered by Facebook’s ad platform.

In Facebook’s case the company provides only limited visibility into who is running political and issue-based ads on its platform. The targeting criteria being used to reach individuals is also not comprehensively disclosed.

Some of the company’s own employees recently went public with concerns that its advanced targeting and behavioral-tracking tools make it “hard for people in the electorate to participate in the public scrutiny that we’re saying comes along with political speech”, as they put it.

At the same time, platforms providing a conduit for corporate interests to cheaply and easily manufacture ‘politicized’ speech looks to be another under-scrutinized risk for democratic societies.

Among the services Public First lists on its website are “policy development”, “qualitative and quantitative opinion research”, “issues-based campaigns”, “coalition-building” and “war gaming”. (Here, for example, is a piece of work the firm carried out for Google — where its analysis-for-hire results in a puffy claim that the tech giant’s digital services are worth at least $70BN in annual “economic value” for the UK.)

Public First’s choice of office location, in Tufton Street, London, is also notable as the area is home to an interlinked hub of right-leaning think tanks, such as the free market Center for Policy Studies and pro-Brexit Initiative for Free Trade. These are lobby vehicles dressed up as policy wonks which put out narratives intended to influence public opinion and legislation in a particular direction without it being clear who their financial backers are.

Some of the publicity strategies involved in this kind of work appear to share similarities with tactics used by Big Tobacco to lobby against anti-smoking legislation, or fossil fuel interests’ funding of disinformation and astroturfing operations to create a perception of doubt around consensus climate science.

“A lot of what used to get sold in this space essentially was access [to policymakers],” says one former public relations professional, speaking on background. “What you’re seeing an increasingly amount of now is the ‘technification’ of that process. Everyone’s using those kinds of tools — clearly in terms of trying to understand public sentiment better and that kind of thing… But essentially what they’re saying is we can set up a set of politicized issues so that they can benefit you. And that’s an interesting change. It’s not just straight defence and attack; promote your brand vs another. It’s ‘okay, we’re going to change the politics around an issue… in order to benefit your outcome’. And that’s fairly sophisticated and interesting.”

Mat Hope, editor of investigative journalism outlet DeSmog — which reports on climate-related misinformation campaigns — has done a lot of work focused on Tufton Street specifically, looking at the impact the network’s ‘policy-costumed’ corporate talking points have had on UK democracy.

“There is a set of organisations based out of offices in and around 55 Tufton Street in Westminster, just around the corner from the Houses of Parliament, which in recent years have had an outsized impact on British democracy. Many of the groups were at the forefront of the Leave campaign, and are now pushing for a hard or no-deal Brexit,” he told us, noting that Public First not only has offices nearby but that its founders and employees “have strong ties to other organisations based there”.

“The groups regularly lobby politicians in the interests of specific companies or big industry through the guise of grassroots or for-the-people campaigns,” he added. “One way they do this is through targeting adverts or social media posts, using groups with benign sounding names. This makes it hard to trace the campaign back to any particular company, and gives the issue an impression of grassroots support that is, on the whole, artificial.”

Platform power without responsibility

Ad platforms such as Facebook which profit by profiling people offer cheap yet powerful tools for corporate interests to identify and target highly specific sub-sets of voters. This is possible thanks to the vast amounts of personal data they collect — an activity that’s finally coming under significant regulatory scrutiny — and custom ad tools such as lookalike audiences, all of which enables behavioral microtargeting at the individual user/voter level.

Lookalike audiences is a powerful ad product that allows Facebook advertisers to upload customer data yet also leverage the company’s pervasive people-profiling to access new audiences that they do not hold data on but who have similar characteristics to their target. These so-called lookalike audiences can be tightly geotargeted, as well as zeroed in on granular interests and demographics. It’s not hard to see how such tools can be applied to selectively hit up only the voters most likely to align with a business’ interests.

The upshot is that an online advertiser is able to pay little to tap into the population-scale reach and vast data wealth of platform giants — turning firehose power against individual voters who they deem — via focus group work or other voter data analysis — to be aligned with a corporate agenda. The platform becomes a propaganda machine for manufacturing the appearance of broad public engagement and grassroots advocacy for a self-interested policy change.

The target voter, meanwhile, is most likely none the wiser about why they’re seeing politicized messaging. It’s that lack of transparency that makes the activity inherently anti-democratic.

The UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee raised Facebook’s lookalike audiences as a risk to democracy during a recent enquiry into online disinformation and digital campaigning. It went on to recommend an outright ban on political microtargeting to lookalike audiences online. Though the UK government has so far failed to act on that or its fuller suite of recommendations. (Nor has Facebook responded to increasingly loud calls from politicians and civic society to ban political and issue ads altogether.)

Even a code of conduct published by the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) emphasizes transparency — with member organizations committing to “be open and transparent in declaring their name, organisation and the interest they represent”. (Albeit, the IPRA’s member list is not itself public.)

While online targeting of social media users remains a major problem for democracies, on account of the lack of transparency and individual consent to targeting (or, indeed, to data-based profiling), in recent years we’ve also seen more direct efforts by companies to use their own technology tools to generate voter pressure.

Examples such as ride-hailing giant Uber which, under its founding CEO, Travis Kalanick, became well known for a ‘push button’ approach to mobilizing its user base by sending calls to action to lobby against unfavorable regulatory changes.

Airbnb has also sought to use its platform-reach to beat against local authority rule changes that threaten its ‘home sharing’ business model.

However it’s the opaque tech-fuelled targeting enabled by ad platforms like Facebook that’s far more problematic for democracies as it allows vested interests to generate self-interested pressure remotely — including from abroad — while remaining entirely shielded from view.

Fixing this will require regulatory muscle to enforce existing laws around personal data collection (at least where such laws exist) — and doing so in a way that prevents microtargeting from being the cheap advertising default. Democracies should not allow their citizens to be mirrored in the data because it sets them up to be hollowed out; their individuals aggregated, classified and repackaged as all-you-can-eat attention units for whoever is paying.

And likely also legislation to set firm boundaries around the use of political and campaigning/issue ads online. Turning platform power against the individual is inherently asymmetrical. It’s never going to be a fair fight. So fair ground rules for digital political campaigning — and a proper oversight regime to enforce them — are absolutely essential.

Another democratic tonic is transparency. Which means raising awareness about tech-fuelled tactics that are designed to generate and exploit data-based asymmetries in order to hack and manipulate public opinion. Such skewed stuff only really works when the target is oblivious to what’s afoot. In that respect, every little disclosure of these ‘dark arts’ and the platforms that enable them provides a much-needed counter boost for critical thinking and democracy.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/14/this-ride-hailing-pr-pitch-shows-platforms-and-digital-campaign-dark-arts-want-democracy-to-be-pay-to-play/

Facebook quietly built “Popular Photos”, an in-app Instagram

Facebook is copying Instagram while simultaneously invading its acquisition with branding and links back to the mothership. TechCrunch has spotted Facebook testing a feature called Popular Photos, which affixes an endless scroll of algorithmically selected pics from friends beneath the full-screen view of a photo opened from the News Feed. The result is an experience that feels like the Instagram feed, but inside of Facebook.

Popular Photos could offer users a more relaxing, lean-back browsing experience that omits links you have to click through, status updates you have to read, and other content types that bog down the News Feed. Instead, users can just passively watch the pretty pictures go by.

Facebook’s text and link-heavy feed looks increasingly stodgy and exhausting compared to visual communication-based social networks like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Users have to do the work of digging into the meaning of News Feed each post rather than being instantly entertained. That experience doesn’t fit as well into short browsing sessions throughout the day, or when users are already drained from work, school, or family. Facebook used to have a dedicated Photos bookmark on desktop that would let you just browse that content type, but at some point it disappeared.

A Facebook spokesperson confirms that Facebook was running a small test of Popular Photos in October when we spotted it. That trial has concluded but the team is now iterating on the product and plans to do updated tests in the future. The company refused to disclose more details or its motives for Popular Photos.

Here’s how Popular Photos works. When users discover a photo in the News Feed or a profile, they can tap on it to see it full-screen on a black theater-view background. Typically, if users swipe or scroll on that photo, they’re just booted back out to where they came from. But with the Popular Photos feature, Facebook splays out more images for users to scroll through after the original.

