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Facebook Messenger Calls Can Now Be End-to-End Encrypted

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Image for article titled Voice and Video Calls Can Now Be End-to-End Encrypted on Facebook Messenger

Photo: Jeff Chiu (AP)

Facebook wants you to know that Messenger is getting a little more secure and private (or as private as anything built by the company can be considered). In a nutshell, users now have the option to make voice and video calls end-to-end encrypted on Messenger.

But wait, weren’t those already end-to-end encrypted? Well, that’s what yours truly thought, but the company has only offered this security option for one-on-one text chats in recent years. In a news announcement, Facebook said it decided to add the new end-to-end encryption option to Messenger in light of the increase in audio and video calls in the recent year, which makes sense considering our pandemic restrictions.

The company pointed out that during this period, there were more than 150 million video calls a day on Messenger.

Other Facebook products, such as WhatsApp, already have end-to-end encryption built in. End-to-end encryption ensures that only you and the recipient have access to content in messages and calls. No one else, including Facebook, can read your messages or listen to your calls. Nonetheless, Facebook said users can always report an end-to-end encrypted message “if something’s wrong,” presumably referencing situations like harassment.

End-to-end encryption hasn’t reached all of Messenger yet, including group chats as well as group voice and video calls. Facebook said it would be testing these features with some users in the coming weeks.

In addition, Facebook also unveiled an update to its disappearing messages feature in Messenger, which allows users to control how long someone can see their messages in a chat before they disappear. With the update, users have more options to specify how soon they want their messages to disappear, ranging from five seconds to 24 hours.

Finally, the company will also be testing end-to-end encryption on Instagram direct messages. This test will involve adults from certain countries and will allow them to opt-in to receive end-to-end encrypted messages and calls for one-on-one conversations.

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Facebook News Consumers Are More Anti-Vaccine Than Fox Viewers

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Image for article titled Facebook News Consumers Are More Anti-Vaccine Than Fox News Viewers, Study Finds

Photo: At Washington, DC Facebook headquarters, activists [the Real Facebook Oversight Board] lay body bags and call for Facebook to stop disinformation that leads to Covid deaths on Wednesday, July. 28, 2021 in Washington. (Eric Kayne/AP Images for All the Citizens Ltd.) (AP)

Joe Biden might want to consider re-backpedaling after backpedaling his accusation that social media companies [Facebook] are “killing people” by spreading vaccine conspiracies and bunk. A new study suggests that Facebook’s news consumers are inordinately unwilling to get the covid-19 vaccine.

Facebook fired back at President Biden’s comment earlier this month with a blog post and a study from Carnegie Mellon University’s Delphi Group. It reported that, of millions of Facebook users, 85% of U.S.-based users were vaccinated or planned to get vaccinated. “President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4,” they sniffed. “Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.” Biden later clarified that misinformation is killing people.

But the study didn’t account for people who consume news through Facebook, potentially exposing them to its massive disinformation mill and targeting them with the content that Facebook believes will get the most engagement. The new study of that user group nudges Facebook off its high horse.

Researchers from numerous universities, specializing in various public health and political science-related fields, surveyed 20,669 people from all 50 states and D.C., between June and July 2021. They found that 25% of people who only got news from Facebook in the previous 24 hours say they won’t get vaccinated, putting it above only Newsmax (41%) and slightly below Fox (23%).

Image for article titled Facebook News Consumers Are More Anti-Vaccine Than Fox News Viewers, Study Finds

An alarmingly high portion of people got their news (“news”) through Facebook. About a third (31%) had consumed news from Facebook over the past 24 hours, ranking Facebook as the second-largest news provider below CNN. Researchers didn’t define Facebook “news,” which could range from anything from user-generated content to Tucker Carlson to the New York Times.

Image for article titled Facebook News Consumers Are More Anti-Vaccine Than Fox News Viewers, Study Finds

As researcher David Lazer, political science and computer science professor at Northeastern University, pointed out to Gizmodo, Facebook’s numbers simply align with overall population data. “The 85% figure, depending on the threshold [the Delphi Group] used, roughly matches our numbers for the general population for being ‘potentially’ willing to get vaccinated,” he wrote. “Indeed, most surveys find about 15% of the population that is really hardcore that says they will never get the vaccine.”

Facebook and Delphi’s numbers (including people probably willing to get vaccinated) gel with the CDC’s report that nearly 70% of the U.S. adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine and the Kaiser Family Foundation’s finding that 16% of U.S. residents don’t plan to get the vaccine unless forced to. Facebook’s estimate of 85% of users who got vaccinated or are willing to get it matches up.

Facebook could clean up the site, and activists and researchers have been telling it, for a year, about the culprits. And if it really wants to place the blame on users, it could stop algorithmically recommending the most “engaging” content, be it from Ben Shapiro or Aunt Charlene. Facebook will never be able to say it’s done everything it can to fight misinformation as long as it continues recommending content as a business practice. A March 2021 report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that 73% of vaccine disinformation originated from just twelve people. Today, the activist group Real Facebook Oversight backed up those findings with a report that over 83% of posts with the most engagement this quarter came from five disinformation spreaders.

That group also dropped a bunch of body bags at Facebook’s door this morning, pictured above. Facebook’s policy communications director Andy Stone tweeted that they’re out for “cheap stunts” and linked to the insubstantial blog post stating that 85% of U.S. Facebook users are vaccinated.

There’s no way to prove that people are dying specifically because of pieces of information they read on Facebook, but associating a primary vaccine disinformation source with death is not a performative exaggeration. As covid-19 case rates are doubling and tripling, especially in states with paltry vaccination rates like Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama, we’re reading daily reports of sufferers who wished they’d gotten the vaccine on their deathbeds. Doctors are pleading with the public to reconsider.

A pastor told Dallas-Fort Worth’s Fox News affiliate that he regretted believing disinformation after a brush with death. A 27-year-old who suffered a severe case said he’d believed he didn’t need the vaccine because he was young and fit. One mother who nearly died told ClickOrlando.com that she let disinformation-spreaders influence her with government conspiracy theories. A grieving mother recounted her 28-year-old son’s dying words to the Washington Post: “This is not a hoax, this is real.”

Facebook has historically chosen to sweep criticism under the rug with broad statistics about disinformation it’s removed and its number of moderators and pledges to change and add labels, but none of that translates to meaningful responsibility as a leading news source.

So Facebook’s hands-off attitude has reached Executive Branch intervention time. Earlier this month, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that, fine, the Biden Administration will do the job. She said they’re tracking covid-19 misinformation on Facebook and are making a series of recommendations for the company, and days later, Facebook told Biden to quit “finger-pointing.”



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Snapchat’s App Will Stop Crashing If You Download the Update

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Illustration for article titled Snapchat Says App Will Stop Crashing If You Download the Update

Photo: Carl Court / Staff (Getty Images)

The most recent version of Snapchat has been plagued by a bug that forced it to crash upon launching, but no longer! An update has been made available in the App Store to correct the issue, which was seemingly only affecting the iOS version of the app (Android users don’t see to have experienced the same issue).

Ironically, the bug appears to have been imbedded in a maintenance update released on June 28 to fix a number of bugs users of the messaging platform had been experiencing.

The issue first came to light after a number of Snapchat users took to Twitter to complain about the bug, which reportedly saw the app displaying a “something went wrong — please try again later,” error message while trying to load the app right before suddenly crashing. After The Verge’s Mitchell Clark tweeted about the issue, Snapchat’s senior vice president of product, Jacob Andreou, replied with a little sweaty-face emoji to let everyone know that the bug has since been corrected.

On Monday, Snapchat’s support team let users know they were aware of the issue, advising would-be Snappers (?) in a tweet to “Hang tight, we are looking into it and working on a fix!”

Indeed, an updated recently added to the App Store does seem to solve the problem, and it’s more than likely that the patch was fast-tracked after Snapchat’s product team became aware of just how many people the bug was affecting. (Snapchat — which is sort of circling the drain of obsolescence anyway — really can’t afford to piss off users like that at this point.)

If your phone hasn’t automatically grabbed the update on its own, pulling down on your profile picture in the top right corner of the App Store should refresh the available updates and allow you to download the fix.



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Facebook and Instagram Debut Financial Incentives for Influencers

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Illustration for article titled Facebook and Instagram Are Rolling Out (More) Financial Incentives for Influencers

Photo: AFP / Stringer (Getty Images)

If you thought the deal couldn’t possibly get sweeter for the influencers that flock to Facebook and Instagram to simultaneously bolster their social media followings and line their pockets, think again: On Tuesday, both platforms announced that they’ll be stepping up their respective games in the coming weeks by rolling out a suite of additional financial incentives aimed at keeping the creator class logged on and streaming.

During Instagram’s first Creator Week event, Mark Zuckerberg — the CEO of Facebook, which owns Instagram — debuted new features that will help influencers rack up “extra cash” in exchange for hitting certain milestones. According to Engadget, examples of goals that will translate to extra cash include selling badges within streams or going live with other accounts on Instagram and participating in “Stars Challenges,” on Facebook, which will reward creators for meeting certain streaming milestones and completing other predetermined tasks.

“We believe that you should be rewarded for the value that you bring to your fans and to the overall community,” Zuckerberg told creators during the event.

In addition to the new milestones, Instagram will also be rolling out an option for creators who sell their own products to link to them in-app, with additional options to earn commission directly from shopping posts.

The cash incentives seem explicitly designed to keep influencers, well influencing, which, in addition to lining creators’ pockets, serves the dual purpose of attracting more users to Instagram and Facebook.

Notably, the bonuses also seem to be explicitly targeted towards mid-range creators, rather than content behemoths with massive online followings. This seems to be in line with Zuckerberg’s recently stated goal of establishing a sort of “creator middle class” — the subset of influencers that, despite having substantial platforms, are not yet big or influence-y enough to merit sponsorship offers from big-name brands.

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Android 12 Feature Will Let You Opt Out of App Tracking

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Google will soon let you opt-out of third-party tracking from any app you download from the Play Store.

Google will soon let you opt-out of third-party tracking from any app you download from the Play Store.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

With Apple’s developer conference just around the corner, Google is reportedly planning to follow in its rivals footsteps by letting Android users opt out of being tracked by the apps they download from the Google Play store.

A Google support page detailing how users can opt out of third-party tracking has generated a bit of buzz. Originally surfaced by the Financial Times, Google will introduce a switch for users later this year that turns off sharing the Advertising ID, which is the device identifier that lets marketers see your activity from app to app. (It’s also one of the identifiers that manufacturers had access to during the covid-19 contact tracing privacy snafu.) Android users can already limit system-wide ad-tracking or manually reset their Advertising ID to help throw off being tracked, but this new setting will let users opt out of any alternative device identifiers that developers also use to track your activity across apps.

Google announced a Play Store policy change in an email to developers. Those who try to access advertising IDs from users who have opted out will only see a “string of zeros” rather than the explicit numerical identifier.

From the Google support page:

As part of Google Play services update in late 2021, the advertising ID will be removed when a user opts out of personalization using advertising ID in Android Settings. Any attempts to access the identifier will receive a string of zeros instead of the identifier. To help developers and ad/analytics service providers with compliance efforts and respect user choice, they will be able to receive notifications for opt-out preferences. Additionally, apps targeting Android 12 will need to declare a Google Play services normal permission in the manifest file.

Unlike on iOS, it’s unclear if the tracking feature will be on by default or if Google will make this a known feature or something that’s buried deep in the settings panel. But we’ll likely have answers by the time Android 12 rolls out publicly. Google is phasing the rollout to apps running on Android 12 devices starting in late 2021, with expansion for more devices coming in early 2022.

Google has been working overtime to change the narrative on how it approaches privacy. The company has added a bunch of granular privacy controls over the years, dating back to permission-selection features introduced back in Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but with Apple using privacy as a key selling point for its devices, there’s a renewed push for Google to answer. The company recently announced a new safety section in the Google Play Store a few weeks back.

Privacy has clearly become a company-wide initiative, considering Google’s move to create a new tracking alternative—one that binds your activity directly to its servers.

And the more features that Google can push out to make its platforms and the services integrated into it seem safer, the more it maintains consumer trust to hold on to that top spot on the market share leaderboard.

Being an Android user has always been about choice. It’s nice that Google is adding an option to make Android users feel better about being on the platform after the security features Apple introduced to iOS. This is certainly the first feature I’m choosing to take advantage of once I update to Android 12.

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Clubhouse Launches Android Beta as iOS Downloads Nosedive

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Illustration for article titled Clubhouse Launches Android Beta as iOS Downloads Nosedive

Photo: Mark Schiefelbein (AP)

Good news: The audio-based social network Clubhouse is finally bringing its app to Android after more than a year of iOS exclusivity, the company announced Sunday. Bad news: The beta is only available for U.S. users, and, just as with Clubhouse’s iOS version, it remains invite-only for now. So not just anyone can sign up and join in the app’s audio-only chatrooms.

Downloads of the app have reportedly been plummeting in recent months, so it’s likely Clubhouse hopes that welcoming users on the largest smartphone OS in the world users will save it from spiraling further. The app surpassed 9.5 million downloads in February but dipped to about 2.7 million in March and fell to just 900,000 in April, according to the analytics firm Sensor Tower.

In a Sunday blog post, Clubhouse said it plans to gradually roll out the Android version to other English-speaking markets and then the rest of the world. For those outside the U.S., you can pre-register for access on the Clubhouse page in the Google Play store to be alerted once the app becomes available near you.

“Our plan over the next few weeks is to collect feedback from the community, fix any issues we see and work to add a few final features like payments and club creation before rolling it out more broadly,” the company said.

Over the summer, Clubhouse also plans to welcome millions of iOS users who have been stuck on the iOS waitlist as it improves the app’s infrastructure, which includes expanding language support and adding more accessibility features.

Clubhouse’s download rates could be declining for any number of reasons. Some experts have theorized that the audio-only social media craze may have been a pandemic-era fad that helped people feel connected while stuck in their homes. With vaccines rolling out and many areas across the U.S. opening up again, it could be that people are simply connecting in person more these days, leaving Clubhouse in the dust. It’s also possible that interest is waning because every other tech giant has either rolled out or is cooking up a copycat app to get in on the social audio hype train.

Another possible factor: Two high-profile security snafus hit the company in February amid a flood of hype and celebrity sign-ups, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In Sunday’s blog post, Clubhouse acknowledged that it has struggled to keep up with its platform’s ballooning growth earlier this year.

“Earlier this year, Clubhouse started growing very quickly, as people all over the world began inviting their friends faster than we had ever expected. This had its downsides, as the load stressed our systems—causing widespread server outages and notification failures, and surpassing the limits of our early discovery algorithms. It made us shift our focus to hiring, fixing, and company building, rather than the community meetups and product features that we normally like to focus on.”

Clubhouse is increasingly looking like the flash in the pan experts suspected it might be, but who knows, maybe this much-anticipated launch on Android will turn things around. We’ll have to wait and see.

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Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube Execs to Testify at Senate Hearing

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Illustration for article titled Policy Executives at Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to Testify at Senate Hearing on Algorithms

Photo: Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

Next week, policy executives from Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter will testify at a Senate Judiciary hearing on algorithmic amplification, Politico reports. Social media recommendation algorithms have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, and Democratic lawmakers have voiced concerns about how they can fuel extremism and the spread of misinformation online.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law is hosting the hearing, which is scheduled for April 27. It will feature testimony from Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of content policy; Lauren Culbertson, Twitter’s head of U.S. public policy; and Alexandra Veitch, YouTube’s director of government affairs and public policy for the Americas and emerging markets. The panel will also hear from two outside experts: Tristan Harris, president of the Center for Humane Technology, and Joan Donovan, research director at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy.

Congressional aides that spoke with Politico said the committee may call on big tech CEOs like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey for future panels. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, who chairs the subcommittee, said he was considering that option in an interview with the outlet last month.

However, by first hauling in the platforms’ policy executives instead of their CEOs, the panel aims to focus discussions on structural issues and content moderation and avoid “the typical airing of grievances” about the platforms at large that have dominated previous hearings, according to the congressional aides. They also hope to drum up bipartisan support by focusing on these sorts of systemic issues as opposed to how platforms handle specific content, such as political speech, Politico’s sources said.

Democratic lawmakers have been increasingly pushing to hold social media platforms accountable for how their recommendation algorithms amplify harmful and extremist content. In January, House Representatives Tom Malinowski of New Jersey and Anna Eshoo of California sent a series of letters to Big Tech CEOs calling on them to rework their recommendation systems, particularly in the wake of the Capitol Hill attack on January 6. Last month, Malinowski and Eshoo reintroduced legislation to amend Section 230 so that online platforms lose liability immunity if these systems promote content that leads to real-world harms, such as acts of terrorism or civil rights violations.

On Friday, Coon reiterated his concerns about algorithmic amplification and outlined plans to make holding social media companies accountable one of his subcommittee’s top priorities.

“Social media platforms use algorithms that shape what billions of people read, watch and think every day, but we know very little about how these systems operate and how they’re affecting our society,” he told Politico. “Increasingly, we’re hearing that these algorithms are amplifying misinformation, feeding political polarization and making us more distracted and isolated.”

The hearing is slated to begin at 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday, April 27 and will be livestreamed on the Senate Judiciary’s website here.



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Facebook is Testing a Clubhouse-Inspired Audio Feature Called Hotline

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Illustration for article titled Facebook Is Officially Beta Testing Hotline, a Clubhouse-Inspired Audio Q&A Feature

Photo: LOIC VENANCE / Contributor (Getty Images)

Facebook on Wednesday ran its first public beta test of Hotline — a web-based Q&A platform that seems like it was dreamed up as the platform’s answer to the current voice chat app craze.

More specifically, Hotline is designed to function as a sort of love child between Instagram Live and Clubhouse, TechCrunch reports: Creators will address an audience of users, who will then be able to respond by asking questions with either text or audio. Unlike Clubhouse — which is strictly an audio-only platform — Hotline users will have the option to turn their cameras on during events, adding a visual element to an otherwise voice-dominated experience.

Hotline is currently being developed by Facebook’s NPE Team, which handles experimental app development within the company, and is being led by Eric Hazzard, who created the positivity-focused Q&A app tbh that Facebook acquired before pivoting Hotline.

A public livestream of the app’s functionality on Wednesday was led by real estate investor Nick Huber, who spoke about industrial real estate as a second income stream — which should give you a pretty good idea about exactly what type of creators Hotline will be attempting to net once it’s live. Close observers of the stream will have noticed that Hotline’s interface closely resembles Clubhouse’s, in that the speaker’s icon is situated atop or astride an “audience,” which is populated by listeners whose profiles appear below the livestream (on the desktop version, the audience is off to the side).

Where the app differs from Clubhouse is in its functionality for “audience” members, who will see the questions they ask appear in a list at the top of the stream which other users can then choose to upvote or downvote. The creator will also have the option to pull listeners onto the “stage” area to join them in a back and forth, which will be something closer to Zoom in nature than its audio-only forebears.

In a statement on Wednesday, Facebook declined to offer specific details about a launch date for Hotline, but said that developers have been encouraged to see how new multimedia features and formats “continue to help people connect and build community.

“With Hotline, we’re hoping to understand how interactive, live multimedia Q&As can help people learn from experts in areas like professional skills, just as it helps those experts build their businesses,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

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Microsoft Accelerates Edge’s Release Cycle to Every Four Weeks

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Illustration for article titled Syncing up With Chrome, Microsoft Accelerates Edge's Release Cycle to Every Four Weeks

Screenshot: Gizmodo

Taking a page from Google’s book, Microsoft is speeding up the release schedule for its Edge browser and will issue updates every four weeks instead of six weeks, the company announced Friday.

If reading that gave you déjà vu, that might be because Google issued a similar announcement last week in which it stated that it’s accelerating Chrome’s release cycle to—you guessed it—every four weeks instead of six weeks starting in Q3 2021.

“As contributors to the Chromium project, we look forward to the new 4-week major release cycle cadence that Google announced to help deliver that innovation to our customers even faster,” Microsoft said in a blog post.

This way, Edge users will gain faster access to Microsoft’s new features and security patches. And since, as of 2020, Edge has been rebuilt in Google’s open-source browser project Chromium, matching its release schedule with Chrome’s makes it easier to keep the two browsers in sync.

The new schedule will go into effect with Edge 94, which is currently slated for a September release. Also following Google’s lead, Microsoft is offering its enterprise customers the option of a longer, more manageable release cycle, which translates to a release every eight weeks along with biweekly security updates for “the most important fixes.” However, the four-week cycle will be the default, according to Microsoft.

As the Verge points out, another popular web browser, Brave, which is also based in Chromium, is adjusting to match the new four-week schedule as well.

I say Microsoft’s got the right idea if it makes for a more seamless online experience. Collaborating with Google seems to be working out for Edge a lot better than attempting to go toe-to-toe with Chrome did for its predecessor, the beleaguered and often ridiculed Internet Explorer.

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