All posts in “Social”

How Facebook prioritizes privacy when you die


Should your parents be able to read your Facebook messages if you die? Facebook explained why it won’t let them in a post in its Hard Questions series today about social networking after death.

Facebook admits it doesn’t have all the answers, but it has come up with some decent solutions to some issues with what it calls Memorialized Profiles and a “Legacy Contact.” When you pass away, once Facebook is informed, the word “Remembering” appears above your name on your profile and no one else can sign in to your account.

The Legacy Contact is a friend you select in your Manage Account Settings while you’re still alive, though they’re not informed until your profile is memorialized. They can pin a post atop your profile, change your profile pic, respond to friend requests or have your account removed. But Facebook explains they can’t log into your account, change or delete old posts, remove friends or read your messages.

Similarly, Facebook won’t allow parents or anyone else to read your messages after you die. That’s because “In a private conversation between two people, we assume that both people intended the messages to remain private,” writes Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Director of Global Policy Management. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act and Stored Communications Act may also prohibit it from sharing private communications even with parental consent.

Facebook also tries to minimize the emotional impact of losing a loved one by no longer sending birthday reminders about writing on their wall. But there are still plenty of opportunities for hurt feelings. Facebook’s On This Day feature and others can surface old content from when that person was still alive, creating an unexpected experience of having to think about their death.

The company has built features to enhance empathy with its users, allowing them to avoid unnecessarily seeing their exes on the app after a break-up. But it’s tough to know what will be a sweet nostalgic reminder and what will be a heart-wrenching spiral into the past.

What’s important is that Facebook is at least thinking and talking about these issues. Now at 2 billion users, Facebook has become a ubiquitous utility that impacts every phase of our lives. “There’s a deep sense of responsibility in every part of the company,” says Facebook CPO Chris Cox. “We’re getting to the scale where we have to get much better about understanding how the product has been used.”

Instagram adds a new creative way to reply to a photo or story


Instagram inception, here we come. If somebody sends you a photo or video in a private conversation on Instagram, the app will now let you play around with the original photo so that you can reply in a creative way and keep the context of the conversation.

If you receive a photo or video, there’s now a reply button in the conversation thread. If you tap on this button, the original photo is instantly turned into a sticker in the top right corner. You can leave it there and reply with some context

But you can also move it around, tilt it and draw around it. If you’re replying to a video, it looks like Instagram only keeps a screenshot of the first frame.

If you tap on it, the original photo fills the top half of the screen. You can then take a selfie for the bottom half of the photo. It reminds me of Frontback, a photo-sharing app that lets you take a photo of what you have in front of you, and a photo of your reaction with a selfie. Instagram works the same way as it features both the context and your reaction.

The comparison stops there as you can still apply filters, draw on your photo, add stickers, write text and use all those creative tools together. Your reaction doesn’t have to be a photo either. You can record a video, a boomerang, use a selfie filter and more.

More importantly, this new reply mode isn’t limited to direct messages. If you’re watching a story, you can either send a text reply by tapping on the text field at the bottom of the screen, or you can send a photo/video reply by tapping on the camera icon at the bottom left of the screen. And that makes a lot of sense as you want to know the context when somebody is replying to part of your story.

Alt-social network Gab booted from Google Play Store for hate speech


Gab, the conservative social network that has acted as a haven for people banned from the usual platforms, has been removed from the Google Play Store for violating the company’s hate speech policy, the company announced on Twitter. Apple rejected it from the App Store in June for similar reasons.

That policy is pretty straightforward: “We don’t allow apps that advocate against groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

It’s not clear what specifically Gab did that warranted its being kicked off the store, but presumably it would have to be at the level of the app itself, not just someone idly venting hatred on the service. After all, there’s plenty of hate speech on Twitter and YouTube, but those apps are still available despite a crackdown this week following the events in Charlottesville. Perhaps it’s a question of volume. I’ve asked both Google and Gab for more details.

This doesn’t mean Google has blocked the app entirely — it can’t do that. You just can’t download it from the Play Store any more. It should still function fine and users will be able to sideload it if they like, and Gab’s Twitter account indicates they’re working on making that easy.

Gab is aimed at people interested in “Western values, individual liberty, and the free exchange of ideas” looking to avoid the “special interests pushing a very specific agenda” in tech. If that dog whistle isn’t loud enough, the investment page lists readers of Breitbart, Drudge, and Infowars as the target demographic.

It was founded by Andrew Torba, who in December was removed from Y Combinator’s alumni network (which he had joined after taking part in the program) for his behavior among the other founders there.

Facebook downranks video clickbait and fake play buttons


Ever gotten tricked into clicking a fake play button on Facebook that opens a link instead of starting a video? I did, repeatedly, and wrote a story in 2014 titled “Yo Facebook, Ban Links With Fake Video Play Buttons”.

Now Facebook is doing just that. Today it started downranking the News Feed presence of links that display a fake play button in the preview image, as well as videos that are actually just a static image uploaded as a video file. Publishers who use these scammy tactics will see a major decrease in the distribution of these stories. Facebook won’t completely delete these posts, though, unless they violate its other policies.

