Tag Archives: Social

Facebook really doesn’t want you to read these emails

Oh hey, y’all, it’s Friday! It’s August! Which means it’s a great day for Facebook to drop a little news it would prefer you don’t notice. News that you won’t find a link to on the homepage of Facebook’s Newsroom — which is replete with colorfully illustrated items it does want you to read (like the puffed up claim that “Now You Can See and Control the Data That Apps and Websites Share With Facebook”).

The blog post Facebook would really prefer you didn’t notice is tucked away in a News sub-section of this website — where it’s been confusingly entitled: Document Holds the Potential for Confusion. And has an unenticing grey image of a document icon to further put you off — just in case you happened to stumble on it after all. It’s almost as if Facebook is saying “definitely don’t click here“…

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So what is Facebook trying to bury in the horse latitudes of summer?

An internal email chain, starting September 2015, which shows a glimpse of what Facebook’s own staff knew about the activity of Cambridge Analytica prior to The Guardian’s December 2015 scoop — when the newspaper broke the story that the controversial (and now defunct) data analytics firm, then working for Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, had harvested data on millions of Facebook users without their knowledge and/or consent, and was using psychological insights gleaned from the data to target voters.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s official timeline of events about what he knew when vis-à-vis the Cambridge Analytica story has always been that his knowledge of the matter dates to December 2015 — when the Guardian published its story.

But the email thread Facebook is now releasing shows internal concerns being raised almost two months earlier.

This chimes with previous (more partial) releases of internal correspondence pertaining to Cambridge Analytica  — which have also come out as a result of legal actions (and which we’ve reported on previously here and here).

If you click to download the latest release, which Facebook suggests it ‘agreed’ with the District of Columbia Attorney General to “jointly make public”, you’ll find a redacted thread of emails in which Facebook staffers raise a number of platform policy violation concerns related to the “political partner space”, writing September 29, 2015, that “many companies seem to be on the edge- possibly over”.

Cambridge Analytica is first identified by name — when it’s described by a Facebook employee as “a sketchy (to say the least) data modelling company that has penetrated our market deeply” — on September 22, 2015, per this email thread. It is one of many companies the staffer writes are suspected of scraping user data — but is also described as “the largest and most aggressive on the conservative side”.

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On September 30, 2015, a Facebook staffer responds to this, asking for App IDs and app names for the apps engaging in scraping user data — before writing: “My hunch is that these apps’ data-scraping is likely non-compliant”.

“It would be very difficult to engage in data-scraping activity as you described while still being compliant with FPPs [Facebook Platform Policies],” this person adds.

Cambridge Analytica gets another direct mention (“the Cambridge app”) on the same day. A different Facebook staffer then chips in with a view that “it’s very likely these companies are not in violation of any of our terms” — before asking for “concrete examples” and warning against calling them to ask questions unless “red flags” have been confirmed.

On October 13, a Facebook employee chips back into the thread with the view that “there are likely a few data policy violations here”.

The email thread goes on to discuss concerns related to additional political partners and agencies using Facebook’s platform at that point, including ForAmerica, Creative Response Concepts, NationBuilder and Strategic Media 21. Which perhaps explains Facebook’s lack of focus on CA — if potentially “sketchy” political activity was apparently widespread.

On December 11 another Facebook staffer writes to ask for an expedited review of Cambridge Analytica — saying it’s “unfortunately… now a PR issue”, i.e. as a result of the Guardian publishing its article.

The same day a Facebook employee emails to say Cambridge Analytica “is hi pri at this point”, adding: “We need to sort this out ASAP” — a month and a half after the initial concern was raised.

Also on December 11 a staffer writes that they had not heard of GSR, the Cambridge-based developer CA hired to extract Facebook user data, before the Guardian article named it. But other Facebook staffers chip in to reveal personal knowledge of the psychographic profiling techniques deployed by Cambridge Analytica and GSR’s Dr Aleksandr Kogan, with one writing that Kogan was their postdoc supervisor at Cambridge University.

Another says they are friends with Michal Kosinsky, the lead author of a personality modelling paper that underpins the technique used by CA to try to manipulate voters — which they described as “solid science”.

