November 1, 2017 / Comments Off on Here’s how Russia targeted its fake Facebook ads and how those ads performed
It’s impossible to know just how much stuff being circulated on social networks is Russian state content in sheep’s clothing, although tech companies are scrambling to figure that out. Now, thanks to Congress, we just got a rare peek behind the curtain of how Facebook’s ad operations were manipulated by a foreign power to foment outrage and division in American society.
Today the House Intelligence Committee published a selection of Facebook and Instagram political ads that were bought by entities linked to the Russian government. All of these ads appealed to divisions in American society, often falling along political and identity-based fault lines. The committee signaled last month that it would be releasing all 3,000 of the ads that Facebook had provided, but instead it opted to share a sample of around 25 U.S. political and issue-based ad buys with Russian government links. (We’ve collected those here in one place so you don’t have to deal with the PDFs.)
As the chart below illustrates, no one was exempt. The Russian ads targeted the far left and the far right, seeking to manipulate black activists, Muslims, Christians, LGBTQ people, gun owners and even fans of Ivanka Trump’s jewelry line. Sometimes the ads were targeted by location, organizing real-life events in states like New York and Florida.
As you’d expect, the ad spend positively correlates to how many impressions and clicks a given ad generated, though only a few of these ad campaigns — which are not by any means all of the ads — cost much over $1,000.
We’ve known some of this, but today we got to see not just a representative sample of the ads themselves, but how much they cost, who exactly they targeted and how well they performed. It’s interesting stuff, so we collected it into a sortable chart with links to images of the ads so you can see for yourself.
November 1, 2017 / Comments Off on The new Amazon Oasis is big and waterproof, but it doesn’t feel like progress
Last year, Amazon introduced the ultra-thin and expensive Kindle Oasis. It re-imagined the Kindle E-reader design, wrapping an unusual cantilever chassis around the 6-inch electronic paper screen.
On one side, it was 0.13 inches thick. On the other 0.33 inches. This fatter area housed the battery, but also gave the Kindle a defined grip area. It also married with a special case that slipped into the space left by the thin part of the screen and connected both magnetically and electrically to the Kindle Oasis to add another four weeks of battery life.
It was stunning, different and another step closer to the dream: e-readers that feel like you’re reading off a single sheet of paper.
The combination of the design, ergonomics and excellent screen almost made the Oasis worth $349. Aside from the price, I had trouble seeing how Amazon could make a better Kindle. And with less than a third of Americans choosing to read ebooks (the number jumps to over 40 percent when you look at college-educated and affluent readers), I wondered if they should even bother. But Amazon did it anyway.
Viewed from a distance, the all-new Amazon Kindle Oasis is virtually unchanged from the first one. That impression changes quickly as you get closer. To start with, this is a much bigger e-reader. At 7 inches diagonally, the screen is a full inch larger than the previous Oasis, my Kindle Paperwhite, and the Kindle Voyage.
The back is different, too. Instead of a black composite material, it’s now a shiny, smooth aluminum body. There’s still a thick 0.32-inch grip and a 0.13-inch thin side, but unlike the original Oasis, this model’s back is one, continuous piece of metal molded around the battery (there is a 5.5-inch by 0.25 inch composite cutout for the LTE antenna on the LTE model, only) that tightly hugs the screen and control area (home for the two, physical navigation buttons) on the other side.
There is no connector on the back because, even though the 7-inch Oasis can marry with an optional case in the same fashion as the first Oasis, it no longer electronically connects to it and gains no extra battery life. Fortunately, that larger Oasis chassis accommodates a lot more battery. Amazon promises 6 weeks of battery life on a charge.
The new unibody design is also why this is Amazon’s first essentially waterproof Kindle (2 meters of fresh water for 60 minutes).
It’s all good news, right? So why don’t I love the new Kindle Oasis?
