Answering its critics, Google loosens reins on AMP project

Answering its critics, Google loosens reins on AMP project

Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, has been a controversial project since its debut. The need for the framework has been clear: the payloads of mobile pages can be just insane, what with layers and layers of images, JavaScript, ad networks, and more slowing down page rendering time and costing users serious bandwidth on metered plans.

Yet, the framework has been aggressively foisted on the community by Google, which has backed the project not just with technical talent, but also by making algorithmic changes to its search results that have essentially mandated that pages comply with the AMP project’s terms — or else lose their ranking on mobile searches.

Even more controversially, as part of making pages faster, the AMP project uses caches of pages on CDNs — which are hosted by Google (and also Cloudflare now). That meant that Google’s search results would direct a user to an AMP page hosted by Google, effectively cutting out the owner of the content in the process.

The project has been led by Malte Ubl, a senior staff engineer working on Google’s Javascript infrastructure projects, who has until now held effective unilateral control over the project.

In the wake of all of this criticism, the AMP project announced today that it would reform its governance, replacing Ubl as the exclusive tech lead with a technical steering committee comprised of companies invested in the success in the project. Notably, the project’s intention has an “…end goal of not having any company sit on more than a third of the seats.” In addition, the project will create an advisory board and working groups to shepherd the project’s work.

The project is also expected to move to a foundation in the future. These days, there are a number of places such a project could potentially reside, including the Apache Software Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation.

While the project has clearly had its detractors, the performance improvements that AMP has been fighting for are certainly meritorious. With this more open governance model, the project may get deeper support from other browser makers like Apple, Mozilla, and Microsoft, as well as the broader open source community.

And while Google has certainly been the major force behind the project, it has also been popular among open source software developers. Since the project’s launch, there have been 710 contributors to the project according to its statistics, and the project (attempting to empathize its non-Google monopoly) notes that more than three-quarters of those contributors don’t work at Google.

Nonetheless, more transparency and community involvement should help to accelerate Accelerated Mobile Pages. The project will host its contributor summit next week at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, where these governance changes as well as the technical and design roadmaps for the project will be top of mind for attendees.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Instagram will promote mid-term voting with stickers, registration info

Instagram will promote mid-term voting with stickers, registration info

Facebook is getting ready to purposefully influence the U.S. mid-term elections after spending two years trying to safeguard against foreign interference. Instagram plans to run ads in Stories and feed powered by TurboVote that will target all US users over 18 and point them towards information on how to get properly registered and abide by voting rules. Then when election day arrives, users will be able to add an “I Voted” sticker to their photos and videos that link to voting info like which polling place to go to.

Combined, these efforts could boost voter turnout, especially amongst Instagram’s core audience of millennials. If one political party’s base skews younger, they could receive an advantage. “Ahead of National Voter Registration Day, we are helping our community register to vote and get to the polls on November 6th” Instagram writes. “From today, Instagram will connect US voters with the information they need to get registered.”

In 2010, a non-partisan “Get out the vote” message atop the Facebook News Feed was estimated to have driven 340,000 additional votes. The study by Nature suggested that “more of the 0.6% growth in turnout between 2006 and 2010 might have been caused by a single message on Facebook”. That’s significant considering the 2000 election had a margin of just 0.1 percent of voters.

You can watch Instagram’s video ads for voting below, which feature a cartoony purple Grimace character and are clearly aimed at a younger audience. They purposefully avoid any Democratic or Republican imagery, but also stick to a polished and American style that could ensure the clips aren’t mistaken for Russian propaganda.

Earlier this year, the company admitted that 120,000 Instagram posts by the Russian military intelligence group the Internet Research Agency reached 20 million Americans in an attempt to sow discord surrounding the 2016 presidential election. They used a variety of image memes about polarizing social issues to try to divide the country. Facebook has since doubled its security staff to 20,000, required identity verification for political advertisers, and has stepped up its effort to delete scores of fake accounts associated with election interference.

