Facebook builds its own AR games for Messenger video chat

Facebook builds its own AR games for Messenger video chat

Facebook is diving deeper into in-house game development with the launch of its own version of Snapchat’s multiplayer augmented reality video chat games. Today, Facebook Messenger globally launches its first two AR video chat games that you can play with up to six people.

“Don’t Smile” is like a staring contest that detects if you grin, and then uses AR to contort your face into an exaggerated Joker’s smirk while awarding your opponent the win. “Asteroids Attack” sees you move your face around to navigate a space ship, avoiding rocks and grabbing laser beam powerups. Soon, Facebook also plans to launch “Beach Bump” for passing an AR ball back and forth, and a “Kitten Craze” cat matching game. To play the games, you start a video chat, hit the star button to open the filter menu, then select one of the games. You can snap and share screenshots to your chat thread while you play.

The games are effectively a way to pass the time while you video chat, rather than something you’d ever play on your own. They could be a hit with parents and grandparents who are away and want to spend time with a kid…who isn’t exactly the best conversationalist.

Facebook tells me it built these games itself using the AR Studio tool it launched last year to let developers create their own AR face filters. When asked if game development would be available to everyone through AR studio, a spokesperson told me, “Not today, but we’ve seen successful short-session AR games developed by the creator community and are always looking out for ways to bring the best AR content to the FB family of apps.”

For now, there will be no ads, sponsored branding or in-app purchases in Messenger’s video chat games. But those all offer opportunities for Facebook and potentially outside developers to earn money. Facebook could easily show an ad interstitial between game rounds, let brands build games to promote movie releases or product launches or let you buy powerups to beat friends or cosmetically upgrade your in-game face.

Snapchat’s Snappables games launched in April

The games feel less polished than the launch titles for Snapchat’s Snappables gaming platform that launched in April. Snapchat focused on taking over your whole screen with augmented reality, transporting you into space or a disco dance hall. Facebook’s games merely overlay a few graphics on the world around you. But Facebook’s games are more purposefully designed for split-screen multiplayer. Snapchat is reportedly building its own third-party game development platform, but it seems Facebook wanted to get the drop on it.

The AR video chat games live separately from the Messenger Instant Games platform the company launched last year. These include arcade classics and new mobile titles that users can play by themselves and challenge friends over high-scores. Facebook now allows developers of Instant Games to monetize with in-app purchases and ads, foreshadowing what could come to AR video chat games.

Facebook has rarely developed its own games. It did build a few mini-games, like an arcade pop-a-shot style basketball game and a soccer game to show off what the Messenger Instant Games platform could become. But typically it’s stuck to letting outside developers lead. Here, it may be trying to set examples of what developers should build before actually spawning a platform around video chat games.

Now with more than 1.3 billion users, Facebook Messenger is seeking more ways to keep people engaged. Having already devoured many people’s one-on-one utility chats, it’s fun group chats, video calling and gaming that could get people spending more time in the app.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook taps banks, but for chatbots not purchase data like Google

Facebook taps banks, but for chatbots not purchase data like Google

Backlash swelled this morning after Facebook’s aspirations in financial services were blown out of proportion by a Wall Street Journal report that neglected how the social network already works with banks. Facebook spokesperson Elisabeth Diana tells TechCrunch it’s not asking for credit card transaction data from banks and it’s not interested in building a dedicated banking feature where you could interact with your accounts. It also says its work with banks isn’t to gather data to power ad targeting, or even personalize content such as which Marketplace products you see based on what you buy elsewhere.

Instead, Facebook already lets Citibank customers in Singapore connect their accounts so they can ping their bank’s Messenger chatbot to check their balance, report fraud or get customer service’s help if they’re locked out of their account without having to wait on hold on the phone. That chatbot integration, which has no humans on the other end to limit privacy risks, was announced last year and launched this March. Facebook works with PayPal in more than 40 countries to let users get receipts via Messenger for their purchases.

Expansions of these partnerships to more financial services providers could boost usage of Messenger by increasing its convenience — and make it more of a centralized utility akin to China’s WeChat. But Facebook’s relationships with banks in the current form aren’t likely to produce a steep change in ad targeting power that warrants significant heightening of its earning expectations. The reality of today’s news is out of step with the 3.5 percent share price climb triggered by the WSJ’s report.

“A recent Wall Street Journal story implies incorrectly that we are actively asking financial services companies for financial transaction data – this is not true. Like many online companies with commerce businesses, we partner with banks and credit card companies to offer services like customer chat or account management. Account linking enables people to receive real-time updates in Facebook Messenger where people can keep track of their transaction data like account balances, receipts, and shipping updates,” Diana told TechCrunch. “The idea is that messaging with a bank can be better than waiting on hold over the phone – and it’s completely opt-in. We’re not using this information beyond enabling these types of experiences – not for advertising or anything else. A critical part of these partnerships is keeping people’s information safe and secure.”

Diana says banks and credit card companies have also approached it about potential partnerships, not just the other way around as the WSJ reports. She says any features that come from those talks would be opt-in, rather than happening behind users’ backs. The spokesperson stressed these integrations would only be built if they could be privacy safe. For example, signing up to use the Citibank Messenger chatbot requires two-factor authentication through your phone.

