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Privacy Lapses Could Be Part of Google, Facebook Antitrust Cases in the US

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Antitrust authorities probing Facebook and Alphabet’s Google have struggled with scrutinising companies whose products are popular and free. Now they may have a solution: Use privacy as a test. As the US Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission, Congress and the states investigate whether Internet companies are flouting antitrust laws, academics and even some regulators are pushing to go beyond the traditional focus on price as a determinant of harm. Enforcers, they say, should also consider privacy lapses as a proxy for anti-competitive behaviour.

Their legal reasoning goes like this: Monopolists generally stop innovating, let product quality slip and treat customers poorly, knowing no competitor has the ability to grab market share. Repeated privacy lapses can be a sign that a company — Facebook is often cited as a prime example — has let product quality and customer service slip, knowing its social-media dominance is unassailable.

Sen. Josh Hawley, the Republican senator from Missouri, buys this argument. Facebook, he said, has suffered few real consequences despite its shoddy record on protecting users’ privacy. Consumers have nowhere else to go to get the totality of what Facebook offers — a classic antitrust problem of degrading quality.

“One of the reasons data privacy concerns are so pressing is because these companies are monopoly size,” Hawley, a big-tech antagonist who sued Google when he was his state’s attorney general, told Bloomberg last week. “If we had a viable alternative to Facebook that wasn’t scooping up someone’s data, that wasn’t selling our information without telling us, then I would be less concerned.”

Hawley echoed a view that is gaining traction with federal and state antitrust enforcers, as well as the leaders of a congressional probe into big Internet platforms. One advantage of the privacy-erosion-is-antitrust theory is that no new laws are needed to enforce it.

Days after the Justice Department’s Google probe was revealed in June, for instance, its antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, linked the two issues, noting that quality can figure in antitrust analysis in addition to price and that “privacy can be an important dimension of quality.”

Delrahim noted that the 1998 case against Microsoft didn’t revolve around higher prices. Instead, the US alleged that the software company illegally maintained a monopoly over personal-computer operating systems by blocking manufacturers from installing a browser that competed with its own. Both browsers were free to consumers.

Including privacy in the investigations would expand the range of issues enforcers are known to be looking at, including Facebook’s past acquisitions and Google’s conduct in the digital advertising market. Facebook and Google declined to comment.

Rep. David Cicilline, the Rhode Island Democrat leading the House probe of the tech sector, referred in a hearing earlier in November to “the obvious cost to personal privacy that has resulted from consolidation in the digital marketplace.”

Privacy and competition have long been treated as distinct areas of the law. Google and Facebook have agreed to pay fines for privacy violations under consumer-protection statutes, but they have faced little antitrust action.

One reason is that federal courts have clung to the consumer-welfare standard and often demand evidence of higher prices before deciding cases in favour of enforcers. Just last year, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 for American Express Co. and against the US and 11 states alleging that cardholders were harmed when American Express prohibited merchants from steering customers to cards with lower fees. The majority’s rationale? There was no evidence that American Express’s policy harmed consumers by pushing up the price of credit-card transactions.

Now, Hawley, Delrahim and Cicilline are signalling a shift in the way the government thinks about antitrust enforcement, particularly in technology. State attorneys general are exploring similar ideas.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is leading the states’ Facebook probe, said the coalition will “use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions may have endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising.”

The public interest in the overlap is relatively new, said Dina Srinivasan, a former digital ad executive who has written that Facebook’s data practices could form the basis of an antitrust case.

“We’ve seen this momentum in many of those circles since the beginning of the year,” she said.

Srinivasan argued in a February article in the Berkeley Business Law Journal that consumers were able to rebuff Facebook’s tracking of users on third-party websites when the social media market was competitive. After the demise of rivals such as MySpace, Facebook expanded tracking to millions of websites to further its advertising business despite consumer pushback, she noted. A truly competitive market would swiftly punish such practices, Srinivasan wrote.

Not all legal experts agree that privacy violations could be part of any antitrust suit. A case that’s “based on a data privacy theory of harm is not in the cards,” said Jim Tierney, who oversaw tech-sector antitrust enforcement at the Justice Department from 2006 to 2016 and is now a partner at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliff, a law firm that counts Facebook as a client. Tierney said he doesn’t do any work for the company.

Others see a different problem. “Consumers seem just willing to give up the data,” said Sam Weinstein, a professor at Cardozo Law School. “If that’s what’s happening, it’s hard to see antitrust interceding.”

Some non-US jurisdictions have sought to twin privacy and antitrust, with mixed results. Germany’s competition authority, the Federal Cartel Office, in February ordered Facebook to overhaul how it tracks users off its site over allegations that the company used its dominance to force consumers to accept unfair terms. Facebook responded that the agency misapplied German law because the company faces “fierce competition.”

In August, however, a German court suspended the ruling, expressing “serious doubts about the legality” of the order. The agency is appealing.

© 2019 Bloomberg LP

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Best Practices for Designing Great Messaging Experiences on Messenger

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We recently reminded our community of the upcoming policy changes to the Messenger platform that will go into effect on March 4, 2020. These policy changes were designed to improve the messaging experience between people and businesses by driving timely and personally relevant conversations — prioritizing conversations started by people and related follow-up communications.

To help businesses best adapt to these new policy changes, here are some tips on the best practices to adopt when designing messenger experiences:

1. Respond quickly and set customer expectations on response times

People expect businesses to respond quickly and provide timely updates. We have found a strong correlation between responsiveness and successful business outcomes.>

2. Make it short and sweet

Make sure to communicate your key points succinctly and early on in your message. This aligns with people’s expectations for messaging as a channel and increases readability. Messages that are short and to the point can also be read clearly in message previews.

