Category Archives: Facebook

Facebook Introduces Facebook News

Facebook announced that it is starting to test Facebook News, which is described as “a dedicated place for news on Facebook”, to a subset of people in the United States. The initial test showcases local original reporting from the largest major metro areas of the country, beginning with New York, Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington D.C., Miami, Atlanta, and Boston.

How does Facebook decide which publishers to include? The announcement provides an explanation.

They need to be in our News Page Index, which we developed in collaboration with the industry to identify news content. They also need to abide by Facebook’s Publisher Guidelines, these include a range of integrity signals in determining product eligibility, including misinformation – as identified based on third-party fact checkers – community standards violations (e.g. hate speech), clickbait, engagement bait, and others…. Lastly, they must serve a sufficiently large audience, with different thresholds for the four categories of publishers.

Facebook says it talked to news organizations about what they’d like to see included in a news tab, how their stories should be presented, and what analytics to provide. Facebook also talked to people and publishers, and identified key features to make Facebook news valuable.

Those key features are:

Today’s Stories
– chosen by a team of journalists to catch you up on the news throughout the day.

Personalization – based on the news you read, share and follow, so you can find new interests and topics and Facebook News is fresh and interesting every time you open it.

Topic sections – to dive deeper into business, entertainment, health, science & tech, and sports.

Your Subscriptions – a section for people who have linked their paid news subscriptions to their Facebook account.

– to hide articles, topics, and publishers you don’t want to see.

I find the part called “Your Subscriptions” interesting. I don’t use Facebook, so it never occurred to me that some people are buying a subscription to their favorite news sites and connecting it to their Facebook account. I cannot help but wonder how that affects the news site if people choose to start accessing it only through Facebook.

Facebook Removed Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior from Iran and Russia

Facebook announced that they removed four separate networks of accounts, Pages and Groups for engaging in inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram. According to Facebook, three of those networks of accounts originated in Iran, and one originated in Russia.

Facebook stated that all of these operations created networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing. Facebook has shared its findings with law enforcement, policymakers, and industry partners. In addition, Facebook shared some samples of content that had been posted by some of those Pages. Those who are interested can view it on the Facebook Newsroom announcement.

We’re constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people. We’re taking down these Pages, Groups, and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted. 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.

Here are some details about what Facebook found so far:

  • They removed 93 Facebook accounts, 17 Pages, and four Instagram accounts for violating Facebook’s policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior. Facebook states that this activity originated in Iran and focused primarily on the United States, and some on French-speaking audiences in North Africa.
  • The individuals behind this activity used compromised and fake accounts – some of which had already been disabled by Facebook’s automated systems. Those accounts were used to masquerade as locals, manages Pages, join Groups, and to drive people to off-platform domains connected to Facebook’s previous investigation into the Iran-linked “Liberty Front Press”.
  • The Page admins and account owners typically posted about local political news and geopolitics including topics like public figures in the US, politics in the US and Israel, support of Palestine and conflict in Yemen.
  • About 7,700 accounts followed one or more of these Pages, and around 145 people followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.

While it is good that Facebook is making an effort to remove fake accounts and inauthentic behavior, it isn’t enough. This keeps happening. Those who use Facebook or Instagram need to be smarter about what accounts they follow, Groups they join, or Pages they interact with. Never follow an off-site link to a website that you haven’t heard of. It could be leading you to “fake news” designed to make you feel outrage.

Facebook Considers Alternative Currency for Libra

As you may have heard, Facebook announced its Libra cryptocurrency, and Calibra digital wallet, in July of 2019. Since then, some of the companies that were founding members of the Libra Association have left it. According to Reuters, Facebook is now considering “alternative approaches of the currency token” that Libra would use.

Facebook Inc (FB.O), facing growing skepticism about its digital currency project Libra, said on Sunday the initiative could use cryptocurrencies based on national currencies such as the dollar, instead of the synthetic one it initially proposed.

There were originally 28 founding members of the Libra Association. PayPal made the decision to forgo further participation in the Libra Association on October 4, 2019. CNBC reported on October 11, 2019, that Ebay, Stripe, Mastercard, Visa, and Mercado Pago “are all dropping out of Facebook’s libra cryptocurrency project”. Reuters reported that Booking Holdings Inc has also left the group.

David Marcus heads the Libra project for Facebook. Reuters reported that Marcus told a banking seminar that the Libra Association’s main goal was to create a more efficient payments system, but that it was open to looking at alternative approaches of the currency token it would use.

David Marcus shared some potential alternatives: “… we could have a series of stablecoins, a dollar stablecoin, a euro stablecoin, a sterling pound stablecoin, etc,” That said, David Marcus also stated he was not suggesting currency-pegged stablecoins were the Libra Association’s new preferred option.

Facebook is still aiming for a June 2020 launch of Libra. It acknowledges that the target could be missed due to regulatory hurdles. Personally, I think this is a mess. Those considering using (or investing in) Libra likely are interested in it because it is cryptocurrency. The suggestion that Libra could be based on stablecoin (as David Marcus calls it) could turn off those who prefer cryptocurrency.

