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April 22, 2019
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Instagram bug showed Stories to the wrong people

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Today in “Facebook apps are too big to manage”, a glitch caused some users’ Instagram Stories trays to show Stories from people they don’t follow.

TechCrunch first received word of the problem from Twitter user InternetRyan who was confused about seeing strangers in his Stories Tray and tagged me in to investigate. The screenshots below show people in his Stories tray who he doesn’t follow, as proven by the active Follow buttons on their profiles. TechCrunch inquired about the issue, and 22 hours later Instagram confirmed that a bug was responsible and it had been fixed.

Instagram is still looking into the cause of the bug but says it was solved within hours of being brought to its attention. Luckily, if users clicked on the profile pic of someone they didn’t follow in Stories, Instagram’s privacy controls kicked it and wouldn’t display the content. Facebook Stories wasn’t impacted. But the whole situation shakes faith in the Facebook corporation’s ability to properly route and safeguard our data, including that of the 500 million people using Instagram Stories each day.

An Instagram spokesperson provided this statement: “We’re aware of an issue that caused a small number of people’s Instagram Stories trays to show accounts they don’t follow. If your account is private, your Stories were not seen by people who don’t follow you. This was caused by a bug that we have resolved.”

The problem comes after a rough year for Facebook’s privacy and security teams. Outside of all its scrambling to fight false news and election interference, Facebook and Instagram have experienced an onslaught of technical troubles. A Facebook bug changed the status update composer privacy setting of 14 million users, while another exposed up to 6.8 million users unposted photos. Instagram bugs have screwed up follower accounts, and made the feed scroll horizontally. And Facebook was struck by its largest outage ever last month, after its largest data breach ever late last year exposed tons of info on 50 million users.

Facebook and Instagram’s unprecedented scale make them extremely capital efficient and profitable. But that size also leaves tons of surfaces susceptible to problems that can instantly impact huge swaths of the population. Once Facebook has a handle on misinformation, its technical systems could use an audit.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Instagram now demotes vaguely “inappropriate” content

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Instagram is home to plenty of scantily-clad models and edgy memes that may start to get fewer views starting today. Now Instagram says “We have begun reducing the spread of posts that are inappropriate but do not go against Instagram’s Community Guidelines”. That means if a post is sexually suggestive, but doesn’t depict a sex act or nudity, it could still get demoted. Similarly, if a meme doesn’t constitute hate speech or harassment, but is considered in bad taste, lewd, violent, or hurtful, it could get fewer views.

Specifically, Instagram says “this type of content may not appear for the broader community in Explore or hashtag pages” which could severely hurt the ability of creators to gain new followers. The news came amidst a flood of “Integrity” announcements from Facebook to safeguard its family of apps revealed today at a press event a the company’s Menlo Park headquarters.

“We’ve started to use machine learning to determine if the actual media posted is eligible to be recommended to our community” Instagram’s Product Lead for Discovery Will Ruben said. Instagram is now training its content moderators to label borderline content when they’re hunting down policy violations, and Instagram then uses those labels to train an algorithm to identify.

These posts won’t be fully removed from the feed, and Instagram tells me for now the new policy won’t impact Instagram’s feed or Stories bar. But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s November manifesto described the need to broadly reduce the reach of this “borderline content”, which on Facebook would mean being shown lower in News Feed. That’s policy could easily be expanded to Instagram in the future. That would likely reduce the ability of creators to reach their existing fans, which can impact their ability to monetize through sponsored posts or direct traffic to ways they make money like Patreon.

Today Facebook’s Henry Silverman explained that “As content gets closer and closer to the line of our Community Standards at which point we’d remove it, it actually gets more and more engagement. It’s not something unique to Facebook but inherent in human nature.” The borderline content policy aims to counteract this incentive to toe the policy line. Just because something is allowed on one our apps doesn’t mean it should show up at the top of News Feed or that it should be recommended or that it should be able to be advertised” said Facebook’s head of News Feed Integrity Tessa Lyons. ”

This all makes sense when it comes to click bait, false news, and harassment which no one wants on Facebook or Instagram. But when it comes to sexualized but not explicit content that has long been uninhibited and in fact popular on Instagram, or memes or jokes that might offend some people despite not being abusive, this is a significant step up of censorship by Facebook and Instagram.

