Posts tagged with "Facebook"

Double take: Winklevoss brothers buy a startup founded by identical twins

November 20, 2019

They are best-known for losing the Facebook concept—which they had named ConnectU—to the ambitious Mark Zuckerberg when they all attended Harvard University. And for winning $65 million in a suit against Zuckerberg in 2008.

But now the Winklevoss twins—Tyler and Cameron, age 38—have become crypto entrepreneurs. And Bloomberg reported on November 19 that they have made their first-ever acquisition, from a duo of entrepreneurs to whom they bear a strong resemblance.

Duncan and Griffin Cock Foster, 25, are also identical twins, Bloomberg says. While the Winklevoss brothers rowed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the other twins rowed in high school. That said, the Cock Fosters weren’t involved in the birthing of the social network Facebook.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Tyler Winklevoss told the financial news outlet in a phone interview. “There are so many great parallels, it was just the right fit.”

The two sets of twins came together over their belief in the future of so-called nifties. A niftie may be a cat from the CryptoKitties game, in which players breed the digital felines, or a token representing ownership in art, stamps, and comic books—an asset that is being kept track of via a blockchain digital ledger and is tradeable.

To buy such collectibles, people typically have to open digital currency wallets, buy cryptocurrency on an exchange—a process that can take hours and can be confusing.

The Cock Fosters’ Nifty Gateway, which the Winklevosses’ Gemini Trust bought for an undisclosed sum, lets anyone pay for nifties with a credit card, via a streamlined experience similar to checking out through Amazon.

The company currently lets people buy nifties from Open Sea marketplace and CryptoKitties and Gods Unchained games.

It doesn’t disclose its customer numbers or payment volume. But Duncan Cock Foster forecasts that nifties could one day attract as many as one billion collectors, Bloomberg reports. The Winklevosses expect that the market for nifties will be as big as the collectibles, art, and gaming markets combined.

 “We believe in this future where all your assets will be on a blockchain and you may want to buy, sell and store them, and Nifty fits that vision,” Tyler Winklevoss said.

While initially Gemini, with more than 220 employees, and Nifty, with three workers, will continue to operate as stand-alone companies, that could change, and some of Nifty’s features could make way into Gemini services.

Duncan now owns about 300 nifties; and his brother, 100. While most people currently don’t even know what the word means, the two sets of twins hope that will change.

“All great companies, all great ideas there’s a period where you see a truth and many other people don’t, and you have to have that conviction,” Tyler Winklevoss said.

Research contact: @business

Parallel universes: Dems raising $75 million to go head-to-head with GOP on social media

November 5, 2019

Two can play that game: A progressive organization called Acronym is plunging into the presidential campaign—revealing plans to spend $75 million on digital advertising that will be used to counterbalance and neutralize President Donald Trump’s early spending advantage in key 2020 battleground states, The New York Times reported on November 4.

And such a rampart may well be needed: Trump has spent more than $26 million so far nationally just on Facebook and Google, the news outlet says. That’s more than the four top-polling Democrats—Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg—have spent in total on those platforms.

Since its creation as a nonprofit group dedicated to building power and digital infrastructure for the progressive movement in March 2017, Acronym claims to have “run dozens of targeted media programs to educate, inspire, register, and mobilize voters,” as well as to have “worked with dozens of partners to accelerate their advocacy programs and investments.”

In the 2018 cycle, Acronym developed new digital tools and strategies to encourage voters to register to vote and show up at the polls on Election Day. Through these programs, Acronym and its affiliated political action committee, Pacronym, claim to have helped elect 65 progressive candidates across the country.

Photo source: AcronymAnd in January 2019, the group launched Shadow, a technology company focused on building accessible, user-centered products to enable progressive organizers to run smarter campaigns

Political organizers and pundits agree that such an effort is necessary. “The gun on this general election does not start when we have a nominee; it started months ago,” said David Plouffe, who managed Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and was a key adviser to him in 2012, and who recently joined Acronym’s board. ”If the things that need to happen don’t happen in these battleground states between now and May or June, our nominee will never have time to catch up.“

In an interview with the Times, Plouffe and Tara McGowan, the founder and chief executive of Acronym, said their digital campaign would kick off immediately, with a heavy focus on shaping how the public views Trump and the Democratic Party during the primary season, well before a nominee emerges.

“Our nominee is going to be broke, tired, have to pull together the party; and turn around on a dime and run a completely different race for a completely different audience,” Plouffe said.

“There is an enormous amount of danger between now and then,” he added. “If the hole is too steep to dig out of, they’re not going to win.”

