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Twitter bans ‘Hateful Display Names’ and shares Safety road map

Twitter has committed to a specific timeline for rolling out changes to its Safety features, and announced new policies, including a ban on hateful display names, and improvements for second-hand “witness reporting” of abuse.

By January, Twitter plans to have implemented all the abuse changes outlined in the internal email published by Wired earlier this week, as well as the new ones shared today. The company even apologized for frequently promising improvements but then failing to take action, writing, “Far too often in the past we’ve said we’d do better and promised transparency but have fallen short in our efforts.”

Here’s a breakdown of what’s new, beyond the enhancements to existing safety features:

  • Hateful Display Names – The ban on hateful display names could deter or punish people for “nameflaming” other users, wherein when a quote is tweeted by a critic, someone changes their display name to insult the critic, thereby having that insult show up to all the critic’s followers who see the quote tweet.
  • Witness Reporting – Twitter will use how you’re related to the victim and abuser when you to more strictly enforce rules against harassment. This could help ensure reports aren’t actually concerted trolling efforts and are instead coming from people legitimately offended by an abusive tweet. Twitter also will send notifications in-app and via email to second-hand reporters of abuse. This closing of the loop should boost people’s sense of safety on the platform even if they aren’t the victim in this instance.
  • Content Rules – Violent groups will be banned, hateful symbols in avatars and profile headers will be banned while this content in tweets will be obscured with an interstitial warning, account relationship signals will be used to determine if sexual advances were unwanted, spam will be better defined and technology will be adopted to prioritize the most egregious violations of these rules.

Here’s the calendar:

What’s missing

The most glaring gap in this road map is any functional change to the way that Twitter users interact. As we wrote about last week, and as had been suggested by Hunter Walk, Twitter’s biggest opportunity to shut down abuse lies in changing how replies work.

Right now, Twitter leaves it up to users to choose to mute replies from certain accounts, like ones that don’t follow them, have a newly set up account or that haven’t added a profile image, confirmed email or confirmed phone number. But the devil is the defaults that leave these off. Meanwhile, hard-set rules chosen by users could accidentally silence innocent replies.

Twitter should consider turning on some of these rules by default while warning repliers that their messages might not get through unless they complete their profiles. That’s important, because registering a phone number in particular makes it tough for trolls to abandon a suspended account and simply harass people from a different handle.

By using a combination of signals, Twitter could start more aggressively filtering out replies from suspected abusers, yet give people a path to regaining the ability to @ people by taking actions that introduce friction for trolls. Though it might take a little while to get right, and some benign content may be unnecessarily censored, right now the balance is far too skewed toward a laissez-faire approach that permits harassment.

For more on how tech could fight abuse, check out our feature article Silenced by ‘free speech.’

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin

Facebook attacks Pinterest with ‘Sets’ of posts

Identity is prismatic. You show different sides of yourself to different friends in your life. Now Facebook wants to let you share the niches of your interests while stealing thunder from Pinterest’s boards. Facebook is now testing a feature called Sets that lets you select several status updates, photos or videos and share them as a themed collection to everyone or specific friends.

Facebook confirms to TechCrunch that Sets are testing in a few countries and provided this statement: “We’re testing a way for people to create sets of specific posts, photos and videos for just the friends that want to follow along.”

Facebook has been toying with ways to compete with Pinterest more directly for years now. It tried Collection ads that let people save items to a Wishlist section of their profile. In April, Instagram launched a bookmarking feature that lets you save posts to private collections. In the following months, Facebook tried letting you follow specific niche interests in News Feed with Topics, and add status updates to photo Albums. But Facebook’s Sets are much more akin to Pinterest’s boards that can made visible to others, so you could make a wedding planning Set to share with your significant other, a vacation Set of memories with your family or a fashion Set to show off your style.

