Pro-Trump social media duo accuses Facebook of anti-conservative censorship

Following up on a recurring thread from Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional appearance earlier this month, the House held a hearing today on perceived bias against conservatives on Facebook and other social platforms. The hearing, ostensibly about “how social media companies filter content on their platforms,” focused on the anecdotal accounts of social media stars Diamond and Silk (Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson), a pro-Trump viral web duo that rose to prominence during Trump’s presidential campaign.

“Facebook used one mechanism at a time to diminish reach by restricting our page so that our 1.2 million followers would not see our content, thus silencing our conservative voices,” Diamond and Silk said in their testimony.

“It’s not fair for these Giant Techs [sic] like Facebook and YouTube get to pull the rug from underneath our platform and our feet and put their foot on our neck to silence our voices; it’s not fair for them to put a strong hold on our finances.”

During the course of their testimony, Diamond and Silk repeated their unfounded assertions that Facebook targeted their content as a deliberate act of political censorship.

What followed was mostly a partisan back-and-forth. Republicans who supported the hearing’s mission asked the duo to elaborate on their claims and Democrats pointed out their lack of substantiating evidence and their willingness to denounce documented facts as “fake news.”

Controversially, they also denied that they had accepted payment from the Trump campaign, in spite of public evidence to the contrary. On November 22, 2016, the pair received $1,274.94 for “field consulting,” as documented by the FEC.

Earlier in April, Zuckerberg faced a question about the pair’s Facebook page from Republican Rep. Joe Barton:

Why is Facebook censoring conservative bloggers such as Diamond and Silk? Facebook called them “unsafe” to the community. That is ludicrous. They hold conservative views. That isn’t unsafe.

At the time, Zuckerberg replied that the perceived censorship was an “enforcement error” and had been in contact with Diamond and Silk to reverse its mistake. Senator Ted Cruz also asked Zuckerberg about what he deemed a “pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship” against conservative voices on the platform.

Today’s hearing, which California Rep. Ted Lieu dismissed as “stupid and ridiculous,” was little more than an exercise in idle hyper-partisanship, but it’s notable for a few reasons. For one, Diamond and Silk are two high-profile creators who managed to take their monetization grievances with tech companies, however misguided, all the way to Capitol Hill. Beyond that, and the day’s strange role-reversal of regulatory stances, the hearing was the natural escalation of censorship claims made by some Republicans during the Zuckerberg hearings. Remarkably, those accusations only comprised a sliver of the two days’ worth of testimony; in a rare display of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans mostly cooperated in grilling the Facebook CEO on his company’s myriad failures.

Congressional hearing or not, the truth of Facebook’s platform screw-ups is far more universal than political claims on the right or left might suggest. As Zuckerberg’s testimony made clear, Facebook’s moderation tools don’t exactly work as intended and the company doesn’t even really know the half of it. Facebook users have been manipulating the platform’s content reporting tools for years, and unfortunately that phenomenon coupled with Facebook’s algorithmic and moderation blind spots punishes voices on both sides of the U.S. political spectrum — and everyone in between.

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What we learned from Facebook’s latest data misuse grilling

Facebook’s CTO Mike Schroepfer has just undergone almost five hours of often forensic and frequently awkward questions from members of a UK parliament committee that’s investigating online disinformation, and whose members have been further fired up by misinformation they claim Facebook gave it.

The veteran senior exec, who’s clocked up a decade at the company, also as its VP of engineering, is the latest stand-in for CEO Mark Zuckerberg who keeps eschewing repeat requests to appear.

The DCMS committee’s enquiry began last year as a probe into ‘fake news’ but has snowballed in scope as the scale of concern around political disinformation has also mounted — including, most recently, fresh information being exposed by journalists about the scale of the misuse of Facebook data for political targeting purposes.

During today’s session committee chair Damian Collins again made a direct appeal for Zuckerberg to testify, pausing the flow of questions momentarily to cite news reports suggesting the Facebook founder has agreed to fly to Brussels to testify before European Union lawmakers in relation to the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data misuse scandal.

“We’ll certainly be renewing our request for him to give evidence,” said Collins. “We still do need the opportunity to put some of these questions to him.”

Committee members displayed visible outrage during the session, accusing Facebook of concealing the truth or at very least concealing evidence from it at a prior hearing that took place in Washington in February — when the company sent its UK head of policy, Simon Milner, and its head of global policy management, Monika Bickert, to field questions.

During questioning Milner and Bickert failed to inform the committee about a legal agreement Facebook had made with Cambridge Analytica in December 2015 — after the company had learned (via an earlier Guardian article) that Facebook user data had been passed to the company by the developer of an app running on its platform.