A different staffer also flags the possibility that Facebook has worked with Kogan — ironically enough “on research on the Protect & Care team” — citing the “Wait, What thread” and another email, neither of which appear to have been released by Facebook in this ‘Exhibit 1’ bundle.

So we can only speculate on whether Facebook’s decision — around September 2015 — to hire Kogan’s GSR co-founder, Joseph Chancellor, appears as a discussion item in the ‘Wait, What’ thread…

Putting its own spin on the release of these internal emails in a blog post, Facebook sticks to its prior line that “unconfirmed reports of scraping” and “policy violations by Aleksandr Kogan” are two separate issues, writing:

We believe this document has the potential to confuse two different events surrounding our knowledge of Cambridge Analytica. There is no substantively new information in this document and the issues have been previously reported. As we have said many times, including last week to a British parliamentary committee, these are two distinct issues. One involved unconfirmed reports of scraping — accessing or collecting public data from our products using automated means — and the other involved policy violations by Aleksandr Kogan, an app developer who sold user data to Cambridge Analytica. This document proves the issues are separate; conflating them has the potential to mislead people.

It has previously also referred to the internal concerns raised about CA as “rumors”.

“Facebook was not aware that Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica until December 2015. That is a fact that we have testified to under oath, that we have described to our core regulators, and that we stand by today,” it adds now.

It also claims that after an engineer responded to concerns that CA was scraping data and looked into it they were not able to find any such evidence. “Even if such a report had been confirmed, such incidents would not naturally indicate the scale of the misconduct that Kogan had engaged in,” Facebook adds.

The company has sought to dismiss the privacy litigation brought against it by the District of Columbia which is related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal — but has been unsuccessful in derailing the case thus far.

The DC complaint alleges that Facebook allowed third-party developers to access consumers’ personal data, including information on their online behavior, in order to offer apps on its platform, and that it failed to effectively oversee and enforce its platform policies by not taking reasonable steps to protect consumer data and privacy. It also alleges Facebook failed to inform users of the CA breach.

Facebook has also failed to block another similar lawsuit that’s been filed in Washington, DC by Attorney General Karl Racine — which has alleged lax oversight and misleading privacy standards.

Pew: Mobile and social media users in emerging markets have more diverse social networks

The latest study from Pew Research Center takes a look at the impact mobile technology, including the use of smartphones and social media, is having on the diversity of people’s social network in emerging markets. For the purpose of the study, Pew surveyed mobile users in eleven key markets: Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, South Africa, Kenya, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Tunisia, Jordan, and Lebanon. It found that users in these markets had broader social networks than those without smartphones and social media.

In the U.S., we’ve been concerned with social media’s ability to create “filter bubbles” — meaning how we surround ourselves online with people who hold the same opinions as us, which is then reinforced by social media’s engagement-focused algorithms. This leads us to believe, sometimes in error, that what we think is the most correct and most popular view.

According to Pew’s study, emerging markets are experiencing a somewhat different phenomenon.

Instead of isolation, the study found that smartphone users in these markets, and particularly those who also used social media, were more regularly exposed to people with different racial and ethnic backgrounds, different religious preferences, different political parties, and different income levels, compared to those without a smartphone.

In Mexico, for example, 57% of smartphone owners regularly interacted with people of other religions, while only 38% of those without a smartphone did. And more than half (54%) interact with people who supported different political parties. They were also 24% more like to interact with people of different income levels, and 17% more likely to interact with people of different ethnic or racial backgrounds.

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These sorts of trends help up across the nations studied, Pew noted, with a median of 66% saying they interacted with people with different income levels, 51% saying they interacted with a those of different race or ethnicity, 50% saying they interacted with those having different religious views, and a median 44% saying they interacted with those who supported a different political party.

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The use of social media and messaging apps was found to be a huge contributor here, as it made people more likely to encounter people different from them, the study also said.

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The report, however, isn’t claiming that smartphone and the related social media use are the cause of this increase in diversity in these people’s lives. There may be other reasons for that. Smartphone owners, in general, may have more resources and money — they own a smartphone, after all — and this alone could help expose them to a more diverse group of people.

