All posts in “Mobile”

Instagram’s “IGTV” video hub for creators launches tomorrow

TechCrunch has learned that the Instagram longer-form video hub that’s launching tomorrow is called IGTV and it will be part of the Explore tab, according to multiple sources. Instagram has spent the week meeting with online content creators to encourage them to prepare videos closer to 10-minute YouTube vlogs than the 1-minute maximum videos the app allows today.

Instagram is focusing its efforts around web celebrities that made their name on mobile rather than more traditional, old-school publishers and TV studios that might come off too polished and processed. The idea is to let these creators, who have a knack for this style of content and who already have sizeable Instagram audiences, set the norms for what IGTV is about.

Instagram declined to comment on the name IGTV and the video hub’s home in app’s Explore tab. We’ll get more information at the feature’s launch event in San Francisco tomorrow at 9am Pacific.

Following the WSJ’s initial report that Instagram was working on allowing longer videos, TechCrunch learned much more from sources about the company’s plan to build an aggregated destination for watching this content akin to Snapchat Discover. The videos will be full-screen, vertically oriented, and can have a resolution up to 4K. Users will be greeted with collection of Popular recent videos, and the option to Continue Watching clips they didn’t finish.

The videos aren’t meant to compete with Netflix Originals or HBO-quality content. Instead, they’ll be the kind of things you might see on YouTube rather than the short, off-the-cuff social media clips Instagram has hosted to date. Videos will offer a link-out option so creators can drive traffic to their other social presences, websites, or ecommerce stores. Instagram is planning to offer direct monetization, potentially including advertising revenue shares, but hasn’t finalized how that will work.

We reported that the tentative launch date for the feature was June 20th. A week later, Instagram sent out press invites for an event on June 20th our sources confirm is for IGTV.

Based on its historic growth trajectory that has seen Instagram adding 100 million users every four months, and its announcement of 800 million in September 2017, it’s quite possible that Instagram will announce it’s hit 1 billion monthly users tomorrow. That could legitimize IGTV as a place creators want to be for exposure, not just monetization.

IGTV could create a new behavior pattern for users who are bored of their friends’ content, or looking for something to watch in between Direct messages. If successful, Instagram might even consider breaking out IGTV into its own mobile app, or building it an app for smart TVs

The launch is important for Facebook because it lacks a popular video destination since its Facebook Watch hub was somewhat of a flop. Facebook today said it would expand Watch to more creators, while also offering new interactive video tools to let them make their own HQ trivia-style game shows. Facebook also launched its Brand Collabs Manager that helps businesses find creators to sponsor. That could help IGTV stars earn money through product placement or sponsored content.

Until now, video consumption in the Facebook family of apps has been largely serendipitous, with users stumbling across clips in their News Feed. IGTV will let it more directly compete with YouTube, where people purposefully come to watch specific videos from their favorite creators. But YouTube was still built in the web era with a focus on horizontal video that’s awkward to watch on iPhones or Androids.

With traditional television viewership slipping, Facebook’s size and advertiser connections could let it muscle into the lucrative space. But rather than try to port old-school TV shows to phones, IGTV could let creators invent a new vision for television on mobile.

Keepsafe launches a privacy-focused mobile browser

Keepsafe, the company behind the private photo app of the same name, is expanding its product lineup today with the release of a mobile web browser.

Co-founder and CEO Zouhair Belkoura argued that all of Keepsafe’s products (which also include a VPN app and a private phone number generator) are united not just by a focus on privacy, but by a determination to make those features simple and easy-to-understand — in contrast to what Belkoura described as “how security is designed in techland,” with lots of jargon and complicated settings.

Plus, when it comes to your online activity, Belkoura said there are different levels of privacy. There’s the question of the government and large tech companies accessing our personal data, which he argued people care about intellectually, but “they don’t really care about it emotionally.”

Then there’s “the nosy neighbor problem,” which Belkoura suggested is something people feel more strongly about: “A billion people are using Gmail and it’s scanning all their email [for advertising], but if I were to walk up to you and say, ‘Hey, can I read your email?’ you’d be like, ‘No, that’s kind of weird, go away.’”

