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Facebook is hated — and rich

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Come a little closer to your screen. That’s it. I want to tell you a secret: Facebook is the best money machine on the internet, and it’s not a close call.*

Facebook may be an indefensible company that normalizes invasive tracking of people for dollars. It’s a place where extremists have ricocheted hate around the world. It may be melting our brains. And it’s being sued or prodded by so many governments that I have lost count. You might hate it. I might hate it? But I almost can’t believe how many of us rely on Facebook, and how stupidly successful it is.

The company said Wednesday that its sales — nearly all of which come from the ads it sells on Facebook, on Instagram and its other apps — reached nearly $86 billion in 2020 and are growing rapidly. Each day, 2.6 billion people use at least one of Facebook’s apps, and the user numbers are rising.

This is a company that is embroiled in a different scandal each week and that people say they dislike, yet its products are used by billions of people, and businesses spent like crazy on ads during a pandemic to reach them.

And the really wild thing is that Facebook’s products cost the company almost nothing to make. The Instagram selfie of you being vaccinated, the post from Mom about a fundraiser, and your Facebook parenting group — those are the company’s products, and most of us are making them for free. It means that Facebook is very profitable.

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I’ve been writing about corporate finances for a long time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this combination of popularity, fast-growing sales, fat profits — and complete revulsion. “The gap between Facebook’s public reputation and its financial success has never been greater,” Kurt Wagner of Bloomberg wrote this past week.

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Historians, tell me if there’s a comparable company that was so reviled and yet so widely used and successful. (If you say the Gilded Age trusts like Standard Oil, I’d argue they make the point for Facebook’s critics who want the company broken up like the trusts of a century ago.)

Near the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, my colleagues wrote that strong companies like America’s technology superpowers would most likely become even stronger in this crisis. But as corporations’ 2020 financial returns roll in, it’s clear that we underestimated just how much the rich would get richer.

Apple, Netflix, Microsoft and other tech powers are making products that people and businesses are relying on to make it through a pandemic. And they are raking in money hand over fist.

I’m not sure how to feel about this. Yes, I’m grateful that companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google and others are helping us work, go to school, shop, and stay entertained and connected at a time like this. But it’s also hard to ignore the disconnect between their mountains of money and the shaky condition of most major economies in 2020 and the battered finances of many families.

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This is not a novel reflection about the gap between the haves and the have-nots in this pandemic. I’m just left again unsure how to answer an essential question: Is what’s good for Big Tech good for all of us?

*(OK, fine. Google search is perhaps the internet’s very best money machine. Feel free to argue with me!)

Being informed(-ish) isn’t good enough

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Thursday was Data Privacy Day. This fake holiday has become an opportunity for Facebook to remind people to review their privacy settings. It’s also an opportunity for me to remind you that this is a charade.

These nudges from Facebook as well as Apple’s data privacy labels and a California privacy law all reveal a fundamental flaw in how our data is treated in the United States.

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The mission is to inform us of what data companies are collecting on us and give us (some) measure of choice. But I don’t want being informed to be the final goal.

The focus on making data collection transparent(-ish) is why we have long privacy policies that give a choice between agreeing to anything a company wants to do and not using the service.

It’s why technology executives tout our ability to delete voice recordings from inside our homes — but don’t stop the data from being collected in the first place. It’s why an app used to open and close a garage door also collects information to target users with internet ads. (Yes, really.)

Washington Post columnist Geoffrey Fowler has written that we should reframe data privacy around a simple question: Why is so much of our information being collected in the first place?

The answer is, because companies can. When every company from Facebook to a maker of garage door openers is racing to collect as much data as possible, we can’t really opt out — unless we want to cut ourselves off from 21st-century life.

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So if Facebook reminds you to look at its 40,000 privacy settings, go for it. But I suggest you also remember Fowler’s question: Why is so much information being collected at all?

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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Facebook Owner Meta Launches New Platform, Safety Hub to Protect Women in India

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Meta (formerly Facebook) on Thursday announced a slew of steps to protect woman users on its platform, including the launch of StopNCII.org in India that aims to combat the spread of non-consensual intimate images (NCII).

Meta has also launched the Women’s Safety Hub, which will be available in Hindi and 11 other Indian languages, that will enable more women users in India to access information about tools and resources that can help them make the most of their social media experience, while staying safe online.

This initiative by Meta will ensure women do not face a language barrier in accessing information Karuna Nain, director (global safety policy) at Meta Platforms, told reporters here.

“Safety is an integral part of Meta’s commitment to building and offering a safe online experience across the platforms and over the years the company has introduced several industry leading initiatives to protect users online.

“Furthering our effort to bolster the safety of users, we are bringing in a number of initiatives to ensure online safety of women on our platforms,” she added.

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StopNCII.org is a platform that aims to combat the spread of non-consensual intimate images (NCII).

“It gives victims control. People can come to this platform proactively, hash their intimate videos and images, share their hashes back with the platform and participating companies,” Nain said.

She explained that the platform doesn’t receive any photos and videos, and instead what they get is the hash or unique digital fingerprint/unique identifier that tells the company that this is a known piece of content that is violating. “We can proactively keep a lookout for that content on our platforms and once it”s uploaded, our review team check what”s really going on and take appropriate action if it violates our policies,” she added.

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In partnership with UK Revenge Porn Helpline, StopNCII.org builds on Meta’s NCII Pilot, an emergency programme that allows potential victims to proactively hash their intimate images so they can”t be proliferated on its platforms.

The first-of-its-kind platform, has partnered with global organisations to support the victims of NCII. In India, the platform has partnered with organisations such as Social Media Matters, Centre for Social Research, and Red Dot Foundation.

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Nain added that the company is hopeful that this becomes an industrywide initiative, so that victims can just come to this one central place to get help and support and not have to go to each and every tech platform, one by one to get help and support.

Also, Bishakha Datta (executive editor of Point of View) and Jyoti Vadehra from Centre for Social Research are the first Indian members in Meta”s Global Women”s Safety Expert Advisors. The group comprises 12 other non-profit leaders, activists, and academic experts from different parts of the world and consults Meta in the development of new policies, products and programmes to better support women on its apps.

“We are confident that with our ever-growing safety measures, women will be able to enjoy a social experience which will enable them to learn, engage and grow without any challenges.

“India is an important market for us and bringing Bishakha and Jyoti onboard to our Women”s Safety Expert Advisory Group will go a long way in further enhancing our efforts to make our platforms safer for women in India,” Nain said.

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Facebook Adds New Trend Insights in Creator Studio, Which Could Help Shape Your Posting Strategy

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Facebook’s looking to provide more content insight within Creator Studio with the rollout of a new ‘Inspiration Hub’ element, which highlights trending content and hashtags within categories related to your business Page.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

As you can see in these screenshots, posted by social media expert Matt Navarra, when it becomes available to you, you’ll be able to access the new Inspiration Hub from the Home tab in Creator Studio.

At the right side of the screen, you can see the first of the new insights, with trending hashtags and videos from the last 24 hours, posted by Pages similar to yours, displayed above a ‘See more’ prompt.

When you tap through to the new hub, you’ll have a range of additional filters to check out trending content from across Facebook, including Page category, content type, region, and more.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

That could be hugely valuable in learning what Facebook users are responding to, and what people within your target market are engaging with in the app.

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The Hub also includes insights into trending hashtags, within your chosen timeframe, which may further assist in tapping into trending discussions.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

How valuable hashtags are on Facebook is still up for debate, but you’ll also note that you can filter the displayed results by platform, so you can additionally display Instagram hashtag trends as well, which could be very valuable in maximizing your reach.

Much of this type of info has been available within CrowdTangle, Facebook’s analytics platform for journalists, for some time, but not everyone can access CrowdTangle data, which could make this an even more valuable proposition for many marketers.

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Of course, overall performance really relates to your own creative, and thinking through the action that you want your audience to take when reading your posts. But in terms of detecting new content trends, including hashtag usage, caption length, videos versus image posts, and more, there’s a lot that could be gleaned from these tools and filters.

It’s a significant analytics addition – we’ve asked Facebook for more info on the rollout of the new option, and whether it’s already beyond test mode, etc. We’ll update this post if/when we hear back.

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