Milner also told the committee that Cambridge Analytica could not have any Facebook data — yet last month the company admitted data on up to 87 million of its users had indeed been passed to the firm.

Schroepfer said he wasn’t sure whether Milner had been “specifically informed” about the agreement Facebook already had with Cambridge Analytica — adding: “I’m guessing he didn’t know”. He also claimed he had only himself become aware of it “within the last month”.

Who knows? Who knows about what the position was with Cambridge Analytica in February of this year? Who was in charge of this?” pressed one committee member.

“I don’t know all of the names of the people who knew that specific information at the time,” responded Schroepfer.

“We are a parliamentary committee. We went to Washington for evidence and we raised the issue of Cambridge Analytica. And Facebook concealed evidence to us as an organization on that day. Isn’t that the truth?” rejoined the committee member, pushing past Schroepfer’s claim to be “doing my best” to provide it with information.

A pattern of evasive behavior

“You are doing your best but the buck doesn’t stop with you does it? Where does the buck stop?”

“It stops with Mark,” replied Schroepfer — leading to a quick fire exchange where he was pressed about (and avoided answering) what Zuckerberg knew and why the Facebook founder wouldn’t come and answer the committee’s questions himself.

“What we want is the truth. We didn’t get the truth in February… Mr Schroepfer I remain to be convinced that your company has integrity,” was the pointed conclusion after a lengthy exchange on this.

“What’s been frustrating for us in this enquiry is a pattern of behavior from the company — an unwillingness to engage, and a desire to hold onto information and not disclose it,” said Collins, returning to the theme at another stage of the hearing — and also accusing Facebook of not providing it with “straight answers” in Washington.

“We wouldn’t be having this discussion now if this information hadn’t been brought into the light by investigative journalists,” he continued. “And Facebook even tried to stop that happening as well [referring to a threat by the company to sue the Guardian ahead of publication of its Cambridge Analytica exposé]… It’s a pattern of behavior, of seeking to pretend this isn’t happening.”

The committee expressed further dissatisfaction with Facebook immediately following the session, emphasizing that Schroepfer had “failed to answer fully on nearly 40 separate points”.

“Mr Schroepfer, Mark Zuckerberg’s right hand man whom we were assured could represent his views, today failed to answer many specific and detailed questions about Facebook’s business practices,” said Collins in a statement after the hearing.

“We will be asking him to respond in writing to the committee on these points; however, we are mindful that it took a global reputational crisis and three months for the company to follow up on questions we put to them in Washington D.C. on February 8

“We believe that, given the large number of outstanding questions for Facebook to answer, Mark Zuckerberg should still appear in front of the Committee… and will request that he appears in front of the DCMS Committee before the May 24.”

We reached out to Facebook for comment — but at the time of writing the company had not responded.

Palantir’s data use under review

Schroepfer was questioned on a wide range of topics during today’s session. And while he was fuzzy on many details, giving lots of partial answers and promises to “follow up”, one thing he did confirm was that Facebook board member Peter Thiel’s secretive big data analytics firm, Palantir, is one of the companies Facebook is investigating as part of a historical audit of app developers’ use of its platform.

Have there ever been concerns raised about Palantir’s activity, and about whether it has gained improper access to Facebook user data, asked Collins.

“I think we are looking at lots of different things now. Many people have raised that concern — and since it’s in the public discourse it’s obviously something we’re looking into,” said Schroepfer.

“But it’s part of the review work that Facebook’s doing?” pressed Collins.

“Correct,” he responded.

The historical app audit was announced in the wake of last month’s revelations about how much Facebook data Cambridge Analytica was given by app developer (and Cambridge University academic), Dr Aleksandr Kogan — in what the company couched as a “breach of trust”.

However Kogan, who testified to the committee earlier this week, argues he was just using Facebook’s platform as it was architected and intended to be used — going so far as to claim its developer terms are “not legally valid”. (“For you to break a policy it has to exist. And really be their policy, The reality is Facebook’s policy is unlikely to be their policy,” was Kogan’s construction, earning him a quip from a committee member that he “should be a professor of semantics”.)

Schroepfer said he disagreed with Kogan’s assessment that Facebook didn’t have a policy, saying the goal of the platform has been to foster social experiences — and that “those same tools, because they’re easy and great for the consumer, can go wrong”. So he did at least indirectly confirm Kogan’s general point that Facebook’s developer and user terms are at loggerheads.

“This is why we have gone through several iterations of the platform — where we have effectively locked down parts of the platform,” continued Schroepfer. “Which increases friction and makes it less easy for the consumer to use these things but does safeguard that data more. And been a lot more proactive in the review and enforcement of these things. So this wasn’t a lack of care… but I’ll tell you that our primary product is designed to help people share safety with a limited audience.