Creators currently have no guidelines about what constitutes Borderline Content — there’s nothing in Instagram’s rules or  terms of service that even mention non-recommendable content or what qualifies. The only information Instagram has provided was what it shared at today’s event. The company specficied that violent, graphic/shocking, sexuall suggestive, misinformation, and spam content can be deemed “non-recommendable” and therefore won’t appear on Explore or hashtag pages.

 

Instagram denied an account from a creator claiming that the app reduced their feed and Stories reach after one of their posts that actually violates the content policy taken down.

One female creator with around a half-million followers likened receiving a two-week demotion that massively reduced their content’s reach to Instagram defecating on them. “It just makes it like, ‘Hey, how about we just show your photo to like 3 of your followers? Is that good for you? . . . I know this sounds kind of tin-foil hatty but . . . when you get a post taken down or a story, you can set a timer on your phone for two weeks to the godd*mn f*cking minute and when that timer goes off you’ll see an immediate change in your engagement. They put you back on the Explore page and you start getting followers.”

As you can see, creators are pretty passionate about Instagram demoting their reach. Instagram’s Product Lead on Discovery Will Ruben said regarding the feed/Stories reach reduction: No, that’s not happening. We distinguish between feed and surfaces where you’ve taken the choice to follow somebody, and Explore and hashtag pages where Instagram is recommending content to people.”

The questions now are whether borderline content demotions are ever extended to Instagram’s feed and Stories, and how content is classified as recommendable, non-recommendable, or violating. With artificial intelligence involved, this could turn into another situation where Facebook is seen as shirking its responsibilities in favor of algorithmic efficiency — but this time in removing or demoting too much content rather than too little.

Given the lack of clear policies to point to, the subjective nature of deciding what’s offensive but not abusive, Instagram’s 1 billion user scale, and its nine years of allowing this content, there are sure to be complaints and debates about fair and consistent enforcement.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Prince Harry is partnering with Oprah Winfrey on Apple TV+ series about mental health

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Prince Harry is the latest big name attached to Apple’s upcoming streaming service, Apple TV+, which was formally introduced last month. According to an announcement published to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s official Instagram account, Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey are co-creators and executive producers on an Apple TV+ docuseries focused on mental health.

“I truly believe that good mental health – mental fitness – is the key to powerful leadership, productive communities and a purpose-driven self,” said Prince Harry, in a statement.

“It is a huge responsibility to get this right as we bring you the facts, the science and the awareness of a subject that is so relevant during these times. Our hope is that this series will be positive, enlightening and inclusive – sharing global stories of unparalleled human spirit fighting back from the darkest places, and the opportunity for us to understand ourselves and those around us better. I am incredibly proud to be working alongside Oprah on this vital series,” he shared.

Oprah’s involvement with Apple TV+ was first announced in June 2018, with news that she signed a multi-year deal to produce original content for Apple’s then still unnamed streaming service.

At Apple’s press event in March, the company brought Winfrey on stage to offer more details about what she had planned. That includes “Toxic Labor,” a documentary that examines the effects of sexual harassment in the workplace, and another untitled multi-part series about mental health.

Prince Harry’s involvement was not mentioned at the time.

However, he has been involved for several months, today’s announcement states.

The series, according to Winfrey, will look at how “the scourge of depression, and anxiety, post-traumatic stress, addiction, trauma, and loss, is just devastating lives daily across the globe.” The show, if it does its job right, aims to replace shame and stigma around mental health issues with “compassion and honesty,” she had said.

The topic of mental health is one Prince Harry has been focused on himself, before agreeing to co-produce the series.

As the announcement explains:

“The dynamic multi-part documentary series will focus on both mental illness and mental wellness, inspiring viewers to have an honest conversation about the challenges each of us faces, and how to equip ourselves with the tools to not simply survive, but to thrive.

This commitment builds on The Duke of Sussex’s long-standing work on issues and initiatives regarding mental health, where he has candidly shared personal experience and advocated for those who silently suffer, empowering them to get the help and support they deserve.”

Winfrey also went on “CBS This Morning” to talk more about mental health, the series, and how she came to partner with Prince Harry on the project.

She had asked him what he thought were the most important issues facing the world, and he had replied with two: climate change and mental health.

