Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Posts Tagged ‘facebook

Facebook Introduces Crypto Play

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Facebook introduced its new plan around cryptocurrency earlier today, including Libra, a new cryptocurrency, and Calibra, a new Facebook subsidiary that will oversee Libra financial services.

It was a crypto shot hear ‘round the world.

More details from The New York Times:

The effort, announced with 27 partners as diverse as Mastercard and Uber, could face immediate skepticism from people who question the usefulness of cryptocurrencies and others who are wary of the power already accumulated by the social media company.

The cryptocurrency, called Libra, will also have to overcome concern that Facebook does not effectively protect the private information of its users — a fundamental task for a bank or anyone handling financial transactions.

But if the project, which Facebook hopes to begin next year with 100 partners, should come together, it would be the most far-reaching attempt by a mainstream company to jump into the world of cryptocurrencies, which is best known for speculative investments through digital tokens like Bitcoin and outside-the-law e-commerce, like buying drugs online.

If Facebook treats our money the way they’ve treated our personal information, buying drugs online will very well appear a viable option.

All kidding aside, the move is already sending shockwaves through nation states and federal banks around the globe.

According to a report in Bloomberg, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Libra shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for traditional currencies, that “it is out of the question” that Libra “become a sovereign currency. It can’t and it must not happen.”

A German member of the European Parliament, Markus Ferber, said that “Multinational corporations such as Facebook must not be allowed to operate in a regulatory nirvana when introducing virtual currencies.”

So where should we land on this?  We’ve seen all manner of cryptocurrency plays come and go, Mt. Gox crash and burn, etc.  

I think we should all take a deep breath and remember we’re not talking about some upstart ICO. We’re talking about the world’s biggest social network with the largest number of users introducing a form of digital currency that could upend traditional banking and fiat currency as we know it.

Potentially.

But only if its user base, and the vendors who participate, trust in the new system and, ultimately, in the currency (and, hence, in blockchain).

And trust is not something Facebook has exactly had an overabundance of the past couple of years.

Facebook tries to offer reassurances. Back to the Times: “Your financial data will never be used to target ads on Facebook,” said Kevin Weil, vice president of product for Calibra. 

The currency itself is being built so that any software developer in the world can build a digital wallet or other services on top of it, similar to the way that Bitcoin can be sent between people.

The structure of the new Libra currency is based on the blockchain technology made famous by Bitcoin.

The blockchain concept makes it possible to hold and move digital currencies almost instantly, usually with low transaction fees. Because blockchains are shared databases, they can function without any central operator like the central banks that have historically governed currencies. This structure will allow Libra to be overseen by many companies.

Customers will be able to hold and spend their Libra with businesses that accept the currency, and there will be services that quickly convert Libra into traditional currencies and send the money to traditional bank accounts, according to project documents released on Tuesday.

And the most important graph:

Initially, the Calibra subsidiary will offer little more than a wallet to hold and spend Libra. When Libra is released next year, the plan is to make the wallet available to the billions of people who have accounts with Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

If Facebook can create a viable, useful form of currency on platforms with the scale of Messenger and WhatsApp — as Tencent has done with WeChat in China — well, it could literally break the bank.

All of them.

Written by turbotodd

June 18, 2019 at 10:39 am

Facebook Coin

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Happy Friday.

For you golf fans, this year’s U.S. Open is off to a walloping good start, and, even better, if you’re a Tiger Woods fan, he’s in the hunt (-1 in the first round).

Justin Rose seems to have put together quite the round, tying the record 65 (-6) that Tiger himself set at Pebble Beach back in 2000. We’ll see if the wind starts whipping and the greens start firming up in round 2. Or perhaps the marine layer will blow, and nobody will be able to see anything, including the golfers.

While the golfers do their thing, Facebook’s long-not-very-well-kept secret blockchain/cryptocurrency payment project, "Project Libra," is getting some big named backers, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and Uber have all backed the new cryptocurrency, and each will invest around $10 million in a consortium that will govern the digital coin, the "Libra."

According to the Journal, that money would be used to fund the creation of the coin, one which will be pegged to a basket of government-issued currencies to avoid the wild swings witnessed by other cryptocurrencies.

The Verge also reported on the development, and addressed how the new "stablecoin" might be used:

As well as allowing users to send money over Facebook’s messaging products like WhatsApp and Messenger, Facebook hopes that its partnerships with e-commerce firms will allow users to spend the currency online. The company is reportedly also looking into developing ATM-like physical terminals for people to convert their money into Libra.

