Facebook News Feed now downranks sites with stolen content

Facebook is demoting trashy news publishers and other websites that illicitly scrape and republish content from other sources with little or no modification. Today it exclusively told TechCrunch that it will show links less prominently in the News Feed if they have a combination of this new signal about content authenticity along with either clickbait […]

Facebook is demoting trashy news publishers and other websites that illicitly scrape and republish content from other sources with little or no modification. Today it exclusively told TechCrunch that it will show links less prominently in the News Feed if they have a combination of this new signal about content authenticity along with either clickbait headlines orlanding pages overflowing with low-quality ads. The move comes after Facebook’s surveys and in-person interviews with discovered that users hate scraped content.

If illgotten intellectual property gets less News Feed distribution, it will receive less referral traffic, earn less ad revenue, and the there’ll be less incentive for crooks to steal articles, photos, and videos in the first place. That could create an umbrella effect that improves content authenticity across the web.

And just in case the scraped profile data stolen from 29 million users in Facebook’s recent massive security breach ended up published online, Facebook would already have a policy in place to make links to it effectively disappear from the feed.

Here’s an example of the type of site that might be demoted by Facebook’s latest News Feed change. “Latet Nigerian News” scraped one of my recent TechCrunch articles, and surrounded it by tons of ads.

An ad-filled site that scraped my recent TechCrunch article. This site might be hit by a News Feed demotion

“Starting today, we’re rolling out an update so people see fewer posts that ink out to low quality sites that predominantly copy and republish content from other sites without providing unique value. We are adjusting our Publish Guidelines accordingly” Facebook wrote in an addendum to its May 2017 post about demoting sites stuffed with crappy ads. Facebook tells me the new publisher guidelines will warn news outlets to add original content or value to reposted content or invoke the social network’s wrath.

Personally, I think the importance of transparency around these topics warrants a new blog post from Facebook as well as an update to the original post linking forward to it.

So how does Facebook determine if content is stolen? It’s systems compare the main text content of a page with all other text content to find potential matches. The degree of matching is used to predict that a site stole its content. It then uses a combined classifier merging this prediction with how clickbaity a site’s headlines are plus the quality and quantity of ads on the site.

Facebook is building a camera TV set-top box codenamed Ripley

A mysterious product called “Ripley” appeared hidden beside Facebook’s new Portal smart displays in Facebook for Android’s code. Dug up by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong a week ago, Ripley’s name squared with Facebook’s VP of Portal Rafa Camargo telling us that “we’re already investing in expanding the product line with more products we want […]

A mysterious product called “Ripley” appeared hidden beside Facebook’s new Portal smart displays in Facebook for Android’s code. Dug up by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong a week ago, Ripley’s name squared with Facebook’s VP of Portal Rafa Camargo telling us that “we’re already investing in expanding the product line with more products we want to launch next year.”

That Facebook device will be a camera-equipped device that connects to televisions to allow video chat and media content viewing, according to Cheddar’s Alex Heath.

Facebook’s Portal’s devices sit on a desk or countertop and cost $199 for a smaller screen and $349 for a bigger one. But with Ripley, Facebook could sell a much cheaper screen-less add-on for the televisions people already have. Facebook could build hardware network effect by releasing its Portal technology in many form factors.

The Ripley name could change before the eventual launch next year, which Cheddar says is coming in Spring 2019. It might become something more evocative of the device’s purpose. But regardless of the name, it’s sure to encounter heavy skepticism due to Facebook’s history of privacy and security troubles. Many users don’t trust Facebook enough to put one of its cameras and microphones in their house.

Ripley is said to run on the same Portal operating system that builds off the same Android open-source framework. That means it might carry a similar slate of features. Those include Portal’s auto-zooming camera that can follow users to keep them in frame, video chat through Messenger, a smart photo frame for while it’s not in use, Facebook Watch videos, Alexa voice control and a third-party app platform, including video content from outside developers.

While users might occasionally watch recipe or news videos on Portal, entertainment could be core to Ripley. The device would allow Facebook to compete with Roku, Amazon, Apple and other set-top boxes. The device could also eventually be a natural home for Facebook’s video ads, even though it’s not putting them on Portal right now.

Along with smart speakers, whoever creates what plugs into our TVs will control a fundamental wing of future home computing. Facebook won’t surrender this market, despite its disadvantage due to its many scandals.