By scrolling down past the Popular Photos title, they’ll see additional pics and a “See More Photos” label beckoning them to keep whipping through more public and friends-only images shared by friends and who they follow. Like on Instagram but unlike the News Feed, Facebook truncates the captions of Popular Photos after only around 65 characters so the stream doesn’t look overwhelmingly wordy. The black backgrounds give a more cinematic feel to the Popular Photos, putting emphasis on the imagery.

Facebook started showing Related Videos in 2014 when users scrolled past a video they’d opened full-screen. Now this “More Videos” feature will auto-play the next video and automatically bump users down the feed to view it. The feature even shows video ads. That could foreshadow Facebook inserting advertisers’ photos into the Popular Photos tab to monetize the extra browsing.

Facebook hasn’t been shy about trying to leverage Instagram to benefit itself. The company has placed an Open Facebook button in the Instagram navigation sidebar.

Previously, Instagram tried showing Facebook alerts in its own Notifications tab, and an annoying red counter for Facebook notifications on the three-line hamburger button that opens the Instagram sidebar in an attempt to drive referral traffic back to the Facebook app. Facebook has also tried notifying users in its app asking them to Like the Facebook Pages of people they follow on Instagram. And now, a “from Facebook” and new FACEBOOK logo can be found appended to the Instagram loading screen.

For Facebook to keep growing after 15 years in the market, it needs to fully embrace visual communication. It’s already copied Snapchat Stories and implemented the ephemeral photo and video format across its apps. Clearly it’s not above copying its own subsidiary Instagram to offer an alternative take on feed scrolling. I wonder how Instagram’s team feels about its parent company building a direct competitor?


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/14/facebook-popular-photos/

Instagram tests hiding Like counts globally

Instagram is making Like counts private for some users everywhere. Instagram tells TechCrunch the hidden Likes test is expanding to a subset of people globally. Users will have to decide for themselves if something is worth Liking rather than judging by the herd. The change could make users more comfortable sharing what’s important to them without the fear publicly receiving an embarrassingly small number of Likes.

Instagram began hiding Likes in April in Canada and then brought the test to Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand in July. Facebook started a similar experiment in Australia in September. Instagram said last week the test would expand to the US, but now it’s running everywhere to a small percentage of users in each country. Instagram tweets that feedback to the experiment so far has been positive, but it’s continuing to test since it’s such a fundamental change to the app.

Instagram wants its app to be a place people feel comfortable expressing themselves, and can focus on photos and videos they share rather than how many Likes they get, a spokesperson tells TechCrunch. Users can still see who Liked their own posts by tapping on the Likers list, but they won’t see a count anywhere — they’d have to count the names manually. Viewers of a post will only see a few names of mutual friends who Liked it.

The expansion raises concerns that the test could hurt influencers and creators after a study by HypeAuditor found many of them of various levels of popularity lost 3% to 15% of their Likes in countries where Instagram hid the counts.

Instagram tells me it understands Like counts are important to many creators, and it’s actively working on ways that influencers will be able to communicate their value to partners. Since Like counts won’t be public, influencer marketing agencies must rely on self-reported screenshots from creators that could be photoshopped to score undue rewards.

Without even privately visible counts, agencies won’t be able verify a post got enough engagement to warrant payment. Instagram may need to offer some sort of private URL, partner dashboard, or API creators can share with agencies that reveals Like counts.

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said last week at Wired25 that “We will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people’s well-being and health”. Hidden Like counts might reduce overall ad spend on Instagram if businesses feel it’s less important to rack up engagement and look popular. But it might also shift spend from influencer marketing that goes directly into the pockets of creators towards official Instagram ads, thereby earning the company more money.

An Instagram spokesperson provided this statement to TechCrunch:

“Starting today, we’re expanding our test of private like counts to the rest of the world beyond Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, and New Zealand. If you’re in the test, you’ll no longer see the total number of likes and views on photos and videos posted to Feed unless they’re your own. While the feedback from early testing has been positive, this is a fundamental change to Instagram, and so we’re continuing our test to learn more from our global community.”

This is perhaps the final step of testing before Instagram might officially launch the change and hide Like counts for all users everywhere. It’s surely watching closely to determine how the test improves mental health, but also how it impacts usage of the app.

Hiding Likes is probably a win for the sanity of humanity, and a boon to creativity. Before, people often self-censored and declined to share posts they worried wouldn’t get enough Likes, or deleted posts that didn’t. They’d instinctually bend their public persona towards manicured selfies and images that made their life look glamorous, rather than what was authentic or that they wanted to communicate. Meanwhile, viewers would see high Like counts on friends’ or influencers’ posts, compare those to their own smaller Like counts, and feel ashamed or inadequate.