Amazon’s product packaging is remarkable only for its laudable simplicity. Unboxing the new Kindle Oasis takes just a few moments and the device walks you through connecting it to your Wi-Fi network and Amazon account. Even at $249 (at the low end, my test model with Wi-Fi, LTE and 32 GB costs $349), the package does not include a charger, just the micro-USB cable. Also, am I the only one surprised that Amazon hasn’t switched these devices to USB-C?
I placed the Oasis on my desk and charged it overnight. The next day I picked it and started reading. Strike that, I tried to pick it up. The wider and somewhat sleeker body simply isn’t as gripable as the smaller Oasis or my own 6-inch Paper white. I used two hands to grab the Oasis, flipped the reader over and tried to grip it again. In both cases, I was spreading my fingers to the sides of the device; I had four fingers on one side and my thumb on the thin side. I couldn’t pick it up. The best way to grip the Oasis is to slide your fingers under the fat side and let your thumb rest on top of the screen. Then it’s easy to pick up.
Don’t get me wrong, the Oasis, which weighs just 7 ounces, is light and — thanks to the wide navigation area and the curve on the bottom between the thick and thin sides of the device — comfortable to hold.
It’s not, though, as comfortable to hold as my Paperwhite, which weighs just 5.7 ounces. But, hey, I do get that big screen.
A pretty face
The New Kindle Oasis screen is not only the biggest e-reader since the Kindle DX, it’s also the best. While sharing the same 300 ppi resolution as the last few Kindle devices, it’s faster, offers the best contrast (more like ink on white paper) and, thanks to a couple more LED lights, brighter.
Amazon also added more reading experience customization. Instead of eight different font size choices, the Oasis has 14 and the labels now reflect the real on-screen font size. I can also change the screen, through accessibility options, to reverse text: all white text on a black screen.
A larger device also means you can put more technology inside. The all-new Oasis includes Bluetooth connectivity, so you can play Audible’s audio books on your speaker of choice. The Audible experience, which Amazon owns, is also included for the first time in the Kindle Oasis. You do not need to be an Audible member to use it, but audio books will be cheaper if you are.
Setting this up was a little challenging because, initially, I couldn’t get the Oasis to see my Harman Kardon Invoke speaker. Eventually, after restarting both devices, I got them connected and then it was easy to play an Audible audio book.
Since I don’t think everyone in my home wants to hear what I’m reading, I also paired the Oasis to Apple’s AirPods. This worked on the first try and the audio sounded great.
Ebooks don’t automatically come with their audio versions. You will have to pay for the book twice. Fortunately, Amazon offers steep discounts for anyone who already owns either book format. In my case, I got a book for free from Amazon (Prime members get one free tome — from a preset collection — per month) and paid $1.99 for the audio book.
One of my favorite things about this Kindle update is that the book and audio book remain in perfect sync. I started playing Eliza Maxwell’s The Unremembered Girl through Audible and then switched to the print book. It dropped me right on the page where I left off in Audible. I also really like the simple Audible playback screen.
Reading with the Oasis is a pleasurable experience. I can use taps or swipes on the screen to turn or turn back a page, or use the two physical buttons on the face of the device. The buttons are perfectly positioned for my thumb, but I did choose to swap the operation of them from the default. I like Page Forward on top and Go Back on the bottom.
Having those buttons there means I don’t have to move my other hand while reading. I have never felt so lazy.
As for the waterproofing, I tested it by placing the device under some running water. The water didn’t harm the Oasis at all, but it was fun to watch the screen react to it. Water makes an electrical connection, so the capacitive touchscreen, which uses the conductivity of our own fingers to respond, acted like someone was touching the 7-inch screen all over.
I read with the Oasis on the train, in bed and at work, and started to realize that, while I like the large screen, I miss the lightness and balance of a smaller device. The Amazon Kindle is the only device where I can easily read for hours. One obvious reason for that is the reflective screen needs little battery life to generate a page of text and virtually none to hold it on screen. The other reason is that the previous Kindles have always felt so light and balanced. This Oasis felt a little unwieldy.
I’m not sure what kind of feedback Amazon got from readers that indicated that they wanted a bigger Kindle screen. Yes, it’s closer to a hardcover page size and, no doubt, a hard cover book is much bigger, heavier and more unwieldy than an e-reader, but I never had a complaint about my 6-inch Kindle screen.
