Apple, Facebook, Google and Uber say they won’t help Trump build a registry of Muslim-Americans – Recode (Dec 17, 2016)
There’s growing consensus on this point now among the major tech companies, and thankfully little new noise from the Trump transition team about putting this particular campaign promise into action. Of course, that’s not to say it will never happen, or that the administration couldn’t build the registry itself, but it’s good to see tech companies showing some backbone on this point at least.
Uber plans to keep its self-driving cars on San Francisco roads despite DMV’s demand to stop – Recode (Dec 16, 2016)
This story has been characteristic of Uber’s disregard for regulations, which in the past have mostly been designed to protect the taxi lobby, but with self-driving cars moves into the realm of protecting drivers, passengers, and other road users. I suspect Uber will get a lot less sympathy from its users over these issues, and this approach will eventually backfire.
The latest incident from Facebook relates to Comscore tracking of iPhone usage, and comes a week after Facebook’s last disclosure of errors. All this continues to pile pressure on Facebook to engage more outside auditors in order to regain confidence in its metrics.
Wynn Las Vegas to equip 4,748 hotel rooms with Amazon Echo: It’s ‘seamlessly delicious,’ Steve Wynn says – GeekWire (Dec 14, 2016)
I wrote a post once in which I said anything relating to home automation is really tough to market, because you can never really show people how it will work in their own home in a store environment. Hotels may be one exception to that, and this deal with Wynn seems like a fantastic way for Amazon to market Echo and the Alexa functionality among a fairly high-end clientele.
This is interesting for a couple of different reasons: first off, it suggests something about the impact of Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services on car ownership, something that’s been predicted and which now seems to be coming to pass. Secondly, it may suggest something about changing demographics and priorities with regard to ownership – in at least some of these states, falling percentages of car ownership are actually about new households exhibiting different behavior, not existing households changing behavior.
The Inside Story Behind Pebble’s Demise (Dec 12, 2016)
Pebble was one of those rare combinations – an apparently popular brand that somehow nonetheless failed to translate that popularity into financial success. Its profile arguably far exceeded its achievements, and I was never a fan of its products. Its ultimate failure suggests few others were either. But this is an interesting recounting of what went wrong, particularly because Backchannel has been covering Pebble rather positively as part of a recent series.
This was the third time Facebook had to confess to misstating certain engagement metrics, with at least one bug still unresolved at the time of the announcement, and fixes for the rest coming a week or so later. In November, Facebook announced that it planned to create a measurement council to offer more third-party verification, but those plans aren’t concrete yet.
All of Facebook’s metrics-tracking mishaps have unsurprisingly made marketers and publishers increasingly wary of trusting its reporting, and in some cases those marketers are reconsidering the money they spend on Facebook. Until now, this just looked like a PR black eye for Facebook, but the potential financial impact is now becoming clearer. This is something Facebook will need to address in its next earnings report.
The Gadget Apocalypse Is Upon Us – The New York Times (Dec 7, 2016)
I don’t agree with all of Farhad’s conclusions here – the nature of the columnist beast is that you have to make strong statements, sometimes stronger than you really believe. But there’s truth here, and some of my own thoughts too. Hardware is both easier than ever and harder than ever – easier to manufacture cheaply and at scale, and harder to build a large sustainable business at, especially in categories where the big players are dominant.
This is a big policy change for Apple, whose famous penchant for secrecy has hampered its efforts to hire and retain top AI researchers. We won’t see future Apple products and services leaked through this research, obviously – it will either be generalized enough to offer no clues, or will be published after the related consumer-facing products are released. But it should help ease the hiring challenges somewhat and neutralize one of the frequent criticisms of Apple’s AI efforts.
The owners of Pokemon Go were never likely to struggle to get people to download the game – with such a rapid rise to enormous popularity, the challenge was always going to be keeping people actively using the game, and at this point it’s about getting people who’ve abandoned it to come back.
Galaxy Note 7 recall did not damage Samsung brand in U.S.: Reuters/Ipsos poll | Reuters (Nov 20, 2016)
The actual findings here are more complex than the headline suggests – those who had used Samsung devices tended to be relatively unfazed by the recall, while non-users’ opinions were swayed more, results that have been borne out by other surveys too. In other words, Samsung shouldn’t lose many customers over the recall, but might find it a little harder to win converts.
Facebook finds more exaggerated ad data – Engadget (Nov 16, 2016)
This was the second time Facebook had to confess to screwing up metrics, this time as a result of an internal review following the first incident. Kudos to the company for conducting the audit, though it won’t have reassured advertisers or publishers to hear that additional metrics were inaccurate. Here’s Facebook’s own post about the errors, which covered several areas across Instant Articles, videos, and clicks and views across other content.
Much of the attention around fake news and the tech sector has focused on Facebook, because it’s the funnel for so much of the stuff people actually see, and because its algorithms tend to create bubbles in which a false sense of reality can take root relatively unchallenged. However, many of those actually peddling fake news monetize through Google ads, and so Google stepping in to help turn off the revenue spigot for some of these sites should go a long way towards shutting down at least some of them.
Mark Zuckerberg says it’s ‘extremely unlikely’ fake news on Facebook changed the election outcome – Recode (Nov 13, 2016)
Mark Zuckerberg has continued to resist calls for Facebook to see itself as a media company, and to accept the editorial responsibilities that come with this role. This puts him in conflict with not only much of the rest of the industry and its commentariat but many users too, and it’s a tension that can only be resolved as Zuckerberg and Facebook recognize the product’s evolution and take steps to improve the user experience while reassuring users Facebook won’t abuse its power. That’s a really tough line to walk.
This is a great overview of some of the significant investments the four major Chinese Internet companies have made in the US over the past few years. A few things stand out: Tencent has invested significantly more than the others, both in dollar terms and in the number of individual investments; California has received 79% of the total investments made, with most other states only capturing a small number of deals or none at all; investments appear to have peaked in 2016 and dropped in 2015 (though this analysis doesn’t capture the whole of 2016). A lot of the investments are in tiny companies you’ve never heard of, but there are some exceptions: Alibaba and Tencent in Lyft and Snap; Alibaba in ShopRunner, MagicLeap, and Jet.com; Baidu in Uber; and Tencent in Cyanogen. Most of these are small minority investments, but the overall number is significant – the big Chinese companies have been far more able and willing to invest in US properties than vice versa.
via CB Insights
The Flash app is yet another attempt by Facebook to recreate some of Snapchat’s features in one of its own apps, and appears to be building off the more successful cloning the company has been doing in 2016. This one is specifically focused on emerging markets, where Snapchat doesn’t have nearly the audience it does in mature markets (or nearly the audience Facebook does). It’s also yet another example of putting the camera at the forefront of the Facebook experience.
This is (mostly) an example of the “tell, don’t show” problem with tech companies and AI – too much about models and methodologies, and not enough about real consumer benefit. There are some examples sprinkled in here, but it definitely feels like this post is intended for engineers, not the general public. Facebook undoubtedly has serious AI chops, but needs to do a better job telling the consumer side of this story (while avoiding anything creepy, often a challenge with Facebook’s new technologies).
Trump claims Google and Facebook are suppressing Clinton email news – Business Insider (Oct 30, 2016)
Having already taken aim at both Apple and Amazon during the campaign, Trump began attacking Google and Facebook over perceived suppression of news about Hillary Clinton’s email servers and the various on-again, off-again investigations into them by the FBI.
via Business Insider
Facebook’s new camera app (currently in testing) clones several Snapchat features, including filters/lenses, and ephemeral messages. The filter/lens technology is built on the acquisition of MSQRD.
via The Verge