As Facebook colonized the rest of the web with its functionality in hopes of fueling user growth, it built aggressive integrations with partners that are coming under newfound scrutiny through a deeply reported New York Times investigation. Some of what Facebook did was sloppy or unsettling, including forgetting to shut down APIs when it cancelled its Instant Personalization feature for other sites in 2014, and how it used contact syncing to power friend recommendations.
But other moves aren’t as bad as they sound. Facebook did provide Spotify and Netflix the ability to access users messages, but only so people could send friends songs or movies via Facebook messages without leaving those apps. And Facebook did let Yahoo and Blackberry access people’s News Feeds, but to let users browse those feeds within social hub features inside those apps. These partners could only access data when users logged in and connected their Facebook accounts, and were only approved to use this data to provide Facebook-related functionality. That means Spotify at least wasn’t supposed to be rifling through everyone’s messages to find out what bands they talk about so it could build better curation algorithms, and there’s no evidence yet that it did.
Thankfully Facebook has ditched most of these integrations, as the dominance of iOS and Android have allowed it to build fewer, more standardized, and better safeguarded access points to its data. And it’s battened down the hatches in some ways, forcing users to shortcut from Spotify into the real Facebook Messenger rather than giving third-parties any special access to offer Facebook Messaging themselves.
The most glaring allegation Facebook hasn’t adequately responded to yet is that it used data from Amazon, Yahoo, and Huawei to improve friend suggestions through People You May Know — perhaps its creepiest feature. The company needs to accept the loss of growth hacking trade secrets and become much more transparent about how it makes so uncannily accurate recommendations of who to friend request — as Gizmodo’s Kashmir Hill has documented.
In some cases, Facebook has admitted to missteps, with its Director of Developer Platforms and Programs Konstantinos Papamiltiadis writing “we shouldn’t have left the APIs in place after we shut down instant personalization.”
In others, we’ll have decide where to draw the line between what was actually dangerous and what gives us the chills at first glance. You don’t ask permission from friends to read an email from them on a certain browser or device, so should you worry if they saw your Facebook status update on a Blackberry social hub feature instead of the traditional Facebook app? Well that depends on how the access is monitored and meted out.
The underlying question is whether we trust that Facebook and these other big tech companies actually abided by rules to oversee and not to overuse data. Facebook has done plenty wrong, and after repeatedly failing to be transparent or live up to its apologies, it doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. For that reason, I don’t want it giving any developer — even ones I normally trust like Spotify — access to sensitive data protected merely by their promise of good behavior despite financial incentives for misuse.
Facebook’s former chief security officer Alex Stamos tweeted that “allowing for 3rd party clients is the kind of pro-competition move we want to see from dominant platforms. For ex, making Gmail only accessible to Android and the Gmail app would be horrible. For the NY Times to try to scandalize this kind of integration is wrong.” But countered that by noting that “integrations that are sneaky or send secret data to servers controlled by others really is wrong.”
Even if Spotify and Netflix didn’t abuse the access Facebook provided, there’s always eventually a Cambridge Analytica. Tech companies have proven their word can’t necessarily be trusted. The best way to protect users is to properly lock down the platforms with ample vetting, limits, and oversight so there won’t be gray areas that require us to put our faith in the kindness of businesses.
Google winds down feature that put playable podcasts directly in search results • TechCrunch
Google confirmed it’s putting an end to a feature that allowed users to access playable podcasts directly from the Google Search results in favor of offering podcast recommendations. Officially launched in 2019, the feature surfaced podcasts when they matched a user’s query, including in those cases where a user specifically included the word “podcast” in their search terms. But a few weeks ago, some creators began noticing the podcast carousels had disappeared from Google Search results — and now the company is explaining why that’s the case.
The disappearance was first spotted by Podnews.net, which noted in January that searches for podcasts no longer returned any play buttons or links to Google Podcasts itself. When they tested the feature by searching for “history podcasts” they were only provided with a list of shows alongside links to podcast reviews, Apple Podcast pages, and other places to stream.
At the time, Google simply told the site the feature was working “as intended.”
But a new announcement in Google Podcasts Manager indicates the feature is officially being shut down as of February 13.
“Google Search will stop showing podcast carousels by February 13. As a result, clicks and impressions in How people find your show will drop to zero after that date,” the message states. Podcasters are also being instructed to download any historical data they want to keep in advance of this final closure.
