Early-bird sale ends this Friday for TC Sessions: AR/VR in Los Angeles

After Friday, September 21, ticket prices for TC Sessions: AR/VR will jump $100 for the October 18 event hosted at UCLA.

Buy your early-bird $99 tickets today before these savings fly the coop! Students get tickets for just $45.

The event’s stage will feature some of the industry’s most groundbreaking companies and thought leaders.

Here are some agenda highlights:

Kickstarting an Industry
Yelena Rachitsky [Oculus]
Oculus has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into funding VR content. Facebook’s VR future rests on people finding new worlds that they want to step into — how will Oculus make this happen?

Building Inclusive Worlds
Cyan Banister [Founders Fund] (other speakers to be announced soon)
If you had the chance to redesign society, where would you even start? As game developers continue designing massive online virtual worlds where we will spend more and more time, how should we look to correct issues we encounter and how can we build a better future?

The Social Experiment
Adam Arrigo [TheWaveVR], Sophia Dominguez [SVRF] and Gil Baron [Mindshow]
If anything, the Oculus VR acquisition in 2014 signaled that Facebook saw VR as a social final frontier. No one really knows what exactly those interactions look like though, but there’s an awful lot that’s already been explored.

Reality Checks
Niko Bonatsos [General Catalyst], Catherine Ulrich [FirstMark Capital] and Jacob Mullins [Shasta Ventures]
“[VR] is the frothiest space in the Valley right now. Nobody understands it, but everyone wants in. Any idiot could walk into a f***ing room, utter the letters ‘V’ and ‘R’, and VCs would hurl bricks of cash at them.” – Erlich Bachman. While this may have indeed been the case a couple of years ago, investor cash has been a bit sparser in 2018. Where are the opportunities now?

Click here to see the full agenda to see who’s going to be onstage and what awesome demos you’ll get to watch.

The early-bird sale offers the biggest savings for this event. Scoop up your tickets here before they are all gone.

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Facebook pushed for access to financial firms' user data

Reuters/Dado Ruvic

Facebook is in hot water again over its data sharing deals — or rather, attempted deals. The Wall Street Journal has learned that Facebook had spent “years” negotiating for access to financial companies’ user data. The amount of data it wanted to collect varied. It initially insisted that it had access to all data on its servers, but later backed off and arranged limited data use.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Facebook had been pushing for access to individual users’ Messenger conversations with chatbots and customer service representatives. Numerous companies balked at the thought of handing over individual financial info, however, and signed custom deals that limited what Facebook could see. American Express would only provide aggregated data, for instance. And some companies were outright skittish — Bank of America moved private messages off Facebook, while Wells Fargo warned customers against providing sensitive info in Messenger chats lest Facebook use it.

In a statement, Facebook spokeswoman Elisabeth Diana said that the social network didn’t use consumer-level financial data for targeted ads, and that it partnered with financial companies to “improve people’s commerce experiences,” such as through better support. Facebook also stressed that it wouldn’t use financial information from its Messenger bank services for ad targeting.

The scoop illustrates the evolving attitude toward data privacy both for Facebook and its users. Although it certainly had privacy controls during this period, it was still pressing for access to sensitive info in ways that made companies uncomfortable. Flash forward to 2018 and it’s a different story. The social site certainly hasn’t tossed out financial services, but incidents like the Cambridge Analytica scandal have made both Facebook and outsiders keenly aware of the potential for privacy abuses.

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ACLU: Facebook allowed gender-discriminating job ads


The ACLU has filed a complaint against Facebook with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for what it says is unlawful gender-based targeting of job ads. The organization filed the charges on behalf of three women, the Communications Workers of America and the women the CWA represents. Its charges allege that Facebook allowed employers to target their job ads toward men and it names 10 companies that it says took advantage of that feature.

“Sex segregated job advertising has historically been used to shut women out of well-paying jobs and economic opportunities,” said ACLU Attorney Galen Sherwin in a statement. “We can’t let gender-based ad targeting online give new life to a form of discrimination that should have been eradicated long ago.”

In its complaint, the ACLU shows that when Facebook users are creating an ad, the platform requires them to choose whether they want the ad targeted to men, women or all. “Targeting job ads by sex is unlawful under federal, state and local civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said the ACLU.

