Tag Archives: Meta

Meta’s Threads Is Temporarily Blocking Searches About COVID-19

Threads, the much-hyped social media app from Facebook-parent Meta, is taking heat for blocking searches for “coronavirus,” “Covid,” and other pandemic-related queries, CNN reported.

According to CNN, the tech giant’s decision to block coronavirus-related searches on its services comes as the United States deals with a recent uptick in Covid-10 hospitalizations, per CDC data, and more than three years into the global pandemic.

News of Threads blocking searches related to the coronavirus was first reported by The Washington Post.

A Meta spokesperson told CNN that the company just began rolling out keyword search for Threads to additional countries last week.

“The search functionality temporarily doesn’t provide results for keywords that may show potentially sensitive content,” the statement added. “People will be able to search for keywords such as ‘COVID’ in future updates once we are confident in the quality of the results.”

Engadget reported that Threads is currently blocking searches for a number of “potentially sensitive” words, including “vaccines,” “covid,” and other variations of words that have been previously linked to misinformation on Meta’s platform.

According to Engadget, the limits, which were first reported by the Washington Post, are an apparent attempt to prevent controversial content from spreading on Meta’s newest app. The company has blocked number of covid and vaccine-related terms, including “covid,” “coronavirus,” “covid-19,” “vaccines” and “covid vaccines,” as well as other terms associated with potentially unsavory content like “gore,” “nude,” and “sex.”

Threads confirmed it was blocking searches in a statement to The Post, calling it a temporary measure. Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram who also oversees Threads, tweeted that the company was “trying to learn from last [sic] mistakes and believe it’s better to bias towards being careful as we roll out search.”

Engadget also reported that Meta’s history shows the company has good reasons to be cautious about search on Threads. Instagram search has been widely criticized as a vector for misinformation and its ability to lead users down conspiratorial rabbit holes. The app’s search was particularly weaponized during the early days of the pandemic, when it promoted conspiracy-touting anti-vax accounts in its top results for simple queries like “vaccine” and “5g”.

The Hill reported that that a new text-based social media platform created by industry giant Meta, is now blocking terms related to COVID-19 and vaccines on its search engines.

According to The Hill, Threads rolled out its revamped search engine last week, only for users to be met with a blank screen and a pop-up linking to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website when they type terms related to “covid” or “long covid”.

Meta’s decision comes as COVID-19 has been rising in the United States; hospitalizations from the virus increased to 16 percent last week and has been steadily rising since July, according to data from the CDC.

In my opinion, social media companies have an obligation to allow users to post credible information about COVID-19. Removing terms relating to covid could be harmful to users, especially those who are immunocompromised and hoping to get a vaccine for the latest covid strain.

Meta Makes Changes To Comply With The European Digital Services Act

Meta posted about “New Features and Additional Transparency Measures as the Digital Services Act Comes Into Effect”. It was posted by Nick Clegg, President, Global Affairs, on Meta’s Newsroom. From the post:

Later this month, the European Union’s Digital Services Act (DSA), one of the most comprehensive pieces of internet regulation, will begin to fully apply to Facebook, Instagram, and a number of other tech platforms and services. It is a big deal not just for European tech companies but for all tech companies that operate in the EU, and it will have a significant impact on the experiences Europeans have when they open their phones or fire up their laptops.

Meta has long advocated for a harmonized regulatory regime that effectively protects people’s rights online, while continuing to enable innovation. For this reason, we welcome the ambition for greater transparency, accountability, and user empowerment that sits at the heart of regulations like DSA, GDPR, and the ePrivacy Directive. The DSA in particular provides greater clarity on the roles and responsibilities of online platforms and it is right to seek to hold large platforms like ours to account through things like reporting and auditing, rather than attempting to micromanage individual pieces of content.

We’ve been working hard since the DSA came into force last November to respond to these new rules and adapt the existing safety and integrity systems and processes we have in place in many of the areas regulated by the DSA. We assembled one of the largest cross-functional teams in our history, with over 1,000 people currently working on DSA, to develop solutions to the DSA’s requirements. These include measures to increase transparency about how our systems work, and to give people more options to tailor their experiences on Facebook and Instagram. We have also established a new, independent compliance function to help us meet our regulatory obligations on an ongoing basis…

The Verge reported that European users will be able to access features like Reels, Stories, and Search on Facebook and Instagram without seeing content that’s been ranked by Meta’s recommendation algorithms.

