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Virtual Instagram celebrity ‘Lil Miquela’ has had her account hacked

The Instagram account for the virtual celebrity known as Lil Miquela has been hacked.

The multi-racial fashionista and advocate for multiculturalism, whose account is followed by nearly 1 million people, has had “her” account taken over by another animated Instagram account holder named “Bermuda.”

Welcome to the spring of 2018.

The hack of the @Lilmiquela account started earlier today, but the Bermuda avatar has long considered Miquela her digital nemesis and has taken steps to hack other of Miquela’s social accounts — like Spotify — before.

Because this is the twenty-first century — and given the polarization of the current political climate — it’s not surprising that the very real culture wars between proponents of pluralism and the Make America Great Again movement would take their fight to feuding avatars.

In posts on the Lil Maquela account, Bermuda proudly flaunts her artificial identity… and a decidedly pro-Trump message.

Unlike Miquela, whose account plays with the notion of a physical presence for a virtual avatar, Bermuda is very clearly a simulation. And one with political views that are diametrically opposed to those espoused by Miquela (whose promotion of openness and racial equality has been a feature that’s endeared the account to followers and fashion and culture magazines alike).

Miquela Sousa, a Brazilian-American from Downey, Calif., launched her Instagram account in 2016. Since the account’s appearance, Miquela has been a subject of speculation in the press and online.

Appearing on magazine covers, and consenting to do interviews with reporters, Miquela has been exploring notions of celebrity, influence and culture since her debut on Facebook’s new most popular social media site.

A person familiar with the Lil Miquela account said that Instagram was working on regaining control.

Facebook Stories adds funky AR drawing and Instagram’s Boomerang

You’ll soon be able to draw on the world around you and shoot back-and-forth Instagram Boomerang GIFs with the Facebook Camera. Bringing additional creative tools to the Facebook Camera could make it a more popular place to shoot content and help the company compete with Snapchat.

“We wanted to give people an easy way to create with augmented reality and draw in the world around them” says John Barnett, a Facebook Camera Product Manager about the feature it calls “3D drawing”. It’s rolling out to users over the coming weeks. Matt Navarra first spotted the features.

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With AR drawing, you can scribble on the world around you, then move your camera and see the markings stay in place. It’s a fun way to add graffiti that only exists inside your screen. You can add the drawings before or while you’re recording, allowing you to draw on something out of frame, then pan or unzoom to reveal it. Facebook will eventually add more brushes beyond the pastel gradient colors seen here.

Facebook tells me the technology understands the corners and objects in the room to create a 3D spec. Facebook could that use that to detect surfaces like walls and tables to wrap the drawing onto them. Currently, it only does that when it’s confident about the object recognition, such as in optimal light conditions.

Since drawing is a universal language, the feature could make AR easy to use for younger users and Internet novices. Facebook launched its AR effects at F8 last April, and has recently added AR tracker target experiences that are triggered by real-world posters or QR codes. It all started with the company acquiring fledgling AR masks startup MSQRD in 2016.

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Facebook added looping GIF creation to the Facebook Camera a year ago, but those can feel a bit jarring since they start back at the beginning once they end. Some users no longer have that GIF option, so it’s potentially being replaced by Boomerang’s established brand and more silky back-and-forth animated video clips. Facebook confirms that this feature is now rolling out to the Facebook Camera.

As we reported last week, Facebook is determined to make Stories work. Despite the criticism of it being a rip-off of Snapchat and redundant given Instagram Stories, Facebook is trying new ways to make Stories more popular an accessible. That includes tests of Stories as the default destination for content shot with the Facebook Camera, showing bigger tiles with previews of Stories atop the News Feed, and showing a camera and camera roll preview window when you open the status composer. Those, combined with these new features, could give Facebook Stories a boost in utility and visibility.

Facebook believes social media is on an inevitable journey from text to photos to videos to Stories equipped with augmented reality. Since Snapchat refused its acquisition offers, Facebook is now on a quest to evolve into an AR company rather than having to buy a big one. It remains to be seen whether users think AR is a novelty or a core utility, but Facebook won’t wait to find out.