Of course, as many podcasters already discovered, their metrics had already declined as the feature was being wound down.
To be fair, playable podcasts in search wasn’t a remarkably well-executed product as it didn’t offer a way to do much more than click to play an episode. On YouTube’s Podcasts vertical, by comparison, podcast creators can create an index to the various parts of an episode, allowing users to jump directly to the section they wanted to hear. Plus, users can watch a video of the podcast, if the creator chooses to film.
YouTube has also proven to be more popular than Google Podcasts and other competitors. In a 2022 market survey of podcast listeners, for example, YouTube came out ahead of Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts as users’ preferred podcast platform. Though many podcast market analysis reports don’t consider YouTube when comparing the popularity of various podcast apps, one recent report by Buzzsprout at least suggests that using web browser as a listening app had a very small market share of just 3.5%. And that share had barely increased over the years, despite Google’s indexing of shows.
Reached for comment, Google explained its decision to wind down playable podcasts in Search will allow it to focus on a new addition instead.
“Our existing podcast features will gradually be replaced with a new, single feature, What to Podcast,” a spokesperson told us. They noted the feature is currently live on mobile for English users in the U.S. “This feature provides detailed information about podcasts, links to listen to shows on different platforms, and links to podcasters’ own websites, where available,” the spokesperson added.
According to the help documentation, these recommendations will be personalized to the user if they’re signed into their Google account and will factor in things like the user’s past searches and browsing history, saved podcasts and other podcast preferences. The personalized results can be turned off, however, if the user wants more generic suggestions, Google says.
Roku partners with DoorDash to give users 6 months of free DashPass and shoppable ads • TechCrunch
Today, Roku and DoorDash announced a multi-year partnership in the U.S., Canada and Mexico to give Roku users six months of complimentary DashPass, as well as interactive shoppable ads for DoorDash businesses in the U.S.
Now, new and existing Roku members with linked streaming or smart home devices can get $0 delivery fees on DoorDash orders. DoorDash’s membership program also provides exclusive access to DashPass-only promotions and priority customer support on both DoorDash and the Caviar app, a delivery platform for higher-end restaurants that DoorDash acquired in 2019. After the free six-month trial ends for Roku customers, DashPass costs $9.99 per month.
Plus, for the first time, DoorDash merchants can buy interactive shoppable ads and place click-to-order offers within the ad, the companies claim. This is also the first time that restaurant advertisers can partner with both the streaming company and the food delivery platform to target, measure and attribute TV streaming ads on Roku, the companies added.
Once a user clicks on a TV ad offer, they are sent an SMS message or email directing them to the DoorDash app to redeem the promotion. For instance, if Roku customers see this Wendy’s ad (in the picture below), they get $5 off with any Wendy’s purchase of $15 or more. Wendy’s is the first restaurant brand to partner with DoorDash for this new Roku partnership. The offer ends on March 12.
“We are thrilled to partner with Roku on this unique partnership. While this offer unlocks DashPass benefits and perks for Roku users everywhere, it also provides our merchant partners with an opportunity to promote DoorDash offers through TV streaming. Consumers can conveniently and affordably get the best of their neighborhood delivered to their door, while brands can reach diners at the right time and drive instant conversion from the comfort of the living room,” Rob Edell, GM and head of Consumer Engagement at DoorDash, said in a statement.
The partnership was a smart move for both companies. According to Roku’s internal research, one in three Roku users orders take-out or food delivery weekly. Also, 36% of Roku users have an interest in shoppable components like scannable QR codes or text messages.
“Streaming and delivery just go together, which is why we’re making it easier than ever for Roku users to order their favorite food right from their TV,” Gidon Katz, president, Consumer Experience at Roku, said in a statement.
Roku and Walmart announced a similar partnership in June 2022, which allowed viewers to purchase Walmart items while streaming on Roku devices. The biggest difference is that Roku users can buy products directly on the screen instead of being redirected to Walmart.com.
Roku recently reached a new milestone, surpassing 70 million active accounts globally.
