All posts in “Facebook”

‘Like a toddler’ with matches: Facebook slammed by senators in Libra hearing

Facebook found itself in the hot seat on Capitol Hill once again on Tuesday. This time the social media company was grilled by the Senate Banking Committee in a hearing on its proposed digital currency, Libra.

Members of Congress could not make it any more clear: they don’t trust Facebook.

“Facebook is dangerous,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, opening the hearing. “Like a toddler who has gotten his hands on a book of matches, Facebook has burned down the house over and over and called every arson a learning experience.”

Libra is currently being developed by Facebook with the goal of creating a blockchain-based token that can be instantly transferred via services like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. The company also launched Calibra, a subsidiary focused on making Libra-related products such as a digital wallet.

“Like a toddler who has gotten his hands on a book of matches, Facebook has burned down the house over and over …”

Brown continued by citing Facebook’s data privacy failures, such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the spread of fake news on its platform, foreign interference during the 2016 election, and the role the social network played in the genocide in Myanmar.

“We would be crazy to give them a chance to experiment with people’s bank accounts, to use powerful tools they don’t understand like monetary policy to jeopardize hardworking Americans’ ability to provide for their family,” continued Brown.

Head of Calibra David Marcus spoke for Facebook. He stressed that social media giant doesn’t control the currency. Instead, that would be done by a non-profit, the Libra Association — which he said would abide by U.S. financial regulations even though it’s headquartered in Switzerland.

Derision of the project was a bipartisan affair, as Democrats and Republicans alike declared their skepticism of Facebook’s intentions. 

Republican Sen. Martha McSally sarcastically quipped about the “public service” Facebook was providing after Marcus explained that the company’s business model was to spur more ecommerce with Facebook advertisers.

“I don’t trust Facebook,” stated McSally. “Instead of cleaning up your house you are starting a new business model.”

In response to questions regarding Facebook’s trustworthiness, Marcus heavily emphasized the fact that the Libra Association would eventually have 100 members entrusted to manage the project. Visa, Mastercard, Uber, eBay, Spotify, and Coinbase are some of the current 28 founding members.

He also resigned to accepting his salary in Libra after being pressed on the matter repeatedly, but relayed that replacing a bank account wasn’t the purpose of Calibra.

Unfortunately for the social media company, there were no distracting “meme-worthy” moments where a Congressperson found themselves in over their heads while discussing technology. The senators’ questions centered on Facebook’s less-than-stellar reputation — issues Congress is quite familiar with at this point — and not so much cryptocurrency or blockchain technology.

It’s unlikely that Tuesday’s hearing eased any of their concerns about the project. A second Congressional hearing on Libra is scheduled for Wednesday.

“They moved fast and broke our political discourse, they moved fast and broke journalism, they moved fast and helped incite a genocide, and they moved fast and they’re helping to undermine our democracy,” said Brown.

“Now Facebook asked people to trust them with their hard-earned paychecks. It takes a breathtaking amount of arrogance to look at that track record and think, you know what we really ought to do next? Let’s run our own bank and our own for-profit version of the Federal Reserve. Let’s do it for the whole world.”

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Daily Crunch: Facebook and Libra go to Washington

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Highlights from Facebook’s Libra Senate hearing

David Marcus, the head of Facebook’s blockchain subsidiary Calibra, testified before the Senate Banking Committee today. He said Calibra will be interoperable, so users can send money back and forth with other wallets, and he committed to data portability, so users can switch entirely to a competitor.

At the same time, Marcus said Facebook will embed only its own wallet into its messaging apps Messenger and WhatsApp, which could give the company a sizable advantage.

2. Twitter.com launches its big redesign with simpler navigation and more features

The company has been testing a new version of its desktop website since the beginning of the year, and yesterday, the final product started rolling out to the public.

3. Blackstone is acquiring mobile ad company Vungle

Multiple sources with knowledge of the deal said that the acquisition price was north of $750 million. As part of the transaction, Vungle has also reached a settlement with founder Zain Jaffer, who filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the company earlier this year.

Curve Cash in App 1

4. Curve, the ‘over-the-top’ banking platform, raises $55M at a $250M valuation

The startup lets you consolidate all of your bank cards into a single Curve card and app to make it easier to manage your spending and access other benefits.

5. Meredith Whittaker, AI researcher and an organizer of last year’s Google walkout, is leaving the company

Whittaker and another one of the walkout’s organizers, Claire Stapleton, previously said they had faced retaliation from Google after the protest. Other employees also claimed they had experienced fallout as a result of their participation, which Google denied.

6. Newsletter platform Substack raises $15.3M round led by a16z

Although Substack started out two years ago as a way to turn newsletters into a paid subscription business, it’s since added support for podcasts and discussion threads. As CEO Chris Best put it, the goal is to allow writers and creators to run their own “personal media empire.”