Battery life is rated for six weeks with 30 minutes of reading per day, the Wi-Fi and LTE radios off and brightness set to 10, which is a little below half power on the LEDs.
I did not have six weeks to test this, so I decided to see what happens if you push the Kindle Oasis hard on all fronts. I turned up the brightness to 24 and left the radios on. I did not use the device continuously, but by day five, the battery was spent. That surprised me a little, but I think there was another reason for this short life span. This is the first Kindle e-reader I’ve ever used that accidentally turns on in my backpack.
I don’t know if this is because the power button is on the top edge of the device (it’s on the bottom edge of my Paperwhite) and I had a habit of putting it into my backpack with the button facing up, or if the button on the Oasis is a little less stiff and therefore more easily pressed on. Whatever the case, on more than one occasion, I opened my backpack and found the Oasis shining brightly in the darkness.
Though expensive ($349 for the 32 GB LTE model, $249 for the 8 GB Wi-Fi-only version), the new Amazon Kindle Oasis is a nicely designed, useful device. I’m still not sure it’s better than the original Kindle Oasis. Even with Bluetooth and a better and bigger screen, this is not the device I want to hold and read with for six hours at the beach. It’s too big. If I really wanted a larger reading screen, I could switch to an iPad mini or Kindle Fire Tablet.
For almost a decade, Amazon has delivered ever smaller and lighter Kindle e-readers that brought them closer and closer to that reading-on-paper ideal. The whole point has been for the technology to fade into the background so we, the avid readers Amazon targets with these devices, could focus on the words. The first Oasis was a bold and welcome leap on that direction. This new Kindle feels like a step backward.
There are roughly 70,000 sheep in the Faroe Islands — what better way to map out the archipelago, whose name means “the islands of sheep?” The campaign was put together by the Faroese Tourist Board, which used the hashtag “#wewantGoogleStreetView” to attract the search giant. The initial video received more than 479,000 views and brought Google arrived with more 360 cameras to mount on cars, hikers, horseback riders, kayakers and even a wheelbarrow.
“When we herd about the Sheep View project, we thought it was shear brilliance,” writes a punny David Castro González de Vega from Google Maps. “So we decided to help the Faroese by supplying them with a Street View Trekker and 360-degree cameras via our Street View camera loan program.”
The team arrived last summer to train and equip the community, Google said. But what’s really neat is that Google is leaving a few Street View 360 cameras at the tourist office in Tórshavn and Atlantic Airways at the airport, in case tourists want to assist the country in lending “a hoof.”
The Faroese team’s initial setup with sheep wasn’t as easy as it sounds — the small 360-degree camera they used only had a two-hour battery life. Of course the sheep, unlike a car, couldn’t keep it charged. The team had to rig portable solar panels, that also doubled as a harness. It powered the camera and an iPhone, which the sheep carried. About one image every minute is transmitted wirelessly to the Sheep View headquarters, where the team uploads the photos to Google Maps.
Thankfully, Google’s arrival made the process a lot less arduous. Though that didn’t mean Sheep View 360 is shuttering its doors — no, the team is still continuing its work and Google’s support will be supplementary to the overarching goal of mapping the Faroe Islands.
“We’re so thrilled that we succeeded in getting Google Street View to come to the Faroe Islands by creating our own Sheep View. We are also proud that we managed to spread the word about the Faroe Islands — a place many had previously not heard of — to people all around the world. As a result, tourism numbers have increased and visitors can now use Google Street View to get beautiful panoramic views of the Faroe Islands,” said Guorio Hojgaard, Director of Visit Faroe Islands.
Google says if there’s a place that hasn’t gotten the Street View treatment, you can grab your own 360 camera and upload the images to Google Maps, or borrow one from Google’s Street View camera loan program.