Instagram will let you download your content after criticism about portability

Yesterday we reported that Instagram lacked data portability, knocking the app for the absence of an equivalent to Facebook’s Download Your Information too. Now an Instagram spokesperson tells me “We are building a new data portability tool. You’ll soon be able to download a copy of what you’ve shared on Instagram, including your photos, videos and messages.”

This tool could make it much easier for users to leave Instagram and go to a competing image social network. And as long as it launches before May 25th, it will help Instagram to comply with upcoming European GDPR privacy law that requires data portability.

Instagram has historically made it very difficult to export your data. You can’t drag, or tap and hold on images to save them. And you can’t download images you’ve already posted. That’s despite Instagram now being almost 8 years old and having over 800 million users. For comparison, Facebook launched its Download Your Information tool in 2010, just six years after launch.

We’re awaiting more info on whether you’ll only be able to download your photos, videos, and messages; or if you’ll also be able to export your following and follower lists, Likes, comments, Stories, and the captions you share with posts. It’s also unclear whether photos and videos will export in the full fidelity that they’re uploaded or displayed in, or whether they’ll be compressed. Instagram told me “we’ll share more details very soon when we actually launch the tool. But at a high level it allows you to download and export what you have shared on Instagram” so we’ll have to wait for more clarity.

If Instagram does offer uncompressed downloads of the same image quality as it shows on its app, the Download Your Information tool could make unofficial third-party export apps like InstaPort obsolete. That would be a win for users since these apps are sometimes run by unscrupulous developers who could misuse your content or the Instagram login credentials you need to use them.

Portability could facilitate the rise of legitimate competitors to Instagram, or at least let users back up their content on an image storage app or their own computer. But still, it’s Instagram’s social graph and the data it’s gathered about your interests that help it tune its algorithm to show you the most relevant posts. This personalization moat can leave rivals with similar features unable to provide a similar level of service.

If Instagram wanted to truly level the playing field, it would let you export your social graph in a privacy-safe format that would let users find and follow those same people on a different app. But the announcement of this data portability tool is a much-needed first step to unlocking Instagram’s content vault.

Zuckerberg owns or clones most of the “8 social apps” he cites as competition

Mark Zuckerberg’s flimsy defense when congress asked about a lack of competition to Facebook has been to cite that the average American uses eight social apps. But that conveniently glosses over the fact that Facebook owns three of the top 10 U.S. iOS apps: #4 Instagram, #6 Messenger, and #8 Facebook according to App Annie. The top 3 apps are games. Facebook is building its Watch video hub to challenge #5 YouTube, and has relentlessly cloned Stories to beat #7 Snapchat. And Facebook also owns #19 WhatsApp. Zoom in to just “social networking apps”, and Facebook owns the entire top 3.

“The average American I think uses eight different communication and social apps. So there’s a lot of different choice and a lot of innovation and activity going on in this space” Zuckerberg said when asked about whether Facebook is a monopoly by Senator Graham during yesterday’s Senate hearing, and he’s trotted out that same talking point that was on his note sheet during today’s House testimony.

But Facebook has relentlessly sought to acquire or co-opt the features of its competitors. That’s why any valuable regulation will require congress to prioritize competition. That means either breaking up Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp; avoiding rules that are easy for Facebook to comply with but prohibitively expensive for potential rivals to manage; or ensuring data portability that allows users to choose where to take their content and personal information.

Breaking up Facebook, or at least preventing it from acquiring established social networks in the future, would be the most powerful way to promote competition in the space. Facebook’s multi-app structure creates economies of scale in data that allow it to share ad targeting and sales teams, backend engineering, and relevancy-sorting algorithms. That makes it tough for smaller competitors without as much money or data to provide the public with more choice.

Regulation done wrong could create a moat for Facebook, locking in its lead. Complex transparency laws might be just a paperwork speed bump for Facebook and its army of lawyers, but could be too onerous for upstart companies to follow. Meanwhile, data collection regulation could prevent competitors from ever building as large of a data war chest as Facebook has already generated.