It looks like Keepsafe is trying to tackle both kinds of privacy with its browser. For one thing, you can lock the browser with a PIN (it also supports Touch ID, Face ID and Android Fingerprint).

Keepsafe browser tabs

Then once you’re actually browsing, you can either do it in normal tabs, where social, advertising and analytics trackers are blocked (you can toggle which what kinds of trackers are affected), but cookies and caching are still allowed — so you stay logged in to websites, and other session data is retained. But if you want an additional layer of privacy, you can open a private tab, where everything gets forgotten as soon as you close it.

While you can get some of these protections just by turning on private/incognito mode in a regular browser, Belkoura said there’s a clarity for consumers when an app is designed specifically for privacy, and the app is part of a broader suite of privacy-focused products. In addition, he said he’s hoping to build meaningful integrations between the different Keepsafe products.

Keepsafe Browser is available for free on iOS and Android.

When asked about monetization, Belkoura said, “I don’t think that the private browser per se is a good place to directly monetize … I’m more interested in saying this is part of the Keepsafe suite and there are other parts of the Keepsafe Suite that we’ll charge you money for.”

Facebook launches Brand Collabs search engine for sponsoring creators

Facebook wants to help connect brands to creators so they can work out sponsored content and product placement deals, even if it won’t be taking a cut. Confirming our scoop from May, Facebook today launched its Brand Collabs Manager. It’s a search engine that brands can use to browse different web celebrities based on the demographics of their audience and porfolios of their past sponsored content.

Creators hoping to score sponsorship deals will be able to compile a portfolio connected to their Facebook Page that shows off how they can seamlessly work brands into their content. Brands will also be able to find them based on the Top countries where they’re popular, and audience characteristics like interests, gender, education, relationship status, life events, or home ownership.

Facebook also made a wide range of other creator monetization announcements today

  • Facebook’s Creator app that launched on iOS in November rolled out globally on Android today. The Creator app lets content makers add intros and outros to Live broadcasts, cross-post content to Twitter and Instagram, see a unified inbox of their Facebook and Instagram comments plus Messenger chats, and more ways to connect with fans.

  • Ad Breaks, or mid-video commercials, are rolling out to more US creators, starting with those that make longer and original content with loyal fans. Creators keep 55 percent of the ad revenue from the ads.
  • Patreon-Style Subscriptions are rolling out to more creators, letting them charge fans $4.99 per month for access to exclusive behind the scenes content plus a badge that highlights that they’re a patron. Facebook also offers microtransaction tipping of video creators through its new virtual currency called Stars.

  • Top Fan Badges that highlight a creator’s most engaged fans will now roll out more broadly after a strong initial reaction to tests in March.
  • Rights Manager, which lets content owners upload their videos so Facebook can fingerprint them and block others from uploading them, is now available for creators not just publishers.

Facebook also made a big announcement today about the launch of interactive video features and its first set of gameshows built with them. Creators can add quizzes, polls, gamification, and more to their videos so users can play along instead of passively viewing. Facebook’s Watch hub for original content is also expanding to a wider range of show formats and creators.

Why Facebook Wants Sponsored Content

Facebook needs the hottest new content from creators if it wants to prevent users’ attention from slipping to YouTube, Netflix, Twitch, and elsewhere. But to keep creators loyal, it has to make sure they’re earning money off its platform. The problem is, injecting Ad Breaks that don’t scare off viewers can be difficult, especially on shorter videos.

But Vine proved that six-seconds can be enough to convey a subtle marketing message. A startup called Niche rose to arrange deals between creators and brands who wanted a musician to make a song out of the windows and doors of their new Honda car, or a comedian to make a joke referencing Coca-Cola. Twitter eventually acquired Niche for a reported $50 million so it could earn money off Vine without having to insert traditional ads. [Disclosure: My cousin Darren Lachtman was a co-founder of Niche.]

