Facebook overhauls messaging as it pivots to privacy

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the opening keynote introducing new Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram privacy features at the Facebook F8 Conference at McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California on April 30, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 01 May 2019
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Facebook overhauls messaging as it pivots to privacy

  • Facebook Dating will be expanded into 14 new markets, including places in Asia like the Philippines where Facebook has high user growth

SAN JOSE, California: Facebook Inc. debuted an overhaul of its core social network on Tuesday, taking its first concrete steps to refashion itself into a private messaging and e-commerce company as it tries to move past a stream of scandals while tapping new revenue sources.
Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a fresh design for the world’s biggest social network that de-emphasized its News Feed and showcased its messaging app, online marketplace and video-on-demand site.
The company also rolled out features aimed at encouraging users to interact with their close social circle as well as with businesses, such as a “Secret Crush” option for Facebook Dating and a tool for appointment booking.
Zuckerberg in March promised changes to the advertising-driven social media company as it was under regulatory scrutiny over propaganda on its platform and users’ data privacy. Facebook’s News Feed continues to draw ad dollars but user growth in its most lucrative markets has slowed.
“We believe that there is a community for everyone. So we’ve been working on a major evolution to make communities as central as friends,” said Zuckerberg on Tuesday, speaking at Facebook’s annual F8 conference, where the company gives developers a peek at new product releases.
Zuckerberg identified private messaging, short-lasting stories and small groups as the fastest-growing areas of online communication. In the last three years, the number of people using Facebook’s WhatsApp has almost doubled.
The social media company is now working on “LightSpeed” in order to make its Messenger app smaller in size and faster.
Facebook will also introduce Messenger for Mac and Windows and launch a feature called “Product Catalogue” for WhatsApp Business. The desktop version of Messenger will be available this fall.
Later this week, Facebook will run a test in Canada for a major change to its Instagram app that would remove the number of likes on photos as well as video views from users’ feeds, permalink pages and profiles.
Facebook had delayed rolling out certain products at last year’s F8 event, which came soon after revelations it inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million users with now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
“I know that we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly,” Zuckerberg said on Tuesday.
Other Facebook executives introduced changes within the Messenger and Instagram apps aimed at helping businesses connect with customers, including appointment booking and enhanced shopping features as well as a tool to lure customers into direct conversations with companies via ads.
The online ad market is largely dominated by Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google. But the field is more diverse for messaging, e-commerce and payments, with big players like Amazon.com Inc, Microsoft Corp. and eBay Inc. as well as fast-growing Silicon Valley unicorns like workplace messaging app Slack and video conferencing service Zoom Video Communications Inc.
“We’ve shown time and again as a company that we have what it takes to evolve,” Zuckerberg said.
Facebook shares were trading down 0.3 percent on Tuesday.

MAKING MONEY
Facebook pulled in nearly $56 billion in revenue last year, almost of all which came from showing ads to the 2.7 billion people who access its family of apps each month.
But Facebook is no longer adding many new users in the United States and Europe, its most lucrative markets, and it must find additional sources of revenue if it is to sustain growth.
The product releases at F8 indicated that its answer involves efforts to keep users on its apps for longer, coupled with e-commerce tools Facebook is hoping businesses will pay to use.
Features that drive the most user engagement, like Stories and videos, are being decked out with new tools and given increased prominence across the platforms.
One new feature will allow users to watch videos together in Messenger, while also viewing each other’s reactions in simultaneous texts and video chats.
Facebook Dating will be expanded into 14 new markets, including places in Asia like the Philippines where Facebook has high user growth. The “Secret Crush” feature will allows users to explore potential romantic relationships within their friend circle.
The company is also courting businesses, giving them ways to chat with customers and conduct transactions, similar to how consumers in China are already shopping on services like WeChat.
Instagram is expanding a sales system introduced last month, allowing public figures, known as influencers, to tag products in their posts so fans can buy them right away. Sellers on Marketplace will likewise receive payments and arrange shipping directly within Facebook.
The company also said that starting on Tuesday, users in the United States can raise money for nonprofits directly through Instagram stories.


EU adopts powers to respond to cyberattacks

Updated 17 May 2019
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EU adopts powers to respond to cyberattacks

  • The EU can now impose asset freezes and travel bans on individuals, firms and state bodies implicated in cyberattacks
  • Sanctions will be considered if a cyberattack is determined to have had a ‘significant impact’ on its target

BRUSSELS: The European Union on Friday adopted powers to punish those outside the bloc who launch cyberattacks that cripple hospitals and banks, sway elections and steal company secrets or funds.
EU ministers meeting in Brussels said the 28-nation group would now, for the first time, be able to impose asset freezes and travel bans on individuals, firms and state bodies implicated in such attacks.
“The Council (of EU countries) established a framework which allows the EU to impose targeted restrictive measures to deter and respond to cyberattacks,” it said in a statement.
It added that sanctions will be considered if a cyberattack is determined to have had a “significant impact” on its target.
The goal is to bolster the security of EU institutions, firms and individuals against what Britain called an increase in the “scale and severity” of cyberattacks globally.
“This is decisive action to deter future cyberattacks,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said after Britain and its EU partners drafted the measures.
“For too long now, hostile actors have been threatening the EU’s security through disrupting critical infrastructure, attempts to undermine democracy and stealing commercial secrets and money running to billions of euros,” Hunt said.
“Our message to governments, regimes and criminal gangs prepared to carry out cyberattacks is clear,” Britain’s top diplomat added.
“Together, the international community will take all necessary steps to uphold the rule of law and the rules based international system which keeps our societies safe.”
The British government has pledged to continue close cooperation with the EU after it leaves the bloc in line with the 2016 referendum.
Under the sanctions regime, diplomats said, the 28 EU countries would have to vote unanimously to impose sanctions after meeting a legal threshold of significant impact.
For example, countries would look at the scope and severity of disruption to economic and other activities, essential services, critical state functions, public order or public safety, diplomats said.
They would examine the number of people and EU countries affected and determine how much money, intellectual property and data have been stolen.
EU diplomats told reporters it could also cover the hacking of European elections by a third party or country. Elections for a new European Parliament take place May 23-26.
In line with US intelligence assessments, EU officials highlight in particular the threat of disinformation and election hacking from Russia.
EU countries would also study how much the perpetrator has gained through such action.
A Dutch diplomat told reporters that the powers amount to a “big step forward” toward building a more secure cyberspace.
European leaders in October had called for a regime to impose sanctions against cyberattacks.
US and European police said Thursday they have smashed a huge international cybercrime network that used Russian malware to steal 100 million dollars from tens of thousands of victims worldwide.
EU diplomats said the bloc will now start drawing up a blacklist for potential sanctions in cyberattack cases.
A number of powerful people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin appear on a blacklist of 164 Russians and Ukrainians that was established after Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
Those blacklisted are under travel bans and asset freezes just like those that would be imposed on those implicated in cyberattacks.