“For example, on Facebook and Instagram, users will have the option to view Stories and Reels only from people they follow, ranked in chronological order, newest to oldest,” Clegg writes. “They will also be able to view Search results based only on the words they enter, rather than personalized specifically to them based on their previous activity and personal interests.”

According to The Verge, Meta is making the changes to comply with the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA), a new piece of regulation that will impact how tech companies moderate content on their platforms. In particular, the DSA requires very large online platforms to allow users to opt out of receiving personalized recommendations. TikTok announced a similar change to its service in Europe earlier this month. Meta says it will need to comply with the DSA by later this month.

TechCrunch reported that under the DSA, users of larger platforms – 19 of which the EU designated back in April – must be offered a choice of a non-algorithmic feed, where content sorting is not based on tracking.

In my opinion, the European Digital Services Act is going to be very helpful. Nobody wants to be tracked by the social media they are using. We could use a law similar to this one for users of Meta’s products who live in the United States.

Meta Makes Video Editing Easier

Meta posted in its Newsroom “Video on Facebook Keeps Getting Better”. They are giving users the ability to edit their Reels or videos. From the newsroom:

We’ve started to roll out updates that will bring more Reels editing tools to Feed, making it even easier to create dynamic videos on Facebook. Whether posting a video for friends and family to see, or trying to reach people who share similar interests, our video editing tools will make it possible for people to express themselves in new ways via Reels or long-form videos.

Seamless editing: We brought audio, music and text all into one place on Reels, making it easier to layer and time creative elements to create the perfect reel. And now, it’s also available on Meta Business Suite for reels and for video on Feed.

More clip editing tools: Get creative with your video by speeding up, reversing or replacing your clips.

Enhanced audio: Mix the right sound into your video by exploring and adding music and audio clips, recording voiceovers, and reducing unwanted noise.

According to Meta, people also now have the ability to upload HDR videos from their phone to Reels and for that video to play back in full HDR, the first of our efforts to bring true HDR video support to our family of apps.

All Videos in One Place on Facebook

We’re also making it simpler to explore and engage with the best videos on Facebook – whether you’re looking for popular reels, long-form videos from top creators, or Live content.

The Video tab, previously known as Facebook Watch, is now the one-stop shop for everything video on Facebook, including Reels, long-form and Live content. The Video tab will look familiar – you can scroll vertically through a personalized feed that recommends all types of video content – but it will also feature new horizontal-scroll reels sections that highlight recommended reels, so you can quickly jump into short-form video content – but will also feature horizontal-scroll reels sections that highlight recommended reels, so you can quickly jump into short form video.

TechCrunch reported that Facebook is porting editing tools for Reels to videos for the main feed – this way, people can create short and long videos from one place. Meta is rolling out this tools to Meta Business Suite users already. Additionally, the company is releasing additional editing features, such has the ability to adjust speed, reverse, or replace a clip. Meta is also introducing support for HDR videos on Reels – both video uploading and playback.

According to TechCrunch, in addition to this video-focused feed of videos, users will be able to access an explore page behind the search button. When users tap on it, they will see different hashtags and topic with related short and long videos.

Engadget reported that Facebook is revamping its in-app video hub to give its content an Instagram-style makeover. The changes will bring Reels’ editing tools to all Facebook videos, as well as a new “Explore” section to highlight trending clips and other recommendations.
According to Engadget, it also comes with a name. The tab previously known as “Facebook Watch” will now simply be called “Video”. The section, which will has short-form clips like Reels as well as live video and longer form content, will continue to live at the top of the Facebook app.

In my opinion, it appears that social media sites are competing against each other in the hopes that users will pick their video creation tools over the ones from other companies. Facebook has been encouraging users to cross-post Reels from Instagram to Facebook.

Use Your Meta Avatar In Video Calls On Instagram And Messenger

Meta announced that users can now use their avatars to answer and make video calls on Instagram and Messenger. The company says the new functionality will allow users to take part in video calls in instances where they’re not camera-ready. The result is an animated video call where you and your friends are looking and talking to each other, without actually seeing each other, TechCrunch reported.

The idea of real-time calls using your avatar could be a welcome addition for people who don’t want to show their faces on certain video calls, Tech Crunch noted. On the other hand, it can be seen as a somewhat odd and creepy way to communicate with friend or family member when you could just communicate via a voice call.

The new functionality is available now on both iOS and Android, TechCrunch reported.