That said, smartphones are helping people stay connected to distant family and friends, and build out online networks of people they don’t ever see in person.

More than half of people in most of the surveyed countries said that only see half — or fewer — of the people they call or text in person. 93% said they keep in touch with far-flung contacts. And a median of 46% said they see their few or none of Facebook friends regularly.

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All this connecting isn’t seen as being fully positive, however.

An earlier Pew report found that users in these 11 countries believe the internet and social media are making people more divided in their opinions and only sometimes more accepting of different views. Exposure to diversity and acceptance of it are different things.

The new report also gets into how smartphones are used. For example, a median of 82% said they texted, 69% took photos or videos, 61% looked up health information, 47% looked up news and political information, and 37% looked up information about government resources.

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It also examined smartphones’ impact on digital divides, noting that people with access to these devices and social media, as well as younger people, those with higher levels of education and men, were gaining more benefits than others.

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The study is based on in-person interviews conducted by D3 Systems, Inc. and the results are based on national samples, notes Pew.

The full report is available here, with deeper dives on activities and data by individual countries.

Tumblr’s next step forward with Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg

After months of rumors, Verizon finally sold off Tumblr for a reported $3 million — a fraction of what Yahoo paid for the once might blogging service back in 2013.

The media conglomerate (which also owns TechCrunch) was clearly never quite sure what to do with the property after gobbling it up as part of its 2016 Yahoo acquisition. All parties has since come to the conclusion that Tumblr simply wasn’t a good fit under either the Verizon or Yahoo umbrella, amounting to a $1.1 billion mistake.

For Tumblr, however, the story may still have a happy ending. By all accounts, its new home at Automattic is far better fit. The service joins a portfolio that includes popular blogging service WordPress.com, spam filtering service Akismet and long-form storytelling platform, Longreads.

In an interview, this week, Automattic founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg discussed Tumblr’s history and the impact of the poorly received adult content restrictions. He also shed some light on where Tumblr goes from here, including a potential increased focused on multimedia such as podcasting.

Brian Heater: I’m curious how [your meetings with Tumblr staff] went. What’s the feeling on the team right now? What are the concerns? How are people feeling about the transition?

Twitter picks up team from narrative app Lightwell in its latest effort to improve conversations

Twitter’s ongoing, long-term efforts to make conversations easier to follow and engage with on its platform is getting a boost with the company’s latest acquihire. The company has picked up the team behind Lightwell, a startup that had built a set of developer tools to build interactive, narrative apps, for an undisclosed sum. Lightwell’s founder and CEO, Suzanne Xie, is becoming a director of product leading Twitter’s Conversations initiative, with the rest of her small four-person team joining her on the conversations project.

(Sidenote: Sara Haider, who had been leading the charge on rethinking the design of Conversations on Twitter, most recently through the release of twttr, Twitter’s newish prototyping app, announced that she would be moving on to a new project at the company after a short break. I understand twttr will continue to be used to openly test conversation tweaks and other potential changes to how the app works. )

The Lightwell/Twitter news was announced late yesterday both by Lightwell itself and Twitter’s VP of product Keith Coleman. A Twitter spokesperson also confirmed the deal to TechCrunch in a short statement today: “We are excited to welcome Suzanne and her team to Twitter to help drive forward the important work we are doing to serve the public conversation,” he said. Interestingly, Twitter is on a product hiring push it seems. Other recent hires Coleman noted were Other recent product hires include Angela Wise and Tom Hauburger. Coincidentally, both joined from autonomous companies, respectively Waymo and Voyage.

To be clear, this is more acqui-hire than hire: only the Lightwell team (of what looks like three people) is joining Twitter. The Lightwell product will no longer be developed, but it is not going away, either. Xie noted in a separate Medium post that apps that have already been built (or plan to be built) on the platform will continue to work. It will also now be free to use.

Lightwell originally started life in 2012 as Hullabalu, as one of the many companies producing original-content interactive children’s stories for smartphones and tablets. In a sea of children-focused storybook apps, Hullabalu’s stories stood out not just because of the distinctive cast of characters that the startup had created, but for how the narratives were presented: part book, part interactive game, the stories engaged children and moved narratives along by getting the users to touch and drag elements across the screen.