TikTok is crushing YouTube in annual study of kids’ and teens’ app usage • TechCrunch
For another year in a row, TikTok has found itself as the social app kids and teens are spending the most time using throughout the day, even outpacing YouTube. According to an ongoing annual review of kids’ and teens’ app usage and behavior globally, the younger demographic — minors ranging in ages from 4 through 18 — began to watch more TikTok than YouTube on an average daily basis starting in June 2020 and TikTok’s numbers have continued to grow ever since.
In June 2020, TikTok overtook YouTube for the first time, with kids watching an average of 82 minutes per day on TikTok versus an average of 75 minutes per day on YouTube, according to new data from parental control software maker Qustodio.
This past year, the gulf between the two widened, it said, as kids in 2022 saw their average daily use of TikTok climb to a whopping 107 minutes, or 60% longer than the time they spent watching video content on YouTube (67 minutes).
TikTok not only topped the average daily usage of other video apps, like Netflix (48 mins.) and Disney+ (40 mins.), it also came out ahead of other social apps, including Snapchat (72 mins.), Instagram (45 mins.), Facebook (20 mins.), Pinterest (16 mins.) and Twitter (10 mins.) among the under-18 crowd.
Meanwhile, as the U.S. grapples with TikTok bans across college campuses and in the government, the app’s addictive video content was viewed, on average, 113 minutes per day in this market, compared with 77 minutes per day on YouTube, 52 minutes for Netflix, 90 minutes on Snapchat, and 20 minutes on Pinterest.
There is still some good news for YouTube, though. The study found that the average daily time spent on YouTube was up by 20% year-over-year, to reach 67 minutes — the highest number since Qustodio began reporting on annual trends in 2019. YouTube also gained sizable global market share and mindshare last year, as 63% of kids worldwide were using the service in 2022. The report additionally broke down a few top markets in more detail, noting that 60% of U.S. kids watch YouTube, compared with 67% in the U.K., 73% in Spain, and 58% in Australia. The second most popular video service was Netflix, with 39% popularity among kids worldwide.
Overall, kids under 18 managed to increase their video content viewing by 18% in 2022, watching 45 minutes daily, on average, across long-form video services like YouTube, Netflix, Disney+, Prime Videos, and others.
Other winners for the year included Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which saw 7% and 10% gains in popularity, respectively — meaning if they were used at some point by these under-18 years. But in terms of average daily minutes spent, Prime Video dropped 15% year-over-year to 34 minutes. Disney+ declined by the same percentage, dropping from a 47-minute average daily to 40 minutes in 2022. Twitch also suffered last year with only 11% of under-18-year-olds tuning in compared with 16% in 2021.
TikTok’s growth among the younger demographic has forced big tech giants to combat the threat with short-form video of their own. YouTube Shorts is YouTube’s solution to the problem. Google this month reported Shorts crossed 50 billion daily views. Instagram, of course, has been cramming Reels into its experience — and receiving some backlash over the changes. Instagram head Adam Mosseri even admitted earlier this year, the platform has been pushing “too many videos” on users.
It’s not clear this shoehorning of Reels into Instagram has paid off with the younger crowd. In Qustodio’s analysis, the app fell out of the top 5 most popular social media apps in the U.S., U.K., and Australia with users under 18. It still ranked No. 5 globally, however, behind TikTok, Facebook (38% of kids used it globally!), Snapchat, and Pinterest.
Though the software firm chose to analyze Roblox among other video games, it’s worth also noting the game is a social network of sorts — and an extremely popular destination among kids worldwide. The gaming platform was popular with 59% of kids globally, and average daily time spent grew 4% year-over-year to 180 minutes. That’s larger than any other games, including the No. 2 game Minecraft (up 37% to 48 mins.), Clash Royale, Brawl Stars, Clash of Clans and What Would You Choose?
Qustodio’s full report digs into other app trends as well, including Twitter’s 7% growth in popularity worldwide, which also led to it appearing in the list of most-blocked apps by parents in 2022 for the first time. It also delved into educational app usage where Google Classroom ruled on school devices, and Duolingo remained a top app on personal devices. And it looked at communication, where WhatsApp and Discord edged out Messages as the most popular way to chat with friends, though Zoom saw more minutes spent daily.
While the report’s data is limited to the app usage Quostido tracks on its own platform, it’s a sizable group that includes over 400,000 global families with children in the Gen Z and/or Gen Alpha demographic. It additionally sureveyed 1,617 parents directly to ask them about how they manage their children’s access to technology.
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