Data portability gives users the option to choose the best social network for them, rather than being stuck where they already are. Facebook provides a Download Your Information tool for exporting your content. But photos come back compressed, and you don’t get the contact info of friends unless they opt in. The list of friends’ names you receive doesn’t allow you to find them on other apps the way contact info would. Facebook should at least offer a method for your exporting hashed version of that contact info that other apps could use to help you find your friends there without violating the privacy of those friends. Meanwhile, Instagram entirely lacks a Download Your Information tool.

Congress should push Zuckerberg to explain what apps compete with Facebook as a core identity provider, an omni-purpose social graph, or cross-platform messaging app. Without choice, users are at the mercy of Facebook’s policy and product examples. All of the congressional questions about data privacy and security don’t mean much to the public if they have no viable alternative to Facebook. The fact that Facebook owns or clones the majority of the 8 social apps used by the average American is nothing for Zuckerberg to boast about.

Instagram traps data without a Download Your Information tool

It’s hard to #DeleteFacebook with no viable alternative, but at least you can export all your data. There’s no such option on Instagram . That lack of data portability puts users at the mercy of Instagram’s product and policy decisions. And it could even put users at risk, as those who seek to back up their accounts and content are forced to use unofficial third-party apps that require their password.

Facebook launched its Download Your Information tool in 2010, six years after the social network launched. It lets you export a zip file of all your status updates, photos, profile info, messages, friend lists and a whole lot more. The idea is that if you wanted to ditch Facebook, you could take your data with you and get set up on some other social network. The fact that you only get a list of your friends’ names by default, not their email addresses or another way to easily find them on different apps, limits that power. But at least you get all the content you created.

Soon to be eight years old, Instagram still lacks its own version of Download Your Information. When asked about this, an Instagram spokesperson merely said, “Instagram does not currently have a data portability tool.”

Instagram doesn’t even offer a way to download your photos or videos after you share them to its feed. Unlike most apps and websites, you can’t just tap and hold on a photo to save it to your phone. The closest option is to use Instagram’s “share via email” feature, which sends a saveable version of an image. Otherwise, you need to set Instagram to save images when you post them.

Third-party tools have cropped up to fill the gap, but their security and privacy practices can be questionable. Vibbi InstaPort, Insta Saver, 4K Download and Picodash are a few. These services typically require you to log in with your Instagram credentials, which puts your username and password at risk of leaking to hackers. It’s also unclear what else could happen to your images once they export them. And the fact that some of these services, like InstaPort, offer to sell you Instagram followers too shows how scammy they can be. Perhaps the best bet for users is this open-sourced InstaLooter tool, but it requires some technical know-how to retrieve your photos and videos.

The rest of your profile information, photos you’re tagged in, people you follow or who follow you, your Likes and comments and any other Instagram data is all trapped in the app. The European GDPR privacy law goes into effect on May 25th, so Instagram may need to offer a data portability tool by then. Perhaps Congress should ask Zuckerberg about this during his testimonies over the next two days.

The problem is that without portability, there’s less chance of a legitimate rival to Instagram emerging. Snapchat’s ephemerality makes it too different. That absence means there’s nowhere to go if users are fed up with Instagram’s algorithm or other issues. This is partly why the #DeleteUber campaign peaked much higher in terms of Twitter mentions than #DeleteFacebook, despite having a much smaller user base. Those pissed at Uber could switch to Lyft without changing their behavior much. There’s no equivalent alternative to Facebook or Instagram.

#DeleteUber peaked higher than #DeleteFacebook because apps like Lyft give Uber users a viable alternative. An Instagram Download Your Information tool could promote competition.

The U.S. government may have been shortsighted to let Facebook acquire Instagram in 2012 for $715 million. Now at more than 800 million monthly users, Instagram joining Facebook led to a massive centralization of social networking that gives users fewer options. But even with the backlash against big tech and Facebook, it seems unlikely that the government has the resolve to break up Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

At the very least, Instagram should give users the ability to leave without losing their visual history. If Instagram and Facebook are going to remain united as one company, the same data portability tools should be available to both. That way, if someone actually did build a decent competitor, users could choose where they want to put their windows to the world. At the Download Your Information tool launch in 2010, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself said, “Stuff that you put into the site, you should be able to take out.”