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After some years, Hullabalu saw an opportunity to package its technology and make it available as a platform for all developers, to be used not just by other creators of children’s content, but advertisers and more. It seems the company shifted at that time to make Lightwell its main focus.

The Hullabalu apps remained live on the App Store, even when the company moved on to focus on Lightwell. However, they hadn’t been updated in two years’ time. Xie says they will remain as is.

In its startup life, the company went through YCombinator, TechStars, and picked up some $6.5 million in funding (per Crunchbase), from investors that included Joanne Wilson, SV Angel, Vayner, Spark Labs, Great Oak, Scout Ventures and more.

If turning Hullabalu into Lightwell was a pivot, then the exit to Twitter can be considered yet another interesting shift in how talent and expertise optimized for one end can be repurposed to meet another.

One of Twitter’s biggest challenges over the years has been trying to create a way to make conversations (also narratives of a kind) easy to follow — both for those who are power users, and for those who are not and might otherwise easily be put off from using the product.

The crux of the problem has been that Twitter’s DNA is about real-time rivers of chatter that flow in one single feed, while conversations by their nature linger around a specific topic and become hard to follow when there are too many people talking. Trying to build a way to fit the two concepts together has foxed the company for a long time now.

At its best, bringing in a new team from the outside will potentially give Twitter a fresh perspective on how to approach conversations on the platform, and the fact that Lightwell has been thinking about creative ways to present narratives gives them some cred as a group that might come up completely new concepts for presenting conversations.

At a time when it seems that the conversation around Conversations had somewhat stagnated, it’s good to see a new chapter opening up.

YouTube is closing its private messages feature…and many kids are outraged

People love to share YouTube videos among their friends, which is why in mid-2017 YouTube launched a new in-app messaging feature that would allow YouTube users to private send their friends videos and chat within a dedicated tab in the YouTube mobile app. That feature is now being shut down, the company says. After September 18, the ability to direct message friends on YouTube itself will be removed.

The change was first spotted by 9to5Google, which noted that YouTube Messages came to the web in May of last year.

YouTube, in its announcement about the closure, doesn’t offer much insight into its decision.

While the company says that its more recent work has been focused on public conversations with updates to comments, posts, and Stories, it doesn’t explain why Messages is no longer a priority.

A likely reason, of course, is that the feature was under-utilized. Most people today are heavily invested in their own preferred messaging apps — whether that’s Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, iMessage or others.

Google, meanwhile, can’t seem to stop itself from building messaging apps and experiences. When YouTube Messages launched, Google was also invested in Allo (RIP), Duo, Hangouts, Meet, Google Voice, Android Messages/RCS, and was poised to transition users from Gchat (aka Google Talk) in Gmail to Hangouts Chat.

However, based on the nearly 500 angry comments replying to Google’s post about the closure, it seems that YouTube Messages may have been preferred by many young users.

Young…as in children.

 

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A sizable number of commenters are complaining that YouTube was the “only place” they could message their friends because they didn’t have a phone or weren’t allowed to give out their phone number.

Some said they used the feature to “talk to their mom” or because they weren’t allowed to use social media.

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It appears that many children had been using YouTube Messages as a sort of workaround to their parents’ block on messaging apps on their own phones, or as a way to communicate from their tablets or via web, likely without parents’ knowledge.

That’s not a good look for YouTube at this time, given its issues around inappropriate videos aimed at children, child exploitation, child predators, and regulatory issues.

The video platform in February came under fire for putting kids at risk of child predators. The company had to shut off comments on videos featuring minors, after the discovery of a pedophile ring that had been communicating via YouTube’s comments section.

Notably, the FTC is also now following up on complaints about YouTube’s possible violations of COPPA, a U.S. Children’s Privacy law. Child advocacy and consumers groups complain that YouTube has lured children under 13 into its digital playground, where it collects their data and targets them with ads, without parental consent.

Though some people may have used YouTube Messages to promote their channel or to share videos with family members and friends, it’s clear this usage hadn’t gone mainstream. Otherwise, YouTube wouldn’t be walking away from a popular product.