Vine naturally attracted content makers in a way that Facebook has had some trouble with. YouTube’s sizable ad revenue shares, Patreon’s subscriptions, and Twitch’s fan tipping are pulling creators away from Facebook.

So rather than immediately try to monetize this sponsored content, Facebook is launching the Brand Collabs Manager to prove to creators that it can get them paid indirectly. Facebook already offered a way for creators to tag their content with disclosure tags about brands they were working with. But now it’s going out of its way to facilitate the deals. Fan subscriptions and tipping come from the same motive: letting creators monetize through their audience rather than the platform itself.

Spinning up these initiatives to be more than third-rate knockoffs of Niche, YouTube, Patreon, and Twitch will take some work. But hey, it’s cheaper for Facebook than paying these viral stars out of pocket.

Verizon stops selling customer location to two data brokers after one is caught leaking it

Verizon is cutting off access to its mobile customers’ real-time locations to two third-party data brokers “to prevent misuse of that information going forward.” The company announced the decision in a letter sent to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who along with others helped reveal improper usage and poor security at these location brokers. It is not, however, getting out of the location-sharing business altogether.

Verizon sold bulk access to its customers’ locations to the brokers in question, LocationSmart and Zumigo, which then turned around and resold that data to dozens of other companies. This isn’t necessarily bad — there are tons of times when location is necessary to provide a service the customer asks for, and supposedly that customer would have to okay the sharing of that data. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch. This does not affect our coverage.)

That doesn’t seem to have been the case at LocationSmart customer Securus, which was selling its data directly to law enforcement so they could find mobile customers quickly and without all that fuss about paperwork and warrants. And then it was found that LocationSmart had exposed an API that allowed anyone to request mobile locations freely and anonymously, and without collecting consent.

When these facts were revealed by security researchers and Sen. Wyden, Verizon immediately looked into it, they reported in a letter sent to the Senator.

“We conducted a comprehensive review of our location aggregator program,” wrote Verizon CTO Karen Zacharia. “As a result of this review, we are initiating a process to terminate our existing agreements for the location aggregator program.”

“We will not enter into new location aggregation arrangements unless and until we are comfortable that we can adequately protect our customers’ location data through technological advancements and/or other practices,” she wrote later in the letter. In other words, the program is on ice until it can be secured.

Although Verizon claims to have “girded” the system with “mechanisms designed to protect against misuse of our customers’ location data,” the abuses in question clearly slipped through the cracks. Perhaps most notable is the simple fact that Verizon itself does not seem to need to be informed whether a customer has consented to having their location polled. That collection is the responsibility “the aggregator or corporate customer.”

In other words, Verizon doesn’t need to ask the customer, and the company it sells the data to wholesale doesn’t need to ask the customer — the requirement devolves to the company buying access from the wholesaler. In Securus’s case, it had abstracted things one step further, allowing law enforcement full access when it said it had authority to do so, but apparently without checking, AT&T wrote in its own letter to Wyden.

And there were 75 other corporate customers. Don’t worry, someone is keeping track of them. Right?

These processes are audited, Verizon wrote, but apparently not an audit that finds things like the abuse by Securus or a poorly secured API. Perhaps how this happened is among the “number of internal questions” raised by the review.

When asked for comment, a Verizon representative offered the following statement:

When these issues were brought to our attention, we took immediate steps to stop it.  Customer privacy and security remain a top priority for our customers and our company. We stand-by that commitment to our customers.

And indeed while the program itself appears to have been run with a laxity that should be alarming to all those customers for whom Verizon claims to be so concerned, some of the company’s competitors have yet to take similar action. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint were also named by LocationSmart as partners. Their own letters to Wyden stressed that their systems were similar to the others, with similar safeguards (that were similarly eluded).

Sen. Wyden called on the others to step up in a press release announcing that his pressure on Verizon had borne fruit:

Verizon deserves credit for taking quick action to protect its customers’ privacy and security. After my investigation and follow-up reports revealed that middlemen are selling Americans’ location to the highest bidder without their consent, or making it available on insecure web portals, Verizon did the responsible thing and promptly announced it was cutting these companies off. In contrast, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint seem content to continuing to sell their customers’ private information to these shady middle men, Americans’ privacy be damned.