But renewed interest in Facebook’s dealings with banks comes at a time when many are pointing to its poor track record with privacy following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where people were duped into volunteering the personal info of them and their friends. Facebook hasn’t had a big traditional data breach where data was outright stolen, as has befallen LinkedIn, eBay, Yahoo [part of TechCrunch’s parent company] and others. But users are rightfully reluctant to see Facebook ingest any more of their sensitive data for fear it could leak or be misused.

Facebook has recently cracked down on the use of data brokers that suck in public and purchased data sets for ad targeting. It no longer lets data brokers upload Managed Custom Audience lists of user contact info or power Partner Categories for targeting ads based on interests. It also more adamantly demands that advertisers have the consent of users whose email addresses or phone numbers they upload for Custom Audience targeting, though Facebook does little to verify that consent and advertisers could still buy data sets from brokers and upload them themselves

Facebook’s statement today shows more scruples than Google, which last year struck ad measurement data deals with data brokers that have access to 70 percent of credit and debit card transactions in the U.S. That led to a formal complaint to the FTC from the Electronic Privacy Information Center. [Correction: Google tells us the deals are for ad measurement data, not ad targeting as we originally published. It only learns the annonymous aggregate purchase value, not what the items were bought, and the data is encrypted.]

Cambridge Analytica has brought on an overdue era of scrutiny regarding privacy and how internet giants use our data. Practices that were overlooked, accepted as industry standard or seen as just the way business gets done are coming under fire. Internet users aren’t likely to escape ads, and some would rather have those they see be relevant thanks to deep targeting data. But the combination of our offline purchase behavior with our online identities seems to trigger uproar absent from sites using cookies to track our web browsing and buying.

Facebook’s probably better off backing away from anything that involves sensitive data like checking account balances until Cambridge Analytica blows over and it’s proven its newfound sense of responsibility translates into a safer social networking. But at least for now, it’s not slurping up our banking data wholesale.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

FB Messenger auto-translation chips at US/Mexico language wall

FB Messenger auto-translation chips at US/Mexico language wall

Facebook’s been criticized for tearing America apart, but now it will try to help us forge bonds with our neighbors to the south. Facebook Messenger will now offer optional auto-translation of English to Spanish and vice-versa for all users in the United States and Mexico. It’s a timely launch given the family separation troubles at the nation’s border.

The feature could facilitate cross-border and cross-language friendships, business and discussion that might show people in the two countries that deep down we’re all just human. It could be especially powerful for U.S. companies looking to use Messenger for conversational commerce without having to self-translate everything.

Facebook tells me “we were pleased with the results” following a test using AI to translate the language pair in Messenger for U.S. Facebook Marketplace users in April.

Now when users receive a message that is different from their default language, Messenger’s AI assistant M will ask if they want it translated. All future messages in that thread will be auto-translated unless a user turns it off. Facebook plans to bring the feature to more language pairs and countries soon.

A Facebook spokesperson tells me, “The goal with this launch is really to enable people to communicate with people they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, in a way that is natural and seamless.”

Starting in 2011, Facebook began offering translation technology for News Feed posts and comments. For years it relied on Microsoft Bing’s translation technology, but Facebook switched to its own stack in mid-2016. By then it was translating 2 billion pieces of text a day for 800 million users.

Conversational translation is a lot tougher than social media posts, though. When we chat with friends, it’s more colloquial and full of slang. We’re also usually typing in more of a hurry and can be less accurate. But if Facebook can reliably figure out what we’re saying, Messenger could become the modern-day Babel Fish. At 2016’s F8, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg threw shade on Donald Trump saying, “instead of building walls, we can build bridges.” Trump still doesn’t have that wall, and now Zuck is building a bridge with technology.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook cuts down annoying ‘now connected on Messenger’ alerts

Facebook cuts down annoying ‘now connected on Messenger’ alerts

“‘You Are Now Connected On Messenger’ Is The Worst Thing On Facebook” BuzzFeed’s Katie Notopoulos correctly pointed out in a story yesterday. When you friend someone on Facebook or Messenger, or an old friend joins Messenger, you often get one of these annoying notifications. They fool you into thinking someone actually wants to chat with you while burying your real message threads.

Luckily, it turns out Facebook was already feeling guilty about this shameless growth hack. When I asked why, amidst its big push around Time Well Spent, it was sending these alerts, the company told me it’s already in the process of scaling them back.

A Facebook spokesperson gave TechCrunch this statement:

We’ve found that many people have appreciated getting a notification when a friend joins Messenger. That said, we are working to make these notifications even more useful by employing machine learning to send fewer of them over time to people who enjoy getting them less. We appreciate all and any feedback that people send our way, so please keep it coming because it helps us make the product better.

So basically, if Messenger notices you never open those spammy alerts to start a chat thread, it will skip sending some of them.