“As you know, he’s spoken about his own issues and what he went through after his mother died and how being able to talk about it has benefitted him,” Winfrey told CBS. “It’s a passion of his and at the end of the conversation, I said, ‘Oh, I’m going to be doing this thing with Apple. I said it’s a big concern of mine, too … And I was telling him about this Apple platform and he said at the end of the conversation, ‘If there’s anything I can do to help.’ And I go ‘as a matter of fact…”

The multi-part docuseries still doesn’t have a name, but will arrive in 2020 following the public debut of Apple TV+, scheduled for later this fall. 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

PicsArt hits 130 million MAUs as Chinese flock to its photo editing app

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If you’re like me, who isn’t big on social media, you’d think that the image filters that come inside most apps will do the job. But for many others, especially the younger crowd, making their photos stand out is a huge deal.

The demand is big enough that PicsArt, a rival to filtering companies VSCO and Snapseed, recently hit 130 million monthly active users worldwide, roughly a year after it amassed 100 million MAUs. Like VSCO, PicsArt now offers video overlays though images are still its focus.

Nearly 80 percent of PicsArt’s users are under the age of 35 and those under 18 are driving most of its growth. The “Gen Z” (the generation after millennials) users aren’t obsessed with the next big, big thing. Rather, they pride themselves on having niche interests, be it K-pop, celebrities, anime, sci-fi or space science, topics that come in the form of filters, effects, stickers and GIFs in PicsArt’s content library.

“PicsArt is helping to drive a trend I call visual storytelling. There’s a generation of young people who communicate through memes, short-form videos, images and stickers, and they rarely use words,” Tammy Nam, who joined PicsArt as its chief operating officer in July, told TechCrunch in an interview.

PicsArt has so far raised $45 million, according to data collected by Crunchbase. It picked up $20 million from a Series B round in 2016 to grow its Asia focus and told TechCrunch that it’s “actively considering fundraising to fuel [its] rapid growth even more.”

PicsArt wants to help users stand out on social media, for instance, by virtually applying this rainbow makeup look on them. / Image: PicsArt via Weibo

The app doubles as a social platform, although the use case is much smaller compared to the size of Instagram, Facebook and other mainstream social media products. About 40 percent of PicsArt’s users post on the app, putting it in a unique position where it competes with the social media juggernauts on one hand, and serving as a platform-agnostic app to facilitate content creation for its rivals on the other.

What separates PicsArt from the giants, according to Nam, is that people who do share there tend to be content creators rather than passive consumers.

“On TikTok and Instagram, the majority of the people there are consumers. Almost 100 percent of the people on PicsArt are creating or editing something. For many users, coming on PicsArt is a built-in habit. They come in every week, and find the editing process Zen-like and peaceful.”

Trending in China

Most of PicsArt’s users live in the United States, but the app owes much of its recent success to China, its fastest growing market with more than 15 million MAUs. The regional growth, which has been 10-30 percent month-over-month recently, appears more remarkable when factoring in PicsArt’s zero user acquisition expense in a crowded market where pay-to-play is a norm for emerging startups.

“Many larger companies [in China] are spending a lot of money on advertising to gain market share. PicsArt has done zero paid marketing in China,” noted Nam.

Screenshot: TikTok-related stickers from PicsArt’s library

When people catch sight of an impressive image filtering effect online, many will inquire about the toolset behind it. Chinese users find out about the Armenian startup from photos and videos hashtagged #PicsArt, not different from how VSCO gets discovered from #vscocam on Instagram. It’s through such word of mouth that PicsArt broke into China, where users flocked to its Avengers-inspired disappearing superhero effect last May when the film was screening. China is now the company’s second largest market by revenue after the U.S.

Screenshot: PicsArts lets users easily apply the Avengers dispersion effect to their own photos

A hurdle that all media apps see in China is the country’s opaque guidelines on digital content. Companies in the business of disseminating information, from WeChat to TikTok, hire armies of content moderators to root out what the government deems inappropriate or illegal. PicsArt says it uses artificial intelligence to sterilize content and keeps a global moderator team that also keeps an eye on its China content.

Despite being headquartered in Silicon Valley, PicsArt has placed its research and development center in Armenia, home to founder Hovhannes Avoyan. This gives the startup access to much cheaper engineering talents in the country and neighboring Russia compared to what it can hire in the U.S. To date, 70 percent of the company’s 360 employees are working in engineering and product development (50 percent of whom are female), an investment it believes helps keep its creative tools up to date.