November 1, 2017 / Comments Off on Osama bin Laden’s compound computers held crochet lessons, viral YouTube videos, and sexy video games
A couple of years after releasing the first cache of books and articles found in Osama bin Laden’s compound in 2011, the US government has followed up with a massive collection of computer files — including viral YouTube videos, anime, and the September 11th conspiracy documentary Loose Change.
The CIA-hosted archive includes hundreds of gigabytes’ worth of files, but its title indexes — for audio, documents, video, and images — are a lot more manageable. Agency director Mike Pompeo, who authorized their release, says the collection “provides the opportunity for the American people to gain further insights into the plans and workings” of al-Qaeda.
In addition to a mass of basic operating system elements and clearly terrorism-related material, they reveal some odd details about compound residents’ media diets. There are a few big-name films like Antz, Cars, and Resident Evil, which the CIA has withheld (alongside less prominent copyrighted videos) in case someone was planning to download a 174GB file to fish around for pirated media.
But beyond that, you can also find listings for a downloaded copy of the super-popular YouTube video “Charlie Bit My Finger;” as well as a video file called “Loosechange2” — likely a copy of the second edition of Loose Change, which argues that the September 11th attacks were masterminded by the American government, not bin Laden. You can even find a wealth of videos on crocheting baskets, baby socks, and beanie caps, among other things.
There are also several PDF files about Illuminati conspiracy theories, but some of those titles — like the book Bloodlines of the Illuminati — could already be found in the 2015 documents. Judging by the names on some audio files, someone had installed the video gamesZuma Deluxe and Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army 2. Gizmodo writes that there was a major anime fan there as well — and, more bizarrely, a fan of ancient bootleg erotic video games.
Given the sheer volume of the files and the fact that they were only released today, their full political and academic importance probably won’t be evident for some time. Also, in case it wasn’t already clear, these aren’t files that were personally downloaded or accessed by bin Laden — just a series of strange artifacts gathered in one of the decade’s most high-profile US military missions.
November 1, 2017 / Comments Off on Watch the Pitch@Palace pitches live right here
After months of preparation, startups will gather at St. James Palace in London to compete in the Pitch@Palace pitch-off. TechCrunch will be broadcasting the competition live here beginning at 5:30 p.m. PT.
The Pitch@Palace competition has toured a number of cities, including Aberdeen, Bristol and Oldham, giving startups an opportunity to hone pitches and be selected to compete at St. James’s Palace.
The theme of this pitch-off event is Future of Mobility, Autonomous Systems and Materials. Forty-one entrepreneurs (listed below) will attend today, 12 will have three minutes to pitch their ideas and the others will have 30 seconds to introduce their businesses.
You can watch the live stream above. Check out the competing companies below.
November 1, 2017 / Comments Off on The iPad 3 goes from ‘revolutionary’ to obsolete at breakneck speed
Why it matters to you
As the third-generation iPad becomes a vintage Apple product, repair options for the device shrink drastically.
If you own an iPad 3, you may finally have an excuse to upgrade to a newer model. Apple officially confirmed that the third-generation iPad is now a vintage and obsolete product, after MacRumors reported on an internal memo released to Apple Authorized Service Providers earlier this week. Both Wi-Fi and cellular versions made the list. They join the original iPad as the second iPad to hit the list.
While the terms vintage and obsolete are used pretty interchangeably, there is a slight difference. In Apple parlance, obsolete products are those that were discontinued more than 7 years ago and for which hardware service is no longer available under any circumstances. Vintage products, on the other hand, still have hardware and repair service in California and Turkey.
When it was introduced in 2012, Apple marketing materials hailed the iPad 3 as “revolutionary.” While revolutionary may be a stretch, it did feature a number of firsts for an iPad. The iPad 3 was the first to feature the Retina display, the first to have an iSight camera (the iPad 2 had a 0.7 megapixel rear-facing camera), and the first to have quad-core graphics processing. It was also the first to have LTE capability, although this was only available in certain parts of the U.S. and Canada.