The Block reports that Facebook has also posted additional blockchain jobs this week, just ahead of the release of a whitepaper next week formally announcing Project Libra.

Be interesting to see whether or not the value of a bitcoin changes one way or the other over the course of the next week.

Written by turbotodd

June 14, 2019 at 10:00 am

The Ghost Chatters

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The British sigint intelligence GCHQ is listening, and apparently they want to listen some more.

Potentially, to your encrypted chats.

So a group of 47 companies and institutions have come out firmly against a proposal by the G-men to eavesdrop on encrypted messages.

In an open letter that was published on Lawfare, The Verge writes, “the companies say that the plans would undermine security, threaten trust in encrypted messaging services, and ultimately endanger citizens’ right to privacy and free expression.”

The proposal from GCHQ was first published last November as part of a series of essays, and does not necessarily reflect a legislative agenda from the intelligence agency at this point. In the essay, two senior British intelligence officials argue that law enforcement should be added as a “ghost” participant in every encrypted messaging conversation.

So basically, intelligence firms would be CCed on your encrypted messages without any of the chatters knowing there was a “ghost” in the chat.

I foresee a full-on battle royale over privacy and encryption vs. national security and eavesdropping headed our way, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Be really interesting to see how this plays out for Facebook, which owns leading encrypted messaging firm WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger (both of which would be likely targets for the ghost chatters), just as Mark Zuckerberg attempts to pivot Facebook towards a more private messaging-oriented firm (I remain skeptical there’s a viable business model there, and certainly not one nearly as robust as the one that maximizes the exploitation of user data for advertisers).

Written by turbotodd

May 30, 2019 at 11:06 am

Breaking Up Facebook

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Wow.

Check out this opinion piece in The New York Times by Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, entitled “It’s time to Break Up Facebook.”

I’m going to assume it will defacto get him de-listed from the Mark and Priscilla Christmas card list.

In it, Hughes call for the breakup of Facebook into multiple companies, among other remedies:

First, Facebook should be separated into multiple companies. The F.T.C., in conjunction with the Justice Department, should enforce antitrust laws by undoing the Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions and banning future acquisitions for several years. The F.T.C. should have blocked these mergers, but it’s not too late to act. 

And as to how such a breakup would work:

Facebook would have a brief period to spin off the Instagram and WhatsApp businesses, and the three would become distinct companies, most likely publicly traded. Facebook shareholders would initially hold stock in the new companies, although Mark and other executives would probably be required to divest their management shares.

Hughes also calls for a new agency “empowered by Congress to regulate tech companies. Its first mandate should be to protect privacy.”

Hughes tips his hat to the European General Data Protection Regulation, a law that “guarantees users a minimal level of protection.” He then writes that:

A landmark privacy bill in the United States should specify exactly what control Americans have over their digital information, require clearer disclosure to users and provide enough flexibility to the agency to exercise effective oversight over time. The agency should also be charged with guaranteeing basic interoperability across platforms.

Next, and finally, Hughes suggests this new agency should create guidelines for acceptable speech on social media:

This idea may seem un-American — we would never stand for a government agency censoring speech. But we already have limits on yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, child pornography, speech intended to provoke violence and false statements to manipulate stock prices. We will have to create similar standards that tech companies can use. These standards should of course be subject to the review of the courts, just as any other limits on speech are. But there is no constitutional right to harass others or live-stream violence.

As for Hughes being the billionaire pot calling the Facebook kettle black? Well, he has an answer for that, too:

I take responsibility for not sounding the alarm earlier. Don Graham, a former Facebook board member, has accused those who criticize the company now as having “all the courage of the last man leaping on the pile at a football game.” The financial rewards I reaped from working at Facebook radically changed the trajectory of my life, and even after I cashed out, I watched in awe as the company grew. It took the 2016 election fallout and Cambridge Analytica to awaken me to the dangers of Facebook’s monopoly. But anyone suggesting that Facebook is akin to a pinned football player misrepresents its resilience and power.

If it took you you until the Cambridge Analytica and 2016 election fallout to “awaken” you to “the dangers of Facebook’s monopoly,” one must ask the question were you living under a rock all those years, Mr. Hughes?

However, I’m not completely convinced of Hughes’ remedies, nor of the argument that Facebook is a monopoly.

There have been plenty of other social networks and messaging apps out there (and still are…LinkedIn…WhatsApp…Twitter…). It’s called consumer choice, and Facebook built the better mousetrap.

Just because we don’t like some of the mice it catches doesn’t mean we should break it up into Baby Zuckerbergs. 

As for data protection, I think there’s more room and inclination to maneuver there, and even Mark Zuckerberg himself has called for a GDPR-like set of regulations to provide even more consumer protection. Figuring out a solution on that front could prove a hamstring, however.

And even there I would proceed with caution.

Big data is going to fuel the next wave of innovation and serve as fuel for the next generation of artificial intelligence battles of the 21st Century, particularly when notable competitors like China have no qualms whatsoever about utilizing all varieties of data to power that engine.

Are we going to put a governor on the engine of AI before the plane has even left the ground?

Stop. Think. Deliberate. And then think some more.

It’s easy for Chris Hughes to want to dampen the Facebook bonfire after he’s cashed out his billions.

But if Facebook and its business model really bothers you that much, the easiest solution, and the one with the most market power, is this: Delete your account.

Nothing will send a clearer, unencrypted message to Mark Zuckerberg and team than that.

Written by turbotodd

May 9, 2019 at 11:13 am

Posted in 2019, artificial intelligence, privacy

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Coin of the Facebook Realm

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And you thought you had a bad week.

Actually, my week was pretty good, but there were some that weren’t so lucky.

Like Tumblr. 

Remember them?  No?

The all-things-blogging-and-sharing site that Yahoo paid a cool $1.1B for in 2013, and which was later subsumed into the Oath/Verizon Media Group.

And which is now for sell, and which brings with it some 400M blogs but which Yahoo wrote down by $230M in 2016 before the sell to Verizon.

Speaking of Verizon, Can you hear me now?  I’m leaving you, Verizon. I was going to go to Google Fi, but I had one of the worst customer service experiences *ever* with them the other day.

The whole point of Google Fi (and other MVNOs) is to limit my interaction with humans on the phone.

But due to a billing situation when trying to order my Google Fi sim card, I was forced to call Google’s customer support, which made any trek I’ve ever had to the State of Texas Department of Motor Vehicles outlet feel like an excursion to Six Flags.

Never again, Google.  Keep to the algos, you’re clearly worst in class with the call centers.

So, instead, I’m moving to Tracfone…Don’t call me unless it’s really, really necessary.

If you’re having trouble giving your money to someone, check this out: Facebook’s apparently moving in to the crypto payments world, big time.

According to a report from TheBlockCrypto, Facebook’s “Project Libra” puts Facebook’s stablecoin at the center of a brand new payments network.

Summary:

  1. Facebook is planning to launch a full payments network (rather than just remittances) and in discussions with payment networks Visa and Mastercard, payments processors such as giant First Data as well as large e-commerce merchants to support the launch.
  2. Facebook is seeking up to $1 billion in investments collectively from these firms in order to act as collateral to bolster and back a stablecoin that will be associated with the payments network.
  3. A stablecoin will exist as the currency of the payments system in order to eliminate credit card fees for . merchants as well as to avoid the volatility of other cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether.
  4. The company is considering tying the coin to Facebook’s core ads engine, rewarding users for viewing ads and then purchasing goods, similar to how loyalty points rewards work.

Why do I think this is potentially a very big deal?

Facebook conquered its first couple a billion people by linking identity and demography, putting faces (sorry) to names on the Interwebs.

Now they’re going to possibly enable all those people to start trading in transactions with one another using cryptocurrency, in (again, possible) partnership with major payment processors and networks (Visa, MC, First Data), and with large e-commerce merchants.

And, they’re going to tie all that with their advertising network, which could flip the switch on the Facebook value exchange, whereby users could be paid to watch ads, early loyalty awards with their purchases, etc.?

People, we’re already WAY behind China when it comes to using mobile apps for simple things like payments for, well, pretty much everything!

Someone has to take on this e-payment capability sometime, and the Apple Pays and Venmos of the world aren’t moving the needle.  You say you don’t trust Facebook? But might you trust them partnering with Visa, MC, and other vendors you already *do* trust?

The Facebook Coin, if it proves out, could be the biggest tech news of the year.

Now, show me the money.

Written by turbotodd

May 3, 2019 at 9:59 am

Posted in 2019, blockchain, facebook

Tagged with , ,

Facebook Going Private?

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Facebook’s going private.

Not in the market sense of the term, but rather, in the sense that Mark Zuckerberg and company have decided to double down on privacy.

That, and I have a vast area of swampland in south Florida I can sell you for cents on the dollar.

But seriously, at its F8 developer conference yesterday, these were the words Zuck spoke:

“I believe the future is private…This is the next chapter for our services.”

As CNET had reported, Zuckerberg last month indicated Facebook would refocus the entire company around privacy, and that infrastructure of all of Facebook’s services — Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger — would be more technical integrated and prioritize end-to-end encryption.

As to what the company introduced in yesterday’s keynote, Business Insider described it this way:

the California-based tech giant announced a sweeping redesign of the social network — ditching its iconic blue menu bar and replacing it with a cleaner, white design, and placing greater-than-ever emphasis on groups.

And this:

The new Facebook design also gives Stories — the buzzy ephemeral-photo-sharing format — prominent placement at the very top of users’ feeds.

There are also significant structural changes that place greater emphasis on user-created groups. Users can post to groups directly from the homepage, groups are given greater prominence on the left-hand sidebar (on desktop), and new tools are being added to specialized types of groups.

The redesigned mobile app will launch “right away,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed announcement, while it’ll roll out more slowly on desktop — “in the next few months.”

As of this morning, I’m still waiting for those changes to arrive.  That, and privacy on Facebook, which still makes chuckle out loud when I write that.

Why?

Because I’ve yet to figure out how a social network whose business model is based entirely on monetizing our personal information makes such a model work with private, more personal and encrypted communications.

But maybe I’m just slow.

Written by turbotodd

May 1, 2019 at 9:24 am

Posted in 2019, facebook

Tagged with , ,

Show Me the Money

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Facebook had a big quarter. Or, should I say, a BIG quarter.

Despite all the privacy snafus and regulatory chafing, the company reported Q1 revenue of $15.08B, with advertising revenue up 26% at $14.91B. 

Also, Facebook explained it would set aside $3B to cover expenses associated with a fine from the Federal Trade Commission over its privacy practice (although the fine apparently could go as high as $5B).

Facebook also indicated that its Facebook stories feature now has 500M daily users across both FB and Messenger, and WhatsApp’s status has 500M daily users (poor Snapchat has a paltry 190M DUs by comparison).

In other words, Facebook sneezes, the rest of the ad industry still catches cold.

Microsoft also announced big earnings, reporting Q3 revenue was up 14% to $30.6B and net income was up 19% to $8.8B. Intelligent Cloud Revenue was up 22% to $9.7B. 

Earlier today, the company became only the third U.S. company ever to pass a market cap of $1T (the other two were Apple and Amazon).

But it’s not just the techs who are in tech.

TechCrunch reported that Walmart announced earlier today a new “store of the future,” a sort of proving ground for emerging tech, including A.I.-enable cameras and interactive displays.

Code-named “IRL” (for, the “Intelligent Retail Lab”), the store operates out of a Walmart Neighborhood Market and contains over 30,000 items. Not unlike Amazon Go’s convenience stories:

the store has a suite of cameras mounted in the ceiling. But unlike Amazon Go, which is a grab-and-go store with smaller square footage, Walmart’s IRL spans 50,000 square feet of retail space and is staffed by over 100 employees.

Plus, in Walmart’s case, these A.I.-powered cameras are not being used to determine what items customers are buying in order to automatically charge them. It still has traditional checkout stations. Instead, the cameras will monitor inventory levels to determine, for example, if staff needs to bring out more meat from the backroom refrigerators to restock the shelves, or if some fresh items have been sitting too long on the shelf and need to be pulled.

The idea is that the A.I. will help the store associates know more precisely where and when to restock products. And this, in turn, means customers will know the produce and meat is always fresh and in stock when they arrive.

The system apparently generates so much data, 1.6TB per second, that it necessitates a big data center on site.

And yet it seems to be obviously avoiding getting into the business of automated checkout solutions (which Amazon has tackled head on), instead “using the A.I. system to ensure that there are shopping carts available at all times and that registers are open and staffed.”

But don’t kid yourself…it’s probably only a few years before we’ll be seeing a virtual Sam hologram himself welcoming you to the new and improved Ai-driven Walmart.

Save Money. Live Better.

Written by turbotodd

April 25, 2019 at 10:41 am

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