Former president of Windows Steven Sinofsky thinks Microsoft’s approach to convincing mobile users to get Outlook for iOS is simply “crazy”.
Sinofsky, who left Microsoft in 2012, this week was attempting to setup his Office 365 account on a new iPhone, but was informed via a generic email from his former employer that syncing email had been put on hold to give him a chance to install Microsoft’s recommended iOS email app – the popular Outlook app.
Sinofsky was given two choices: install Outlook now and syncing could proceed immediately; or do nothing and continue with the default iOS Mail app, in which case syncing would restart “within a few hours”.
“Microsoft is recommending that you install Outlook for iOS to access your Office 365 work account,” Microsoft’s email explains.
“We’ve temporarily paused the syncing of your email, calendar, and contacts to other apps on this device to give you a chance to get Outlook. Its integrated calendar and access to Office files and company contacts helps you connect and stay organized from a single app.
“You can choose to get the Outlook app or continue using the built-in apps on your device. If no action is taken within a few hours, your email, calendar, and contacts will automatically begin to sync.”
News of Microsoft’s Outlook campaign sparked a range of reactions on Twitter, including, to Sinofksy’s bemusement, people attempting to explain to him that “it is for my own security and benefit”.
Michael Gartenberg, a former senior Apple marketing director, saw it differently: “One way to gain marketshare. Keep your users hostage.”
“This stuff makes me angry,” wrote Sinofsky. “No one who likes customers would do something like this.”
Tech media veteran Walt Mossberg described Microsoft’s tactic as “Outrageous”.
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Sinofsky’s run-in with the Outlook app came as Microsoft updated the app’s icon “to reflect how we bring email and calendar together with carefully crafted experiences that honor our Office heritage and welcome the future”.
The ex-Windows man, who now serves on the board of a venture-capital firm, noted: “No startup would do this. Unless it is a business social network.”
He added that the pause on syncing was likely a test at Microsoft and that he was “sure” Microsoft is using a dashboard to measure how well or poorly the tactic is working to boost Outlook installs, assuming that is Microsoft’s intent.
According to Sinofsky, the halted syncing process never resumed in a few hours as Microsoft claimed it would if he took no action. However, he was able to resume the process by removing the device from the Office 365 quarantine list, which is how Microsoft stopped the sync in the first place.
The Redmond company has a friendlier image these days, in part thanks to its embrace of Linux under CEO Satya Nadella, who has spent years convincing the world that Microsoft is not the embodiment of corporate evil.
Still, the company from time to time engages in hostile marketing tactics to achieve its goals, such as the infamous ‘Get Windows 10’ app in the early days of Windows 10.
Microsoft said when users connect their phone for the first time to an Office 365 work account using the native iOS or Android email app, they may see a message encouraging them to download the Outlook app, depending on their organization’s admin-controlled settings.
“We have been testing this message for over two years, beginning with Outlook.com, with the goal of creating awareness as we believe users get the best email experience when using the Outlook app,” a Microsoft spokesperson said.
Microsoft added that if users are not interested, they can simply click the ‘Continue using this email app’ option. If users take no action, their email will continue to sync to their current app.
“No one who likes customers would do something like this,” according to former Windows boss Steven Sinofsky.
Image: Steven Sinofsky/Twitter
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Facebook’s stock shrugs off bad-news deluge – TechCrunch
After social media company Snap reported earnings last week, the value of its cohort of public companies fell sharply.
Snap shed more than 20% of its value after telling investors that it expects a far smaller fourth quarter than the street anticipates. Privacy changes to technology platforms and weak advertiser demand thanks to supply-chain issues are likely to weigh on Snap’s Q4 top-line expectations.
Facebook stock fell around 5% on the Snap news on Friday.
And then Facebook had a difficult weekend of coverage, a period that flowed into a Monday-morning news dump concerning the company as dozens of media organizations began reporting on a trove of documents released by a whistleblower. Facebook is in the midst of what is perhaps its most damning reporting cycle to date, a bit of a high-water mark given the social company’s history of scandal.
This morning, however, shares of Facebook are essentially flat, trading up or down 0.2% to 0.3%. Investors are shrugging off the reporting, it appears.
It would be easy to make a somewhat cynical comment that public-market investors were more concerned about potentially lackluster business results than they are about, say, the company’s inability to handle misinformation and political manipulation in India. But a good chunk of today’s reporting deals with things that do matter in business terms, like Facebook’s slowly declining grip on younger users. So, what’s going on?
It may be that today’s reporting was priced into Facebook’s stock already; the company, worth just under $326 per share this morning, is far from its all-time high of $384.33 that it set earlier this year, indicating that it has already given up quite a lot of value.
But it may be most fair to say that Facebook investors are simply reacting to new disclosures — like Snap’s bad news — more than historical documents outlining longer-term issues. That would explain why Facebook fell Friday and is flattish today.
Regardless of why Facebook’s shares are holding steady this morning, any gains in the wake of an ocean of negative reporting based on the company’s own descriptions of its problems — leaked documents are powerful for that very reason — must feel like a win inside of Facebook’s halls.
Facebook reports earnings today after the bell.