Even with its impressive specs, the iPad 3 was the shortest-lived iOS device in history. Seven months after its introduction, the iPad 3 was discontinued and replaced by the iPad 4. This may be the reason the iPad 3 was placed on the vintage and obsolete list while its predecessor, the iPad 2, continues to to supported.
If you own an iPad 3 and live in California, you’re in luck. California is the only state in the U.S. where Apple retail stores and Apple service providers will still make repairs to your iPad. If you live outside of California, you’ll need to look for a service provider in California should you need a repair.
The iPad 3 should continue to have limited hardware support in California for at least the next two years. Apple typically waits seven years after a product has been off the market before rendering a product obsolete and ending all hardware service.
November 1, 2017 / Comments Off on Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status hit 300M users, nearly 2X Snapchat
Instagram and WhatsApp’s Snapchat clones aren’t slowing down. Today Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status both now have 300 million daily active users. That’s up from 250 million for Instagram in June, and WhatsApp in July. That makes the copies almost twice the size of the original, as Snapchat’s entire app only has 173 million daily active users. Zuckerberg shared the new stats today on Facebook’s Q3 earnings call that see it earn record revenue and an all-time high share price despite the shadow of Russian election interference.
Now that most of Facebook products including Instagram Stories, Facebook Stories, and Messenger Day have their own augmented reality face filters, they’ve hit a degree of feature parity with Snapchat. That means we may see more innovation now that there’s less of a Snap roadmap to follow. Though perhaps we’ll see Facebook copy Snapchat’s Bitmoji personalized avatars and Snap Map location sharing feature. For example, Instagram just launched Superzoom to let you add dramatic zoom-ins to your videos, and is testing a Stop Motion feature.
Zuckerberg said on the call that he sees fostering community around video as big push for Facebook as it shifts from focusing on “time spent” on the company’s family of apps to “time well spent”. Zuckerberg explained that “research shows that interacting with friends and family on social media tends to be more meaningful and can be good for our well-being, and that’s time well spent. But when we just passively consume content, that may be less true.”
Since Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status are peer-to-peer video usually viewed by close friends, they enhance the community feel of Facebook’s apps in ways that top-down professionally produced content can’t. People also watch these short clips intensely, which could be a boon for the advertisements Facebook now inserts between Instagram Stories.
Now over half of Instagram’s 500 million daily active users are on Stories, indicating that it’s becoming the future of the app. That idea is supported by the fact that Instagram now injects big preview tiles of Stories into the middle of its feed to encourage you to watch them. While people might like to permanently post the occasional glamor shot, or quickly scroll them, Stories drive daily creation and longer bouts of consumption. While Snapchat may have pioneered the idea, Instagram is pushing to perfect this modern form of social media.
November 1, 2017 / Comments Off on Reddit CEO talks taking site from ‘dystopian Craigslist’ to ‘the most human place on the internet’
Reddit CEO Steve Huffman took to the site for his “quarterly inquisition,” an AMA where he fielded questions from users and moderators on all kinds of topics. The discussion today focused largely on empowering mods to do what they need to do, which should have a knock-on effect in creating functional communities. But he also addressed some politically sensitive issues, from election interference to troublesome subreddits.
The overarching goal over the last couple of years has been updating Reddit from the largely unfiltered sea of blue links (he called it a “dystopian Craigslist”) to a truly self-monitoring and self-hosted source of user-submitted content.
Because the site is far too big to be policed by Reddit staff, the monitoring part of the job is delegated to moderators, volunteers who handle everything from setting and enforcing subreddit rules to addressing user complaints. But they can’t do their job if Reddit isn’t supporting them, and mods have been vocal about needing better tools to keep tabs on the thousands of users they oversee.
“Proper mod tools for mobile are in development now. They’ll ship in the next major (4.0) release, which we expect this year,” wrote Huffman. “We have a ‘moderators’ dev team now. At the moment they’re working on an enhanced mod queue, subreddit styling, and a new flair system.”
Community managers are also being hired — these are the interface between the site’s official staff and its many mods and users.
