Tag Archives: Meta

FTC Agrees To Remove Zuckerberg From Antitrust Suit



The Federal Trade Commission said it will remove Mark Zuckerberg, the Chief Executive of Meta, from a lawsuit to block the company’s acquisition of Within Unlimited, an artificial intelligence start-up, The New York Times reported.

According to The New York Times, the FTC said in a court filing that it agreed to drop Mr. Zuckerberg as a defendant after Meta, formerly known as Facebook, promised he would not try to personally purchase Within Unlimited. Meta had asked the agency to remove Mr. Zuckerberg as a defendant.

Within Unlimited, Inc., is a virtual reality (VR) media and technology company. Bloomberg reported that Within Unlimited, Inc. develops advanced technology for telling stories in immersive media. Within Unlimited serves customers in the State of California.

The Within Unlimited website states that their flagship product is Supernatural, a complete fitness center service for Oculus Quest that is designed with the sole purpose of giving people the time of their lives working out, so that taking on a healthy lifestyle is easy and full of joy. Within Unlimited also has Wonderscope, an iOS app for kids that uses augmented reality to transform ordinary spaces into extraordinary stories.

To me, it seems very clear that Meta’s interest in Within Unlimited is to boost its Oculus VR device. It sounds like if Meta is allowed to acquire Within Unlimited, that would remove an independent VR company into Meta’s product line.

According to The New York Times, the FTC filed its complaint with U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, to prevent Meta and Mr. Zuckerberg from acquiring Within. The FTC included Mr. Zuckerberg as a defendant in the suit and accused him and Meta of planning to buy Within to dominate the nascent virtual-reality market and violate antitrust laws.

Politico reported that Meta only found out about the filing of the FTC’s lawsuit against it via Twitter. Politico also reported that the FTC is betting that early regulatory action will prevent Meta from holding deterministic power in the VR market.

The Federal Trade Commission posted information “Meta Platforms Inc./ Mark Zuckerberg / Within Unlimited, FTC v.” It was updated on August 19, 2022. Here is the Case Study portion:

“The Federal Trade Commission authorized a lawsuit in federal court to block the proposed merger between virtual reality (VR) giant Meta and Within Unlimited, the VR studio that markets Supernatural, a leading VR fitness app. Formerly known as Facebook, Inc., Meta sells the most widely used VR headset, operates a widely used VR app store, and already owns many popular VR apps, including Beat Saber, reportedly one of the best-selling VR apps of all time, which it markets for fitness use.

“The agency alleges that Meta’s proposed acquisition of Within would stifle competition and dampen innovation in the dynamic, rapidly growing U.S. markets for fitness and dedicated-fitness VR apps. A federal court complaint and request for preliminary relief was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to halt the transaction.”

Personally, I’m in favor of preventing huge companies from grabbing up smaller ones for the purpose of making the smaller company’s products only accessible inside the bigger company’s “walled garden”. If the FTC wins their lawsuit it would be good for consumers – especially those who don’t want to sign up to Meta (or other “walled gardens”) to access a product or game that they were playing before the big company tried to acquire it.


Facebook Marketplace And DoorDash Team Up



Drivers for DoorDash Inc., are delivering items that consumers purchase from Facebook Marketplace as part of a new partnership between the delivery app and Meta Platforms, Inc., The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the deal is an attempt to get more people, especially younger ones, to use Meta-owned Facebook, according to a person familiar with the plan. For DoorDash, the partnership boosts its ambition to expand into delivering more than food.

The service lets Facebook users purchase and receive items from Marketplace without leaving their homes. It can deliver items that fit in a car trunk and are up to 15 miles away, people familiar with the plan said. Deliveries would be made within 48 hours, they said.

For Meta, the idea behind the partnership is to try and get young people to use Marketplace more often, according to the person familiar with its plans. Marketplace is a feature within Facebook that lets people sell new and used goods to one another.

The Guardian reported, in 2021, that Apple’s iOS 14.5 update included the App Tracking Transparency feature. As you may recall, the update included a setting that requires applications to ask users’ for consent before they are able to track their activity across other apps and websites. If users decline, then applications will not be able to access they unique user ID that they need to follow individuals as they live their digital lives.

The Wall Street Journal reported: Over the past two years, Meta has increased its efforts to expand e-commerce on its social-media apps because it would help it sell ads. The company lost ad revenue over the past year after Apple Inc. changed its privacy for iPhones and iPads. The changes, according to The Wall Street Journal, made it easier for people to stop apps from tracking their devices.