Meta posted in its Newsroom an article titled: “Real-Time Avatar Calls For When You’re Not Camera-Ready And More” From the article:

Real-Time Calling With Avatars

We’ve all been there: A call comes in but your hair looks like a hot mess. Or you’ve just been bawling your eyes out while re-watching From Scratch for the umpteenth time (no judgement). Sometimes, we’re just not camera-ready.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a third option between camera-off and camera-on to let you feel a little more present on the call?

Cue your Meta Avatar. For the first time, we’re giving people using Messenger and Instagram access to real-time calling with Meta Avatars. Android or iOS, we’re phone agnostic. And if you haven’t called your friends as a llama, have you really even lived?

Animated Stickers

Avatar stickers have always been a great way to liven up a conversation, but sometimes a static image just feels a little… flat. Whether you want to give someone a thumbs up, applaud a witty one-liner, or facepalm when sharing an embarrassing story, we wanted to put a little more action in those action verbs and truly bring your convos to life.

You can share animated avatar stickers in Instagram and Facebook Stories and Reels, Facebook comments, and 1:1 message threads on Messenger and Instagram. From a jaunty wave hello or a slow clap of approval to showing off your avatar’s dance moves, there are plenty of ways to put your personality on full display…

Personally, when I read that Meta is allowing people to use their avatar as their representation of who they are, it made me think about people who are very shy, or people who are trans gender, who may not feel ready to show their face to online friends. Meta’s avatars could provide people with a more comfortable call with friends.

That said, the first thing I thought of when reading about the use of an avatar for phone calls reminded me of “The Jetsons” cartoon. There’s a scene where Jane is talking to a friend via a computer screen. Her friend’s mask falls off, and the friend quickly ends the call out of embarrassment.

Meta Open Sources An AI-Powered Music Generator

Meta has released its own AI-powered music generator – and, unlike Google, open-sourced it, TechCrunch reported.

Called MusicGen, Meta’s music-generating tool, can turn a text description (e.g. “An ‘80s driving pop song with heavy drums and synth pads in the background”) into about 12 seconds of audio, give or take. MusicGen can optionally be “steered” with reference audio, like an existing song, in which case it will try to follow both the description and melody.

Meta says that MusicGen was trained on 20,000 hours of music, including 10,000 “high-quality” licensed music tracks and 390,000 instrument-only tracks from ShutterStock and Pond5, a large stock media library. The company hasn’t provided the code it used to train the model, but it has made available pre-trained models that anyone with the right hardware – chiefly a GPU with around 16GB of memory – can run.

So how does MusicGen perform? TechCrunch said – certainly not well enough to put human musicians out of a job. It’s songs are reasonably melodic, at least for basic prompts like “ambient chiptunes music.” Writer Kyle Wiggers said the music is: on par (if not slightly better) with the results from Google’s AI music generator, MusicLM. But they won’t win any awards.

According to TechCrunch, it might not be long before there’s guidance on the matter. Several lawsuits making their way through the courts will likely have a bearing on music-generating AI, including one pertaining to the rights of artists whose work is used to train AI systems without their knowledge.

Music:)ally reported that MusicGen is described as “a simple and controllable music generation LM [language model] with descriptions of the music you’d like it to create, and it whips up 12-second samples in response.”

The first question for many rights holders will be: how was this trained. That’s explained in the accompanying academic paper.

“We use 20k hours of licensed music to train MusicGen. Specifically, we rely on an internal dataset of 10k high-quality music tracks, and on the ShutterStock and Pond5 music data” – referring to the popular stock-music libraries.

Meta joins other technology companies in developing (and releasing for public consumption) AI-music models. Alphabet recently unveiled its MusicLM, trained on around 280,000 hours of material from the Free Music Archive, and made it available for people to test out.

According to music:)ally, the music AI-models developed by OpenAI, Alphabet, and now Meta are research projects rather than commercial products at this point.

They’re more likely to become the basis for startups and developers to use than they are to signify a serious move into AI music by the bigger companies.

In my opinion, all of this is fine, until one of these AI music makers creates something that sounds like a Metallica song.

