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YouTube unveils stricter harassment policy

The company says it will now prohibit even ‘veiled or implied threats’

YouTube announced on Wednesday that it’s implementing a more stringent harassment policy in an effort to reduce the prevalence of hate speech and threats on its platform. 

The Google-owned video streaming giant said it will be removing videos that insult people based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, regardless of whether the victim is a private individual or well-known YouTube creator. 

YouTube said explicit threats, even those that are “veiled or implied,” will not be allowed on the site. Additionally, channels that exhibit a pattern of harassing behavior are subject to removal. 

“Channels that repeatedly brush up against our harassment policy will be suspended from the YouTube Partner Program (YPP), eliminating their ability to make money on YouTube,” the company said in a blog post. “We may also remove content from channels if they repeatedly harass someone. If this behavior continues, we’ll take more severe action including issuing strikes or terminating a channel altogether.” 

Cracking down on hateful comments

YouTube also said that almost all content creators now have the ability to review potentially harmful comments. 

“Beyond comments that we remove, we also empower creators to further shape the conversation on their channels and have a variety of tools that help,” YouTube said. “When we're not sure a comment violates our policies, but it seems potentially inappropriate, we give creators the option to review it before it's posted on their channel.” 

YouTube said channels that enabled the feature when it was first introduced saw a 75 percent reduction in user flags on comments. The feature is expected to be extended to most channels by the end of 2019. 

The enactment of a tougher harassment policy on YouTube comes a few months after conservative comedian Stephen Crowder repeatedly mocked a progressive journalist based on his homosexuality and Latino background. The company said at the time that Crowder didn’t technically violate YouTube’s policies, but later it responded to the matter by stripping Crowder of his ability to make money off of ads.

YouTube says its tougher position on harassment is intended to create a healthier environment for users to share their ideas and opinions.   

"Harassment hurts our community by making people less inclined to share their opinions and engage with each other," wrote Matt Halprin, YouTube's global head of trust and safety.   

YouTube announced on Wednesday that it’s implementing a more stringent harassment policy in an effort to reduce the prevalence of hate speech and threats o...
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Consumers are wary of social media’s impact on news

Over half of respondents to a poll said they’re more likely to see a ‘worse mix of news’ on social media sites

New data from the Pew Research Center indicates that U.S. consumers are wary of letting social media sites handle news coverage.

Pew said it conducted a poll of more than 5,000 consumers this past July and found that 62 percent of people believe social media has “too much control” over the selection of news that users see on their platforms. 

Roughly half of respondents said they believe people may be more likely to see problematic news -- such as bias and sensationalism -- as a result of social media sites dispersing news information. 

The top three concerns held by consumers regarding the issue were “one-sided news,” “inaccurate news,” and “censorship.” A majority of respondents (55 percent) said the role social media companies play in delivering the news on their sites results in a “worse mix of news.” 

In terms of political leanings, Republicans were found to be more skeptical about giving social sites control over the flow of news. A majority of Republicans (75 percent) believed social media has too much control, compared to 53 percent of Democrats. 

Facebook’s news initiative 

The report comes ahead of Facebook’s launch of a dedicated news tab featuring a selection of news from “high quality, trusted” sources. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the idea to carve out a dedicated space for news was derived from the success of Facebook Watch for video. 

"One of the things that's really worked over the last year or two is we've launched [Facebook Watch] for video, where people who weren't getting all the video they wanted in News Feed could go to a place that's a dedicated space to get video,” Zuckerberg said. “Because that has started to really grow quickly, we've decided that there really is an opportunity to do something like that with news as well."

"It's important to me that we help people get trustworthy news and find solutions that help journalists around the world do their important work," Zuckerberg wrote.

Facebook’s News Tab is rumored to be slated for a fall rollout. Last month, The Information published details from an internal Facebook memo, which provided a few guidelines for how the site will decide which stories are shown. 

The memo stated that human editors will be responsible for curating a “Top News” tab. Those editors will look at articles’ sourcing when deciding what to feature. Additionally, Facebook will reportedly “seek to promote the media outlet that first reported a particular story, and additionally prioritize stories broken by local news outlets.” 

New data from the Pew Research Center indicates that U.S. consumers are wary of letting social media sites handle news coverage.Pew said it conducted a...
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Kindness is key when consumers think about life partners

The positive personality trait beat out physical attractiveness

A new study conducted by researchers from Swansea University found that being kind is the best personality trait when it comes to finding a lifelong partner. 

Researchers enlisted over 2,700 college students from all over the world to theoretically “buy” the personality traits of their ideal partner choosing from eight possible attributes: 

  • Religiosity 

  • Secure finances 

  • Humor 

  • Creativity 

  • Attractiveness 

  • Kindness 

  • Desire for children 

  • Chastity 

Participants hailed from western countries like Norway, Australia, and the U.K., and Eastern countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The researchers noted that men and women from either side of the globe had different priorities when it came to their partners. 

While the women involved in the study spent more on financial security than their male counterparts, male participants spent more on physical attractiveness than female participants. However, kindness ultimately won out across the board, as the trait comprised between 22 and 26 percent of all participants’ “purchases” overall. 

The researchers believe that having cross-cultural studies of this nature is an effective way to really crack open consumers’ mindsets and provide insights into decision-making. 

“Looking at very different culture groups allows us to test the idea that some behaviours are human universals,” said researcher Dr. Andrew G. Thomas. “If men and women act in similar ways across the globe, then this adds weight to the idea that some behaviours develop in spite of culture rather than because of it.” 

Finances could be important down the line

Other recent studies have looked more deeply at how finances can make it or break it for some couples. 

While one recent from earlier this year found that almost half of consumers would end their relationship due to excessive spending habits, another found that overall financial compatibility could also be a deal breaker in relationships. 

"It's probably not a great idea to ask for someone's financial history on the first date," said credit card analyst Mike Cetera. "However, it's better to know if a potential partner has a history of bad financial decisions before the relationship goes too far, especially if you plan on making large purchases together or sharing bank accounts." 

A new study conducted by researchers from Swansea University found that being kind is the best personality trait when it comes to finding a lifelong partne...
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Instagram rolls out new anti-bullying features

The platform is warning users ahead of time if their post runs the risk of being flagged

Instagram has had its fill of hateful and mean comments. The social media platform rolled out two new anti-bullying tools on Tuesday, underscoring its fight with the mantra: “We are committed to leading the industry in the fight against online bullying, and we are rethinking the whole experience of Instagram to meet that commitment.”

Bullying is a much larger issue than some might think. At ConsumerAffairs, we’ve seen reports that 1 out of 3 parents worry about their children being cyber-bullied, as well as research from the Mayo Clinic that found children who are bullied are at an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and several other conditions when they become adults. Even Congress senses the rising tide of the issue and is trying to do its share via the Children and Media Research Advancement Act (CAMRA Act).

It’s apparent that Instagram has also done its homework on the effects of bullying, claiming its new tools “are grounded in a deep understanding of how people bully each other and how they respond to bullying on Instagram.” 

Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, made a point of protecting the sanctity of its teen base in particular. “This is especially crucial for teens since they are less likely to report online bullying even when they are the ones who experience it the most,” he said.

What Instagram users can expect

Up to bat first is an artificial intelligence-powered feature that notifies Instagram users when their comment runs the risk of being considered offensive before it’s posted. 

“This intervention gives people a chance to reflect and undo their comment and prevents the recipient from receiving the harmful comment notification,” Mosseri said. “From early tests of this feature, we have found that it encourages some people to undo their comment and share something less hurtful once they have had a chance to reflect.”

The second feature is called “Restrict,” and it works just like it sounds -- a user “Restricts” someone when they feel there are “unwanted interactions” from another user. After taking this step, comments from that person will only be visible to that person. 

“We wanted to create a feature that allows people to control their Instagram experience, without notifying someone who may be targeting them,” Mosseri explained.

“You can choose to make a restricted person’s comments visible to others by approving their comments. Restricted people won’t be able to see when you’re active on Instagram or when you’ve read their direct messages.”

Instagram has had its fill of hateful and mean comments. The social media platform rolled out two new anti-bullying tools on Tuesday, underscoring its figh...
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YouTube to pull thousands of videos from supremacist groups

However, the platform decided that anti-gay slurs don’t violate its policy

YouTube announced on Wednesday that it intends to take down videos that contain white supremacy concepts as part of its effort to crack down on extremist views and hate speech.

“Today, we’re taking another step in our hate speech policy by specifically prohibiting videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status,” the company said in a blog post.

Videos denying that well-documented violent incidents, like the Holocaust or the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, took place will also be banned under the policy.

“It’s our responsibility to protect [creativity and access to information], and prevent our platform from being used to incite hatred, harassment, discrimination and violence,” the company continued.

Controversial stance on anti-gay remarks

This week, YouTube also came forward with its response to journalist Carlos Maza’s account of being persistently harassed by rival content creator Steven Crowder. Maza, who presents a series called Strikethrough for Vox, posted a video compilation of Crowder insulting him in the form of his own “debunking” video response.

In the video, Crowder is heard imitating Maza’s accent and calling him a "lispy queer", a "gay Vox sprite" and a "gay Mexican".

After being contacted by Maza to weigh in on the issue, YouTube said an "in-depth review" it conducted over the course of several days found that the videos weren’t in violation of its policies.

"While we found language that was clearly hurtful, the videos as posted don't violate our policies," YouTube said in a statement.

“As an open platform, it’s crucial for us to allow everyone–from creators to journalists to late-night TV hosts–to express their opinions w/in the scope of our policies,” the company said on Twitter. “Opinions can be deeply offensive, but if they don’t violate our policies, they’ll remain on our site.”

Some have suggested that the speech contained in Crowder’s videos does violate YouTube’s policies, which prohibit videos that are “deliberately posted in order to humiliate someone” and videos in which someone “makes hurtful and negative personal comments about another person.”

YouTube announced on Wednesday that it intends to take down videos that contain white supremacy concepts as part of its effort to crack down on extremist v...
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Twitter testing ‘subscribe to conversation’ tool

The feature would let users follow a thread without liking it or commenting on it

Twitter, which has for the past year been striving to improve the user experience on its platform, has confirmed that it’s testing a new conversation “subscription” feature. The feature would enable users to follow a tweet thread without liking or replying to it.

After a prototype of the feature was spotted by a user in the Android version of the app, Twitter quickly confirmed that it was working on the tool with the goal of making Twitter more “conversational.”

To subscribe to a conversation, users will soon be able to simply click a button at the top right corner of a thread of interest. Users will then be notified when additional tweets are added to the thread. The company didn’t say when it would launch the feature.

Testing other features

In recent years, Twitter has made several efforts to try and facilitate “healthy” conversations on its platform. Earlier this month, the platform confirmed that it’s testing a way to let users hide and unhide replies to their tweet instead of blocking or muting them.

“With this feature, the person who started a conversation could choose to hide replies to their tweets. The hidden replies would be viewable by others through a menu option,” said Michelle Yasmeen Haq, a senior product manager at Twitter.

“We think the transparency of the hidden replies would allow the community to notice and call out situations where people use the feature to hide content they disagree with. We think this can balance the product experience between the original Tweeter and the audience.”

Last summer, Twitter announced that it would begin automatically demoting replies that its system deemed to be from so-called “troll” accounts as part of a larger effort to curb abuse on its site.

In February, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the company was “looking at” possibly launching a clarification tool that would let users edit their tweets within a five to 30-second window while still keeping the original version of the tweet publicly viewable.

At the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival recently, Twitter unveiled a new in-app camera function that lets users take and post photos and videos.

“We’ve really intentionally tried to make the images and footage that are captured on the ground at an event look different than other images and videos that you might attach to a tweet,” said Keith Coleman, Twitter’s head of consumer product.

Twitter, which has for the past year been striving to improve the user experience on its platform, has confirmed that it’s testing a new conversation “subs...
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Including your partner in social media posts can be better for your relationship

Researchers say doing so can counteract some potential negative outcomes

Social media can create a lot of stress in our day-to-day lives, but researchers from Carnegie Mellon University are exploring new ways for consumers to use these platforms to improve their relationships.

According to a recent study, consumers who include their partner in their social media posts are more likely to prevent any related negative consequences in their relationships.

“Prior research has shown that self-disclosure positively affects online relationships,” said Dr. Juwon Lee. “We wanted to explore whether that would remain the case in an online context, where users can share detailed information with large audiences -- a phenomenon that typically wouldn’t be possible in person.”

Importance of sharing

The researchers were curious to see how sharing personal information on social media affects relationships, so they conducted five studies to determine the positive and negative effects.

The researchers’ primary focus was on how intimacy and satisfaction affected relationships, and they were interested to see if the outcomes were different for familial relationships, romantic relationships, and friendships. Moreover, they wanted to see how relationships were either hindered or strengthened when someone posted about their relationship or themselves.

Friendships were affected by posting on social media, though there were some mixed responses from those in romantic relationships.

Researchers found that posting on social media can make partners feel isolated or left out, while also feeling unsatisfied in their relationships. However, the researchers say a simple fix could be including your partner in your next status update.

“When you include a significant other in your post, perhaps as confirming a relationship status online or posting a photo together, we found that it counters the negative effects of online disclosure, increasing the feelings of intimacy and satisfaction,” said researcher Omri Gillath. “This validates the relationship, and a partner likely would see their significant other’s post as caring and inclusive.”

The researchers hope that these findings give consumers a deeper understanding of how their social media posts are affecting their important, intimate relationships, and plan accordingly with any future posts.

“For many of us, sharing our feelings and daily experiences on social media is one of the main ways we stay in contact with friends and family,” said Dr. Lee. “Because of this cultural shift from face-to-face or phone conversations, it’s important that we understand how our usage of these technologies affect our personal relationships.”

Being mindful

While researchers have recently found that readiness for commitment is of the utmost importance when determining relationship success, social media use can also play a role. One team found that sending a friend request to a former romantic partner may cause issues in a current relationship.

"Although they may say, 'I trust you and it's OK,' they are not happy about it," said researcher Joyce Baptist. "They eventually perceive that their significant other is spending too much time connecting with others on social media rather than paying attention to their own partner."

Social media can create a lot of stress in our day-to-day lives, but researchers from Carnegie Mellon University are exploring new ways for consumers to us...
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Twitter testing ‘hide tweet’ feature

The platform is continuing its quest to improve the user experience

As part of its ongoing effort to facilitate healthy conversations on its platform, Twitter is experimenting with a new feature that lets original posters hide and unhide replies to their tweet instead of blocking or muting them.  

The new tool will be tested publicly “in the coming months,” said Michelle Yasmeen Haq, a senior product manager at Twitter. In a tweet thread, Yasmeen Haq provided a few more details on potential new feature:

“With this feature, the person who started a conversation could choose to hide replies to their tweets. The hidden replies would be viewable by others through a menu option,” she said.

“We think the transparency of the hidden replies would allow the community to notice and call out situations where people use the feature to hide content they disagree with. We think this can balance the product experience between the original Tweeter and the audience.”

Increasing moderation

Yasmeen Haq noted that Twitter users are already utilizing the site’s block, mute, and report features in an effort to keep their conversations “healthy.” However, these tools “don’t always address the issue,” she said.

“Block and mute only change the experience of the blocker, and report only works for the content that violates our policies,” she said in a Thursday tweet.

Over the past few years, Twitter has taken several steps to curb abuse on its site and improve the user experience. Last May, the micro-blogging platform announced that it would begin hiding replies that its system deemed to be from so-called “troll” accounts.

“The result is that people contributing to the healthy conversation will be more visible in conversations and search,” the company said in a blog post.

A few weeks ago, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the company was “looking at” possibly rolling out a clarification tool that would enable users to edit their tweets within a five to 30-second window while still keeping the original version of the tweet publicly viewable.

As part of its ongoing effort to facilitate healthy conversations on its platform, Twitter is experimenting with a new feature that lets original posters h...
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Relationship success could hinge on commitment readiness

Researchers suggest there are several factors that contribute to feeling ready for commitment

In the wake of Valentine’s Day, many coupled-up consumers are taking stock of their relationships, and a new study may have them thinking about the future.

According to researchers, the success -- or failure -- of a relationship is greatly affected by both partners’ readiness to commit to one another.

“Feeling ready leads to better relational outcomes and well-being,” said researcher Chris Agnew. “When a person feels more ready, this tends to amplify the effect of psychological commitment on relationship maintenance and stability.”

Feeling ready

The researchers used a number of studies and independent responses from consumers in relationships to gauge how readiness affects the success of relationships.

In the first study, over 400 adults were asked to respond to a survey based on their relationships so the researchers could gauge stability and each partner’s investment in their commitment. Another study involved over 200 college-aged students who were coupled up, all of whom were asked similar questions about their relationships. The researchers then followed up with them five months and seven months later to see if they stayed together and how the relationships were doing since the initial analysis.

The researchers found that in both cases, those who reported feelings of “readiness” during the survey were in healthier, more stable relationships, while the inverse was also true.

The researchers determined that those who felt ready to be committed were 25 percent less likely to break up with their partners than those who weren’t ready. However, despite how confident participants were in their partners, if the timing wasn’t right, the relationships ultimately failed.

The researchers note that there are many factors that could play a role in participants’ feelings of relationship readiness, all of which should be taken into consideration when consumers are thinking about starting a new relationship.

“People’s life history, relationship history, and personal preferences all play a role,” Agnew said. “One’s culture also transmits messages that may signal that one is more or less ready to commit.”

Things to consider

While many consumers turn to interest-specific dating apps to meet new love interests, those who are already in relationships have a lot to think about -- particularly where financial matters are concerned.

Not only is financial compatibility a large indicator of relational compatibility, but nearly half of consumers reported that they would end a relationship over spending concerns. Forty-six percent of couples surveyed said they would end a relationship if their partner spent money irresponsibly.

"It's probably not a great idea to ask for someone's financial history on the first date," said credit card analyst Mike Cetera. "However, it's better to know if a potential partner has a history of bad financial decisions before the relationship goes too far, especially if you plan on making large purchases together or sharing bank accounts."

In the wake of Valentine’s Day, many coupled-up consumers are taking stock of their relationships, and a new study may have them thinking about the future....
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Instagram adds ability to post to multiple accounts at the same time

The new feature is intended to make sharing easier for those managing multiple feeds

Instagram is giving users with multiple accounts the ability share the same post to any or all of their accounts simultaneously. The new “self-regram” function will become available to all iOS users, and some users may see it as an option now.

"We are rolling out this feature to provide a better experience for people who often post to multiple accounts," a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

To utilize the new feature, users can simply flip the toggle next to the accounts they want to publish to when they’re composing a post. The option is called “Post to Other Accounts,” and it’s located under the options to tag other users and location.

Previously, users had to either manually repost the content on another account or use a third-party repost app.

TechCrunch pointed out that one possible downside of the new feature is that it could cause users’ feeds to become somewhat monotonous, ”with different audiences of different accounts seeing the same shots and captions.”

Last year, Instagram gave Stories users the ability to regram public feed posts to their Story. The photo sharing platform is also testing an Android shortcut for importing photos from Google Photos.

“You have been able to share to feed from Google photos on Android before, but the ability to do so was hidden behind a couple of different steps, so we’re up-leveling that ability to make it easier,” the company said.

Instagram hasn’t said when (or if) its new “self-regram” feature will become available to Android users, nor has it provided a timeline for the completion of the feature’s rollout to iOS users.

Instagram is giving users with multiple accounts the ability share the same post to any or all of their accounts simultaneously. The new “self-regram” func...
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Facebook to give users 10 minutes to unsend a message

The feature is ‘coming soon’ in an update to Messenger

Facebook users will soon have 10 minutes to unsend a message on the social network’s Messenger app.

In the “coming soon” section of a note detailing its upcoming version of Facebook Messenger, the company said version 191.0 will let users “remove a message from a chat thread after it's been sent.”

"If you accidentally send the wrong photo, incorrect information, or message the wrong thread, you can easily correct it by removing the message within 10 minutes of sending it,” Facebook said.

Currently, Facebook only lets users delete messages on their end. Deleting a message doesn’t remove it from the recipient’s inbox. Facebook Messenger’s upcoming "unsend" feature is in addition to its "secret conversations" feature, which was unveiled two years ago and lets users set their messages to expire after a predetermined amount of time.

In April, reports surfaced that founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was using an early version of the feature that lets users retract messages.

“After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014, we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications,” Facebook told TechCrunch in April. “These included limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages in Messenger. We did so in full compliance with our legal obligations to preserve messages.”

More than a billion people worldwide use Messenger monthly, according to Facebook.

Facebook users will soon have 10 minutes to unsend a message on the social network’s Messenger app. In the “coming soon” section of a note detailing it...
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Rants on social media never really go away, new study finds

Negative messages have a way of lingering far longer than positive ones

As social media continues to dominate the technological landscape, there has been no shortage of news coverage on users’ controversial posts. Social media has become an indelible part of background checks for new jobs, and the effects of a simple post are more wide-reaching than ever.

Researchers at the University of California-Davis recently conducted a study that explores the longstanding effects of negative social media comments.

“It’s not just that negative chat has a long life,” said lead author Seth Frey. “But it has a longer effect on the original speaker. Negative people are really hurting themselves.”

More than just words

To see the ways comments on social media are affecting users, the researchers analyzed over 600,000 conversations from a popular online social game. Though the average age of those involved in the study was between eight and 12 years old, there were millions of users involved in the conversations that were happening in the game.

To gauge the positivity or negativity of the statements in the chats, the researchers utilized a toolkit typically used for Twitter posts that measures feelings and attitudes.

Perhaps the most significant finding from this study was that positive messages resonate for a far shorter period of time than negative messages. Moreover, negative messages have the power to affect everyone -- including the sender -- and typically tend to incite more negativity.

The researchers found that negative messages can linger throughout the chat for an average of eight minutes, while positive messages linger for just one minute.

Frey and the researchers believe social media users should take heed when posting online, as this study shows that what you write online is far more powerful than many users think when mindlessly chatting. It also shows that the words used online affect everyone -- including the person that sends them.

Frey also pointed out that the way we communicate online is often very different than how we communicate in face-to-face settings, and the findings from this study show how powerful our words online can really be.

“It’s really about isolating the effects that your angry and distasteful actions have on you in the future,” said Frey.

Wide-reaching effects of social media

While this study showed the power behind what we post on social media, there are many other ways social media affects our day-to-day lives.

Over the summer, CareerBuilder released results from a survey which found that 70 percent of employers use social media sites as part of the applicant screening process, while another seven percent were in the process of implementing it.

The findings from that survey also showed that nearly 60 percent of employers rejected candidates based on what they posted on social media, while 22 percent said they looked on candidates’ social media with the sole intention of finding a reason not to hire them.

From an interpersonal standpoint, a recent study found that many people feel excluded by their friends on social -- though it isn’t intentional.

The study found that social media can have an exclusionary effect on users based on the way they are basically forced to watch their friends (unintentionally) exclude them in certain online interactions.

“We’re using these technologies daily, and they’re pushing information to users about their networks, which is what the sites are designed to do, but in the end, there’s negative effects on people’s well-being,” said researcher Michael Stefanone.