3. Leverage Messenger features to send high value messages outside the 24 hour standard messaging window

Successful businesses know the options available to send messages outside the standard messaging window and use them effectively.

  • Message tags – use tags to send personal, timely and important non-promotional messages. Businesses can use tags to send account updates, post purchase updates, confirmed event updates, and human agent responses.
  • One-Time Notification – allows a page to request a user to send one follow-up message after the 24-hour messaging window has ended. This can be used for cases such as back in stock alerts where a person has explicitly requested the business to send out a notification. Make sure that the message matches the topic the user agreed to receive the notification for and this message is fully communicated on the first attempt. You may also want to prompt people to interact with your notification in order to restart the standard messaging window.
  • Sponsored Messages – use sponsored messages for broadcast promotional updates to customers you’ve interacted with in Messenger. Sponsored messages support Facebook ads targeting and have built-in integrity controls to help us safeguard the user experience in Messenger.

4. Focus on customer value

Ensure your messages clearly communicate customer value – especially notifications sent outside the standard messaging window. Sending out low value messages makes it more likely that customers will tune out or block messages from your business altogether. Businesses using Messenger’s platform should consider adjusting push parameters for valuable messages that don’t require immediate action.

5. Provide audiences with options to choose from

Consider giving your audience additional control over the type of content they will receive via Messenger. For example, you may allow the user to select specific types of account alerts or post-purchase updates provided they comply with the Messenger platform policies.

We believe following these simple guidelines will help to ensure a businesses’ messaging efforts will be effective and drive outcomes, while providing customers with pleasant and valuable interaction experiences that encourage them to continue engaging with the business on Messenger.

Facebook Developers

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Two Billion Users — Connecting the World Privately

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We are excited to share that, as of today, WhatsApp supports more than 2 billion users around the world.

Mothers and fathers can reach their loved ones no matter where they are. Brothers and sisters can share moments that matter. Coworkers can collaborate, and businesses can grow by easily connecting with their customers.

Private conversations that once were only possible face-to-face can now take place across great distances through instant chats and video calling. There are so many significant and special moments that take place over WhatsApp and we are humbled and honored to reach this milestone.

We know that the more we connect, the more we have to protect. As we conduct more of our lives online, protecting our conversations is more important than ever.

That is why every private message sent using WhatsApp is secured with end-to-end encryption by default. Strong encryption acts like an unbreakable digital lock that keeps the information you send over WhatsApp secure, helping protect you from hackers and criminals. Messages are only kept on your phone, and no one in between can read your messages or listen to your calls, not even us. Your private conversations stay between you.

Strong encryption is a necessity in modern life. We will not compromise on security because that would make people less safe. For even more protection, we work with top security experts, employ industry leading technology to stop misuse as well as provide controls and ways to report issues — without sacrificing privacy.

WhatsApp started with the goal of creating a service that is simple, reliable and private for people to use. Today we remain as committed as when we started, to help connect the world privately and to protect the personal communication of 2 billion users all over the world.

The post Two Billion Users — Connecting the World Privately appeared first on About Facebook.

Facebook Newsroom

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Facebook, Instagram and YouTube: Government forcing companies to protect you online

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Although many of the details have still to be confirmed, it’s likely the new rules will apply to Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Snapchat, and Instagram

We often talk about the risks you might find online and whether social media companies need to do more to make sure you don’t come across inappropriate content.

Well, now media regulator Ofcom is getting new powers, to make sure companies protect both adults and children from harmful content online.

The media regulator makes sure everyone in media, including the BBC, is keeping to the rules.

Harmful content refers to things like violence, terrorism, cyber-bullying and child abuse.

The new rules will likely apply to Facebook – who also own Instagram and WhatsApp – Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok, and will include things like comments, forums and video-sharing.

Platforms will need to ensure that illegal content is removed quickly, and may also have to “minimise the risks” of it appearing at all.

These plans have been talked about for a while now.

The idea of new rules to tackle ‘online harms’ was originally set out by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in May 2018.

The government has now decided to give Ofcom these new powers following research called the ‘Online Harms consultation’, carried out in the UK in 2019.

Plans allowing Ofcom to take control of social media were first spoken of in August last year.

The government will officially announce these new powers for Ofcom on Wednesday 12 February.

But we won’t know right away exactly what new rules will be introduced, or what will happen to tech or social media companies who break the new rules.

Children’s charity the NSPCC has welcomed the news. It says trusting companies to keep children safe online has failed.

“Too many times social media companies have said: ‘We don’t like the idea of children being abused on our sites, we’ll do something, leave it to us,'” said chief executive Peter Wanless.

“Thirteen self-regulatory attempts to keep children safe online have failed.

To enjoy the CBBC Newsround website at its best you will need to have JavaScript turned on.

Back in Feb 2018 YouTube said they were “very sorry” after Newsround found several videos not suitable for children on the YouTube Kids app

The UK government’s Digital Secretary, Baroness Nicky Morgan said: “There are many platforms who ideally would not have wanted regulation, but I think that’s changing.”

“I think they understand now that actually regulation is coming.”

In many countries, social media platforms are allowed to regulate themselves, as long as they stick to local laws on illegal material.

But some, including Germany and Australia, have introduced strict rules to force social media platforms do more to protect users online.

In Australia, social media companies have to pay big fines and bosses can even be sent to prison if they break the rules.

For more information and tips about staying safe online, go to BBC Own It, and find out how to make the internet a better place for all of us.

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