Sets were first spotted by tipsters Blake Tsuzaki and Taylor Lauren and reshared by Matt Navarra. Here’s how they work according to Facebook. Those with access will see the option to create a Set on their profile based around a theme of their choice. By default, Sets are visible to friends on your profile and in the News Feed. All your friends are defaulted to be “following” the Set so they’ll keep seeing updates about it, but they can unfollow so they’ll only see that Set on your profile and not in the News Feed. Facebook is also testing “Secret Sets” that default to only being visible to a private selection of friends you choose.

Sets could give people ways to express themselves beyond the traditional News Feed posts that can feel clumsy if one of your hobbies isn’t of widespread interest amongst your friends. While a post about a niche interest might not get enough Likes to reach the friends who might care, Sets are designed for more targeted sharing. Facebook could eventually monetize the feature by offering a special button on product ads that save a business’ items to your Sets.

Facebook has found success by building good-enough versions of competitors’ products, like Instagram Stories, and is currently assaulting other tech giants like YouTube with Facebook Watch and Yelp with its restaurant discovery and food ordering options. It’s unlikely that Sets will displace Pinterest, but if Facebook can stunt its growth while helping users with self-expression, that may be sufficient.

Featured Image: Jimmy Baikovicius/Flickr and Kim Kulish/Corbis/Getty Images

Facebook Messenger lets games monetize with purchases and ads

Facebook is finally giving developers a reason to build games for Messenger while also opening a new revenue stream for the chat app. After launching HTML5 ‘Instant Games’ inside Messenger like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Words With Friends Frenzy in November 2016, today Facebook is allowing developers to add in-app purchases as well as interstitial and rewarded video ads. Players get a virtual good or bonus life in exchange for watching rewarded videos.

Facebook will take a cut of the ads shown in Messenger games that are routed from its Facebook Audience Network, and they’ll begin appearing in some games on iOS and Android. In-app purchases will only start testing on Android, with Google Play taking its standard 30% cut.

Facebook was cagey about how much of a cut of in-app purchase revenue it plans to take, repeatedly giving this vague statement when asked: “Our early tests for IAP will follow the standard rev/share policy and transaction fees for Google Play In-App billing.” For now it seems that the remaining 70% goes to the developer, but Facebook will likely opt to take a portion of that when in-app purchases fully roll out.

Developers who want access to the monetization beta program as Facebook rolls it out more widely can sign up here, while advertisers who don’t want their Audience Network ads from appearing in games can opt out. Facebook plans to roll out ad measurement and optimization tools for game developers soon, plus ways to publish games to its directory more easily.

The move should attract higher quality games to the Messenger platform, as until now, devs could only hope to build an audience and monetize down the line. Now with cash able to flow in through the games, it’s worth pouring more development resources into the platform. Previously, the only real way to earn money off these games was indirectly through branding, as with titles like Valerian Space Run, Wonder Woman, and Lego Batman Bat Climb that promote movies.

Facebook seems to be taking Messenger Instant Games quite seriously after its desktop game platform withered and mobile game was dominated by the App Store and Google Play platforms. Facebook sees an opportunity to not only give people something to do between chat conversations and a way to challenge freinds, but also now to start squeezing more cash out of the 1.3 billion Messenger users without interrupting the traditional use cases as its inbox ads do.

Google Play adds Android Instant Apps via a ‘Try it Now’ button, among other changes

Google today is announcing a number of changes to its Google Play app store, the most notable being a new way to try apps immediately without having to first install them on your mobile device. The new feature takes advantage of “Android Instant Apps” technology – Google’s attempt at bridging the mobile web world with that of native applications.

Instant Apps were first introduced at Google’s I/O developer conference last year. Unlike native apps that have to be downloaded in full, Instant Apps launch with just a tap on a URL. To support this, developers partition their apps into small, runnable parts, so they can start within seconds. The technology had only been available to select developers until their general release this May, announced at Google I/O 2017.