Facebook is building a camera TV set-top box codenamed Ripley

A mysterious product called “Ripley” appeared hidden beside Facebook’s new Portal smart displays in Facebook for Android’s code. Dug up by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong a week ago, Ripley’s name squared with Facebook’s VP of Portal Rafa Camargo telling us that “we’re already investing in expanding the product line with more products we want […]

A mysterious product called “Ripley” appeared hidden beside Facebook’s new Portal smart displays in Facebook for Android’s code. Dug up by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong a week ago, Ripley’s name squared with Facebook’s VP of Portal Rafa Camargo telling us that “we’re already investing in expanding the product line with more products we want to launch next year.”

That Facebook device will be a camera-equipped device that connects to televisions to allow video chat and media content viewing, according to Cheddar’s Alex Heath.

Facebook’s Portal’s devices sit on a desk or countertop and cost $199 for a smaller screen and $349 for a bigger one. But with Ripley, Facebook could sell a much cheaper screen-less add-on for the televisions people already have. Facebook could build hardware network effect by releasing its Portal technology in many form factors.

The Ripley name could change before the eventual launch next year, which Cheddar says is coming in Spring 2019. It might become something more evocative of the device’s purpose. But regardless of the name, it’s sure to encounter heavy skepticism due to Facebook’s history of privacy and security troubles. Many users don’t trust Facebook enough to put one of its cameras and microphones in their house.

Ripley is said to run on the same Portal operating system that builds off the same Android open-source framework. That means it might carry a similar slate of features. Those include Portal’s auto-zooming camera that can follow users to keep them in frame, video chat through Messenger, a smart photo frame for while it’s not in use, Facebook Watch videos, Alexa voice control and a third-party app platform, including video content from outside developers.

While users might occasionally watch recipe or news videos on Portal, entertainment could be core to Ripley. The device would allow Facebook to compete with Roku, Amazon, Apple and other set-top boxes. The device could also eventually be a natural home for Facebook’s video ads, even though it’s not putting them on Portal right now.

Along with smart speakers, whoever creates what plugs into our TVs will control a fundamental wing of future home computing. Facebook won’t surrender this market, despite its disadvantage due to its many scandals.

Worries linger as Facebook withholds stolen searches & checkins

Hacked Facebook users still don’t know which 15 recent searches and 10 latest checkins were exposed in the company’s massive breach it detailed last week. The company merely noted that those were amongst the data sets stolen by the attackers. That creates uncertainty about how sensitive or embarrassing the scraped data is, and whether it […]

Hacked Facebook users still don’t know which 15 recent searches and 10 latest checkins were exposed in the company’s massive breach it detailed last week. The company merely noted that those were amongst the data sets stolen by the attackers. That creates uncertainty about how sensitive or embarrassing the scraped data is, and whether it could possibly be used to blackmail and stalk them.

Much of the scraped data from the 14 million most-impacted users out of 30 million total people hit by the breach was biographical and therefore relatively static, such as their birth date, religion or hometown. While still problematic because it could be used for unconsented ad targeting, scams, hacking attempts or social engineering attacks, at least users likely know what was illicitly grabbed.

Thankfully, some of the most sensitive data fields such as sexual orientation were not accessed, Facebook confirms to me. But the exposure of recent searches and checkins could threaten users in different ways.

Given the attack was so broad and impacted a wide variety of users, unlike say a targeted attack on the Democratic National Convention, there’s no evidence that blackmailing or stalking individual users was the purpose of the hack. For the average user hit by the breach, the likelihood of this kind of follow-up attack may be low.

But given that public figures including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg were victims of the attack, as well as many reporters (myself included), there remains a risk that the perpetrators paw through the data seeking high-profile people to exploit.

Stolen data on “the 15 most recent searches you’ve entered into the Facebook search bar” could contain embarrassing or controversial topics, competitive business research, or potential infidelity. Many users might be mortified if their searches for racy content, niche political viewpoints, or their ex-lovers were published in association with their real name. Hackers could potentially target victims with blackmail scams threatening to reveal this info to the world, especially since the hack included user contact info including phone numbers and email addresses.

Scraped checkins could power real-world stalking or attacks. Users’ exact GPS coordinates were not accessible to the hackers, but they did grab 14 million people’s “10 most recent locations you’ve checked in to or been tagged in. These locations are determined by the places named in the posts, such as a landmark or restaurant, not location data from a device” Facebook writes. If users checked in to nearby coffee shops, their place of work, or even their home if they’ve given it a cheeky name as some urban millennials do, their history of visiting those locations is now in dangerous hands.