7. Why commerce companies are the advertising players to watch in a privacy-centric world

We’re witnessing the beginning of a sweeping upheaval in how companies are allowed to obtain, process, manage, use and sell consumer data, and the implications for the digital ad competitive landscape are massive. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

What we can learn from DTC success with TV ads

One of the most-discussed plot twists in recent advertising has been the pivot of Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) brands to linear TV. These data-driven, digital-first players are expanding well beyond Facebook and Instagram—and becoming serious players on the largest traditional medium in advertising.

A January 2019 Video Advertising Bureau study found that in 2018, 120 DTC brands collectively spent over $2 billion in TV ads—up from $1.1 B in 2016. 70 of those 2018 advertisers ran TV ads for the first time.

But while we know that they’re advertising on TV, what may be less discussed is whether they’re succeeding on television—and what strategies they use to achieve their success.

At EDO, we have a unique and differentiated ability to measure how DTC advertisers perform on TV by tracking incremental online searches above baseline in the minutes immediately following individual TV ad airings as viewers translate their interest in advertised brands and products directly into online engagement with them.

By measuring incremental search activity across 60 million national TV ad airings since 2015, we are able to effectively isolate the effects of TV ad placement and creative decisions that are most likely to cause online engagement.

We ran the numbers on DTCs as well as advertisers in various other categories to better understand how DTCs specifically are succeeding in TV ads—and what DTCs who are considering TV advertising can do to achieve success on TV.

Table of Contents

Does the David vs. Goliath story play out on TV?

The DTC revolution is a quintessential David and Goliath story. In vertical after vertical, small, digital-native upstarts are changing the game and overtaking major brands. Does that story play out on TV as well—or is TV advertising one area where DTC marketers have finally met their match?

To answer that question, EDO looked at how effectively TV ads elicited viewer activity since September 2018 across eight major industry categories including DTC. Guided by historical ad performance across billions of ads, we rated ad performance based on how closely the DTC ads came to meeting the benchmark volume of brand-related online activity in the minutes following each TV ad airing.

We index each industry accordingly—giving an index value of 100 to an ad that meets benchmark standards, and below-par ads getting a score under 100 while higher-scoring ads receive a score over 100. We chose to set our index baseline of 100 to the average Consumer Packaged Good (CPG) ad since it is such a large and broad ad category. Our results are as follows:

Highlights from Facebook’s Libra Senate hearing

Facebook will only build its own Calibra cryptocurrency wallet into Messenger and Whatsapp, and will refuse to embed competing wallets, the head of Calibra David Marcus told the Senate Banking Committee today.

Calibra will be interoperable so users can send money back and forth with other wallets, and Marcus committed to data portability so users can switch entirely to a competitor. But solely embedding Facebook’s own wallet into its leading messaging apps could give the company a sizable advantage over banks, PayPal, Coinbase, or any other potential wallet developer.

Other highlights from the “Examining Facebook’s Proposed Digital Currency and Data Privacy Considerations” hearing included Marcus saying:

  • The US should “absolutely” lead the world in rule-making for cryptocurrencies
  • “Yes” Libra will comply with all US regulations and not launch until the US lawmakers’ concerns have been answered
  • “You will not have to trust Facebook” because it’s only one of 28 current and potentially 100 or more Libra Association members and it won’t have special privileges
  • “Yes I would” accept his compensation from Facebook in the form of Libra as a show of trust in the currency
  • It is “not the intention at all” for Calibra to sell or directly monetize user data directly, though if it offered additional financial services in partnership with other financial organizations it would ask consent to use their data specifically for those purposes.
  • Facebook’s core revenue model around Libra is that more online commerce will lead businesses to spend more on Facebook ads

But Marcus also didn’t clearly answer some critical questions about Libra and Calibra.

Unanswered Questions

Chairman Crapo asked if Facebook would collect data about transactions made with Calibra that are made on Facebook, such as when users buy products from businesses they discover through Facebook. Marcus instead merely noted that Facebook would still let users pay with credit cards and other mediums as well as Calibra. That means that even though Facebook might not know how much money is in someone’s Calibra wallet or their other transactions, it might know how much the paid and for what if that transaction happens over their social networks.

Senator Tillis asked how much Facebook has invested in the formation of Libra. TechCrunch has also asked specifically how much Facebook has invested in the Libra Investment Token that will earn it a share of interest earned from the fiat currencies in the Libra Reserve. Marcus said Facebook and Calibra hadn’t determined exactly how much it would invest in the project. Marcus also didn’t clearly answer Senator Toomey’s question of why they Libra Association is considered a not-for-profit organization if it will pay out interest to members.

Senator Menendez asked if the Libra Association would freeze the assets if terrorist organizations were identified. Marcus said that Calibra and other custodial wallets that actually hold users’ Libra could do that, and that regulated off-ramps could block them from converting Libra into fiat. Buthis answer underscores that there may be no way for the Libra Association to stop transfers between terrorists’ non-custodial wallets, especially if local governments where those terrorists operate don’t step in.