The feature also had issues with spam — much like Google+ did —  as there were unwelcome requests from strangers, at times.

YouTube says users will still be able to share videos through the “Share” feature which connects to other social networks.

The company declined to comment beyond what it shared on the forum post.

‘This is Your Life in Silicon Valley’: The League founder and CEO Amanda Bradford on modern dating, and whether Bumble is a ‘real’ startup

Welcome to this week’s transcribed edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. We’re running an experiment for Extra Crunch members that puts This is Your Life in Silicon Valley in words – so you can read from wherever you are.

This is your Life in Silicon Valley was originally started by Sunil Rajaraman and Jascha Kaykas-Wolff in 2018. Rajaraman is a serial entrepreneur and writer (Co-Founded Scripted.com, and is currently an EIR at Foundation Capital), Kaykas-Wolff is the current CMO at Mozilla and ran marketing at BitTorrent.

Rajaraman and Kaykas-Wolff started the podcast after a series of blog posts that Sunil wrote for The Bold Italic went viral. The goal of the podcast is to cover issues at the intersection of technology and culture – sharing a different perspective of life in the Bay Area. Their guests include entrepreneurs like Sam Lessin, journalists like Kara Swisher and Mike Isaac, politicians like Mayor Libby Schaaf and local business owners like David White of Flour + Water.

This week’s edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley features Amanda Bradford – Founder/CEO of The League. Amanda talks about modern dating, its limitations, its flaws, why ‘The League’ will win. Amanda provides her candid perspective on other dating startups in a can’t-miss portion of the podcast.

Amanda talks about her days at Salesforce and how it influenced her decision to build a dating tech product that focused on data, and funnels. Amanda walks through her own process of finding her current boyfriend on ‘The League’ and how it came down to meeting more people. And that the flaw with most online dating is that people do not meet enough people due to filter bubbles, and lack of open criteria.

Amanda goes in on all of the popular dating sites, including Bumble and others, providing her take on what’s wrong with them. She even dishes on Raya and Tinder – sharing what she believes are how they should be perceived by prospective daters. The fast-response portion of this podcast where we ask Amanda about the various dating sites really raised some eyebrows and got some attention.

We ask Amanda about the incentives of online dating sites, and how in a way they are created to keep members online as long as possible. Amanda provides her perspective on how she addresses this inherent conflict at The League, and how many marriages have been shared among League members to date.

We ask Amanda about AR/VR dating and what the future will look like. Will people actually meet in person in the future? Will it be more like online worlds where we wear headsets and don’t actually interact face to face anymore? The answers may surprise you. We learn how this influences The League’s product roadmap.

The podcast eventually goes into dating stories from audience members – including some pretty wild online dating stories from people who are not as they seem. We picked two audience members at random to talk about their entertaining online dating stories and where they led. The second story really raised eyebrows and got into the notion that people go at great lengths to hide their real identities.

Ultimately, we get at the heart of what online dating is, and what the future holds for it.   If you care about the future of relationships, online dating, data, and what it all means this episode is for you.

For access to the full transcription, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Sunil Rajaraman: I just want to check, are we recording? Because that’s the most important question. We’re recording, so this is actually a podcast and not just three people talking randomly into microphones.

I’m Sunil Rajaraman, I’m co-host of this podcast, This is Your Life in Silicon Valley, and Jascha Kaykas-Wolff is my co-host, we’ve been doing this for about a year now, we’ve done 30 shows, and we’re pleased today to welcome a very special guest, Jascha.

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff: Amanda.

Amanda Bradford: Hello everyone.

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Amanda Bradford. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

Kaykas-Wolff: We’re just going to stare at you and make it uncomfortable.

Bradford: Like Madonna.

Kaykas-Wolff: Yeah, so the kind of backstory and what’s important for everybody that’s in the audience to know is that this podcast is not a pitch for a product, it’s not about a company, it’s about the Bay Area. And the Bay Area is kind of special, but it’s also a little bit fucked up. I think we all kind of understand that, being here.