Cameo buys fan merch platform Represent – TechCrunch
Celeb video site Cameo is making its first acquisition. The company will buy Represent, a marketing and merch company that helps celebrities and brands set up individualized online storefronts. It’s a natural fit for Cameo, which invites fans to pay celebrities of all stripes for short customized videos.
Represent counts Jennifer Lopez, Ed Sheeran, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey and Kendall Jenner among the members of its pool of partnered talent, so Cameo will be bringing those relationships into the fold through the acquisition.
The company is also bringing Represent’s leadership on board and the acquisition will double the size of Cameo’s team in Europe. Cameo did not disclose the terms of the deal.
Cameo says that its users won’t see changes right away, but in the future they might be able to purchase “gift bundles” that would pair a traditional Cameo video with related merch. The company also hopes that weaving merch into its revenue streams will boost the fundraising efforts that many on-platform celebrities do to raise money for nonprofits.
Most of Cameo’s users visit the celeb video site to procure gifts for friends and loved ones to celebrate birthdays and other occasions. The company said it facilitated more than 1.3 million videos last year, with the company’s top 150 figures earning north of $100,000.
The company has also added a few new products, including Cameo Calls — short one-on-one video calls with celebrities — and Fan Clubs, sort of a VIP section of the site that helps dedicated fans stay in the loop on the talent they follow.
Cameo has raised money from a number of traditional sources like Google Ventures and SoftBank, but also from celebrity investors like Snoop Dogg and Tony Hawk. In March, Cameo raised $100 million Series C, bringing the company’s valuation to upward of $1 billion.
Internal Facebook documents highlight its moderation and misinformation issues – TechCrunch
The Facebook Papers, a vast trove of documents supplied by whistleblower Frances Haugen to a consortium of news organizations has been released. The reporting, by Reuters, Bloomberg, The Washington Post and others, paints a picture of a company that repeatedly sought to prioritize dominance and profit over user safety. This was, however, despite a large number of employees warning that the company’s focus on engagement put users at risk of real-world violence.
The Washington Post, for instance, claims that while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg played down reports that the site amplified hate speech in testimony to Congress, he was aware that the problem was far broader than publicly declared. Internal documents seen by the Post claim that the social network had removed less than five percent of hate speech, and that executives — including Zuckerberg — were well aware that Facebook was polarizing people. The claims have already been rebutted by Facebook, which says that the documents have been misrepresented.
Zuckerberg is also accused of squashing a plan to run a Spanish-language voter-registration drive in the US before the 2020 elections. He said that the plan may have appeared “partisan,” with WhatsApp staffers subsequently offering a watered-down version partnering with outside agencies. The CEO was also reportedly behind the decision not to clamp down on COVID-19 misinformation in the early stages of the pandemic as there may be a “material tradeoff with MSI [Meaningful Social Interaction — an internal Facebook metric] impact.” Facebook has refuted the claim, saying that the documents have been mischaracterized.
Reuters reported that Facebook has serially neglected a number of developing nations, allowing hate speech and extremism to flourish. That includes not hiring enough staffers who can speak the local language, appreciate the cultural context and otherwise effectively moderate. The result is that the company has unjustified faith in its automatic moderation systems which are ineffective in non-English speaking countries. Again, Facebook has refuted the accusation that it is neglecting its users in those territories.
One specific region that is singled out for concern is Myanmar, where Facebook has been held responsible for amplifying local tensions. A 2020 document suggests that the company’s automatic moderation system could not flag problematic terms in (local language) Burmese. (It should be noted that, two years previously, Facebook’s failure to properly act to prevent civil unrest in Myanmar was highlighted in a report from Business for Social Responsibility.)
Similarly, Facebook reportedly did not have the tools in place to detect hate speech in the Ethiopian languages of Oromo or Amharic. Facebook has said that it is working to expand its content moderation team and, in the last two years, has recruited Oromo, Amharic and Burmese speakers (as well as a number of other languages).
The New York Times, reports that Facebook’s internal research was well-aware that the Like and Share functions — core elements of how the platform work — had accelerated the spread of hate speech. A document, titled What Is Collateral Damage, says that Facebook’s failure to remedy these issues will see the company “actively (if not necessarily consciously) promoting these types of activities.” Facebook says that, again, these statements are based on incorrect premises, and that it would be illogical for the company to try and actively harm its users.
Bloomberg, meanwhile, has focused on the supposed collapse in Facebook’s engagement metrics. Young people, a key target market for advertisers, are spending less time on Facebook’s platform, with fewer teens opting to sign up. At the same time, the number of users may be artificially inflated in these age groups, with users choosing to create multiple accounts — “Finstas” — to separate their online personas to cater to different groups. Haugen alleges that Facebook “has misrepresented core metrics to investors and advertisers,” and that duplicate accounts are leading to “extensive fraud” against advertisers. Facebook says that it already notifies advertisers of the risk that purchases will reach duplicate accounts in its Help Center, and lists the issue in its SEC filings.
Over the weekend, Axios reported that Facebook’s Sir Nick Clegg warned that the site should expect “more bad headlines” in the coming weeks. Between the material available in the Facebook Papers, another round of Frances Haugen’s testimony in the UK later today and rumors of more whistleblowers coming forward, it’s likely that Facebook will remain in the headlines for some time.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.
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