The next part of the challenge is making Reddit easier for people to like. A new “Popular” subreddit was added earlier this year to be a better front page for first-time visitors, and now the priority is getting them to stay. Huffman extemporized on the general trend:
As Reddit has grown, so has our vision. Reddit provides human connection and belonging, for which we believe people have a fundamental need. People come to Reddit to stay informed, to laugh, to learn, to argue, for support, to talk about freaky sex stuff… Reddit means a lot of things to a lot of people, and we want to provide our service for everyone on the planet.
Of course, the increase in size means we attract people who want to exploit us. We at Reddit Inc will do our best to prevent this, and the greater Reddit community will fight it as well.
Reddit is the most human place on the Internet, we’ll fight to preserve this as hard as we can.
And part of that is acknowledging the presence of both bad actors and unpopular ones. Several users brought up the question of Russian interference or influence like we’ve seen on other platforms.
Huffman’s responses were necessarily vague, he wrote, because of “the sensitive nature of the situation” — by which he presumably meant he can’t be specific about methods because the actors in question would then circumvent them. But he assured people that it was being taken seriously:
This is the domain of the Anti-Evil team that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. They are the engineering team whose mandate is to prevent those who cheat, manipulate, and otherwise attempt to undermine Reddit.
…we detect and prevent manipulation in a variety of ways, generally looking at where accounts come from, how they work together, and behaviors of groups of accounts that differ from typical behavior.
Folks have been trying to manipulate Reddit for a long time, so this is not a new problem for us. Their tactics and our responses do evolve over time, so it’s been constant work for us over the years.
He also noted that Reddit is fundamentally less susceptible to this kind of thing, at least in certain ways:
Reddit itself is more resilient than other places online because our community is generally pretty good at sniffing out bullshit, and structure of our site means any one viewpoint isn’t seen and accepted by everyone.
People have this notion that something is either misinformation or not, but the reality is there is a lot of space between misinformation, satire, people just being wrong, trolling, and biased reporting.
The response that seemed to garner the most disagreement was Huffman’s response to the question of why Reddit had not yet banned r/The_Donald, which as you can imagine is a hive of pro-Trump activity but is infamous for its members bullying and trolling other subs. Several users cited many posts and comments that clearly broke the rules of the site — rules that were recently updated to outlaw content that “encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm against people or animals.”
Huffman’s response was that, although he acknowledged that many of the provided comments broke the rules, the subreddit itself isn’t fundamentally in violation:
Generally the mods of the_donald have been cooperative when we approach them with systematic abuses. Typically we ban entire communities only when the mods are uncooperative or the entire premise of the community is in violation of our policies. In the past we have removed mods of the_donald that refuse to work with us.
But the second part of his response provoked something of an avalanche of disapproval:
Finally, the_donald is a small part of a large problem we face in this country—that a large part of the population feels unheard, and the last thing we’re going to do is take their voice away.
Users decried this as being needlessly tolerant of a section of the site many see as toxic and filled with multiple offenders of the site’s rules. The idea that they’re “unheard” is also questionable, considering the population in question did manage to elect a president. They’re being heard, all right.
It would, of course, create a different backlash should Reddit institute a ban; accusations of partisan censorship and takeover by social justice warriors would be instantaneous. It may be that admins have their finger on the button and are just waiting for this and other subreddits like it to make a few serious mistakes before pressing it. But the feeling in the thread was certainly that the action is long overdue.
Lastly there was the question of monetization, on which topic Huffman was candid:
QPX Express API allows other apps to pull in-flight data to compare aspects like prices and flight times. While it’s unclear which platforms currently use the system, the API has, in the past, helped power searches inside Kayak and Orbitz, along with apps from specific airlines and smaller travel startups. QPX Express is a lighter version of the original QPX designed for small businesses, though it looks like the original QPX will still be available. Without the QPX Express, these smaller apps will have to find new solutions for in-flight flight data from multiple sources.
The QXP Express API will close down on April 10 — new signups have been disabled as Google leaves a few months for apps currently using the platform to find alternatives. The change was only announced through an updated FAQ page, which also says that the fees are dropping as the program closes, with the $0.035 per query rate now at $0.02.