Putting an end to the popularity contest might lead people to share more unconventional, silly, or artsy posts regardless of their public reception. That could make Instagram’s content more diverse, surprising, and alluring over time versus an increasingly stale aesthetic of perfection. Hidden counts might also decrease the need for “Finstagram” accounts aka fake Insta profiles that users spin up to share what might not receive as many Likes.

While Facebook is credited for inventing the Like button, it’s Instagram that institutionalized the red heart icon that Twitter eventually adopted, and codified public approval into a concentrated dopamine hit. Instagram turning against Like counts could start a larger shift in the social media industry towards prioritizing more qualitative enjoyment of sharing, instead of obsessing over the quantification of validation.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/14/instagram-private-like-counts/

Social network for motherhood Peanut raises $5M, expands to include women trying to conceive

Peanut, an app that began its life as a match-maker for finding new mom friends but has since evolved into a social network of more than a million women, announced today it has closed on $5 million in new funding and is expanding its focus to reach women who are trying to conceive. The round was led by San Francisco and London-based VC firm Index Ventures, also backers of Dropbox, Facebook and Glossier, among others.

Other Peanut investors include Sweet Capital, Greycroft, Aston Kutcher’s Sound Ventures, Female Founders Fund, Felix Capital and Partech. To date, Peanut has raised $9.8 million.

The idea for Peanut arose from co-founder Michelle Kennedy’s personal understanding of how difficult it was to forge female friendships after motherhood. As the former deputy CEO at dating app Badoo and an inaugural board member at Bumble, she initially saw the potential for Peanut as a friendship-focused matching app with swipe mechanisms similar to popular dating apps.

Over the past couple of years, however, Kennedy realized that what women needed was more of a community space. The team then built out the app’s features accordingly, with the launch of its Q&A forums, Peanut Pages, last year, and more recently, with Peanut Groups. The latter has now become Peanut’s main use case, with 60% of users taking advantage of the app’s community features and just 40% using the friend-finding functions.

“Community is definitely becoming a very important part of what we do. It’s where we see the users that we deem to be power users — women who are using Peanut for hours every day — they’re very much within the community section,” explains Kennedy. “We see that growth there and it actually guides the product. So we’re taking the behaviors that we see and letting that inform our roadmap,” Kennedy says.

Since around November 2018, Peanut has been growing by 20% month-over-month, as more women discover Peanut’s private and ad-free alternative to Facebook Groups. On Peanut, users are verified (by selfies!), and people have the sorts of discussions that don’t really take place in other social apps.

Even Kennedy admits she was surprised at first by what women were talking about in the app.

“The conversations were much, much more personal and intimate and more related to their lives. So whether that had to do with their sex life or relationships, it was on a deeper level,” she says. “These are conversations that women simply can’t have anywhere else. Of course, they’re not happening in Facebook Groups…these are very intimate and self-reflective moments. And [women] want to do that in a private setting in a private social network,” Kennedy adds.

The new funding, in part, will be used to grow Peanut’s 16-person team to 22 this year, which will then double next year.

In addition, Peanut is expanding access to women who are trying to conceive, with the launch of the Trying To Conceive (TTC) community. This will offer a separate sign-up experience and access to a dedicated network of women, where members can candidly discuss the topic and ask questions. Within TTC, members can also create their own groups — like one for women on their fifth round of IVF, for example — to have conversations with others who are at the same place in their journey.

The community, today, won’t point women to other fertility-focused apps or related health services, Kennedy says, though she sees the potential for strategic partnerships further down the road. In the near-term, however, Peanut plans to generate revenue by way of the freemium model and micropayments.

“We’re incredibly excited to partner with Michelle to grow Peanut from the essential platform for mothers it is today, to a social network for women globally. Peanut is a true companion for women, bringing them together when they need each other the most,” says Hannah Seal, principal at Index Ventures, about the firm’s investment. “We’ve been impressed with the response Peanut has received since launch and look forward to supporting the team as it enters into new areas such as fertility, and expands globally.”