“If you want to say it to the world you can publish it on a blog or on Twitter. If you want to share it with your friends only, that’s the primary thing Facebook does. We violate that trust — and that data goes somewhere else — we’re sort of violating the core principles of our product. And that’s a big problem. And this is why I wanted to come to you personally today to talk about this because this is a serious issue.”

“You’re not just a neutral platform — you are players”

The same committee member, Paul Farrelly, who earlier pressed Kogan about why he hadn’t bothered to find out which political candidates stood to be the beneficiary of his data harvesting and processing activities for Cambridge Analytica, put it to Schroepfer that Facebook’s own actions in how it manages its business activities — and specifically because it embeds its own staff with political campaigns to help them use its tools — amounts to the company being “Dr Kogan writ large”.

“You’re not just a neutral platform — you are players,” said Farrelly.

“The clear thing is we don’t have an opinion on the outcome of these elections. That is not what we are trying to do. We are trying to offer services to any customer of ours who would like to know how to use our products better,” Schroepfer responded. “We have never turned away a political party because we didn’t want to help them win an election.

“We believe in strong open political discourse and what we’re trying to do is make sure that people can get their messages across.”

However in another exchange the Facebook exec appeared not to be aware of a basic tenet of UK election law — which prohibits campaign spending by foreign entities.

“How many UK Facebook users and Instagram users were contacted in the UK referendum by foreign, non-UK entities?” asked committee member Julie Elliott.

“We would have to understand and do the analysis of who — of all the ads run in that campaign — where is the location, the source of all of the different advertisers,” said Schroepfer, tailing off with a “so…” and without providing a figure. 

“But do you have that information?” pressed Elliott.

“I don’t have it on the top of my head. I can see if we can get you some more of it,” he responded.

“Our elections are very heavily regulated, and income or monies from other countries can’t be spent in our elections in any way shape or form,” she continued. “So I would have thought that you would have that information. Because your company will be aware of what our electoral law is.”

“Again I don’t have that information on me,” Schroepfer said — repeating the line that Facebook would “follow up with the relevant information”.

The Facebook CTO was also asked if the company could provide it with an archive of adverts that were run on its platform around the time of the Brexit referendum by Aggregate IQ — a Canadian data company that’s been linked to Cambridge Analytica/SCL, and which received £3.5M from leave campaign groups in the run up to the 2016 referendum (and has also been described by leave campaigners as instrumental to securing their win). It’s also under joint investigation by Canadian data watchdogs, along with Facebook.

In written evidence provided to the committee today Facebook says it has been helping ongoing investigations into “the Cambridge Analytica issue” that are being undertaken by the UK’s Electoral Commission and its data protection watchdog, the ICO. Here it writes that its records show AIQ spent “approximately $2M USD on ads from pages that appear to be associated with the 2016 Referendum”.

Schroepfer’s responses on several requests by the committee for historical samples of the referendum ads AIQ had run amounted to ‘we’ll see what we can do’ — with the exec cautioning that he wasn’t entirely sure how much data might have been retained.

“I think specifically in Aggregate IQ and Cambridge Analytica related to the UK referendum I believe we are producing more extensive information for both the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner,” he said at one point, adding it would also provide the committee with the same information if it’s legally able to. “I think we are trying to do — give them all the data we have on the ads and what they spent and what they’re like.”

Collins asked what would happen if an organization or an individual had used a Facebook ad account to target dark ads during the referendum and then taken down the page as soon as the campaign was over. “How would you be able to identify that activity had ever taken place?” he asked.

“I do believe, uh, we have — I would have to confirm, but there is a possibility that we have a separate system — a log of the ads that were run,” said Schroepfer, displaying some of the fuzziness that irritated the committee. “I know we would have the page itself if the page was still active. If they’d run prior campaigns and deleted the page we may retain some information about those ads — I don’t know the specifics, for example how detailed that information is, and how long retention is for that particular set of data.”

Dark ads a “major threat to democracy”

Collins pointed out that a big part of UK (and indeed US) election law relates to “declaration of spent”, before making the conjoined point that if someone is “hiding that spend” — i.e. by placing dark ads that only the recipient sees, and which can be taken offline immediately after the campaign — it smells like a major risk to the democratic process.

“If no one’s got the ability to audit that, that is a major threat to democracy,” warned Collins. “And would be a license for a major breach of election law.”

“Okay,” responded Schroepfer as if the risk had never crossed his mind before. “We can come back on the details on that.”

On the wider app audit that Facebook has committed to carrying out in the wake of the scandal, Schroepfer was also asked how it can audit apps or entities that are no longer on the platform — and he admitted this is “a challenge” and said Facebook won’t have “perfect information or detail”.