Personally, I think these alerts should only be sent when users connect on Messenger specifically, which you can do with non-friends outside of Facebook. The company forced everyone to switch from Facebook Chat to Messenger years ago, but some people are only now relenting and actually downloading the app. I don’t think that should ever generate these alerts, since they have nothing to do with your own actions. Similarly, if I confirm a Facebook friend request from someone else, I know I’m now connected on Messenger too, so no need to pester me with a notification.

But for now, if you hate these alerts, be sure not to open them so you send a signal to Facebook that you don’t want more.

Facebook does all sorts of this annoying growth hacking, like notifications about friends adding to their Story, “X, Y, and 86 other friends responded to events near you tomorrow,” and all the emails it sends if you stop visiting. If we can properly shame tech giants for the specifics of their most intrusive and distracting behavior, rather than just griping more vaguely about overuse, we may be able to make swifter progress toward them respecting our attention.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Zuckerberg owns or clones most of the “8 social apps” he cites as competition

Zuckerberg owns or clones most of the “8 social apps” he cites as competition

Mark Zuckerberg’s flimsy defense when congress asked about a lack of competition to Facebook has been to cite that the average American uses eight social apps. But that conveniently glosses over the fact that Facebook owns three of the top 10 U.S. iOS apps: #4 Instagram, #6 Messenger, and #8 Facebook according to App Annie. The top 3 apps are games. Facebook is building its Watch video hub to challenge #5 YouTube, and has relentlessly cloned Stories to beat #7 Snapchat. And Facebook also owns #19 WhatsApp. Zoom in to just “social networking apps”, and Facebook owns the entire top 3.

“The average American I think uses eight different communication and social apps. So there’s a lot of different choice and a lot of innovation and activity going on in this space” Zuckerberg said when asked about whether Facebook is a monopoly by Senator Graham during yesterday’s Senate hearing, and he’s trotted out that same talking point that was on his note sheet during today’s House testimony.

But Facebook has relentlessly sought to acquire or co-opt the features of its competitors. That’s why any valuable regulation will require congress to prioritize competition. That means either breaking up Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp; avoiding rules that are easy for Facebook to comply with but prohibitively expensive for potential rivals to manage; or ensuring data portability that allows users to choose where to take their content and personal information.

Breaking up Facebook, or at least preventing it from acquiring established social networks in the future, would be the most powerful way to promote competition in the space. Facebook’s multi-app structure creates economies of scale in data that allow it to share ad targeting and sales teams, backend engineering, and relevancy-sorting algorithms. That makes it tough for smaller competitors without as much money or data to provide the public with more choice.

Regulation done wrong could create a moat for Facebook, locking in its lead. Complex transparency laws might be just a paperwork speed bump for Facebook and its army of lawyers, but could be too onerous for upstart companies to follow. Meanwhile, data collection regulation could prevent competitors from ever building as large of a data war chest as Facebook has already generated.

Data portability gives users the option to choose the best social network for them, rather than being stuck where they already are. Facebook provides a Download Your Information tool for exporting your content. But photos come back compressed, and you don’t get the contact info of friends unless they opt in. The list of friends’ names you receive doesn’t allow you to find them on other apps the way contact info would. Facebook should at least offer a method for your exporting hashed version of that contact info that other apps could use to help you find your friends there without violating the privacy of those friends. Meanwhile, Instagram entirely lacks a Download Your Information tool.

Congress should push Zuckerberg to explain what apps compete with Facebook as a core identity provider, an omni-purpose social graph, or cross-platform messaging app. Without choice, users are at the mercy of Facebook’s policy and product examples. All of the congressional questions about data privacy and security don’t mean much to the public if they have no viable alternative to Facebook. The fact that Facebook owns or clones the majority of the 8 social apps used by the average American is nothing for Zuckerberg to boast about.

 

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook Messenger gets admin rights for group chats

Facebook Messenger gets admin rights for group chats

In this modern world, some days it can feel like everything is out of your grasp. So take stock on those things that you can control. Like Messenger, Facebook’s increasingly feature-rich offshoot app, which now sports admin privileges for group chats.

The new feature is rolling out this week, giving users the ability to better keep group chats on lockdown. Admins can do your standard array of adminy-type things: adding and removing members and promoting and demoting users with admin privileges of their own. It’s enough to make Messenger users downright mad with power.

Also new is the addition of joinable links — send them to a new person you want to join via email and voila, they’re on board. The new additions should help position Messenger as a more fully formed Telegram competitor, as Facebook increasingly views the app as a standalone offering in its own right.

The company’s been rolling out features to the app at pretty steady clip over the past year, including mentions, reactions, group payments and customizable groups. According to the company, 2.5 million new groups were created on the app every day last year. So a little added power goes a long way.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook’s next money-maker: Messenger Broadcasts

Facebook’s next money-maker: Messenger Broadcasts
 Users might hate it, but Facebook is now testing a self-serve sponsored messaging tool for small businesses that aren’t sophisticated enough to build bots. TechCrunch first reported back in November Facebook internally building a prototype of the Messenger Broadcast tool that let companies blast a message to anyone who’s already started a conversation with them. Now Facebook is… Read More

Source: Mobile – Techcruch