The Russian disinformation attacks could still make users weary to learn about voting from social media. But more turnout means a more democratic society, so it’s easy to see the positive impact of Instagram efforts here. The question remains whether this voter drive will end up the subject of congressional scrutiny at another inevitable hearing on social media and political bias.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Apple will require all apps to have a privacy policy as of October 3

Apple will require all apps to have a privacy policy as of October 3

Apple is cracking down on apps that don’t communicate to users how their personal data is used, secured or shared. In an announcement posted to developers through the App Store Connect portal, Apple says that all apps, including those still in testing, will be required to have a privacy policy as of October 3, 2018.

Allowing apps without privacy policies is something of an obvious hole that Apple should have already plugged, given its generally protective nature over user data. But the change is even more critical now that Europe’s GDPR regulations have gone into effect. Though the app makers themselves would be ultimately responsible for their customers’ data, Apple, as the platform where those apps are hosted, has some responsibility here, too.

Platforms today are being held accountable for the behavior of their apps, and the data misuse that may occur as a result of their own policies around those apps.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example, was dragged before the U.S. Senate about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where data from 87 million Facebook users was inappropriately obtained by way of Facebook apps.

Apple’s new requirement, therefore, provides the company with a layer of protection – any app that falls through the cracks going forward will be able to be held accountable by way of its own privacy policy and the statements it contains.

Apple also notes that the privacy policy’s link or text cannot be changed until the developer submits a new version of their app. It seems there’s still a bit of loophole here, though – if developers add a link pointing to an external webpage, they can change what the webpage says at any time after their app is approved.

The new policy will be required for all apps and app updates across the App Store as well as through the TestFlight testing platform as of October 3, says Apple.

What’s not clear is if Apple itself will be reviewing all the privacy policies themselves as part of this change, in order to reject apps with questionable data use policies or user protections. If it does, App Store review times could increase, unless the company hires more staff.

Apple has already taken a stance on apps it finds questionable, like Facebook’s data-sucking VPN app Onavo, which it kicked out of the App Store earlier this month. The app had been live for years, however, and its App Store text did disclose the data it collected was shared with Facebook. The fact that Apple only booted it now seems to indicate it will take a tougher stance on apps which are designed to collect user data as one of their primary functions going forward.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook cracks down on opioid dealers after years of neglect

Facebook cracks down on opioid dealers after years of neglect

Facebook’s role in the opioid crisis could become another scandal following yesterday’s release of harrowing new statistics from the Center for Disease Control. It estimated there were nearly 30,000 synthetic opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2017, up from roughly 20,000 the year before. When recreational drugs like Xanax and OxyContin are adulterated with the more powerful synthetic opioid Fentanyl, the misdosage can prove fatal. Xanax, OxyContin and other pain killers are often bought online, with dealers promoting themselves on social media including Facebook.

Hours after the new stats were reported by The New York Times and others, a source spotted that Facebook’s internal search engine stopped returning posts, Pages and Groups for searches of “OxyContin,” “Xanax,” “Fentanyl” and other opioids, as well as other drugs like “LSD.” Only videos, often news reports deploring opiate abuse, and user profiles whose names match the searches, are now returned. This makes it significantly harder for potential buyers or addicts to connect with dealers through Facebook.

However, some dealers have taken to putting drug titles into their Facebook profile names, allowing accounts like “Fentanyl Kingpin Kilo” to continue showing up in search results. It’s not exactly clear when the search changes occurred.

On some search result pages for queries like “buy xanax,” Facebook is now showing a “Can we help?” box that says “If you or someone you know struggles with opioid misuse, we would like to help you find ways to get free and confidential treatment referrals, as well as information about substance use, prevention and recovery.” A “Get support” button opens the site of The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. department of health and human services that provides addiction resources. Facebook had promised back in June that this feature was coming.

Facebook search results for many drug names now only surface people and video news reports, and no longer show posts, Pages or Groups, which often offered access to dealers

When asked, Facebook confirmed that it’s recently made it harder to find content that facilitates the sale of opioids on the social network. Facebook tells me it’s constantly updating its approach to thwart bad actors who look for new ways to bypass its safeguards. The company confirms it’s now removing content violating its drug policies, and it’s blocked hundreds of terms associated with drug sales from showing results other than links to news about drug abuse awareness. It’s also removed thousands of terms from being suggested as searches in its typeahead.