The campaign, which the organization is calling “Four is Enough,” will focus initially on key swing states: Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. One state that is historically a battleground was notably missing from the initial list: Florida.

The effort will feature advertisements across multiple digital platforms, including Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Hulu, and Pandora. There will be original content, such as videos and animations, as well as boosting local news coverage that portrays Trump, his administration,and his agenda in a harsh light.

McGowan told the news outlet that for months her group had been raising the alarm about the president’s early online spending advantage.

“It started to feel as though we were really screaming into the abyss,” she said. So

McGowan told the Times that the group had already raised approximately 40% of the planned $75 million budget. She noted that Plouffe has joined as both a political adviser and to help raise funds. The spending will be made across two groups, Acronym, which is a nonprofit that does not disclose its donors, and Pacronym, a political action committee, which does. (The group’s winking moniker is a poke at the frequent practice of settling on a meaningful series of words to form an acronym for a nonprofit; they have skipped that alphabet-soup step entirely.)

“We’re absolutely, as a party, not doing enough and I don’t know that $75 million is enough,” McGowan said. “We can’t afford to not do this work right now.” Of the fact that some of her group’s donors would remain undisclosed, she said, “We have to play on the field that exists,” noting that Trump is aided by such funds, as well.

Research contact: @nytimes

Facebook gets grief for including Breitbart in News tab

October 29, 2019

Can Facebook do anything that doesn’t draw fire from users, regulators, legislators, and the media? After years of complaints from American news outlets that the social media site has The Washington Post reports that Facebook has agreed to compensate at least some news organizations as part of a specialized “News” tab meant to steer users toward curated national and local news stories.

But the project immediately raised new controversy when it became known that Breitbart News—a Web outlet linked to right-wing causes that was once run by former Trump adviser Steve Bannonhad been included among the 200 media outlets participating in the program.

“Given that Facebook is putting actual news outlets in the same category as Breitbart, actual news outlets should consider quickly withdrawing from the program,” Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters for America, a liberal nonprofit media watchdog, told the Post.

At an event in New York to launch the project, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended Breitbart’s inclusion. “You want to include a breadth of content to make sure all different topics can be covered,” Zuckerberg said.

Other outlets participating include The Washington Post, The New York Times, News Corp., BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, Bloomberg News, Fox News, NBCUniversal, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

The News tab marks the latest iteration of Facebook’s approach to online news, the Post reports. Before January 2018, the company had been a leading distributor of news, but that role was dogged by the presence in its feed of false and misleading information, as well as by allegations that its news feed and other features tilted toward liberal viewpoints

Zuckerberg did not go into specifics about how different publishers would be compensated, and media analysts expressed skepticism that the arrangement will help the small and medium local outlets that have been most seriously undercut by the rise of online news distribution.

“The vast majority of local news outlets are not included, and that is part of the news ecosystem that’s most at risk,” David Chavern, the president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, a trade association of news publishers, told The Washington Post.

Chavern called Facebook’s agreement to pay at least some news outlets for their content a step in the right direction, noting that tech platforms have been “uniquely unwilling to pay for news and quality journalism.”

The News tab already is available to more than 200,000 Facebook users in the United States, with a broader rollout planned for early next year. The new service, Facebook executives say, should make it easier for users to locate the day’s major headlines, as well as stories geared toward particular topics or locales.

The initiative could reach 20 million to 30 million people over a few years, Zuckerberg said.

 Research contact: @washingtonpost

Why Facebook may know when you last had sex

September 11, 2019

Did you think that you and your partner or spouse were the only ones who knew (maybe, aside from your next-door neighbors) when you two last had sex? Wrong. Facebook may know, too, according to a September 9 report in The New York Times. And they also may know when it’s “that time of the month.”

How is that possible?

According to the UK-based privacy watchdog, Privacy International, at least two menstruation- and ovulation-tracking apps, Maya and MIA Fem, have shared intimate details of users’ sexual health with Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, as well as other entities.

In some cases, the data shared with external social media (which are self-recorded by users in the app) included:

  • When a user last had sex,
  • The type of contraception used,
  • Her mood, and
  • Whether she was ovulating.

The Times notes, “The findings raise questions about the security of our most private information in an age where employers, insurers, and advertisers can use data to discriminate or target certain categories of people.”

The information was shared with the social media giant via the Facebook Software Development Kit, a product that allows developers to create apps for specific operating systems, track analytics, and monetize their apps through Facebook’s advertising network. Privacy International found that Maya and MIA began sharing data with Facebook as soon as a user installed the app on her phone and opened it, even before a privacy policy was signed.

Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne told the new outlet that advertisers did not have access to the sensitive health information shared by these apps. In a statement, he said Facebook’s ad system “does not leverage information gleaned from people’s activity across other apps or websites” when advertisers choose target users by interestBuzzFeed first reported the news.

However, the fact is that today, many apps still are not subject to the same rules as most health data.

Some of the apps even have come under scrutiny as powerful monitoring tools for employers and health insurers, which have aggressively pushed to gather more data about their workers’ lives than ever before under the banner of corporate wellness. Plus, it appears the data could be shared more broadly than many users recognize, as flagged by the Privacy International study.

Several period- and pregnancy-tracking apps have been called out for sharing health data with women’s employers and insurance companies, as well as for security flaws that reveal intimate information, the Times reports.

Deborah C. Peel, a psychiatrist and founder of the nonprofit Patient Privacy Rights, based in Austin, Texas,  told the Times that people expect their health data to be protected by the same laws that protect their health information in a doctors office, but that many apps aren’t subject to the same rules.

“Most people would want to make their own decisions about what’s known about their sex life, about whether it’s shared or not,” said Peel. “Right now we have no ability to do that.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Facebook yanks covert influence campaign by Saudis

August 2, 2019

Nathaniel Gleicher, who heads Cybersecurity Policy for Facebook and Instagram, reported on the company’s blog this week that his group had discovered “multiple pages, groups, and accounts” that had been targeted for what he called “coordinated inauthentic behavior .”

The materials immediately were removed from the sites.

According to Gleicher, “We found two separate operations: one of which originated in United Arab Emirates and Egypt, and another in Saudi Arabia. The two campaigns we removed were unconnected, but both created networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing. We have shared information about our findings with law enforcement, industry partners and policymakers.

He noted that, “In each of these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.

Specifically, the people behind this network used compromised and fake accounts—the majority of which already had been detected and disabled by Facebook’s automated systems—to run pages, disseminate their content, comment within groups and artificially increase engagement.

They also impersonated public figures and managed pages—some of which changed names and admins— posing as local news organizations in targeted countries and promoting content about UAE.

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities,” Gleicher said, “our investigation found links to two marketing firms— New Waves in Egypt, and Newave in the UAE.”

Similarly, to coordinate inauthentic behavior , individuals in Saudi Arabia posed as locals in countries targeted by the campaign often using fake accounts—and created fictitious personas to run pages and groups, disseminate their content, increase engagement and drive people to an off-platform domain.

They managed Pages that masqueraded as local news organizations. The Page admins and account owners typically posted in Arabic about regional news and political issues, including topics like the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, his economic and social reform plan “Vision 2030;” and successes of the Saudi Armed Forces, particularly during the conflict in Yemen.

 They also frequently shared criticism of neighboring countries including Iran, Qatar and Turkey, and called into question the credibility of Al-Jazeera news network and Amnesty International. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review found links to individuals associated with the government of Saudi Arabia.

To combat the operations that originated in the UAE and in Egypt, Facebook and Instagram disabled 259 Facebook accounts, 102 pages, 5 groups, 4 events, and 17 Instagram accounts. More than 13.7 million accounts followed one or more of these pages; about 9,000 accounts had jointed at least one of these groups and around 65,000 accounts had followed at least one of these Instagram accounts.

To combat illegal effort by the Saudi Arabia government, the company removed 217 Facebook accounts, 144 pages, 5 groups, and 31 Instagram accounts. About 1.4 million accounts followed one or more of these Pages, about 26,000 accounts joined at least one of these Groups, and around 145,000 people followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.

Gleicher stated, “We identified these accounts through ongoing investigations into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region. Our investigation benefited from public reporting by Bellingcat, an open source research organization.”

Research contact: @facebook

Too much information (TMI) is now a worldwide problem

April 17, 2019

Are you media-bashed? Are there just too many tweets, hashtags, news reports, Facebook comments, curated photos, streaming videos, surveys, petitions, and emails for you to process in a day—and more coming all the time?

You have plenty of company—based on findings of a study conducted in Europe by the Technical University of Denmark, Technische Universität Berlin, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, and University College Cork; and published by the journal, Nature Communications.

Indeed, researchers have found that our collective attention span is narrowing due to the negative effects of an overabundance of social media, plus the hectic 24-hour news cycle to which we exposed.

What’s more, collectively, sociologists, psychologists, and teachers have warned of an emerging crisis stemming from a  fear of missing out (FOMO), the pressure to keep up-to-date on social media, and breaking news coming at us 24/7. So far, the evidence to support these claims has only been hinted at or has been largely anecdotal. There has been an obvious lack of a strong empirical foundation.