“We want to shine a light on an often silent struggle. What has always been Peanut’s point of difference is enabling conversations women feel unable to have on any other platform. Providing a safe, inclusive space for women to discuss fertility is a natural progression for our brand as we continue to support women throughout each life stage. No woman should ever feel lonely, isolated or muted on such an important issue,” Kennedy says.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/13/social-network-for-motherhood-peanut-raises-5m-expands-to-include-women-trying-to-conceive/

Facebook says government demands for user data are at a record high

Facebook’s latest transparency report is out.

The social media giant said the number of government demands for user data increased by 16% to 128,617 demands during the first-half of this year compared to the second-half of last year.

That’s the highest number of government demands its received in any reporting period since it published its first transparency report in 2013.

The U.S. government led the way with the most number of requests — 50,741 demands for user data resulting in some account or user data given to authorities in 88% of cases. Facebook said two-thirds of all of the U.S. government’s requests came with a gag order, preventing the company from telling the user about the request for their data.

But Facebook said it was able to release details of 11 so-called national security letters (NSLs) for the first time after their gag provisions were lifted during the period. National security letters can compel companies to turn over non-content data at the request of the FBI. These letters are not approved by a judge, and often come with a gag order preventing their disclosure. But since the Freedom Act passed in 2015, companies have been allowed to request the lifting of those gag orders.

The report also said the social media giant had detected 67 disruptions of its services in 15 countries, compared to 53 disruptions in nine countries during the second-half of last year.

And, the report said Facebook also pulled 11.6 million pieces of content, up from 5.8 million in the same period a year earlier, which Facebook said violated its policies on child nudity and sexual exploitation of children.

The social media giant also included Instagram to its report for the first time, including removing 1.68 million pieces of content during the second and third quarter of the year.

Read more:


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/13/facebook-says-government-demands-for-user-data-are-at-a-record-high/

Facebook wants you to pay people on Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp with Facebook Pay

Square. Venmo. PayPal. Apple Pay. Google Pay.

There’s really no shortage of ways to give people money via your phone, but that — nor growing calls that the company is already getting too damned big — isn’t stopping Facebook.

Facebook just announced Facebook Pay, a single payment system that ties into all of the things under the FB umbrella — Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and, of course, Facebook proper (for sections like Marketplace). Add a payment method once, and it’ll work across any of the Facebook apps for which you enable it.

Facebook says that Pay should start rolling out this week, albeit only on Facebook/Messenger at first, and only for folks in the U.S. The company says it should work with most major credit/debit cards and PayPal, and they’re being careful to note that this is separate from its whole cryptocurrency wallet effort.

Does anyone need this? Probably not. It removes some friction from the Facebook Marketplace process and will probably find a natural user base there — but, honestly, when it comes to paying a friend back for dinner or paying for that used guitar, there’s an absolutely monstrous mountain of alternatives here.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/12/facebook-wants-you-to-pay-people-on-messenger-instagram-and-whatsapp-with-facebook-pay/

Facebook says a bug caused its iPhone app’s inadvertent camera access

Facebook has faced a barrage of concern over an apparent bug that resulted in the social media giant’s iPhone app exposing the camera as users scroll through their feed.

A tweet over the weekend blew up after Joshua Maddux tweeted a screen recording of the Facebook app on his iPhone. He noticed that the camera would appear behind the Facebook app as he scrolled through his social media feed.

Several users had already spotted the bug earlier in the month. One person called it “a little worrying.”

Some immediately assumed the worst — as you might expect, given the long history of security vulnerabilities, data breaches and inadvertent exposures at Facebook over the past year. Just last week, the company confirmed that some developers had improperly retained access to some Facebook user data for more than a year.

Will Strafach, chief executive at Guardian Firewall, said it looked like a “harmless but creepy looking bug.”

The bug appears to only affect iPhone users running the latest iOS 13 software, and those who have already granted the app access to the camera and microphone. It’s believed the bug relates to the “story” view in the app, which opens the camera for users to take photos.

One workaround is to simply revoke camera and microphone access to the Facebook app in their iOS settings.

Facebook vice president of integrity Guy Rosen tweeted this morning that it “sounds like a bug” and the company was investigating. Only after we published, a spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that the issue was in fact a bug.