Prior to recent changes, buyers could easily search for drugs and find posts from dealers with phone numbers to contact

Regarding the “Can we help?” box, Facebook tells me this resource will be available on Instagram in the coming weeks, and it provided this statement:

We recently launched the “Get Help Feature” in our Facebook search function that directs people looking for help or attempting to purchase illegal substances to the SAMHSA national helpline. When people search for help with opioid misuse or attempt to buy opioids, they will be prompted with content at the top of the search results page that will ask them if they would like help finding free and confidential treatment referrals. This will then direct them to the SAMHSA National Helpline. We’ve partnered with the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration to identify these search terms and will continue to review and update to ensure we are showing this information at the most relevant times.

Facebook’s new drug abuse resource feature

The new actions follow Facebook shutting down some hashtags like “#Fentanyl” on Instagram back in April that could let buyers connect with dealers. That only came after activists like Glassbreakers’ Eileen Carey aggressively criticized the company, demanding change. In some cases, when users would report Facebook Groups’ or Pages’ posts as violating its policy prohibiting the sale of regulated goods like drugs, the posts would be removed, but Facebook would leave up the Pages. This mirrors some of the problems it’s had with Infowars around determining the threshold of posts inciting violence or harassing other users necessary to trigger a Page or profile suspension or deletion.

Facebook in some cases deleted posts selling drugs, but not the Pages or Groups carrying them

Before all these changes, users could find tons of vendors illegally selling opioids through posts, photos and Pages on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook also introduced a new ads policy last week requiring addiction treatment centers that want to market to potential patients be certified first to ensure they’re not actually dealers preying on addicts.

Much of the recent criticism facing Facebook has focused on it failing to prevent election interference, privacy scandals and the spread of fake news, plus how hours of browsing its feeds can impact well-being. But its negligence regarding illegal opioid sales has likely contributed to some of the 72,000 drug overdose deaths in America last year. It serves as another example of how Facebook’s fixation on the positive benefits of social networking blinded it to the harsh realities of how its service can be misused.

Last November, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that learning of the depths of the opioid crisis was the “biggest surprise” from his listening tour visiting states across the U.S, and that it was “really saddening to see.”

Zuckerberg meets with Opioid crisis caregivers and the families of victims in Ohio in April 2017

Five months later, Representative David B. McKinley (R-W.VA) grilled Zuckerberg about Facebook’s responsibility surrounding the crisis. “Your platform is still being used to circumvent the law and allow people to buy highly addictive drugs without a prescription” McKinley said during Zuckerberg’s congressional hearings in April. “With all due respect, Facebook is actually enabling an illegal activity, and in so doing, you are hurting people. Would you agree with that statement?” The CEO admitted “there are a number of areas of content that we need to do a better job policing on our service.”

Yet the fact that he called the crisis a “surprise” but failed to take stronger action when some of the drugs causing the epidemic were changing hands via his website is something Facebook hasn’t fully atoned for, nor done enough to stop. The new changes should be the start of a long road to recovery for Facebook itself.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

New York City Council votes to cap licenses for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft

New York City Council votes to cap licenses for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft

The New York City Council has approved legislation that will halt the issuing of new licenses for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

The stated goal of the policy is to give the city time to study the industry’s impact. During that time, ride-hailing companies would only be able to add new vehicles if they’re wheelchair accessible. The legislation also allows the city to set a minimum wage for drivers.

There were drivers demonstrating in favor of the bill package outside City Hall today, and the Independent Drivers Guild (which says it represents more than 60,000 drivers for ride-hailing apps in New York City) praised the decision.

“We hope this is the start of a more fair industry not only here in New York City, but all over the world,” said IDG founder Jim Conigliaro, Jr. in a statement. “We cannot allow the so-called ‘gig economy’ companies to exploit loopholes in the law in order to strip workers of their rights and protections.”