“It seems that the allocated attention in our collective minds has a certain size, but that the cultural items competing for that attention have become more densely packed. This would support the claim that it has indeed become more difficult to keep up to date on the news cycle, for example.” says Professor Sune Lehmann from DTU Compute.

The scientists have studied Twitter data from 2013 to 2016, books from Google Books going back 100 years, movie ticket sales going back 40 years, and citations of scientific publications from the last 25 years. In addition, they have gathered data from Google Trends (2010-2018), Reddit (2010-2015), and Wikipedia (2012-2017).

When looking into the global daily top 50 hashtags on Twitter, the scientists found that peaks became increasingly steep and frequent: In 2013 a hashtag stayed in the top 50 for an average of 17.5 hours. This gradually decreases to 11.9 hours in 2016.

This trend is mirrored when looking at other domains, online and offline–and covering different periods. Looking, for instance, at the occurrence of the same five-word phrases (n-grams) in Google Books for the past 100 years, and the success of top box office movies. The same goes for Google searches and the number of Reddit comments on individual submissions.

“We wanted to understand which mechanisms could drive this behavior. Picturing topics as species that feed on human attention, we designed a mathematical model with three basic ingredients: “hotness,” aging, and the thirst for something new.” says Dr. Philipp Hövel, lecturer for applied mathematics, University College Cork.

When more content is produced in less time, it exhausts the collective attention earlier. The shortened peak of public interest for one topic is directly followed by the next topic, because of the fierce competition for novelty.

“The one parameter in the model that was key in replicating the empirical findings was the input rate— the abundance of information. The world has become increasingly well connected in the past decades. This means that content is increasing in volume, which exhausts our attention and our urge for ‘newness’ causes us to collectively switch between topics more rapidly.” says postdoc Philipp Lorenz-Spreen, Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

Since the available amount of attention remains more or less the same, the result is that people are more rapidly made aware of something happening and lose interest more quickly. However, the study does not address attention span on the level of the individual person, says Sune Lehmann:

Our data only supports the claim that our collective attention span is narrowing. Therefore, as a next step, it would be interesting to look into how this affects individuals, since the observed developments may have negative implications for an individual’s ability to evaluate the information they consume. Acceleration increases, for example, the pressure on journalists to keep up with an ever-changing news landscape. We hope that more research in this direction will inform the way we design new communication systems, such that information quality does not suffer even when new topics appear at increasing rates.”

Research contact: @DTUtweet

A Florida spa owner and ‘investment adviser’ has been selling access to the Trumps at Mar-a-Lago

March 12, 2019

Mother Jones published a skanky scoop on March 9 involving the president, his family—and a conniving Florida-based entrepreneur who set up a pay-to-play scheme that enabled Chinese executives to access the Trumps at Mar-a-Lago.

The entrepreneur, 45-year-old Li Yang, first came to light when law enforcement raided her chain of spas and massage parlors in South Florida—and busted New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft (among other customers) in late February for soliciting prostitution at one of the facilities.

She next made the news when the Miami Herald reported on March 8 that earlier in February, she had attended a Super Bowl viewing party at Donald Trump’s West Palm Beach golf club, Mar-a-Lago, and had snapped a selfie with the president during the event.

Although Yang no longer owns the spa that Kraft—a longtime Trump associate and pal—allegedly visited, the newspaper noted that other massage parlors her family runs have “gained a reputation for offering sexual services (best known as ‘happy endings’ in the massage business).”

What’s more, Yang runs an investment business through which, Mother Jones has documented, she has offered to sell Chinese clients access to Trump and his family. A website for the business—which features numerous photos of Yang and her purported clients hobnobbing at Mar-a-Lago—suggests she had some success in doing so.

Yang, who goes by Cindy, and her husband, Zubin Gong, started GY US Investments in 2017. The company describes itself on its website, which is mostly in Chinese, as an “international business consulting firm that provides public relations services to assist businesses in America to establish and expand their brand image in the modern Chinese marketplace,” Mother Jones reports.

But the firm notes that its services also attract clients looking to make high-level connections in the United States. On a page displaying a photo of Mar-a-Lago, Yang’s company says its “activities for clients” have included providing them with “the opportunity to interact with the president, the [American] Minister of Commerce, and other political figures.”

The company boasts it has “arranged taking photos with the President” and suggests it can set up a “White House and Capitol Hill Dinner.” (Mother Jones notes: The same day the Herald story about Yang broke, the website stopped functioning.)

The short bio of Yang on the website, identifying her as the founder and CEO of GY US Investments, shows her in a photo with Trump bearing his signature. It says she has been “settled in the United States for more than 20 years” and is a member of the “Presidential Fundraising Committee.”

