A massive penalty hangs over Facebook’s head, but it otherwise had a very strong Q1 earnings report. Facebook reached 2.38 billion monthly users, up 2.5 percent from 2.32 billion in Q4 2018 when it grew 2.2 percent, and it now has 1.56 billion daily active users, up 2.63 percent from 1.52 billion last quarter when it grew 2 percent. Facebook pulled in $15.08 in revenue, up 26 percent year-over-year compared to Refinitiv’s consensus estimates of $14.98 billion in revenue.
Facebook recorded earnings per share of $0.85 compared to estimates of $1.63 EPS. However, that’s because Facebook has set aside $3 billion to cover a potential FTC fine that it’s still resolving. Without that fine, it would have had an EPS of $1.89. Despite the set-aside, Facebook still earned $2.429 billion in profit, though that’s down from $4.988 a year ago and $6.8 billion in Q4 2018.
Facebook’s share price rose 8.3 percent to $197.84 after closing before earnings at $182.58, way up from its recent low of $124.06 in December. Wall Street seems to have already priced in the potential FTC fine. Facebook has agreed to strict oversight of how it handled user privacy in a 2011 deal with the FTC. It promised to not misrepresent its privacy practices or change privacy controls without user permission, and it’s now negotiating the fine for potentially breaking those terms.
Facebook wrote in its earnings release about the FTC fine that:
“In the first quarter of 2019, we reasonably estimated a probable loss and recorded an accrual of $3.0 billion in connection with the inquiry of the FTC into our platform and user data practices, which accrual is included in accrued expenses and other current liabilities on our condensed consolidated balance sheet. We estimate that the range of loss in this matter is $3.0 billion to $5.0 billion. The matter remains unresolved, and there can be no assurance as to the timing or the terms of any final outcome.”
It’s possible Facebook escapes with a lesser fine that would likely still dwarf Google’s $22.5 million penalty for violating an FTC privacy deal. But it also might have to drag down a future quarter of earnings if the fine ranges as high as $5 billion or larger. Though Facebook does have $45.2 billion in cash and securities on hand to pay that fine and make any necessary acquisitions. Facebook’s headcount grew 36% year-over-year to 37,773 as it staffs up its security team, but it still has a 22 percent operating margin.
Facebook has managed to hold on to its 66 percent daily to monthly user ratio, showing people aren’t necessarily using it less despite all the backlash. It added 39 million daily users, compared to Snapchat’s addition of 4 million in Q1. But Facebook failed to grow past its 186 million daily user count in the US & Canada where it got stuck last quarter, but at least it added 4 million in its lucrative Europe market, plus it had atypically large gains in Asia-Pacific and the Rest Of World regions. As for monetization, Facebook made modest gains in average revenue per user across markets compared to Q3 2018 (excluding the holiday-laden Q4). Europe did especially well, growing ARPU 8.2 percent.
Zooming out, Facebook now has over 2.7 billion total mothly users across its family of Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp, the same as last quarter. 2.1 billion people use at least one of those apps daily, up from 2 billion last quarter. Instagram Stories, WhatsApp Status, and Facebook Stories on Facebook and Messenger combined each now have 500 million daily users. Facebook also now has 3 million advertisers buying Stories ads across its apps, so the ephemeral format will likely start to contribute meaningful revenue soon.
Color From The Earnings Call
In March, Zuckerberg announced plans for a massive privacy-centric overhaul of Facebook to turn it from just a townsquare into also a “living room”. That means unifying its messaging apps with a backend that supports end-to-end encryption, and promoting ephemerality in content sharing and communication. That could help deter calls for regulation, make Facebook harder to break up, and help it stay ahead of competitors like Snapchat, but will also be a massive product and engineering undertaking.
Today, Zuckerberg focused on providing more details to this plan to expand privacy, encryption, impermanence, safety, interoperability, and secure data storage. He stressed that given people traditionally spend more time communicating and consuming content privately than publicly, strengthening Facebook’s “living room” could boost its business. Zuckerberg noted that since Facebook already doesn’t use messaging content for ad targeting and recent content is more useful for its business, encryption and impermanence shouldn’t be a big risk either. Refusing to store data in countries with poor records of privacy could lead to Facebook being banned there, which Zuckerberg admitted is a major business threat, but one it’s grappled with over content policies for years.
In fact, impermanence is already earning money for Facebook. It said that Instagram Stories was the greatest contributor of additional ad impressions this quarter. And while the Facebook and Instagram feeds are already jammed full of ads with little room for more, Facebook says there’s still room to significantly increase Instagram Stories ad load.
Another highlight of the call was Zuckerberg’s discussion of Facebook’s payments strategy. He confirmed that Facebook plans to build out ways for people to pay merchants through its messaging apps. “So I think that what we’re going to end up seeing is building out payments, which is going to end up being something that we do country by country . . . The goal is to have something where you could do discovery through the broader townsquare-like platforms like Instagram and Facebook, and then you can complete the transactions and follow up with businesses individually and have an ongoing relationship through Messenger and WhatsApp.”
This is the first earnings report of a full quarter following Facebook’s worst-ever security breach in September that impacted 50 million users, shaking confidence in the social network’s privacy and security. It’s also the first full quarter in which Facebook sold its own branded hardware — its Portal video chat device that was well received by critics except for the fact that it was made by Facebook.
Yet the defining story continues to be Facebook’s struggle with claims that its user research and developer platform efforts endangered user privacy and steamrolled competitors in search of growth. That includes TechCrunch’s big scoop that Facebook was paying teens to snoop on their data with a VPN app, which eventually led Facebook to shut down its Onavo user surveillance apps. The fact that Facebook isn’t losing massive numbers of users after years of sustained scandals is a testament to how deeply it’s woven itself into people’s lives.
Google introduces Pixel Pass, an all-in-one subscription combining phones and premium services – TechCrunch
Alongside the launch of the new Google Pixel 6 smartphones, the company also introduced a new way to purchase them: Pixel Pass. This all-in-one subscription service allows consumers to purchase a Pixel phone for a low monthly price, rather than paying for it all upfront. The service is available at $45 per month for the Pixel 6 and $55 per month for the Pixel 6 Pro — but it doesn’t just provide access to the phones themselves. Also included with the subscription are Google’s services, like storage, music, YouTube Premium and free apps and games.
Specifically, subscribers will have access to ad-free YouTube, aka YouTube Premium, typically $11.99 per month. This includes YouTube Music Premium, the company’s answer to Spotify and Apple Music, and its replacement for Google Play Music, which was wound down.
Pixel Pass subscribers will also get 200 GB of cloud storage with Google One, Google Store discounts and Google Play Pass — the otherwise $4.99 USD per month or $29.99 per year subscription, which offers a free selection of apps and games without in-app purchase or ads, similar to Apple Arcade.
The subscription additionally includes insurance, with Preferred Care coverage for hassle-free repairs and “life’s little accidents,” says Google. This is Google’s version of something like AppleCare for Apple devices.
The Pixel devices that ship with Pixel Pass are unlocked so they work with all major carriers.
Consumers can buy the service through the Google Store or with a phone plan on Google Fi, the company’s own cell service, Google says.
By paying for Pixel Pass as a subscription, device owners would save up to $294 over the course of two years, Google notes. But if they purchase through Google Fi, you’ll also save an additional $4 off your monthly Fi plan, equaling $414 in savings over the two years.
The subscription is designed for regular updaters who like to always carry the latest devices, but also want access to premium services. It’s clearly aimed to be the Google alternative to Apple’s own iPhone subscription plan, via the iPhone Upgrade Program. But while Apple offers its own set of subscription services separately through its newer Apple One subscription plans, the Pixel Pass bundles them in.
The new Pixel Pass with Pixel 6 is available for preorder today in the U.S. starting at $45 per month on the Google Store or via Google Fi.
Google’s brand new Android 12 operating system launches today – TechCrunch
With Android 12, the world’s most-used mobile operating system continues its steady march of carving out its unique selling points and finding differentiators from Apple’s iOS. Available for Pixel 3 and beyond, the new OS beefs up some of the strengths in the operating system, while adding some new features along the way.
When everyone has a phone that looks essentially like every other smartphone ever made, personalization becomes more important. That’s why Google brings the Material You feature to the OS – when you change your wallpaper, the entire Android 12 experience changes to match its colors. The OS includes color extraction algorithms which helps everything looks integrated and slick. Everything is personalizable, including the lockscreen, notifications, settings, widgets and even apps. Material You comes to Pixel first, and will be rolled out to devices from other device makers further down the line.
Security and privacy are other themes across the OS. For example, Android 12 enables you to keep your precise location private from apps that, strictly, only need an approximate location to work their magic. You can also see when an app is using your mic or camera, with a new status-bar indicator. And if you want to turn off your camera and mic across the entire OS, you can turn them off in the Quick Settings with a pair of new toggles. The OS also adds additional features to lock down apps you’ve forgotten about, by automatically revoking permissions from apps after several months of lack of use.
The OS also finally divorces the connection between location and Bluetooth. As Google puts it: “While your wireless headphones need to connect to your phone, they probably don’t need to know where you are.” Android 12 makes that possible at long last.
Google introduced a ton of new Android features for Google Lens in previous releases of the OS – you can do optical character recognition on any screen shot, for example. Android 12 adds additional extensions to that functionality, such as ‘scrolling screen shots.” Just because you reach the end of your screen doesn’t mean you need to reach the end of your screenshot. New scrolling screenshots will allow you to capture all the content on the page in one image. Clever!
The new features extend beyond functionality; Android 12 also brings power-saving and better accessibility features. The company is also rolling out hot-updates, so you can keep using an app even while an update for the very same app is downloading and installing in the background. God forbid you’d have to put down Pokemon Go for a couple of minutes.
Google’s Android 12 operating system is rolling out to supported phones starting today.
Google’s Pixel 6 camera smartens up snapshots with AI tools – TechCrunch
Google’s latest flagship phones have an impressive set of automated, AI-powered tools to help make your photos look better, with smart blurs, object removal, and skin tone exposure. While we’ll have to test them out to see if they work as advertised, they could be useful for everyone from pixel peepers to casual snapshot takers.
The new cameras themselves are pretty impressive to start with. The main rear camera, shared by the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, is a 50-megapixel beast with decent-sized pixel wells and an F/1.85 equivalent aperture (no, it doesn’t capture as much light as an F/1.8 on a DSLR, but it’s still good). The ultrawide one, also shared, is 12 megapixels and f/2.2 on a smaller sensor, so don’t expect mind-blowing image quality. The 6 Pro gets a 48-megapixel telephoto with less low light capability but a 4x equivalent zoom. They’re all stabilized and have laser-assisted autofocus.
Basically if you want the best quality in any situation, stick to the main camera, but if you’re sure about your light go ahead and fire up the wide or zoom. It sounds like all the new camera features work on all the cameras, but generally speaking the better the shot to start with, the better the final result.
The simplest tool to use is probably “face deblur.” How many times have you gotten the perfect shot but it’s not quite sharp? The Pixel Camera will automatically always capture multiple exposures (it’s part of the ordinary process of taking a picture now), and combines the main shot from one camera with a clear shot of the face captured with another. To do it, you just tap on a shot in your gallery that isn’t quite sharp and if there’s a “face deblur” option: boom.
OK, it’s definitely kind of weird to have only the face sharp in a blurry photo, as you can see in the sample, but look: do you want the picture or not? Thought so.
Also in the blur department are two new “motion modes.” One is an “action pan” that assists in capturing a moving subject like a passing car clearly, while blurring the background “creatively.” That means it applies a directed zoom blur instead of the handheld blur it would normally have, so it looks a little ‘shoppy, if you will, but it’s a fun option. The other one is a long exposure helper that adds blur to moving subjects while keeping the background clear. Helpful for doing something like headlight streaks without a tripod. These will be found in their own motion mode area in the camera app.
“Magic Eraser” is the most obviously “AI” thing here. If you take a picture and it’s great except someone just walked into the background or there’s a car parked in the scenic vista, it’ll help you zap those pesky real-world objects so you can forget they ever existed. Tap the tool and it’ll automatically highlight things you might want to remove, like distant people, cars, and according to the example they provided, even unsightly logs and other random features. Driftwood, though, on the beach…really? Fortunately you can pick which to throw in the memory hole, no pressure, or circle unrecognized objects and it will do its best to dispose of them.
“Speech Enhancement” isn’t for images, obviously, but when you’re in front camera mode you can opt to have the device tone down the ambient noise and focus on your voice. Basically Krisp by Google. If it works anywhere near as well you will probably want to use it all the time.
“Real Tone” is an interesting but potentially fraught feature that we’ll be looking into in more detail soon. Here’s how Google describes it: “We worked with a diverse set of expert image makers and photographers to tune our AWB [auto white balance], AE [auto exposure], and stray light algorithms to ensure that Google’s camera and imagery products work for everyone, of every skin tone.”
Basically they wanted to make sure that their “smart” camera’s core features don’t work better or look better on certain skin tones than others. This has happened many, many times before and it’s an insult and embarrassment when billion-dollar companies blow it over and over. Hopefully Real Tone works, but even if it does there is the fundamental question of whether it amounts to lightening or darkening someone’s skin in the photo — a sensitive matter for many people. “This feature cannot be turned off nor disabled,” Google says, so they must be confident. We’ll be testing this and talking with developers and photographers about the feature, so look for a deeper dive into this interesting but complex corner of the field.
It’s not entirely clear how many of these features will be available beyond the Pixel line of phones or when, but we’ll let you know what we find out.
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