“This is going to be a challenge again because we’re dealing with historic events so we’re not going to have perfect information or detail on any of these things,” he said. “I think where we start is — it very well may be that this company is defunct but we can look at how they used the platform. Maybe there’s two people who used the app and they asked for relatively innocuous data — so the chance that that is a big issue is a lot lower than an app that was widely in circulation. So I think we can at least look at that sort of information. And try to chase down the trail.

“If we have concerns about it even if the company is defunct it’s possible we can find former employees of the company who might have more information about it. This starts with trying to identify where the issues might be and then run the trail down as much as we can. As you highlight, though, there are going to be limits to what we can find. But our goal is to understand this as best as we can.”

The committee also wanted to know if Facebook had set a deadline for completing the audit — but Schroepfer would only say it’s going “as fast as we can”.

He claimed Facebook is sharing “a tremendous amount of information” with the UK’s data protection watchdog — as it continues its (now) year-long investigation into the use of digital data for political purposes.

“I would guess we’re sharing information on this too,” he said in reference to app audit data. “I know that I personally shared a bunch of details on a variety of things we’re doing. And same with the Electoral Commission [which is investigating whether use of digital data and social media platforms broke campaign spending rules].”

In Schroepfer’s written evidence to the committee Facebook says it has unearthed some suggestive links between Cambridge Analytica/SCL and Aggegrate IQ: “In the course of our ongoing review, we also found certain billing and administration connections between SCL/Cambridge Analytica and AIQ”, it notes.

Both entities continue to deny any link exists between them, claiming they are entirely separate entities — though the former Cambridge Analytica employee turned whistleblower, Chris Wylie, has described AIQ as essentially the Canadian arm of SCL.

“The collaboration we saw was some billing and administrative contacts between the two of them, so you’d see similar people show up in each of the accounts,” said Schroepfer, when asked for more detail about what it had found, before declining to say anything else in a public setting on account of ongoing investigations — despite the committee pointing out other witnesses it has heard from have not held back on that front.

Another piece of information Facebook has included in the written evidence is the claim that it does not believe AIQ used Facebook data obtained via Kogan’s apps for targeting referendum ads — saying it used email address uploads for “many” of its ad campaigns during the referendum.

The data gathered through the TIYDL [Kogan’s thisisyourdigitallife] app did not include the email addresses of app installers or their friends. This means that AIQ could not have obtained these email addresses from the data TIYDL gathered from Facebook,” Facebook asserts. 

Schroepfer was questioned on this during the session and said that while there was some overlap in terms of individuals who had downloaded Kogan’s app and who had been in the audiences targeted by AIQ this was only 3-4% — which he claimed was statistically insignificant, based on comparing with other Facebook apps of similar popularity to Kogan’s.

“AIQ must have obtained these email addresses for British voters targeted in these campaigns from a different source,” is the company’s conclusion.

“We are investigating Mr Chancellor’s role right now”

The committee also asked several questions about Joseph Chancellor, the co-director of Kogan’s app company, GSR, who became an employee of Facebook in 2015 after he had left GSR. Its questions included what Chancellor’s exact role at Facebook is and why Kogan has been heavily criticized by the company yet his GSR co-director apparently remains gainfully employed by it.

Schroepfer initially claimed Facebook hadn’t known Chancellor was a director of GSR prior to employing him, in November 2015 — saying it had only become aware of that specific piece of his employment history in 2017.

But after a break in the hearing he ‘clarified’ this answer — adding: “In the recruiting process, people hiring him probably saw a CV and may have known he was part of GSR. Had someone known that — had we connected all the dots to when this thing happened with Mr Kogan, later on had he been mentioned in the documents that we signed with the Kogan party — no. Is it possible that someone knew about this and the right other people in the organization didn’t know about it, that is possible.”

A committee member then pressed him further. “We have evidence that shows that Facebook knew in November 2016 that Joseph Chancellor had formed the company, GSR, with Aleksandr Kogan which obviously then went on to provide the information to Cambridge Analytica. I’m very unclear as to why Facebook have taken such a very direct and critical line… with Kogan but have completely ignored Joseph Chancellor.”

At that point Schroepfer revealed Facebook is currently investigating Chancellor as a result of the data scandal.

“I understand your concern. We are investigating Mr Chancellor’s role right now,” he said. “There’s an employment investigation going on right now.

In terms of the work Chancellor is doing for Facebook, Schroepfer said he thought he had worked on VR for the company — but emphasized he has not been involved with “the platform”.

The issue of the NDA Kogan claimed Facebook had made him sign also came up. But Schroepfer counter claimed that this was not an NDA but just a “standard confidentiality clause” in the agreement to certify Kogan had deleted the Facebook data and its derivatives.

