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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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Making Apps Easier to Access as Demand Surges

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As more people shelter and take to the web, simplifying their login experiences is proving helpful

As more people adapt to new public health and safety measures, they’re increasingly turning to apps for communication, connection and community — from text and video chat, to gaming and entertainment, to social good. We’re seeing spikes in usage across a wide range of interests and activities.

With this in mind, we think it’s important that app developers understand what they can do, today, to anticipate and help ease any friction users might experience as day-to-day needs continue to surge.

Over the last few months, we’ve seen above average usage of Facebook Login, which lets people use their Facebook account to login to numerous apps and sites. When Android features such as Custom Tabs and/or Express Login are used to open Facebook Login, people are able to connect to apps at higher rates.

We think there’s a strong signal that seamless login products like Facebook Login and its Android features are making it easier for people to quickly connect with their passions and interests at this time of increasing need.

And beyond what the data tells us, we’re anecdotally hearing this directly from developers too.

For example, the team at Wink says users are spending significantly longer times on its video chat app, and that Facebook Login is helping to boost its registration numbers:

“The biggest challenge now is that millions of people worldwide are forced to stay home, so online social connections are more important than ever. We’re seeing significant uptick in organic traffic to Wink from many countries, and users are spending significantly longer time on our app, to chat by voice and video with other users around the world. Facebook Login offers a lower friction registration process, and it’s helping to increase our registration completion rate.” – Andy Tian, CEO of Asia Innovations Group

Additionally, Mattel163, which has seen a spike in people playing UNO, thinks simplifying its login process is making it easier for groups to quickly connect to have some fun:

“There is a need to stay connected with one another, no matter how far apart. With the help of Facebook Login, Mattel163 has been able to provide social connectivity and joy through UNO. UNO players can join the game and share their special in-game moments on Facebook. Once in the game, players can add each other as friends, play together in a team-based 2V2 session, or set up a private game in Room Mode with friends. Recently, we provided free Room Mode to all players, where friends can meet, chat, customize rules, and goof off as if they were playing traditional UNO.” – Amy Huang, CEO of Mattel163

It’s clear apps are playing a critical role right now, helping people all over the world connect to their loved ones, interests and needs. If you’re a developer looking for ways to enable and help people at this time, evaluating your login experience may be a helpful place to start.

We have a collection of best practices, implementation examples and other resources for developers interested in implementing Facebook Login. Similarly, if you’d like to explore how to optimize this for Android users, make sure you’re using the updated Android SDK (which includes Custom Tabs for Android by default), and enable Express Login.

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How Startups are Pivoting During the Pandemic

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Businesses throughout the world are facing unprecedented obstacles because of COVID-19. And for startups, the economic implications of the pandemic will have long-lasting effects. While the challenges are still new, businesses are already reevaluating their goals, customer relationships, marketing tactics, and staffing models in order to weather the storm. Here’s how four startups are rethinking business strategies, supporting each other, and helping communities as they pave the way for the future.

In the UK, Collective Benefits, a Facebook Accelerator London alumni startup that provides big company benefits for the self-employed, has seen an uptick in demand for its services. “We’ve been overwhelmed with enquiries from the self-employed looking for protections and a safety net. They need financial support now,” says Kimberly Hurd, CRO. “To help, we accelerated the launch of our direct-to-consumer beta program to give freelancers direct access to our benefits and protections like sick pay. We ran a four-day, full-team sprint to open up to our waitlist and were completely overwhelmed by the response.”

In addition to providing more benefits to more people, Kimberly and her team have partnered with the UK Fintech and freelancer community to lobby for clearer and quicker income support for the self-employed. With the influx of work to be done, Kimberly has made a concerted effort to help her team focus on their health during this time. “We mandate breaks. It’s important to give time and space to reflect, think and focus on family and mental and physical health.”

While businesses like Kimberly’s are dealing with an increase in demand, other businesses are pivoting to focus on new business goals. “Don’t waste a crisis. Adapt quickly and take the opportunity to prepare for the future,” says Roger Do, CEO at QSearch, a Facebook Accelerator startup based in Singapore. QSearch offers a social listening dashboard where customers can easily create and test communication strategies on platforms like Facebook. “With the pandemic, we saw a need to bring forward some of our product development plans and accelerate the shift towards AI and machine learning. We were planning to gradually make that shift in two-years’ time, but to ensure our product is relevant and timely given the changing times, we’ve moved fast to accelerate this in just two months,” says Roger.

QSearch’s ability to quickly change its course is paying off. “As a result, we’ve seen a reduced cost of data analysis by 70% and our clients are also experiencing a higher ROI for their spend,” says Roger. Through the struggle, the one thing that Roger says helps is the support of the business community. “The Asian business community’s response has been inspiring to see. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, everyone in the startup ecosystem is chipping in to help and do our part.”

This support expands beyond Asia into other countries where startups are banding together to support one another. “Being in touch with other entrepreneurs during this hard time is helping me a lot,” says Felipe Miranda Costa, CEO and CTO at Cloudia—a Brazil-based company offering virtual assistants for modern health clinics. “In each conversation I have with a peer, there are always some good insights.”

During the pandemic, Felipe’s team has partnered up with Colab, a startup they met while participating in Hack Station, the Facebook Accelerator program in Sao Paulo. Together they’re working on a project called Brasil Sem Corona (Brazil without Corona) to help monitor the number of people infected by the virus throughout the country. Cloudia also created a chatbot to answer questions and concerns about COVID-19 that its customers can use with their patients.

Like Cloudia, many startups are working to provide helpful and accurate information about the pandemic. Facebook Accelerator alumni Turn.IO, a company committed to giving social impact organisations a platform to have conversations that improve lives, is doing just that. “With countries experiencing a massive need for direct communication about COVID-19, Turn.io developed a pro bono solution—HealhAlert,” says Lieze Langford, Business Manager at Turn.io. “HealthAlert disseminates accurate, timely information to the public via WhatsApp at population scale.”

The team is partnering with the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide information and support to any person using WhatsApp in the world. “Our strategy remains the same, but the execution has focused on faster roll-out and standardised content and user experiences so that global NGOs and governments can launch WhatsApp solutions within a week,” says Lieze. While these times are especially challenging for startups in all parts of the world, startups like these are finding ways to focus on new opportunities at hand that not only support their companies but the lives of those around them.

Looking for additional resources to keep your operation running smoothly? Check out our COVID-19 resource page for tips on running a business during economic downturns, social distancing and well-being. We’ve included a list of Facebook startup program alumni that have been identified as startups that are actively supporting COVID-19 response efforts. If you’re a startup that would like to be featured on our resource page or want to learn more about what our startup program alumni are doing to address COVID-19 challenges, please send a direct message to our Facebook for Startups page.

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Introducing Graph API v7.0 and Marketing API v7.0

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API Updates Provide Developers with Improved App Permissions and Campaign Controls
New Requirements Outlined for Mobile Developers and Facebook App Review

Today, we’re releasing Graph API v7.0 and Marketing API v7.0, along with v7.0 of the Mobile and Business SDKs. Together, these releases capture several timely updates, including new fields developers can use for the Instagram Hashtag Search API and Special Ad Categories and new permissions for page-related data. Additionally, we’re noting some important new requirements for mobile developers.

Lastly, we do have some API deprecations planned, however, we reduced the number in order to help minimize disruptions for our developer community during this challenging time. We have a lot of exciting updates to share with you, let’s dig in:

New Fields for Instagram Hashtag Search API & Special Ad Categories

We’re adding a timestamp field to the Instagram Hashtag Search API which will allow developers to get the creation time for any post accessible via this API. You can learn more about how to access this field in our v7.0 changelog.

We’re also making a minor, but important change to the special_ad_category field — we’re renaming it to special_ad_categories (note the change from singular to plural). Developers can specify a single special ad category (i.e., housing, employment, credit, or none) at the campaign-level. If your campaign does not need a special ad category, you can simply pass in an empty array, or [NONE] as the value.

New Permissions for Apps to Read/Write Page Data

We’re announcing six new permissions to replace manage_pages and publish_pages, all of which are outlined in our v7.0 changelog. Taken together, these new permissions will provide developers with more access and better control over page-related data. Availability of these new permissions will be released on a rolling basis, starting today through June 1, 2020.

Developers that already have access to manage_pages and publish_pages will be automatically migrated to the relevant, new permissions by June 1, 2020, and access will remain undisrupted.

Developers with no existing access to manage_pages or publish_pages should actively monitor their app dashboard for the new permissions as they begin rolling out today. By June 1, 2020, all developers will see the new permissions and are encouraged to apply. After this date, applications for manage_pages and publish_pages will be unavailable and no longer reviewed.

Finally, developers who have recently applied for access to manage_pages and publish_pages will continue to be reviewed, and if approved, will be automatically migrated to the relevant, new permissions.

New Deadlines & Requirements for Mobile Developers

If you’re an iOS developer, it’s important to point out Apple’s recent announcement, which states apps for iPhone or iPad must be built with the iOS 13 SDK or later and use Xcode 11 or later. The deadline for adhering to these new iOS requirements is June 30, 2020.

And if you’re an Android developer, note that Android SDK will now be using the Android X libraries. All apps leveraging the Facebook SDK v7.0 must migrate to Android X for continued use.

Important API Deprecations

As part of our ongoing commitment to privacy and security, we are removing access to a number of APIs. However, as a means of minimizing disruption for our developers in the current COVID-19 climate, we significantly reduced the number of APIs we are removing access to.

A list of endpoints that will be removed from the platform are listed in the v7.0 changelog, within their product or node sections. You should review this list to see if your app is impacted.

Also, please be aware of the upcoming version deprecations:

  • 7/26/2020 – Graph API v3.0 will no longer be available.

As always, if you have specific questions or concerns, there’s Facebook Developer Support. And if you haven’t already, please consider joining the Facebook Developer Community — it’s a tremendously helpful resource for communicating and connecting with Facebook developers all over the world.

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