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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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Amazon assembles video streaming apps to fight with Netflix and Disney in India – TechCrunch

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Amazon has launched Prime Video Channels in India, allowing its customers to subscribe to eight streaming services including Discovery+ and Mubi from one hub (Prime Video website or app), the latest in a series of efforts by the U.S. giant to win customers in the South Asian nation.

The new offering makes it easier for users to login and pay for additional streaming services, the company said. To make things more enticing, Amazon said the services are available at discounted prices for the first year. Discovery+ costs $4 per year, Mubi $27, Hoichoi ($8.2), DocuBay $6.8, ErosNow $4, Lionsgate Play $9.5, manoramaMax $9.5, and ShortsTV $4.

The company, which is currently at the centre of several controversies in India, did not share how much of the revenue it is taking from the streaming services and the duration of the partnerships. India is the 12th market where Amazon has launched Prime Video Channels.

Friday’s launch will likely be more beneficial to the third-party streaming services, all of which are struggling to make inroads in India, than Amazon itself. Discovery+ has amassed fewer than 4 monthly active users in India on mobile, Mubi has fewer than 100,000, DocuBay has fewer than 50,000, ErosNow has fewer than half a million, Lionsgate Play and manoramaMax each has fewer than 750,000, according to mobile insight firm App Annie (the data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch).

“With the launch of Prime Video Channels, we now take the next big step in our journey to entertain India by creating a video entertainment marketplace – first of its kind in India – which will not only delight our customers by giving them even more entertainment choices, but also benefit the OTT Channel partners who collaborate with us to leverage Prime Video’s distribution, reach and tech infrastructure,” said Gaurav Gandhi, Country Manager of Amazon Prime Video India, in a statement.

Amazon’s Prime Video, which has amassed over 55 million monthly active users in India, competes with Netflix, Disney’s Hotstar and Times Internet’s MX Player in the country. Both Hotstar and MX Player have established larger reach than Prime Video in India, and Netflix has courted most elite customers in the country.

The e-commerce group, on its part, has attempted to push for more reach by securing some rights to cricket matches — though the vast majority of those rights are still owned by Hotstar — and has also launched a free, ad-supported streaming service.

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Livestream video shopping app NTWRK raises $50M from Goldman Sachs, Kering – TechCrunch

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NTWRK, a video shopping app that has helped to popularize the idea of livestreamed commerce in the U.S., announced today it has closed on $50 million in new funding led by Goldman Sachs Asset Management and global luxury group Kering, owners of luxury brands Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and others. The company has been working to capitalize on the growing interest in live commerce and creator content, and shifted into live virtual events and festivals as COVID-19 ravaged the U.S. last year. Now it says it will invest in furthering its growth and working to establish a more global footprint.

Other participants in the new round include LionTree Partners and Tenere Capital. They join the company’s prior backers: Main Street Advisors (whose investors include Jimmy Iovine, Drake and LeBron James), Live Nation, Foot Locker and others. Allison Berardo, a vice president within the Growth Equity business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management, will join NTWRK’s board of directors.

Aimed at a younger crowd of Gen Z and millennial consumers, NTWRK offers tools that allow creators to interact with viewers and sell products in real time, in what’s been called a mix of QVC, Twitter and Twitch. The experience blends commerce with entertainment, as viewers watch and chat with other viewers and hosts in real time, as they shop for streetwear, shoes, collectibles and other items. The company has also created its own exclusive content where it has featured hosts like Billie Eilish, Juice WRLD, DJ Khaled, Odell Beckham Jr., Eddie Huang, Blake Griffin, Alexander Wang, FaZe Clan, Nadeshot, Jonah Hill, Gary Vee, A$AP Ferg, Wu-Tang Clan, Doja Cat and others. (It even invested into FaZe Clan last year, we should note.)

Its business model extends beyond just offering live video shopping that you can tune into at any time, as it also regularly features product drops that work to build up anticipation and excitement. This sort of feature is only now making its way to larger social media platforms, like Instagram, which introduced drops just this spring.

NTWRK has also embraced live events and virtual festivals as another way to engage audiences. Last year, for instance, it ran TRANSFER, which featured 30 brands and artists, panels, interviews, DJ sets and musical performances. It also ran BEYOND THE STREETS, a virtual art fair that attracted over 250,000 attendees. Earlier this year it ran a two-day designer toy and collectibles festival, Unboxed, as the first of a slate of digital events which have subsequently run throughout the year, including Surface Festival, a virtual food festival and a virtual home goods festival. It’s now gearing up for the return of its flagship event, TRANSFER.

Image Credits: NTWRK (opens in a new window)

This summer, NTWRK also embraced the world of digital goods with the launch of NTWRK NFT, its own curated shop for unique crypto art from creators like BADBOI, Imaginary Foundation, MILKMAN, Young & Sick, Fafi, KidEight, MGOGLKTKO and Eddie Gangland.

Livestream shopping is already a popular activity overseas, but is still gaining ground here in the U.S. The company, in announcing its news today, noted that livestream shopping in China reached $150 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to $300 billion this year. But in the U.S. it’s expected to reach $11 billion by the end of 2021 and $25 billion by 2025, leaving much room for growth.

“Our vision is to become the biggest, most culturally relevant, livestream shopping marketplace for Gen-Z and Millennial audiences who are obsessed with pop culture,” said NTWRK CEO Aaron Levant, in a statement. “It’s exciting for NTWRK to have Goldman Sachs and Kering sign on for the future of livestream shopping.”

NTWRK had previously raised a $10 million Series A, according to Crunchbase data.

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Google powers up assistive tech in Android with facial gesture-powered shortcuts and switches – TechCrunch

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Making smartphones more accessible is always a good idea, and Google’s latest features bring quick actions and navigation to people whose expressions are their primary means of interacting with the world. Project Activate and Camera Switches let users perform tasks like speaking a custom phrase, or navigating using a switch interface, through facial gestures alone.

The new features rely on the smartphone’s front-facing camera, which can watch the user’s face in real time for one of six expressions: a smile, raised eyebrows, opened mouth, and looking left, right, or up. It relies entirely on local computing and no image data is saved, nor is it doing what is generally understood as “facial recognition” — this type of machine learning can focus specifically on, for example, identifying the eyebrows and sending a signal whenever they move past a certain, customizable threshold.

Each expression can be assigned a different role. Camera Switches integrates with Android’s existing switch compatibility, by which people who use assistive tech like a joystick or blow tube can navigate the phone’s OS. Now that can be done without any peripheral device at all, and users can pick various facial gestures for iterating through selections, confirming a choice, backing out, and so on.

Image Credits: Google

Using Project Activate, expressions can be tied to self-contained actions like speaking a phrase. Many people with disabilities rely on caretakers for a variety of reasons, but one thing you can’t ask a caretaker to do is get your caretaker’s attention! So one useful application might be assigning (say) an extended eyebrow raise to have the device speak the phrase “hey!” or “I need help with something,” or “thanks!”

The gestures can also be used to play an audio file, or text or call a predetermined number. More expressions and more capabilities are on the way, as well as more languages — of course faces don’t have languages, but the app and support documentation do, so Project Activate will start with English-speaking countries and move out from there. Camera Switches, on the other hand, will be available in 80 languages from the start.

Note that these can’t both be used at once, since they both require access to the camera and expression recognition thing. So users should make sure they have a backup method for navigation. Both should run on pretty much any Android phone from the last five years or so.

Lastly, an update to Google’s Lookout app, which reads labels for people with visual impairments, adds the ability to scan and read out handwritten content the way it can with printed things. That’s useful for sticky notes, “gone fishing” type signs on the doors of stores, and things like greeting cards with notes from the sender. The app has seen big increases in usage over the last year so they’re building it out. (Support for identifying euro and Indian rupee banknotes should help fuel that growth too.)

All the new stuff should be available later this week free of charge.

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