Company / division: Facebook
America’s Big 5 tech companies increase patent filings, Microsoft holds lead in AI technologies – IPWatchdog.com | Patents & Patent Law (Dec 22, 2016)
Interesting and valuable analysis. But clearly an oversimplification to make patents held the arbiter of a “lead” in AI. Ultimately, whether you lead in AI comes down to the customer benefit you drive from it, not the patents themselves.
This is good context for a couple of different narratives – fake news and Facebook’s enormous power as a filter for news and other content. This is survey data on where people get their news from, and it shows that Facebook is the main online news source, with 32% of respondents saying they use it (Google News is next, at 21%). Some 18% of users only use one source of information, and for half of those it’s Facebook, whereas the majority do use multiple sources. And lots of people still use newspapers and TV for information too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Facebook has repeatedly trended fake news since firing its human editors – The Washington Post (Oct 12, 2016)
This whole incident has been embarrassing for Facebook on a number of levels, reflecting its schizoid approach to its editorial role – on the one hand, it wants to disclaim responsibility for editing or filtering what its users see, and on the other it clearly can’t just leave these tasks to machines. Fake news would end up being an important factor in the presidential election, and it’s a conversation that’s still ongoing.
Yet another experimental attempt by Facebook to recreate a Snapchat feature, this time within Messenger, and only in Poland. Following two early attempts to recreate Snapchat in totality in its own new apps, much of Facebook’s Snacphat cloning in 2016 has come through both features within other apps and more experimental approaches, launching new features or apps in single countries, rather than making a big global announcement. This seems smart, given Facebook’s history in this space, many of its attempts having fallen flat.
via The Verge
Following Facebook’s first metrics mishap in September, the Association of National Advertisers issued the first call in what’s since become a steady drumbeat of requests for Facebook to open itself up to outside auditing of its metrics for advertisers and publishers.
Facebook Overestimated Key Video Metric for Two Years – WSJ (Sep 22, 2016)
This was the first of a number of stories in late 2016 relating to Facebook’s metrics for advertisers and publishers. At the time, it looked like an isolated incident, but it was bad enough to attract attention even so – Facebook vastly overestimated average viewing time for videos for two full years, and only disclosed this fact through an article on its Advertiser Help Center. Once the story broke, Facebook publicly apologized.
Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook in general have long strenuously resisted the media company label, not least because media companies are valued much lower than tech companies. And yet Facebook has become arguably the most influential media company in the world over the past few years, a fact that’s only become clearer as 2016 has gone on. This identity crisis also makes it harder for Facebook to make smart decisions about how to manage problems like fake news on the site – the sooner it reaches some conclusions, the better.
Facebook’s first successful attempt to clone a Snapchat feature ironically came not in Facebook but in Instagram, an app it was able to acquire (unlike Snapchat itself). There’s plenty of evidence at this point that Instagram Stories have done very well for Facebook (and some that it’s hit Snapchat hard).
The article has several statements from Facebook itself at the end, which deny the main points of the article. However, this article helped feed a narrative which was already emerging, that Facebook was deliberately or otherwise suppressing trending topics with a conservative bent. It also played into the larger narrative that Facebook has too much power over what its users read and see of the world, a narrative that gained a lot of steam in 2016.