So what we want to do in the podcast is talk to people who have a very special, unique relationship with the Bay Area, no matter creators that are company builders, that are awesome entrepreneurs, that are just really cool and interesting people, and today we are really, really lucky to have an absolutely amazing entrepreneur, and also pretty heavy hitter in the technology scene. In a very specific and very special category of technology that Sunil really, really likes. The world of dating.

Rajaraman: Yeah, so it’s funny, the backstory to this is, Jascha have both been married, what, long time-

Kaykas-Wolff: Long time.

Rajaraman: And we have this weird fascination with online dating because we see a lot of people going through it, and it’s a baffling world, and so I want to demystify it a bit with Amanda Bradford today, the founder CEO of The League.

Bradford: You guys are like all of the married people looking at the single people in the petri dishes.

Rajaraman: So, I’ve done the thing where we went through it with the single friends who have the app, swiping through on their behalf, so it’s sort of like a weird thing.

Bradford: I know, we’re like a different species, aren’t we?

Facebook unveils new tools to control how websites share your data for ad-targeting

Last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company would be creating a “Clear History” feature that deletes the data that third-party websites and apps share with Facebook. Today, the company is actually launching that feature in select geographies.

It’s gotten a new name in the meantime: Off-Facebook Activity. David Baser, the director of product management leading Facebook’s privacy and data use team, told me the name should make it clear to everyone “exactly what kind of data” is being revealed here.

In a demo video, Baser showed me how a user could bring up a list of everyone sending data to Facebook, and then tap on a specific app or website to learn what data is being shared. If you decide that you don’t like this data-sharing, you can block it, either on a website and app level, or across-the-board.

Facebook has of course been facing greater scrutiny over data-sharing over the past couple of years, thanks to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This, along with concerns about misinformation spreading on the platform, has led the company to launch a number of new transparency tools around advertising and content.

In this case, Facebook isn’t deleting the data that a third party might have collected about your behavior. Instead, it’s removing the connection between that data and your personal information on Facebook (any old data associated with an account is deleted, as well).

Baser said that disconnecting your off-Facebook activity will have the immediate effect of logging you out of any website or app where you used your Facebook login. More broadly, he argued that maintaining this connection benefits both consumers and businesses, because it leads to more relevant advertising — if you were looking at a specific type of shoe on a retailer’s website, Facebook could then show you ads for those shoes.

Still, Baser said, “We at Facebook want people to know this is happening.” So it’s not hiding these options away deep within a hidden menu, but making them accessible from the main settings page.

He also suggested that no other company has tried to create this kind of “comprehensive surface” for letting users control their data, so Facebook wanted to figure out the right approach that wouldn’t overwhelm or confuse users. For example, he said, “Every single aspect of this product follows the principle of progressive disclosure” — so you get with a high-level overview at first, but can see more information as you move deeper into the tools.

Facebook says it worked with privacy experts to develop this feature — and behind the scenes, it had to change the way it stores this data to make it viewable and controllable by users.

I asked about whether Facebook might eventually add tools to control certain types of data, like purchase history or location data, but Baser said the company found that “very few people understood the data enough” to want something like that.

“I agree with your instinct, but that’s not the feedback we got,” he said, adding that if there’s significant user demand, “Of course, we’d consider it.”

The Off-Facebook Activity tool is rolling out initially in Ireland, South Korea and Spain before expanding to additional countries.

Twitter blocks state-controlled media outlets from advertising on its social network

Twitter is now blocking state-run media outlets from advertising on its platform.

The new policy was announced just hours after the company identified an information operation involving hundreds of accounts linked to China as part of an effort to “sow political discord” around events in Hong Kong after weeks of protests in the region. Over the weekend more than 1 million Hong Kong residents took to the streets to protest what they see as an encroachment by the mainland Chinese government over their rights.

State-funded media enterprises that do not rely on taxpayer dollars for their financing and don’t operate independently of the governments that finance them will no longer be allowed to advertise on the platform, Twitter said in a statement. That leaves a big exception for outlets like the Associated Press, the British Broadcasting Corp., Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio, according to reporting from BBC reporter, Dave Lee.

The affected accounts will be able to use Twitter, but can’t access the company’s advertising products, Twitter said in a statement.