“We want him to be able to be open. We’re waiving any confidentiality there if that’s not clear from a legal standpoint,” he said later, clarifying it does not consider Kogan legally gagged.

Schroepfer also confirmed this agreement was signed with Kogan in June 2016, and said the “core commitments” were to confirm the deletion of data from himself and three others Kogan had passed it to: Former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix; Wylie, for a company he had set up after leaving Cambridge Analytica; and Dr Michael Inzlicht from the Toronto Laboratory for Social Neuroscience (Kogan mentioned to the committee earlier this week he had also passed some of the Facebook data to a fellow academic in Canada).

Asked whether any payments had been made between Facebook and Kogan as part of the contract, Schroepfer said: “I believe there was no payment involved in this at all.”

‘Radical’ transparency, not regulation

Other issues raised by the committee included why Facebook does not provide an overall control or opt-out for political advertising; why it does not offer a separate feed for ads but chooses to embed them into the Newsfeed; how and why it gathers data on non-users; the addictiveness engineered into its product; what it does about fake accounts; why it hasn’t recruited more humans to help with the “challenges” of managing content on a platform that’s scaled so large; and aspects of its approach to GDPR compliance.

On the latter, Schroepfer was queried specifically on why Facebook had decided to shift the data controller of ~1.5BN non-EU international users from Ireland to the US. On this he claimed the GDPR’s stipulation that there be a “lead regulator” conflicts with Facebook’s desire to be more responsive to local concerns in its non-EU international markets.

“US law does not have a notion of a lead regulator so the US does not become the lead regulator — it opens up the opportunity for us to have local markets have them, regions, be the lead and final regulator for the users in that area,” he claimed.

Asked whether he thinks the time has come for “robust regulation and empowerment of consumers over their information”, Schroepfer demurred that new regulation is needed to control data flowing over consumer platforms. “Whether, through regulation or not, making sure consumers have visibility, control and can access and take their information with you, I agree 100%,” he said, agreeing only to further self-regulation not to the need for new laws.

“In terms of regulation there are multiple laws and regulatory bodies that we are under the guise of right now. Obviously the GDPR is coming into effect just next month. We have been regulated in Europe by the Irish DPC whose done extensive audits of our systems over multiple years. In the US we’re regulated by the FTC, Privacy Commissioner in Canada and others. So I think the question isn’t ‘if’, the question is honestly how do we ensure the regulations and the practices achieve the goals you want. Which is consumers have safety, they have transparency, they understand how this stuff works, and they have control.

“And the details of implementing that is where all the really hard work is.”

His stock response to the committee’s concerns about divisive political ads was that Facebook believes “radical transparency” is the fix — also dropping one tidbit of extra news on that front in his written testimony by saying Facebook will roll out an authentication process for political advertisers in the UK in time for the local elections in May 2019.

Ads will also be required to be labeled as “political” and disclose who paid for the ad. And there will be a searchable archive — available for seven years — which will include the ads themselves plus some associated data (such as how many times an ad may have been seen, how much money was spent, and the kinds of people who saw it).

Collins asked Schroepfer whether Facebook’s ad transparency measures will also include “targeting data” — i.e. “will I understand not just who the advertiser was and what other adverts they’d run but why they’d chose to advertise to me”?

“I believe among the things you’ll see is spend (how much was spent on this ad); you will see who they were trying to advertise to (what is the audience they were trying to reach); and I believe you will also be able to see some basic information on how much it was viewed,” Schroepfer replied — avoiding yet another straight answer.

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Mozilla Hubs is a super-simple social chat room for robots

The socially networked web is frightening enough, but maybe chatting with some friendly robots will ease the tension.

Today, Mozilla showed off a preview of Hubs, a dead-simple social WebVR experience that users can dive into with a couple of clicks, share a URL and meet up with other people across platforms, including mobile, desktop and VR.

It’s not Second Life, or even Facebook Spaces; it’s pretty low-key. You’re just a humble robot hanging with other robots who are hopefully your friends.

It’s admittedly kind of hilarious how childish so many of these social apps for VR look right now. It’s pretty much due to the marriage of PS1-level graphics and a Club Penguin social schema. The thing that’s really being tested here isn’t a lifelike approach to detail or nifty interface cues, it’s the bare-bones simplicity of getting people into a social environment together and facilitating connections.

The broader issues that Mozilla is tackling here are the same ones others are, though Mozilla is starting its efforts with a heavy approach to cross-platform compatibility by building Hubs entirely on WebVR. Mozilla says Hubs has support for all of the major VR headsets out now. Having the web as the backbone for the service is something that’s easy to take for granted, but with most social VR experiences requiring app stores and downloads, the idea of using a URL to dive into a social environment is oddly unique.

