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Zuckerberg denies knowledge of Facebook’s work with GOP opposition research firm

Today in call with reporters preceded by a frantic if fairly uneventful distraction-pushing media blitz, Facebook responded to a damning New York Times story published yesterday that cited interviews with more than 50 sources privy to Facebook’s decision making. The call kicked off with the operator’s suggestion that Facebook is “happy to take a couple of questions on yesterday’s news” but would prefer to focus on what it wants to talk about — namely anything but the New York Times story. Amidst the strategic fluff, Zuckerberg did come out strongly on one thing — denying any knowledge of or involvement in Facebook’s hiring of Definers Public Affairs, a Washington D.C.-based Republican opposition research firm. “I learned about this reading it in the New York Times yesterday,” Zuckerberg sa...

YouTube VR finally lands on the Oculus Go

Today, Google’s YouTube VR app arrives on the $199 Oculus Go, bringing the largest library of VR content on the web to Facebook’s entry-level VR device. YouTube brings plenty of content in conventional and more immersive video types. It’s undoubtedly the biggest single hub of 360 content and native formats like VR180, though offering access to the library at large is probably far more important to the Oculus platform. One of the interesting things about Oculus’s strategy with the Go headset is that gaming turned out to be the minority use case following media consumption. If you find it hard to believe that so many people are out there binging on 360 videos it’s because they probably aren’t. Users have kind of co-opted the device’s capabilities to make it a conventional movie and TV viewin...

Airbnb ends forced arbitration days after Google, Facebook did the same

The Google employee walkout on Nov. 1 is leaving a lasting impact on the tech industry. In the immediate aftermath of the walkout, which saw thousands of Googlers across the globe protest the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment and misconduct claims, the search giant said it would put an end to its policy of forced arbitration for employees claiming workplace harassment. Facebook followed suit, announcing the next day that it would allow its employees to pursue claims of sexual harassment in court. Today, Airbnb and eBay confirmed to TechCrunch they too would no longer require sexual harassment claims to be settled through private arbitration. Their announcements follow a BuzzFeed News article exploring which tech companies were updating their policies in light of the Google protest...

Facebook Portal needs more. At least it just added YouTube

To offset the creepiness of having Facebook’s camera and microphone in your house, its new Portal video chat gadget needs best-in-class software.  Its hardware is remarkably well done, plus Messenger and the photo frame feature work great. But its third-party app platform was pretty skimpy when the device launched this week. Facebook is increasingly relying on its smart display competitors to boost Portal’s capabilities. It already comes with Amazon Alexa inside. And now, Google’s YouTube is part of the Portal app platform. “Yes, YouTube.com is available through an optional install in the ‘Portal Apps’ catalog” a Facebook spokesperson tells me. You can open it with a “Hey Portal” command, but there currently seems to be no way to queue up specific videos or control playback via voice. The ...

Facebook launches Lasso, its music and video TikTok clone

Done cloning Snapchat, Facebook is now chasing Chinese short-form video sensation TikTok with the launch of its knock-off Lasso. Available now for iOS and Android, Lasso is Facebook’s answer to the zany mobile lipsyncing playground that’s gained ground with young users, both in China and in the West. The release confirms TechCrunch’s scoop from last month that the company was building an app called Lasso to let people share short videos with soundtracks. With TikTok looking like the next big thing, it’s not surprising to see Facebook playing chase, much like it did, successfully, when Snapchat posed an existential threat. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that the launch of Lasso on iOS and Android is in the U.S. only for now, telling us “Lasso is a new standalone app for short-form, enter...

Limiting social media use reduced loneliness and depression in new experiment

The idea that social media can be harmful to our mental and emotional well-being is not a new one, but little has been done by researchers to directly measure the effect; surveys and correlative studies are at best suggestive. A new experimental study out of Penn State, however, directly links more social media use to worse emotional states, and less use to better. To be clear on the terminology here, a simple survey might ask people to self-report that using Instagram makes them feel bad. A correlative study would, for example, find that people who report more social media use are more likely to also experience depression. An experimental study compares the results from an experimental group with their behavior systematically modified, and a control group that’s allowed to do whatever the...