Perhaps the most worrying moment of the hearing was when Senator Sinema brought up TechCrunch’s article citing that “The real risk of Libra is crooked developers”. There I wrote that Facebook’s VP of product Kevin Weil told me that ““There are no plans for the Libra Association to take a role in actively vetting [developers]”, which I believe leaves the door open to a crypto Cambridge Analytica situation where shady developers steal users money, not just their data.

Senator Sinema asked if an Arizonan was scammed out of their Libra by a Pakistani developer via a Thai exchange and a Spanish wallet, would that U.S. citizen be entitled to protection to recuperate their lost funds. Marcus responded that U.S. citizens would likely use American Libra wallets that are subject to protections and that the Libra Association will work to educate users on how to avoid scams. But Sinema stressed that if Libra is designed to assist the poor who are often less educated, they could be especially vulnerable to scammers.

The hearing is ongoing and we’ll continue to update this article with more highlights

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3 lessons from Roblox’s growth to gaming dominance

Our recently published EC-1 on Roblox recounts the origin story and growth prospects of the company. But there’s one more piece to the story: what Roblox’s impact will be on gaming and the broader startup industry, if the company manages to multiply its current 90 million users.

roblox maus 1

Sources: TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Roblox

We’ve distilled three key ideas out of the EC-1 — lessons that may apply not only to game developers and gaming entrepreneurs, but also to the broader startup industry.

Lesson 1: UGC is a missed opportunity in games

Roblox has shown that user-generated content (UGC) is a missed opportunity for much of the game industry. The company aspires, in a way, to be the YouTube of games. And it is succeeding, with 2 million experiences to date.

The game industry generally has two problems with UGC. One is the games themselves: AAA games today are too complex, and lack the flexibility and simplicity needed for robust UGC. Roblox shows that a simpler look and feel is a valid alternative to today’s super-sized, beautiful AAA games. (Minecraft proved much the same.)

The other problem is the greater complexity of making games than, say, videos or music. Roblox solved this problem by building its own game engine, which is designed solely to output Roblox-style experiences.

But increasingly, engines like Unity are capable of accomplishing similar feats: games are getting easier to build. It’s now possible that savvy entrepreneurs could build a platform like Roblox, without building an entire game engine.

Lesson 2: New opportunities in gaming are still coming

The game industry is infamously cyclical. New platforms emerge, become promising, then grow overcrowded and competitive. Usually, this cycle relates to hardware (the iPhone, virtual reality helmets, game consoles like the Nintendo Switch) or massive changes in consumer behavior (the emergence of Facebook, the early growth of the internet). But Roblox, a pure software play, shows that exceptions could exist.

It’s still early days. Roblox reported that it paid out $30 million to game developers in 2017, doubling to $60 million in 2018. Since Roblox keeps 65 percent of revenue from its games, that means it made around $230 million total in 2018. Its top 10 developers made about $2.5 million each. Seven of its games have also entered a “billion plays” club:

Adopt Me, a newer game, hit 440,000 concurrent users in June, a new record for the platform.

When a new platform appears, it’s usually found by amateur developers first. That’s certainly the case with Roblox: its successes are being created almost exclusively by first-time game developers in their teens and twenties. At some point, professional developers are likely to conclude they can do at least as well. The current market is particularly exciting because many games are fairly simple and lightweight — recent breakout hits like Camping 2 and Weight Lifting Simulator 3 are significantly smaller than comparable games on other platforms.

For entrepreneurs interested in creating new platforms or portals Roblox’s success as a combined game engine and self-contained platform also shows that opportunities still exist — if you have the patience to wait for them to mature.

Lesson 3: Patience can create amazing growth cycles

It took Roblox 15 years to grow to its current point. But most of that growth is recent: as seen in the chart above, Roblox experienced 10x growth in about 3 years, from 9 million users in February 2016 to 90 million in April 2019.

So what went into the decade or so during which Roblox was a much smaller platform? As we tell it in the origin story: a great deal of work, and very little paid acquisition.

In its early years, Roblox did buy users, to seed a user base while it worked on an impossibly large vision that included a game engine, platform, social features, a creator community, and its own games. But after a few years, it stopped buying users.

All of its growth since has been organic. That’s from two main sources: word of mouth, and YouTube users who watch one of the many Roblox streamers. Of course, any company can try to do the same. But Roblox had the patience to build a unique product — one which took years of work to even reach partial completion.

The key to it all was long-term adherence to a long-term goal: the creation of a new category, which it calls “human coexperience”. Today, Roblox still can’t be called part of a new category; it’s a game platform. But with more years of work, it may eventually get there.

For more on the Roblox story, see Part 1: The Origin Story, and Part 2: The Business Plan.