Uber and Lyft, meanwhile, had asked their riders to oppose the legislation, saying that it would result in fewer drivers and less reliable service. They also suggested there were other ways to address the underlying issues, and in fact proposed creating a $100 million “hardship fund” for drivers as an alternative.

NYC drivers

Drivers demonstrating outside City Hall

In response to today’s news, Danielle Filson from Uber’s communications team provided the following statement:

The City’s 12-month pause on new vehicle licenses will threaten one of the few reliable transportation options while doing nothing to fix the subways or ease congestion. We take the Speaker at his word that the pause is not intended to reduce service for New Yorkers and we trust that he will hold the TLC accountable, ensuring that no New Yorker is left stranded. In the meantime, Uber will do whatever it takes to keep up with growing demand and we will not stop working with city and state leaders, including Speaker [Corey] Johnson, to pass real solutions like comprehensive congestion pricing.

The company plans to explore other strategies to keep up with demand. Those include recruiting drivers with licensed vehicles who aren’t currently working with Uber, or finding additional drivers who could drive licensed vehicles at times when they would otherwise be idle.

Lyft, meanwhile, sent this statement from its vice president of public policy Joseph Okpaku:

These sweeping cuts to transportation will bring New Yorkers back to an era of struggling to get a ride, particularly for communities of color and in the outer boroughs. We will never stop working to ensure New Yorkers have access to reliable and affordable transportation in every borough.

The New York Times reports that the cap will take effect as soon as Mayor Bill de Blasio signs the bill.

“Our city is directly confronting a crisis that is driving working New Yorkers into poverty and our streets into gridlock,” de Blasio tweeted. “The unchecked growth of app-based for-hire vehicle companies has demanded action – and now we have it.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook, Google and more unite to let you transfer data between apps

Facebook, Google and more unite to let you transfer data between apps

The Data Transfer Project is a new team-up between tech giants to let you move your content, contacts, and more across apps. Founded by Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft, the DTP today revealed its plans for an open source data portability platform any online service can join. While many companies already let you download your information, that’s not very helpful if you can’t easily upload and use it elsewhere — whether you want to evacuate a social network you hate, back up your data somewhere different, or bring your digital identity along when you try a new app. The DTP’s tool isn’t ready for use yet, but the group today laid out a white paper for how it will work.

Creating an industry standard for data portability could force companies to compete on utility instead of being protected by data lock-in that traps users because it’s tough to switch services. The DTP could potentially offer a solution to a major problem with social networks I detailed in April: you can’t find your friends from one app on another. We’ve asked Facebook for details on if and how you’ll be able to transfer your social connections and friends’ contact info which it’s historically hoarded.

From porting playlists in music streaming services to health data from fitness trackers to our reams of photos and videos, the DTP could be a boon for startups. Incumbent tech giants maintain a huge advantage in popularizing new functionality because they instantly interoperate with a user’s existing data rather than making them start from scratch. Even if a social networking startup builds a better location sharing feature, personalized avatar, or payment system, it might be a lot easier to use Facebook’s clone of it because that’s where your profile, friends, and photos live.

If the DTP gains industry-wide momentum and its founding partners cooperate in good faith rather than at some bare minimum level of involvement, it could lower the barrier for people to experiment with new apps. Meanwhile, the tech giants could argue that the government shouldn’t step in to regulate them or break them up because DTP means users are free to choose whichever app best competes for their data and attention.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Apple announces clean energy fund in China