Facebook Dating arrives in Canada and Thailand

On the heels of Tinder’s plans to go more casual, Facebook is today expanding access to its own dating service, Facebook Dating. First launched two months ago in Colombia for testing purposes, the social network is today rolling out Facebook Dating to Canada and Thailand. The company is also adding a few new features to coincide with the launch, including the ability to re-review people you passed on and take a break by putting the service on pause, among other things. If that latter feature sounds familiar, it’s because it’s also something dating app Bumble recently announced, as well. Bumble in September launched a Snooze button for its own app, which addressed the problem many online daters have – the need for a detox from dating apps for a bit. Sometimes that’s due to frustration or ju...

Facebook starts shipping Portal, clarifies privacy/ad policy

Planning to get in early on the Portal phenomenon? Facebook announced today that it’s starting to ship the video chat device. The company’s first true piece of devoted hardware comes in two configurations: the Echo Show-like Portal and the larger Portal+ . Which run $199 and $349, respectively. There’s also a two-fer $298 bundle on the smaller unit. The device raised some privacy red flags since it was announced early last month. The company attempted to nip some of the those issues in the bud ahead of launch — after all, 2018 hasn’t been a great year for Facebook privacy. The site also hasn’t done itself any favors by offering some murky comments around data tracking and ad targeting in subsequent weeks. With all that in mind, Facebook is also marking the launch with a blog post further s...

Facebook is facing an EU data probe over fake ads

The UK’s privacy watchdog has asked Facebook’s lead EU regulator to look into ongoing data protection concerns about its ad platform — including how its platform is being used to target and spread fake adverts to try to manipulate voters. Facebook’s international HQ is in Ireland so the regulator in play here is the Irish Data Protection Commission. The ICO noted the action in a 113-page report to parliament yesterday giving an update on its long-running investigation into the use of data analytics in political campaigns — writing: We have referred our ongoing concerns about Facebook’s targeting functions and techniques that are used to monitor individuals’ browsing habits, interactions and behaviour across the internet and different devices to the to the IDPC. Under the GDPR, the IDPC is ...

Facebook connects Russia to 100+ accounts it removed ahead of mid-terms

The 115 accounts Facebook took down yesterday for inauthentic behavior ahead of the mid-term elections may indeed have been linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, according to a new statement from the company. It says that a site claiming association with the IRA today posted a list of Instagram accounts it had made which included many Facebook had taken down yesterday, and it also has since removed the rest. The IRA was previously llabeled as responsible for using Facebook to interfere with US politics and the 2016 Presidential election. Facebook’s head of cyber security policy Nathaniel Gleicher issued this statement to TechCrunch: “Last night, following a tip off from law enforcement, we blocked over 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts due to concerns that they were linked...

Tinder now has 4.1M paying users, expects $800M in revenue this year

Facebook Dating is no challenger to Tinder-owner Match Group (NASDAQ: MTCH), which posted third-quarter earnings per share of 44 cents on Tuesday. The company, which owns several brands of internet dating services, including Tinder, Hinge, Ok Cupid and PlentyOfFish, surpassed analyst’s forecasted revenue of $437 million, reporting Q3 revenue of $444 million, a 29 percent increase year-over-year. Match says it expects to bring in a total of $1.72 billion in annual revenue. Despite positive earnings, the company’s 4Q outlook failed to satisfy Wall Street. Match said it expects between $440 and $450 million in revenue in Q4, falling short of the $454.5 million analyst estimate. Shares of Match sank 10 percent in after-hours trading as a result. Year-to-date, Match’s stock is up roughly 60 per...

James Patterson released a work of interactive fiction on Facebook Messenger

One of the world’s best-selling authors is experimenting with a new form of digital-first storytelling. James Patterson has partnered with Facebook to release his latest novel,‘The Chef’, on its messaging app. The thriller has been available to read on Facebook Messenger since Tuesday and will make its print debut in February. Interested readers just have to send a message to “The Chef by James Patterson” on Messenger to get started with the immersive reading experience. Facebook Messenger counts 1.3 billion monthly users. Patterson, known for the Alex Cross series, ‘The President is Missing,’ ‘Witch & Wizard,’ and others, has sold some 375 million books worldwide. The story follows Caleb Rooney, a New Orleans police detective by day and food truck chef by night that’s been accused of ...