Most of PicsArt’s features are free to use, but the firm has also looked into getting paid. It rolled out a premium program last March that gives users more sophisticated functions and exclusive content. This segment has already leapfrogged advertising to be PicsArt’s largest revenue source, although in China, its budding market, paid subscriptions have been slow to come.

picsart 1

PicsArt lets users do all sorts of creative work, including virtually posing with their idol. / Image: PicsArt via Weibo

“In China, people don’t want to pay because they don’t believe in the products. But if they understand your value, they are willing to pay, for example, they pay a lot for mobile games,” said Jennifer Liu, PicsArt China’s country manager.

And Nam is positive that Chinese users will come to appreciate the app’s value. “In order for this new generation to create really differentiated content, become influencers, or be more relevant on social media, they have to do edit their content. It’s just a natural way for them to do that.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Instagram founders say losing autonomy at Facebook meant “winning”

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Rather than be sore about losing independence within Facebook, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom told me it was an inevitable sign of his app’s triumph. Today at South By South West, Systrom and fellow co-founder Mike Krieger sat down for their first on-stage talk together since leaving Facebook in September. They discussed their super hero origin stories, authenticity on social media, looming regulation for big tech, and how they’re exploring what they’ll do next.

Krieger grew up hitting “view source” on websites while Systrom hacked on AOL booter programs that would kick people off instant messenger, teaching both how code could impact real people. As Instagram grew popular, Krieger described the “incredi-bad” feeling of fighting server fires and trying to keep the widely loved app online even if that meant programming in the middle of a sushi restaurant or camping retreat. He once even revived Instagram while drunk in the middle of the night, and woke up with no memory of the feat, confused about who’d fixed the problem. The former Instagram CTO implored founders not to fall into the “recruiting death spiral” where you’re too busy to recruit which makes you busier which makes you too busy to recruit…

But thankfully, the founders were also willing to dig into some tougher topics than their scrappy startup days.

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger (from left) drive to Palo Alto to raise their Series A, circa January 2011

Independence vs Importance.

“In some ways, there being less autonomy is a function of Instagram winning. If Instagram had just been this niche photo app for photographers, we probably would be working on that app for 20 year. Instead what happened was it got better and better and better, and it improved, and it got to a size where it was meaningfully important to this company” Systrom explained. “If this thing gets to that scale that we want it to get to which is why we’re doing this deal, the autonomy will eventually not be there as much because it’s so important. So in some ways it’s just an unavoidable thing if you’re successful. So you can choose, do you want to be unsuccessful and small and have all the autonomy in the world, or no?”

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 11: Mike Krieger speaks onstage at Interactive Keynote: Instagram Founders Kevin Systrom & Mike Krieger with Josh Constine during the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Austin Convention Center on March 11, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Saucedo/Getty Images for SXSW)

Krieger followed up that “I think if you study . . . all the current companies, the ones that succeed internally eventually have become so important to the acquiring company that it’s almost irresponsible to not be thinking about what are the right models for integration. The advice I generally give is, ‘are you okay with that if you succeed?’ And if you’re not then you shouldn’t do the deal.” If the loss of autonomy can’t be avoided, they suggest selling to a rocket ship that will invest in and care for your baby rather than shift priorities.

Asked if seeing his net worth ever feels surreal, Systrom said  money doesn’t make you happy and “I don’t really wake up in the morning and look at my bank account.” I noted that’s the convenient privilege of having a big one.

The pair threw cold water on the idea that being forced to earn more money drove them out of the company. “I remember having this series of conversations with Mark and other folks at Facebook and they’re like ‘You guys just joined, do not worry about monetization, we’ll figure this out down the road.’ And it actually came a lot more from us saying “1. It’s important for us to be contributing to the overall Fb Inc . . . and 2. Each person who joins before you have ads is a person you’re going to have to introduce ads to.” Systrom added that “to be clear, we were the ones pushing monetization, not the other way around, because we believed Instagram has to make money somehow. It costs a lot to run . . . We pushed hard on it so that we would be a successful unit within Facebook and I think we got to that point, which is really good.”

But from 2015 to 2016, Instagram’s remaining independence fueled a reinvention of its app with non-square photos, the shift to the algorithm, and the launch of Stories. On having to challenge the fundamental assumptions of a business, “You’ve got maybe a couple years of relevance when you build a product. If you don’t reinvent it every quarter or every year, then you fall out of relevance and you go away.”