Apple announces clean energy fund in China
Apple has announced a new investment fund to foster clean energy usage in China. The company isn’t just trying to switch its own offices and facilities. Apple is also working with its suppliers to expand the use of clean energy across the board.
For this fund in particular, Apple and 10 suppliers will invest $300 million over the next four years. Overall, the company expects to finance multiple clean energy projects to produce 1 gigawatt of renewable energy in China.
Apple isn’t going to manage the fund itself. The company is partnering with DWS Group, a division of Deutsche Bank. DWS will also participate in the fund.
The company started working on renewable energy projects a few years ago. Earlier this year, Apple claimed that 100 percent of its offices, retail stores, data centers and Apple-owned facilities are now powered by renewable energy.
Apple is not there yet when it comes to suppliers. The company has launched the Supplier Clean Energy Program back in 2015 with 23 manufacturing partners, and regularly shares updates — Foxconn seems to be missing so far.
By 2020, Apple and its suppliers hope to generate 4 gigawatts of clean energy. And let’s be honest, this is great news for the planet.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

ZTE replaces its CEO and other top execs

ZTE replaces its CEO and other top execs

A number of top executives are out at ZTE as the phone maker works to fulfill the requirements of U.S.-imposed restrictions. Among the big changes up top is new CEO Xu Ziyang, who formerly headed up the company’s operations in Germany. A new CFO, CTO and head of HR have been named, as well, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The move comes a few days after company slowly began to resume some business operations on a one-month waver, following a seemingly D.O.A. seven-year export ban. The ban was announced back in April, after the company failed to appropriately punish top employees over Iran/North Korean trade violations.

Trump, however, was quick to toss the company a lifeline, citing potential job loss in China. The President’s willingness to bail out ZTE has been met with staunch criticism by many, including members of his own party. A bipartisan push in Congress to reinstitute the ban began in Congress last month. Many of the issues appear to stem from ties to the Chinese government that also put Huawei in hot water with U.S. security orgs.

For now, however, the company appears to be springing back to life, as it rushes to comply with the most recent laundry list of restrictions. The moves come in the wake of a $1 billion fine and the effective freeze on operations as the company mulled a way forward without relying on products from U.S. businesses like Google and Qualcomm.

In that time, ZTE has lost billions, and grappled with other…inconveniences. Of course, even with these changes, the company isn’t out of the woods just yet. In addition to on-going financial issues, security and other concerns could be enough to put consumers in the U.S. and other countries off the company altogether.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook quietly relaunches apps for Groups platform after lockdown

Facebook quietly relaunches apps for Groups platform after lockdown

Facebook is becoming a marketplace for enterprise apps that help Group admins manage their communities.

To protect itself and its users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook locked down the Groups API for building apps for Groups. These apps had to go through a human-reviewed approval process, and lost access to Group member lists, plus the names and profile pics of people who posted. Now, approved Groups apps are reemerging on Facebook, accessible to admins through a new in-Facebook Groups apps browser that gives the platform control over discoverability.

Facebook confirmed the new Groups apps browser after our inquiry, telling TechCrunch, “What you’re seeing today is related to changes we announced in April that require developers to go through an updated app review process in order to use the Groups API. As part of this, some developers who have gone through the review process are now able to access the Groups API.”

Facebook wouldn’t comment further, but this Help Center article details how Groups can now add apps. Matt Navarra first spotted the new Groups apps option and tipped us off. Previously, admins would have to find Group management tools outside of Facebook and then use their logged-in Facebook account to give the app permissions to access their Group’s data.

Groups are often a labor of love for admins, but generate tons of engagement for the social network. That’s why the company recently began testing Facebook subscription Groups that allow admins to charge a monthly fee. With the right set of approved partners, the platform offers Group admins some of the capabilities usually reserved for big brands and businesses that pay for enterprise tools to manage their online presences.

Becoming a gateway to enterprise tool sets could make Facebook Groups more engaging, generating more time on site and ad views from users. This also positions Facebook as a natural home for ad campaigns promoting different enterprise tools. And one day, Facebook could potentially try to act more formally as a Groups App Store and try to take a cut of software-as-a-service subscription fees the tool makers charge.

Facebook can’t build every tool that admins might need, so in 2010 it launched the Groups API to enlist some outside help. Moderating comments, gathering analytics and posting pre-composed content were some of the popular capabilities of Facebook Groups apps. But in April, it halted use of the API, announcing that “there is information about people and conversations in groups that we want to make sure is better protected. Going forward, all third-party apps using the Groups API will need approval from Facebook and an admin to ensure they benefit the group.”