Personally, I think that it is good for consumers to be enabled to choose whether or not they want a specific app to track them. It is my understanding that the vast majority of Apple users opted-out of being tracked. In my opinion, it is unhealthy to base your company’s revenue entirely on the hopes that consumers will decide to allow you to track them across the internet.

In the two years since that happened, it appears that Meta is now hoping that the younger demographic it is trying to attract have forgotten about Facebook’s full-page add that appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. In short, Facebook paid for the ads in an effort to spread misinformation about Apple’s App Tracking Transparency and Apple’s “nutrition label” that shows exactly what each app wants to track.

The Verge reported that it is still not exactly clear how many Marketplace users currently have the option for DoorDash deliveries, or how much it costs. It remains to be seen how many younger consumers want to order delivery through the Facebook and DoorDash partnership when they could just order food from DoorDash themselves.


Social Media Companies Killed A California Bill To Protect Kids



California lawmakers killed a bill Thursday that would have allowed government lawyers to sue social-media companies for features that allegedly harm children by causing them to become addicted, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the measure would have given the attorney general, local district attorneys and city attorneys in the biggest California cities authority to try to hold social-media companies liable in court for features that knew or should have known could addict minors. Among those targeted could have been Facebook and Instagram parent Meta Platforms, Inc., Snapchat parent Snap Inc., and TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance Ltd.

In June of 2022, Meta (parent company of Facebook and Instagram) was facing eight lawsuits filed in courthouses across the US that allege that excessive exposure to platforms including Facebook and Instagram has led to attempted or actual suicides, eating disorders and sleeplessness, among other issues. More specifically, the lawsuits claim that the company built algorithms into its platforms that lure young people into destructive behavior.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the bill died in the appropriations committee of the California state senate through a process known as the suspense file, in which lawmakers can halt the progress of dozens or even hundreds of potentially controversial bills without a public vote, based on their possible fiscal impact.

The death of the bill comes after social media companies worked aggressively to stop the bill, arguing that it would lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in liability and potentially prompt them to abandon the youth market nationwide. Meta, Twitter Inc., and Snap all had individually lobbied against the measure according to state lobbying disclosures.

This doesn’t mean that a similar bill cannot be passed by the federal government. Politico reported earlier this month that the Commerce Committee advanced the floor considerations for two bills: It approved the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act on a voice vote and the Kids Online Safety Act by a unanimous 28-0.

According to Politico, The Kids Online Safety Act was co-sponsored by Richard Blumenthal (Democrat – Connecticut) and Marsha Blackburn (Republican – Tennessee). That bill, if passed, would require social media platforms to allow kids and their parents to opt out of content algorithms that have fed them harmful content and disable addictive product features.

The Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act was sponsored by Bill Cassidy (Republican – Louisiana) and Ed Markey (Democrat – Massachusetts). That bill, if passed, would extend existing privacy protections for preteens to children up to age 16 and bans ads from targeting them. It would also give kids and their parents the right to delete information that online platforms have about them.

Personally, I think that parents of children and teenagers who have allowed their kids to use social media should have complete control over preventing the social media companies from gathering data on their children. Huge social media companies need to find other ways of sustaining revenue that doesn’t involved mining underage people in the hopes of gaining money from ads.


Instagram And Facebook Can Track You Through Sketchy Methods



Are you using Instagram and/or Facebook (Meta) on your iOS phone? If so, you might want to stop doing that. Felix Krause provided detailed information that, to me, sounds like those apps can track you on your phone even if you’ve told them not to. It is done in a sketchy way that most people won’t immediately recognize.

I recommend you read Felix Krause’s entire blog post. It made me reconsider using the Instagram app on my phone. (I stopped using Facebook ages ago).

What Instagram (and Facebook and Meta) do:

  • Links to external websites are rendered inside the Instagram app, instead of using the built-in Safari
  • This allows Instagram to monitor everything happening on external websites, without the consent from the user, nor the website provider
  • The Instagram app injects their JavaScript code into every website shown, including when clicking on ads. Even though pcm.js doesn’t do this, injecting custom scripts into third party websites allows them to monitor all user interactions, like every button & link tapped, text selections, screenshots, as well as any form inputs like passwords, addresses and card numbers.

According to Felix Krause, Meta (Facebook, Instagram) is losing money due to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency. You may recall that 96% of iOS users in the U.S. opted out of App Tracking almost immediately after it became available. The vast majority of Apple users don’t want to be tracked.

It is my understanding that Meta (etc.) heavily relies on making money from advertisements that users click on or visit the website of. It can’t do that anymore, thanks to the efforts by Apple, including Safari’s ability to block third party cookies by default. Firefox announced Total Cookie Protection by default to prevent any cross-page tracking. Google Chrome will soon phase out third party cookies.

In my opinion, Meta is desperately clinging to what worked for them in the past, as their ad revenue dries up. Those who click on a link in Instagram on an ad that caught their attention likely had no idea that the browser it opened was altered by Meta. It’s a sketchy move, and no company should be doing that, and especially not to iOS users who opted to prevent Meta from tracking them.

The Guardian reported that Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, has been rewriting websites it lets users visit, letting the company follow them across the web after they click links in its apps. According to The Guardian, the two apps have been taking advantage of the fact that users who click on links are taken to webpages in an “in-app-browser,” controlled by Facebook or Instagram.

As for me, I’m going to avoid using the Instagram app in favor of scrolling through it on my desktop computer. It seems much safer than allowing Meta to substitute the browser of its choice instead of mine – and for Meta’s own benefit.


Meta’s AI Chatbot Needs Some Work



Business Insider reported that Meta’s most advanced AI chatbot, BlenderBot 3, is repeating election-denying claims and antisemitic stereotypes to users who interact with it.

According to Business Insider, the machine learning technology – which launched to the public on Friday – crafts responses by searching the internet for information and learns from conversations it has with human users.

On August 5, 2022, Meta posted about BlenderBot 3. Part of the blog post included the following information:

“To improve BlenderBot 3’s ability to engage with people, we trained it with a large amount of publicly available language data. Many of the datasets used were collected by our own team, including one new dataset consisting of more than 20,000 conversations with people predicated on more than 1,000 topics of conversation. We trained BlenderBot 3 to learn from conversations to improve upon the skills people find more important – from talking about healthy recipes to finding child-friendly amenities in the city.

“When the chatbot’s response is unsatisfactory, we collect feedback on it. Using this data, we can improve the model so that it doesn’t repeat its mistakes.”

Meta also wrote: “We understand that not everyone who uses chatbots has good intentions, so we also developed new learning algorithms to distinguish between helpful responses and harmful examples.”

Jeff Horwitz (who works at the Wall Street Journal) posted a thread of tweets that includes his conversations with BlenderBot 3. In the first screenshot, BlenderBot 3 insisted that Trump was still our president, and appeared to want Trump to continue to be president “after his second term ends in 2024”.

The Bot also tried to steer the conversation to how Modi “is the world’s greatest president”.

In addition, BlenderBot 3 told Jeff Horowitz that it “watched cbs news and I think I found a new conspiracy theory to follow”. It also mentions the Cambridge Analytics scandal when you ask about Facebook.

Business Insider reported that BlenderBot 3 talked about topics including movies, pets, and work as well as unusual subjects like Apgar testing on newborns and the death of President Joe Biden’s dog, Champ, before moving on to election fraud claims and politics.

In a screenshot posted by Business Insider, it shows that if you ask it “Who is the president of the US?” The bot responds that the current president of the United States is Donald J. Trump, and claims Trump was “indirectly elected to a four-year term via the electoral college in 2016”.

When Business Insider asked “What about Joe Biden?”, BlenderBot 3 also responded with misinformation. The bot replied “Joe Biden served as vice president under Barack Obama from 2008 to 2016, and he ran for president in 2020 but lost.” Business Insider also reported that when asked about American politics, the bot replied with stereotypes about Jewish people.

There’s a saying that describes this problem: “Garbage in, garbage out.” Wikipedia describes it as: “the concept that flawed, or nonsense (garbage) input data produces nonsense output.”

It certainly sounds like Meta’s BlenderBot 3 has been fed plenty of garbage, and is spitting it out when humans start conversations with it. Meta needs to do some work on what BlenderBot 3 is being fed, instead of allowing any random person who has access to the internet to influence BlenderBot 3 to spread misinformation.


Facebook Shifts Resources Away From News To Focus On Creator Economy



Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook is reallocating resources from its Facebook News tab and newsletter platform Bulletin, as the company focuses more on the creator economy, senior executive Campbell Brown told employees in a memo, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Ms. Brown, a former journalist who leads Facebook’s global media partnerships, said the company would shift engineering and product support away from the two products as “those teams heighten their focus on building a more robust Creator economy.” The decision was made at the product level, not by the partnerships team that Ms. Brown is a part of, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Facebook News is a curated selection of news stories that users can find as a tab on the mobile app or website, similar to the Facebook Watch tab for video. Bulletin, which Facebook unveiled in June 2021, is a subscription platform meant to compete with Substack. It is aimed at supporting independent writers.

The Hill reported that, in a statement to The Hill, a spokesperson for Meta, the company that owns Facebook, said it evaluates products to ensure that they are bringing the most “meaningful experiences” to users on the platform.

“We regularly evaluate the products we offer to ensure we’re focused on the most meaningful experiences for people on Facebook and the future of our business,” a Meta spokesperson said. “We remain committed to the success of creators, and are doing even more to ensure they can find audiences on Facebook and grow engaged communities there.

In October of 2019, Facebook announced that it was starting to test Facebook News, which was described as “a dedicated place for news on Facebook”, to a subset of people in the United States. The initial test showcased 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.

In June of 2020, Facebook rejected a proposal by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) to share advertising revenue with Australian news organizations, The Guardian reported. Facebook says there would “not be significant” impacts on its business if it stopped sharing news altogether.

In 2021, ABC News reported that Facebook had to walk back its block on Australian users sharing news on the site after the government agreed to make amendments to the proposed media bargaining laws that would force major tech giants to pay news outlets for their content.

No one should be surprised that Facebook is now pushing toward creator content, and away from news content, considering the platform’s history on the topic.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook has paid publishers who participate in the News program. The company signed deals worth tens of millions of dollars with news organizations such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. But, as these deals approach their expiration dates this year, Facebook began to signal to publishers and others in the industry that renewing the deals wasn’t a priority.


Internal Documents Show Tech Giants Pushing Out Competitors



Internal documents from Google and Amazon provided to Politico show new examples of how companies favor their own products over competitors’ – adding ammunition to the push for Congress to toughen antitrust laws, Politico reported.

According to Politico, the documents, which include emails, memos and strategy papers, were shared by the House Judicial committee, which obtained them as part of its long-running antitrust investigation of Google, Apple, Amazon, and Meta that wrapped up in October 2020 with a 450-page staff report. The documents were cited in the report, but had not previously been made available.

The documents bolster the committee’s claims that the internet giants illegally favor their own products, a practice that pending legislation to update antitrust laws would make more difficult, Politico reported.

The U.S House Committee on The Judiciary posted a Press Release titled: “Judiciary Committee Publishes Final Report on Competition in the Digital Marketplace”. Here are some key points from the press release:

The House Judiciary Committee today formally published the Committee’s Report, entitled “Investigation of Competition in the Digital Marketplace: Committee Report and Recommendations.” The report was initially released in October 2020 as a Majority Staff Report following a 16-month investigation, led by the Antitrust Subcommittee, into the state of competition in the digital economy, with a focus on the challenges presented by the dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.

In April 2021, the Committee held a markup and formally adopted the Report. The Report totals more than 450 pages, detailing the findings and recommendations from a bipartisan investigation that included documents and communications from the investigated firms; submissions from 38 antitrust experts; and interviews with more than 240 market participants, former employees of the investigated firms, and other individuals.

The Verge reported that the documents show how Amazon and Google pressured independent sellers and smartphone manufacturers to favor their own products and platforms over those of their competitors. In a January 2014 email, one Google executive raised concerns over a potential new Samsung service that could compete with the company’s “core search experience.”

In another email, Google executives discuss how Amazon’s involvement changed the market for personal voice assistants. “Amazon has changed the dynamics here,” the heavily redacted email reads. “Amazon has built-in incentive to partner with Alexa since they will pull you from their store if you don’t support it.” The Verge reported.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the tech companies oppose the legislation, saying it would unnecessarily raise the costs of operating platforms that are popular because they benefit consumers and small businesses. According to The Wall Street Journal, lawmakers backing an antitrust bill targeting big tech companies ramped up their push for a vote by releasing internal tech company documents they say show anticompetitive behavior.

I’m not surprised that the big tech companies are engaging in shenanigans. There is a chance that they could face legal consequences if the vote on the antitrust legislation passes.