If users at least knew what searches or checkins of theirs were stolen, they could choose if or how they should modify their behavior or better protect themselves. That’s why amongst Facebook’s warnings to users about whether they were hacked and what types of data were accessed, it should also consider giving those users the option to see the specific searches or checkins that were snatched.

When asked by TechCrunch, a Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on its plans here. It understandable that the company might be concerned that disclosing the particular searches and checkins could unnecessarily increase fear and doubt. But if it’s just trying to limit the backlash, it forfeited that right when it prioritized growth and speed over security.

As Facebook tries to recover from the breach and regain the trust of its audience of 2.2 billion, it should err on the side of transparency. If hackers know this information, shouldn’t the hacked users too?

Facebook prototypes Unsend 6 months after Zuckerberg retracted messages

In April, TechCrunch broke the news that some of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook messages were deleted from recipients’ inboxes in what some saw as a violation of user trust. Then, Facebook suddenly announced that it would actually build this Unsend functionality for everyone. Then six months went by without a peep about the feature, furthering suspicions […]

In April, TechCrunch broke the news that some of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook messages were deleted from recipients’ inboxes in what some saw as a violation of user trust. Then, Facebook suddenly announced that it would actually build this Unsend functionality for everyone. Then six months went by without a peep about the feature, furthering suspicions that the announcement that it would release an Unsend button was merely a PR driven response to the scandal.

Late last week, TechCrunch asked Facebook about its progress on Unsend, and the company told us “Though we have nothing to announce today, we have previously confirmed that we intend to ship a feature like this and are still planning to do so.”

Now we have our first look at the feature thanks to TechCrunch’s favorite tipster Jane Manchun Wong. She’s managed to generate screenshots of a prototype Unsend button from Facebook Messenger’s Android code. Currently, you can only delete messages from your own inbox — they still remain in the recipients’ inbox. But with this Unsend feature, you’ll be able to remove a message from both sides of a conversation.

 

Here’s how to find out if your Facebook was hacked in the breach

Are you one of the 30 million users hit by Facebook’s access token breach announced two weeks ago? Here’s how to find out. Facebook breach saw 15M users’ names & contact info accessed, 14M’s bios too Visit this Facebook Help center link while logged in: https://www.facebook.com/help/securitynotice?ref=sec. Scroll down to the the section “Is my Facebook account impacted […]

Are you one of the 30 million users hit by Facebook’s access token breach announced two weeks ago? Here’s how to find out.

  1. Visit this Facebook Help center link while logged in: https://www.facebook.com/help/securitynotice?ref=sec.
  2. Scroll down to the the section “Is my Facebook account impacted by this security issue?”
  3. Here you’ll see a Yes or No answer to whether your account was one of the 30 million users impacted
  4. If Yes, you’ll be in one of three categories:
    A. You’re in the 15 million users’ whose name plus email and/or phone number was accessed.
    B. You’re in the 14 million users’ who had that data plus account bio data accessed including “username, gender, locale/language, relationship status, religion, hometown, self-reported current city, birthdate, device types used to access Facebook, education, work, the last 10 places they checked into or were tagged in, website, people or Pages they follow, and the 15 most recent searches”.
    C. You’re in the 1 million users whose access token was stolen but your account was never actually accessed with it.

 

So what should you do if you were hacked?

  1. You don’t necessarily have to change your Facebook password or credit card info as there’s no evidence that data was accessed in the attack
  2. Watch out for spam or scam calls, emails, or messages as your contact info could have been sold to unscrupulous businesses
  3. Be on alert for phishing attempts that may try to email you and get you to sign in to one of your online accounts on a fake page that will steal your data. If you get a suspicious email that looks like it’s from Facebook, you can check here to see if it’s legitimate
  4. If you’re in group B who had their bio info accessed, you may want to contact your bank or cell phone provider and add additional security layers such as a pincode since hackers may have enough biographical info to perform social engineering attacks where they pretend to be you and use stolen data to answer security questions and gain access.

Facebook breach saw 15M users’ names & contact info stolen, 14M’s bios too

Facebook has now detailed what data was scraped and stolen in the breach it revealed two weeks ago. 30 million users, not 50 million as it initially estimated, had their access tokens stolen by hackers. Users can check Facebook’s Help Center to find out if their information was accessed, and Facebook will send customized alerts to […]

Facebook has now detailed what data was scraped and stolen in the breach it revealed two weeks ago. 30 million users, not 50 million as it initially estimated, had their access tokens stolen by hackers. Users can check Facebook’s Help Center to find out if their information was accessed, and Facebook will send customized alerts to those impacted detailing what was accessed from their account and what they can do to recover. It’s currently not clear if all the information accessed was necessarily scraped.

Facebook’s VP of product managment Guy Rosen told reporters on a press call that “We are cooperating with the FBI on this matter” and that “the FBI have asked us not to discuss who may be behind this attack” as its own investigation is ongoing. Disclosing anything about perpetrator now could cause them to cover tracks.

15 million of the 30 million users had their name plus phone number and/or email accessed. 14 million had that info plus potentially more biographical info accessed, including “username, gender, locale/language, relationship status, religion, hometown, self-reported current city, birthdate, device types used to access Facebook, education, work, the last 10 places they checked into or were tagged in, website, people or Pages they follow, and the 15 most recent searches”. The remaining 1 million users’ information wasn’t accessed.

Facebook’s other apps including Messenger, Messenger Kids, Instagram, WhatsApp, Workplace, and Pages, as well as its features for payments, third-party apps, advertisers, and developers were not accessed. Facebook says that law enforcement has asked it not to discuss evidence regarding who committed the attack as the FBI continues its investigation.

Facebook says the breach started when hackers with some access tokens exploited a combination of three bugs related to its “View As” privacy feature for seeing your profile from the perspective of someone else. This let them gain access to those accounts’ friends leading them to steal access tokens 400,000 accounts, and used a different method to then grab tokens from 30 million of their friends.

Unlike most breaches, this one appears to have turned out to be less severe then initially expected. Users seem to already be forgetting about the breach after a short hiccup where they had to log back in to Facebook. It’s possible that that could impact Facebook’s user counts slightly in its Q3 earnings report. But unless a truly nefarious use case for the accessed data is revealed, the breach could fade into the noise of non-stop cybersecurity failures across the web, including Google+’s breach that was covered up and has now prompted the Facebook competitor’s shut down.

Facebook mistakenly deleted some people’s Live videos

This time instead of exposing users’ data, a Facebook bug erased it. A previously undisclosed Facebook glitch caused it to delete some users’ Live videos if they tried to post them to their Story and the News Feed after finishing their broadcast. Facebook wouldn’t say how many users or livestreams were impacted, but told the […]

This time instead of exposing users’ data, a Facebook bug erased it. A previously undisclosed Facebook glitch caused it to delete some users’ Live videos if they tried to post them to their Story and the News Feed after finishing their broadcast. Facebook wouldn’t say how many users or livestreams were impacted, but told the bug was intermittent and affected a minority of all Live videos. It’s since patched the bug and restored some of the videos, but is notifying some users with an apology that their Live videos have been deleted permanently.

The bug raises the question of whether Facebook is a reliable place to share and store our memories and important moments. In March, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told congress regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal that “We have a responsibility to protect your data – and if we can’t, then we don’t deserve to serve you.” Between that misappropriation of user biographical data, the recent breach that let hackers steal the access tokens that would let them take over 50 million Facebook accounts, wrongful changes to users’ default sharing privacy settings, and now this, some users may conclude Facebook in fact no longer deserves to serve them.

Facebook user Tommy Gabriel Sparandera provided TechCrunch with this screenshot showing the apology note from Facebook on his profile. It reads “Information About Your Live Videos: Due to a technical issue, one or more of your live videos may have been deleted from your timeline and couldn’t be restored. We understand how important your live videos can be and apologize that this happened.”

When TechCrunch asked Facebook about the issue, it confirmed the problem and provided this statement: ““We recently discovered a technical issue that removed live videos from some people’s Facebook Timelines. We have resolved this issue and restored many of these videos to people’s Timelines. People whose videos we were unable to restore will get a notification on Facebook. We know saving memories on Facebook is important to people, and we apologize for this error.”

Facebook made a huge push to own the concept of “going Live” in 2016 with TV commercials, billboards and more designed to overshadow competitors like Twitter’s Periscope. It eventually succeeded, with Periscope’s popularity fading while one in five Facebook videos became Live broadcasts. But in its blitz to win this market, it didn’t build adequate safety and moderation tools. That led to suicides and violence being livestreamed to audiences before Facebook’s content police could take down the videos.