“We recently discovered that version 244 of the Facebook iOS app would incorrectly launch in landscape mode,” said the spokesperson. “In fixing that issue last week in v246 — launched on November 8th — we inadvertently introduced a bug that caused the app to partially navigate to the camera screen adjacent to News Feed when users tapped on photos.”

“We have seen no evidence of photos or videos being uploaded due to this bug,” the spokesperson added. The bug fix was submitted for Apple’s approval today.

“I guess it does say something when Facebook trust has eroded so badly that it will not get the benefit of the doubt when people see such a bug,” said Strafach.

Updated with Facebook comment.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/12/facebook-iphone-camera-bug/

A US federal court finds suspicionless searches of phones at the border is illegal

A federal court in Boston has ruled that the government is not allowed to search travelers’ phones and devices at the U.S. border without first having reasonable suspicion of a crime.

That’s a significant victory for civil liberties advocates who have said that the government’s own rules that allow its border agents to search electronic devices at the border are unconstitutional.

The court said that the government’s policies on warrantless searches of devices without reasonable suspicion “violate the Fourth Amendment,” which provides constitutional protections against warrantless searches and seizures, the court said.

The case was brought by 11 travelers — ten of which are U.S. citizens — with support from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who said border agents searched their smartphones and laptops without a warrant, or any suspicion of wrongdoing or criminal activity. But the travelers said the government was overreaching its powers.

The border remains a bizarre legal space, where the government asserts powers that it cannot claim against citizens or residents within the United States. The government has long said it doesn’t need a warrant to search devices at the border.

Any data collected by Customs & Border Protection without a warrant can still be shared with federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement.

Esha Bhandari, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said the ruling “significantly advances” protections under the Fourth Amendment.

“This is a great day for travelers who now can cross the international border without fear that the government will, in the absence of any suspicion, ransack the extraordinarily sensitive information we all carry in our electronic devices,” said Sophia Cope, a senior staff attorney at the EFF.

Millions of travelers arrive into the U.S. every day. Last year, border officials searched 33,000 travelers’ devices — a fourfold increase since 2015 — without any need for reasonable suspicion. In recent months, travelers have been told to inform the government of any social media handles they have, all of which are subject to inspection. But some have been denied entry to the U.S. for content on their phones shared by other people.

Earlier this year, a federal appeals court found that traffic enforcement officers using chalk to mark car tires was deemed unconstitutional.

A spokesperson for Customs & Border Protection did not immediately comment.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/12/federal-court-suspicionless-searches-illegal/

Facebook says a bug led caused its iPhone app’s inadvertent camera access

Facebook has faced a barrage of concern over an apparent bug that resulted in the social media giant’s iPhone app exposing the camera as users scroll through their feed.

A tweet over the weekend blew up after Joshua Maddux tweeted a screen recording of the Facebook app on his iPhone. He noticed that the camera would appear behind the Facebook app as he scrolled through his social media feed.

Several users had already spotted the bug earlier in the month. One person called it “a little worrying”.

Some immediately assumed the worst — as you might expect given the long history of security vulnerabilities, data breaches and inadvertent exposures at Facebook over the past year. Just last week, the company confirmed that some developers had improperly retained access to some Facebook user data for more than a year.

Will Strafach, chief executive at Guardian Firewall, said it looked like a “harmless but creepy looking bug.”

The bug appears to only affect iPhone users running the latest iOS 13 software, and those who have already granted the app access to the camera and microphone. It’s believed the bug relates to the “story” view in the app, which opens the camera for users to take photos.

One workaround is to simply revoke camera and microphone access to the Facebook app in their iOS settings.

Facebook vice president of integrity Guy Rosen tweeted this morning that it “sounds like a bug” and the company was investigating. Only after we published, a spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that the issue was in fact a bug.

“We recently discovered that version 244 of the Facebook iOS app would incorrectly launch in landscape mode,” said the spokesperson. “In fixing that issue last week in v246 — launched on November 8th — we inadvertently introduced a bug that caused the app to partially navigate to the camera screen adjacent to News Feed when users tapped on photos.”

“We have seen no evidence of photos or videos being uploaded due to this bug,” the spokesperson added. The bug fix was submitted for Apple’s approval today.

“I guess it does say something when Facebook trust has eroded so badly that it will not get the benefit of the doubt when people see such a bug,” said Strafach.

Updated with Facebook comment.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/12/facebook-iphone-camera-bug/