Even when compared to VR itself, WebVR is in its earliest stages, but Mozilla is continuing to experiment and attract other developers to it. This is just a preview of Hubs; the company has plans to bring some new avatar systems and tools for developing custom spaces inside it soon.

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Snapchat launches Spectacles V2, camera glasses you’ll actually wear

Photos, not just video. No yellow ring alerting people to the camera. Underwater-capable. Classier colors with lighter lenses. Prescription options. Faster syncing. And a much slimmer frame and charging case. Snapchat fixed the biggest pain points of its Spectacles camera sunglasses with V2, which launch today for $150. The company only sold 220,000 pairs of V1, with their limited functionality, tricky exports, and goofy hues. But V2 is stylish, convenient, and useful enough to keep handy. They’re not revolutionary. They’re a wearable camera for everybody. 

You can check out our snazzy hands-on demo video below:

The new Spectacles go on sale today in the US, Canada, UK, and France, then in 13 more European countries on May 3rd. The $150 V2s are $20 more than the old version and only available on Snap’s app and site — no Amazon, pop-up stores or vending SnapBots. And V1 owners will get a firmware update that lets them take photos.

After two days of use, I think Spectacles V2 cross the threshold from clumsy novelty to creative tool accessible to the mainstream. And amidst user growth struggles, that’s what Snap needs right now. 

V1 Was To Get People Comfortable

What Snap doesn’t need is a privacy scandal, and that risk is the tradeoff it’s making with its more discrete Spectacles design. They still display a little circle of white lights while recording, but with the permanent yellow ring on the corner removed, you might not notice there’s a camera lens there. That could make people a little nervous and creeped out.

But the company’s VP of hardware Mark Randall tells me he thinks the true purpose of V1 was to get people comfortable wearing and being recorded by a face computer. It certainly wasn’t a consumer success, with less than half of owners using them after the first month. He said he feels pretty good about shipping 220,000 pairs. Yet Snapchat was roundly mocked for taking a $40 million write-off after making hundreds of thousands too many. Randall attributes that to having fragmented sales channels, which Snap is fixing by only selling V2 itself so it can better predict demand.

Snap did learn that users wanted to take photos, get them in less flashy coral colors, bring Spectacles to the beach, pair them quicker with better resolution exports, and hear less wind noise when moving. And most importantly, they wanted something they didn’t feel weird wearing. So Randall’s team essentially scrapped the yellow warning ring, style, architecture, chipset, and electronics to build a better V2 from the ground up. The result rises high above its predecessor.

The Specs Of Spectacles V2

Snapchat isn’t making a spectacle out of the Spectacles V2 launch. There’s no hidden vending machines with cryptic clues leading to long lines. They’re openly for sale today in Snap’s four top markets, with IE, BE, NL, SE, NO, DK, FI, DE, AT, CH, PL, ES, and IT coming next week. This might make sure everyone who wants them can have them before they inevitably stop being trendy and will have to rely on their true value.

As soon as you slide them out of their tennis ball tube package, you’ll notice a higher build quality in Spectacles V2. The yellow case is about 1/3 smaller, so you could squeeze it in some pants pockets or easily throw it in a jacket or purse. The old version basically required a backpack. The charging port has also been moved to the side so it doesn’t fall out so easily. Even with the better hardware, Spectacles are supposed to have enough battery and memory to record and transfer 70 videos over a week on a normal charge, plus carry four extra charges in the case.

The Spectacles themselves feel sleeker and less like chunky plastic. They come in onyx black, ruby red, and sapphire blue and you can choose between a more mirrored or natural lens color too. Users in the US can order them with prescription lenses through Lensabl. Those colors are a lot more mature than the childish coral pink and teal of V1. More transparent lenses make them easier to use in lower light, so you won’t be restricted to just the sunniest days. I could even get by inside to some degree, whereas I was bumping into things indoors with V1.

The box holding the hardware on the hinges is now much smaller, making them lighter and shallower overall. An extra microphone helps Spectacles reduce wind noise and balance out conversations so the wearer doesn’t sound way louder.

It’s easy to long-press for a photo or tap for 10-second video, with extra taps extending the clip up to 30 seconds. Either fires up the light ring to let people know you’re recording, but this is much more subtle than the permanent yellow ring that was there as well on V1. You can only add stickers and drawings after you shoot and export your Spectacles Snaps, so that means there’s no adding augmented reality face filters or dancing hot dogs to what you see first-person.

Syncing goes much faster with Spectacles V2

Snap Inc actually reduced the field of vision for Spectacles from 115 to 105 degrees to cut off some of the fish-eye warping that happened to the edges of clips shot on V1. Videos now record in 1216 x 1216 pixels, while photos are 1642 x 1642. What’s fun is that Spectacles can record under water. Randall doesn’t recommend diving to 200 feet with them, but jumping in the pool or getting caught in the rain will be no problem. In fact it can make for some pretty trippy visuals. Cheddar’s Alex Heath nailed most of these features in a scoop about V2 last month.

Syncing to your phone now just requires Bluetooth and a seven-second press of the shutter button, rather than a shoddy QR code scan. Exports always happens in HD over Specs’ internal Wi-Fi now, and transfers go four times quicker than the old process that required you to sync standard definition (low quality) versions of videos first, then pick your favorites, then download them in HD. Randall says that led lots of people to accidentally or impatiently settle for SD content, which made Spectacles’ capture resolution seem much lower than its potential.

Annoyingly, you can only sync your Spectacles to Snapchat Memories first before exporting videos individually or as one big Story to your camera roll. That makes it a pain to share them elsewhere. If Snap wants to be a hardware giant, it can’t just build accompaniments to its own app. It needs to catch the attention of all kinds of photographers.

What really matters, though, is the how the incremental improvements all add up to something much more livable.

Keeping Snapchat Spectacular

Snapchat may have finally found a way to make Spectacles carryable and wearable enough that people use them as their default sunglasses. That could lead to way more content being produced from Spectacles, which in turn could make Snapchat more interesting at a time when it’s desperate to differentiate from Instagram.

Randall says Snap is just starting to reach out to professional creators, who could prove to people how fun Spectacles could be. Snap neglected them last time around and ended up with few pieces of flagship Spectacles content. This time, though, Snap will focus on showing off what Spectacles can shoot rather than just how they look on your face. It’s even going to run its own in-app ads promoting Spectacles that will let you swipe up to buy them instantly.

Snap Inc calls itself a camera company, but beyond software, that wasn’t really true until now. It could be a half-decade before we have AR goggles for the masses, and Snap can’t wait around for that. V2 is a solid step forward, and Randall says Snap is committed to a long road of hardware releases.

Getting tons of its cash-strapped teens to buy the gadget may prove difficult again, but I at least expect V2s won’t end up dying alone in a drawer as often. These glasses aren’t going to turn around Snapchat’s business, which lost $443 million last quarter. And they probably won’t win over any Instagram loyalists. But Spectacles V2 could rekindle the interest of lapsed users while producing unique points of view to entertain those who never left. The startup was always about communicating visually, and what better way then to lend someone your perspective of the world. Snap may have broken the Google Glass curse.

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Snap to change how Snap Map operates in Europe ahead of GDPR

Snapchat is making changes to the information it collects about under-16s in Europe as it works to comply with an update to the EU’s data protection rules. The changes could see its location tracking Snap Map being disabled for younger teen users in the region.

The messaging app, which is most popular with teens, has faced criticism in Europe for how it processes and exposes the location of children on the Snap Map feature which launched last summer.

Following its launch some European schools wrote to parents warning them of safeguarding concerns over the feature. Police forces have also raised concerns about Snap Map.

The FT reports that the messaging app will stop gathering the location data of younger European teens. A spokesperson for the company told the newspaper it will generally no longer process any data that might require parental consent. Although the company also said Snapchat does not intent to put an outright bar on 13-year-olds signing up to its service.

The latter stands in contrast to a move by Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which earlier this week revealed it’s raising its minimum user age to 16 for European users, also as a GDPR compliance step — although WhatsApp did not detail any plans to actively enforce this new limit, i.e. beyond asking users to state they are over 16.

GDPR includes a new provision on children’s personal data, setting a 16-year-old age limit on kids’ ability to consent to their data being processed. Although Member States can choose to derogate from this (and some have) by writing a lower age limit into their laws.

The hard cap is set at 13-years-old — making that the defacto standard for children to be able to sign up to digital services.

The new privacy framework will apply in just over a month’s time.

In an FAQ on its website related to GDPR compliance and obtaining parental consent for users under the age of 16, Snap writes: “To the extent Snap relies on consent to process personal data of users between 13 and 16, we will make the reasonable efforts required to confirm that consent has been given by someone who holds parental responsibility while respecting the need to minimize further data collection.”

We’ve reached out to Snap to ask whether it will be entirely disabling Snap Map for under-16s in the region. It’s possible the company might try to come up with a compromise that obfuscates under-16s’ location on the map, although any such move would undermine the utility of the feature — and may not entirely assuage privacy concerns related to it either.