With the quiet announcement, Google did not say exactly why it is shutting down the service, but the change probably has something to do with Google Flights and Google Trips. With Google’s own flight-booking system steadily gaining new tools, shutting down the QXP Express leaves Google Trips with that API, while leaving competitors without the tool.
Google acquired ITA Software, the company that created GPX, during a deal that spanned 2010 and 2011. Part of the agreement required Google to keep the API open to third-party apps for five years while integrating the program into their own programs. Google later developed the API into QPX Express in 2013, a lighter version of the software. Google has since expanded Google Flights to include predictions on when ticket prices will rise.
The flight app originally created by ITA, OnTheFly, will also shut down next month, with Google suggesting users instead use Google Flights or the still functioning ITA Matrix search.
Google didn’t offer a list of suggestions for replacing the QPX Express API, but there are similar services. According to TechCrunch, Fareportal, Skyscanner, and Skypicker offer similar flight- search APIs.
Exactly which apps will be affected by the change isn’t yet clear, but users shouldn’t be surprised if a favorite travel app looks a bit different next spring.
November 1, 2017 / Comments Off on Zuck says ad transparency regulation would be ‘very good if it’s done well’
Despite Facebook’s effort to rapidly self-regulate in the wake of Russian interference in the U.S. election using Facebook ads, CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he would support government regulation if implemented properly. Meanwhile, Facebook elevated its expense estimates for 2018 to fund security hiring.
“We’re working with Congress on legislation to make advertising more transparent. I think this would be very good if it’s done well,” Zuckerberg said on Facebook’s Q3 2017 earnings call. “And even without legislation, we’re already moving forward on our own to bring advertising on Facebook to an even higher standard of transparency than ads on TV or other media.”
In fact, Zuckerberg started the call fuming, declaring that “I’ve expressed how upset I am that Russians used our tools to sow distrust . . . What they did is wrong, and we’re not going to stand for it.” He noted that when Facebook focuses on something it gets it done, even if it takes time and mistakes, and he’s throwing the weight of the company behind the security effort. In fact, he invoked the way Facebook demolished Google+ and Snapchat, saying “We’re bringing the same intensity to these security issues that we brought to any adversary or challenge that we’ve faced.”
This position still didn’t lead Zuckerberg to show up to today and yesterday’s congressional hearings where Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s general counsels were grilled about Russian election interference. Several congress members requested CEOs show up next time.
Today’s comments come after Zuckerberg wrote in today’s earnings release that “We’re serious about preventing abuse on our platforms. We’re investing so much in security that it will impact our profitability. Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.”
Example of a Facebook ad bought by Russian trolls to divide U.S. voters
Specifically, CFO David Wehner says Facebook plans for expenses to grow 45 percent to 60 percent in 2018 as Facebook invests in better security to thwart Russian election attackers, more content for its Watch tab of original video and research for its long-term bets on artificial intelligence, Oculus and augmented reality. That cash will go toward hiring 10,000 more content and ads moderators (though those won’t all necessarily be full-time employees), doubling its security engineering force and developing new AI to weed out bad actors.
COO Sheryl Sandberg said Facebook will stand by its policy of allowing issue-related ads to be served because of its support for free speech, but she said the company wants to elevate the quality of discourse on the platform.
Wehner admits that Facebook has increased its estimation of false accounts from 1 percent last quarter to 2 percent to 3 percent this quarter, or 41 million to 62 million monthly active users. That’s in part because Facebook said it started using a new technology to calculate these estimates, and because of a spike in false account creation in Vietnam and Indonesia. Facebook said the new estimation technology is also why it now pegs duplicate accounts at 10 percent of monthly active users or 200 million, versus 6 percent last quarter.
Overall, given Zuckerberg’s comments and its expense estimate increase, Facebook seems to be taking the Russian security and ad transparency issues extremely seriously. Though it might seem like this is a prioritization of security over profits, long-term Facebook must be a safe platform for legitimate discussion to maintain its place atop the hill of social networks.