Facebook and its ad platform have been in hot water before. Just last month, the Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a complaint against the company for allowing advertisers to target housing ads based on gender, race, religion, accessibility and national origin. While Facebook removed the ability to target housing, credit, employment, insurance or public business ads based on race, creed, color, national origin, veteran or military status, sexual orientation or disability status in April, it disabled an additional 5,000 targeting options in its ad tool suite following the HUD complaint.

“While Facebook has recently taken some steps to prevent employment discrimination against people of various protected classes on its ad platform, Facebook has consciously decided not to stop itself or employers from targeting employment ads that exclude female users from receiving the ads,” said the ACLU complaint. “Instead, Facebook has consciously retained the gender targeting tool and deployed it to send employment ads that excluded non-male users from receiving the ads.”

Among the employers named in the complaint are moving, retail and construction companies, software developer Abas USA and the Greensboro, North Carolina police department.

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This is what Americans think about the state of election security right now

A wide-ranging new poll yields some useful insight into how worried the average American feels about election threats as the country barrels toward midterms.

The survey, conducted by NPR and researchers with Marist College, polled 949 adult U.S. residents in early September across regions of the country, contacting participants through both landlines and mobile devices. The results are a significant glimpse into current attitudes around the likelihood of foreign election interference, election security measures and how well social media companies have rebounded in the public eye.

Attitudes toward Facebook and Twitter

As the most recent dust settles around revelations that Russia ran influence campaigns targeting Americans on social media platforms, just how much do U.S. voters trust that Facebook and Twitter have cleaned up their acts? Well, they’re not convinced yet.

In response to a question asking about how much those companies had done since 2016 “to make sure there is no interference from a foreign country” in the U.S. midterm elections, 24 percent of respondents believed that Facebook had done either “a great deal” or “a good amount,” while 62 percent believed the company had done “not very much” or “nothing at all.”

When asked the same question about Twitter, only 19 percent thought that the company had made significant efforts, while 57 percent didn’t think the company had done much. Unlike nearly every other question in the broad-ranging survey, answers to this set of questions didn’t show a divide between Republicans and Democrats, making it clear that in 2018, disdain for social media companies is a rare bipartisan position.

When it comes to believing what they read on Facebook, only 12 percent of voters had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence that content on the platform is true, while 79 percent expressed “not very much confidence” or none at all. Still, those numbers have perked up slightly from polling in 2018 that saw only 4 percent of those polled stating that they were confident in the veracity of content they encountered on Facebook.

Midterm perspectives

In response to the question “Do you think the U.S. is very prepared, prepared, not very prepared or not prepared at all to keep this fall’s midterm elections safe and secure?,” 53 percent of respondents felt that the U.S. is prepared while 39 percent believed that it is “not very prepared” or not prepared at all. Predictably, this question broke down along party lines, with 36 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Republicans falling into the “prepared” camp (51 percent of independents felt the U.S. is prepared).

An impressive 69 percent of voters believed that it was either very likely or likely that Russia would continue to “use social media to spread false information about candidates running for office” during the midterm elections, suggested that voters are moving into election season with a very skeptical eye turned toward the platforms they once trusted.

When it came to hacking proper, 41 percent of respondents believed that it was very likely or likely that “a foreign country will hack into voter lists to cause confusion” over who can vote during midterm elections, while 55 percent of respondents said that hacked voter lists would be not very likely or not at all likely. A smaller but still quite significant 30 percent of those polled believed that it was likely or very likely that a foreign country would “tamper with the votes cast to change the results” of midterm elections.

Election security pop-quiz

Political divides were surprisingly absent from some other questions around specific election security practices. Democrats, Republicans and independent voters all indicated that they had greater confidence in state and local officials to “protect the actual results” of the elections and trusted federal officials less, even as the Department of Homeland Security takes a more active role in providing resources to protect state and local elections.

A few of the questions had a right answer, and happily most respondents did get a big one right. Overall, 55 percent of voters polled said that electronic voting systems made U.S. elections less safe from “interference or fraud” — a position largely backed by election security experts who advocate for low-tech options and paper trails over vulnerable digital systems. Only 31 percent of Democrats wrongly believed that electronic systems were safer, though 49 percent of Republicans trusted electronic systems more.

When the question was framed a different (and clearer) way, the results were overwhelmingly in favor of paper ballots — a solution that experts widely agree would significantly secure elections. Indeed, 68 percent of voters thought that paper ballots would make elections “more safe” — an attitude that both Republican and Democratic Americans could get behind. Unfortunately, legislation urging states nationwide to adopt paper ballots has continued to face political obstacles in contrast to the wide support observed in the present poll.

On one last election security competence question, respondents again weighed in with the right answer. A whopping 89 percent of those polled correctly believed that online voting would be a death knell for U.S. election security — only 8 percent said, incorrectly, that connecting elections to the internet would make them more safe.

For a much more granular look at these attitudes and many others, you can peruse the poll’s full results here. For one, there’s more interesting stuff in there. For another, confidence — or the lack thereof — in U.S. voting systems could have a massive impact on voter turnout in one of the most consequential non-presidential elections the nation has ever faced.

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Government wants imprison some poor schmuck for pirating Deadpool on Facebook

In case you thought your day was going poorly, the US government has asked that a young man who uploaded a bootleg movie to Facebook be smacked with a prison sentence.

The person in question, then-20 year-old Trevon Franklin, downloaded a copy of Deadpool — which was in theaters at the time — from a site called Putlocker. He then put it on Facebook, where it was viewed over six million times. Unsurprisingly, the post drew the attention of 20th Century Fox and the FBI.

Franklin was arrested in 2017, and pleaded guilty to a Class A misdemeanor. According to Deadline, he was also accused of distributing ten physical copies of the film, which were valued around $2,500. While his initial plea deal involved a sentence reduction, it appears he won’t be let completely off the hook.

The government is recommending a six-month prison sentence for Franklin, due to his flagrant flaunting of the crime on Facebook. While his lawyers argue he was suffering some kind of emotional strain, the prosecution isn’t buying it. They’ve also asked that he serve “a one-year term of supervised release, and a mandatory special assessment of $100.”

Seriously? Who uploads a pirated movie to an account in their name? Fucking amateur hour.

Deadpool? What are you doing in my article?

What I fucking have to do. This is a story in which my biopic might actually lead some poor bastard into San Quentin. And you’re going nowhere with it fast.

How are you doing this? I mean… you’re not a real person, so —

Don’t force me to make the obvious joke about you and the reality of your journalism career, Suzie Q. Just be grateful I’m here to liven up your inner monologue on a Monday. 

That doesn’t really make sense, but never mind that now. I gotta ask: Why are you coming down on the side of the guy who pirated your movie? That’s money out of your pocket, right?

Oh please, Deadpool was the second-highest grossing R-rated movie of all time. 20th Century Fox doesn’t give two awkward fucks about the tickets Trevon saved a few people from buying. You and I both know this is about media lobbyists wanting to make an example of some random schmendrick so everyone will be too scared to watch movies anywhere but in those overpriced makeout booths we call theaters. And if I’m gonna be flogged for someone else’s sadistic benefit, the least they could do is fucking ask me first.

But is this really the horse you wanna back here? I mean, his only defense when he was called on it by the comment section was that if it was illegal, he’d have been reported. And then he was reported. He even set up a Facebook group called “Bootleg Movies.”

What can I say? I like an underdog and stupidity isn’t actually against the law.

It is if you stupidly incriminate yourself.

Where you’re from, I could probably get off with a fine for pissing in a public trash can, but you’re telling me you’re cool with some idiot getting a prison sentence for engaging in a little piracy among Facebook friends?

Wait, how do you know so much about Texas indecency laws?

Q&A’s after these messages, discount Connie Chung. Now back to the topic at hand — as Ernesto from Torrentfreak told you, Trevon has no criminal record and he wasn’t even the one who pirated the movie. I have no problem with putting a head on a spike, in theory, but even I have to wonder if this isn’t going a little overboard.

I guess when Deadpool accuses you of overkill…

Technically it’s you-as-Deadpool accusing them of overkill. We all know you’re just praying the audience is immersed enough to read this in Ryan Reynolds’ buttery voice.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

I always do, Suzie.

U.S. Wants Prison Sentence for Facebook User Who Pirated ‘Deadpool’
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Facebook expands security measures for political campaign staff

Reuters/Brendan McDermid

The US midterm elections are just weeks away, and Facebook is still scrambling to prevent election meddling with every means at its disposal. It’s launching a pilot program that will expand its protections for American political campaigns. Candidates at the federal or state levels, as well as their staff and party committees, can apply to receive extra protection for their Pages and individual accounts. Facebook will help activate two-factor authentication, proactively monitor accounts (through both automation and human staff), and prioritize reports of suspicious activity from campaign members. If there’s an attack against one person, Facebook will check other related accounts.

The company might spread the pilot to other elections and other high-profile users, including existing government staff.

There’s no mystery as to why Facebook is making this available, even as late as it is in the campaign season: it’s trying to prevent John Podesta-style account breaches from Russia and other actors that might try to meddle in the election. Facebook has admitted that it was too slow to act on election threats in the 2016 presidential election, and it doesn’t want to be accused of a similar shortcoming this year. While these and other measures won’t guarantee a hack-free election (especially not when they’re optional), Facebook could at least say that it offered help.

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Instagram expands shopping features to take on Amazon

Instagram is getting ready to challenge Amazon.
Instagram is getting ready to challenge Amazon.
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Shopping on Instagram is about to become an even bigger business. 

The company just announced two important updates to its growing e-commerce business: shoppable ads in Stories, which it first started began testing in June, will launch globally, and Instagram’s Explore tab will get dedicated shopping channels. 

The update means brands and businesses will have significantly more ways to get their products in front of users. Unlike typical Stories ads, shoppable ads (pictured below) can contain stickers that link directly to specific products. Previously only available to a limited number of early partners, the feature is now available to businesses in 46 countries. 

Separately, the new shopping channels in the Explore tab will appear alongside Instagram’s other personalized topic channels and will surface a mix products based on your interests, according to the company.

Instagram's new shoppable Story ads.

Instagram’s new shoppable Story ads.

Image: instagram

Instagram's new shopping channel in the Explore tab.

Instagram’s new shopping channel in the Explore tab.

Image: Instagram

The updates mark a significant expansion of Instagram’s shopping features, an area that’s becoming increasingly important to Instagram. While it’s not clear, for now, just how big of a business e-commerce actually is for Instagram, though the company obviously sees it as a huge opportunity. 

During Facebook’s last earnings call Sheryl Sandberg noted that Instagram has more than 25 million business profiles on its service, a number that’s likely to keep growing as the app leans further into shopping. The company may even be working on a standalone shopping app, according to a recent report from The Verge.

What is clear is that Instagram has emerged as a critical platform for many smaller and direct-to-consumer businesses, which depend on the photo sharing app to reach new customers. 

“It’s one of the fastest growing channels that we’ve had in terms of merchant interest,” says  Satish Kanwar, VP of Product at Shopify. Shopify’s e-commerce platform, which is used by many companies which are active on Instagram, was one of Instagram’s first partners on shoppable Story ads earlier this year. 

For Instagram, investing in shopping features is beneficial for more than just commanding new ad dollars. It also gives brands and businesses yet another reason to go all-in on the platform. The app, which counts more than a billion users and may be worth as much as $100 billion, has, until recently, put its consumer-facing features first. But, given its explosive growth over the last couple years, the company is now looking for new ways to get all those users to engage with businesses, particularly small businesses. 

If the strategy works, then Instagram could become not just a social media powerhouse but an actual Amazon competitor.

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Instagram shopping invades the Explore tab

Reuters/Charles Platiau

Like it or not, Instagram is continuing its quest to make shopping ubiquitous inside its app. The social service is launching a dedicated Shopping channel in the Explore tab that offers a personalized selection of goods. If money is burning a hole in your pocket, you won’t have to stumble across a shoppable post to lighten your bank account. The channel is gradually rolling out now, although it’ll only be available worldwide sometime in the “coming weeks.”

You can also expect to see more shoppable Stories. The impulse-oriented feature is deploying around the globe, and should be available to businesses in 46 countries. You’ll usually have to follow brands on Instagram to see this in action, but many people do — about a third of the most popular stories come from companies. It might just be a matter of when you see a hard sales pitch.

Shopping in Instagram's Explore tab

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Facebook expands bug bounty program to include third-party apps and websites

Facebook announced this morning it’s expanding its bug bounty program – which pays researchers who find security vulnerabilities within its platform – to now include issues found in third-party apps and websites. Specifically, Facebook says it will reward valid reports of vulnerabilities that relate to the improper exposure of Facebook user access tokens.

Typically, when a user logs into another app using their Facebook account information, they’re able to decide what information the token and, therefore, the app can access and what actions it can take.

But if the token becomes compromised, users’ personal information could be misused.

Facebook says it will pay a minimum reward of $500 per vulnerable app or website, if the report is valid. The company also noted it wasn’t aware of any other programs offering rewards of this scope for all eligible third-party apps.

If a vulnerability is determined to be legit, Facebook will then work with the affected app developer or website operator to fix their code. Any apps that don’t comply with Facebook’s request to address the issue will be suspended from the platform until the problem has been solved and undergoes a security review.

In addition, Facebook says it will revoke all the access tokens that could have been compromised in order to prevent potential misuse. If it believes anyone has actually been impacted by the problem, it will notify them, if need be.

The company spells out what sort of information researchers (the white hat hackers) should include in their reports in order to receive the reward. It also says it’s only accepting reports where the bug is discovered by passively viewing data sent to and from a device and the affected app or website – not through any more of manipulation on the researchers’ part.

The news comes at a time when Facebook is still dealing with the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which compromised the personal data from as many as 87 million Facebook users. This was followed by news this summer that a quiz app had been leaking data on 120 million users for years.

Since then, the company has been tightening its API platform, reviewing all apps, suspending hundreds of apps deemed suspicious, rolling out tools to help people better manage their apps, and more.

As a part of those changes, Facebook said earlier this year that its bug bounty program would be expanded.

Separately from this new program, the company now also runs a Data Abuse Bounty program which rewards first-hand knowledge of third-parties that collect user data in order to pass it off to malicious parties.

“We would like to emphasize that our bug bounty program does not replace the obligations on app developers to maintain appropriate technical and organizational measures to protect personal data — either regulatory obligations (for example, if the app developer is a data controller for the purposes of GDPR) or the rigorous controls we require through our terms of service and policies that apply to all developers on the Facebook platform,” wrote Dan Gurfinkel, Facebook Security Engineering Manager, in an announcement.

More details on the program are here.

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Facebook is finally making progress against fake news

A recent study sheds a light on just how successful Facebook has been at curbing the spread of fake news.
A recent study sheds a light on just how successful Facebook has been at curbing the spread of fake news.
Image: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It looks like Facebook’s actions to stop the spread of fake news might actually be working.

A new study titled “Trends in the Diffusion of Misinformation on Social Media” from researchers at Stanford University and New York University have discovered that Facebook engagement — shares, likes, and comments from users interacting with articles on the platform — dramatically dropped 50 percent between the 2016 election and July 2018.

Researchers Hunt Allcott, Matthew Gentzkow, and Chuan Yu used data from over 570 sites classified as fake news from sources such as Poltifact, FactCheck, and Buzzfeed. Using data compiled by BuzzSumo, a marketing analytics firm that tracks “user interactions with internet content on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms,” the researchers discovered that the Facebook engagement of all the sites combined sat at 70 million as of this July. That’s a huge drop from its height in 2016 when the sites had totaled 200 million monthly engagements. 

The study also took into account that this might not just be relative to fake news content. Facebook is always making adjustments to it’s algorithm with effects that echo through the entire site. To make sure the falling Facebook engagement trend is unique to outlets peddling misinformation and not just a result of a platform-wide algorithm change, the study also looked at legitimate news, business, and culture websites. The results were encouraging. “We see no similar pattern for other news, business, or culture sites, where interactions have been relatively stable over time and have followed similar trends […] before and after the election.”

While Facebook is headed in the direction when it comes to combating misinformation, unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Twitter. The same study discovered that engagement on Twitter, such as retweets, has actually gone up when it comes to fake news — from 4 million engagements in 2016 to 6 million in 2018.

Mark Zuckerberg and company may be on the right track when it comes to fighting fake news, but as you can see from those engagement numbers, it’s not a success story quite yet. Even with the downward trend over the past 2 years, Facebook is still responsible for much more of the spread of fake news than a social platform like Twitter. The company may have a much larger user base than the little blue bird, which certainly accounts for the higher engagement numbers, but it also has many more resources. Along with technology to fight fake news, Facebook has been able to recruit human beings to moderate and monitor the site for misinformation whereas Twitter has made it clear via it’s CEO Jack Dorsey that they don’t want to partake in being “arbiters of truth.” Twitter also likely can’t afford to either.

There isn’t yet cause for celebration, as there’s still much more work to be done in the battle against fake news. The researchers of this study are also open with the fact that additional research is needed even on its findings. However, the study does enforce that these first steps taken by Facebook to curb fake news are indeed having some affect.

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