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Facebook still full of groups trading fake reviews, says consumer group – TechCrunch

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Facebook has failed to clean up the brisk trade in fake product reviews taking place on its platform, an investigation by the consumer association Which? has found.

In June both Facebook and eBay were warned by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) they needed to do more to tackle the sale of fake product reviews. On eBay sellers were offering batches of five-star product reviews in exchange for cash, while Facebook’s platform was found hosting multiple groups were members solicited writers of fake reviews in exchange for free products or cash (or both).

A follow-up look at the two platforms by Which? has found a “significant improvement” in the number of eBay listings selling five-star reviews — with the group saying it found just one listing selling five-star reviews after the CMA’s intervention.

But little appears to have been done to prevent Facebook groups trading in fake reviews — with Which? finding dozens of Facebook groups that it said “continue to encourage incentivised reviews on a huge scale”.

Here’s a sample ad we found doing a ten-second search of Facebook groups… (one of a few we saw that specify they’re after US reviewers)

Which? says it found more than 55,000 new posts across just nine Facebook groups trading fake reviews in July, which it said were generating hundreds “or even thousands” of posts per day.

It points out the true figure is likely to be higher because Facebook caps the number of posts it quantifies at 10,000 (and three of the ten groups had hit that ceiling).

Which? also found Facebook groups trading fake reviews that had sharply increased their membership over a 30-day period, adding that it was “disconcertingly easy to find dozens of suspicious-looking groups in minutes”.

We also found a quick search of Facebook’s platform instantly serves a selection of groups soliciting product reviews…

Screenshot 2019 08 06 at 09.51.09

Which? says looked in detail at ten groups (it doesn’t name the groups), all of which contained the word ‘Amazon’ in their group name, finding that all of them had seen their membership rise over a 30-day period — with some seeing big spikes in members.

“One Facebook group tripled its membership over a 30-day period, while another (which was first started in April 2018) saw member numbers double to more than 5,000,” it writes. “One group had more than 10,000 members after 4,300 people joined it in a month — a 75% increase, despite the group existing since April 2017.”

Which? speculates that the surge in Facebook group members could be a direct result of eBay cracking down on fake reviews sellers on its own platform.

“In total, the 10 [Facebook] groups had a staggering 105,669 members on 1 August, compared with a membership of 85,647 just 30 days prior to that — representing an increase of nearly 19%,” it adds.

Across the ten groups it says there were more than 3,500 new posts promoting inventivised reviews in a single day. Which? also notes that Facebook’s algorithm regularly recommended similar groups to those that appeared to be trading in fake reviews — on the ‘suggested for you’ page.

It also says it found admins of groups it joined listing alternative groups to join in case the original is shut down.

Commenting in a statement, Natalie Hitchins, Which?’s head of products and services, said: ‘Our latest findings demonstrate that Facebook has systematically failed to take action while its platform continues to be plagued with fake review groups generating thousands of posts a day.

“It is deeply concerning that the company continues to leave customers exposed to poor-quality or unsafe products boosted by misleading and disingenuous reviews. Facebook must immediately take steps to not only address the groups that are reported to it, but also proactively identify and shut down other groups, and put measures in place to prevent more from appearing in the future.”

“The CMA must now consider enforcement action to ensure that more is being done to protect people from being misled online. Which? will be monitoring the situation closely and piling on the pressure to banish these fake review groups,” she added.

Responding to Which?‘s findings in a statement, CMA senior director George Lusty said: “It is unacceptable that Facebook groups promoting fake reviews seem to be reappearing. Facebook must take effective steps to deal with this problem by quickly removing the material and stop it from resurfacing.”

“This is just the start – we’ll be doing more to tackle fake and misleading online reviews,” he added. “Lots of us rely on reviews when shopping online to decide what to buy. It is important that people are able to trust they are genuine, rather than something someone has been paid to write.”

In a statement Facebook claimed it has removed 9 out of ten of the groups Which? reported to it and claimed to be “investigating the remaining group”.

“We don’t allow people to use Facebook to facilitate or encourage false reviews,” it added. “We continue to improve our tools to proactively prevent this kind of abuse, including investing in technology and increasing the size of our safety and security team to 30,000.”