“We believe that there is a difference between engaging in conversation with accounts you choose to follow and the content you see from advertisers in your Twitter experience which may be from accounts you’re not currently following. We have policies for both but we have higher standards for our advertisers,” Twitter said in its statement.

The policy applies to news media outlets that are financially or editorially controlled by the state, Twitter said. The company said it will make its policy determinations on the basis of media freedom and independence, including editorial control over articles and video, the financial ownership of the publication, the influence or interference governments may exert over editors, broadcasters and journalists, and political pressure or control over the production and distribution process.

Twitter said the advertising rules wouldn’t apply to entities that are focused on entertainment, sports or travel, but if there’s news in the mix, the company will block advertising access.

Affected outlets have 30 days before they’re removed from Twitter and the company is halting all existing campaigns.

State media has long been a source of disinformation and was cited as part of the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 election. Indeed, Twitter has booted state-financed news organizations before. In October 2017, the company banned Russia Today and Sputnik from advertising on its platform (although a representative from RT claimed that Twitter encouraged it to advertise ahead of the election).

 

Twitter to test a new filter for spam and abuse in the Direct Message inbox

Twitter is testing a new way to filter unwanted messages from your Direct Message inbox. Today, Twitter allows users to set their Direct Message inbox as being open to receiving messages from anyone, but this can invite a lot of unwanted messages, including abuse. While one solution is to adjust your settings so only those you follow can send your private messages, that doesn’t work for everyone. Some people — like reporters, for example — want to have an open inbox in order to have private conversations and receive tips.

This new experiment will test a filter that will move unwanted messages, including those with offensive content or spam, to a separate tab.

Instead of lumping all your messages into a single view, the Message Requests section will include the messages from people you don’t follow, and below that, you’ll find a way to access these newly filtered messages.

Users would have to click on the “Show” button to even read these, which protects them from having to face the stream of unwanted content that can pour in at times when the inbox is left open.

And even upon viewing this list of filtered messages, all the content itself isn’t immediately visible.

In the case that Twitter identifies content that’s potentially offensive, the message preview will say the message is hidden because it may contain offensive content. That way, users can decide if they want to open the message itself or just click the delete button to trash it.

The change could allow Direct Messages to become a more useful tool for those who prefer an open inbox, as well as an additional means of clamping down on online abuse.

It’s also similar to how Facebook Messenger handles requests — those from people you aren’t friends with are relocated to a separate Message Requests area. And those that are spammy or more questionable are in a hard-to-find Filtered section below that.

It’s not clear why a feature like this really requires a “test,” however — arguably, most people would want junk and abuse filtered out. And those who for some reason did not, could just toggle a setting to turn the filter off.

Instead, this feels like another example of Twitter’s slow pace when it comes to making changes to clamp down on abuse. Facebook Messenger has been filtering messages in this way since late 2017. Twitter should just launch a change like this, instead of “testing” it.

The idea of hiding — instead of entirely deleting — unwanted content is something Twitter has been testing in other areas, too. Last month, for example, it began piloting a new “Hide Replies” feature in Canada, which allows users to hide unwanted replies to their tweets so they’re not visible to everyone. The tweets aren’t deleted, but rather placed behind an extra click — similar to this Direct Message change.

Twitter is updating is Direct Message system in other ways, too.

At a press conference this week, Twitter announced several changes coming to its platform including a way to follow topics, plus a search tool for the Direct Message inbox, as well as support for iOS Live Photos as GIFs, the ability to reorder photos, and more.

Twitter leads $100M round in top Indian regional social media platform ShareChat

Is there room for another social media platform? ShareChat, a four-year-old social network in India that serves tens of million of people in regional languages, just answered that question with a $100 million financing round led by global giant Twitter .

Other than Twitter, TrustBridge Partners, and existing investors Shunwei Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, SAIF Capital, India Quotient and Morningside Venture Capital also participated in the Series D round of ShareChat.

The new round, which pushes ShareChat’s all-time raise to $224 million, valued the firm at about $650 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. ShareChat declined to comment on the valuation.

sharechat screenshot

Screenshot of Sharechat home page on web

“Twitter and ShareChat are aligned on the broader purpose of serving the public conversation, helping the world learn faster and solve common challenges. This investment will help ShareChat grow and provide the company’s management team access to Twitter’s executives as thought partners,” said Manish Maheshwari, managing director of Twitter India, in a prepared statement.