AT&T actually announced that it is ending its agreements as well, after Wyden’s call to action was published.

The FCC, meanwhile, has announced that it is looking into the issue — with the considerable handicap that Chairman Ajit Pai represented Securus back in 2012 when he was working as a lawyer. Wyden has called on him to recuse himself, but that has yet to happen.

I’ve asked Verizon for further clarification on its arrangements and plans, specifically whether it has any other location-sharing agreements in place with other companies. These aren’t, after all, the only players in the game.

Facebook launches gameshows platform with interactive video

Rather than build its own HQ trivia competitor, Facebook is launching a gameshow platform. Today the company announced a new set of interactive live and on-demand video features that let creators adds quizzes, polls, challenges, and gamification so players can be eliminated from a game for a wrong answer. The features could help Facebook achieve its new mission to push healthier active video consumption rather than passive zombie watching that hurts people’s well-being. Creators and publishers who want early access can sign up here.

Gameshow launch partners include Fresno’s What’s In The Box where viewers guess what’s inside, and BuzzFeed News’ Outside Your Bubble where contestants have to guess what their opponents are thinking. Plus, Facebook is testing the ability to award prize money with (Business) INSIDER’s Confetti, where viewers answer trivia questions and can see friends’ responses, with winners splitting the cash.

“Video is evolving away from just passive consumption to more interactive two-way formats”, Simo tells TechCrunch. “We think creators will want to reward people. If this is something that works will with Insider and Confetti, we may consider rolling out payments tools.”

When asked if Facebook was inspired by HQ, Simo repeatedly dodged the question and avoiding mentioning the startup’s name, but relented in saying “I think they’re part of a much broader trend that is making content interactive. We’ve seen that across much more than one player.”

Facebook won’t be taking a share of the prize money in this test. For now, it’s also forgoing its cut of its $4.99 per month subscriptions option that lets fans pay for exclusive content, which rolls out today to more creators. Facebook also just launched its Brand Collabs Manager that we scooped in May, which helps brands browse creators by demographic and portfolio so they can set up sponsored content and product placement deals.

Initially Facebook is not taking a cut there either. For all three of these features, though, Simo says “that doesn’t mean we never will.” Creators can sign up for these monetization options here.

The new interactive video features will be available to all publishers and creators, alongside the global launch of the Android version of Facebook’s Creator app for web celebs. The tools range from offering basic in-video polls to creating a full trivia gameshow. Creators and will be able to write out their trivia questions and designate correct answers, as well as “write down the logic of the game” says Simo.

While polls will work for Live and on-demand videos, gamification that impacts the outcome of the broadcast is only for Live. Brent Rivera and That Chick Angel are two creators who will be testing the features in the coming weeks. Facebook already found that fans enjoyed polling on its Watch show Help Us Get Married, which let viewers influence the wedding planning decisions about themes and the venue.

Facebook’s last attempt at original video, its Watch hub, saw mediocre adoption as the content felt also-ran rather than something special or must-see. That’s why Facebook is expanding Watch to offer a broader range of shows for more creators, including potentially longer or non-episodic content. That includes bringing Facebook videos originally only hosted on Pages into the Watch destination.

Facebook’s family of apps will get another chance at an original video home run when Instagram launches its long-form video hub tomorrow, according to TechCrunch’s sources.

What we’re seeing here is positioning that diverges Facebook and Instagram’s video efforts. Facebook’s might be more interactive, about playing and watching with friends, and embrace more novel new formats like mobile gameshows. Instagram, with its history of polished photos, could house more traditional high-end entertainment content.

“We’re not trying to do one show or one trivia game. We’re trying to get every creator to create such gameplay. The beauty of the creators space is that they each have a unique audience” Facebook’s VP of video product Fidji Simo tells me. With 2.2 billion users, making an in-house one-size-fits-all game may have been impossible.