According to the Herald, Yang is a registered Republican, and since 2017 she and her relatives have donated more than $42,000 to a Trump political action committee and more than $16,000 to Trump’s campaign.

Her Facebook page, which was taken offline on March 8, was loaded with photos of her posing with GOP notables, Mother Jones reports—among them, Donald Trump Jr., Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

A flier posted on GY US Investments’ website publicized an upcoming event at Mar-A-Lago featuring the president’s sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau.

Yang and her business partners listed on the GY US Investments’ website could not be reached for comment by Mother Jones.

Research contact: @DavidCornDC

Home free: Amazon sends gratis samples to its most gung-ho shoppers

January 9, 2019

Axios reported on January 8 that online retail giant Amazon has a “stealth pilot” in progress—testing whether consumer brands such as Maybelline and Folgers can pique consumer interest by sending out free samples.

The brands pay Amazon to ship out their complimentary goodies, based on what the popular website already knows its frequent customers are most likely to buy.

Everyone likes a freebie—and by using samples as “targeted ads,” Amazon is playing on its major strength as a trusted delivery service of everyday goods, Axios said. What’s more, this is a new gambit that Amazon is betting its biggest competitors—Google and Facebook— cannot duplicate.

Indeed, the Seattle-based tech giant has the purchasing data and logistics infrastructure to offer samples of actual products, whereas Facebook and Google currently can only offer display ads or search ads, respectively, for certain kinds of consumer packaged goods brands.

To date, Amazon, itself, has made most of its roughly $5 billion in ad revenue through its own display ads. But the company now says that marrying old-school samples with its customer data will provide brands “a higher likelihood of conversion than display ads,” according to a summer job posting.

With 100 million subscribers to its Prime services alone, Amazon certainly has the numbers and the established long-term relationships with customers who purchase goods regularly, to make this strategy work, Axios pointed out.

“Having this huge installed base of users, or really Prime subscribers, and putting something in the box that people will have a high proclivity for liking — that seems like a brilliant Amazon strategy,” Rich Greenfield, a managing director and media analyst at BTIG Research, told the news outlet.

Samples of new products are sent to customers selected using machine learning based on Amazon’s data about consumer habits, according to recent job postings and details listed on its site.

Right now, Amazon is keeping the pilot project under wraps among its other advertisers, but its legal terms for advertisers include details about how its sample program functions. “No later than the date specified by Amazon, Advertiser will deliver to Amazon at the location(s) designated by Amazon and at Advertiser’s expense, all Samples to be delivered or distributed by Amazon,” the terms say.

Most analysts are bullish on the program, Axios reports. However, there could be privacy concerns.

“Amazon sent me a random coffee sample!” said one Twitter user in August. “Is it because I have like 15 [different] types of coffee in my cart?” A package pictured in the tweet included both Amazon and Folgers branding, and a link to a website devoted to the new coffee offering.

On its website, Amazon promises that privacy conscious consumers will have the option to opt out. But will confidentiality win out over avid consumption? Stay tuned.

Research contact: @rebeccazisser

Dog tired: Italian Ikea store opens doors to stray pooches

December 4, 2018

Animal lovers are giving an Ikea store in Catania, Italy, a big social-media smooch after photos appeared on online showing stray pooches sleeping among the furniture displays.

Martine Taccia was shopping at the Ikea when she saw the dogs relaxing near a living room display, The Dodo reports. “My reaction was pure amazement. It’s not a common thing,” Taccia told the animal news site.

Taccia said she had found out that the furniture and appliance store opens its doors to strays in cold weather and even provides food and water. “The dogs receive daily food and pampering from Ikea’s employees and customers,” Taccia says. “Some dogs have even found a family, going home with customers.”

She immediately posted the news to her Facebook page—and the shares and likes continue to multiply.

According to the comments on the photos, dog lovers are giving this one store’s policy a big thumbs up. “Thank God there are still good people in the world who help poor animals,” one friend wrote on Instagram.

Another customer, Beppe Liotta, was likewise smitten with the store’s dog-friendly initiative. “I felt a feeling of deep tenderness and great happiness in seeing dogs crouched in the exhibition space at the entrance of the IKEA,” Liotta told The Dodo.

As a self-proclaimed animal lover, Liotta told the news outlet that he hopes other businesses will follow suit by opening their doors (and their hearts) to animals whose sad circumstances are all too often overlooked.

“If all the stores that had the space would make a place of refuge for strays, I would be really happy,” he said.

Research contact: stephen@thedodo.com