Nowadays, most users don’t go live frequently unless they’re some kind of influencer, public figure, or journalist. When they do see something important transpiring, Facebook has positioned itself as the way to broadcast it. But if users can’t be sure Facebook will properly save those videos, it could persuade them it’s not worth becoming a camera man instead of a participant in life’s most interesting moments.

Instagram tests tapping instead of scrolling through posts, first in Explore

The effortless way you fast forward through Stories could be coming to more of Instagram . A screenshot from user Suprateek Bose shows Instagram “Introducing a new way to move through posts — Tap through posts, just like you tap through stories.” Now Instagram confirms to TechCrunch that it’s testing tap to advance within Explore, […]

The effortless way you fast forward through Stories could be coming to more of Instagram . A screenshot from user Suprateek Bose shows Instagram “Introducing a new way to move through posts — Tap through posts, just like you tap through stories.”

Now Instagram confirms to TechCrunch that it’s testing tap to advance within Explore, and a spokesperson provided this statement: “We’re always testing ways to improve the experience on Instagram and bring you closer to the people and things you love.” As for whether this could come to the main feed, an Instagram spokesperson tells me that not something it’s actively thinking about right now.

Instagram already uses an auto-advance feature in its Videos You Might Like section of Explore, jumping down to the next video when the last one finishes. It previously offered themed video collections around Halloween and top creators too. But for photos where it’s not clear when you’re done viewing, a quick tap is the closest thing to Instagram propelling you through posts automatically.

Tap to advance, pioneered by Snapchat, eliminates the need for big thumbstrokes on your touch screen that can get tiring after awhile. It also means users always see media full-screen rather than having to fiddle with scrolling the perfect amount to see an entire post. Together, these create a more relaxing browsing experience that can devour hours of a user’s time. Instagram doesn’t show ads in Explore, but tap-to-advance could save your thumb stamina for more feed and Stories viewing where it does earn money. While Snapchat remains the teen favorite, Instagram could cater to seniors with arthritis with this new method of navigation (no, seriously, swiping can be tough on the joints for some people).

The fact that tap-to-advance is now testing but Instagram still hasn’t actually rolled out the Your Activity screentime digital well-being dashboard it says was launching two months ago begs the question of whether it really wants us to be more purposeful with our social media usage.

Facebook rolls out 3D photos that use AI to simulate depth

What if you could peek behind what’s in your photos, like you’re moving your head to see what’s inside a window? That’s the futuristic promise of Facebook 3D photos. After announcing the feature at F8 in May, Facebook is now rolling out 3D photos to add make-believe depth to your iPhone portrait mode shots. Shoot one, […]

What if you could peek behind what’s in your photos, like you’re moving your head to see what’s inside a window? That’s the futuristic promise of Facebook 3D photos. After announcing the feature at F8 in May, Facebook is now rolling out 3D photos to add make-believe depth to your iPhone portrait mode shots. Shoot one, tap the new 3D photos option in the status update composer, select a portrait mode photo and users on the desktop or mobile News Feed as well as in VR through Oculus Go’s browser or Firefox on Oculus Rift can tap/click and drag or move their head to see the photo’s depth. Everyone can now view 3D photos and the ability to create them will open to everyone in the coming weeks.

Facebook is constantly in search of ways to keep the News Feed interesting. What started with text and photos eventually expanded into videos and live broadcasts, and now to 360 photos and 3D photos. Facebook hopes if it’s the exclusive social media home for these new kinds of content, you’ll come back to explore and rack up some ad views in the meantime. Sometimes that means embracing mind-bending new formats like VR memories that recreate a scene in digital pointillism based on a photo.

So how exactly do 3D photos work? Our writer Devin Coldewey did a deep-dive earlier this year into how Facebook uses AI to stitch together real layers of the photo with what it infers should be there if you tilted your perspective. Since portrait mode fires off both of a phone’s cameras simultaneously, parallax differences can be used to recreate what’s behind the subject.

To create the best 3D photos with your iPhone 7+, 8+, X or XS (more phones will work with the feature in the future), Facebook recommends you keep your subject three to four feet away, and have things in the foreground and background. Distinct colors will make the layers separate better, and transparent or shiny objects like glass or plastic can throw off the AI.

Originally, the idea was to democratize the creation of VR content. But with headset penetration still relatively low, it’s the ability to display depth in the News Feed that will have the greatest impact for Facebook. In an era where Facebook’s cool is waning, hosting next-generation art forms could make it a must-visit property even as more of our socializing moves to Instagram.