Now apps that have received the necessary approval are appearing in this Groups apps browser. It’s available to admins through their Group Settings page. The apps browser lets them pick from a selection of tools like Buffer and Sendible for scheduling posts to their Group, and others for handling commerce messages.

Facebook is still trying to bar the windows of its platform, ensuring there are no more easy ways to slurp up massive amounts of sensitive user data. Yesterday it shut down more APIs and standalone apps in what appears to be an attempt to streamline the platform so there are fewer points of risk and more staff to concentrate on safeguarding the most popular and powerful parts of its developer offering.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has subsided to some degree, with Facebook’s share price recovering and user growth maintaining at standard levels. However, a new report from The Washington Post says the FBI, FTC and SEC will be investigating Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the social network’s executives’ testimony to Congress. Facebook surely wants to get back to concentrating on product, not politics, but must take it slow and steady. There are too many eyes on it to move fast or break anything.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook tests 30-day keyword snoozing to fight spoilers, triggers

Facebook tests 30-day keyword snoozing to fight spoilers, triggers

Don’t want to know the ending to a World Cup game or Avengers movie until you’ve watched it, or just need to quiet an exhausting political topic like “Trump”? Facebook is now testing the option to “snooze” specific keywords so you won’t see them for 30 days in News Feed or Groups. The feature is rolling out to a small percentage of users today. It could make people both more comfortable browsing the social network when they’re trying to avoid something, and not feel guilty posting about sensitive topics.

The feature was first spotted in the Facebook app’s code by Chris Messina on Sunday, who told TechCrunch he found a string for “snooze keywords for 30 days.” We reached out to Facebook on Monday, which didn’t initially respond, but last night provided details we could publish at 5am this morning ahead of an official announcement later today. The test follows the rollout of snoozing people, Pages and Groups from last December.

To snooze a keyword, you first have to find a post that includes it. That kind of defeats the whole purpose, as you might run into the spoiler you didn’t want to see. But when asked about that problem, a Facebook spokesperson told me the company is looking into adding a preemptive snooze option in the next few weeks, potentially in News Feed Preferences. It’s also considering a recurring snooze list so you could easily re-enable hiding your favorite sports team before any game you’ll have to watch on delay.

For now, though, when you see the word, you can hit the drop-down arrow on the post, which will reveal an option to “snooze keywords in this post.” Tapping that reveals a list of nouns from the post you might want to nix, without common words like “the” in the way. So if you used the feature on a post that said “England won its World Cup game against Tunisia! Yes!” the feature would pull out “World Cup,” “England,” and “Tunisia.” Select all that you want to snooze, and posts containing them will be hidden for a month. Currently, the feature only works on text, not images, and won’t suggest synonyms you might want to snooze as well.

The spokesperson says the feature “was something that kept coming up” in Facebook interviews with users. The option applies to any organic content, but you can’t block ads with it, so if you snoozed “Deadpool” you wouldn’t see posts from friends about the movie but still might see ads to buy tickets. Facebook’s excuse for this is that ads belong to “a separate team, separate algorithm,” but surely it just doesn’t want to open itself up to users mass-blocking its revenue driver. The spokesperson also said that snoozing isn’t currently being used for other content and ad targeting purposes.

We asked why users can’t permanently mute keywords like Twitter launched in November 2016, or the way Instagram launched keyword blocking for your posts’ comments in September 2016. Facebook says, “If we’re hearing from people that they want more or less time,” that might get added as the feature rolls out beyond a test. There is some sense to defaulting to only temporary muting, as users might simply forget they blocked their favorite sports team before a big game, and then wouldn’t see it mentioned forever after.

But when it comes to abuse, permanent muting is something Facebook really should offer. Instead, it’s relied on users flagging abuse like racial slurs, and it recently revealed its content moderation guidelines. Some topics that are fine for others could be tough for certain people to see, though, and helping users prevent trauma probably deserves to be prioritized above stopping reality TV spoilers.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch