Twitter tweaks profiles in iOS app to emphasize names and bios

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If you’ve glanced at your Twitter profile lately and noticed your follower number has shrunk (in terms of text size, at least), you’re probably not just seeing things. That’s because Twitter has tweaked how profiles appear in its iOS app to place more focus on names and bios. A spokesperson told Engadget the company reduced the font size and spacing on details such as follower and followed account numbers, locations, join dates, birthdays and mutual follows.

Twitter didn’t explain why it made the subtle change, though its comms team noted last month that “we are rethinking everything about the service to ensure we are incentivizing healthy conversation,” following reports it may remove the like button. The spokesperson noted Twitter was in the early stages of that work.

CEO Jack Dorsey has spoken about how he’d like there to be less emphasis on metrics such as follower counts. He said last week that, rather than the number of likes and retweets you receive or how many people are following you, “what is more important is the number of meaningful conversations you’re having on the platform” and whether people are replying to your tweets.

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Instagram kills off fake followers, threatens accounts that keep using apps to get them

Instagram is fighting back against automated apps people use to leave spammy comments or follow then unfollow others in hopes of growing their audience. Today Instagram is removing from people’s accounts who use these apps inauthentic follows, Likes and comments that violate its policies; sending them a warning to change their password to cut ties with these apps, and saying people who continue using these apps “may see their Instagram experience impacted.” Instagram tells me it “may limit access to certain features, for example” for those users.

Instagram is also hoping to discourage users from ever giving another company the login details to their accounts as this can lead to them being hacked or having their account used to send spam. So if you see Instagram follower accounts drop, it’s not because that profile offended people, but because the followers were fake.The renewed vigor for policy enforcement comes amidst the continuing threat of foreign misinformation campaigns on Facebook and Instagram designed to polarize communities and influence elections in the U.S. and abroad. Facebook has said that inauthentic accounts are often the root of these campaigns, and it has removed 754 million fake accounts in the past quarter alone, and stopping these spam apps could prevent them from misusing clients’ accounts. Instagram has been taking down fake accounts since at least 2014, but this is the first time it’s publicly discussed removing fake likes from posts. It now says “We’ve built machine learning tools to help identify accounts that use [third-party apps for boosting followers] and remove the inauthentic activity.”

Some of the most popular bot apps for growing followers like Instagress and Social Growth have been shut down, but others like Archie, InstarocketProX and Boostio charge $10 to $45 per month. They often claim not to violate Instagram’s policies, though they do. The New York Times this year found many well-known celebrities had stooped to buying fake Twitter followers from a company called Devumi.

Users typically have to provide their username and password to these services, which then take control of their accounts and automatically Like, comment on and follow accounts associated with desired hashtags to dupe them into following the unscrupulous user back. The spam app users will now get scolded by Instagram, which will send “an in-app message alerting them that we have removed the inauthentic likes, follows and comments given by their account to others” and be told to change their passwords.

InstarocketProX advertises how it sends fake likes and follows from your account to get you followersOne big question, though, is whether Instagram will crack down harder on ads for services that sell fake followers that appear on its app. I’ve spotted these in the past, and they sometimes masquerade as analytics apps for assisting influencers with tracking the size of their audience. We asked Instagram and a spokesperson told us “Ads are also subject to our Community Standards, which prohibit spammy activity like collecting likes, followers, etc. — so you are correct that ads promoting these services violate our policies. Please feel free to report them if you see them.”

Follower accounts on apps like Instagram have become measures of people’s influence, credibility and earning potential. This is becoming especially true for social media stars who are paid for brand sponsorships in part based on their audience size. Now that brands are even paying “nanoinfluencers” with as few as one thousand followers to post sponsored content, the allure to use these services can be high and lead to an immediate return on illicit investment.

If no one can believe those counts are accurate, it throws Instagram’s legitimacy into question. And every time you get a notification about a fake follow or Like, it distracts you from real life, dilutes the quality of conversation on Instagram and makes people less likely to stick with the app. Anyone willing to pay for fake followers doesn’t deserve your attention, and Instagram should not hold back from terminating their accounts if they don’t stop.

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Google Photos update brings depth control to iOS

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Google has added a useful feature to its Google Photos app for iOS. You’ll be able to tweak background blur levels and adjust the focus on portrait mode photos. The depth editor tool is arriving on iOS soon after Google added it to the app on Pixel 2, Pixel 3 and some Moto phones. Notably, Pixel 3 phones have a built-in depth control feature, as do iPhone XS and XS Max.

Google hasn’t been shy about bringing features from its Pixel phones to the iOS app. Earlier this year, it added support for Google Lens, which recognizes objects, flora and fauna.

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Xiaomi takes over Meitu’s struggling selfie-focused phone business

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Chinese selfie app and smartphone company Meitu announced it has entered into a strategic partnership with Xiaomi. Going forward, Meitu will license its brand, technologies and hardware to China-based Xiaomi, and for upcoming smartphones, Xiaomi will handle design, research, development, production, business operation, sales and marketing while Meitu will deal with image-related algorithms and technologies. Meitu said its mission has been “to inspire more people to express their beauty,” and its board of directors has determined that a partnership with Xiaomi will aid in carrying out that mission.

Meitu noted in its announcement that it’s likely to experience a much larger loss than it did last year. This year, it’s projected to record a net loss between RMB 950 million and RMB 1,200 million, or between $137 million and $173 million, compared to the $28 million loss it logged last year. It attributed part of that loss to the fact that it only released one smartphone this year as opposed to the five it launched the year before.

This agreement, therefore, makes sense for the struggling Meitu. “With such strategic partnership, we can focus our efforts in developing the next-generation image processing technologies, while leveraging our partner’s economy of scale in research and development, supply chain management and new retail efforts,” the company said. And as for Xiaomi, which just announced a net profit after a rather substantial loss last year, it has been working on expanding into new markets. This partnership with Meitu will give Xiaomi the opportunity to try out new technologies with a sub-brand as it continues to push into Europe and elsewhere.

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Snap's new program connects AR Lens creators with brands

You’ll probably start seeing a lot more brand-sponsored AR Lenses on Snap. The platform has launched a program called Lens Creative Partners, which makes it easier for companies to find experienced AR Lens creators. Snap has already certified 30 creatives for the program — it says they range from big agencies to individual Lens-makers around the world — and it expects to add over 100 more over the next few months.

Snap has been expanding its AR Lens offerings over the past year with user-made designs, and it even launched Lens Studio to make it simpler for people to create augmented reality effects. Due to the growing number of user-made Lenses, it started featuring them in its carousel in March and introduced a search function for them in July. The platform made it clear way back last year, though, that brands will be able to use AR lenses as a tool for ads, so the program didn’t come out of left field.

According to Snap, it selected its first 30 creators for their experience developing quality AR. They also completed a rigorous course on Snap’s development process, ad policies and buy models, and other creators hoping to be certified will most likely have to go through the same thing.

In this article:

arlenses, gear, mobile, snapchat, social
Mariella loves staring at her cute dog while writing space, science and tech stories for Engadget. In her spare time, she enjoys pretending to be an opera diva, watching action movies, reading detective/horror fiction and playing video games. 







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Plastiq raises $27M at 2X+ value to let you pay for anything on credit

“I wasn’t asking to pay in Bitcoin!” Plastiq CEO and co-founder Eliot Buchanan recalls with a laugh. “I went to pay part of my tuition at Harvard and I was told that they didn’t (and never would) accept credit card. It was inconvenient and seemed odd. Credit cards had been around for 50 years.” That set off the a light bulb in his head. “Why couldn’t I use a credit card to pay for this important bill? So, I set out to solve my own problem.”

Whether you’re trying to pay your rent or tuition on credit, or you have a business and want to invest in a new opportunity or get a better rate by paying vendors up front, Plastiq can help. For a flat 2.5 percent fee, you pay Plastiq through your credit card, and it issues the proper wire transfer, check, or deposit for up to $500,000 on your behalf to whoever you owe.

Now with over 1 million clients, growth stage VCs are taking notice. Kleiner Perkins has just led a $27 million Series C for Plastiq with partner Ilya Fushman joining the board. A source says the raise that also comes from DST Global between doubles and triples Plastiq’s valuation over its 2017 Series B-1 rounds of $11 million and $16 million. Now with $73 million in total funding, it plans to add 100 more people to its current team of 60 while building out its small business product and bank partnerships.

“As tens of thousands of business owners started using Plastiq actively for billions of dollars in payments, we realized we had this incredible opportunity to serve as the hub/platform on which they (SMBs) could run all their payments. The very fabric of America’s economy — and certainly much of the world — is run by rising or aspiring small business owners” Buchanan tells me. He says that’s “the main reason that seeded this Kleiner financing and our renewed vision to ‘accelerate how small businesses grow’. [Helping people pay with credit cards] is merely the entry point to a much broader play where we are central to how a small business runs.”

For example, if a small business wants to ramp up production of something it’s selling, it’d typically have to pay up front for manufacturing, but wait months until the stuff is shipped and sold to recoup its investment. That can put a major squeeze on the company’s operating capital. With Plastiq, the business can pay with credit up front so they don’t have to worry about being in danger of running out of money in the meantime. Plastiq also lets businesses accept credit card payments, which can win them favor with partners.

Plastiq co-founders (from left): Eliot Buchanan and Dan Choi

Speciality medical clinic chain Metro Vein pays vendors who don’t take credit with Plastiq instead. “I was able to invest in a new line of business that has enabled me to more than double our revenues in the last ten months,” said CEO Dmitri Ivanov. And thanks to tax write-offs, business users of Plastiq can push its realized fee down to 2 percent.

Buchanan claims Plastiq doesn’t have any direct competitors that allow SMBs to pay for all their bills via credit. It does carry platform risk, though. “Like any payments business, we rely heavily on Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. A challenge or risk factor is that you’re relying on very large companies that are very successful. You have to learn to work hand in hand with those partners instead of ‘disrupt them’.” He says Plastiq’s relationships with them are positive right now since it’s driving new revenue for them and helping their customers spend in new areas.

There’s also the risk that people misuse Plastiq to procrastinate on actually paying their personal bills or get in over their head investing in their business. But Plastiq’s new board member Fushman calls the service “this elegant way for businesses to tap into credit they’ve been issued but they haven’t been able to utilize before.” For many who are happy to pay though just need some time and flexibility, Plastiq can pitch in.

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Rumored 'mid-range' Pixel 3 might include a headphone jack

Rumors have swirled for months of Google developing a lower-cost Pixel 3 that would offer the core experience at a lower price, and there might be evidence it’s real. Rozetked (which posted accurate Pixel 3 XL leaks) claims to have obtained photos and details of “Sargo,” a mid-tier Pixel 3 device. It would share some style cues with the regular Pixel 3, but would use a 5.5-inch 2,220 x 1,080 LCD in place of the OLED screen, a plastic body, an upper-mid-range Snapdragon 670 instead of the 845 and 32GB of storage rather than 64GB. Even the stereo front-facing audio would be gone. However, it might have an addition that would make some people happy — a headphone jack.

The photos show a conspicuous 3.5mm port at the top of the phone. It’s not certain why Google would throw in a headphone jack when it doesn’t do the same for its flagships, so take this with a grain of salt. However, it might make sense if Google is aiming the phone at developing markets where Bluetooth audio and third-party USB-C headphones aren’t as practical.

Crucially, the signature Pixel 3 camera would remain intact as well .

There’s no certainty this phone will launch, whether or not the scoop it accurate. Google has made references to “Sargo” (and an earlier counterpart, “Bonito”) in its code, though. And simply speaking, this would address one of the loudest complaints about the Pixel 3 — that Google raised the baseline pricing by $150, shutting out people who chose the ‘entry’ Pixel for its relative affordability. This could make Google’s phone lineup more accessible than it has been for a long, long time.

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Barnes & Noble's latest Nook tablet can turn into a makeshift laptop

Earlier in November, Barnes & Noble unveiled the Nook Tablet 10.1, a slate whose main appeal is its sheer value for money — $130 gets you a 1,920 x 1,200 screen and 32GB of expandable storage. However, it may be the just-released accessories for the tablet that catch your eye. Most importantly, there’s a $40 Smart Folio Cover with Keyboard that, for the first time, turns the Nook into a pseudo-laptop. Much like with a Surface or iPad Pro, there’s a physical connector that provides power and data without cables or a finicky Bluetooth connection. You probably won’t be using a Nook as a productivity machine, but this might help if you want to write a review of a book mere moments after you’ve finished reading it.

There’s also another first for the Nook. A $35 Charging Dock can power the tablet (if you already have a wall adapter and cable) while it remains in landscape mode, helping you through lengthy Netflix marathons and video chat sessions. Between this and the keyboard, it’s evident that Barnes & Noble wants to expand the roles for its tablet. While there’s no doubt that the Nook Tablet 10.1 is ultimately a vehicle for the company’s e-book service, it can be much more of a general-purpose device if you’re willing to spend extra.

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Tumblr for iOS disappears from the App Store

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You won’t want to rush to get Tumblr’s iOS app at the moment… because you can’t. Users have noticed that the social network (part of Engadget’s parent company Verizon) has been unavailable on the App Store. It’s not certain what prompted the disappearance or who was responsible, but the outfit has talked about addressing an “issue” with the iOS release since November 16th. We’ve asked the company for comment.

PiunikaWeb noted that users couldn’t search in the app with Safe Mode turned off. It’s not certain that this is the problem. If so, it suggests this is isn’t due to an Apple concern. It typically wants less risqué material, after all. Tumblr is allowed to offer a safe mode, but also wants to be sure that feature can switch off for those willing to see more explicit material.

Verizon owns Engadget’s parent company, Oath (formerly AOL). Rest assured, Verizon has no control over our coverage. Engadget remains editorially independent.

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