Following what felt like years of silence on a plethora of issues, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has gone on an interview rampage (but not us — was it my editorial?). Although he mainly plugs away at the points he made in today’s blog post, there are a few items worth noting.
At the time it didn’t seem like we needed to go further on that. Given what we know now we clearly should have followed up and we’re never going to make that mistake again.
And what about the thousands of apps that may have performed similar data grabs during the many years it was possible?
The data isn’t on our servers, so it would require us sending out forensic auditors to different apps.
How many apps are we talking about here? (to the New York Times)
It will be in the thousands.
Will the 50 million estimated to be affected by the data collected by Aleksandr Kogan be notified to what extent their data was shared?
Yes. We’re going to tell anyone whose data may have been shared.
Presumably the same will be true for anyone found to be affected by other unsavory apps.
What about the public response? What does he think about #deletefacebook?
I don’t think we’ve seen a meaningful number of people act on that, but, you know, it’s not good.
As for preventing future manipulation of the system during a major election year (not just here but around the world):
In 2017 with the special election in Alabama, we deployed some new A.I. tools to identify fake accounts and false news, and we found a significant number of Macedonian accounts that were trying to spread false news, and were able to eliminate those.
It’s the first time he’s talked about it, apparently. Hopefully they’ll prove as effective during larger campaigns.
Zuckerberg also goes off on some interesting tangents with Wired, for instance the efficacy of AI in certain situations and the status of the Cambridge Analytica audit in the UK. As for whether he’ll appear in front of Congress:
If it is ever the case that I am the most informed person at Facebook in the best position to testify, I will happily do that.
If I had to guess, I’d say that hour fast approaches.
Virtual reality seems to have become a very tired topic to consumers. Products are still getting made though because big tech companies are still convinced of its staying power. The challenge now becomes attracting attention from people whose attention spans for what you’re selling has perhaps already timed out.
Oculus Go is the latest VR hardware to hit the market from ole Facebook.com and it seems to be a pretty thoughtful move with hardware that makes some thoughtful improvements to existing products in a package that doesn’t push performance but drives down costs and complexity. I had a chance to demo the headset this afternoon and had largely positive first impressions.
Oculus Go turns on when you press the power button and it works from there. For all the good things I’ve had to say about the Rift or Gear VR, a straightforward setup every time I want to use the headset has never been one of them. By owning the hardware completely, Oculus isn’t beholden to what updates need to be installed or what app you have to click, it’s all very simple and feels remarkably less labor-intensive.
The headset manages to feel more high quality than the Rift in a lot of ways. Comfort-wise, I would say the Oculus Go bests even the first-gen Google Daydream View headset which pretty much felt like a tight sweater on your face — in a good way. The Oculus Go fabric “facial interface” is spongey and breathable and actually fit around my glasses which is a first for headsets from Oculus.
The display is sharp and the lenses appear to be the best that Oculus has built yet. I’ll need to spend a bit more time with the screen to get a full impression on this front, but assuredly this feels like far less of a toy than the Gear VR does.
It’s hard to judge the device’s sound quality because the Game Developers’ Conference kept a low roar even when demoing in private rooms, but I will say that the stereo speakers next to your ears seem to be more of a fallback option to headphones, delivering audio that is neither particularly loud nor crisp. That being said, I’m happy they were included given how many high-end headsets don’t have any integrated audio.
Other notes, the controller is fine and is about as good as it is going to get for non-tracked input. The headset itself also didn’t feel too heavy, the straps balanced things out well on my head. Ultimately, I was happy with it.
I can say that this probably won’t be the company’s breakthrough VR product, but it does showcase how steadily the company’s VR ambitions are starting to align. As someone who has spent a lot of time with the company’s hardware, I have often reluctantly found the games I’ve tried as moments to examine what is possible and what it groundbreaking rather than perhaps whether what I’m seeing is going to be something people actually want to buy as it is now.
My 30 minutes or so today demoing the Oculus Go was one of the first glimpses I’ve had of a product from Oculus that is nearly ready to be purchased by normal people. I think a mass-market product is going to still need to have tracked controllers and a tracked headset, but that will happen in due time. The company’s “Santa Cruz” headset will likely be emerging next year and while it most definitely won’t arrive at the Go’s price point, in due time all of these features will drift down to the entry-level.
VR probably could’ve benefitted from playing a bit more of its early years in the shadows, but very few projects of Facebook keep a low profile. Things are finally shaping up a bit more though, and I think Oculus Go finally represents a product that feels more well put together than it doesn’t. My first impression is that it’s probably still a product for people who want to “try VR” rather than people who just want to get their moneys worth out of a gadget that they’ll use on a daily basis, but for $199, I think Oculus can still make a pretty convincing sell for this when it goes on sale sometime in the next few months.
The Tempe, Arizona police department have released a video showing the moments before the fatal crash that involved Uber’s self-driving car. The video includes the view of the street from the Uber and a view of minder behind the wheel of the autonomous Uber.
Warning: This video is disturbing.
The video shows the victim crossing a dark street when an Uber self-driving Volvo XC90 strikes her at 40 mph. It also shows the person who is supposed to be babysitting the autonomous vehicle looking down moments before the crash. It’s unclear what is distracting the minder. It’s also unclear why Uber’s systems did not detect and react to the victim who was clearly moving across its range of sensors at walking speeds.
Uber provided the following statement regarding the incident to TechCrunch:
Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.
Since the crash on March 19, Uber has pulled all its vehicles from the roads operating in Pittsburgh, Tempe, San Francisco and Toronto. This is the first time an autonomous vehicle operating in self-driving mode has resulted in a human death. In a statement to TechCrunch, the NHTSA said it has sent over its “Special Crash Investigation” team to Tempe. This is “consistent with NHTSA’s vigilant oversight and authority over the safety of all motor vehicles and equipment, including automated technologies,” a spokesperson for the agency told TechCrunch.
“NHTSA is also in contact with Uber, Volvo, Federal, State and local authorities regarding the incident,” the spokesperson said. “The agency will review the information and proceed as warranted.”
Toyota also paused its self-driving testing in the US following the accident.
This tragic accident is the sort of situation self-driving vehicles are supposed to address. After all, these systems are supposed to be able to see through the dark and cannot get distracted by Twitter.
For the visually impaired, there are lots of accessibility options if you want to browse the web — screen readers, podcast versions of articles and so on. But it can still be a pain to keep up with your favorite publications the way sighted app users do. BrailleVoice is a project that puts the news in a touch-tone phone interface, reading you the latest news from your favorite publications (like this one) easily from anywhere you get a signal.
It’s from SpaceNext, AKA Shan, who has a variety of useful little apps he’s developed over the years on his page — John wrote up one back in 2011. Several of them have an accessibility aspect to them, something that always piques my interest.
“Visually challenged users will find it difficult to navigate using apps,” he wrote in an email. “I thought with text to speech readily available… they would be able to make a call to a toll free number to listen to latest news from any site.”
All you do is dial 1-888-666-4013, then listen to the options on the menu. TechCrunch is the first outlet listed, so hit 1# and it’ll read out the headlines. Select one (of mine) and it’ll jump right in. That’s it! There are a couple of dozen sites listed right now, from LifeHacker (hit 15#) to the Times of India (hit 26#). You can also suggest new sites to add, presumably as long as they have some kind of RSS feed. (This should be a reminder why you should keep your website or news service accessible in some like manner.)
“More importantly,” he continued, “this works even without internet even in the remotest of places. You can listen to your favorite news site without having to spend a dime or worry about internet.”
Assuming you can get a voice signal and you’ve got minutes, anyway. I quite like the idea of someone walking into the nearest town, pulling out their old Nokia, dialing this up and keeping up to date with the most news-addicted of us.
The text to speech engine is pretty rudimentary, but it’s better than what we all had a few years back, and it’ll only get better as improved engines like Google’s and Apple’s trickle down for general purpose use. I’m going to ask them about that, actually.
It’s quite a basic service, but what more does it need to have, really? Shan is planning to integrate voice controls into the likes of Google Home and Alexa, so there’s that. But as is it may be enough to provide plenty of utility to the vision-impaired. Check out TextOnly too. I could use that for desktop.
If you play hardcore and competitive games you want to win, so it would be useful to have someone leaning over your shoulder giving you tips on how to play better. Someone that knows all your moves and behaviors, for instance.
That’s the thinking behind Gosu.ai, which has developed an AI assistant to help gamers play smarter and improve their skills. It’s now raised a $1.9M funding round led by Runa Capital, with participation from Ventech and existing investor, Sistema_VC. Previously, the startup was backed by Gagarin Capital, a new Silicon Valley-based early stage VC firm focusing on AI investments, which invested in Prisma and MSQRD, which exited to Facebook and Google, respectively.
Gosu.ai uses provides tools and guidance for users to improve their skills in competitive games. It analyses their matches and makes personal recommendations. It also helps players prep, suggesting gear sets, starting items, and offering ideas on how to take on a particular opponent. The platform currently works with Dota 2, with plans to support CS:GO and PUBG in the near future.
The company was founded by Alisa Chumachenko (pictured), who was the creator and former CEO of Game Insight, a big gaming world player. She says: “There are 2 billion gamers in the world now and 600 million of them play hardcore games, such as MOBAs, Shooters, and MMOs. We can help those players reach their full potential with our AI assistants.”
Gosu.ai’s main competitors are Mobalytics, Dojomadness and Moremmr. But the main difference is that these competitors make analytics of raw statistics, and find the generalized weak spots in comparison with other players, giving general recommendations. Gosu.ai analyses the specific actions of each player, down to the movement of their mouse, to cater direct recommendations for the player. So it’s more like a virtual assistant than a training platform.
In addition, GOSU works in the B2B field, as well, by offering gaming companies a variety of AI tools, for example a predictive analytics.
Facebook is at the center of a dozen controversies, and outrage is peaking. The social network has failed again and again at expanding beyond a handful of core features. Doubts of its usefulness, and assertions of its uselessness, are multiplying. A crisis of confidence at multiple levels threatens the company’s structure and mission. Now is the time for Mark Zuckerberg to spare himself the infamy and resign — for Facebook’s sake and his own.
I’m not calling for his resignation, and I don’t say this out of any animus toward Zuckerberg; I personally believe him to be genuine and driven in his stated desire to connect the world — but likely increasingly frustrated by the unexpected consequences of this naive ambition and the haste with which he has pursued it. I just think that it has come to the point where the best way for him to advance that ambition is to leave.
There are three major reasons why.
Of course, it’s also true that Facebook has succeeded beyond every expectation. But its success arrived early and remains essentially a simple thing: being a broadly accessible, functioning social network. A single network of friends, a basic news feed from them and a few adjunct capabilities were industry-defining ideas and to a certain point were executed quite well. Beyond that admittedly towering success, Facebook has accomplished remarkably little.
Attempts to make Facebook a ubiquitous social graph layer connecting all apps and services failed because consumers found it creepy, companies found it threatening to rely completely on the company for demographic data and tech was moving too quickly for the data Facebook had to be universally applicable. (Except, of course, in advertising, where it is evergreen.)
Attempts to make Facebook a gaming platform failed partly because the social aspect of gaming is radioactive, and partly because the attention economy produces really bad games. Repurposing an established community into a gaming one was a non-starter, and what’s left of the brief Facebook gaming flash in the pan is just an oily residue clinging to the side of the news feed.
Attempts to make Facebook a VR/AR powerhouse are ongoing, but that entire segment of tech has proven incredibly disappointing and eye-wateringly expensive for everyone involved. So far they’re a market leader in a market that seems to only exist for the purpose of swindling money out of investors. It’s too early to call it a complete boondoggle with certainty since Facebook is supposedly playing a longer game here, but it sure isn’t promising.
Attempts to improve messaging beyond the basics have failed; chatbots are of poor quality and largely pointless, in-chat games are novelties at best, business applications are politely declined and while aesthetic changes like stickers could make a little money in the short term, that’s not really the kind of thing that supports a global infrastructure.
Attempts to make Facebook a reliable news source ran into the many-headed hydra that is “objectivity” and everything that comes with it. Boy, they didn’t think that through. I’m not even going to get started on the ways it’s failed here.
Attempts to make Facebook an infrastructure provider have arguably so far failed as either abortive or fanciful. Free basics failed despite good intentions because the company has not earned the trust to be in that position. The laser-based Aquila internet glider is a wonderful science project but strikes me as something of a Spruce Goose situation: Underserved communities would be served better by, off the top of my head, grants offsetting large broadband providers’ advantages in infrastructure contracts, or just paying for laying fiber or building towers. (Later efforts at Internet.org have been more limited and practical and I applaud them.)
Attempts to make Facebook a media company failed (or are stumbling) for a multiplicity of reasons: strong and agile competitors, a lack of focus, too many ads, incompatibility with the like economy.
Attempts to branch out on mobile have failed, though none very spectacularly — which is almost a failure in itself. The main app is of course fabulously popular, as is Instagram. Only by paying a billion dollars and literally subtracting a fundamental feature from the original app were they able to increase the number of icons on most phones.
Attempts to make Facebook cool have failed almost from the beginning. I hesitate to go so far as to define coolness, but I will say that it’s generally thought to be incompatible with ubiquity. They bought some cool with Instagram, but the shine is starting to wear off that one.
This litany of failures (by no means comprehensive, and of course there have been minor successes, too) is also conspicuously a list of things Zuckerberg has personally set his sights on. Over and over he has said, “this is what we’re going to do.” And then they don’t do it — not really. A cash infusion and a bit of borrowed momentum from the ongoing original success of the basic social network, and each effort begins with a semblance of self-propulsion. But all of them have lost steam as Facebook failed to follow through, mindlessly followed through on the wrong thing or just moved on to the next target.
As founder and CEO, Zuckerberg should by all means take substantial credit for the initial success of the platform. But he also has to take responsibility for the laundry list of botched attempts to do much more than provide the basic service people valued since the earliest days.
By no means is he alone in this type of failure, by the way: All the tech giants have products and phases they’d rather not speak of or, though they might refuse to acknowledge it, have been crushing defeats. But Zuckerberg is on his own in the level of personal ownership he has tried to exert over these numerous misadventures.
It’s become clear over the years that Facebook left its original mission statement behind a long, long time ago.
Fifteen years back, perhaps even 10 or 5, Facebook was just what we needed. But the world has changed, the way we interact with technology and each other has changed and Facebook hasn’t. The platform’s greatest failure isn’t any of those side projects listed above; it’s the failure to evolve its core product to succeed by its own metrics of quality time and meaningful connection.
Facebook started as a rough approximation of sharing your life with a group of friends. But as its scope has increased, this approximation has been found to be increasingly inadequate. What’s also become clear is that Facebook has been working hard to redefine how people interact online to fit better with its own limited capabilities. Faced with the square peg of human interactions and the round hole (the image of a pit is inescapable) of Facebook’s news feed and algorithms, they decided it was the former that needed modification.
The root of that is simple: Fitting Facebook to the people’s needs is not as lucrative as vice versa. Facebook runs on ads, and ads run on eyeballs. That’s the business model that has dominated the last decade or so — well, the last couple of centuries really, but in its current form, 10-15 years. Facebook has been one of the most successful practitioners of it because, as they never tire of telling their customers (that is to say, advertisers), they know things about us that others don’t. Important things. This is, as I mentioned earlier, the one place where its troves of seemingly trivial data add up.
Facebook is not a platform for connecting people, it’s a platform for monetizing the connections they make on their own. The company simply doesn’t prioritize the quality of these connections themselves in any meaningful way — nor, I think, can it. That’s probably a realization they reached early on. These flailing attempts to grow appendages were always just ways to multiply the number of superficial connections and train users to conflate constant, convenient updates with meaningful interactions.
The parallel track to this is on the sales and advertising side, where Facebook has repeatedly been cavalier with the data it has been entrusted with and selectively honest with the users from which it was sourced. People have stopped trusting it, if they ever really did. No one believes its executives when they say things about quality time, and respecting your data and so on. Some of them may be sincere — but it doesn’t matter.
The work that needs to be done to connect the world can’t be done by an entity as compromised as Facebook; it’s just the wrong tool for the job. Zuckerberg’s mission to connect the world isn’t happening the way he planned and it isn’t going to happen. Ironically, it was the success of his own vision that demonstrated the limits of that vision.
Facebook has grown big enough that it was never going to be free from controversy. But for the last few years there seems to have been a constant hum of disappointment from practically every quarter, every demographic, every customer, every country and regulator.
During the tumultuous last year, the fundamental idea of advertising on Facebook based on hidden character traits has been shown to be an insidious, easily abused practice. It responded much as its big tech colleagues have: affect shock, assure users this was never intended and promise action. Zuckerberg, who is politically active and of course deeply involved in all the operations at Facebook, has been almost completely silent.
He has occasionally addressed such controversies. But more often than not he has offered little more than lip service, lines so tired — “at Facebook we take this very seriously,” for instance — that they’ve become parody. As I was writing, in fact, he did exactly this. “I’m serious about doing what it takes to protect our community” were his exact words.
But not just those words!
“I started Facebook, and at the end of the day I’m responsible for what happens on our platform,” he wrote.
The exact form this responsibility takes is not specified. But the best thing for him to do would be resign.
I don’t mean instantly — that would be chaos. But soon. Think about it: it’s really the best thing for everyone.
For Facebook, it’s a get-out-of-jail-free card. Zuckerberg can easily take a lot of the heat being pointed at the company right now, since as he says he is responsible for what happened. He can shield loyal employees and executives who really were likely doing his bidding. He could do a junket of Congress, the FTC, a few courts and so on to express his personal responsibility for the actions and to beg people to understand that Facebook should not be held to be synonymous with his mistakes of many years. Meanwhile at the company there would be carte blanche for reinvention, reversing years-old policies, admitting faults.
For users, it’s a nice clean break and a new hope for the platform. For a long time people have rolled their eyes at the promises of change, and seen mainly aimless algorithm tweaks and failed attempts to imitate competitors. The election debacle and this ongoing Cambridge Analytica situation are just the latest problem to appear; user faith is long since eroded, and many more would leave if not for some strong network effects binding them to the platform. For Zuckerberg, the avatar and origin of all of Facebook’s many mistakes (and of course successes) to personally step aside is meaningful change, and may lead to meaningful change at the platform level. At the very least even skeptical users like myself would be curious to see how it all plays out.
For Zuckerberg, this could be the best thing that ever happened to him. The optics are great — brave and idealistic young CEO sacrifices himself so that the company can live on. And it’s not like he doesn’t have another life waiting for him. How does retiring in your early 30s with billions in the bank, spending a year or two with your wife and young daughter, then reemerging to dedicate yourself full-time to your philanthropic causes sound? The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and Internet.org could help more people in more meaningful ways than Facebook ever could. It might even be time to grow a nice beard.
I don’t think he’s really going to do it, of course (resign, that is — he may still grow a beard). At the risk of sounding like an armchair psychiatrist, his ego identifies too strongly with Facebook. Separating himself from it would be traumatic, perhaps impossible. Furthermore, my pessimistic view of Facebook’s works would be more than balanced by his own optimistic view. If he read this I doubt he would agree with much I’ve written.
All the same, I don’t think he will ever have a better chance to leave than this, and he may in the near future wish he had bowed out around now. Free of Zuckerberg, Facebook might blossom anew or it might wither; but most damningly of all, its users probably won’t care either way.
Coates has reportedly been replaced on an interim basis by Joseph Camileri, a senior manager for information security and risk.
This comes following the impending and rumored departures of other high-level security officers at Google and Facebook.
Yesterday, Google Director of Information Security Engineering Michael Zelewski announced his upcoming departure on Twitter. With Facebook, there were reports that CSO Alex Stamos was leaving his role, but that seems to not be true. Instead, Stamos said his role is simply changing to focus more on election security and emerging security risks.
I’ve reached out to Twitter and will update this story if I hear back.
Burrow is announcing a $14 million Series A led by New Enterprise Associates. Correlation Ventures also participated in the round, as did previous investors Red & Blue Ventures and Y Combinator Continuity. (The startup went through the YC accelerator back in 2016.)
When Burrow raised a $4.3 million seed round at the end of last year, it said it was growing 20 percent each month, and its manufacturing facilities had just moved from from Mexico City to Mississippi.
Burrow’s Stephen Kuhl said that after a successful 2017, he and his co-founder Kabeer Chopra decided to start fundraising again at the end of January. One of their big goals was to enlist NEA’s Tony Florence — who also backed Casper and Jet.com. Now, Florence is joining Burrow’s board of directors.
“Direct-to-consumer commerce is an increasingly important category, particularly in verticals that have seen little innovation in the way products are built, marketed and distributed,” Florence said in an emailed statement. “The furniture market is ripe for disruption, and Burrow can deliver the quality, value, and convenience that consumers demand from ecommerce shopping experiences. We’re excited to partner with Stephen and his team as they tackle this tremendous opportunity.”
The startup’s main product is a sofa with a modular design, making it easy to move and adjust in different living spaces. (You can buy it in one- to four-seat configurations, with the three-seater currently priced at $1,095.) The modules are delivered in relatively compact boxes, and assembly is only supposed to take 10 minutes, with no tools required.
The lineup has expanded to include an ottoman and a chaise sectional couch, and Burrow also recently added the option to include wooden legs.
Kuhl told me the new funding will allow Burrow to hire aggressively, open additional factories and introduce new, non-sofa products — the plan is to turn the company into “an entire home lifestyle brand.”
“We want to be known for not making people compromise,” he added. “Whether it’s price, quality, convenience, experience, comfort — any of those things, we want to provide the best overall experience.”
We knew Jack Dorsey was bullish on bitcoin, but some new quotes reveal that he’s really, really bullish.
In an interview with The Times of London, the Twitter and Square chief executive expressed a strong belief in bitcoin’s shot at outliving its growing pains in order to grow into a ubiquitous digital currency.
“The world ultimately will have a single currency, the internet will have a single currency. I personally believe that it will be bitcoin,” Dorsey said. He added that the timeline would play out “probably over ten years, but it could go faster.”
In spite of conceding that bitcoin “does not have the capabilities right now to become an effective currency,” Dorsey thinks that it will grow into a better one over time as improvements to the core technology roll out.
Just last week, Dorsey contributed to a $2.5 million seed round for Lightning Labs, a Bay Area startup focused on the Lightning Network, a protocol that layers on top of a cryptocurrency like bitcoin. That layer aims to speed things up by creating a secondary channel with its own mini digital ledger that keeps excess traffic off of a congested blockchain (you can read more about how that works in this helpful Coindesk explainer).
Dorsey also intends to continue supporting bitcoin through Square, his mobile payments company. Square Cash added support for bitcoin last year and the feature recently rolled out to all Square Cash users.
Could this be just the beginning of a much bigger Cambridge Analytica scandal for Facebook? The answer rides on how transparent Facebook is actually being right now. CEO Mark Zuckerberg just put forth a statement and plan to improve data privacy, but omitted some of the most greivous inquiries, and stopped short of apologizing.
Exactly how Facebook handled the multi-year fiasco could be core to whether the public forgets and goes back to scrolling their News Feed, or whether users leave en masse while government regulators swoop in. With journalists around the world digging in and government officials calling for Zuckerberg to testify, the truth is likely to trickle out. Here’s what we want to know: