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Facebook must police Today In, its local news digest launching in 400 cities – TechCrunch

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Facebook has a new area of its app it will have to police for fake news and biased sensationalism. Facebook is launching “Today In”, its local news aggregator it began testing in January, in 400 small to medium-sized US cities. It’s also now testing it in its first overseas spot in Australia. iOS and Android users can open the Today In bookmark or opt in to getting digests of its local news in their feed. The feature includes previews that link out to news sites about top headlines, current discussions, school announcements and more.

“We have a number of misinformation filters in place to ensure that fake news and clickbait does not surface on Today In. We also provide people the ability to report suspicious content on Facebook and within Today In specifically” a Facebook spokesperson tells me. “The misinformation filters are the same across Facebook that we’ve previously talked about – downranking clickbait, ratings from third-party fact checkers” they said. However, “the content in the surface is pulled by algorithm”, so there’s always a chance that problematic content slips through. For now, there will be no ads in Today In.

 

 

Facebook is also now testing Local Alerts with 100 local government and first responder Pages that can be issued to inform citizens about urgent issues or emergencies, such as where to take shelter from a hurricane. The Local Alerts are delivered via News Feed, Today In, and Pages can also target users with notifications about them. Again, while Facebook may be vetting which Pages get access to the Local Alerts feature, it must closely monitor to make sure they’re using it to provide vital info to their communities rather than just grab traffic at sensitive moments.

Facebook is hoping to fill a void after surveys found 50 percent of users wanted more local news through Facebook. It previously tested Today In with New Orleans, La.; Little Rock, Ark.; Billings, Mont.; Peoria, Ill.; Olympia, Wash.; and Binghamton, N.Y. The feature could give local outlets a referral traffic boost that could help offset the fact that Facebook has drained ad dollars from journalism into its own News Feed ads. And to make sure “news deserts” without enough local outlets still have robust Today In sections, Facebook will collect headlines from surrounding areas.

But the launch also opens up a new vector for policy issues, and it’s curious that Facebook would push forward on this given all its policy troubles as of late. It will have to ensure that Today In only aggregates content from reliable and fact-focused local outlets and doesn’t end up peddling fake news. But that in turn could open it to criticism suggesting it’s biased against fringe political outlets that believe their clickbait is the real story.

Users who want to check if they have access to Today In can visit this interactive map. The list includes Facebook’s hometown of Menlo Park and nearby Oakland, but not San Francisco. It’s also skipping big cities like New York and Washington, D.C. in favor of places like Mobile, Alabama; and Provo, Utah.

To find the mobile-only feature in Facebook (there’s no desktop version), users will hit the three-line “More” hamburger button and scroll down looking for “Today In [their city]”. Otherwise, they may stumble across one of its digests showing the headlines, thumbnail images, and publications for three of the biggest local news stories.

After tapping through or opening the Today In bookmark, they’ll be able to horizontally swipe through different sections like In The News that features recent stories and can be toggled to display sports. As per usual, Facebook isn’t above promoting its own content, like user and Page News Feed posts discussing local topics, Groups you could join, or Events you could RSVP to. Once you hit the end of a daily edition, you’ll see a “You’re all caught up” notice, similar to Instagram’s feature designed to keep you from over-scrolling.

Facebook infamously turned away from news in favor of content from friends at the start of 2018, precipitating a significant decline in News Feed reach and referral traffic for links to articles. That left a lot of outlets feeling burned, as many had staffed up thanks to the that flow of traffic and the ad dollars it generated. Now some are having to lay off journalists, especially those making video content that Facebook also dialed down.

By resurfacing local news, Facebook could help strengthen ties in local communities as part of its new mission statement to “bring the world closer together”. But if that news contains heavy partisan bias or hypes up nothingburgers, it could lead to more polarization. Facebook already has trouble finding enough third-party fact checkers to verify viral news stories. Now it may expose itself to even more liability to be the arbiter of truth now that it’s fragmented the news space into hundreds of distinct digests.

This conundrum will play out again and again. Facebook wants to keep pushing forward with product launches it thinks can help society, but it in turn takes on even greater responsibility to protect us that it hasn’t proven it deserves.

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Facebook infamously turned away from news in favor of content from friends at the start of 2018, precipitating a significant decline in News Feed reach and referral traffic for links to articles. That left a lot of outlets feeling burned, as many had staffed up thanks to the that flow of traffic and the ad dollars it generated. Now some are having to lay off journalists, especially those making video content that Facebook also dialed down.

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By resurfacing local news, Facebook could help strengthen ties in local communities as part of its new mission statement to “bring the world closer together”. But if that news contains heavy partisan bias or hypes up nothingburgers, it could lead to more polarization. Facebook already has trouble finding enough third-party fact checkers to verify viral news stories. Now it may expose itself to even more liability to be the arbiter of truth now that it’s fragmented the news space into hundreds of distinct digests.

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This conundrum will play out again and again. Facebook wants to keep pushing forward with product launches it thinks can help society, but it in turn takes on even greater responsibility to protect us that it hasn’t proven it deserves.

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Facebook has a new area of its app it will have to police for fake news and biased sensationalism. Facebook is launching “Today In”, its local news aggregator it began testing in January, in 400 small to medium-sized US cities. It’s also now testing it in its first overseas spot in Australia. iOS and Android […]

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Josh Constine is a technology journalist who specializes in deep analysis of social products. He is currently an Editor-At-Large for TechCrunch and is available for speaking engagements.

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Previously, Constine was the Lead Writer of Inside Facebook through its acquisition by WebMediaBrands, covering everything about the social network.

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Constine graduated from Stanford University in 2009 with a Master’s degree in Cybersociology, examining the influence of technology on social interaction. He researched the impact of privacy controls on the socialization of children, meme popularity cycles, and what influences the click through rate of links posted to Twitter.

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Constine also received a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors from Stanford University in 2007, with a concentration in Social Psychology & Interpersonal Processes.

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Josh Constine is an experienced public speaker, and has moderated over 120 on-stage interviews in 15 countries with leaders including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whistleblower Edward Snowden (via on-stage video conference), and U.S. Senator Cory Booker. He is available to moderate panels and fireside chats, deliver keynotes, and judge hackathon and pitch competitions.

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Constine has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, CNN Money, The Atlantic, BBC World Magazine, Slate, and more, plus has been featured on television on Good Morning, America, The Today Show, China Central Television, and Fox News. Constine is ranked as the #1 most cited tech journalist on prestigious news aggregator Techmeme.

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[Disclosures: Josh Constine temporarily advised a college friend’s social location-sharing startup codenamed ‘Signal’ that was based in San Francisco before dissolving in 2015. This advising role was cleared with AOL and TechCrunch’s editors and has concluded. Constine’s fiancu00e9e Andee Gardiner co-founded startup accelerator Founders Embassy. Constine’s cousin Darren Lachtman is the founder of influencer advertising startup Niche that was acquired by Twitter, and he’s since left and founded teen content studio Brat. Constine does not write about Founders Embassy or Brat. Constine has personal acquaintances stemming from college housing circa 2007 with founders at Skybox Imaging (now Terra Bella), Hustle, Snapchat, and Robinhood, but does not maintain close social ties with them nor does that influence his writing. Constine occasionally does paid speaking engagements at conferences, but only those funded by companies he does not cover. Constine owns a small position in Ethereum and Bitcoin cryptocurrencies, does not day-trade, and discloses his positions directly in articles where appropriate. Constine does not do consulting, angel investing, or public stock trading beyond public stock invesments by his parents’ estate that he has no role in managing or advising.]

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Josh Constine is a technology journalist who specializes in deep analysis of social products. He is currently an Editor-At-Large for TechCrunch and is available for speaking engagements.

nn

Previously, Constine was the Lead Writer of Inside Facebook through its acquisition by WebMediaBrands, covering everything about the social network.

nn

Constine graduated from Stanford University in 2009 with a Master’s degree in Cybersociology, examining the influence of technology on social interaction. He researched the impact of privacy controls on the socialization of children, meme popularity cycles, and what influences the click through rate of links posted to Twitter.

nn

Constine also received a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors from Stanford University in 2007, with a concentration in Social Psychology & Interpersonal Processes.

nn

Josh Constine is an experienced public speaker, and has moderated over 120 on-stage interviews in 15 countries with leaders including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whistleblower Edward Snowden (via on-stage video conference), and U.S. Senator Cory Booker. He is available to moderate panels and fireside chats, deliver keynotes, and judge hackathon and pitch competitions.

nn

Constine has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, CNN Money, The Atlantic, BBC World Magazine, Slate, and more, plus has been featured on television on Good Morning, America, The Today Show, China Central Television, and Fox News. Constine is ranked as the #1 most cited tech journalist on prestigious news aggregator Techmeme.

nn

[Disclosures: Josh Constine temporarily advised a college friend’s social location-sharing startup codenamed ‘Signal’ that was based in San Francisco before dissolving in 2015. This advising role was cleared with AOL and TechCrunch’s editors and has concluded. Constine’s fiancu00e9e Andee Gardiner co-founded startup accelerator Founders Embassy. Constine’s cousin Darren Lachtman is the founder of influencer advertising startup Niche that was acquired by Twitter, and he’s since left and founded teen content studio Brat. Constine does not write about Founders Embassy or Brat. Constine has personal acquaintances stemming from college housing circa 2007 with founders at Skybox Imaging (now Terra Bella), Hustle, Snapchat, and Robinhood, but does not maintain close social ties with them nor does that influence his writing. Constine occasionally does paid speaking engagements at conferences, but only those funded by companies he does not cover. Constine owns a small position in Ethereum and Bitcoin cryptocurrencies, does not day-trade, and discloses his positions directly in articles where appropriate. Constine does not do consulting, angel investing, or public stock trading beyond public stock invesments by his parents’ estate that he has no role in managing or advising.]

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IAC’s Teltech acquired encrypted mobile messaging app Confide – TechCrunch

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IAC has acquired Confide, the encrypted mobile messaging that once made headlines for its use by White House staffers during the Trump administration. The deal, which closed on Dec. 1, 2020 but was not publicly announced, sees Confide joining Teltech, the makers of spam call-busting app Robokiller, which itself had joined IAC’s Mosaic Group by way of a 2018 acquisition.

Teltech confirmed the Confide acquisition, but declined to share the deal terms. The confidential mobile messaging app had raised just $3.5 million in funding, according to Crunchbase data, and had been valued between $10 to $50 million, as a result. (Pitchbook put the valuation at ~$14 million around the same time.)

According to Teltech, the deal was for the Confide IP and technology, but not the team.

The company believes Confide makes for a good fit among its growing group of mobile communication apps, including Robokiller and its latest app, SwitchUp, which offers users a second phone number for additional privacy and spam blocking purposes. Other Teletech apps include phone call recorder TapeACall and blocked call unmasker TrapCall.

Confide, however, may end up being one of the better-known additions among that group, thanks to being remembered as a favored tool of choice among frustrated Washington Republicans during the Trump years.

But despite the user growth that news had driven, things slowed in the months that followed, when researchers published a report that claimed Confide wasn’t as secure as it had promised. Confide quickly fixed its vulnerabilities but then a month later was facing a class action lawsuit (later dismissed by the plaintiff) over the security issues.

Teltech says it was aware of the security concerns, but it had conversations with the prior Confide team and understands that the earlier issues had been “quickly and effectively remediated.”

While IAC won’t speak to its specific plans for Confide’s future, the app will continue to offer users a safe and secure way to communicate. What it won’t do, though, is try to directly compete with Telegram or other private apps that offer large channels or group chats that support tens of thousands of people at once.

“I think one kind of key differentiators is that Confide is definitely more for one-on-one and smaller group communication, rather than with Signal and Telegram where there’s some larger chat dynamics,” notes Giulia Porter, Teltech’s VP of Marketing. “One thing that makes us a little bit different is just that we’re more personal,” she says.

Despite having hit some bumps in the road over the years, Confide as of the time of the acquisition, still had around 100,000 monthly active users. There’s now a team of around 10 assigned to work on the app, adding needed resources to its further development, and soon, an updated logo and branding.

Confide’s existing desktop and mobile apps will also continue to be available, but later updated with new features as part of Teltech’s efforts.

Investors and IAC alike have declined to talk about deal price, but that may speak for itself.

“With the absolute explosion in privacy over the past several years, Confide, which started as a side project, has become a mission-critical platform for sensitive communication throughout the world,” said Confide co-founder and President Jon Brod, in a statement shared with TechCrunch about Confide’s exit.

“We’re thrilled that IAC shares our passion for secure communication and recognizes the unique business we have built. IAC has a proven track record of providing fast-growing companies with the support to reach their full potential and we are excited to see IAC take Confide to the next level,” he said.

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Apple just had its best quarter in India – TechCrunch

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When Apple reports its earnings on Wednesday, you can expect mentions of India on the call.

Apple shipped more than 1.5 million iPhone units in India in the quarter that ended in December, up 100% year-on-year, making this its best quarter in the world’s largest smartphone market to date, according to research firms Counterpoint and CyberMedia.

Thanks to the improved sales of older generation iPhone 11, iPhone XR, iPhone 12 and the newer iPhone SE, Apple doubled its market share in India to 4% in the quarter, the research firms said.

Overall, Apple shipped more than 3.2 million iPhone units in India in 2020, up 60% year-on-year, Counterpoint said.

The shipment growth comes months after Apple launched its online store in the country and offered customers a wide-range of financing and upgrade options, AppleCare+, and lucrative perks such as a free set of AirPods with the purchase of iPhone 11. The company plans to open its first physical retail store in the country later this year.

For more than a decade, Apple has struggled to sell its handsets in India because of the expensive price tags they carry. Most smartphones that ship in India are priced between $100 to $200. Samsung, and a group of Chinese smartphone vendors including Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo flooded the market in the past decade with their affordable smartphones.

None the less, in recent years Apple has visibly grown more interested in the country that is also one of the world’s fastest growing smartphones markets. The company’s contract manufacturers today locally assemble a range of iPhone models and some accessories — an effort the company kickstarted more than two years ago. (A recent violent event at an Indian facility of Wistron, one of Apple’s contract manufacturers, however, underscored some of the challenges Apple will grapple with as it looks to scale its local production efforts in the country.)

That move has allowed Apple to lower prices of some older generation iPhone models in India, where for years the company has passed import duty charges to customers. The starting price of the iPhone 12 Pro Max is $1,781 in India, compared to $1,099 in the U.S. (Apple has yet to start locally assemble the iPhone 12 units.) The AirPods Pro, which sells at $249 in the U.S., was made available in India at $341 at the time of launch. AirPods Max, similarly, is priced at $815 in India, compared to $549 in the U.S. (It doesn’t help that an average person in India makes $2,000 a year.)

Unlike most foreign firms that offer their products and services for free in India or at some of the world’s cheapest prices, Apple has focused entirely on a small fraction of the population that can afford to pay big bucks, Jayanth Kolla, chief analyst at Convergence Catalyst, told TechCrunch.

That’s not to say that Apple has not made some changes to its price strategy for India. The monthly cost of Apple Music is $1.35 in India, compared to $9.99 in the U.S. Its Apple One bundle, which includes Apple Music, TV+, Arcade and iCloud, costs $2.65 a month in India.

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‘Anti-superficial’ dating app S’More raises $2.1M – TechCrunch

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S’More, a dating app that’s focused on helping users find more meaningful relationships, announced today that it has raised $2.1 million in seed funding.

S’More (short for “something more”) ensures that users can’t focus on physical appearance, because photos are  initally blurred — they gradually un-blur as you interact with someone. The startup has introduced new features like video chat (also blurred initially), and it launched a redesigned app of the beginning of this month — CEO Adam Cohen-Aslatei said it’s a “completely rebuilt product” with new features like real-time conversation prompts and the ability to pay to promote your profile.

Cohen-Aslatei also said that S’More’s focus on “anti-superficial relationships” is attracting a real audience, with 160,000 downloads in its first year and “thousands” of paying users, including a 50% increase in subscriptions after launching the new app in January.

Looking at how dating will evolve after the pandemic, Cohen-Aslatei suggested, “I don’t think we’re going back to the way things were.” He pointed to a recent survey of S’More users in which 80% of respondents said they hadn’t gone on a single live, in-person date in 2020.

“Do you want to meet for casual encounter on Tinder, or do you have to want to have a conversation get to know a real person on S’More?” he said. Assuming that many people will choose the latter, the next question is: “How do you make discovery fun? There’s got to be multimedia, video, audio, games, all of those features are part of our product roadmap … S’More will feel like Hinge meets Nextdoor.” (Apparently, there’s “a huge cohort” of users on Nextdoor who are single and looking for relationships.)

Image Credits: S’More

The new funding comes from a long list of investors: Benson Oak Ventures, Mark Pincus’ Workplay Ventures, Gaingels VC, Loud Capital/Pride Fund
SideCar Angels, AppLovin Chairman Rafael Vivas, Joshua Black of Apollo Management, Plus Grade CEO Ken Harris, Harvard geneticist George Church, former Meet Group CEO John Abbott, former IMAX CEO Brad Weschler, Aaron and Sharon Stern, Justen Stepka/Enterprise Fund, Boston Harbor Angels, Grit Daily CEO Jordan French, Kind.Fund founder Marty Isaac, Craig Mullett and Dating Group.

Cohen-Asletai told me the funding has already allowed him to hire what he’s calling a “founding team,” including chief architect Long Nguyen, head of operations Sneha Ramanchandran, head of product and design Regina Guinto and senior developer David Lichy.

S’More is also announcing that it has signed a production deal with producers Elvia Van Es Oliva and Jack Tarantino, who have worked on shows like “90 Day Fiancé.” Cohen-Asletai said the startup will work with them to create “anti-superficial” dating content for digital platforms and TV networks.

This deal builds on the success of S’More Live, the startup’s celebrity dating show on Instagram Live, which has aired 60 episodes so far.

“We’re using that show to build our brand, to gain awareness and then …
we’re actually able to leverage all of the viewers and retarget them with content from S’More, which has made our cost to acquire a user [very affordable],” Cohen-Asletai said.

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