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Facebook’s latest experimental app BARS is made for amateur rappers

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NPE Team, Facebook’s internal group for experimental apps, has released a new product called BARS. The social media platform is similar to TikTok, but with a niche userbase: amateur rappers. With BARS, anyone can create rap songs using tools like beats, autotune, and more, then share the content with others.

According to the app’s description, BARS will enable users to create ‘high-quality rap in a fun and easy way.’ The app doesn’t require formal experience in the genre, the NPE Team explains, instead providing the tools users need to create their content and share it with listeners.

The app includes both audio and video effects, enabling users to record themselves performing their content. Users can create their own lyrics and pair them with beats provided by BARS; the app includes a ‘rhyming dictionary’ to help users craft their perfect song.

In addition, BARS features a Challenge Mode for freestyling based on the automatically suggested word cues, adding an element of gamification while giving users a way to showcase their skills. As is the nature of these short-form video services, users are limited to videos up to one minute in length.

The videos can be saved to the user’s camera roll for distribution on other platforms. Whether such a niche product will find a solid userbase in a market packed with TikTok-like apps remains to be seen. BARS is in closed beta at this point; iPhone users can download the app now to reserve their username and get put on the waitlist for access.

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Huawei Mate X2 vs Galaxy Z Fold2: Head-to-head comparison

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You’d have come to realize by now that foldable smartphones come for a premium. They are a luxury not meant for everyone. That said, the market of foldable phones is fiercely poised with Huawei introducing its third-generation handset in the Mate X2 that delivers a different, sleeker form factor than its predecessor. This new device unfolds an expensive rivalry by knocking at the door of Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 which, after a head start of five odd months, finally has a competitor.

Galaxy Z Fold2 is not ancient just yet. It is fresh and has the mettle to take on what Mate X2 has to throw at it. Arguably, Samsung’s defining handset – that ironed out every glitch of its younger brother – was one of the finest smartphones of the pandemic year, and it wouldn’t be easy for Huawei to attain that spot. With the new launch, Huawei – if the manufacturer is able to retail Mate X2 outside of the home country – has a slight advantage with its new form factor and flagship processor powering its guts.

Samsung has been the vanguard of foldable phones, and to safeguard that image, it already has plans of introducing new devices in the Fold and Flip series this year. This will again leave Huawei playing catch up. So before the Koreans take lead, how is the Mate X2 pitted against the Galaxy Z Fold2, let’s have a quick look.

Fold and display

Huawei has succumbed to the more appreciated inward folding design. After the outer display design in the previous iterations, the Chinese OEM has now introduced the Mate X2 with a book-like, inward folding mechanism that protects the screen effectively. Though the design is influenced by the Galaxy Z Fold2 you’d say, it is bigger and sleeker in comparison.

The hinge mechanism of both the phones has been meticulously worked, but initial reports suggest that Huawei has minimized the gap between the screens – better than Samsung – with its multi-dimensional hinge. The gap has been reduced in the Galaxy Z Fold2, from its predecessor, but somehow it is noticeable, which the Chinese manufacturer seems to have done better.

On the display front, Huawei Mate X2 features an inward-folding 8-inch OLED panel with 2480 x 2200 pixel resolution and 90Hz screen refresh rate, which is larger than the 7.6-inch flexible AMOLED display – with 2208 x 1768 pixels resolution and 120Hz refresh rate – of the Galaxy Z Fold2. Mate X2 gets a cover display, again similar to its competitor. This is a 6.45-inch OLED screen touting 2700 x 1160 resolution. When folded, the Samsung handset has a 6.2-inch 2260 x 816 pixels cover display.

Despite its larger screen size, Mate X2 is slimmer – weighing only 295 grams; the phone measures 4.4mm at its thinnest point, and 13.6mm when it’s folded. The Samsung device, on the other hand, is a tad lighter at 282 grams but it measures 6.9mm when unfolded, and 16.8 mm when closed.

Processing and power

Huawei Mate X2 is powered by in-house Kirin 9000 SoC. Based on the 5nm manufacturing process, the octa-core chipset is clocked at 3.13GHz and is comparable to the power and performance of Qualcomm and Samsung’s flagship processors – Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100 – respectively.

The Mate X2 is a clear winner with its flagship processor; the Galaxy Z Fold2 is only powered by the comparatively older Snapdragon 865 Plus, which nonetheless offers smooth performance despite very occasional software glitches while multitasking.

The Kirin 9000 in Mate X2 is paired to 8 gigs of RAM and 256 or 512 gigabytes of internal storage. Galaxy Z Fold2 on the other hand has mammoth 12GB of RAM which is accompanied by internal storage options akin to Huawei’s smartphone.

You’d expect a robust battery pack to power these interesting devices. Both are powered by the same – 4,500mAh capacity battery – they differ in their quick charging capabilities. The Galaxy Z Fold2 supports 25W fast and 11W wireless charging, the Mate X2 employs SuperCharge adapter to boost its battery with 55W fast charging.

Camera

Samsung has proven its worth in the mobile camera department, Huawei has not been far behind either. The latter has versatile camera setups and the aspect is carried down to the Mate X2 as well. Continuing its Leica partnership, the Chinese smartphone maker has equipped its foldable smartphone with Ultra Vision Leica quad-camera module comprising 50MP primary shooter with OIS and an f/1.9 lens.

Other three cameras in the setup on the back include 16MP ultra-wide camera, 12MP telephoto sensor with 3x optical zoom and OIS, and an 8MP lens capable of 10x optical zoom. Galaxy Z Fold2’s cameras are not as enticing. It has only a triple camera setup on the back that includes 12MP primary camera with an f/1.8 lens, 12MP ultra-wide, and another 12MP telephoto sensor with 2x optical zoom.

The phones differ significantly in their selfie cameras. The inner folding display of Mate X2 lacks a selfie camera, which you can find in its rival in form of a 10MP selfie camera. Both have a front camera on the outside – Mate X2 features 16MP sensor, while the Z Fold2 has a 10MP camera.

Software and global approach

Huawei has the upper hand in the design, camera, and power, but in addition to the hardware, the software will help you make the final decision. Mate X2 here is a slight disappointment out of the box. It runs the EMUI 11 based on Android 10, while the Galaxy Z Fold2 is upgraded to run Android 11-based One UI 3.0.

The bigger factor still is that Huawei’s foldable smartphone cannot use the Google app ecosystem – no Play Store, YouTube etc. It has to rely on Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) for the apps and other features. Galaxy Z Fold2 offers a complete Google ecosystem experience, which would play in its favor, especially in markets outside of China. Mate X2 will allow sideloading of prominent apps but it’s not going to be a full-proof solution to lure in many.

Adding to Huawei Mate X2’s limited future in international markets is the uncertainty of whether it will actually release globally. For now, the smartphone is available in China and there is no information on international reveal. The only hopeful fact is that Huawei sold its Mate Xs (second-gen foldable) in select overseas markets, which it would want to achieve again with the Mate X2.

Pricing

This is what the expensive rivalry actually comes down to. Both Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 and Huawei Mate X2 are very expensive devices, even though there is a stark difference in how much they will set you back. Samsung has priced the Galaxy Z Fold2 at $1,999 and comes in two – Mystic Black and Mystic Bronze – to choose from.

The Mate X2 however starts at a deal-breaking $2,780 (RMB 17,999). If you have the dosh to spend, the phone is available in Crystal Blue, Crystal Pink, White, and Black color options.

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Barack Obama and Springsteen team for Spotify podcast special

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Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama has teamed up to launch a podcast special called Renegades: Born in the USA for Spotify. The podcast will feature eight episodes, the first two of which were released this past Monday. The podcast will touch on a number of topics ranging from America’s future to fatherhood.

Renegades: Born in the USA is the latest project from the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions, which also has a deal with Netflix for several video projects. The new podcast saw its first two episodes drop on February 22, one titled “Outsiders: An Unlikely Friendship” and the other titled “American Skin: Race in the United States.”

The first episode involved Obama and Bruce Springsteen talking about their ‘unlikely friendship,’ while the second episode touches on the topic of racism. Both episodes include links to transcripts of the episodes for those who prefer to read them.

The first episode makes sense — Obama and Springsteen do, indeed, seem like an odd match for a podcast. Obama talks about this during Episode 1, explaining that, “In our own ways, Bruce and I have been on parallel journeys trying to understand this country that’s given us both so much.”

This isn’t the first podcast to result from Spotify’s deal with Higher Ground, which was struck in 2019. Listeners will be able to stream the next six episodes in the series over coming weeks — it’s unclear whether there will be a second season of the podcast.

You can stream the podcast on Spotify now.

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