That last launch was inspired by wanting to offer prismatic identity where people could share non-highlights that wouldn’t haunt them. But also, Systrom admits that “Honestly a big reason why was that for a long time, people’s profiles were filled with Snapchat links and it was clear that people were trying to bridge the two products. So by bringing the two products [Feed and Stories] into one place, we gave consumers what they wanted.” Though when I asked anyone in the crowd who was still mad about the algorithm to hiss, SXSW turned into a snake pit.

Regulating Big Tech

With Systrom and Krieger gone, Facebook is moving forward with plans to more tightly integrate Instagram with Facebook and WhatsApp. That includes unifying their messaging system, which some say is designed to make Facebook’s apps harder to break up with anti-trust regulation. What does Systrom think of the integration? “The more people that are available to talk with, the more useful the platform becomes. And I buy that thesis . . . Whether or not they will in fact want to talk to people on different platforms, I can’t tell the future, so I don’t know” Systrom said.

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 11: Josh Constine, Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom speak onstage at Interactive Keynote: Instagram Founders Kevin Systrom & Mike Krieger with Josh Constine during the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Austin Convention Center on March 11, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Saucedo/Getty Images for SXSW)

Krieger recommended Facebook try to prove users want that cross-app messaging before embarking on a giant engineering challenge of merging their backends. When I asked if Systrom ever had a burning desire to Instagram Direct message a WhatsApp user, he admitted “Personally, no.” But in a show of respect and solid media training, he told his former employer “Bravo for making a big bet and going for it.”

Then it was time for the hardest hitting question: their thoughts on Presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to regulate big tech and roll back Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. “Do we get our job back?” Systrom joked, trying to diffuse the tension. Krieger urged more consideration of downstream externalities, and specificity on what problem a break up fixes. He wants differentiation between regulating Facebook’s acquisitions, Amazon white-labeling and selling products, and Apple’s right to run the only iOS App Store.

Acquisition vs Competition

“We live in a time where I think the anger against big tech has increased ten-fold — whether that’s because the property prices in your neighborhood have gone up, whether it’s because you don’t like Russian meddling in elections — there are a long list of reasons people are angry at tech right now and some of them I think are well-founded” Systrom confirmed. “That doesn’t mean that the answer is to break all the companies up. Breaking companies up is a very specific prescription for a very specific problem. If you want to fix economic issues there are ways of doing that. If you want to fix Russian meddling there are ways of doing that. Breaking up a company doesn’t fix those problems. That doesn’t mean that companies shouldn’t be broken up if they get too big and they’re monopolies and they cause problems, but being big in and of itself is not a crime.”

attends Interactive Keynote: Instagram Founders Kevin Systrom & Mike Krieger with Josh Constine during the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Austin Convention Center on March 11, 2019 in Austin, Texas

Systrom then took a jab at Warren’s tech literacy, saying “part of what’s surprised me is that generally the policy is all tech should be broken up, and that feels to me again not nuanced enough and it shows me that the understanding of the problem isn’t there. I think it’s going to take a more nuanced proposal, but my fear is that something like a proposal to break up all tech is playing on everyone’s current feeling of anti-tech rather than doing what I think politicians should do which is address real problems and give real solutions.”

The two founders then gave some pretty spurious logic for why Instagram’s acquisition helped consumers. “As someone who ran the company for how many years inside of Facebook? Six? There was a lot of competition internally even and I think better ideas came out because of it. We grew both companies not just one company. It’s really hard question. What consumer was damaged because it grew to the size that it did? I think that’s a strong argument that in fact the acquisition worked out for consumers.” That ignores the fact that if Instagram and Facebook were rivals, they’d have to compete on privacy and treating their users well. Even if they inspired each other to build more engaging products, that doesn’t address where harm to consumers has been done.

Krieger suggested that the acquisition actually spurred competition by making Instagram a role modeI. “There was a gold rush of companies being like ‘I’m going to be the Instagram of X . . . the Instagram of Audio, the Instagram of video, the Instagram of dog photos.’ You saw people start new companies and try to build them out in order to try to achieve what we’ve gotten to.” Yet no startup besides Snapchat, which had already launched, has actually grown to rival Instagram. And seeing Instagram hold its own against the Facebook empire would have likely inspired many more startups — some of which can’t find funding since investors doubt their odds against a combined Facebook and Instagram

As for what’s next for the college buddies, “we’re giving ourselves the time to get curious about things again” Krieger says. They’re still exploring so there was no big reveal about their follow-up venture. But Systrom says they built Instagram by finding the mega-trend of cameras on phones and asking what they’d want to use, “and the question is, what’s the next wave?”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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