Twitter, like many other Silicon Valley firms, counts India as one of its key markets. And like Twitter, other Silicon Valley firms are also increasingly investing in Indian startups.

ShareChat serves 60 million users each month in 15 regional languages, Ankush Sachdeva, co-founder and CEO of the firm, told TechCrunch in an interview. The platform currently does not support English, and has no plans to change that, Sachdeva said.

That choice is what has driven users to ShareChat, he explained. The early incarnation of the social media platform supported English language. It saw most of its users choose English as their preferred language, but this also led to another interesting development: Their engagement with the app significantly reduced.

The origin story

“For some reason, everyone wanted to converse in English. There was an inherent bias to pick English even when they did not know it.” (Only about 10% of India’s 1.3 billion people speak English. Hindi, a regional language, on the other hand, is spoken by about half a billion people, according to official government figures.)

So ShareChat pulled support for English. Today, an average user spends 22 minutes on the app each day, Sachdeva said. The learning in the early days to remove English is just one of the many things that has shaped ShareChat to what it is today and led to its growth.

In 2014, Sachdeva and two of his friends — Bhanu Singh and Farid Ahsan, all of whom met at the prestigious institute IIT Kanpur — got the idea of building a debate platform by looking at the kind of discussions people were having on Facebook groups.

They identified that cricket and movie stars were popular conversation topics, so they created WhatsApp groups and aggressively posted links to those groups on Facebook to attract users.

It was then when they built chatbots to allow users to discover different genres of jokes, recommendations for phones and food recipes, among other things. But they soon realized that users weren’t interested in most of such offerings.

“Nobody cared about our smartphone recommendations. All they wanted was to download wallpapers, ringtones, copy jokes and move on. They just wanted content.”

sharechat team

So in 2015, Sachdeva and company moved on from chatbots and created an app where users can easily produce, discover and share content in the languages they understand. (Today, user generated content is one of the key attractions of the platform, with about 15% of its user base actively producing content.)

A year later, ShareChat, like tens of thousands of other businesses, was in for a pleasant surprise. India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, launched his new telecom network Reliance Jio, which offered users access to the bulk of data at little to no charge for an extended period of time.

This immediately changed the way millions of people in the country, who once cared about each megabyte they consumed online, interacted with the internet. On ShareChat people quickly started to move from sharing jokes and other messages in text format to images and then videos.

Path ahead and monetization

That momentum continues to today. ShareChat now plans to give users more incentive — including money — and tools to produce content on the platform to drive engagement. “There remains a huge hunger for content in vernacular languages,” Sachdeva said.

Speaking of money, ShareChat has experimented with ads on the app and its site, but revenue generation isn’t currently its primary focus, Sachdeva said. “We’re in the Series D now so there is obviously an obligation we have to our investors to make money. But we all believe that we need to focus on growth at this stage,” he said.

ShareChat also has many users in Bangladesh, Nepal and the Middle East, where many users speak Indian regional languages. But the startup currently plans to focus largely on expanding its user base in India.

It will use the new capital to strengthen the technology infrastructure and hire more tech talent. Sachdeva said ShareChat is looking to open an office in San Francisco to hire local engineers there.

A handful of local and global giants have emerged in India in recent years to cater to people in small cities and villages, who are just getting online. Pratilipi, a storytelling platform has amassed more than 5 million users, for instance. It recently raised $15 million to expand its user base and help users strike deals with content studios.

Perhaps no other app poses a bigger challenge to ShareChat than TikTok, an app where users share short-form videos. TikTok, owned by one of the world’s most valued startups, has over 120 million users in India and sees content in many Indian languages.

But the app — with its ever growing ambitions — also tends to land itself in hot water in India every few weeks. In all sensitive corners of the country. On that front, ShareChat has an advantage. Over the years, it has emerged as an outlier in the country that has strongly supported proposed laws by the Indian government that seek to make social apps more accountable for content that circulates on their platforms.