Digital News Roundup – 30 November
December is very nearly upon us, which means you only have a few digital news roundups left in 2018! This time around, we’re talking about the latest Facebook woes, Google showing zero results, Premium Snapchat accounts, foldable screens, and how Microsoft was worth more Apple.
Local Folkestone MP Damian Collins uses parliamentary powers to seize Facebook documents
A Folkestone MP used parliamentary powers to seize and reveal internal Facebook documents this week, in the latest in a long-running fight with the social media giant.
Damian Collins, who chairs the culture media and sport select committee, used the powers to get the documents from Ted Kramer, the founder of US app developer Six4Three. The documents were thought to contain significant revelations about Facebook decisions on data and privacy controls “that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal” – with news breaking that the platform was aware of Russian-linked data harvesting as early as 2014.
Mr Collins called the document seizure an ”unprecedented move”, but cited the high public interest as reason for pushing ahead. Vice president of policy solutions at Facebook, Richard Allan, refused to discuss the email after appearing at the hearing in place of Zuckerberg, who denied requests to testify.
Experts have said that this is the latest in a series of misinformation blunders where Facebook hasn’t been transparent – leading to a continued “erosion of trust”, which could prove troublesome for the platform in the months to come. Read more at The Verge.
Premium Snapchat accounts being used by online sex workers
A recent programme on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show has highlighted how Snapchat is being used to sell explicit images and videos online, with one such person making £4,000 a month on the app. Jodie Carnall, who appears on the show, charges a monthly fee of between £20 and £200 to send sexually explicit photos and videos to subscribers.
The findings tie in with the #ThotAudit campaign in America, where trolls are urging people to report online sex workers to the IRS, causing them to be audited for unreported income. Many of these online sex workers use “premium Snapchat accounts” like Jodie to share content with people who send them money – which could potentially be off the books. While it is unclear whether any sex workers have actually been reported, the threat alone is enough to intimidate and shame.
Snapchat has said in a statement that it doesn’t allow “pornographic content to be promoted or distributed”, but clearly people are finding ways to get around this. Since the Victoria Derbyshire programme, Instagram has now blocked all hashtags associated with Premium Snapchat that were being used by people to advertise their services, showing that perhaps more is set to change soon.
Microsoft worth more than Apple for the first time in 8 years
For those who follow the tech world religiously, you may have noticed something pretty miraculous earlier this week. For the first time in eight years, we saw Microsoft overtake Apple as the world’s most valuable company.
Monday saw Microsoft stocks soar to a massive $814 billion valuation, before settling back to $807 billion by about 1pm. Apple, meanwhile had a market valuation of a little less – at $805 billion. This is quite a contrast from earlier in the year, when we saw Apple become the first company to hold a trillion-dollar valuation in the stock market – hitting a peak of $1.12 trillion in August. However, valuations have since fallen, particularly in what has been dubbed ‘Red October’ – a month when many tech businesses suffered in the stock market.
Apple has already regained its spot at the top of the game since then, but it will be interesting whether this kind of fluctuation continues at the top table. Read more at Fast Company.
Will foldable screens really change the game?
This week saw more discussion around the launch of foldable screen devices, and what that could potentially mean for marketers. Google recently announced that its Android OS will “natively support foldable screens on smartphones”, perfectly timed with Samsung’s promise of a Galaxy foldable smartphone coming in the near future.
Now industry experts have said that devices of this kind could “open the door to a complete reimagining of how information is sent and consumed”, leaving brands and marketers with decisions to make about their content. Foldable screens could enable people to complete complex actions more easily, improving sale conversions on mobile devices, as well as potentially leading to increased use for tasks like word processing.
However, some have warned against its potential for creating “a solution without a clear problem”, suggesting maybe the uptake won’t be as drastic as many are hoping. As one journalist said: “Are the benefits worth enough — for most people — to warrant the adoption, learning curve and cost?” Check out more of the details at MarTech Today.
Google once again showing zero results for time, calculations & conversions
Back in March, Google tested a feature where it showed no search results in SERPs when it was confident that it could answer the question adequately. However, people were not impressed – with some companies not appearing for their own brand name – and Google pulled the test after a few days, saying they would rethink these efforts.
Well, it appears the search giant is going to give it another go, as this week has seen these zero search results appearing once again. For now, they’re limited to time, calculations & conversions searches – like when people ask for answers to math questions, or for measurement unit conversions. Underneath the response Google provides will be a link allowing people to “show all results”, which will take the user to the standard full search results.
In a statement about the move, Google explained the logic: “For queries where we have extremely high confidence that a user is seeking a calculation, unit conversion or local time, we will show a single result to improve load time on mobile. Since our initial experiment in February, we worked to remove ads and improve the triggering quality for this experience to be sure that we’re serving users what they’re looking for, and we will still provide the option to tap to see more results.”
Read more on the feature, and what it could mean, over at Search Engine Land.
Gmail’s Smart Compose AI shows gender bias in responses
Gmail users will no doubt have noticed its Smart Compose and Smart Reply features, which use AI to suggest replies to emails, or how users can finish their sentences. However, now Google has had to step in and make a fix following issues around the tech misusing gender pronouns.
The issue was flagged back in January after a research scientist was typing “I am meeting an investor next week” in a message, when Gmail suggested a follow-up question of “do you want to meet him?” – assuming that the investor would be a man. Paul Lambert, Gmail product manager, explained that his team tried to fix this problem in “a number of ways” but none were reliable enough, resulting in them making the call to remove these types of replies altogether.
The wider issue here is around how the tech works, by “combing through old emails to find what words and phrases it should suggest”. This data can, therefore, reflect and reinforce societal biases; an issue which needs to be strongly considered in a world becoming more reliant on AI.
One journalist has pondered that if we are putting more trust in algorithms trained using past data, then “we’re likely to repeat the mistakes of the past”. Read more on the thoughts over at The Verge.
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