The level of detail on Snap Map has been flagged as a major privacy concern, because it can show the precise location of users (the location only updates when the app is open). It can even detail activities — such as showing a person is in a car or at an airport. Even Snapchat users colloquially refer to the feature as a tool to “stalk” their friends.

And while users do need to opt in to share their location, the Snap Map feature was actively pushed out as a new feature notification when it launched — meaning the company actively solicited opt-ins from users.

Once Snap Map has been enabled, there are controls which enable users to switch on a so-called ‘ghost mode’ — which removes their location-pinpointed avatar from the map. However some users have reported that subsequent updates to the app can disable this setting — rendering them visible again, and meaning they would need to notice that and revisit the setting to switch invisibility back on.

Users can also choose to share their location with a certain sub-set of friends, rather than with all their friends. However there is also a public version of Snap Map where Stories that users have shared publicly at a particular location can be viewed by anyone using the Internet, even if they’re not themselves a Snapchat user.

The social map feature was inspired by a similar offering made by French startup, Zenly . Snap later acquired the startup for between $250M and $350M — although Zenly’s own social map was left to run independently.

Zenly’s current privacy policy makes not mention of GDPR — citing only French DP law at this stage — and it’s not clear whether it will also be amending its data collection practices to comply with the regulation when it comes into force in a month’s time.

We’ve also reached out to the team with questions. The current minimum age for usage of its app is 13.

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Facebook warns GDPR could flatten or reduce European user count

Europe’s sweeping privacy law GDPR goes into effect May 25th, and Facebook is being forced to push users through new agreements to terms of service changes required to comply with the law. That’s why during today’s successful Q1 2018 earnings report call, Facebook CFO David Wehner warned that “we believe MAU or DAU might be flat or down in Q2 due to the GDPR rollout.” He also said that while Facebook doesn’t expect a significant impact on ads from GDPR, there may be a slight impact and it will be monitoring for that. Wehner notes that GDPR will impact the global online advertising industry so it may be hard to tell what the exact repercussions are for Facebook.

Wehner later clarified that’s “what we’re expecting given that you’re having to bring people through these consent flows, and we have been modeling it and expect there would be a flat to down impact on MAU and DAU.” Facebook went on to describe how if users change their ad privacy settings through the GDPR prompts to allow less targeting, ads could be less effective, so advertisers would pay less for them.

“Fundamentally we believe we can continue to build a great ads business” while continuing to protect people’s privacy, Wehner explained. He said what’s important is Facebook’s relative value to advertisers, which theoretically shouldn’t change since all ad platforms are impacted by GDPR.

Facebook unveiled its GDPR-related changes and how users will be asked to consent to them last week, and drew heavy criticism. Facebook employed “dark patterns” in the design of the consent flow, coercing users to agree to the changes without fully considering them. Meanwhile, it minimized the size and visual prominence of the buttons to revoke permissions from Facebook or reject the changes outright and terminate their account.

Facebook was likely trying to minimize the disruption to the user experience and thereby its user count with this shady design methodology. Just the fact that Wehner said Facebook has to “bring people through these consent flows” rather than describing them as giving user choice or anything about Facebook’s commitment to privacy shows that it views GDPR as merely a hurdle, not something users deserve for protection.

Read our full story on Facebook’s Q1 2018 earnings:

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Facebook’s has connected almost 100M to the “Internet”

Facebook is getting the developing world online, even as the developed world criticizes its privacy practices. Mark Zuckerberg said today on Facebook’s Q1 2018 earnings call that “our efforts have helped almost 100 million peopel get access to the internet who may not have had it otherwise”. That’s up from 40 million in November 2016. uses its Free Basics app with access to low-bandwidth services and Express Wi-fi hotspots operated by local merchants to give people connectivity. Facebook is also testing its Aquila solar powered drone which will be able to beam bandwidth down to users in remote areas.

Most recently, Facebook is reported to be seeking government approval to test Aquila for delivering LTE access in New Mexico. Facebook has also experimented with using lasers and satellites to get bandwidth into places without decent mobile networks.

However, Facebook has received backlash from some who believe that Free Basics violates net neutrality because it doesn’t give completely unfettered access to the open web. That led the app to be banned in India. Yet others believe that some Internet is better than none for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg also described a payments experiment within Messenger as a way to drive connectivity. He said that in the Philippines, Facebok has worked with mobile financial services firms and carriers to let people buy data plans through Messenger. Zuckerberg explained that since these carriers have to invest less in retail locations to sell the data, it can actually charge around 10 percent less for the same data plan, thereby letting more people afford data.

In the long run though, Facebook not only needs to build out the technology, but also the trust of the community if it wants to achieve its mission to get everyone online.

For more from today’s earnings, check out our full piece:

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