Facebook, Google face first GDPR complaints over forced consent

After two years coming down the pipe at tech giants, Europe’s new privacy framework, the General Data Protection Regulation( GDPR ), is now being applied — and long time Facebook privacy critic, Max Schrems, has wasted no time in filing four grievances relating to( certain) companies” take it or leave it’ posture when it comes to consent.

The complaints have been filed on behalf of( unnamed) individual users — with one filed against Facebook; one against Facebook-owned Instagram; one against Facebook-owned WhatsApp; and one against Google’s Android.

Schrems argues that the companies are using a strategy of” forced consent” to continue processing the individuals’ personal data — when in fact the law requires that users be given a free choice unless a consent is strictly necessary for provision of the service.( And, well, Facebook claims its core product is social networking — rather than farming people’s personal data for ad targeting .)

” It’s simple: Anything strictly necessary for a service does not require consent boxes anymore. For everything else users must have a real option to tell’ yes’ or’ no’ ,” Schrems writes in a statement.

” Facebook has even blocked accounts of users who have not given consent ,” he adds.” In the end users merely had the choice to delete the account or hit the “agree”-button — that’s not a free choice, it more reminds of a North Korean election process .”

We’ve reached out to all the companies involved for comment and will update this story with any response. Update: Facebook has now sent the following statement, attributed to its chief privacy policeman, Erin Egan:” We have prepared for the past 18 months to ensure we gratify the requirements of the GDPR. We have induced our policies clearer, our privacy decideds easier to find and introduced better tools for people to access, download, and delete their datum. Our work to improve people’s privacy doesn’t stop on May 25 th. For example, we’re building Clear History: a way for everyone to see the websites and apps that send us datum when you use them, clear this information from your account, and turn off our ability to store it associated with your account going forward .”

Schrems most recently founded a not-for-profit digital rights organization to focus on strategic litigation around the bloc’s updated privacy framework, and the complaints have been filed via this crowdfunded NGO — which is called noyb( aka’ none of your business ‘).

As we pointed out in our GDPR explainer, the provision in the regulation may be required for collective enforcement of individuals’ data rights is an important one, with the health risks to strengthen the implementation of the law by enabling non-profit organisations such as noyb to file complaints on behalf of individuals — thereby helping to redress the power imbalance between corporate giants and consumer rights.

That told, the GDPR’s collective redress provision is a component that Member Country can choose to derogate from, which helps explain why the first four complaints have been filed with data protection bureaux in Austria, Belgium, France and Hamburg in Germany — regions that also have data protection agencies with a strong record of defending privacy rights.

Given that the Facebook companies involved in these complaints have their European headquarters in Ireland it’s likely the Irish data protection bureau will get involved too. And it’s fair to say that, within Europe, Ireland does not have a strong reputation as a data protection rights champion.

But the GDPR allows for DPAs in different jurisdictions to work together in instances where they have joint subjects of concern and where a service crosses perimeters — so noyb’s action seems are aiming to exam this element of the new framework too.

Under the penalty structure of GDPR, major violations of the law can attract penalties as large as 4% of a company’s global revenue which, in the case of Facebook or Google, connotes they could be on the hook for more than a billion euros apiece — if they are deemed to have violated the law, as the complaints argue.

That told, devoted how freshly fixed in place the regulation is, some EU regulators may well tread softly on the enforcement front — at least in the first instances, to give companies some benefit of the doubt and/ or a chance to make amends to come into compliance if they are deemed to be falling short of the new standards.

However, in instances where companies themselves appear to be attempting to deform the law with a willfully self-serving interpretation of the rules, regulators may feel they need to act swiftly to nip any disingenuousness in the bud.

” We likely will not immediately have billions of penalty payments, but the corporations have intentionally contravened the GDPR, so we expect a corresponding penalty under GDPR ,” writes Schrems.

Only yesterday, for example, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — speaking in an on stage interview at the VivaTech conference in Paris — claimed his company hasn’t had to make any radical changes to comply with GDPR, and further claimed that a “vast majority” of Facebook users are willingly opting in to targeted advertising via its new permission flow.

” We’ve been rolling out the GDPR flows for a number of weeks now in order to make sure that we were doing this in a good way and that we could take into account everyone’s feedback before the May 25 deadline. And one of the things that I’ve found interesting is that the great majority of people choose to opt in to make it so that we can use the data from other apps and websites that they’re using to make ads better. Because the reality is if you’re willing to see ads in a service you want them to be relevant and good ads ,” said Zuckerberg.

He did not mention that the dominant social network does not offer people a free choice on accepting or declining targeted advertising. The new permission flow Facebook uncovered ahead of GDPR only offers the’ choice’ of ceasing Facebook solely if a person does not want to accept targeting advertising. Which, well, isn’t much of a option dedicated how powerful the network is.( Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that Facebook continues tracking non-users — so even deleting a Facebook account does not guarantee that Facebook will stop processing your personal data .)

Asked about how Facebook’s business model will be affected by the new rules, Zuckerberg essentially claimed nothing significant will change –” because dedicating people control of how their data is employed has been a core principle of Facebook since the beginning “.

” The GDPR adds some new controls and then there’s some areas that we need to comply with but overall it isn’t such a massive departure from how we’ve approached this in the past ,” he claimed.” I mean I don’t want to downplay it — there are strong new rules that we’ve needed to set a bunch of work into making sure that we complied with — but as a whole the philosophy behind this is not completely different from how we’ve approached things.

” In order to be able to give people the tools to connect in all the ways they want and build community a lot of doctrine that is encoded in a regulation like GDPR is really how we’ve was just thinking about all this stuff for a long time. So I don’t want to understate the areas where there are new rules that we’ve had to go and enforce but I also don’t want to make it seem like this is a massive deviation in how we’ve was just thinking about this stuff .”

Zuckerberg faced a range of tough questions on these points from the EU parliament earlier this week. But he avoided answering them in any meaningful detail.

So EU regulators are essentially facing a first exam of their mettle — i.e. whether they are willing to step up and defend the line of the law against big tech’s attempts to reshape it in their business model’s image.

Privacy statutes are nothing new in Europe but robust enforcement of them would certainly be a breath of fresh air. And now at the least, thanks to GDPR, there’s a penalties structure in place to provide incentives as well as teeth, and spin up a market around strategic litigation — with Schrems and noyb in the vanguard.

Schrems also stimulates the point that small startups and local companies are less likely to be able to use the kind of strong-arm’ take it or leave it’ tactics on users that big tech is able to unilaterally apply and extract’ consent’ as a consequence of the reach and power of their platforms — arguing there’s an underlying competition concern that GDPR has the potential to help to redress.

” The fight against forced consent ensures that the corporations cannot force users to consent ,” he writes.” This is especially important so that monopolies have no advantage over small and medium-sized companies .”

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Papua New Guinea bans Facebook for a month to root out ‘fake users’

Analysts will explore how fake news and porn spreads, and assess whether country needs its own version of the platform

The Papua New Guinean government will ban Facebook for a month in a bid to crack down on” fake users” and study the effects the website is having on the population.

The communication minister, Sam Basil, said the shutdown would allow his department’s analysts to carry out research and analysis on who was using the platform, and how they were use it, acknowledges rising very concerned about social well-being, security and productivity.

” The period will allow information to be collected to identify users that hide behind fake accounts, users that upload pornographic images, users that post false and misleading information on Facebook to be filtered and removed ,” Basil told the Post Courier newspaper .” This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly .”

Basil has repeatedly raised concerns about protecting the privacy of PNG’s Facebook users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, which found Facebook had leaked the personal data of tens of millions of users to a private company. The pastor has closely followed the US Senate inquiry into Facebook.

” The national government, swept along by IT globalisation, never truly had the chance to ascertain the advantages or drawbacks[ of Facebook]- and even train and provide guidance on employ of social networks like Facebook to PNG users ,” said Basil last month .

” The two cases involving Facebook show us the vulnerabilities that Papua New Guinean citizens and residents on their personal data and exchanges when using this social network .”

” We can also look at the possibility of creating a new social network site for PNG citizens to use with genuine profiles as well ,” said Basil.” If there need be then we can assemble our local applications developers to create a site that is more conducive for Papua New Guineans to communicate within the country and abroad as well .”

Basil said the risks and vulnerabilities of Facebook were wider than the potential threat of data violates, and included the possibility of Facebook acting as an unchecked ad platform, a threat to people’s productivity- especially among children and employees- and wider issues of cyber-security.

The PNG government said it would be examining how other countries were managing Facebook around the world, and the impact of government policies on private users of the network.

Dr Aim Sinpeng, an expert in digital media and politics from the University of Sydney, said the ban created some troubling questions, because when Facebook had been banned in other countries it was usually in the run-up to elections, or banned indefinitely, like in China.

” One month is an interesting time limit for a prohibit, I am not exactly sure what they think they can achieve, and why a forbid is necessary. You can do Facebook analysis without it. And what data are the government collecting? If they are concerned about fake news there are many ways to do it without issuing a ban on a platform ,” she said.

Dr Sinpeng said the most recent statistics she had assured put internet piercing at only 12% in PNG, and Facebook penetration was closely related to internet access; entailing it was likely the platform wasn’t used by the vast majority of people.

” Politically I think they will be able to get away with the ban because internet piercing is not high, a prohibit is not viable in countries with 60 -7 0% penetration. These issues such as Facebook are being spoken about in a number of other countries, so the fact that PNG is on the bandwagon shows how widespread concerns have become .”

Facebook has been contacted for comment.

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UK parliaments call for Zuckerberg to testify goes next level

The UK parliament has issued an impressive ultimatum to Facebook in a last-ditch attempt to get Mark Zuckerberg to take its questions: Come and give evidence voluntarily or next time you fly to the UK you’ll get a formal summons to appear.

” Following reports that he will be giving evidence to the European Parliament in May, we would like Mr Zuckerberg to come to London during the course of its European journey. We would like the session here to place by 24 May ,” the committee writes in its latest letter to the company, signed by its chair, Conservative MP Damian Collins.

” It is important to recognize that, while Mr Zuckerberg does not usually go under the jurisdiction of the UK Parliament, he will do so the next time he enters the country ,” he adds.” We hope that he will respond positively to our request, but if not the Committee will resolve to issue a formal summons for him to appear when he is next in the UK .”

Facebook has repeatedly ignored the DCMS committee‘s requests that its CEO and founder appear before it — preferring to send various minions to answer questions related to its enquiry into online disinformation and the role of social media in politics and democracy.

The most recent Zuckerberg alternative to appear before it was also the most senior: Facebook’s CTO, Mike Schroepfer, who claimed he had personally volunteered to make the trip-up to London to give evidence.

However for all Schroepfer’s sweating drudgery to try to stand in for the company’s chief exec, his answers failed to impress UK parliamentarians. And immediately following the hearing the committee issued a press release repeating their call for Zuckerberg to testify , noting that Schroepfer had failed to provide adequate answers to as many of 40 of its questions.

Schroepfer did sit through around five hours of grilling on a wide range of topics with the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal front and center — the tale having morphed into a major global scandal for the company after fresh revelations were published by the Guardian in March( although the newspaper actually published its first tale about Facebook data misuse by the company all the style back in December 2015) — though in last week’s hearing Schroepfer often fell back on claiming he didn’t know the answer and would have to “follow up”.

Yet the committee has been asking Facebook for straight answers for months. So you can see why it’s really mad now.

We reached out to Facebook to ask whether its CEO will now agree to personally testify in front of the committee by May 24, per its request, but the company declined to provide a public statement on the issue.

A company spokesperson did say it would be following up with the committee to answer any outstanding questions it had after Schroepfer’s session.

It’s fair to say Facebook has handled this issue exceptionally badly — leaving Collins to express public frustration about the lack of co-operation when, for example, he had asked it for help and information related to the UK’s Brexit referendum — turning what could have been a somewhat easy to manage process into a major media circus-cum-PR nightmare.

Last week Schroepfer was on the sharp objective of lots of awkward questions from visibly outraged committee members, with Collins pointing to what he dubbed a” pattern of behavior” by Facebook that he told suggested an” unwillingness to engage, and a desire to hold onto information and not disclose it “.

Committee members also interrogated Schroepfer about why another Facebook employee who appeared before it in February had not disclosed an existing agreement between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

” I remain to be convinced that your company has integrity ,” he was told bluntly at one point during the hearing.

If Zuckerberg does agree to testify he’ll be in for an even bumpier ride. And, well, if he doesn’t it looks pretty clear the Facebook CEO won’t be making any personal journeys to the UK for a while.

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Instagram CEO confirms upcoming time spent Usage Insights

Instagram is jumping into the time well spent movement, following the unveiling of Google’s new period management controls last week. Code buried in Instagram’s Android app discloses a” Usage Insights” feature that will show users their “time spent”. It’s not exactly clear whether this is gonna be your total time spent in Instagram ever, which could be a pretty scary number to some users, or within some shorter time frame like a day, week, or month. Instagram has also prototyped a new commenting interface with a row of quick-add emojis and an@ button for tagging friends.

[ Update 5:30 pm: Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom has now tweeted a link to this article with a confirmation that Instagram is building this Usage Insights feature.” It’s true . . . We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram- any time should be positive and intentional . . . Understanding how period online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution. I take that responsibility severely .” This article has been updated to reflect the confirmation.

It sounds like Instagram is willing to endure a potential reduction in usage and ad positions to be serve the mental health of its community. That’s an admirable pledge, and we’ll assure what degree of transparency Instagram rolls out.]

By being upfront with users about how much of their lives they’re investing in their favorite apps, tech giants could encourage people to adopt healthier habits and avoid the long, passive, anti-social browsing sessions that can harm their well-being. These features could also help parents keep track of what their children are doing online. Both might lead people to expend less time on certain apps, but they could be happier with companies like Instagram.

The Usage Insights screenshot and “time spent” code were discovered by prolific app examiner Jane Manchun Wong inside the Instagram for Android application package, or “APK”. She wrote” Be self-aware or be prepared to be ashamed for Instagram addiction “. When asked by TechCrunch for more evidence about how the feature ran, she tweeted screenshot above of Instagram’s code that demonstrates a “slideout_menu_time_spent” element.

Instagram Comments Emoji Bar

Several of Wong’s other recent discoveries of unlaunched features like Facebook Avatars and Twitter encrypted DMs were subsequently confirmed by the companies as is available on testing. She also simply spotted code revealing an new Instagram commenting interface with an Emoji Bar that let’s you add the most popular little icons with a single tap, and an@ button that reminds you to tag a friend.

She also saw code proving Instagram prototyping Android notification actions that let you reply to a comment immediately from a notification without opening the Instagram app.

Time Well’ Grammed?

Google’s I/ O meeting saw the debut of a new Android time management tool that presents a daily look at how much hour you spend on different apps, and lets you set time limits. But since most of Google’s apps outside of YouTube are utilities designed to be used as quickly as is practicable, it might have less to lose by revealing how users spend time on their phones than Facebook. Many are hoping to see Apple launch time management features at WWDC this year.

Offering” Usage Insights” aligns with Facebook’s recent discussion of research that presents active social networking, like messaging, posting, or commenting can be positive for people’s well-being, but endless zombie scrolling can make people feel worse. While Facebook hasn’t created anything like this feature in its own apps, it’s started to change its algorithm to promote active interactions while downranking viral videos that people consume passively. That led to Facebook’s first ever decline in its North American daily user counting in Q4 2017, though it was growing again of the states of the region by Q1 2018.

Google’s new Android time management features. Image via The Verge.

Instagram’s photo and video-heavy feed especially gives itself to the negative social networking behaviours like jealousy spiraling, where users constantly compare themselves against the glamorous highlightings posted by their friends. Letting users know how long they’re Instagramming, or even letting them define time limits, could push people to go out and live life instead of watching through a screen as others live it.

The question is what metrics we’ll to have seen. Total time spent on Instagram ever could be a terrifying statistic that might drive users away. Daily or weekly counters would encourage more concientious use without being as scary. Transgressing out day by feed browsing, Explore/ other browsing, Stories, and Direct could identify the most harmful passive consumption behaviors.

Systrom’s pledge mirrors that of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s promise from January, where reference is wrote about the well-being algorithm change:” I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too .” They both believe that priortizing day well expended is not only moral, but the right long-term business strategy since ignoring unrest about overuse could be an existential menace to their apps’ popularity.

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Instagram says youre all caught up in first time-well-spent feature

Without a chronological feed, it can be tough to tell if you’ve seen all the posts Instagram will show you. That can lead to more of the compulsive, passive, zombie browsing that research suggests is unhealthy as users endlessly scroll through stale content hoping for a hit of dopamine-inducing novelty.

But with Instagram’s newest feature, at least users know when they’ve seen everything and can stop scrolling without FOMO. Instagram is showing some users a mid-feed alert after a bunch of browsing that says “You’re All Caught Up – You’ve seen all new post from the past 48 hours.” When asked about it, Instagram confirmed to TechCrunch that it’s testing this feature. It declined to give details about how it works, including whether the announcement means you’ve seen literally every post from people you follow from the last two days, or just the best ones that the algorithm has decided are worth showing you.

The feature could help out Instagram completists who want to be sure they never miss a selfie, sunset or supper pic. Before Instagram rolled out its algorithm in the summer of 2016, they could just scroll to the last post they’d seen or when they knew they’d last visited. Warning them they’ve seen everything could quiet some of the backlash to the algorithm, which has centered around people missing content they wanted to see because the algorithm mixed up the chronology.

But perhaps more importantly, it’s one of the app’s first publicly tested features that’s clearly designed with the “time well spent” movement in mind. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been vocal about prioritizing well-being over profits, to the point that the network reduced the prevalence of viral videos in the feed so much that that app lost 1 million users in the U.S. and Canada in Q4 2017. “I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down . . . If we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too,” he wrote.

But Instagram’s leadership had been quiet on the issue until last week, when TechCrunch broke news that buried inside Instagram was an unlaunched “Usage Insights” feature that would show users their “time spent.” That prompted Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom to tweet our article, noting “It’s true . . . We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram – any time should be positive and intentional . . . Understanding how time online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution. I take that responsibility seriously.”

Instagram is preparing a “Usage Insights” feature that will show how long you spend in the app. Image via Jane Manchun Wong

It’s reassuring to hear that one of the world’s most popular, but also overused, social media apps is going to put user health over engagement and revenue. Usage Insights has yet to launch. But the “You’re All Caught Up” alerts show Instagram is being earnest about its commitment. Those warnings almost surely prompt people to close the app and therefore see fewer ads, hurting Instagram’s bottom line.

Perhaps it’s a product of Facebook and Instagram’s dominance that they can afford to trade short-term engagement for long-term sustainability of the product. Some companies like Twitter have been criticized for not doing more to kick abusers off their platforms because it could hurt their user count.

But with Android now offering time management tools and many urging Apple to do the same, the time-well-spent reckoning may be dawning upon the mobile app ecosystem. Apps that continue to exploit users by doing whatever it takes to maximize total time spent may find themselves labeled the enemy, plus may actually be burning out their most loyal users. Urging them to scroll responsibly could not only win their favor, but keep them browsing in shorter, healthier sessions for years to come.

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WhatsApps stories hit 450M users, stealing the globe from Snapchat

Snapchat forgot the international market in its early years, and now WhatsApp has snatched that growth opportunity. WhatsApp’s clone of Snapchat Stories, WhatsApp Status , now has 450 million daily active users. That’s compared to only 191 million daily users on all of Snapchat as of today’s disastrous Q1 Snap Inc earnings bellow . Theupdate from today’s F8 meeting comes after Facebook told WhatsApp Status and Instagram Stories had 300 million daily users as of November.

WhatsApp is getting stickers

Group video calling is coming to WhatsApp

Rather than rest on its laurels, WhatsApp only announced stickers and Group Video calling to stimulate the lean communications utility more fun. Users already spend 2 billion minutes per day on WhatsApp video and audio calls. But in the coming months, they’ll be able to have at least four people on a single split-screen video bellow, and possibly more. And rather than just chat with text, in the coming months you’ll be able to send stickers inside WhatsApp. Third-party sticker packs will also be available, so developers can contribute illustrations to help people chat visually.

Meanwhile, on the serious side, WhatsApp is inching toward monetization. It now has 3 million companies on its new WhatsApp For Business app. While it’s a free product currently, WhatsApp has said it plans to charge big brands like airlines, banks and mobile carriers for bonus features that will help them do commerce and customer support on the app. With strong traction already, it seems like Facebook will be able to squeezing a solid new revenue stream out of Facebook when it’s ready.

With all the talk of election interference on Facebook and Instagram, WhatsApp was the company’s feel-good story for today’s F8 conference. The division’s director Mubarik Imam said that if she could work for any company for free, she would have picked WhatsApp. Facebook needs as much positive PR as it can get right now amidst all its scandals, and WhatsApp might be its ticket.

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Facebook launches new tools for Group admins, including free customer service

Facebook’s Groups are one of the social network’s most popular products, with more than 1.4 billion monthly users across tens of millions of active groups. Today, the company is rolling out a series of new features aimed at the individuals who create and manage these groups, including customer support with answers and help provided by a real person , not a machine or automated replies. Admins are also getting a dedicated online education portal and more tools to manage their groups’ posts.

Unfortunately, the customer support service is not available to all groups at this time.

Facebook instead is beginning a pilot program for admin support that’s only available to a limited number of group admins on iOS and Android at this time, initially in English and Spanish.

” We spend a lot of period speaking with admins, and we listen to their feedback quite a lot ,” explains Alex Deve, Product Management Director for Groups.” And the first thing we heard from them- very loud and clear- is that they want to be able to reach out to us and get a very quick response ,” he says.

The free service will enable admins to send any issues they have to Facebook, and the company will respond within one business day. This is induced possible by the additional hires the company made to expand its moderation team, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg had previously announced, Deve notes.

The idea with the admin supporting isn’t just about helping admins out immediately – it’s also about figuring out what their needs are, what troubles they have, and what features they want. This will assist Facebook roll out new features for admins that they’ll find useful, but it also ties into another new product being announced today: an online educational center for admins.

At facebook.com/ community, Facebook has collected best practices, tutorials, product demos, and occurrence surveys based on the experiences and expertise from the admin community, and is sharing it with others in the form of audio and video content. There are tips on things like growing groups, setting the rules, constructing a team, using group tools, managing conflicts, and more.

” Going forward, the supporting work is going to feed into this.[ Facebook will learn] what other themes are very common that people want to hear about from other admins. So we’ll generate more videos in the future ,” tells Deve.

Additionally, Facebook is rolling out two new admins tools today, created in response to user feedback.

The first will allow admins and moderators to apprise a member whose post gets pulled down which group regulation they transgressed that caused its removal. They’ll also be able to collaborate with other admins and moderators by adding notes in an activity log when they remove a post.

The other new feature,” pre-approved members ,” will enable admins and moderators to select members whose content will automatically be approved whenever they post. This will save admins time by not having to moderate content from trusted people.

Groups have been a particular interest for Facebook in recent months, especially as the trend towards private networking and sharing continues to grow. At the company’s F8 Developer Conference in May , Facebook announced other features that will induce Groups a more prominent part of the Facebook experience, as a result. This includes a new tab for Groups, where your groups are better organized and you can find others to join- similar to Facebook’s now-defunct standalone Groups app. And it introduced a new Groups plugin that admins could use on their websites or emails to solicit people to join their group.

All the new Groups features are rolling out starting today to about 20 percent of supported users, and will continue to roll out to the rest of the world in the weeks ahead. The online educational portal is live now in English, but will launch in Spanish in June.

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A leaked look at Facebooks search engine for influencer marketing

Facebook’s next money-maker could be this tool for connecting marketers to social media creators so that they are able to team up on sponsored-content Facebook ad campaigns. The Branded Content Matching search engine lets advertisers select the biographical characteristics of creators’ fans they want to reach, watch stats about these audiences, and contact them to hammer out deals.

Leaked screenshots of Facebook’s promotional materials for appropriate tools were first attained and published in German by AllFacebook.de. TechCrunch has now confirmed with Facebook the existence of the test of the search engine. Facebook first vaguely noted it would build a creator-brand tool in March, but now we know what it looks like and exactly how it works.

Even though Facebook will not actually broker or initially take a cut of the deals, appropriate tools could equip brands with much more compelling and original marketing content. That could in turn encourage them to spend more on Facebook ads to spread that content, while also inducing more entertaining and tolerable the ads users insure so they expend longer on the social network. By getting inventors paid, even if not immediately by Facebook, they’ll invest more in the quality of their content and sizing of their following on the app instead of with competitors.

How Facebook’s influencer marketing search engine works

A Facebook spokesperson explained the motive behind the tool like this. Facebook wants to help industries find creators who can reach their target audience in an authentic style, while allowing inventors a path to monetizing their Facebook content and fan base. Inventors opt in to participating in the test and set up a portfolio showcasing their audience sizing and metrics plus their best branded content. Facebook is starting the program primarily with a decide of lifestyle brands and creators.

Advertisers in the test can search for inventors with specific audience demographics using a wide range of targeting alternatives. Those include both general and industry-specific parameters, like 😛 TAGEND

Top countries where they’re popular

Interests

Gender

Education history

Relationship status

Life events

Home ownership status

Home kind

Facebook Avatars is its new clone of Snapchats Bitmoji

Hidden inside the code of Facebook’s Android app is an unreleased feature called Facebook Avatars that lets people construct personalized, illustrated versions of themselves for utilize as stickers in Messenger and comments. It will let users customize their avatar to illustrate their skin color, hair style and facial features. Facebook Avatars is basically Facebook’s version of Snapchat’s acquisition, Bitmoji, which has expended years in the top-1 0 apps chart.

Back in October I wrote that ” Facebook severely needs its own Bitmoji ,” and it seems the company concurs. Facebook has become the identity layer for the internet, to make it possible to bring your personal info and social graph to other services. But as the world moves toward visual communication, a name or static profile pic aren’t enough to represent us and our breadth of feelings. Avatars hold the answer, as they can be contorted to convey our reactions to all sorts of different situations when we’re too busy or camera-shy to take a photo.

The screenhots arrive courtesy of eagle-eyed developer Jane Manchun Wong, who found the Avatars in the Facebook for Android application package — a set of files that often contain features that are unreleased or in testing. Her excavating also contributed to TechCrunch’s reports about Instagram’s music stickers and Twitter’s unlaunched encrypted DMs.

Facebook confirmed it’s house Avatars, telling me, “We’re looking into more ways to help people express themselves on Facebook.” However, the feature is still early in development and Facebook isn’t sure when it will start publicly testing.

In the onboarding flowing for the feature, Facebook explains that” Your Facebook Avatar is a whole new style to express yourself on Facebook. Leave expressive comments with personalized stickers. Use your new avatar stickers in your Messenger group and private chats .” The Avatars should look like the images on the far right of these screenshot exams. You can imagine Facebook creating an updating reel of stickers proving your avatar in happy, sad, confused, angry, bored or excited scenes to fit your mood.

Currently it’s unclear whether you’ll have to configure your Avatar from a blank starter face, or whether Facebook will use machine vision and artificial intelligence to generate one based on your photos. The latter is how the Facebook Space VR avatars( previewed in April 2017) are automatically generated.

Facebook depicts off its 3D VR avatars at F8 2018. The new Facebook Avatars are 2D and can be used in messaging and comments.

Using AI to start with a decent lookalike of you could tempt users to try Avatars and streamline the creation process so you just have to make small corrections. However, the AI could creep people out, make people angry if it misrepresents them or produce monster visages no one wants to see. Given Facebook’s recent privacy scandals, I’d imagine it would play it conservatively with Avatars and just ask users to construct them from scratch. If Avatars grow popular and people are eager to use them, it could always introduce auto-generation from your photos later.

Facebook has expended at least three years trying to figure out avatars for VR. What started as generic blue heads evolved to take on fundamental human characteristics, real skin tones and more accurate facial features, and are now getting quite lifelike. You can see that progression up top. Last week at F8, Facebook revealed that it’s developing a way to use facial tracking sensors to map real-time expressions onto a photo-realistic avatar of a user so they can look like themselves inside VR, but without the headset on.

But as long as Facebook’s Avatars are trapped in VR, they’re missing the majority of members of their potential.

Bitmoji’s parent company Bitstrips launched in 2008, and while its cartoon strip creator was cool, it was the personalized emoji avatar feature that was most exciting. Snapchat acquired Bitstrips for a mere $64.2 million in early 2016, but once it integrated Bitmoji into its chat feature as stickers, the app took off. It’s often risen higher than Snapchat itself, and even Facebook’s ubiquitous products on the App Store charts, and was the No. 1 free iOS app as recently as February. Now Snapchat lets “youre using” your Bitmoji avatar as a profile pic, online status indicator in message threads, as 2D stickers and as 3D characters that move around in your Snaps.

It’s actually surprising that Facebook has waited this long to clone Bitmoji, given how popular Instagram Tale and its other copies of Snapchat features had now become. Facebook comment reels and Messenger threads could get a lot more emotive, personal and fun when the company eventually launches its own Avatars.

Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said that visual communication is replacing text, but that’s forced users to either use generic emoji out of convenience or deal with the chore and self-consciousness of shooting a quick photo or video. Especially in Stories, which will soon surpass feeds as the main way we share social media, people need a quick route to convey their identity and emotion. Avatars let your identity scale to whatever impression you want to transmit without the complications of the real world.

For more on the potential of Facebook Avatars, read our piece calling for their creation :

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Facebook faces fresh criticism over ad targeting of sensitive interests

Is Facebook trampling over laws that govern the processing of sensitive categories of personal data by failing to ask people for their explicit permission before it induces sensitive inferences about their sex life, religion or political notions? Or is the company merely treading uncomfortably and unethically close to the line of the law?

An investigation by the Guardian and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation has found that Facebook’s platform lets advertisers to target users based on interests related to political notions, sexuality and religion — all categories that are marked out as sensitive datum under current European data protection law.

And indeed under the incoming GDPR, which will apply across the bloc from May 25.

The joint investigation discovered Facebook’s platform had built sensitive inferences about users — letting advertisers to target people based on inferred interests including communism, social democrats, Hinduism and Christianity. All of which would be classed as sensitive personal data under EU rules.

And while the platform offers some constraints on how advertisers can target people against sensitive interests — not letting advertisers to exclude users based on a specific sensitive interest, for example( Facebook having previously run into trouble in the US for enabling discrimination via ethnic affinity-based targeting) — such controls are beside the point if you take the view that Facebook is legally required to ask for a user’s explicit consent to processing this kind of sensitive data up front, before making any inferences about a person.

Indeed, it’s very unlikely that any ad platform can put people into pails with sensitive labels like’ interested in social democrat issues’ or’ likes communist pages’ or’ attends gay events’ without asking them to let it do so first.

And Facebook is not asking first.

Facebook argues otherwise, of course — claiming that the information it meets about people’s affinities/ interests, even when they necessitate sensitive categories of information such as sexuality and religion, is not personal data.

In a reply statement to the media investigation, a Facebook spokesperson told us 😛 TAGEND

Like other Internet companies, Facebook depicts ads based on topics we suppose people might be interested in, but without utilizing sensitive personal data. This means that someone could have an ad interest listed as’ Gay Pride’ because they have liked a Pride associated Page or clicked a Pride ad, but it does not reflect any personal characteristics such as gender or sexuality. People are able to manage their Ad Preference tool, which clearly explains how advertising works on Facebook and provides a route to tell us if you want to see ads based on specific interests or not. When interests are removed, we show people the list of removed interests so that they have a record they can access, but these interests are no longer used for ads. Our advertising conducted in accordance with relevant EU law and, like other companies, we are preparing for the GDPR to ensure we are compliant when it comes into force.

Expect Facebook’s argument to be tested in the courts — likely in the very near future.

As we’ve said before, the GDPR suits are coming for the company, thanks to beefed up enforcement of EU privacy regulations, with the regulation providing for penalties as large as 4% of a company’s global turnover.

Facebook is not the only online people profiler, of course, but it’s a prime target for strategic litigation both because of its massive size and reaching( and the resulting power over web users flowing from a dominant position in an attention-dominating category ), but also on account of its nose-thumbing posture to compliance with EU regulations thus far.

The company has faced a number of challenges and sanctions under existing EU privacy law — though for its operations outside the US it typically refuses to recognize any legal jurisdiction except corporate-friendly Ireland, where its international HQ is based.

And, from what we’ve seen in so far, Facebook’s response to GDPR’ conformity’ is no new leaf. Rather it looks like privacy-hostile business as usual; a continued attempt to leveraging its size and power to force a self-serving interpretation of the law — bending rules to fit its existing business procedures, rather than reconfiguring those processes to comply with the law.

The GDPR is one of the reasons why Facebook’s ad microtargeting empire is facing greater scrutiny now, with only weeks to go before civil society organizations are able to take advantage of fresh a chance for strategic litigation allowed by the regulation.

” I’m a big fan of the GDPR. I genuinely believe that it gives us — as the court in Strasbourg would say — effective and practical redress ,” statute prof Mireille Hildebrandt tells us.” If we go and do it, of course. So we need a lot of public litigation, a lot of court cases to induce the GDPR work but … I think there are more people moving into this.

” The GDPR made a market for these sort of law firms — and I think that’s excellent .”

But it’s not the only reason. Another reason why Facebook’s handling of personal data is attracting attention is the result of tenacious press investigations into how one controversial political consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, was able to gain such freewheeling access to Facebook users’ data — as a result of Facebook’s lax platform policies around data access — for, in that instance, political ad targeting purposes.

All of which eventually blew up into a major global privacy cyclone, this March, though criticism of Facebook’s privacy-hostile platform policies dates back more than a decade at this stage.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal at least brought Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg in front of US lawmakers, facing questions about the extent of the personal information it gatherings; what controls it offers users over their data; and how he thinks Internet companies should be regulated, to name a few.( Pro tip for politicians: You don’t need to ask companies how they’d like to be regulated .)

The Facebook founder has also ultimately agreed to meet EU lawmakers — though UK lawmakers’ calls have been dismissed.

Zuckerberg should expect to be questioned very closely in Brussels about how his platform is impacting European’s fundamental rights.

Sensitive personal data wants explicit consent

Facebook deduces affinities linked to individual users by collecting and processing interest signals their web activity generates, such as likes on Facebook Pages or what people look at when they’re browsing outside Facebook — off-site intel it meets via an extensive network of social plug-ins and tracking pixels embedded on third party websites.( According to datum released by Facebook to the UK parliament the coming week, during merely one week of April this year its Like button appeared on 8.4 M websites; the Share button appeared on 931,000 websites; and its tracking Pixels were running on 2.2 M websites .)

But here’s the thing: Both the current and the incoming EU legal framework for data protection situates the bar for consent to processing so-called special category data equally high — at “explicit” consent.

What that entails in practice is Facebook needs to seek and protected separate permissions from users( such as via a dedicated pop-up) for collecting and processing this type of sensitive data.

The alternative is for it to rely on another special condition for processing this type of sensitive data. However the other conditions are pretty tightly drawn — relating to things like the public interest; or the vital interests of a data subject; or for purposes of” preventive or occupational medication “.

None of which would appear to apply if, as Facebook is, you’re processing people’s sensitive personal information merely to target them with ads.

Ahead of GDPR, Facebook has started asking users who have chosen to display political opinions and/ or sexuality information on their profiles to explicitly consent to that data being public.

Though even there its any measures were problematic, as it offers users a take it or leave it style’ option’ — saying they either remove the info solely or leave it and therefore agree that Facebook can use it to target them with ads.

Yet EU law also requires that permission be freely given. It cannot be conditional on the provision of a service.

So Facebook’s bundling of service provisions and permission will also likely face legal challenges, as we’ve written before.

” They’ve tangled the use of their network for socialising with the profiling of users for advertising. Those are separate purposes. You can’t tangle them like they are doing in the GDPR ,” says Michael Veale, a technology policy researcher at University College London, emphasizing that GDPR allows for a third option that Facebook isn’t offering users: Letting them to keep sensitive data on their profile but that data not be used for targeted advertising.

” Facebook, I believe, is quite afraid of this third alternative ,” he continues.” It goes back to the Congressional hearing: Zuckerberg said a lot that you can choose which of your friends every post can be shared with, through a little in-line button. But there’s no option there that tells’ do not share this with Facebook for the purposes of analysis ‘.”

Returning to how the company synthesizes sensitive personal affinities from Facebook users’ Likes and wider webs browsing activity, Veale highlights the fact that EU law also does not recognise the kind of distinction Facebook is seeking to draw — i.e. between inferred affinities and personal data — and thus to try to redraw the law in its favor.

” Facebook say that the data is not correct, or self-declared, and therefore these provisions do not apply. Data does not have to be correct or accurate to be personal data under European law, and trigger increased protection. Indeed, that’s why there is a’ right to rectification’ — because incorrect data is not the exception but the norm ,” he tells us.

” At the crux of Facebook’s challenge is that they are inferring what is arguably “special category” data( Article 9, GDPR) from non-special category data. In European statute, this data includes race, sexuality, data related to health, biometric the necessary data for the purposes of identification, and political opinions. One of the first things to note is that European law does not govern collect and use as distinct activities: Both are considered processing.

” The pan-European group of data protection regulators have recently confirmed in guidance that when you deduce special category data, it is as if you collected it. For this to be lawful, this is necessary a special reason, which for most companies is restricted to separate, explicit permission. This will be often different than the lawful basis for processing the personal data you used for inference, which might well be’ legitimate interests ‘, which didn’t necessitate permission. That’s ruled out if you’re processing one of these special categories .”

” The regulators even specifically dedicate Facebook like inference as an example of extrapolating special category data, so there is little wiggle room here ,” he adds, pointing to an example used by regulators of a study that combined Facebook Like data with” restriction survey information” — and from which it was found that researchers could accurately predict a male user’s sexual orientation 88% of the time; a user’s ethnic origin 95% of the time; and whether a user was Christian or Muslim 82% of the time.

Which underlines why these rules exist — given the clear risk of violates to human rights if big data platforms can merely suck up sensitive personal data automatically, as a background process.

The overarching aim of GDPR is to give consumers greater control over their personal data not only to help people defend their rights but to promote greater trust in online services — and for that trust to be a mechanism for greasing the wheels of digital business. Which is pretty much the opposite approach to sucking up everything in the background and hoping your users don’t realize what you’re doing.

Veale also points out that under current EU law even an opinion on someone is their personal data …( per this Article 29 Working Party guidance, emphasis ours ):

From the point of view of the nature of the information, the concept of personal data includes any sort of statements about a person. It covers “objective” datum, such as the presence of a certain substance in one’s blood. It also includes “subjective” datum, sentiments or appraisals . This latter sort of statements make up a significant share of personal data processing in sectors such as banking, for the assessment of the reliability of borrowers (” Titius is a dependable borrower “), in insurance (” Titius is not expected to die soon “) or in employment (” Titius is a good worker and merits promotion “).

We set that specific point to Facebook — but at the time of writing we’re still waiting for a answer.( Nor would Facebook offer a public response to several other questions we asked around what it’s doing here, preferring to limit its comment to the statement at the top of this post .)

Veale adds that the WP29 guidance has been upheld in recent CJEU suits such as Nowak — which he tells emphasized that, for example, annotations on the side of an exam script are personal data.

He’s clear about what Facebook should be doing to comply with the law:” They should be asking for individuals’ explicit, separate consent for them to extrapolate data including race, sexuality, health or political sentiments. If people say no, they should be able to continue using Facebook as normal without these inferences being built on the back-end .”

” They need to tell individuals about what they are doing clearly and in plain language ,” he adds.” Political opinions are just as protected here, and this is perhaps more interesting than race or sexuality .”

” They certainly should face legal challenges for the purposes of the GDPR ,” concurs Paul Bernal, senior lecturer in law at the University of East Anglia, who is also critical of how Facebook is processing sensitive personal information.” The affinity notion seems to be a fairly transparent attempt to avoid legal challenges, and one that ought to fail. The topic is whether the regulators have the intestines to build the point: It undermines a quite significant part of Facebook’s approach .”

” I suppose the reason they’re pushing this is that they think they’ll get away with it, partly because they think they’ve persuaded people that the problem is Cambridge Analytica, as rogues, rather than Facebook, as enablers and advocates. We need to be very clear about this: Cambridge Analytica are the symptom, Facebook is the disease ,” he adds.

” I should also say, I guess the differences between’ targeting’ being OK and’ excluding’ not being OK is also mostly Facebook playing games, and trying to have their cake and eat it. It simply invites gaming of the systems really .”

Facebook claims its core product is social media, rather than data-mining people to operate a highly lucrative microtargeted ad platform.

But if that’s true why then is it tangling its core social functions with its ad-targeting apparatus — and telling people they can’t have a social service unless they agree to interest-based advertising?

It could support a service with other types of advertising, which don’t depend on background surveillance that erodes users’ fundamental rights. But it’s opting not to offer that. All you can’ select’ is all or nothing. Not much of a choice.

Facebook telling people that if they want to opt out of its ad targeting they must delete their account is neither a road to obtain meaningful( and therefore lawful) permission — nor a very compelling approach to counter criticism that its real business is farming people.

The issues at stake here for Facebook, and for the shadowy background data-mining and brokering of the online ad targeting industry as a whole, are clearly much greater than any one data misuse scandal or any one category of sensitive data. But Facebook’s decision to retain people’s sensitive personal data for ad targeting without asking for consent up-front is a telling sign of something gone very wrong indeed.

If Facebook doesn’t feel confident asking its users whether what it’s doing with their personal data is okay or not, maybe it shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

At very least it’s a failing of ethics. Even if the final judgement on Facebook’s self-serving interpretation of EU privacy rules will have to wait for the courts to decide.

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