Germany Required Meta To Allow Users to Opt-Out Of Tracking

Germany’s Bundeskartellamt posted information about Meta (Facebook) introducing a new accounts center. From the news:

Meta has announced plans to introduce a new accounts center. The accounts center will allow Meta’s customers for the first time to make a largely free and informed decision about whether they want to use Meta’s services separately or in combined form. Using the services in combined form would allow them to use additional functionalities such as crossposting, where a post is simultaneously published across several social media outlets, but Meta would then use the combined data for advertising purposes…

…In particular, it remains to be clarified how users can be informed as correctly and neutrally as possible about the use and data processing consequences involved in Meta’s Business Tools and plugins (e.g. Facebook Login, “Like” button) in a central location and how they can consent to or reject the use of their data in a simple way, and under which exceptional circumstances data processing across accounts can be legal even without the user’s consent (e.g. for security purposes). Unless the required consent has been free and informed, it has to be requested again…

…The Bundeskartellamt was in continues talks with Meta regarding the implementation of its decision despite pending litigation of the original decision. Meta then introduced an accounts center and reviewed its data infrastructure. The accounts center allowed users for the first time to decide for themselves whether to combine their Meta service accounts (e.g. on Facebook and Instagram), the linking of accounts allowing Meta to also use the data combined across accounts to create advertising profiles and apply personalized advertising. The Bundeskartellamt considered this first accounts center to be seriously deficient. Neither did it inform customers in a neutral way nor were all relevant pieces of information shown in a transparent and easily accessible form.

In February 2023, Meta presented a plan to implement the Bundeskartellamt’s decision following intensive talks, which included a significantly modified accounts center that was discussed in detail with Bundeskartellamt. Meta made a number of changes to the accounts center in the process, which made the overall user journey significantly more transparent and comprehensible. …The wording was also changed that could have nudged users to combine their accounts. The wording was also changed to in greater detail what is actually meant (e.g. “personal data” instead of “information”)… and the process required to separate accounts was considerably simplified…

TechCrunch reported that Meta is not taking this step to boost user choice over its tracking and profiling – even to this qualified degree – of its own volition; the development follows a lengthy battle wit hGermany’s antitrust authority over the adtech giant’s so called ‘superprofiling’ of users which the FCO views as an “exploitative abuse” of its market power as the dominant player in social media, and therefore as an antitrust abuse it can enforce against it.

Based on all of this, it seems to me that Meta is going to have a harder time gathering the data of its users. Germany appears to have forced Meta to let it’s users know that they can choose to consent to, or reject, Meta’s collection of the user’s data.

WhatsApp Announces Chat Lock

WhatsApp posted on its blog “Chat Lock” Making your most intimate conversations even more private”. The purpose of this new feature appears to give users a more secure way to protect their intimate conversations behind one more layer of security. From the blog post:

Our passion is to find new ways to help keep your messages private and secure. Today, we’re excited to bring to you a new feature we’re calling Chat Lock, which lets you protect your most intimate conversations behind one more layer of security,

Locking a chat takes that thread out of the inbox and puts it behind its own folder that can only be accessed with your device password or biometric, like a fingerprint. It also automatically hides the content of that chat in notifications, too.

We think this feature will be great for people who have reason to share their phones from time to time with a family member of those moments where someone else is holding your phone at the exact moment an extra special chat arrives.You can lock a chat by tapping the name of a one-to-one or group and selecting the lock option. To reveal these chats, slowly pull down on your inbox and enter your phone password or biometric.

Over the next few months, we’re going to be adding more options for Chat Lock, including locking for companion devices and creating a custom password for your chats so that you can use a unique password different from the one you use for your phone.

Engadget reported that Chat Lock should allow users to keep certain conversations more private. The tool lets you lock any conversation, which it places in a specialized folder that is only accessible via biometrics, like a fingerprint or a face scan, or by entering a current password.

According to Engadget, WhatsApp says they’re busy prepping for more features for Chat Lock, like the ability to create a custom password for each chat and a tool to lock chats across multiple devices. Parent company Meta has been extraordinarily busy trying to keep WhatsApp safe and reliable, as it recently beefed up the verification system to hinder would-be scammers and added more options to deal with disappearing messages.

iPhone in Canada reported that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg commented on Chat Lock, saying “New locked chats in WhatsApp make your conversations more private. They’re hidden in a password protected folder and notifications won’t show sender or message content.”

Chat Lock brings further privacy to conversations and is something iMessage should integrate at some point as well. There’s nothing worse than seeing some embarrassing notifications pop up from your group chats that aren’t silenced, iPhone in Canada reported. On iPhone, it is possible to lock down the opening of WhatsApp with Face ID or Touch ID, but that doesn’t stop or hide notifications from chats.

iPhone in Canada also reported: We’re not seeing WhatsApp Chat Lock in Canada yet, but if you are, let us know.

To me, it makes sense for WhatsApp to provide the kind of privacy that should be enabled for private, personal chats. This new feature makes WhatsApp one of the most secure apps for people who want to have personal chats with someone special.