Here are two examples of fake play buttons that spammers used to steal your clicks:

Facebook has prohibited the use of fake play buttons in advertisements under its policy against depicting non-existent functionality for a few years, News Feed Product Manager Greg Marra tells me. But the scourage has remained in the News Feed.

“We’ve heard from people who are frustrated by fake play buttons” Marra says, hence today’s update. “Spammers are using these tactics to trick people into clicking links to low quality web pages.Facebook tells me its now training its machine vision artificial intelligence to classify and detect fake play buttons in preview images.

“While the prevalence is statistically low, the frustration expressed by people who use Facebook who encounter these deceptive practices is high” a spokesperson tells me.

Facebook says that if publishers want to denote there’s a video behind a link, they should indicate that through Open Graph meta tags. They could also use words like “Watch” or “Video” in the headline or description.

Fake video play buttons in News Feed link previews like the one on the left can mislead people into clicking out to ad-covered sites as shown on the right.

Facebook has had a similar problem with publishers looping pre-recorded videos and calling them live, or just putting up a computer graphic countdown and calling it Live. TechCrunch called on Facebook to ban these shenanigans back in January, and it cracked down on them in May.

There’s also been the issue of publishers putting fake Instant Articles “Lightning Bolt” icons on the preview images of links to non-Instant Articles on the standard web. That’s because people are more likely to click Instant Articles since they load faster.

Meanwhile, Facebook’s emphasis on video in News Feed has inspired the new menace of publishers uploading a static image as a video to get more eyeballs. These static image videos will be downranked too. Facebook is using a “motion scoring” system that detects movement inside a video to classify and demote these clips.

Today’s changes come as part of a massive, multi-pronged atack on clickbait. Facebook now downranks headlines that are misleading or withhold information in many languages, shows fewer links overshared by spammers, works with outside fact checkers to demote false news, promotes iand now shows Related Articles with different angles to make people suspicious of exaggerated clickbait.

With each of these updates, Facebook chips away at the clickbait problem, leaving more room in the News Feed for legitimate content. Getting burned by trying to watch a video which is just endless minutes of the same image erodes trust in the News Feed, making people less likely to watch videos in the future.

By excising these annoying experiences, users may be willing to browse longer, view more videos from friends and publishers, and watch lucrative video ads that fund Facebook’s soaring profits.

Skype’s much-debated redesign hits the desktop


In June, Microsoft introduced a completely revamped version of its Skype app, designed with a heavier focus on media-sharing, and other social expression tools, like emoji, reactions, and even a Snapchat-like stories feature. Now that new experience is rolling out to desktop users, but in a more limited fashion, Microsoft announced this morning.

The new desktop app introduces an updated user interface that’s meant to give Skype a more youthful feel. Group chats are multi-colored. Bright, squiggly lines are used to indicate when contacts are typing or to separate out unread messages, among other things. Chats are given more prominent billing. Emojis can be used to ‘react’ to what others are saying while in video calls or in text conversations.

These changes, when Skype’s update arrived on mobile, were too radical for many users. The app suffered from poor reviews on the App Store and Google Play, with many accusing the company of having Snapchat envy.

But there are some additions that will be useful in the new Skype desktop, despite all this social app envy. For example, a new media gallery can be viewed on the right side of a group chat, which makes it easier to locate shared files, like documents, spreadsheets, photos or other media, that had been posted into the group.

However, this gallery is a bit too jazzy…when it’s empty, it has a busy, squiggly line-filled background that seems entirely unnecessary.

Group calling has gotten a makeover too, with support for real-time screen and photo sharing, and of course, emoji reactions that pop up as a temporary overlay on the screen. (Which you probably should not use during work calls, okay?)

Skype is also adding support for @mentions – something that’s become a convention in social and communication apps, whether work-related or not. Most major apps today – like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Slack, etc. – support this functionality, so it makes sense to bring it to Skype, too.

When you first launch the new app, you can pick between a light or dark theme – the latter which has become a popular choice for social apps as of late, with dark themes appearing on services like YouTube and Twitter.

When you want to start a chat, group or call, you now do so from a plus button on the top left. Here, you can also find Skype’s list of available bots, like those for travel, work, entertainment and gaming.

One more prominent feature that was a key part of Skype’s mobile makeover, however, is missing: Highlights.

This was Skype’s Snapchat-like take on Stories. The idea is that users would snap a photo or video, decorate it with text and stickers, then share it by posting to Highlights, where your followers can view it at any time.

But don’t get too excited if you were hoping to avoid the Stories takeover of social media. Microsoft tells us Highlights is still in the works for the desktop app. It and other new features, will arrive in future previews, a spokesperson says.

The desktop app is rolling out today as a Skype Preview for Mac users and those with non-Windows 10 PCs. Windows 10 users already received some of the newer features in last month, Microsoft notes.