PayPal Withdraws from Facebook’s Libra

CNBC reported that PayPal is withdrawing from Facebook’s Libra Association. CNBC provided a statement from PayPal:

PayPal has made the decision to forgo further participation in the Libra Association at this time and to continue to focus on advancing our existing mission and business priorities as we strive to democratize access to financial services for underserved populations.

Facebook announced its Libra cryptocurrency and Calibra, a digital wallet for Libra, in June of 2019. The U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing about Facebook’s Libra project on July 16, 2019.

CNBC points out that David Marcus, who leads the Libra project at Facebook was previously the president of PayPal. According to CNBC, PayPay said that it is still “supportive of Libra’s aspirations” and that it will continue to partner with Facebook in the future.

Bloomberg reported that several founding members of the Facebook-led Libra project have been wavering whether to fully embrace the effort. According to Bloomberg, there are concerns about maintaining positive relationships with regulators who have reservations about the initiative.

The Libra Association is a group of 28 founding member companies. The organization asked those members to reaffirm their commitment to the project later this month. Before Libra was unveiled, those companies signed nonbinding letters of intent to explore the association.

CNBC reported that all founding members were expected to invest a minimum of $10 million to fund the operating costs of the association and to launch an incentive program to drive adoption. It appears that those investments have not been made.

Now, with PayPal withdrawing from the Libra Association, things aren’t looking so good. I think it might be a bit scary to be the first company to withdraw from something like this. As soon as one does, though, it creates a path for other companies to choose to leave as well.

Officials Want Facebook to Halt End-to-End Encryption Plans

BuzzFeed News reported that officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia are set to publish an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The officials do not want Facebook to enact end-to-end encryption across its messaging services. The text of the open letter is in the BuzzFeed News article.

The letter is signed by U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton. The letter, as BuzzFeed News puts it, “raises concerns that Facebook’s plan to build end-to-end encryption into its messaging apps will prevent law enforcement agencies from finding illegal activity conducted through Facebook, including child sexual exploitation, terrorism, and election meddling.”

The officials want Facebook to “prioritize public safety” in designing its encryption by enabling law enforcement to gain access to illegal content in a manageable format and by consulting with local governments ahead of time to ensure the changes will allow this access.

In short, Facebook is being pressured to allow law enforcement to spy on the messages sent and received by users of Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Much of the wording of the letter indicates that the purpose of this is to enable law enforcement to catch people who are grooming or trafficking children. But, the letter doesn’t say anything about the limitations that various governments would have regarding what they can snoop on. Nothing is said about requiring a warrant before accessing the information.

Personally, I find this sketchy. If Facebook decides to succumb to the bidding of these world leaders, they will be opening a Pandora’s Box that they will not be able to reverse. Once a big social media site allows law enforcement to indiscriminately spy on users – there is nothing that will stop it from happening.

Facebook Removed Tens of Thousands of Apps

Facebook announced an update on their ongoing App Developer Investigation. It began in March of 2018, in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Our App Developer Investigation is by no means finished. But there is meaningful progress to report so far. To date, this investigation has addressed millions of apps. Of those, tens of thousands have been suspended for a variety of reasons while we continue to investigate.

Facebook points out that the apps that were suspended are associated with about 400 developers. Many were still in the testing phase when Facebook suspended them. In many cases, the developers of the apps that were suspended did not respond to Facebook’s request for information.

In addition, Facebook banned some apps. The reasons for doing so include inappropriately sharing data obtained from Facebook, “or something else that was in clear violation of” Facebook’s policies.

Facebook banned an app called myPersonality because it shared information with researchers and companies with only limited protections in place, and because it refused Facebook’s request to participate in an audit.

I’ve long been suspicious of personality apps that entice people to give up a lot information in order to supposedly learn more about themselves. What is the app developer doing with all that data? I also stay away from the things that go around on social media that ask people to answer questions about themselves. To me, it feels like whomever started it is hoping to harvest data for unknown purposes.

Facebook has also some lawsuits. One is against Rankwave, a South Korean data analytics company that failed to cooperate with Facebook’s investigation. Another is an action against LionMobi and JediMobi, whom Facebook says “used their apps to infect users’ phones with malware in a profit-generating scheme.” A third case is against two Ukrainian men who used quiz apps to scrape users’ data off of Facebook’s platform.

NY Attorney General Announced Facebook Antitrust Investigation

New York Attorney General Letitia James confirmed that she is leading the bipartisan coalition investigating Facebook for antitrust issues. Her statement said:

Even the largest social media platform in the world must follow the law and respect consumers. I am proud to be leading a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in investigating whether Facebook has stifled competition and put users at risk. We will use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions may have endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising.

The bipartisan coalition includes the attorneys general from Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia. The focus of the investigation is Facebook’s dominance in the industry and the potential anticompetitive conduct stemming from that dominance.

CNBC reported that Facebook is already facing a separate investigation by the Federal Trade Commission over antitrust concerns. Facebook confirmed that in its quarterly report in July. That announcement came on the same day the FTC announced its $5 billion settlement with Facebook over its privacy policies.

Personally, I think Facebook could have avoided being the subject of multiple investigations into its practices if it had, right from the start, put protecting the privacy of its users as its top priority. It may also have saved itself from some antitrust investigations if didn’t do things such as purchase Instagram and WhatsApp (and the user data that came with them).