Today, Instant Apps are becoming a part of the Play Store, Google says. Via a new “Try it Now” button, users can start using an app without installing it.

There’s a small collection of Instant Apps available now, including those from BuzzFeed, NYTimes (Crossword), Hollar, Red Bull, Skyscanner, and others.

The feature is one of several improvements to the Play Store that Google is touting today.

Its revamped Editor’s Choice section is now live in 17 countries, for starters.

It launched a new home for Games featuring trailers and screenshots of gameplay. This section will introduce new sections soon – one for paid games (“Premium”) and another for upcoming and trending games (“New.”)

It’s also expanding its “live operations” banners and cards which alert users to in-game events on those games they already have installed. The feature is meant to help re-engage users beyond the initial install.

The company pointed to its other recommended app collections, too.

This includes the recently expanded group of “Android Excellence”-awarded apps – those Google believes have a strong focus on design, user experience and performance – and its Indie Games Festival winners. (The San Francisco competition just wrapped, and Google has opened nominations for its European counterpart.)

This focus on editorial suggestions is not unique to Google. Apple’s new App Store is also heavily editorially-driven, with longer features, write-ups, interviews, lists, and more, in addition to recommendations.

Google Play Console upgrade

Beyond the Play Store’s new consumer-facing features, the Google Play Console is being improved with added features for developers, too.

This includes five new measurements (dubbed Android Vitals) for understanding an app’s technical performance; improved pre-launch reports that are enabled for all developers, allowing them to see Test Lab results for their alpha and best apps; the ability to target alpha and beta builds to specific countries; and improvements in the device catalog, so it’s easier to see why a particular device won’t support your app.

Another set of improvements focuses on apps with subscription businesses attached. This is an area that Apple had also changed in its revamped App Store, when it dropped its split with developers from 70/30 to 85/15 in year two. (Google then agreed to do the same; that’s also now live today.)

Now Google says it’s making it easier for developers to set up and manage subscription services with the Play Billing Library and new test instruments to simplify testing the flows for successful and unsuccessful payments. It’s also allowing shorter free trials (a minimum of 3 days), optional notifications about cancellations; account hold to block non-playing users; and other items.

A new Google Play Security Reward Program is being introduced today, as well. (More details on that are here.)

Changes to the Play Store and Play Console like these have a sizable impact, given the store today reaches over 2 billion users across 190 countries. Last year alone, 82 billion apps were downloaded, and the number of developers exceeding 1 million installs grew by 35 percent since the year before, notes Google.

Truffle now lets you share your food tips via iMessage

While you’ve already got Yelp and other apps to help you figure out where to eat, Truffle is designed specifically for sharing recommendations with friends and other people you know.

A new update should make that sharing even easier. The big addition is an iMessage app, which means (you guessed it) that Truffle is now integrated with iMessage. When you’re texting with someone, you can just tap on the Truffle icon and bring up a list of your favorites from the app, or run a Truffle search.

When you find what you’re looking for, you can send the link to your friend. If they tap on it, they’ll bring up the relevant listing in Truffle (if they have the app installed) or they’ll be asked to install Truffle (if they don’t).

That might sound pretty straightforward, but it puts Truffle in a new context. Instead of just swapping recommendations while inside the app, you can now bring them up during any other iMessage conversation.

Truffle iMessage

Let’s say, for instance, you’re just randomly texting with Tom Limongello, the CEO of Truffle, and he wants to meet up. Then one of you can just pull up your favorites and recommend a convenient coffee shop without having to leave the chat.

By the way, it’s been a year since I first wrote about Truffle, and it’s still iOS only. But perhaps an Android version is getting closer, because when we discussed it, Limongello said, “I wanted to get the iPhone right before we scaled it out.”

To him, this iMessage integration was a big part of getting it right. And yes, he can envision other integrations too — he said he’d “love to be in dating apps,” and he pointed to the partnership between Airbnb and Resy as a sign of “how important restaurants are for travel.”