As social media continues to dominate the technological landscape, there has been no shortage of news coverage on users’ controversial posts. Social media...
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Facebook Dating makes its debut

Privacy concerns won’t go away, but Facebook is doing everything it can to get ahead of any potential issues with the new app

Facebook has officially entered the dating world, albeit only in Colombia for the time being.

With one out of every three people dating online and a $1.3 billion online dating market, Facebook -- or any platform for that matter -- would have a tough time not taking advantage of the opportunity.

That, of course, raises the question: does Facebook want to be all things to all people?

It may well.

The social media platform may be drooling over the prospect of gaining more face time with Millennials who reportedly spend more than 10 hours a week using dating apps, not to mention getting back the ex-pats who left when Facebook’s privacy issues reared their ugly head earlier this year.

The company tries to straddle the fence between benefit for its users and benefit for its bottom line by pointing to research that says social media leads to social change. With scrutiny regarding privacy following Facebook everywhere it goes, a venture into online dating just adds more questionable breadcrumbs on that privacy path.

Facebook users are hesitant at best. More than half of Facebook users ages 18+ admit they’ve adjusted their privacy settings in the past year, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

“Facebook is pretty safe I think, but will a dating app make it sleazy?,” wrote one poster. Another chimed in with, “I am not entirely sure what I expect from this. Only good things… right?”

How Facebook’s dating app will function

Inside Facebook’s walls, its employees have purportedly been testing “Facebook Dating” for months. More like e-Harmony and Match.com, but less like Tinder, Facebook Dating is a simple I-like-you-and-you-like-me recipe, but with a couple of added flourishes.

For one, Facebook dating will allow users to create a separate “dating” profile. For another, the social media kingpin says the mobile version would offer a way for people attending events to make their profile visible in hopes of making a real-time connection.

If there’s any question that a Facebook dating app raises, it’s how to thwart stalking. Facebook is reportedly testing a dating feature in Colombia designed to curb the stalking element.

According to reports, the app’s developers have built in mechanisms that require users to tie messages to a piece of content which should cut down on trollers who have nothing more to offer than a cute pickup line, plus the added safety net that keeps users from following others who don’t respond in kind.

Facebook has officially entered the dating world, albeit only in Colombia for the time being.With one out of every three people dating online and a $1....
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Instagram rolled out new e-commerce tools to allow users to shop in the app

The app is making it even easier to buy the looks you see

Earlier this week, Instagram rolled out new e-commerce tools that allow users to shop directly in the app both through Stories and the Explore page.

Though the feature has been in the testing stages since June, users around the world will now be able to use it in real time. Brands can add one product sticker per Story, and with one tap, users can get price information and purchase it. On the Explore page, Instagram has cultivated a new shopping channel that will show users brands that they either follow or that Instagram thinks they’ll be interested in.

Before these new features, shopping on Instagram was a complicated process. Now, the social media app has really streamlined things.

“Shopping is more than an errand -- it’s also about what you discover along the way,” the company said in a statement. “For many people on Instagram, shopping is an entertaining way to get inspired and connect with new and interesting brands.”

Other shopping features

Instagram has rolled out other shopping features on the app in recent years. Brands have been able to tag individual items with their price, thus allowing users to tap on the item and head to the brand’s website for purchase. Instagram recently expanded these offerings to cover countries like the U.K. and Brazil.

According to Instagram, since the price tag feature launched, over 90 million accounts tap to see tags in shopping posts every month. The push to enter the e-commerce market could lead to new revenue opportunities for Instagram.

“Instagram is a place where you discover new things, brands, destinations for travel, and furniture,” said Jonah Berger, a marketing and social influence expert at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. “The challenge at the moment is that discovery is happening, but Instagram isn’t necessarily getting credit. They’re trying to make money off of something that’s already happening.”

Currently, brands don’t have to pay for these shopping tools, though that could change soon, according to a company spokesperson. Instagram could eventually move into a sponsored format.

Additionally, users are encouraged to shop and buy things based off of their family members, friends, and celebrities they follow on social media, which seems like a promising game plan for the app, according to experts.

“The whole phenomenon is very promising,” said Anindya Ghose, a professor at NYU Stern’s School of Business. “A number of companies have tried it so far with mixed results. The potential is much higher than what we’ve seen so far.”

Earlier this week, Instagram rolled out new e-commerce tools that allow users to shop directly in the app both through Stories and the Explore page.Tho...
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Instagram reportedly working on building a dedicated shopping app

The app would let users browse collections from businesses and make purchases from inside the app

Instagram is reportedly working on building a standalone shopping app that would allow users to browse and buy goods from merchants they follow directly, The Verge reported on Wednesday.

Citing “two people familiar with the matter,” the Verge said Instagram’s potential new e-commerce platform is currently being developed and could be called “IG Shopping.” However, few details are available at the moment and the app could be canceled prior to its launch.

Instagram declined to comment on the report.

Testing other shopping features

More than 25 million businesses already have accounts on the Facebook-owned platform, and four out of five Instagram users follow at least one business, the company said. For this reason, the sources said Instagram believes it’s "well-positioned to make a major expansion into e-commerce."

Last March, Instagram launched a shopping feature that lets companies tag posts with individual products enabling users to view sources and shop from photos. The company is currently testing an Instagram Stories feature that also allows users to buy goods from the Instagram app.

Earlier this year, Instagram gave some companies an electronic payment option which enabled their followers to book appointments for restaurants or salons without leaving the app.

Instagram is reportedly working on building a standalone shopping app that would allow users to browse and buy goods from merchants they follow directly, T...
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YouTube is a source of misinformation on plastic surgery

Researchers conducted the first study that evaluates videos on facial plastic surgery

In a new study done by Rutgers University, researchers evaluated YouTube selection of facial plastic surgery videos. The study shows that not only are most of the videos misleading to the public, but many are nothing more than marketing attempts posted by individuals not in the medical field.

Boris Paskhover, an assistant professor at Rutgers Medical School’s department of otolaryngology who specializes in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, was the lead author of the study, and worked with a team of medical students to evaluate over 240 YouTube videos. The videos had a combined 160 million views and were found after searching keywords including “ear surgery,” “rhinoplasty,” “nose job,” “lip fillers,” “dermal fillers,” “face fillers,” “face lift,” “lip augmentation,” and “blepharoplasty.”

Paskhover emphasized that millions of people turn to YouTube for answers, but consumers should be warned that the site does not include the potential risk factors or alternative options to surgery.

“Videos on facial plastic surgery may be mainly marketing campaigns and may not fully be intended as educational,” Paskhover said.

The study

When evaluating the videos, the researchers used DISCERN criteria, which is “a valid and reliable way of assessing the quality of written information on treatment choices for a health problem.” The criteria includes a discussion of non-surgical options, risks, and the validity of the information that’s presented. Additionally, the researchers noted if the people posting the videos were healthcare professionals or third parties.

The results showed that the majority of videos did not include qualified professionals who were explaining the procedure. In 94 of the videos evaluated, no medical professional was present at all. Contrastly, 72 videos included board-certified surgeons, provided valuable information, and came out with high DISCERN scores.

“However, even videos posted by legitimate board-certified surgeons may be marketing tools made to look like educational videos,” Paskhover said.

“Patients and physicians who use YouTube for educational purposes should be aware that these videos can present biased information, be unbalanced when evaluating risks versus benefits, and be unclear about the qualifications of the practitioner,” Paskhover continued. “YouTube is for marketing. The majority of the people who post these videos are trying to sell you something.”

YouTube’s plan to fight misinformation

Last month, YouTube rolled out a new plan to prevent users from uploading and spreading false information in times of crisis. The initiative was designed to help the public get accurate information.

The platform found that it would often become inundated with videos -- many of which were full of misinformation -- following an intense or explosive news cycle. Many people were just looking for the news, but the videos left them confused and misinformed.

“We’re making changes to put more authoritative content in front of people,” said Neal Mohan, YouTube’s chief product officer.

With the changes, YouTube’s recommendation engine has been altered to show news-related videos from reputable outlets to appear first.

“It’s very easy to quickly produce and upload low-quality videos spreading misinformation around a developing news event,” Mohan said.

In a new study done by Rutgers University, researchers evaluated YouTube selection of facial plastic surgery videos. The study shows that not only are most...
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A new Instagram hack locks users out of their accounts

Furious consumers say the platform isn’t giving them any real help

Instagram users have taken to Twitter to complain about a new hack on the social media site that locks them out of their accounts and then changes the username, image, and email address on the account.

Mashable first broke the news yesterday after spotting various tweets from Instagram users. There are “two of hundreds of Instagram users who have reported similar attacks since the beginning of the month,” Mashable reported. “According to data from analytics platform Talkwalker, there have been more than 5,000 tweets from 899 accounts mentioning Instagram hacks in just the last seven days.”

Instagram users are reporting that they can no longer sign into their accounts because the login details have changed. Some accounts have been deleted entirely, while others have the profile pictures changed to animated images from Disney or Pixar films. Other users had their email addresses changed to emails with Russia’s .ru domain.

Instagram’s response

The company addressed the issue on its blog yesterday, saying it will be conducting an investigation into the hack.

Many users have taken to Twitter to complain that the platform hasn’t done enough to help them during this process. Users’ login information has been changed, and so they can’t recover their accounts.

One user tweeted: “hey instagram -- another victim of account hacking here and I can’t find any way to report it! Absolutely livid and lack of official response is awful -- please help or release a statement on action for those affected! #instagramhacked”

“We are aware that some people are having difficulty access their Instagram accounts,” Instagram wrote in a blog post. The company also gave users directions on how to recover accounts and advised that people should cut off access to any suspicious third-party apps and activate two-step authentication.

An Instagram spokeswoman said in a statement that the company’s top priority is safety for users.

“When we become aware of an account that has been compromised, we shut off access to the account and the people who’ve been affected are put through a remediation process so they can reset their password and take other necessary steps to secure their account,” she said.

Instagram users have taken to Twitter to complain about a new hack on the social media site that locks them out of their accounts and then changes the user...
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Facebook and Instagram now shows users how many minutes they use the apps

The feature will be rolled out in the coming weeks

Both Facebook and Instagram will be rolling out a new feature in the U.S. in the coming weeks that will allow users to track how much time they’ve spent on the apps.

Users will be able to access minute-by-minute breakdowns of just how long they’ve been scrolling each day and in the last week by checking on “digital well-being screen time management dashboards.”

Additionally, users will have the option to set daily minute limits on the app, at which point the user will get a notification if they’ve exceeded the time limit they’ve set. However, going over the self-imposed timer won’t prevent users from continuing to scroll through the app.

“We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram -- any time should be positive and intentional,” said Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom. “Understanding how time online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution. I take that responsibility seriously.”

“It’s really important for people who use Instagram and Facebook that the time they spend with us is time well spent,” added Ameet Ranadive, Instagram’s Product Director of Well-Being. “There may be some trade-off with other metrics for the company and that’s a trade-off we’re willing to live with, because in the longer term, we think this is important to the community and we’re willing to invest in it.”

Smartphone addiction

This isn’t the first instance of a company allowing users to see just how much time they’re spending on their phones or on a certain platform. Apple recently unveiled new software that will allow users to monitor their iPhone use.

“We need to have tools and data to allow us to understand how we consume digital media,” said former Apple executive Tony Faddell. “We need to get finer grain language and start to understand that an iPhone is just a refrigerator, it’s not the addiction.”

The decision came after Apple received a great deal of backlash from investors regarding the addictive quality of its devices.

“According to [an] APA survey, 94 percent of parents have taken some action to manage their child’s technology use, but it is both unrealistic and a poor long-term business strategy to ask parents to fight this battle alone,” the shareholders wrote. “Imagine the goodwill Apple can generate with parents by partnering with them in this effort and with the next generation of customers by offering their parents more options to protect their health and well-being.”

Similarly, lawmakers are pushing for legislation for more research on technology’s impact kids. The bill -- entitled the Children and Media Research Advancement Act -- would spend $95 million that would include long-term studies over the next five years.

“What we feed the minds of children is as important as what we feed their bodies,” said Michael Rich, associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “We need to understand it as best we can. We need to use data to project forward what can create the healthiest and safest environment in which we are raising kids and interacting with each other.”

Both Facebook and Instagram will be rolling out a new feature in the U.S. in the coming weeks that will allow users to track how much time they’ve spent on...
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YouTube's website now supports vertical videos without black bars

The company rolled out the update on Friday

Last Friday, YouTube announced an update that allows users to stream vertical videos on their desktops with no black bars on the side. With the update, the video’s aspect ratio is automatically adjusted to fit a computer’s screen size. YouTube announced the update in its user forums.

The update had already hit mobile devices on both Android and iOS, swapping the black bars on the side on small videos for an expanded video when possible or white space in other cases.

“Historically, for non-widescreen videos (not 16:9) like vertical and square videos, we would show black bars alongside the video, making the video really small,” YouTube explained. “This update moves away from the need for black bars. We launched this update on mobile awhile back (both Android and iOS) so this change also aligns the desktop and mobile viewing experience.”

Videos that will be affected by the update are those in standard 16:9, vertical videos, and the older 4:3 format. The update is intended to make videos outside of the standard 16:9 aspect ratio easier to view, as well as allow YouTube to compete with other platforms that do not display black bars.

User response to the update

Though the update is still rather new, YouTube has received some backlash from users, as the response has been mostly unfavorable.

In the days following the update, users have complained that the videos are even smaller than before, parts of the video are cut off, and the quality of videos has decreased. One user wrote of her experience with a video that was larger than 640 x 480, but with the new update, the video was forced into a 640 x 480 screen. Parts of the video were allegedly cut off, and she noted poor quality.

“Some YouTube videos just don’t look good when the screen is big,” the user wrote. “Either give us a way to opt out of this, or fix it.”

Last Friday, YouTube announced an update that allows users to stream vertical videos on their desktops with no black bars on the side. With the update, the...
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Snapchat to shut down Snapcash on August 30

The peer-to-peer money transfer service never found the same success as platforms like Venmo and PayPal

Snapchat users who used the platform’s Snapcash feature to send and receive money from other users will have to find a new way to do so by the end of the next month.

The company recently confirmed to TechCrunch that it will be shutting down Snapcash on August 30. The news originally broke when code was discovered inside of Snapchat’s Android app that displayed a “Snapcash will no longer be available after %s [date]” message.

“Yes, we’re discontinuing the Snapcash feature as of August 30, 2018,” said a Snapchat spokesman when questioned about the code. “Snapcash was our first product created in partnership with another company -- Square. We’re thankful for all the Snapchatters who used Snapcash for the last four years and for Square’s partnership!”

Not taking off

Although Snapchat declined to comment on why it was shutting down Snapcash, TechCrunch notes that the service had been previously associated with payments made for erotic content. The publication notes that some Twitter users had taken to using the service to collect payments in exchange for sexually explicit online photos.

Perhaps more poignant, though, is that Snapcash has struggled to take off while competitors like Venmo and PayPal have continued to gain prominence amongst users. Although Snapchat itself has made several changes in the past year to add to the user experience, it seems that a peer-to-peer money transfer service is not in the company’s plans for the immediate future.

Snapchat users who used the platform’s Snapcash feature to send and receive money from other users will have to find a new way to do so by the end of the n...
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Instagram is testing a feature that would allow public accounts to remove followers

Instead of going private or blocking users, the new option would simply remove them

In an effort to give more control over followers lists, Instagram is in the testing stages of a new feature that would allow users to easily remove followers without a notification.

Users with public accounts can’t stop anyone from checking out the updates on their feeds. However, users with private accounts always have the option to remove followers. Before this new feature, public accounts either had to block the user and then unblock them (a practice known as “soft blocking), block them completely, or set their accounts to private.

However, where blocking users is concerned, the person on the receiving end currently knows when they are being blocked. With the new “remove follower” feature, the follower in question will have no way of knowing they’re being removed.

The feature is only in the testing phases -- and solely for Android users -- as of right now. For users eager to see if they’ve been chosen to test out this new feature, they can head to their followers list and look for an icon with three vertical dots to the far right of a user’s name. If you tap on the icon, it will prompt the user to remove the follower.

A string of updates

Instagram has been releasing similar updates recently in an effort to give users the utmost control and privacy over their accounts.

In May, the platform introduced the “Mute” feature. Users that mute a follower’s account no longer see the posts in their feed, but they can still visit the account profile to see everything they’ve missed. Similar to the new “remove follower” function, the user that has been muted is not notified of the decision, and the option is always available to users to “un-mute” said follower.

Earlier this month, Instagram also began testing a new “Do not Disturb” feature. The update was designed to give users more freedom over when they received notifications from the app, as well as its sister companies -- WhatsApp and Facebook. On Facebook, the “Do not Disturb” feature can be activated for a set period of time, or until the user decides to manually turn it off.

The overarching theme is that Instagram wants to give its users complete control over their accounts, and ensure that it’s not driving users away -- whether from too many notifications or harassment from fellow users.

In an effort to give more control over followers lists, Instagram is in the testing stages of a new feature that would allow users to easily remove followe...
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YouTube releases plan to fight back against misinformation videos

The video sharing platform is taking action against users trying to spread propaganda

In an effort to prevent users from uploading and spreading false information in times of crisis, YouTube is rolling out a new plan to help the public get accurate information.

Recently, whenever there’s a breaking news story, a slew of videos full of misinformation start circling around YouTube. While many individuals are just looking for the news, these misleading videos leave many misinformed and confused. However, the trend is set to end soon.

“We’re making changes to put more authoritative content in front of people,” said YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan.

Changes ahead

Moving forward, YouTube is striving to show users the importance of being an ally to news reporters. The platform has outlined a number of new investments and improvements that it will be implementing.

According to Mohan, YouTube’s recommendation engine has been altered to allow news-related videos from reputable outlets to appear first. He referenced a recent issue of conspiracy theory videos cropping up on the website following incidents like school shootings and other tragedies.

“It’s very easy to quickly produce and upload low-quality videos spreading misinformation around a developing news event,” Mohan said.

Mohan also noted that it’s harder to produce accurate videos in that short a timeframe. To combat this issue, YouTube will be releasing a “new information panel.” This will appear at the top of the search results and show developing news stories. Mohan said this new feature will “be activated in the immediate aftermath of the event.”

To make sure users are getting the most accurate information, YouTube’s new algorithm won’t show a video first. Instead, users will first be directed to a news article sourced by Google News. The results will also feature a banner informing users that the story is still in the developing stages and that information is “subject to change.”

The new feature is currently available in 17 countries, and Mohan said that YouTube is looking to expand, as the company hopes to “double that number” in the coming months.

Staying connected

As Google is YouTube’s parent company, these changes come as part of a three-year, $300 million Google News initiative. According to YouTube, $25 million will go to “innovation funding” grants for news organization, as well as for more support staff.

According to Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s Chief Business Officer, the efforts are designed to set up “long-term sustainable skills” for web videos. Additionally, Kyncl discussed YouTube’s new “working group” for executives and representatives of news outlets to “help shape the future of news on YouTube.”

In an effort to prevent users from uploading and spreading false information in times of crisis, YouTube is rolling out a new plan to help the public get a...
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Facebook to shut down three apps due to low usage

The company says it wants to streamline its app offerings

Facebook has announced that it’s shutting down three of its apps due to low usage. The apps that will be shut down include Hello, tbh, and Moves.

In a blog post, the company said it’s axing the apps to keep the company from getting stretched too thin.

“We regularly review our apps to assess which ones people value most,” Facebook said. “Sometimes this means closing an app and its accompanying APIs. We know some people are still using these apps and will be disappointed -- and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for their support. But we need to prioritize our work so we don’t spread ourselves too thin. And it’s only by trial and error that we’ll create great social experiences for people.”

Shutting down apps

Hello is an Android-only address book app, which Facebook launched in 2015. The app allowed users to combine their Facebook information with their phone’s contact information.

Tbh (which stands for the acronym “to be honest”) is an anonymous social media app aimed at high school students, which Facebook acquired just eight months ago. The app allowed teens to share opinions via anonymous polls, as well as give positive feedback to friends. It was downloaded over 5 million times in a matter of weeks after it was launched, but that momentum didn’t continue.

"[For tbh] it seems like after an initial burst of downloads, that usage was too low," Thomas Husson, vice president at research firm Forrester, told CNN Money.

The third app that will be shutting down is Moves, a fitness tracker which Facebook bought in 2014. Moves was relatively popular, having even once earned an “Editors Choice” recognition from Apple. Nonetheless, Facebook has still decided to shut down the app and its API at the end of July. Users have the option of downloading their data before the app closes.

Facebook will delete the user data from all three of these apps within 90 days.

Facebook has announced that it’s shutting down three of its apps due to low usage. The apps that will be shut down include Hello, tbh, and Moves.In a b...
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Instagram releases new soundtrack option for Stories

Users can now add music to their posts

Instagram just released an update to its app that allows users to add songs -- from artists like Bruno Mars, Dua Lipa, Calvin Harris, or Guns N’ Roses -- to their Stories. The launch comes following Facebook’s new relationship with all major record labels and is expected to make the photo sharing app even more popular.

The songs will be offered to users directly in the app and will play as background music to whatever picture or video they post to their Stories. Instagram also reported that new songs will be added to the app daily.

Much like the Sticker feature in Instagram Stories, adding music will work in much the same way. Users can search for any song, artist, or genre, and then drag and drop the song of their choice from the Music “sticker,” and it will then be added to their post.

The new Music feature will be available for both picture and video posts. Instagram also allows users to scan through the entire song to find the section they want to post in their Stories. Additionally, iOS users can switch to the Music shutter mode in the Stories camera to pick a song prior to taking a picture or video. When watching a Story that has a song, friends will be able to see the song’s title and artist and the song will play automatically.

“Now you can add a soundtrack to your story that fits any moment and helps you express how you’re feeling,” Instagram writes.

Instagram reported that artists with rights holders will be properly compensated for their music, though how those payments will work out is still unclear.

Success of Stories

This new update to Stories comes on the heels of a big announcement from Instagram.

Just last week, the company revealed that the app has one billion monthly users. And today, it announced that there are 400 million daily Instagram Story users -- up from 300 million in November and 250 million last year.

Instagram Stories have taken off recently, as the company continues to add new features, like SuperZoom, Highlights, and the ability to reshare public posts. The number of users utilizing Stories is currently growing six times faster than Snapchat’s whole app. Many believe Snapchat’s redesign -- which was received very poorly by users -- was partly the reason behind the company’s slowest growth rate ever last quarter.

As for Stories’ new Music feature, it is currently available in select countries -- most likely where the company was able to get licenses for songs -- and it is expected to roll out to more locations soon.

Instagram just released an update to its app that allows users to add songs -- from artists like Bruno Mars, Dua Lipa, Calvin Harris, or Guns N’ Roses -- t...
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Instagram releases new Lite app

The new slimmed down version of the app will soon be available in several countries

In an effort to bring Instagram to areas where mobile coverage is spotty or data is expensive, the social media company just released Instagram Lite -- a new version of the app that “takes up less space on your device, uses less data, and starts faster.”

The app appeared today in the Google Play App Store without any official statement from the company. However, the official description in the App Store describes the app as “small” so that users can save space on their phone and download it quickly.

According to TechCrunch, Instagram Lite takes up 1/55th of the space of the full app at just 573 KB compared to the 32-megabyte main app. The Lite version allows users to filter and post photos to their feeds, watch Stories, or browse the Explore page. However, it currently lacks the capabilities to share videos or Direct messages with friends.

Instagram has yet to report if the Lite app will contain ads, as advertisements typically tend to use a lot of data.

Benefits of the Lite app

In creating a version of the app that is better suited for emerging markets, Instagram is addressing a number of common issues consumers are facing overseas.

With the Lite app, users on older phones, phones with less storage, phones operating on slower network connections, or those who can’t afford big data packages can still utilize the features that one billion Instagram users have access to. Additionally, users won’t have to delete anything -- apps or photos -- off of their devices to download the Lite version, or spend tons of time waiting for it to download.

Instagram Lite was released in testing phases in Mexico this week. As the year progresses, the app will become available in more countries and expand to include both messaging and video posting/sharing.

“We are testing a new version of Instagram for Android that takes up less space on your device, uses less data, and starts faster,” the company said in a statement.

The Lite trend

Recently, many apps have adapted their software to produce new Lite versions.

Earlier this month, Uber launched Uber Lite in India and boasted about its five-megabyte size and ability to connect users to rides in areas with little to no reception. Similar to Instagram’s new Lite app, Uber Lite is available only for Android users. Upon release, Uber Lite was only available in India, though the company reported that it was working to expand it to other countries.

In 2015, Facebook launched a lite version of its app, and by 2017, boasted 200 million users. The success of that helped launch Messenger Lite this past April.

In an effort to bring Instagram to areas where mobile coverage is spotty or data is expensive, the social media company just released Instagram Lite -- a n...
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Twitter to require email, phone number for new users

The company is taking its fight against abuse and automated accounts a step further

As part of its ongoing effort to fight abuse and spam accounts, Twitter has announced that it will require new users to verify either an email address or a phone number when signing up for an account.

“This is an important change to defend against people who try to take advantage of our openness,” Twitter said in a blog post.

"We will be working closely with our Trust & Safety Council and other expert NGOs to ensure this change does not hurt someone in a high-risk environment where anonymity is important," the company added.

Twitter said it will be placing warning signs on suspicious accounts and conducting an audit of existing accounts to challenge any that are suspected to be spam. The change has already stopped more than 50,000 spam signups a day, Twitter said.

Purging problematic accounts

The site ramped up its efforts to crack down on suspicious activity after it was revealed that Russian troll accounts infiltrated and spread misinformation on social-media platforms during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Earlier this year, CEO Jack Dorsey admitted that Twitter hadn’t done enough to address hate speech and abuse on the platform.

“We didn’t fully predict or understand the real-world negative consequences,” Dorsey said in March. In May, Twitter announced it would begin hiding tweets that it believes to be from trolls.

“These issues are felt around the world, from elections to emergency events and high-profile public conversations,” Twitter said Tuesday. “As we have stated in recent announcements, the public health of the conversation on Twitter is a critical metric by which we will measure our success in these areas.”

Twitter also revealed that, rather than waiting for other users to flag problematic accounts, it is developing a machine learning algorithm that detects and removes them automatically. The company said that the system, "identified and challenged more than 9.9 million potentially spammy or automated accounts per week” during the month of May -- an increase from 3.2 million a week last September.

Last week, Twitter acquired Smyte, a company that specializes in spam and abuse issues. However, the platform’s fight against spam and abuse appears far from over.

"We know there's still a lot of work to be done," Twitter said. "Inauthentic accounts, spam and malicious automation disrupt everyone's experience on Twitter, and we will never be done with our efforts to identify and prevent attempts to manipulate conversations on our platform."

As part of its ongoing effort to fight abuse and spam accounts, Twitter has announced that it will require new users to verify either an email address or a...
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YouTube reveals new features to generate revenue and support content creators

The platform will now allow channels to create memberships and sell merchandise

YouTube announced at VidCon yesterday that it was working on new, innovative ways to generate revenue -- for both the company and content creators -- outside of traditional advertising. Now, YouTube is rolling out channel memberships, merchandise, a new marketing partnership with FameBit, and the launch of “Premieres.”

“YouTube is a vibrant community where everyone has a voice,” said Neal Mohan, YouTube’s chief product officer.

“Every day, creators use their voices to entertain, spur action, and bring about positive change. That’s why over the last year we’ve doubled down on building the products and tools that the creator community needs. Not only to thrive on YouTube, but to continue to develop the video platform of the future.”

Channel memberships

With this new feature, users pay $4.99 per month to get unique badges, new emojis, members-only posts in the Community tab, and access to custom perks offered by the creator. This includes amenities like extra videos, shoutouts, or exclusive livestreams. The feature will be available to channels with over 100,000 subscribers.

YouTube says it will monitor the perks creators offer to their members to ensure they meet guidelines, as well as to ensure creators can follow through with what’s being promised. However, the company won’t limit creators to what they want to offer their members.

“This tool set is fairly powerful, so we want to make sure that they don’t put products out there that they can’t really commit to,” said Rohit Dhawan, YouTube’s director of product management. “It’s kind of like a blank canvas...it’s us giving the creators the tools to customize their membership offering and provide whatever perks they feel are going to be valuable to the fans.”

Switching to Channel Memberships has proven to be beneficial to both creators and YouTube. Comedy creator Mike Falzone has seen his YouTube revenue triple since January when he started using memberships. Spanish gaming channel elrubiusOMG now has six times as many members. Swedish instrumental band Wintergatan is now making over 50 percent of revenue from Channel Memberships.

Overall, creators earning five figures a year is up 35 percent, and those earning six figures is up 40 percent, according to YouTube.


In addition to Channel Memberships, creators will also be able to sell to fans directly.

Creators with more than 10,000 subscribers will be able to sell t-shirts, hats, phone cases, or any of over 20 different merchandise items that are related to their channel.

The new program is affiliated with Teespring, which will retain a cut of the merchandise (which varies per item). Teespring will get a flat price per item, but the creator has free reign to mark up the items as much or as little as they’d like, and then keep the difference.

During testing, Teespring reported an 82 percent success rate for YouTubers using the merchandise service, and this led to an average of 25 percent more units being sold per user.

Additionally, creators who have been connected with brand sponsorships via FameBit will be able to use the merchandise tool to link fans to whatever products they’re selling.


Lastly, YouTube will be rolling out Premieres -- a new way to leverage the popularity of Live Videos without having to go live.

By using Premieres, creators can make a landing page on their channels to promote videos prior to their release. The page will have a chat feature, as live videos do, so creators can take advantage of Channel Membership perks even if they aren’t producing live content. The Premiere video will be added to a creator’s channel once it’s wrapped.

“We’re going to use our search and discovery platform to promote these,” said Kurt Wilms, group product manager. “Upcoming premieres can appear on the [YouTube] homepage and in recommended videos. They’re going to appear across all the dedicated discovery portions of our site, which is awesome.”

YouTube announced at VidCon yesterday that it was working on new, innovative ways to generate revenue -- for both the company and content creators -- outsi...
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Facebook expands fact-checking program to 14 new countries

The company will also start fact-checking photos and videos to help fight false news

Facebook announced on Thursday that it is expanding its third-party fact-checking program to an additional 14 countries to combat the spread of false news on its site.

In the wake of the 2016 election, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged that false news and misuse of the social network are among the site’s biggest problems. He vowed to make changes to the site to help stem the spread of misinformation.

Over the last two years, the company has implemented several strategies to fight false news, including removing fake accounts, hiring “news publisher specialists” to advise on content that appears on the platform, and relying on artificial intelligence to help fact-check more than a billion posts each day.

Now, Facebook says it is expanding its news fact-checking program to new countries, with “plans to scale to more countries by the end of the year.”

Reducing false news stories

Facebook’s third-party fact-checking program, which debuted last spring, relies on organizations like the Associated Press and Snopes to inform the site’s moderators of content that is misleading. Content that is not verified as accurate appears smaller, making it harder to read and easier to miss.

“We reduce the visual prominence of feed stories that are fact-checked false,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch earlier this year.

In a blog post announcing the expansion of its fact-checking program, Facebook proclaimed that “the effort will never be finished and we have a lot more to do,” but said that its fact-checking policies can reduce the spread of inaccurate news stories by "an average of 80%."

Fact-checking photos and videos

When Facebook first announced the program, it was only available in France. It is now expanding to an additional 14 countries. Facebook also announced that it will start fact-checking photos and videos in addition to text.

“This includes those that are manipulated (e.g. a video that is edited to show something that did not really happen) or taken out of context (e.g. a photo from a previous tragedy associated with a different, present-day conflict),” Facebook said in a statement.

The company also announced that it’s partnering with Schema, an open-source framework used for fact-checking. Facebook says the partnership “will make it easier for fact-checkers to share ratings with Facebook and help us respond faster, especially in times of crisis.”

Facebook announced on Thursday that it is expanding its third-party fact-checking program to an additional 14 countries to combat the spread of false news...
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Facebook Groups to test a subscription-based model

Access to exclusive content will run from $4.99 to $29.99 a month

Facebook announced on Thursday that it’s giving group administrators the option to charge a monthly subscription fee to users looking for exclusive, members-only content. Subscriptions will run from $4.99 up to to $29.99 a month.

The social network will test the subscription idea with a handful of its larger groups. Those range from those focused on getting parents of high schoolers in tune with the college application process to a meal-oriented group that posts meal plans and shopping lists.

"We hear from group admins that they’re looking for ways to help them earn money to deepen engagement with their members and continue to support their communities," said Facebook’s Director or Groups, Alex Deve.

"Subscription groups align with the experience that we made available to support video creators earlier this year, and is part of our overall approach to helping creators and leaders to financially support the work they do to engage their fans and communities," according to Deve.

The development of Facebook groups has been a major agenda item for the company. Just last year, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg went on record saying rather than continuing to rely on the platform’s mission to "make the world more open and connected," Facebook would set its sights on giving "people the power to build community and bring the world closer together," with Facebook Groups -- and their billion users -- playing a major role.

A commitment to content

Administrators of these exclusive groups have their work cut out for them if they want their members to feel good about ponying up a monthly fee.

A case-in-point is Sarah Mueller, whose Declutter My Home group was created to inspire others to declutter their homes. Before she knew it, there were 42,599 people in her group taking part in moving her notion forward.

Now, with her new subscription-based group called Organize My Home, Mueller is committed to galvanizing members to work together on projects, organizing group challenges, holding live Q&A sessions, and offering videos and tutorials to make the group’s $14.95 monthly fee worth its while.

Free groups aren’t going anywhere

Until the subscription program takes off or proves itself a flop, Facebook’s free groups will still be around.

"As we learn from this pilot and understand how group members feel about subscription groups, we’ll continue to improve this experience to help admins offer more to their members and continue to invest in their communities," Facebook’s Deve concluded in the company’s blog post.

Facebook announced on Thursday that it’s giving group administrators the option to charge a monthly subscription fee to users looking for exclusive, member...
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Instagram introduces new long-form video feature

The platform is aiming to dethrone competitors like YouTube

Instagram, a Facebook-owned social media platform, announced Wednesday that it will be rolling out a brand new long-form, vertical video feature. 

Called IGTV, the videos will currently live within the Instagram app until it gets its own standalone app in the coming days.

Though all Instagram users will be able to post to IGTV, the more followers you have, the longer the video you can make. Instagrammers with over 10,000 followers can post videos up to one hour long, which is why the company is targeting celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Selena Gomez to publish content on IGTV.

Users with under 10,000 followers can post videos up to 10 minutes long. Previously, all users -- regardless of follower count -- were given 60 second Instagram videos.

As it stands right now, all IGTV videos will be pre-recorded, though a live feature is something the company could develop down the road.

The future of IGTV

Instagram has big plans for IGTV, many of which are contingent on how the feature fares with the younger generation. Though the platform currently plans to have two standalone apps, that could very well change should teens adopt it as their go-to social media platform.

Additionally, users of IGTV can expect the hub to be ad-free -- for now.

“Ads will not be part of IGTV at launch, but we’ll be exploring and test ways to help creators monetize after launch,” an Instagram spokesperson stated.

Early comparisons to YouTube

Right out of the gate, IGTV is being compared to the Google-owned video platform YouTube.

Prior to the IGTV launch, many Instagram users were linking to long-form YouTube videos in their Instagram stories. This new feature might eliminate the need for that practice.

“Now, Instagram can keep that in-house, and drive greater engagement and time spent,” said media and technology analyst Rich Greenfield. “I think this is a natural evolution from pictures to video, to stories and now to long-form video to capture as much human attention as possible.”

Instagram, a Facebook-owned social media platform, announced Wednesday that it will be rolling out a brand new long-form, vertical video feature. Calle...
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U.S. adults believe 40 percent of the news is false

Americans are even more likely to believe news found on social media is made up or inaccurate

A new survey conducted by the Gallup and Knight Foundations finds that Americans believe that 39 percent of the news they see on television, read in newspapers, or hear on the radio is misinformation.

When taking in news through social media, U.S. adults estimate that nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of what they read is either made up or unable to be verified as accurate.

The survey of 1,440 randomly recruited Americans found that some demographics were more likely than others to believe that the news they consume is “fake.”

Demographic differences

Republicans were found to be more likely than Democrats to perceive news from legacy media outlets as misinformation.

Half (51 percent) of Republicans and 54 percent of self-described conservatives were likely to perceive misinformation when it comes to legacy media, compared with just 23 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of liberals.

People with a high school education or less believed that roughly 40 percent of traditional media stories are intentionally wrong on some level.

“The extent to which Americans perceive misinformation in the news environment and their belief in the effectiveness of methods to counteract it are influenced to a large degree by their political leanings and their opinions of the news media more broadly,” the Knight Foundation said in a summary of the findings.

Combating misinformation

Seventy percent or more of respondents said that methods to counteract the spread of misinformation, including giving greater prominence to stories from reputable news sources, could be at least “somewhat effective.”

“These results underscore how a lack of trust in the news media intertwines with perceptions of misinformation,” the Knight Foundation said.

“Although Americans continue to see the media as playing a critical role in informing citizens in our democracy, the ability of the institution to effectively fulfill that responsibility is hampered when citizens are not confident that the information they receive is accurate.”

Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it would be taking steps toward combating the spread of inaccurate news on its site by shrinking the visual prominence of news stories found to be inaccurate by Facebook’s third-party fact checkers.

Twitter said earlier this year that it would notify nearly 678,000 users that may have inadvertently interacted with accounts believed to have been linked to a Russian propaganda service called the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

A new survey conducted by the Gallup and Knight Foundations finds that Americans believe that 39 percent of the news they see on television, read in newspa...
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Twitter is redesigning its app to highlight breaking news

Users will soon see more relevant news and events on their timeline

Twitter announced on Wednesday that it’s rolling out changes to its platform intended to make it easier for users to discover relevant breaking news, events, and stories.

Users will soon see personalized breaking news and live events at the top of their timelines, eliminating the need to follow hashtags or search for certain accounts in order to get relevant news and stories.

“We’ve been working to change how you discover all the information around news, events, and stories, and today, we’re sharing a few steps forward,” Twitter said in a blog post. “It’ll be easier to find and follow the big events and stories you care about in your timeline, notifications, and Explore.”

Personalized news and event notifications

In the coming weeks, Twitter users will be given the option to receive notifications about breaking news that is relevant to their interests.

Twitter says it’s experimenting with sending notifications to users based on their interests, which the site will determine based on accounts followed and what a user tweets about. Users who would rather not receive push notifications for personalized breaking news can toggle off these notifications in the recommendations section of Twitter’s settings.

Redesigned Explore tab

Additionally, the Explore section of Twitter will soon be organized by topic instead of content type.

“We heard from you that Explore would be easier to navigate if it was organized by topic instead of content type (video, articles, etc). We’re now experimenting with topic tabs in Explore so it’s easier to see what’s happening in news and entertainment, and what’s most relevant to you,” Twitter said.

Twitter has also started organizing Moments -- the feature that aggregates world news -- into a vertical display like the Twitter timeline, rather than a horizontal orientation.

The changes will roll out gradually to iOS and Android users in the U.S. in the coming weeks and months, but Twitter has already launched its change to Moments just in time for World Cup festivities. A specialized version of this feature will be available for sports, which will have video at the top and a live-updating score.

Twitter announced on Wednesday that it’s rolling out changes to its platform intended to make it easier for users to discover relevant breaking news, event...
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Facebook allowing users to review businesses

Businesses that receive enough user complaints could be banned from advertising on the site

In an effort to crack down on bad businesses that lie to consumers, Facebook has launched a tool that will enable users to review businesses after they make a purchase.

Facebook said in a blog post on Tuesday that it would ban businesses that receive enough customer complaints from advertising.

“Bad shopping experiences aren’t good for anyone,” Facebook said. “When items take a long time to arrive or don’t meet your expectations, it can cost you time and money. And if these things happen after purchasing something from a business’ ad on Facebook, it can sour your overall impression of Facebook.”

Reducing advertising abuse

Companies that fail to “improve customer satisfaction and better meet customer expectations” after receiving feedback could have their ads banned from the platform.

“We spoke with people who have purchased things from Facebook advertisers, and the two biggest frustrations we heard were that people don’t like ads that quote inaccurate shipping times or that misrepresent products,” Facebook said.

The new tool is intended to identify and mitigate these common user frustrations by letting people review businesses, with the ultimate goal of “connecting more people with businesses that meet their expectations.”

Facebook users can leave feedback for ads they’ve recently viewed under the 'Ads Activity' tab, the company said. From there, users can click on the 'Leave Feedback' button and respond to a brief questionnaire that asks for ratings on various ads.

'We believe this tool will give people more confidence in the businesses they interact with and help hold businesses more accountable for customer experiences they provide,' Facebook said.

Follows efforts to fight ‘fake news’

News of Facebook’s new user review tool follows the company’s announcement that it would begin allowing advertising on Marketplace. The company is aiming to provide users with a better ad model “by strengthening privacy and choice, while giving businesses of all sizes new and better tools to help them grow.”

The company has also taken several steps to keep false news off its platform, as well as give users greater control over what personal data is shared with the site.

In an effort to crack down on bad businesses that lie to consumers, Facebook has launched a tool that will enable users to review businesses after they mak...
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Facebook bug changed users’ default privacy settings to public

About 14 million users had their default sharing settings changed for several days in May

Facebook has revealed that a bug changed the default sharing settings of about 14 million users to “public” for four days last month.

The bug occured between May 18 and May 22, while Facebook was testing a new feature. In an official Newsroom post, Facebook said that it is currently notifying those affected and asking them to review the posts that they made between those dates.

"We recently found a bug that automatically suggested posting publicly when some people were creating their Facebook posts," said Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer.

"We have fixed this issue and starting today we are letting everyone affected know and asking them to review any posts they made during that time. To be clear, this bug did not impact anything people had posted before -- and they could still choose their audience just as they always have."

Transparency in handling issues

After the bug was discovered, Facebook said that it went so far as to change every post made by affected users during that window of time to private -- including posts possibly intended to be shared publicly.

“The problem has been fixed, and for anyone affected, we changed the audience back to what they’d been using before,” the company said.

Facebook said that notifying users of the bug is part of its new focus on transparency in the way it handles issues.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that we need to be more transparent about how we build our products and how those products use your data – including when things go wrong. And that is what we are doing here,” Facebook said.

Facebook has revealed that a bug changed the default sharing settings of about 14 million users to “public” for four days last month. The bug occured b...
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Teens aren’t using Facebook as much, study finds

Instead, they’re heading to YouTube and Snapchat

A new study on teen social media use conducted by the Pew Research Center finds that Facebook is falling out of favor among teens, but alternatives such as Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram are growing in popularity.

YouTube is the number one online platform used by teens, with 85 percent reporting that they use it. Instagram came in second at 72 percent, followed by Snapchat at 69 percent.

Meanwhile, 51 percent of teens said they used Facebook -- a big change from 71 percent in 2015, when Pew conducted its last study. Only 10 percent of teens said Facebook was their most visited site.

"The social media environment among teens is quite different from what it was just three years ago," research associate Monica Anderson, the lead author of the report, said in a statement. "Back then, teens' social media use mostly revolved around Facebook. Today, their habits revolve less around a single platform."

Changing social media habits

Nearly half of teens said they’re online “almost constantly” -- up from 24 percent in 2015. The number of teens with the ability to access social media on-the-go has also increased. Pew found that 95 percent of teens have a smartphone or access to one, compared to 73 in 2015.

However, teens have mixed views on whether being constantly connected through social media is good or bad. Thirty-one percent reported a mostly positive effect and 24 percent cited a mostly negative effect. Around 45 percent said they didn’t think social media had a positive or negative impact.

Teens who reported a more positive effect noted that social media fosters connections between friends and family. On the flip side, those who said it has a negative impact pointed out that bullying and rumor-spreading can run rampant on social media sites.

Impact of social media

Here are a few remarks from teens who believe social media has a more positive impact.

  • “I feel that social media can make people my age feel less lonely or alone. It creates a space where you can interact with people,” said a 15-year-old girl.

  • “We can connect easier with people from different places and we are more likely to ask for help through social media which can save people,” said another 15-year-old girl.

In contrast, here are the sentiments of teens who believe social media can have harmful effects:

  • “People can say whatever they want with anonymity and I think that has a negative impact,” said a 15-year-old boy.

  • “Teens are killing people all because of the things they see on social media or because of the things that happened on social media,” said a 14-year-old girl.

A new study on teen social media use conducted by the Pew Research Center finds that Facebook is falling out of favor among teens, but alternatives such as...
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Facebook Marketplace expands to offer home services

Users can find and book highly-rated home service professionals located nearby

Starting today, consumers can hire home service professionals -- such as house cleaners, plumbers, and contractors -- through Facebook’s mobile Marketplace.

In a statement about the launch, Bowen Pan, product manager at Facebook, noted that requests for home service recommendations have skyrocketed, totaling “millions of people” since the beginning of 2018.

For the new service, Facebook said it’s partnering with three existing home service marketplaces: Handy, Home Advisor, and Porch.

“More people ask for recommendations related to home services on Facebook in the U.S. than any other topic. By partnering with Handy, HomeAdvisor, and Porch, people will now have a place on Marketplace to find the right professional to help with their next home project,” Pan said.

Finding professionals

Facebook’s new addition to Marketplace will give users plenty of options when it comes to finding help around the house. The company says users will be able to browse through hundreds of thousands of professionals across the country.

These professionals can be searched by location and will have ratings, reviews, and credentials. If more than one professional surfaces as a potential match for a project, users can describe the task and use Messenger to send it to multiple professionals at once and judge their responses.

Amazon offers a similar service, called Amazon Home Services, that lets users browse nearby firms offering home services, including house cleaning, yard work, and construction.

The new tool is starting to roll out today for iOS and Android and will be available to all U.S. users in the coming weeks.

Starting today, consumers can hire home service professionals -- such as house cleaners, plumbers, and contractors -- through Facebook’s mobile Marketplace...
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Progressive groups pressure the FTC to break up Facebook

The split would allow greater competition across social media platforms and provide stricter privacy regulations

A number of progressive groups are planning to launch a six-figure digital ad proposal that will push the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to break up Facebook.

The group has three main goals that it hopes will ultimately dismantle the monopoly Facebook has on social media:

  • Break off Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger into their own companies that are separate from Facebook;

  • Make it possible for users on competing social networks to communicate with each other; and

  • Implement stronger privacy rules.

The groups have started an online petition entitled Free From Facebook that clearly outlines their missions and goals. It also provides details on the immense power Facebook wields over our current society.

“Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have amassed a scary amount of power,” the website says. “Facebook unilaterally decides the news that billions of people around the world see every day. It buys up or bankrupts potential competitors to protect its monopoly, killing innovation and choice. It tracks us almost everywhere we go on the web and, through our smartphones, even where we go in the real world.”

“The five members of the Federal Trade Commission, which is the part of our government tasked with overseeing Facebook, can make Facebook safe for our democracy by breaking it up, giving us the freedom to communicate across networks, and protecting our privacy. Together, we will make sure that they do,” the groups conclude.

Facebook responds

The proposed ads will run online on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, as well as in traditional website ad slots. The groups involved include Demand Progress and MoveOn Civic Action, in addition to the anti-concentration Open Markets Institute.

The groups have decided to push the issue now because of the FTC’s new Chairman Joe Simons, who has expressed some willingness to explore tech concerns. As of yet, no new FTC commissioners have expressed their agreement that any Silicon Valley giants should be broken up.

In response to the push for action, Facebook said that splitting up its various entities would be a detriment to consumers.

“Facebook is a competitive environment where people use our apps at the same time they use free services offered by many others,” said a Facebook spokesperson. “The average person uses eight different apps to communicate and stay connected. People use Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger because they find them valuable, and we’ve been better able to fight spam and abuse and build new features much faster by working under one roof.”

Recent scrutiny and privacy concerns

News of this push to break up the social media giant comes after the company has experienced a great deal of scrutiny.

Earlier this year, Facebook was being investigated after up to 87 million people had their data repurposed by Cambridge Analytica to influence voter decisions in the 2016 election. CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent nearly four hours taking questions from 42 Senators, all focused on his company’s mistakes with user privacy.

“Our sophistication in handling these threats is growing and improving quickly,” Zuckerberg said. “We will continue working with the government to understand the full extent of Russian interference, and we will do our part to not only ensure the integrity of free and fair elections around the world, but also to give everyone a voice and to be a force for good in democracy everywhere.”

Steps towards greater privacy

Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook announced plans to enforce Europe’s stringent privacy settings around the world. The company says its taking steps to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which is set to go into effect later this month on May 25th.

Under this new legislation, companies must obtain consumers’ consent before sharing their information, and that consent can be rescinded at any time. Users under the age of 16 must also have a parent consent on their behalf.

The laws give users the option to choose whether they want Facebook to use partner data to show relevant ads. The company decided to convert 20 privacy screens to one single screen, streamlining and clearly defining the security process. Facebook also now disables the facial recognition feature -- unless directed otherwise by users -- and asks consumers if they want to display religious, political, or relationship information on their profiles.

“We support smart privacy regulation and efforts that make it easier for people to take their data to competing services,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “But rather than wait, we’ve simplified our privacy controls and introduced new ways for people to access and delete their data, or to take their data with them.”

A number of progressive groups are planning to launch a six-figure digital ad proposal that will push the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to break up Facebo...
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Instagram is testing a new payments feature

The feature would let users shop from within the app

Instagram is testing a new feature that lets users add their payment information and make purchases right from Instagram, TechCrunch reports.

Users can add a credit or debit card and a pin for additional security. Once the initial setup is complete, the tool can be used to make purchases from within the platform.

The feature is currently undergoing a trial with select users. Those who have the feature will find it under “payment settings” in their profile settings.

In addition to letting users make purchases without leaving the app, users are able to book appointments at a limited number of spas and restaurants through a third-party integration with dinner reservation app Resy. Instagram says the tool could eventually be used for a range of services, such as booking tickets to movies and events.

Faster shopping on Instagram

In March 2017, the photo-sharing platform announced that it planned to give business profiles the option to let users book services. At the time, Instagram didn’t say anything about native payments.

The company said the feature would be launched later in 2017, but no such feature was unveiled by the end of the year. The feature seems to be coming a little later than expected, but it appears to finally be rolling out in a trial version.

The ability to shop from within the app would change the way users currently make purchases through the platform, which is by relying on third parties to complete the transaction. Faster and easier shopping would benefit Instagram and brands alike, since users would stay on the app for longer and also be less likely to quit on their way to checkout while filling in their payment info.

The terms of service for the new feature state that the Instagram payment system is backed by Facebook’s Payments rules, according to TechCrunch.

Instagram hasn’t said when it will launch the new feature internationally.

Instagram is testing a new feature that lets users add their payment information and make purchases right from Instagram, TechCrunch reports. Users can...
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Twitter expands its interest in video and news

Disney, NBC, and others jump on the social media’s bandwagon

Monday was a big day for Twitter. The social media platform’s stock price shot up nearly five percent on news that it inked a deal with Disney, NBC, and Viacom to stream live shows.

With video content accounting for more than half of its ad revenue, Twitter’s move is not only bold, but brainy. In cutting its new video deals, the company nearly doubled its number of video shows, from 16 to 30.

And, if Twitter’s first quarter is any indication, there’s a real possibility it could video stream more than 5,000 live broadcasts, with nearly 80 percent of those reaching a worldwide audience.

Accentuating live video

The Disney partnership is a prize catch for Twitter. Disney brings ABC, the Disney Channel, Marvel Comics, and ESPN to the table. With ESPN, Disney is giving Twitter the keys to do its spin on SportsCenter Live with a mix of sports-related news and insights available through Twitter’s “Moments” tab.

Twitter recently launched a new set of tools designed to let users Tweet special moments from a live video in hopes of making it easier for people and publishers to find, watch, and discuss those highlights.

It looks like the entire social media world is betting video content will be its bread and butter going forward. In the last two months, Google announced its plans for YouTube Remix and Facebook ponied up a reported $30-35 million to have exclusive rights to Major League Baseball games.

All Twitter’s signs point to yes

Twitter seems determined to make 2018 a big year, too. The company heads into its May 30 annual stockholder meeting on the heels of a 10 percent uptick in daily active users and a year-over-year revenue gain of 21 percent in the first quarter.

The company also continues its march to get out of Facebook’s shadow when it comes to news. Recently, Twitter put into play a feature that highlights news stories tweeted by people a user follows, a ploy that could domino the amount of time users spend with Twitter.

“We've begun sharing curated timelines of Tweets around breaking news events in different parts of the app, including the Home timeline and search results, to make it easier to find relevant news and the surrounding conversation,” Twitter wrote in its Q1 investor letter. “This is a first step in a much more cohesive strategy around events that’s inclusive of both the conversation on Twitter and live video, and we’re continuing to experiment with ways to bring more personalized, relevant content to people across our product.”

Monday was a big day for Twitter. The social media platform’s stock price shot up nearly five percent on news that it inked a deal with Disney, NBC, and Vi...
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Facebook is shrinking the size of false news in users’ feeds

The company wants to make inaccurate stories less visually prominent

Facebook has taken another step toward stemming the circulation of false news on its site. Now, any news links that haven’t been verified as accurate by Facebook’s third-party fact checkers will shrink to the size of the link in mobile users’ News Feeds.

“We reduce the visual prominence of feed stories that are fact-checked false,” a Facebook spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch.

The company previously set out to squash fake news by marking posts deemed to be false with a red flag. However, the red flags caused users who wanted to believe the false stories to click and share the flagged stories more.

Harder to read, easier to miss

Facebook unveiled its new plan to combat misinformation at the Fighting Abuse @Scale event in San Francisco. In addition to shrinking the size of false news stories, the stories are accompanied by a “Related Articles” box that includes links to posts debunking the story.

By shrinking the appearance of false news stories, the company is aiming to make misinformation less noticeable while scrolling. Facebook hasn’t eliminated false news sites altogether for fear of being seen as taking an editorial stance on the issue.

Facebook is also now using machine learning to scan newly published articles for signs that they may contain inaccurate information. The technology, when used in conjunction with other signals (like user reports), is intended to help Facebook’s fact-checkers spend their time reviewing articles that are already in the running to likely be marked as false.

“We use machine learning to help predict things that might be more likely to be false news, to help prioritize material we send to fact-checkers (given the large volume of potential material),” a spokesperson from Facebook said.

Facebook has taken another step toward stemming the circulation of false news on its site. Now, any news links that haven’t been verified as accurate by Fa...
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Backpage CEO pleads guilty to prostitution and money laundering charges

​The executive has agreed to testify against fellow co-founders of the company

Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer has pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to facilitate prostitution, according to a Washington Post report. The executive has agreed to testify against fellow co-founders of the website, several of whom are currently in prison and awaiting full detention hearings scheduled for next week.

In his admission statement, Ferrer admitted that he conspired with other Backpage officials to facilitate prostitution crimes being committed by users of the site. The company achieved this, Ferrer said, by creating a moderation process that removed explicit words and images from advertisements peddling prostitution.

“Such editing did not, of course, change the essential nature of the illegal service being offered in the ad – it was merely intended to create a veneer of deniability for Backpage,” Ferrer said. “[The] editing practices were only one component of an overall, company-wide culture and policy of concealing and refusing to officially acknowledge the true nature of the services being offered in Backpage’s ‘escort’ and ‘adult’ ads.”

“I have long been aware that the great majority of these advertisements are, in fact, advertisements for prostitution services (which are not protected by the First Amendment and which are illegal in 49 states and in much of Nevada).”

In addition to modifying advertisements, Ferrer admitted that he and other Backpage officials duped credit card companies and banks that refused to process the company’s payments.

“I worked with my co-conspirators to find ways to fool credit card companies into believing that Backpage-associated charges were being incurred on different websites,” he said.

Ferrer’s guilty pleas were filed in state courts in California and Texas, as well as in federal court in Arizona.

Guilty pleas and shutting down pages

Court documents unsealed on Thursday show that Ferrer’s plea process began earlier this month when he pleaded guilty to money laundering in a federal court in Phoenix. The executive then traveled to Texas where he again pleaded guilty to money laundering and Backpage pleaded guilty to human trafficking.

Ferrer then traveled to Sacramento where he pleaded guilty to money laundering once more and was released on bond. Although he has agreed to testify against other executives at Backpage, the California plea agreement indicates that Ferrer will face up to five years in prison; sentences handed down in Arizona and Texas would run along the same time period.

Ferrer has also agreed in his California plea to take down every Backpage-affiliated website that he can within five days and forfeit all Backpage-related domains within 14 days.

The case that can change the world

Regulators in California have been entrenched in legal battles with Backpage for years over the site’s activities and practices. In 2015, the state filed charges against the company for pimping and money laundering, but the case was thrown out the following year.

Maggy Krell, a former assistant attorney general in California and lawyer who worked on the case, says that the recent pleas and indictments could be a major turning point.

“This is such an important step forward for the many people who’ve been combating human trafficking. There is no one in the entire world who made more money off sex trafficking than the owners of this website,” she said.

“Seeing it shut down and having their business model become clearly illegal is really gratifying. If one case can change the world, it’s this case.”

Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer has pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to facilitate prostitution, according to a Washington Post report. The execu...
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Senators question Grindr for revealing users’ HIV statuses with third parties

The senators are concerned about how a gay dating app handles the personal information it collects from users

Grindr, the popular dating and hook-up app targeted to gay men, is facing tough questions from United States senators after European researchers revealed that it was sharing user data with third parties.

“Grindr collects highly personal data about its users,” wrote Senators Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) in a letter addressed to Grindr’s interim CEO Zhou Yahui.

The senators are asking Yahui, who is based in Hong Kong, to answer over a dozen detailed questions about how the app collects data and what it is used for. The senators are demanding a response by April 17.

“Simply using an app should not give companies a license to carelessly use, handle or share this type of sensitive information,” they add.

Users asked sensitive questions

Grindr surged in popularity with the premise of searching for potential hook-ups in an anonymous and safe environment. The app was initially tailored only to men seeking other men and allowed users to set up profiles without confirming their identify.

However, a rise in spam profiles caused the company to ditch anonymous profiles in 2013. In 2017, Grindr announced that it was opening the app to women, transgender people, and bisexual men.

Despite the changes over the years, Grindr has soared in popularity and now has a registered 3.6 million users.

When new users create their Grindr profiles, they are asked a series of sensitive questions, including their sexual preference and HIV status. Users then have the option of displaying their HIV status on their profile for others to see.

But consumers likely assumed that the information would stay contained in the app -- not be shared with third parties.

Users' HIV statuses shared 

Data researchers in Norway, where data collection laws are much stricter than they are here, discovered the company’s practices via a technical analysis published on Saturday. According to their findings, users’ HIV statuses are shared with two outside analytics firms and their sexual preferences are shared with several third-party companies that do not encrypt the data.

The Consumer Council, an advocacy group in Norway, looked over the results and announced plans shortly after to file a complaint to the country’s regulators. The group charges that Grindr’s practices are in violation of Europe’s laws designed to protect user data.

The findings gained attention in the United States when BuzzFeed published a report independently verifying the data-sharing on Monday.

ACT UP New York member James Krellenstein told BuzzFeed news that Grindr is unique for encouraging users to be transparent with each other about their HIV status.  

“To then have that data shared with third parties that you weren’t explicitly notified about, and having that possibly threaten your health or safety — that is an extremely, extremely egregious breach of basic standards that we wouldn’t expect from a company that likes to brand itself as a supporter of the queer community,” he told the publication.

Grindr reponds

In a statement on their United States website, Grindr had a somewhat defensive response while also acknowledging that it had room to improve.

"We give users the option to post information about themselves including HIV status and last test date, and we make it clear in our privacy policy that if you choose to include this information in your profile, the information will also become public," the company’s CTO Scott Chen wrote.

He claimed that the company has never sold personal data and added that it they are “always looking for additional measures that go above and beyond industry best practices to help maintain our users’ right to privacy.”

But Grindr did not indicate in its statement whether it would agree to answer the Senators’ more detailed questions about its data collection practices.

The company later backtracked somewhat, telling the publication Axios that it would stop sharing users’ HIV status with the outside vendors.

Grindr, the popular dating and hook-up app targeted to gay men, is facing tough questions from United States senators after European researchers revealed t...
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Bumble files suit against Match for allegedly stealing trade secrets

The company says Match Group fraudulently obtained confidential information

Earlier this month, Match Group -- owner of the dating app Tinder -- filed a lawsuit against its rival Bumble for alleged patent infringement and misuse of intellectual property. Now, Bumble has escalated the feud by filing a lawsuit of its own against Match.

The lawsuit comes two weeks after the women-founded dating app published a full-page, anti-bullying open letter slamming Match’s allegations in the New York Times.

“We swipe left on you. We swipe left on your multiple attempts to buy us, copy us, and, now, to intimidate us,” Bumble said. “We’ll never be yours. No matter the price tag, we’ll never compromise our values.”

“We swipe left on your attempted scare tactics, and on these endless games. We swipe left on your assumption that a baseless lawsuit would intimidate us. Given your enduring interest in our company, we expected you to know us a bit better by now,” the company added.

Bumble’s allegations

In its lawsuit, Bumble accuses Match of stealing trade secrets, among other things, and argues that the patent lawsuit is baseless. The lawsuit isn’t Bumble’s response to Match’s initial lawsuit -- it’s a separate one altogether, TechCrunch points out.

Bumble acknowledged that the two companies had been discussing acquisition over the past six months. However, Bumble alleges that once Match found out there were other companies also interested in investing in or acquiring Bumble, Match filed suit to make Bumble seem less attractive to those other companies.

Bumble alleges that Match Group requested that Bumble provide “confidential and trade secret information” which Match said they “needed to provide a higher offer for Bumble” -- an offer that ultimately never came.

Finally, Bumble claims that Match “published false or disparaging information about Bumble, including statements in the press falsely claiming that Bumble infringed Match’s intellectual property, as well as false statements in the Lawsuit”.

Bumble says the information published by Match has potentially affected future investment and acquisition opportunities. The lawsuit requests relief in the form of monetary damages (an estimated $400M), as well as a permanent injunction preventing Match Group from using any of the confidential information it obtained during acquisition discussions.

Earlier this month, Match Group -- owner of the dating app Tinder -- filed a lawsuit against its rival Bumble for alleged patent infringement and misuse of...
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Craigslist shutters its Personals section after passage of sex trafficking bill

The site says it can’t risk being held liable for posts that may advertise sex or illegal interactions

Craigslist announced on Friday that it’s shutting down its personal ad section.

The global classified ad site made its decision in response to Congress passing the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (FOSTA), which makes websites liable for facilitating sex trafficking.

“US Congress just passed HR 1865, ‘FOSTA’, seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully,” Craigslist said in a statement on its site.

“Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking Craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.”

Websites held accountable

The measure -- which was approved by both chambers of Congress -- was passed by the Senate on Wednesday after the House approved it last month. President Trump is expected to sign it into law as soon as this week.

The legislation would create an exception to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which would clear the way for websites to be targeted with legal action for enabling prostitution and sex trafficking.

It would also "enable state law enforcement officials, not just the federal Department of Justice, to take action against individuals or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws."

Those in support of the legislation say it will help curb the problem of online sex trafficking. However, numerous tech companies argue that the bill is a form of censorship.

‘Significant unintended consequences’

Last year, 10 tech trade groups co-authored a letter condemning the bill. The groups said the amendment would invite “significant unintended consequences” and create legal ambiguity that would have a "chilling effect."

"Platforms will err on the side of extreme caution in removing content uploaded by their users, while cutting back on proactive prevention measures," they wrote.

In a separate letter, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) argued that bad actors "could easily escape by changing their URL address or relocating abroad."

"We urge Congress to take a narrow approach that directly targets bad actors,' the CTA said. "Specifically, Congress should urge the Department of Justice to aggressively use its powers to identify and prosecute the limited number of rogue websites that are violating the law."

Craigslist announced on Friday that it’s shutting down its personal ad section.The global classified ad site made its decision in response to Congress...
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Twitter suspends accounts for ‘tweetdecking’

The social network is cracking down on coordinated spamming

As part of its mission to crack down on spam bots, Twitter has suspended accounts linked to “tweetdecking,” or the process of mass retweeting stolen content in order to help it go viral.

Popular “tweetdeckers,” including Common White Girl, Dory, and Finah, were suspended from the site because they violated the social network’s spam policies that forbid mass duplication.

Last month, Twitter announced new rules that would aim to prevent users from creating or controlling accounts in an organized fashion to achieve a particular goal (such as making a post appear to have more support than it actually does).

Under the new rules, users are not allowed to “sell, purchase, or attempt to artificially inflate account interactions.” Violating this policy is grounds for permanent suspension, the company said.

Manufactured virulity

Tweetdeckers operate by retweeting posts across multiple accounts in Tweetdeck in an effort to spread other users’ -- as well as paying customers’ -- tweets into forced virality. Several suspended tweetdeckers had amassed hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers.

"One of the most common spam violations we see is the use of multiple accounts and the Twitter developer platform to attempt to artificially amplify or inflate the prominence of certain Tweets," Twitter wrote of its initiative to crack down on spam.

"To be clear: Twitter prohibits any attempt to use automation for the purposes of posting or disseminating spam, and such behavior may result in enforcement action,” the company added.

Twitter hasn’t confirmed whether or not the suspensions are permanent or commented on individual suspensions.

As part of its mission to crack down on spam bots, Twitter has suspended accounts linked to “tweetdecking,” or the process of mass retweeting stolen conten...
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Why false news spreads faster on social media

A new study finds that novelty drives the spread of false news

Findings from a new study conducted by researchers at MIT show false news gets disseminated much more quickly than real news, especially when it comes to social media platforms like Twitter.

Researchers say that’s because users tend to like and retweet “novel” news that they haven’t encountered before on the site without stopping to accurately discern whether it is true or false.

“We found that falsehood diffuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth, in all categories of information, and in many cases by an order of magnitude,” said co-author Sinan Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Bots aren’t always the culprit

The researchers said they were “somewhere between surprised and stunned” at the stark difference in the trajectories of false and real news. They found that false news is 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than real news stories.

While bots have often been blamed for the spread of inaccurate news, the team found that they’re not always behind the swift spread of false news. Ordinary people are primarily behind the rapid spread of inaccurate news within the social media ecosystem.

“When we removed all of the bots in our dataset, [the] differences between the spread of false and true news stood,” said Soroush Vosoughi, a co-author of the new paper.

Study details

For the study, the team spent two years studying the role Twitter plays in spreading false news across the globe. They examined around 126,000 stories that had been tweeted out by roughly 3 million people worldwide.

To determine if a story was real or fake, the researchers used six independent fact-checking groups, including politifact.com, snopes.org, and factcheck.org. The MIT researchers termed inaccurate news "false" as opposed to "fake,” because "fake news" is a term that involves multiple broad meanings.

Of the 126,000 stories tweeted, politics accounted for the biggest news category, and its spread was more pronounced than for news in other categories. Truthful tweets took about six times longer to reach 1,500 people than false tweets.

Novelty fuels spread

The results of the study suggest that novelty plays a key role in the spread of falsehoods on Twitter. “False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information,” said Aral.

Spreading previously unknown (but possibly false) information can help social media users gain attention. As Aral put it, “people who share novel information are seen as being in the know.”

The full study has been published online in the journal Science.

Findings from a new study conducted by researchers at MIT show false news gets disseminated much more quickly than real news, especially when it comes to s...
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Unilever puts pressure on tech giants to clean up their content

The company says it doesn’t want to advertise on online platforms filled with ‘toxic’ content

Unilever has threatened to pull ads from Facebook, Google, and other online platforms if the tech giants don’t do a better job of controlling the spread of what the company calls “toxic” online content.

In a speech delivered Monday at the annual Interactive Advertising Bureau conference in California, Keith Weed, chief marketing officer at Unilever, called on technology companies to step up their efforts to improve transparency and consumer trust.

"We need to redefine what is responsible business in the digital age because for all of the good the tech companies are doing, there's some unintended consequences that now need addressing," Weed said.

Some of those unintended consequences include facilitating the spread of fake news and illegal content, he noted.

Rebuilding trust

Unilever -- which makes Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Dove soap, and more than 1,000 other brands worldwide -- is one of the biggest online advertisers, and digital advertising on platforms like Facebook and Google accounts for a significant portion of its ad spend.

But the company says it does not want to advertise on platforms that are rife with abusive, divisive, and unethical material. Unilever says consumer trust in social media platforms is waning due to the perceived lack of effort on the part of tech giants to keep out this “toxic” content.

In his speech, Weed argues that some online platforms are “sometimes little better than a swamp,” though he stopped short of mentioning any specific companies.

“2018 is either the year of tech-lash, where the world turns on the tech giants — and we have seen some of this already— or the year of trust. The year where we collectively rebuild trust back in our systems and our society,” he said.

Improving the industry

The company says it has already offered solutions to tech companies and wants to work with them to improve the industry.

“Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate,” Weed said. “We will prioritize investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”

In a statement on Monday, one Facebook spokeswoman said that the platform “fully supports Unilever’s commitments and [we] are working closely with them.”

"Keith has always pushed us and the industry to be better," Google said in its own statement. "There is nothing we take more seriously than the trust and safety of our users, customers and partners, and we will continue to work to earn that trust every day."

Earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that Facebook is flawed and vowed to make “fixing Facebook” his personal goal for 2018. Several changes -- including showing users more local news and less commercial content on their News Feeds -- have already been rolled out to users.

Google has announced that a new task force will be dedicated to policing extremist content on YouTube in 2018.

Unilever has threatened to pull ads from Facebook, Google, and other online platforms if the tech giants don’t do a better job of controlling the spread of...
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Facebook’s new ad policy takes a hard line on financial products

The social platform has completely banned ads promoting cryptocurrencies

In the middle of content changes and its crackdown on clickbait, Facebook is focusing its ire on cryptocurrency.

The social media giant’s new advertising policy takes a direct shot at binary options, initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency, and the scammers who are trying to profit from the crypto money rage. Effective immediately, come-ons like “Start binary options trading now and receive a 10-risk free trades bonus!” will be gone from Facebook’s ad delivery.

“We want people to continue to discover and learn about new products and services through Facebook ads without fear of scams or deception. That said, there are many companies who are advertising binary options, ICOs and cryptocurrencies that are not currently operating in good faith,” said Rob Leathern, product management director for Facebook Business.

Is Facebook just pressing the pause button?

Earlier this year, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg showed cautious interest in cryptocurrency and its potential role in decentralization.

In a post focused on Facebook’s challenges for 2018, he commented that counter-trends like encryption and cryptocurrency may give power back to the people, but “they come with the risk of being harder to control. I'm interested to go deeper and study the positive and negative aspects of these technologies, and how best to use them in our services.”

Leathern echoed that view and left the door open for the cryptocurrency promoters. “This policy is intentionally broad while we work to better detect deceptive and misleading advertising practices, and enforcement will begin to ramp up across our platforms including Facebook, Audience Network, and Instagram. We will revisit this policy and how we enforce it as our signals improve,” he said.

Not everyone will be pleased by these changes

Recode's Kurt Wagner raises a concern that some of the power players in the Facebook camp might not be too happy with this change. Both Marc Andreessen and Peter Thiel, high-profile crypto backers, sit on Facebook’s board, and Facebook Messenger’s chief David Marcus is on the board of directors at Coinbase, a popular crypto exchange platform.

Andreesen has been on Bitcoin’s bandwagon since 2014, and according to CBS News, Thiel’s Founders Fund invested as much as $20 million in Bitcoin in mid-2017, and turned that into a tenfold investment.

Bitcoin’s rollercoaster ride

Cryptocurrency pioneer Bitcoin has gone from oblivion to curiosity to investment darling and was on a tear at the end of 2017. From its birth in 2009 and through the first two years of its infancy, Bitcoin’s value bounced around from worthless to 14 cents to $1.06 before settling in at 87 cents in February 2011.

After Gawker.com did a story on the currency’s embrace by online drug dealers, Bitcoin’s price soared to $27 and the fascination continued. Its value zoomed past $19,000 in December 2017 before taking a tumble back to under $10,000 by the end of January 2018.

But, naturally, in the midst of the euphoria, other cryptocurrencies jumped on the gravy train. And, in their zeal, some pulled out all the stops in trying to tap new customers. Facebook felt that it needed to throttle any potential “misleading and deceptive promotional practices” as decisively and quickly as possible.

In the middle of content changes and its crackdown on clickbait, Facebook is focusing its ire on cryptocurrency.The social media giant’s new advertisin...
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Health experts urge Facebook to discontinue ‘Messenger Kids’

Children under 13 aren’t ready for social media accounts, experts say

A group of 100 child development experts and advocates has published an open letter urging Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to shut down the site’s new messaging app aimed at kids.

Back in December, Facebook launched the free Messenger Kids app, touting it as a safe way for kids under 13 to chat with family members and parent-approved friends.

Since parents are given control of their child’s account, Facebook asserted that Messenger Kids would be filling a “need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want.”  

But health experts argue that younger kids aren’t ready to have their own social media accounts and say the app should be pulled.

Targeting younger children

Led by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the group of experts and advocates includes psychiatrists, pediatricians, educators, parenting organizations, and the children’s music singer Raffi Cavoukian.

"Messenger Kids is not responding to a need - it is creating one," the letter states. "It appeals primarily to children who otherwise would not have their own social media accounts," the letter reads. Another passage criticized Facebook for "targeting younger children with a new product."

The group says children under 13 aren’t old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships or protect their own privacy.

“They also do not have a fully developed understanding of privacy, including what’s appropriate to share with others and who has access to their conversations, pictures, and videos,” the letter continued.

‘Gateway drug’

When the app was launched, Facebook said there were “no ads” or paid content downloads inside the app. It also assured parents that their “child’s information isn’t used for ads.”

In defense of the app, Facebook released a statement emphasizing that parents are “always in control” of their child’s activity.

"We worked to create Messenger Kids with an advisory committee of parenting and developmental experts, as well as with families themselves and in partnership with National PTA. We continue to be focused on making Messenger Kids the best experience it can be for families," said Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, in a statement to the Washington Post.

However, the company has been accused of using Messenger Kids as a ‘gateway drug’ to get kids hooked on social media at a younger age, making them more likely to use their service when they become teenagers and can be subjected to ad-targeting.  

Health effects of technology

The group says it’s “particularly irresponsible” of Facebook to launch an app geared towards preschoolers when there is growing concern about how social media use affects children’s development.

“Already, adolescents report difficulty moderating their own social media use,” they write. “Messenger Kids will exacerbate this problem, as the anticipation of friends’ responses will be a powerful incentive for children to check – and stay on – a phone or tablet.

“[T]he app’s overall impact on families and society is likely to be negative, normalizing social media use among young children and creating peer pressure for kids to sign up for their first account,” they said.

“Raising children in our new digital age is difficult enough,” they added. “We ask that you do not use Facebook’s enormous reach and influence to make it even harder. Please make a strong statement that Facebook is committed to the wellbeing of children and society by pulling the plug on Messenger Kids.”

Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg vowed to try to make users “happier” in 2018 by making certain changes to the site. Shutting down Messenger Kids would be a highly positive move, the group of experts contend.

“Doing better is leaving younger children alone and allowing them to develop without the pressures that come with social media use,” they said.

A group of 100 child development experts and advocates has published an open letter urging Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to shut down the site’s new messagi...
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More consumers prepare for 2018 with New Year's resolutions

One expert reveals tips for how to achieve your goals

A recent poll revealed that more than a quarter of Americans (29 percent) plan to make New Year’s resolutions for the year ahead -- a slight increase from 2016.

Researchers from Saint Leo University found that traditional New Year’s resolutions held steady, with top responses being: lose weight (55 percent), save more money (56 percent), travel more (29 percent); and spend more time with family (26 percent).

A small number of respondents (4.4 percent) said they want to spend less time with family in 2018 -- up from last year’s response of 0.4 percent. Vacationing more and finding a new job also ranked in the top five resolutions with 29 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

“On the whole, the top resolutions found on the poll all reflect a desire toward self/life improvement with saving money and more time with family also being big winners,” Dr. Christopher Wolfe, associate professor of psychology at Saint Leo University, told ConsumerAffairs.

Age differences

The poll also revealed a few demographic differences when it came to New Year’s resolutions. Millennials were more likely to make resolutions that would help them improve their life and health in the coming year compared to Gen Xers.

Almost half of millennial respondents (49 percent) plan to make resolutions, while only 31 percent of those in the 36 to 55 age group will do so; just 16 percent of those in the 56+ age demographic said they will make New Year’s resolutions.

Positive change

While younger consumers may be more likely than their older counterparts to make resolutions, the reason for creating New Year’s resolutions tends to be the same across all age groups.

People make resolutions in an effort to create positive change in their life, Wolfe says. Resolutions “can act as a sign post, a benchmark, or even a line in the sand; from a static point, this change can begin,” he said.

“We are often so wrapped up in our day-to-day routine that the thought of change can be daunting,” he added. “But as one year gives way to the next, we take the opportunity to set out a goal and try to embrace a desired change in ourselves.”

Tips for keeping resolutions

To improve your likelihood of sticking to resolutions, it’s important to try to see them as a beginning point -- “not an ultimatum or a race,” says Wolfe.

Setting small goals and embracing the fact that you may occasionally fail at keeping them can make sticking to resolutions seem less daunting.

“As our bad habits took time to set in, these new patterns of change will also take time to take hold and for real results be seen,” Wolfe said. Embracing this mindset towards resolutions can help ensure you don’t abandon your goals at the first sign of a setback.

Wolfe recommends focusing on small victories that support your resolution to help you stay motivated. It can also be helpful to take note of obstacles that you experience along the way..

“Look for triggers that may distract you from keeping your resolution and consider writing them down. Keep a small notebook of these triggers and add to it as you experience them,” he said. “The acts of writing them down and carrying the reminder may help to curb these triggers over time.”

A recent poll revealed that more than a quarter of Americans (29 percent) plan to make New Year’s resolutions for the year ahead -- a slight increase from...
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New dating site aims to connect dog lovers

The creators of Hotdiggiddy believe dog people are usually warm, loving individuals

Whether you’re looking to meet someone who shares your political views or hates the same things you hate, there’s likely a dating app out there to help you find your ideal match.

Now, there’s a dating site specifically geared toward those who love dogs. Hotdiggiddy, the new "Social Dating Site" for Dog Lovers, is centered around the idea that those who care for dogs are usually warm, loving, and responsible people.

The creators of the site say finding romance or friendship with a dog lover won’t only be a boon to your happiness, it’ll be a positive influence in the life of your four-legged friend as well.

Romantic or platonic relationships

"Have you ever invited someone over for a visit and as soon as they walked in the door your dog immediately reacted to them? Not in a nice way. Well, we have time and again,” said Scott Murray, CEO of Hotdiggiddy.

“We find that the people who our dogs like are usually people who we can trust and get along with; even if they are not dog owners themselves. These people just seem to give off good vibes that you and your dog can feel."

But you don’t have to own a dog to use the Canadian based dating site and app -- a love of dogs is all that’s required.

Dog lovers in relationships

In addition to giving off good vibes, dog lovers may also be better communicators. According to a University of Buffalo study, couples with pets have closer relationships and interact more than couples without pets.

The researchers explained that dogs make people want to seek out more social contact. As a result, they tend to form stronger and longer-lasting relationships.

Another potential perk of dating a dog lover: they may be more empathetic. A 2014 study found that dog owners are more engaged with their communities, likely as a result of being tapped into their empathetic, understanding side from all the hours spent caring for their pet.

Hotdiggiddy says it’s looking for people who are living life to the fullest. And while you only need to be over the age of 18 to use the site, its key demographic is 30 years of age and older.

Whether you’re looking to meet someone who shares your political views or hates the same things you hate, there’s likely a dating app out there to help you...
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Dating site focuses on couples' credit scores

Premise is that couples who think alike about money have a better chance

Okay, when it comes to dating sites, this might actually be a good idea.

While other dating sites use various methods to match people looking for a partner, CreditscoreDating.com cuts right to the chase and matches couples based on their credit scores.

Members create a profile like they would on any other dating site, including relevant information a potential partner might reasonably want to know. But the profile also has to include the member's credit score.

The scores are not verified, but the site but says it believes that 92% of the posted scores are accurate.

Mixing love and money

But isn't mixing love and money a little crass? True, focusing on how a potential partner handles a checkbook and credit card might dampen the romance of dating, but it could save some heartache later on.

Some people on both sides of the issue – financial advisors and relationship experts – believe money management is an important relationship topic that is easily overlooked in the first blush of romance.

Financial advisor Christopher Krell urges couples to have a candid conversation about money, including their approaches to both spending and saving. He points to a 2012 study published in the Family Relations Journal which concluded that disagreements about money are the main reason marriages hit the rocks.

Kansas State University researcher Sonya Britt participated in that study, and her research paper reached the same conclusion. Regardless of income, she found arguments over money are a major predictor for divorce.

The danger of high and low credit scores

And that brings us back to credit scores. If one partner has a high credit score and the other a low one, it suggests that one is careful with finances while the other is either reckless or makes a series of uninformed choices. It isn't a recipe for a happy relationship.

Once a couple is married, they often share credit accounts. If one partner runs up bills and doesn't pay, the partner with the good credit score suffers too.

People looking for a relationship have begun to grasp this reality. A 2014 survey commissioned by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) found that uncontrollable debt can be toxic for romance.

The survey found 37% of respondents would not marry someone until their debt was repaid. Ten percent would marry but not help pay the debt while seven percent would take the somewhat extreme action of breaking off the relationship.

Okay, when it comes to dating sites, this might actually be a good idea.While other dating sites use various methods to match people looking for a part...
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Older adults considering the idea of 'living apart together' with new partners

Couples who have experienced divorce may be more comfortable living separately

Many U.S. consumers might envision a typical, mature relationship as two married adults who own a house and live in harmony. But a new study shows that a new global trend may be taking form among older adults who have previously been divorced.

Researchers from the University of Missouri say that some older couples are choosing to forego typical living patterns for a more relaxed arrangement. Instead of living in the same place, they say that older couples that have experienced divorce are opting to keep separate homes, dubbed “Living Apart Together” (LAT).

“What has long been understood about late-in-life relationships is largely based on long-term marriage. There are now more divorced and widowed adults who are interested in forging new intimate relationships outside the confines of marriage,” said researcher Jaquelyn Benson.

Positives and negatives

While LAT relationships are more commonly accepted in Europe than in the U.S., the researchers point out that there are some advantages to the system. In their study, the researchers found that LAT couples tended to be more self-reliant – tending more towards financial and social independence than couples in a traditional relationship.

However, there were also some drawbacks observed about LAT relationships. LAT couples had more trouble than traditional couples when it came to expressing the nature of their relationship to others, with many stating that the terms “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” were not sufficient. Additionally, LAT couples had trouble determining how caregiving for a child or “family” decision-making should be handled.

“While we are learning more about LAT relationships, further research is needed to determine how LAT relationships are related to issues such as health care and caregiving. Discussions about end-of-life planning and caregiving can be sensitive to talk about; however, LAT couples should make it a priority to have these conversations both as a couple and with their families," Benson said. 

"Many of us wait until a crisis to address those issues, but in situations like LAT where there are no socially prescribed norms dictating behavior these conversations may be more important than ever.

Avoiding heartache

While some may suggest that the negatives outweigh the positives, Benson says that an LAT relationship may be perfect for older couples who have experienced the sting of divorce before.

“Recent research demonstrates that there are other ways of establishing long-lasting, high-quality relationships without committing to marriage or living together. . . If more people—young and old, married or not—saw LAT as an option, it might save them from a lot of future heartache,” she said.

The full study has been published in Family Relations.

Many U.S. consumers might envision a typical, mature relationship as two married adults who own a house and live in harmony. But a new study shows that a n...
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Facebook announces tests for a new job recruitment feature

The new addition could be a direct challenge to other sites like LinkedIn

Social media giant Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the company has progressively been trying to find more ways to keep users engaged in its network. Last month, it launched Marketplace, an apparent answer to Craigslist, that is meant to allow users to see and buy items that people close by have for sale.

Now, the company says it will be testing out a new feature on some Pages that’s designed to help with job recruitment. It said in an announcement on Monday that the tool will help employers find new, prospective candidates for job openings. So far, the tool is only in the testing phase, but it could provide a challenge to popular networking site LinkedIn, which is also heavily invested in job listings and recruitment.

“Based on behavior we’ve seen on Facebook, where many small businesses post about their job openings on their Page, we’re running a test for Page admins to create job postings and receive applications from candidates,” a spokesperson told Reuters.

Applying via Facebook

According to TechCrunch, Pages can now formally share a job opening by accessing an option in the status update composer; details such as salary and prerequisites can be added to the opening before it is published. An “Apply Now” button on the job posting will allow prospective candidates to begin the application process, and any relevant information collected by Facebook can be used to fill in answers more quickly.

Users will be able to find the postings in a couple of different places. Currently, they can go to a company’s Page and look under the “Jobs” tab to see if there are any openings. In the future, businesses will also be able to post a job opening to their News Feed, allowing all their followers to see it.

Completed applications will be sent to the appropriate Page as a Facebook message, and administrators will be able to take the information from there.

Providing incentive

If successful, the new job listing feature is sure to drive even more internet traffic to Facebook. Since the jobs tab of each Page acts as its own landing site, companies and businesses may be able to attract more Facebook followers and increase their reach.

Also, since each application is sent as a Facebook message, it might incentivize businesses to start committing to the social network’s chat feature. However, TechCrunch notes that if this feature doesn’t work well due to the variety of Facebook messages a Page receives, moving to an email-based system may be better.

The whole development comes at an inopportune time for LinkedIn. Not only is it dwarfed by Facebook’s user base – a difference of nearly 1.32 billion – but its recent acquisition by Microsoft could put the service on its heels as it seeks to adjust. Whether it will be forced to recover and try to retain users over the long-term remains to be seen. 

Social media giant Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the company has progressively been trying to find more ways to keep users engaged in its...
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Instagram's new feature may help those suffering from mental illness

Users can send support to individuals who may be having a hard time

Photos of latte art, adorable animals, and enviable vacations aren’t all users can find on the popular photo-sharing app Instagram.

Despite Instagram’s ban on hashtags like ‘thinspiration’ or ‘thigh gap’ in 2012, users have continued to post pro-anorexia images. Earlier this year, Wired reported that users simply worked around the ban, changing ‘thinspo’ to ‘thinspooooo’ and ‘thighgap’ to ‘thyghgapp.’

Now, a new feature on Instagram may help those suffering from eating disorders, depression, and other forms of mental illness. Users who come across a photo which may have been posted by someone in need of help can anonymously flag it.

Flagging a photo will prompt a message to the user that reads, “Someone saw one of your posts and thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you need support we’d like to help.” Users who may be struggling will then receive different options to get help.  

Input from mental health experts

To create the new feature, Instagram worked with organizations like the National Eating Disorders Association and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“We listen to mental health experts when they tell us that outreach from a loved one can make a real difference for those who may be in distress. At the same time, we understand friends and family often want to offer support but don’t know how best to reach out,” Instagram’s Chief Operating Officer Marne Levine told Seventeen.

Levine explained that the primary goal in putting the new tools into action is to let those suffering from a mental illness know that they are “surrounded by a community that cares” during a time in which the person may desperately need such a reminder.

Support options

Approximately 350 million people suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization. Recent studies have shown that there's an undeniable link between social media use and depression.

Online sharing can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and obsessive behavior. On image-driven social media platforms like Instagram and Tumblr, where manicured photos of seemingly perfect lives rack up the most ‘likes’, excessive comparison can often promote negative feelings.

But with Instagram’s new feature, users will receive support options if they search for banned hashtags or post an image which may be associated with mental illness or self-harm.

Photos of latte art, adorable animals, and enviable vacations aren’t all users can find on the popular photo-sharing app Instagram. Despite Instagram’s...
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Making a backup plan may lead to failure, researchers say

A study shows that people tend to put less effort into a task if they make a backup plan

There are several advantages that come with being prepared and having a backup plan. Those who take the time to consider alternatives are often less anxious about the future and more ready to make changes if something unfortunate does happen.

However, two researchers, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Pennsylvania, respectively, say that there are drawbacks to making a backup plan. Their study shows that those who make them are more likely to put less effort into a given task and fail at achieving a goal.

Less effort

Jihae Shin and Katherine L. Milkman conducted this study after the former admitted that she had reservations when it came to making backup plans. “I was talking with Katy about how sometimes I was hesitant to make a backup plan, because somehow I thought it might hurt my chances of success in my primary goal. Katy thought it was an interesting idea and we decided to test it,” said Shin.

The pair devised a series of experiments to see if the notion held any water. Participants in the study were asked to complete a sentence-unscrambling task with the promise that they could earn a free snack or a chance to leave the study early if they completed it.

Shin and Milkman asked some of the study groups to come up with other ways that they could get free food or make up the lost time later if they failed. After completing the task, the researchers found that those who were asked to make backup plans did worse on the assigned task and had lower levels of desire when it came to succeeding.

Knowing when to make a plan

Shin and Milkman admit that having a backup plan can be beneficial in many ways, but they say that taking time to make one also comes at a cost in some cases.

They conclude by saying that knowing when to make a backup plan can make all the difference when it comes to succeeding at a given task. If a certain task cannot be influenced by effort, they say that making a backup plan can be a good idea; however, tasks that require more effort should be focused on instead of relying on a failsafe.

“You might want to wait until you have done everything you can to achieve your primary goal first,” said Shin.

The full study has been published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes

There are several advantages that come with being prepared and having a backup plan. Those who take the time to consider alternatives are often less anxiou...
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The difference between men and women when it comes to online dating

Men are more aggressive, while women are more selective

Online dating can be a great way to meet new, like-minded people, but do men and women have inherent differences when it comes to using these sites?

According to researchers from Binghamton University, Northeastern University, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Their study found that, in general, men tend to be much more aggressive on dating sites, sending multitudes of messages to different potential partners, whereas women take a more pragmatic approach to messaging.

Gender differences

The study used data from Baihe, a prevalent dating website used in China. While writing a reciprocal recommendation system based on the site’s data, the researchers found certain trends that seemed to persist across gender lines, especially when it came to contacting potential partners.

Men, for example, tended to be much more aggressive in sending out messages. They tended to focus on their own interests, disregarding how attractive they might be to the person receiving the messages. Unfortunately, it’s not a tactic that seems to work out too well for them.

“We found that males like to send a lot of messages to attractive female users, but they don’t get a lot of responses,” said Shuangfei Zhai, co-author of the study.

Women, on the other hand, tended to gauge their own attractiveness and the chances of a successful match before sending a message. This kind of self-conscious behavior inevitably leads to more matches.

“For females, they’re self-conscious because they tend to evaluate the likelihood of getting a response to the user that they’re sending messages to. In terms of the data, it shows that women have a much larger chance of getting responses from users that they send messages to,” said Shuangfei Zhai, co-author of the study.

The full study has been published in the journal Social Network Analysis and Mining.

Online dating can be a great way to meet new, like-minded people, but do men and women have inherent differences when it comes to using these sites?Acc...
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After a reset, Ashley Madison says it's back

Company says it has improved its security and opened the site to all kinds of relationships

Ashley Madison, the dating website that helped married members find partners for affairs, has repositioned itself and hit the reset button.

Two new top executives of parent company Avid Life Media – CEO Rob Segal and President James Millership – have unveiled what they call transformative changes to help the company bounce back from last year's system hack that made members' names public.

“A year ago, Avid Life Media was silenced by a devastating, criminal hack that affected our company and some of our members,” Segal said. The company is truly sorry for how people’s lives and relationships may have been affected by the criminal theft of personal information. That’s why we’re charting a new course and making some big changes.”

Among the changes, Ashley Madison will no longer be just a dating site for married people looking to cheat, but will also be a site for “the open-minded dating community.” The company says the website will try to appeal to a wide range of people seeking relationships.

Like any major business, Segal says Avid Life Media has made major investments in new security safeguards to counter cyber threats. After last year's exposure, Segal says Ashley Madison worked with Deloitte’s cyber security team to set up new security systems that include 24/7 monitoring.

The Impact Teams strikes

The Ashley Madison system hack took place nearly a year ago by hackers who identified themselves as The Impact Team. The hackers' objective was the removal of the website, claiming the company lied to its members.

A month later, some Ashley Madison members filed suit against the company over the data breach. However, the suit was complicated by the fact that the plaintiffs did not want to be publicly identified. That was the issue behind the suit in the first place.

Meanwhile, Segal confirmed to The New York Times that the Federal Trade Commission is investigating Ashley Madison, but he isn't sure of the focus. Nonetheless, he said the company is cooperating.

Ashley Madison, the dating website that helped married members find partners for affairs, has repositioned itself and hit the reset button.Two new top ...
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Millennial dads are more involved than dads of older generations, research shows

Studies show that an involved dad can be good for kids' health

Today’s fathers seem to be taking on a bigger role in the household. More dads than ever are handling the child care, tackling the grocery runs, and taking on the role of stay-at-home dad.

According to a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, U.S. dads are more involved in child care than ever, which could be a boon for kids’ health.

Studies have found that an involved dad can make all the difference. In fact, older kids with involved fathers tend to have fewer behavioral problems, symptoms of depression, and lower rates of teen pregnancy.

So how are dads of this generation stepping up to the plate when it comes to household responsibilities and caring for kids?

“Bro-cery shopping”

Millennial dads are spending more time in the grocery aisles compared to previous generations. In fact, a new survey by Ibotta finds that today's dads have increased the number of grocery purchases by 62% since 2013.

Younger fathers (ages 18 to 24) are purchasing 25% more groceries than dads in older generations. The numbers also show that men are making more trips to the grocery store each month (up 5% since 2013).

And it seems as though dads’ upped grocery game is taking some of the burden off of mom; the share of groceries purchased by millennial mothers has decreased by nearly 2.5% in the same time span.

Increase in stay-at-home dads

Today, there are roughly two million dads who do not work outside the home, according to Pew Research. While this number represents only 7% of fathers in the U.S., it’s an increase from 1989 when just 4% of dads stayed home.

Pew researchers note that the reasons more dads are staying home are changing, too. In 2012, nearly a quarter of dads said caring for home or family was their main reason for staying home -- four times as many as in 1989.

But not everyone is on board with these changes. A majority (62%) of those surveyed say an ideal marriage is one in which the husband and wife both have jobs and both take care of the house and children. However, 74% also say that having women in the workplace makes it more difficult for parents to raise children.

Today’s fathers seem to be taking on a bigger role in the household. More dads than ever are handling the child care, tackling the grocery runs, and taking...
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Sharing and 'liking' grief on Facebook

Social media is used for a lot more than sharing cute kitten photos

Your Facebook feed keeps you informed through the quips, quotes, and photographs that friends post. Most of the news is happy banter, but more and more we learn sad and tragic news from our friends through social media.

When the news of a young adult who died by suicide was posted on Facebook a few years ago, I was surprised. The funeral arrangements followed along with an outpouring of condolences for the family. People were “liking” posts and condolence messages and yet Facebook felt like an impersonal place for such visible grief.

Nowadays, the most universal means of sharing news of a death is through social media. It’s become so commonplace that I purposely check my Facebook feed more regularly to ensure that I don’t miss any difficult losses happening to my friends.

It seems inevitable that our friends, sharing their happy times, would share their sorrows. Last week, another young adult in my community died. The news was shared on Facebook by the bereaved mom. Legions of support quickly surfaced in Facebook feeds. An obituary in the local paper was linked to Facebook and details of the memorial service were disclosed.

Within hours after the funeral, the obituary and eulogies, along with tributes, were appearing on Facebook. Heartfelt condolence messages were posted and so appreciated that they solicited likes. Tributes on BuzzFeed and YouTube continue to appear with no end in sight.

Uncomfortable topic

While death remains an uncomfortable topic, Facebook has come to play an important role in bringing grief into our national conversation. When Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, lost her husband, her candid posts on Facebook elicited a wellspring of condolences and further opened the dialogue on death.

Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chief executive at Facebook, wrote on Facebook about his experience with miscarriage, and he too shared his grief openly.   

Facebook allows us to memorialize our loved ones through tribute pages, giving friends and family a place to remember and reminisce about the deceased. These open communities help us feel less isolated in our grief. They give us a shared space to post our photos and grieve our losses.

A more current trend is to post photos and memories of our deceased family members and friends on their birthdays and the anniversaries of their deaths. It is a way for our friends to remember their loved ones and elicit support from their social network.  

So how do you, as a Facebook friend, deal with loss? It is perfectly acceptable to express your condolences on Facebook. Feel free to write a comment of support, like another’s post, or share your own memories or photos of the deceased.

If you are uncomfortable talking so publicly about the pain of loss, you can ignore it. Just continue to handle condolences in the more traditional ways. Whatever you choose to do, one thing is for sure, social media is going to continue to define and re-define the ways in which we communicate.

Your Facebook feed keeps you informed through the quips, quotes, and photographs that friends post. Most of the news is happy banter, but more and more we ...
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Peeple will let you put people in their places

Why should you not be able to point out everyone's failings, fears, and foibles?

Don't you know a lot of people who are just disgusting? You know -- empty suits, braggarts, loudmouths, dull as dishwater, stand-off-ish, and just a general waste of space?

Well, soon, you'll be able to do something about it -- you'll be able to rate them, just the way you now rate cars, hotels, dating services, restaurants, and psychics on Yelp, ConsumerAffairs, and other review sites.

Yes, someone's finally done it -- a review app for people. It's called, logically enough, Peeple. It's set to launch this fall.

"Peeple is an app that allows you to rate and comment about the people you interact with in your daily lives on the following three categories: personal, professional, and dating," as the app's founders put it. "Peeple will enhance your online reputation for access to better quality networks, top job opportunities, and promote more informed decision making about people."

You'll be able to give one- to five-star ratings to anybody -- your neighbor, your aunt, lovers past and present, that rotten teacher from fifth grade and, of course, your boss. Not to mention your former boss.

Peeple explains itself, sort of, in this video:

Of course, it won't be the kind of thing where you can just sling mud at anybody and everybody. Oh no. The founders assure us that there will be controls in place to ensure that you actually know the person you are grinding into little pieces. You'll also have to be 21, have a Facebook account, and use your own name.

“People do so much research when they buy a car or make those kinds of decisions,” said Julia Cordray, one of the app’s founders, according to a Washington Post story. “Why not do the same kind of research on other aspects of your life?”

Sure, why not indeed? Before you strike up a conversation with your seatmate on the subway, get his or her name and do the research.

You'll also be able to be an even better helicopter parent. The site's other co-founder, Nicole McCullough, is a mother of two who admits she doesn't know her neighbors too well. But when Peeple launches, she'll be able to check them out and decide if her kids should be allowed to play with their kids.

Can't be too careful, after all.

Don't you know a lot of people who are just disgusting? You know -- empty suits, braggarts, loudmouths, dull as dishwater, stand-off-ish, and just a genera...
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Hackers release data stolen from Ashley Madison adultery-dating website

The data dump appears real but the data might be fake; Ashley Madison never verified member registration emails

A month after the adultery-dating website AshleyMadison.com (registered motto: “Life is short. Have an affair.®”) admitted that hackers had managed to breach its database, those hackers have apparently made all of the stolen data available online.

Ashley Madison is owned by Avid Life Media, which also owns other hookup sites, including Established Men and Cougar Life. The hacker or hackers behind the breach self-identify as The Impact Team. At the time of the original breach, The Impact Team threatened to release all of the information it stole unless the site was taken down. And now, it appears that they have made good on that threat.

Released data

As Wired first reported last night, yesterday somebody hiding behind anonymizing software and browsers posted 9.7 gigabytes of apparent Ashley Madison data to the dark web. “The files appear to include account details and log-ins for some 32 million users of the social networking site, touted as the premier site for married individuals seeking partners for affairs. Seven years worth of credit card and other payment transaction details are also part of the dump, going back to 2007 [including] names, street address, email address and amount paid, but not credit card numbers.”

At the time of the breach, AshleyMadison.com claimed to have almost 40 million members in all.

According to its own statements, The Impact Team's main complaint with Ashley Madison isn't the fact that the website promotes or facilitates adultery, but that it allegedly lied to its clients. Specifically, people with dating profiles on Ashley Madison were also offered the chance to pay $19 for a “full delete” function – basically scrubbing their complete profile and activity history from the site.

The Impact Team claimed to have discovered proof that the “full delete” service was a lie, and the information never completely deleted from the database. (Granted, there's arguably some inherent contradictions in The Impact Team's claimed motivation “We dislike the fact that this website harmed its clients, so we're punishing the website by releasing data that will harm its clients.”)

Ashley Madison executives did not take the website down and so yesterday, according to Wired, somebody released an alleged data dump, preceded by an introduction saying, in part, that:

Avid Life Media has failed to take down Ashley Madison and Established Men. We have explained the fraud, deceit, and stupidity of ALM and their members. Now everyone gets to see their data.

Find someone you know in here? Keep in mind the site is a scam with thousands of fake female profiles. See ashley madison fake profile lawsuit; 90-95% of actual users are male. Chances are your man signed up on the world's biggest affair site, but never had one. He just tried to. If that distinction matters....


Of course, there are other possibilities explaining how and why someone might apparently have a profile on the website. For starters, Ashley Madison doesn’t verify members' emails – you can register with any address, not merely your own. So, for example: although someone did apparently register there with the email address tblair@labour.gov.uk, this does not prove that a certain recent former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom ever actually joined the site. The same holds true for the over 15,000 U.S. government or military email addresses found thus far, or the many teachers and professors whose current or former .edu addresses appear in the data dump (and it's easy to imagine students using their teachers' email addresses for joke registrations, in a more risque version of the old “Let's have a dozen takeout pizzas sent to Teacher's house” prank).

As computer security expert Graham Cluley pointed out on his blog (bold print lifted from the original):

…. being a member of a dating site, even a somewhat seedy one like Ashley Madison, is no evidence that you have cheated on your partner.

You might have joined the site years before when you were single and be shocked that they still have your details in their database, or you might have joined the site out of curiosity or for a laugh... never seriously planning to take things any further.

But more importantly than all of that, if your email address is in the Ashley Madison database it means nothing. The owner of that email address may never have even visited the Ashley Madison site....

Potential to ruin lives

This is especially important to remember because, as Cluley also says: “Others might find the thought that their membership of the site - even if they never met anyone in real life, and never had an affair - too much to bear, and there could be genuine casualties as a result. And yes, I mean suicide.”

This does indeed have the potential to ruin millions of people's lives — and not merely people who somehow “deserve” it, either.

After learning of the stolen data release, Avid Life Media released a statement saying that “Our investigation is still ongoing and we are simultaneously cooperating fully with law enforcement investigations, including by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Toronto Police Services and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. … This event is not an act of hacktivism, it is an act of criminality. … We know that there are people out there who know one or more of these individuals, and we invite them to come forward. ... Anyone with information that can lead to the identification, arrest and conviction of these criminals, can contact [email protected].”

A month after the adultery-dating website AshleyMadison.com (registered motto: “Life is short. Have an affair.®”) admitted that hackers had managed to brea...
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Business names on Facebook? Punctuation makes it a scam. Period.

Like-farming scammers use added punctuation to squat on company names

If you spend enough time on Facebook, you're pretty much guaranteed to see lots of posts from “like-farming” scam pages.

Like-farmers start pages and fill them with content dedicated to collecting as many “likes” or “shares” as possible in the shortest amount of time, in order to drive up the page's popularity ranking. Once it's high enough, the like-farmer removes the original page content and replaces it with anything from scam advertising to dangerous malware infections.

Anytime you see a Facebook post with such phrases as “Like and share if you agree!” or “Like and share to win a valuable prize!” it's almost certain to be from a like-farmer seeking to drive up his popularity rank.

Many like-farms take the names of legitimate businesses, but alter them slightly. If you see a company Facebook page with the company's own name misspelled, it's a safe bet you're looking at a scam page. For example, there are two Disney-branded theme parks in the United States — a California park with the one-word name “Disneyland,” and a Florida park whose full name has three words: “Walt Disney World.”

So when you see Facebook pages with such names as “Disney Land” or “Disney World” or “Walt Disney Land,” you can dismiss them as fake pages without even inspecting their content.

Problem is, this particular scam-detection method only works if you already know the full, exact, trademarked name of a given business well enough to recognize a fake (and there are lots of non-Disney employees who understandably can't be bothered to keep track of the differences between Disneyland, Disney Land, Walt Disney Land, Walt Disney World, Disney World, and so forth).

Even easier

But there's an easier way to detect a scammy Facebook business page that requires no “name knowledge” at all: look at the page's business name to see if there's any punctuation. If there is, it's probably a scam.

Last month, we warned you about a then-new like-farming scam falsely promising the chance to win Disney theme park tickets and thousands of dollars cash spending money for anyone who “liked” and “shared” a particular Facebook post.

That scammy like-farming Facebook page went by the name “Disney World.” — with a period at the end of the name. Of course, the incorrect name and the unnecessary punctuation weren't the only signs indicating a scam page: the real Walt Disney World Facebook page is identified as a “Theme Park” in its cover banner, whereas the “Disney World.” like-farming page (which, at press time, hasn't been updated since that May 14 like-farming fertilizer promising bundles of cash and “all paid for Disney World Vacation[s]” to 75 lucky winners) identifies as a “Transport/Freight” company in its banner.

Most obvious of all, the real Walt Disney World Facebook page is entirely filled with various forms of pro-Disney advertising: videos, photos and articles all hammering home the message “Look how much fun you could have, if you spent money here at Walt Disney World!” But like-farming pages only have posts offering valuable prizes if you like and share their content.

A current search for Facebook pages going by the name “Disney World.” (two words followed by a period) shows over half a dozen different like-farms currently in operation: in addition to the “Transport/freight” page, there's “Disney World.” with a “Computers/Technology” banner, offering $5,000 cash plus Disney park tickets if you “like” and “share” their most recent post; “Disney World.” in the “Engineering/Construction” business offering $2,500 plus Disney tickets if you like and share; a Disney World-plus-period “University” (offering tickets plus $3,500); a “Food/Beverages” company (tickets and $2,000); a “Travel/Leisure” group (tix plus $5,000) and a “Community Organization” (ditto).

You'll find similarly scammy offers on Disney-name variants such as “Disney-World.” (note the period and the hyphen).

There's also such oddities as the “Walt Disney Land” page with a “Local business” banner which, as of June 18, has some fairly impressive statistics (27K people “like” this) and a page history dating back to 2010. Yet there's not a single post visible on that page, anywhere.

How does a Facebook page collect over 27,000 “likes” without posting any content?

It doesn't. What's happening is the “like farmer” has already stripped whatever posts he used to collect likes and shares – almost certainly posts promising the chance to win valuable prizes.

Of course, Disney isn't the only company whose theme parks are used as like-farming bait. Six Flags is another whose legitimate Facebook page has many poorly punctuated like-farming doppelgangers.

“Six Flags.” with a period includes a “Government Organization” whose most recent post, from January, offered the chance to win Six Flags tickets and $2,500 cash if you “Just Share & Like this photo. (Comment to double chances).”

A particularly lazy like-farmer must've been behind “Six Flags.” the “Community” page, whose most recent post, offering Six Flags season tickets and VIP perks, dates back to September 2013. Equally out-of-date are the pages belonging to “Six Flag's Vacation's” whose banner photo identifies them as a “Fictional Character,” and “Six Flag's Vacations” the “Community.”

But in all such cases, the incorrect name or unnecessary punctuation was only the first of many signs that these are scammy like-farming pages; the main clue is the content. With any post you see on Facebook, remember that if you see such phrases as “Like and share if you agree!” or “Like and share to win a valuable prize!” there's almost certain to be a like-farmer behind the post.

If you spend enough time on Facebook, you're pretty much guaranteed to see lots of posts from “like-farming” scam pages. Like-farmers start pages and fi...
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Tennessee town tries banning social media criticism

Clueless commissioners in South Pittsburg now criticized worldwide

Pre-emptive warning to any readers who might want to post comments about this story: if you live in or near South Pittsburg, Tennessee, there's a good chance that it's illegal for you to do so.

Granted, the law making it illegal is itself almost sure to be overturned on constitutional grounds, so if you actually were arrested or prosecuted under this law you could sue, and eventually win, and maybe even have an inspirational cable-TV movie made about your experiences … but this will all take several years, and you'd have a miserable time of it in the meanwhile.

Last week, city commissioners in the Chattanooga suburb of South Pittsburg, Tennessee, voted 4-1 to ban any negative comments about the city or its government on any forms of social media.

The town was, until now, best known as the home of the National Cornbread Festival.

This ban does not apply to everybody in the world, however, only to any of South Pittsburg's elected representatives, appointed board members, employees, volunteers, vendors, contractors and anybody else associated with the town in any official capacity, all of whom are now forbidden to post anything critical on any blogs, Facebook discussions, Twitter or any other forms of social media.

"Just an industry standard"

The Chattanooga Times Free-Press quoted South Pittsburg City Commissioner Jeff Powers as saying that this ban was necessary because sometimes the commissioners had to spend time discussing negative comments people had made.

“It seems like every few meetings we're having to address something that's been on Facebook and created negative publicity,” he said. “This is just an industry standard nowadays.”

Every few meetings! Yikes. When the writers of America's Constitution included First Amendment guarantee of free speech (including speech critical of the government), they surely never intended that elected representatives might actually have to address those criticisms or face negative publicity every few meetings or so, right?

However, Powers rejected any accusations that city employees were being banned from social media:

“The first thing everyone wants to say is 'I can't post anything on Facebook.' Well, you can. Just not [anything] that sheds a negative light on any person, entity, board or things of that nature. You can go ahead and post all you want.”

City attorney Billy Gouger agreed with this interpretation, saying that the new policy is not intended to infringe on free-speech rights. “What this policy tries to do is reconcile that right with other rights,” he said. “It does, to some extent, limit your ability to criticize or comment in an official capacity.”

He didn't mention what those “other rights” are – presumably the “right” for city commissioners to not have to address criticism? Nor does he explain the apparent contradiction of how something specifically designed to “limit your ability to comment or criticize,” as he said, can be construed as anything other than an infringement on free speech.

"Out-and-out lies..."

The city's mayor, Jane Dawkins, also supports the ban, saying it's necessary because “Criticism is one thing … Out-and-out lies and untruths, that's another thing. Those kinds of things are the things that will be directed.” Of course, current free-speech protections already exclude slander and libel, again making South Pittsburg's new law unnecessary.

The one South Pittsburg commissioner who voted against the ban was Paul Don King, who said he could see both sides of the argument but voted against the ban because it infringed on city employees' freedom of speech.

While city employees, vendors, contractors and others might be forbidden to criticize the city or its leaders, the rest of the Internet is not, and naturally responded to the ban on social-media criticism by criticizing the hell out of the city on social media.

Parody Twitter feeds sprang up thanks to anonymous people portraying Mayor Dawkins or Commissioner Powers (who, among other things, decreed that “Any temperature below 0 is henceforth banned. #DownWithNegatives”).

A Facebook page dedicated to the town got lots of new visitors and comments, almost entirely critical of the news story. Some people offered well-meaning and helpful criticism:

Is this the kind of press coverage the city officials want?? We grow from our mistakes and being able to hear the good, not-so-good and the ugly should help us dig deeper to work a workable solution. People can complain but have another idea for a solution.

Meanwhile, other Facebook commenters were more interested in criticizing the city solely for the sake of criticizing it:

“I don't live in Tenn. I live in Arizona. Are they going to ban me from talking about HOW DUMB YOUR LEADERS ARE! Can I say that and what will they do if I say it? Stupid asses.”

Another commenter with possibly shaky math skills posted

“Two words. Streisand Effect. Google it.”

Formerly clueless

It does seem safe to say – not as criticism, merely as a neutral observation – that perhaps the city government of South Pittsburg, Tennessee, never heard of the “Streisand Effect,” named after famed singer and formerly clueless privacy buff Barbra Streisand.

Know Your Meme  defines it as “the unintended consequence of further publicizing information by trying to have it censored. Instead of successfully removing the information from the public, it becomes even more widely available than before as a backlash against the censorship attempt.”

The label first arose in 2003, after a photographer trying to document the rate of coastal beach erosion in California took a series of airborne photos of the coast. Of course, many photos of the California coast also show various structures built on the coast, including a mansion belonging to Streisand.

Streisand, through her lawyers, tried to have those photos containing her mansion removed from the erosion survey, citing her privacy. (For what it's worth, the photo shows a large white mansion atop a sandy bluff leading down to the beach. Nice, and obviously expensive, but there is absolutely nothing about it to indicate who owns it or lives there.)

Streisand's lawsuit gained a lot of media attention, and millions of people who had absolutely no interest in looking at photos documenting California beach erosion were nonetheless very interested in looking at a specific photo which Barbra Streisand deliberately tried to quash.

And until last week, it was safe to say that few people outside of southwestern Tennessee had even heard of the city of South Pittsburg, let alone cared enough to criticize it.

Pre-emptive warning to any readers who might want to post comments about this story: if you live in or near South Pittsburg, Tennessee, there's a good chan...
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FTC reaches settlement with online dating network

Must stop luring customers with fake profiles, among other things

A dating site based in England has agreed to stop using computer-generated fake profiles to fool members into paying for membership upgrades. In a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, JDI Dating also agreed to stop billing people's credit cards for subscription fees without their consent.

Of course, any dating site is bound to have some fraudulent profiles on it somewhere, thanks to dishonest people who sign on hoping to ensnare a victim into a dating scam.

That's why, even if you're registered with a reputable dating site, you must always be wary of potential scammers (and never agree to send money to anyone you meet online, no matter how compelling a sob story they have to tell).

But that's not what happened with JDI (which operates a variety of dating or hookup sites under different names, including CupidsWand, FlirtCrowd and FindMeLove). Apparently, registering with and building a profile at a JDI-owned site is free — but seeing or responding to any messages you get from other members requires a paid membership. According to the FTC:

As soon as a new user set up a free profile, he or she began to receive messages that appeared to be from other members living nearby, expressing romantic interest or a desire to meet. However, users were unable to respond to these messages without upgrading to a paid membership. … The messages were almost always from fake, computer-generated profiles – “Virtual Cupids” – created by the defendants, with photos and information designed to closely mimic the profiles of real people. A small “v” encircled by a “C” on the profile page was the only indication that the profiles were fake. Users were not likely to see – much less understand – this icon. The fake profiles and messages caused many users to upgrade to paid subscriptions.


An Oct. 29 online search for JDI Dating and “Virtual cupids” brought up the terms-and-conditions page of a JDI-owned site called JustHookUp.com, which promises to help members “Hook up with local sex partners” (sex partners is italicized, underlined and set off by quotation marks in the original).

The total “terms and conditions” document is 9,343 words long, and after you, the potential new member, read through the first 1,308 words you'll find the first mention of Virtual Cupids: “We reserve the right to create Accounts for quality control, administrative purposes and the use of our Virtual Cupid program as described below. Such accounts may be publicly viewable.”

Then, if you stay conscious long enough to read through the next 1,419 words' worth of eye-glazing prose, you'll finally find this:

VIRTUAL CUPIDS: THIS SITE UTILIZES VIRTUAL PROFILES THAT DO NOT CORRESPOND TO OTHER MEMBERS: JDI Dating Ltd encourages Account development and promotes user, Member and/or Subscriber communications through our Virtual Cupid (VC) services. By accepting these Terms, all users, Members and/or Subscribers fully understand, accept and agree to the deployment of this service, and acknowledge that some of the profiles and Members displayed to them, and related communications sent to Members from VC's, are not associated with any other user of the site, but included in an effort to promote broader user, Member and/or Subscriber activity and fuller participation in all the Services. The VC services may include the posting of information, pictures and communication directed to the user, Member and/or Subscriber's Account. Such messages may take the form of any communication currently permitted on the Website ….

In other words, JDI did/does bury deep within its “Terms and Conditions” the admission that, in order to encourage [paid] Member and/or Subscriber activity, it will set up fake profiles that do everything a real profile can do – except lead to a romantic (or even a purely sexual) connection with another human being, which presumably is what potential members signed up for in the first place.

But this fine-print loophole wasn't enough for JDI to wriggle out of its settlement with the FTC. The company has to pay $616,165 in redress; its various websites are still in operation but henceforth, according to the FTC press release: “The settlement order prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting material facts about any product or service and, from failing to disclose clearly to potential members that they will receive communications from virtual profiles who are not real people.”

JDI also has to stop billing members without their consent, make subscriptons as easy to cancel as they are to start, and actually honor any subscription cancellations they get.

A dating site based in England has agreed to stop using computer-generated fake profiles to fool members into paying for membership upgrades. In a settleme...
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"Anti-Facebook" promises to be virtuous forever. Really.

Ello says it will always be "simple, beautiful & ad-free"

You remember Facebook. It used to be really popular but now it has 1.23 billion monthly users and nobody likes it anymore. It has too many ads and doesn't respect people's privacy. That's why nobody goes there anymore. Well, except those 1.23 billion people.

Obviously, the situation cries out for a new social network -- one that won't have so many ads, will respect everyone's privacy and so forth and so on. This is where something called Ello fits in, at least as its founders see it.

It's not just vaporware. Ello says it already has 1 million members and a few million more just waiting to join. Oh, and it's also raised a little over $5.5 million from investors who say they are willing to take a long-term view and be very patient about seeing a return on their money.

And so?

What's so great about Ello? Well, it says it will never have advertising and will never sell information about its users to any of those greedy marketers who are always stalking everyone around the Web. It has organized itself as a Public Benefit Corp., which is sort of like a charity that's allowed to make money -- to do well while doing good, as they like to say. 

Of course, if you don't charge advertisers, you have to charge somebody else. In this case, that somebody else will be the users of the site. Ello says it will use "micro-payments," which is a cute little way of saying the charge won't be too high.

The micro-payments will be for extra services that Ello will offer. It doesn't know what those services will be yet, apparently, but says it's confident it will dream something up as time goes by. Sort of the way smartphone apps just sprout up the moment they're needed.

And besides, Ello says it won't need to make as much money as the big greedy sites because it won't be doing as much. It won't be tracking members, selling data to marketers or doing any of those other things that eat up so much staff time. And generate the revenue that keeps the lights on.

A small universe

Of course, a social network is only as good as its members, who generally join up to interact with their friends and acquaintances, not with strangers. If one social network has 1.23 billion members and another one has a million or two, it's kind of likely the bigger one will have more of your friends and acquaintances. Which could make it a little hard for Ello to gain traction.

Once you join up, of course, you can try to get your friends to join too. You can send them those annoying little notices everybody is always getting about LinkedIn, Google+ and all the other social networks that are clogging up the interpipes.

It may be a little harder, though, to convince your friends to join a network that they have to pay for, although perhaps Ello will let you pick up the tab for your friends. Hmmm ... life online gets more like an evening at the pub all the time. 

You remember Facebook. It used to be really popular but now it has 1.23 billion monthly users and nobody likes it anymore. It has too many ads and doesn't ...
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Congress urged to ban "virtual brothels"

Attorneys general say children being bought and sold on Backpage.com, other sites

Attorneys General from around the country are urging Congress to pass legislation that would help prevent children from being trafficked on the Internet.

The letter, co-sponsored by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and signed by 53 state and territorial attorneys general, asks the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to approve the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act.

The SAVE Act, Senate Bill 2536, would provide more oversight of websites that offer “adult services,” such as Backpage.com.

“The facts about online child sex trafficking are as shocking as they are heartbreaking,” Ferguson said. “It’s within Congress’ power to take a huge step toward ending that. I join with my fellow attorneys general in urging them to do the right thing.”

In just one week this June, police arrested 281 alleged sex traffickers and rescued 168 children from prostitution in a nationwide FBI crackdown against people who offered child victims for sale on “escort” and other “adult services” websites.

Backpage suit

Tomorrow, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether a lawsuit against Backpage.com by three victims of child sex trafficking can go forward. The children argue the site effectively helps promote the victimization of children. Ferguson filed an amicus brief in support of the children last month.

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating about $150 billion each year. There are numerous cases nationally of children being used in prostitution as young as 12. The FBI estimates that nearly 300,000 American youths are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

The use of the “adult services sections” on websites such as Backpage.com has created virtual brothels where children are bought and sold using euphemistic labels such as “escorts,” Ferguson said. The SAVE Act would require these websites that are enabling trafficking through their very business model to take steps to verify the identity of individuals posting advertisements and the age of those who appear in them.

Attorneys General from around the country are urging Congress to pass legislation that would help prevent children from being trafficked on the Internet....
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Yelp, TinyCo improperly collected info on children: FTC

The companies agree to pay a penalty and revise their policies

Online review site Yelp, Inc., and mobile app developer TinyCo, Inc., have agreed to settle separate Federal Trade Commission charges that they improperly collected children’s information in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, Rule.

Yelp will pay a $450,000 civil penalty, while TinyCo will pay $300,000.

“As people – especially children – move more of their lives onto mobile devices, it’s important that they have the same consumer protections when they’re using an app that they have when they’re on a website,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies should take steps as they build and test their apps to make sure that children’s information won’t be collected without a parent’s consent.”

COPPA requires that companies collecting information about children under 13 online follow a number of steps to ensure that children’s information is protected, including clearly disclosing how the information is used directly to parents and seeking verifiable parental consent before collecting any information from a child.

TinyCo said the problems occurred in its older games and said titles released since 2012 are "strictly complaint witih COPPA protections."

"We apologize to anyone affected by this issue, and want to be unequivocal in stating that TinyCo is fully committed to protecting user privacy, particularly when children are involved," the company said in a statement on its website.


The FTC’s complaint against Yelp alleges that, from 2009 to 2013, the company collected personal information from children through the Yelp app without first notifying parents and obtaining their consent. When consumers registered for Yelp through the app on their mobile device, according to the complaint, they were asked to provide their date of birth during the registration process.

According to the complaint, several thousand registrants provided a date of birth showing they were under 13 years old, and Yelp collected information from them including, for example, their name, e-mail address, and location, as well as any information that they posted on Yelp.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that Yelp failed to follow the COPPA Rule’s requirements, even though it knew – based on registrants’ birth dates – that children were registering for Yelp through the mobile app. 

Under the terms of the settlement, Yelp must delete information it collected from consumers who stated they were 13 years of age or younger at the time they registered for the service, except in cases where the company can prove to the FTC that the consumers were actually older than 13.

The settlement will also require the company to comply with COPPA requirements in the future and submit a compliance report to the FTC in one year outlining its COPPA compliance program.


The FTC’s complaint against TinyCo alleges that many of the company’s popular apps, which were downloaded more than 34 million times across the major mobile app stores, targeted children.

Among the apps named in the complaint are Tiny Pets, Tiny Zoo, Tiny Monsters, Tiny Village and Mermaid Resort. The complaint alleges that the apps, through their use of themes appealing to children, brightly colored animated characters and simple language, were directed at children under 13 and thus, TinyCo was subject to the COPPA Rule.

Many of TinyCo’s apps included an optional feature that collected e-mail addresses from users, including children younger than age 13. In some of the company’s apps, by providing an e-mail address, users obtained extra in-game currency that could be used to buy items within the game or speed up gameplay. 

Under the terms of its settlement, TinyCo is required to delete the information it collected from children under 13. The settlement will also require the company to comply with COPPA requirements in the future and submit a compliance report to the FTC in one year outlining its compliance with the order.

Online review site Yelp, Inc., and mobile app developer TinyCo, Inc., have agreed to settle separate Federal Trade Commission charges that they improperly ...
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DiGiorno blunder leads to Twitter backlash

A domestic-violence-awareness campaign is not the place to promote frozen pizza

If you've ever watched a sitcom, any sitcom, you probably remember the episode where Character 1 overheard Character 2 say something completely innocuous, which led to a hilarious misunderstanding because, out of context, C1 became convinced that C2 was up to no good.

Or maybe you remember the episode where the exact opposite happened: Character 1 said something serious and important, which Character 2 misunderstood and treated as a joke, which led to a hilarious misunderstanding possibly followed by some important life lessons.

The moral of that sitcom episode is: if you only hear a tiny snippet of a conversation, don't make any assumptions based on that snippet alone.

Unfortunately, it appears that whoever handles Twitter marketing for DiGiorno frozen pizza never learned that lesson, which led to a not-hilarious misunderstanding this week.

You had pizza

The Baltimore Ravens fired their former running back, Ray Rice, after security video emerged of Rice punching his then-fiancee in a casino elevator. The story has inspired several national discussions about the problem of domestic violence. One of those discussions, on Twitter, involved former victims of domestic violence sharing their stories under the respective hashtags #WhyILeft or #WhyIStayed.

On Monday evening, someone at DiGiorno's corporate Twitter account presumably noticed that #WhyIStayed was trending, and decided to join in the conversation before determining exactly what is was about, by tweeting a full-color marketing photograph of a pizza alongside the words “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.”

The tweet inspired instant outrage, and only stayed up for a few minutes before DiGiorno took it down. To the company's credit, it immediately took responsibility for the blunder and tweeted: “A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting.” The next day, DiGiorno tweeted: “We heard from many of you, and we know we disappointed you. We understand, and we apologize to everyone for this mistake.”

As of presstime, those two apologetic tweets remain the most recent ones on the DiGiorno feed @DiGiornoPizza.

And, in all fairness, the company handled its mistake as well as anyone possibly could have: it offered a prompt, straightforward apology rather than a typical corporate PR responsibility-avoiding non-apology of the “Mistakes were made, sorry if we offended anyone” variety.

If you've ever watched a sitcom, any sitcom, you probably remember the episode where Character 1 overheard Character 2 say something completely innocuous, ...
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Facebook app users beware: autoplay can exceed your data limits

Disable the video-autoplay default on your tablet or phone, now

If you use the Facebook app on your tablet, phone or mobile device (especially 3G or 4G Internet connections), watch out – MoneySavingExpert.com has confirmed that Facebook's default habit of auto-playing videos has been causing some phone or tablet users to exceed their monthly data limits without even realizing it — until they're hit with overage bills.

Luckily, the problem is fairly easy to fix. If you have an iPhone, go into “Settings” and choose “Facebook.” Then click “Settings,” then “Auto-play,” and choose either “Wi-Fi only” or “Off.”

With an Android, go into the account settings of your Facebook app. Click “App settings” and then choose between “Auto-play only on Wi-Fi” or “Off.” (Personal preference: go with “off” in either case, so you can choose which videos you play even over wi-fi.)

Simple as this problem is to fix, critics could point out this problem wouldn't be a problem in the first place if Facebook didn't default to automatically playing any and all videos appearing on a user's Facebook feed; the mere fact that your Facebook friend posted a video does not mean you want to watch it at all, let alone watch it on your limited-data-plan mobile device.

If you use the Facebook app on your tablet, phone or mobile device (especially 3G or 4G Internet connections), watch out – MoneySavingExpert.com has confir...
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Facebook finally cracks down on clickbait

Too much clickbait crowds out posts you actually want to see

You'll never guess what Facebook is doing to make its user experience less obnoxious!

Luckily you don't have to guess, because we'll come right out and tell you: Facebook's cracking down on obnoxious “click-bait” headlines of the “You'll never guess what so-and-so is doing!” or “You'll be amazed to hear what happened!” variety.

Facebook defines “click-baiting” as being when “a publisher posts a link with a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see.”

The lack of information is what makes it clickbait. After all: anyone who posts a link hopes people will click on it (otherwise, what's the point?), but legitimate headlines are supposed to give at least some indication of what the story's actually about — hence, the difference between posting a link titled “Facebook finally cracks down on clickbait” versus “You'll never guess what Facebook is doing to make its user experience less obnoxious!” The former is a legitimate headline; the latter is clickbait.

Bottom feeders

CNN Money referred to “a whole ecosystem of bottom-feeder Web sites that specialize in these kinds of stories.” Facebook's main motivation for the crackdown against that ecosystem is that clickbait can lead to a vicious cycle for the typical Facebook user: the more you're tricked into clicking on links which (it turns out) you don't actually care about, the more likely it is that your Facebook “feed” will include lots more links you don't care about, crowding out the ones you do and increasing the likelihood you'll spend less time on Facebook.

But a clickbait crackdown might have other advantages as well. Some clickbait is relatively innocuous, in that whoever put it up is only trying to get more clicks. But clickbait is also very popular with hackers and scam artists, who will use it to trick people into downloading malware.

Do you remember last March, when a Malaysia Airlines flight mysteriously vanished? On April Fools' Day the Better Business Bureau had to put out a serious, no-joke scam warning to let Facebook users know that malware writers were using the missing airline as clickbait: Facebook posts promised (for example) exclusive, never-before-seen video of the missing flight, or even said that the flight had been found, but anyone who clicked the link soon found their computers infected with malware.

With luck, Facebook's crackdown on “legitimate” clickbait (legitimate in the sense that it's only trying to inflate its click-numbers, rather than try to install malware or worse) will make life more difficult for clickbait scammers too.

You'll never guess what Facebook is doing to make its user experience less obnoxious!...
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Date me, date my dog

The latest wrinkle in dating sites

Date me, date my dog. I think the phrase originally started out as "date me, date my kids" but with so many single people getting pets as a companion it's no wonder the phrase has changed.

Dating sites are catching on to that as well.

Petsdating.com is a site where, on the home page, you see pet profiles instead of humans. Its a purrfect idea -- only problem when we went to check it out, when you click on the animals profile it said page not found. Perhaps just a bad day for computer problems. Just when you think you found the pet that your pet will get along with! (It appeared to be working later).

"By becoming a member you will be able to show off your pet to the rest of the pet owners, while having access to a variety of resources," the site promises. 

Youmustlovedogsdating.com is set up more like a Match.com or a traditional dating site. What sets them apart? According to their website, "We know that you have other choices when it comes to dating sites, but ours offers one thing that others do not take into consideration. We respect and understand that you already have one love in your life, and encourage you to find someone equally as special to fill the other half of your heart. Everything about Must Love Dogs is meant to accommodate both you and your dog."

Most dating sites cater to religious beliefs and cultural preferences and even political beliefs, so having a site where you care and share the same canine passion is a good start. I am sure many single people can tell you horror stories of things that went wrong where one person was an animal lover and the other not so much.

Not everyone likes dogs that are inside or sleep on the bed. That could end a potential relationship right there.

Bringing a pet on a first date can be an ice breaker and make everyone more comfortable as long as it isn't a python, although I'm sure that if you look hard enough there is a site for snake lovers too.

Date me, date my dog. I think the phrase originally started out as "date me, date my kids" but with so many single people getting pets as a companion it's ...
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Delaware law lets heirs inherit your email and social media accounts

But privacy advocates worry about the implications

Delaware made history last week by becoming the first U.S. state to give a person's digital assets the same status as tangible assets where inheritance laws are concerned.

House Bill 345, the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act, gives executors and heirs the same legal rights over digital assets (such as email or social-media accounts) as they have over physical assets.

However, this law only applies to Delaware residents, not to social media companies (including Facebook, Google and Twitter) which happen to be incorporated there.

Ars Technica noted that “people creating family trusts could conceivably use this Delaware law to their advantage, even without residing in Delaware.”

Presumably, various companies will have to change their policies or terms of service (at least for Delaware residents) to comply with this new law. For example, Facebook's current “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” says this:

You will not share your password (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.
You will not transfer your account (including any Page or application you administer) to anyone without first getting our written permission.

So even if you wanted to, for example, leave your Facebook login and password information to someone in your will (or just write it down and keep it in your safe deposit box where your executor will find it), this officially violates Facebook policy: your heir or executor couldn't even log in to your Facebook page to let your “Friends” know that you are gone.

Privacy concerns

Some privacy advocates have expressed concern over the Delaware law. Ars Technica printed a statement from Jim Halpert, director of the State Privacy and Security Coalition, who said he opposed the law because it “takes no account of minimizing intrusions into the privacy of third parties who communicated with the deceased … This would include highly confidential communications to decedents from third parties who are still alive — patients of deceased doctors, psychiatrists, and clergy, for example — who would be very surprised that an executor is reviewing the communications.”

An initial layman's glance at the text of the Delaware law suggests that it does not make any distinctions between personal and professional digital assets: for example, the personal email accounts physicians use for off-duty chats with friends, versus the professional email accounts they might use to discuss patient treatments with staff and colleagues.

Then again, Halpert went on to say that Delaware's new law “may well create a lot of confusion and false expectations because, as the law itself acknowledges, federal law may prohibit disclosing contents of communications.”

That's in reference to this bit from the text of the bill:

§ 5004. Control of digital accounts and digital assets by a fiduciary.

Except as otherwise provided by a governing instrument or court order, a fiduciary may exercise control over any and all rights in digital assets and digital accounts of an account holder, to the extent permitted under applicable state or federal law or regulations or any end user license agreement.

In that case, it appears that such digital assets as a physician's professonal email or password-protected access to a patient-records database are already exempt from Delaware's law, since federal confidentiality laws override it. Still, over the days and weeks to come it'll be worth watching to see how the tech and legal communities respond to the new law in Delaware.

Delaware made history last week by becoming the first U.S. state to give a person's digital assets the same status as tangible assets where inheritance law...
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Google to offer supervised accounts to kids under 13

Promises parental oversight and protection of children's privacy

Big changes are coming to Google: the company intends to officially make its accounts available to children under 13, with parental permission and control. An anonymous source at Google said that the company's been also working on a children-only version of YouTube that would allow parents to control what content their children can upload or see.

The subscription-only tech news site The Information first reported the news on Monday morning, and the Wall Street Journal tech blog gave it greater exposure later that afternoon.

Of course, it's already very easy for under-13s to open accounts with Google, Facebook or any other free social media, by simply lying about their age when they sign up.

In general, social media companies don't let openly acknowledged under-13s have accounts because of COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which basically says that where children are concerned, companies and businesses may not collect the same vast amount of information they do on their adult users. However, COPPA doesn't apply to account-holders who lied about their ages.

Advocates concerned

Privacy advocates have of course expressed concern about Google's plan to offer children's accounts; the Journal quoted Jeff Chester, executive director of the online-privacy group Center for Digital Democracy, as saying “Unless Google does this right it will threaten the privacy of millions of children and deny parents the ability to make meaningful decisions about who can collect information on their kids.”

On the other hand, when the Consumerist blog reported the news, it asked “Google’s plan to let kids have accounts: bad idea or acknowledgement of reality?” and reminded its readers what everyone knows already: plenty of kids already have such accounts, since it's ridiculously easy for people of any age to type dishonesties on the Internet. (Consider: “I'm a 19-year-old man who is royal heir to the Norwegian throne, and also the world's going to end in December 2012” — there's not a grain of truth to be found in that sentence, yet I had zero difficulty typing out that statement and publishing it online.)

In all seriousness, there's a definite argument to be made that, since so many underage kids are going to socialize online anyway, the best thing to do is be open about it, so parents can oversee their activities and protect their kids from making bad choices.

No precedent

Unfortunately, determining the “right” Internet and social-media policy for your kids might be the single most difficult child-rearing issue for modern parents to figure out, because you can't look back to your own childhood for ideas, the way you can for most parenting decisions: “What time should my kids go to bed? Let me think – what was my bedtime at their age?” or “How much TV could I watch?” or “Adjusted for inflation, how much spending money did I have?”

But try to remember what social-media policies your parents imposed when you were your kids' ages, and chances are the answer is “None, because the Internet as we know it didn't exist, and neither did social media.” Even the telephone-use parenting policies of the landline era don't really apply to smartphones: in the old days, about the worst damage an unsupervised kid could do with a phone was run up a high long-distance bill, or make a few prank calls. Meeting unsavory strangers was very unlikely, and posting something visible to the whole world that will follow you the rest of our life was impossible.

On the other hand, parents do need to figure something out, because in today's world, “safe and responsible online conduct” is a life skill all children will need to master, long before they reach official full-fledged adulthood.

Maybe a G-rated and strictly controlled “walled garden” for kids is a good place for them to start learning.

Big changes are coming to Google: the company intends to officially make its accounts available to children under 13, with parental permission and control....
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Man removed from Southwest flight for tweet about rude gate agent

Forced to delete Twitter comment before he was allowed to fly home

A Minnesota man says he was removed from Southwest Airlines flight and forced to delete a critical tweet he'd made about a rude gate agent before being allowed to fly home. Southwest, for its part, released a statement confirming that the man was indeed removed from the flight, with no mention of why.

Duff Watson initially told a CBS affiliate in Minneapolis that the dispute started over boarding procedures: Watson is an A-list flyer with Southwest and says he is used to boarding with his children, but this time, a gate agent in Denver wouldn't let his 6- and 9-year-old kids have priority boarding status with him.

“In leaving I said, you know, ‘Real nice way to treat an A-list. I’ll be sure to tweet about it.'” So he did. “Something to the effect of, ‘Wow, rudest agent in Denver. Kimberly S, gate C39, not happy @SWA.'”

Watson and his children eventually boarded the plane, but before it took off, they were asked to leave the flight, allegedly because the gate agent said she felt threatened by Watson's tweet. Watson also said that the agent threatened to call police unless he deleted the tweet, so he did. (Watson's entire Twitter account has since changed to “protected” status, with access limited to confirmed followers.)

Watson's daughter Lucy said she was afraid her father would be arrested. “[The gate agent] said ‘I’m going to call the cops .… I like thought something bad was going to happen, like my dad being in jail.”

Once he deleted the tweet, he and his children were allowed back on board the plane.

Southwest has since reached out to Watson and offered him a $50 voucher for future flights, which Watson says he plans to donate to charity because “I’m not going to fly them again …. I wish I didn’t back down, I wish I didn’t delete the tweet. But under that quid pro quo situation, I did it.”

A Minnesota man says he was removed from Southwest Airlines flight and forced to delete a critical tweet he'd made about a rude gate agent before being all...
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Online news draws increasingly uncivil comments

Researchers seek reasons for nastiness

That news story you're reading might not be all that exciting but when you scroll to the comments section at the bottom of the page, chances are you'll encounter some fireworks.

While we're happy to say that commenters at ConsumerAffairs are, for the most part, thoughtful and informed, all too often – especially on news stories about controversial topics – the commenting can get nasty.

Just how nasty? Researchers at the University of Arizona and University of Utah set out to find out.

Their study, written up in the Journal of Communication, analyzed more than 6,400 reader comments posted to news stories on the website of the Arizona Daily Star, the major daily newspaper in Tucson.

20% uncivil

In their tally, more than 1 in 5 comments – 20% – included some form of incivility, with name-calling as the most prevalent type.

“We tracked six different kinds of uncivil language, but name-calling was far and away the most common,” said Kevin Coe, assistant professor of communication at the University of Utah and one of the study’s authors. “Many people just can’t seem to avoid the impulse to go after someone else.”

Are people today just meaner and more arrogant? Or are they just more polarized along ideological lines? And is that polarization fanned by partisan media on both the left and the right?

The researchers found that while people may not be meaner, the anonymity of the Internet may be encouraging heated, over-the-top rhetoric. And the commenters do not fit the neat stereotype of a few angry people who spend hours at their computers blasting others and making baseless claims.

Infrequent commenters guilty too

In other words, the guys who seem to have an opinion on everything and insist on sharing it aren't the worst offenders. The researchers found incivility was more common among infrequent commenters.

And as for baseless arguments – that appears to be another myth. The commenters who expressed their opinions in uncivil ways were just as likely to cite evidence in support of their point of view than people using respectful language to express their opinions.

Lighting rods

Certain subjects serve as lightening rods for uncivil commenters. On the right, President Obama and Hillary Clinton tend to draw heated responses. On the left, it's conservative Supreme Court justices and Republican politicians.

For example, the researchers found that news stories quoting Obama generated comments that were nearly 33% uncivil, well above the sample's average.

The weightier the political issue or ideological point, the more likely commenters were to be uncivil in their comments. But amid all the nastiness, the researchers made an interesting observation.

When an uncivil commenter was challenged by someone with an opposing view, the resulting back-and-forth dialog between the two tended to be more civil than the original post. When some of the Internet's anonymity is stripped away, people tend to be more respectful.

“We tend to be more respectful in our public discourse when we recognize other citizens’ perspectives, even when we do not agree with them,” said Kate Kenski, associate professor of communication at the University of Arizona and co-author of the study. “When we quote others participating in an online discussion, we tend to focus on their arguments, not on personal attributions, which makes the conversation more civil.”

Fighting anonymity

One step that many news sites have taken to fight back against over-the-top comments is to use social media -- primarily Facebook -- as their submission portal.

Facebook users know their "friends" are watching them and tend to be at least a bit more circumspect in their comments. Facebook also has highly accurate algorithms that filter out most of the spam that plagues all online services.

Would-be commenters tend to object to being required to use Facebook but publishers respond that the cost of using human editors to police comment sections vastly outweighs any benefit the comments may have.

Software solution 

Other than Facebook, there's no generally accepted software solution for the problem of comments run amok. But the Washington Post, the New York Times and software developer Mozilla are working to change that.

The three recently announced that they were working on a project to create digital tools that would make it easier for readers to post comments and photos on news sites and to interact with journalists and each other.

The project is being funded by a $3.89 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. 

Media influence?

Still, it's hard not to believe that an increasingly partisan media doesn't play some role in a coarsening of public discourse, especially as it appears in cyberspace. Maybe we all fantasize a bit too much about hosting a show on MSNBC or Fox News.

For too many, the comments section of an online news story is a place to try out new material.

That news story you're reading might not be all that exciting but when you scroll to the comments section at the bottom of the page, chances are you'll enc...
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BuzzFeed is watching you — even more than you thought

The standard tracking is bad enough, but the quiz data's even worse

If you spend any time socializing on the Internet, especially via Facebook, you're surely familiar with BuzzFeed, the website best-known for its “list” articles and various quizzes: Which spice are you? Which [character from popular book, movie or TV series] would you be?

Indeed, “BuzzFeed Quiz” has its own Facebook page with over 192,000 “likes.” Its most recent quizzes as of June 25 include which museum you should visit, what your favorite band in high school says about you (prediction: something flattering), and how likely you are to survive the “zombie apocalypse.”

In light of this, perhaps nobody should be surprised to hear what British e-commerce blogger Dan Barker announced on June 24: “BuzzFeed is watching you.”

How do they do that?

Barker identified two different ways BuzzFeed is doing that, which he labeled “The Mundane Bits” and “The Scary Bit.”

The “mundane” news is that, yeah — BuzzFeed is tracking you. Not that they're unique in this regard; the “Do Not Track” movement so far has proven spectacularly unpopular with advertising executives and the majority of websites and browsers.

Barker provided a screenshot of some code (which you probably won't know how to read unless you're very “good with computers”), explaining: “Here’s a snapshot of what BuzzFeed records when you land on a page. They actually record much more than this, but this is just the info they pass to Google (stored within Google Analytics).”

He then translated some of the code into English. Among other things, BuzzFeed is recording whether and how often you've visited their site before; whether you've connected Facebook and BuzzFeed; whether and how often you've shared BuzzFeed links via email, Twitter or other social media; which country you're in “and about 25 other pieces of information.”

Intrusive quizzes

Though all of this is, as Barker said, thoroughly “mundane” by Internet standards. The “scary bit” involves those ever-present quizzes:

Most quizzes are extremely benign – the stereotypical “Which [currently popular fictional TV show] Character Are You?” for example. But some of their quizzes are very specific, and very personal.

Here, for example, is a set of questions from a “How Privileged are You?” quiz, which has had 2,057,419 views at the time I write this. I’ve picked some of the questions that may cause you to think “actually, I wouldn’t necessarily want anyone recording my answers here”.

Among other things, those questions ask if you, the quiz-taker, have ever been treated or taken medication for mental health problems, suffered from learning disabilities, contemplated or attempted suicide, been raped or sexually assaulted, experienced racial discrimination, or felt dissatisfied with your gender or sexual identity.

As Barker wrote, “When you click any of those quiz answers, BuzzFeed record all of the mundane information we looked at earlier, plus they also record this:” followed by more code, an explanation of what it means and its implications:

In other words, if I had access to the BuzzFeed Google Analytics data, I could query data for people who got to the end of the quiz & indicated – by not checking that particular answer – that they have had an eating disorder. Or that they have tried to change their gender. Or I could run a query along the following lines if I wished:

Show me all the data for anyone who answered the “Check Your Privelege” quiz but did not check “I have never taken medication for my mental health”.

.... I suspect this particular quiz would have had less than 2 million views if everyone completing it realised every click was being recorded & could potentially be reported on later – whether that data is fully identifiable back to individual users, or pseudonymous, or even totally anonymous.

What do you think?

The response

Barker's blog post got enough attention that within a few hours of it going up, a BuzzFeed executive named Dao Nguyen posted this in the comments:

…. we do not in fact record that it is “you” browsing the site. The string sent to GA is not your username but an anonymized string that is not linked in any way to your account, email address or other personally identifiable information. Also, about 99% our readers are not even logged in.

We are only interested in data in the aggregate form. Who a specific user is and what he or she is doing on the site is actually a useless piece of information for us. We know how many people got Paris or prefer espresso in the Which city would you live in? quiz, but we don’t know who they are or any of their PII.

Yet other commenters on Barker's blog did not seem reassured by Nguyen's remarks. One man posted this in response: “Theoretically, how hard would it be for someone at Buzzfeed to connect someone to their Buzzfeed quiz answers?”

Another person asked Nguyen “If the 'username' string is NOT associated with the individual’s account, then why is the same username string used for two different sessions?” and “Can we interpret your final paragraph as meaning that none of your data analysis requires the username string in order to give you meaningful results? If “who a specific user is” is “useless” to you, then why bother including the username string in the GA data at all? If it’s useless, why not remove it? Contrariwise, if it is unremovable, for what use is it necessary?”

Update -- BuzzFeed responds

Shortly after this story was published, BuzzFeed forwarded this response to ConsumerAffairs:
We anonymize all usage data and have strict internal policies around only accessing data in the aggregate form.
-About 99% our readers are not logged in, so we do not have a "username" or any PII (personally identifiable information) associated with those quiz takers. For the small number of people who are logged in, we anonymize the data like I mention above. All in all, all usage data is anonymized through this process.
-It's actually against Google Analytics' terms of service to store any personally identifiable information (PII). 
-We are only interested in data in the aggregate form. Who a specific user is and what he or she is doing on the site is actually a useless piece of information for us. We know how many people got Paris or prefer espresso in the Which City would you live in? quiz, but we don't know who they are or any of their PII.
After corresponding with Dan Barker, he recently shared some additional thoughts with the Independent here and amended his point of view:
Speaking to The Independent, Barker noted that despite the fact that data had been 'pseudonymised' (ie, assigned random user IDs) "from a technical point of view it would be really easy to link pseudonyms to real users, and is a fairly common practice."
Barker continues: "But BuzzFeed say specifically they do not and, as a fairly transparent company, I would be inclined to take their word for it. It's also worth mentioning that this is a total minefield and lots of website owners don't fully understand what data they're recording.
"For example, looking at an article elsewhere on The Independent, I can see the site loads 42 different third party tracking technologies, a few of which have assigned me a unique user ID in a similar way to BuzzFeed. I'd be amazed if most staff know that's happening, let alone readers."
If you spend any time socializing on the Internet, especially via Facebook, you're surely familiar with BuzzFeed and its quizzes...
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Do social media sites move the merchandise? Consumers say no

Gallup finds even Millennials aren't much influenced by Facebook, et al

Companies large and small are spending billions to advertise on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and so forth, producing lots of ads that break up the stream of cute kitten photos and news from the folks back home, or wherever.

Are they getting their money's worth?

A new study suggests they may not be, although Facebook disputed the findings. "The only thing this poll shows is that self-reported behavioral data is unreliable," Facebook said.

Gallup found that a clear majority of Americans say social media have no effect at all on their purchasing decisions -- with 62% saying the sites do not have any influence on their decisions to purchase products.

Only 5% say social media have "a great deal of influence" on their purchasing decisions, while another 30% say these channels have "some influence."

These data, from Gallup's new State of the American Consumer report, are based on Americans' self-reported estimates of how much social media campaigns affect their purchasing decisions. While social media may have more influence than some Americans realize or will admit, these data show that relatively few consumers consciously take into account what they learn from social media when making purchases, Gallup said.

Even among American consumers who "like" or follow a company on Facebook or Twitter, 34% say that social media have no influence at all on their buying decisions, while 53% say they have some influence.

What works

So what does influence buying decisions?

Gallup says consumers are much more likely to turn to friends, in-store displays, television commercials, and even mail catalogs and magazines than to consult a company-sponsored Facebook page or Twitter feed.

Also, Gallup said that consumers who engage with brands often do so when they are already attached to a product or service. Companies that engage their customers -- by providing exceptional service and a pleasurable in-store experience -- will, in turn, drive those customers to interact with them on social media. Simply promoting products and services on Facebook or Twitter is unlikely to lead to sales.

Even Millennials -- a generation that many companies regard as a key social media audience -- tend to say that social media marketing is not much of a factor in their decision-making, with about half saying social media have at least some influence on their buying decisions (50%), the other half saying social media have no influence at all.

Facebook responds

A Facebook spokesman said the results were flawed because they relied on self-reported behavioral.

"For decades, studies that look at people’s actual, real-world behavior have shown that ads on all mediums, including social media, affect the things people buy."

In a prepared statement, Facebook said advertisers demand proof before shelling out huge sums for advertising.

"The most successful marketers in the world don’t just take our word for it when it comes to ad effectiveness, they’ve asked us to prove that our ads work. And we have. Those marketers hold us to a very high standard; we look at actual changes in attitudes and behaviors using experimental design — the same approach used in medical trials," the company said.

Study details

These results are based on a Gallup Panel Web and mail study of 18,525 U.S. adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 12, 2012, to Jan. 22, 2013. All surveys were completed in English.

The Gallup Panel is a probability-based longitudinal panel of U.S. adults who are selected using random-digit-dial (RDD) telephone interviews that cover landline and cellphone telephone numbers. Address-based sampling methods are also used to recruit panel members. The Gallup Panel is not an opt-in panel, and members are not given incentives for participating. The sample for this study was weighted to be demographically representative of the U.S. adult population, using 2012 Current Population Survey figures.

For results based on this sample, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level. Margins of error are higher for subsamples.

Ads, ads, ads (Source: Facebook)Companies large and small are spending billions to advertise on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and so forth, producing lots...
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Facebook's Slingshot makes responding to messages mandatory

You know it's there but can't see it unless you send one yourself

Facebook's new Slingshot mobile app, just released today, is supposed to rival Snapchat, which is why Slingshot imitates Snapchat's impermanence: whatever messages you send via Snapchat will disappear a few seconds after they're seen, making it more like an ordinary, low-tech, non-recorded conversation.

Presumably, anything you send via Slingshot will soon vanish too. But Slingshot offers an odd new wrinkle: forced reciprocity. In Slingshot, if someone sends you a video or photo, you know it's there but are not allowed to see it until you send one of your own.

Slingshot's developers explained their rationale in their blog post announcing the release:

With Slingshot, we wanted to build something where everybody is a creator and nobody is just a spectator. When everyone participates, there’s less pressure, more creativity and even the little things in life can turn into awesome shared experiences. …

To get started on Slingshot, shoot a photo or video. It can be what you’re up to, who you’re with or a quick selfie. Add some text and color, then sling it to a bunch of friends. Here’s the deal: friends won’t be able to see your shot until they sling something back to you. They can then reply with a reaction—or simply swipe your shot away. 

If any Slingshot developers are reading this, here's a free profit-building tip: you'd get millions of eager customers signing on to your service in nanoseconds, if you tweak your software enough that the whole forced-reciprocity thing applies not to video messages from friends, but email messages from spammers — you can't see any spam unless you send the spammers a message first.

Facebook's new Slingshot mobile app, just released today, is supposed to rival Snapchat, which is why Slingshot imitates Snapchat's impermanence: whatever ...
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Not much creative thinking in political tweets, study finds

Researchers say they're disappointed at the slavish blitz of retweeting and lack of original thought

There's an old news business phrase that's used to denigrate articles that are little more than collections of excerpts from previous stories. They're called "gluepot" stories -- meaning they are basically a cut-and-paste product.

Although they didn't use that term that's what a group of scientists at Cornell University and elsewhere found when they studied more than 290 million "tweets" emitted during the 2012 presidential nominating conventions and debates.

Instead of original observations and illuminating insights based on personal experience, they found little creative thinking, and a slavish blitz of retweeting "elites" like @billmaher and @seanhannity.

Eyes on the stars

"Frankly, we're rather disappointed," said Cornell University's Drew Margolin. "Social media has so much potential to improve the diversity of voices and quality of exchanges in political discussion by giving individuals the technological capability to compete with the mass media in disseminating information, setting agendas and framing conversation."

Instead, says the Cornell assistant professor of communication, "during live media events when the largest number of people are paying attention, people move away from this deliberative potential by replacing existing interpersonal social dynamics with increased collective attention to existing 'stars.'"

Those stars would be Twitter users like the liberal comedian Bill Maher, the most retweeted in three of the four candidate debates, and Sean Hannity, the conservative media personality who popularly opined, "Middle class crushed last 4 years" during the third debate.

Most study subjects were so mesmerized by erudite elites they forgot to think for themselves, the researchers lamented. The social media tide of public discourse did not rise far in the 2012 campaign, the social scientists agreed, but a few stars' fortunes did.

In defense of the retweeting masses, the authors wrote: "The uncertainty of live events may predispose users to seek information from authorities and their expert sensemaking processes rather than from their peers."

Not that there's anything wrong with that … or is there?

"Combined with our findings about concentrated attention to elite voices and diminished use of interpersonal communication," the researchers wrote, "these factors could combine to create ideal conditions for rumor persistence, belief polarization and the dissemination of misinformation that can – intentionally or unintentionally – undermine deliberation."

The complete report is published in PLoS ONE, an online academic journal. 

Twitter iconThere's an old news business phrase that's used to denigrate articles that are little more than collections of excerpts from previous stori...
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Buying positive pregnancy tests: don't. Just don't.

Some things are better left unsold

If you hear someone describe a gathering place as “a wretched hive of scum and villainy” it can indicate one of two things: a Star Wars fan quoting what Obi-Wan Kenobi said about Mos Eisley, or anybody else responding to the latest “seedy side of Craigslist” story.

Like this piece by CBS New York, offering an unusually cynical take to the usual pre-Mother's Day media pieces: if you're not a mother-to-be yet want people to think you are, you can buy positive pregnancy tests online!

Granted, the CBS piece relied entirely on anonymous quotes and secondhand information (no surprise that anybody who does buy or sell such things would prefer to remain anonymous): an unnamed mother in Dallas who sold positive tests to a woman hoping to trick her boyfriend into marrying her, another unnamed woman in New Jersey last year, who posted a Cragslist ad offering tests for sale and adding “Wanna get your boyfriend to finally pop the question? Play a trick on mom, dad or one of your friends? I really don’t care what you use it for.”

Prices vary by location 

Interestingly enough, despite Washington, D.C.'s overall reputation for dishonesty, a May 8 search for “pregnancy test” (not even with the added word “positive”) on the Washington, DC-area Craigslist yielded only three possibly outdated offers to sell a positive test, specifically for “a prank” or “April Fools,” rather than hopes of tricking a man into a fraudulent marriage likely to fail once the expected kid never actually arrives. All three asked for $20, though one offered to arrange a discount for multiple purchases.

By contrast, on the New York City Craigslist boards, positive pregnancy tests were much more commonplace, at a going rate of $35. On the other side of the country, in Los Angeles, prices ranged from $60 to $70.

If you, for whatever reason, are actually tempted to buy somebody else's urine-soaked medical waste, there is no point in shopping around to hunt for bargain prices; your best bet is to completely abandon any plan requiring a false-positive pregnancy test to succeed.

If you hear someone describe a gathering place as “a wretched hive of scum and villainy” it can indicate one of two things: a Star Wars fan quo...
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Facebook blames algorithms for promoting blatantly false stories

But critics say lack of standards is actually to blame

There is no polite way to say this: while a person must doubtlessly be very intelligent to get a job as a professional Facebook algorithm writer, the algorithms themselves are completely stupid, thanks primarily to their complete inability to read things in context.

And, therefore, those who put those algorithms in charge of evaluating news stories are both stupid and irresponsible. 

If you have a Facebook account, you've seen it yourself: post a withering insult about your least-favorite politician, and Facebook's algorithms will recommend that you “Like” his page and donate to his re-election campaign.

A friend of mine, who is a fan of the British science-fiction series Doctor Who, spent one summer getting constant Facebook recommendations that he read news articles about a then-current drug scandal in the world of European competitive bicycling; eventually he figured out it's because the articles all mentioned a doctor who allegedly helped athletes cheat.

Lack of standards

So in some ways, it's no surprise to see this Boston Globe article complaining that “Facebook draws fire on 'related articles' push,” nor any surprise to see that in the article's third paragraph, an unnamed Facebook spokeswoman blamed the problem on “algorithms.”

But read more closely and you'll notice that algorithms aren't the problem; lack of standards is. Or you could call it reckless disregard for facts.

New criticism of Facebook focuses not merely on articles unlikely to interest specific individuals (there's nothing inherently wrong with news stories about European bike-racers; there's just no reason to think Doctor Who fans are especially interested in them), but on pushing articles proven to be demonstrably false. As the Globe said:

A surprise awaited Facebook users who recently clicked on a link to read a story about Michelle Obama’s encounter with a 10-year-old girl whose father was jobless.

Facebook responded to the click by offering what it called “related articles.” These included one that alleged a Secret Service officer had found the president and his wife having “S*X in Oval Office,” and another that said “Barack has lost all control of Michelle” and was considering divorce.

Facebook's algorithms are proprietary information, so nobody knows exactly how they calculate what will and will not appear on Facebook “feeds,” but Facebook has indicated two factors: it has something to do with word association (obviously), and also has something to do with how “popular” an article is. But that's all; Facebook doesn't engage in fact-checking or anything else to verify the content of whatever its algorithms promote.

Were Facebook positioning itself exclusively as a social media site, focusing exclusively on popularity would be a perfectly legitimate tactic. The problem is that Facebook is also trying to position itself as a source of actual news, where mere popularity is supposed to matter far less than whether something is actually true.

There is no polite way to say this: while a person must doubtlessly be very intelligent to get a job as a professional Facebook algorithm writer, the algor...
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Facebook, Instagram try to curb illegal online gun sales

New York's attorney general says sites are acting responsibly

Under pressure from gun safety advocates and New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Facebook and Instagram are announcing new policies intended to curb illegal online sales of firearms.

Facebook and Instagram have agreed to remove user posts that seek to circumvent gun laws, take action to prevent minors from viewing posts that aim to sell firearms, and provide education to better inform law-abiding private sellers of guns.

“I applaud Facebook and Instagram for taking the lead in helping avoid illegal gun sales on these increasingly ubiquitous platforms,” said Schneiderman. “Responsible social media sites know that it is in no one’s interest for their sites to become a 21st century black market in dangerous and illegal goods that place our families and communities at risk.”

While neither Facebook nor Instagram is an e-commerce site, users can use these sites to promote the sale of firearms and often negotiate terms of sale in the comments section.

“By taking these unprecedented educational and enforcement steps, we’ve been able to strike an important balance in helping people express themselves, while promoting a safe and responsible community," said Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management. "We are grateful to Attorney General Schneiderman and all the groups who worked with us on this approach.”

No background checks

During its review of the platforms, the Attorney General’s Office collected evidence that some users were advertising that they would not perform background checks or would be willing to sell to users in states with strict gun laws — like New York — that prohibit certain weapons and accessories. In addition, it appeared likely that minors would be able to acquire firearms through Facebook.

Under the policies announced today, Facebook and Instagram will not permit users to post offers to sell or buy firearms that indicate intent to evade or help others evade the law. This includes, for example, posts that advertise “no background check required.”

Facebook will block users under 18 years of age from viewing reported Page and Timeline posts involving private gun sales, and it will implement in-product education “checkpoints” that inform users that private gun sales might be regulated or prohibited in their location, and that background checks may be required.

The checkpoints will occur for all users reported for posting a gun for sale, for all Facebook pages reported for promoting private gun sales, and for all Instagram-based searches for hashtags identified as promoting gun sales.

Facebook said it will work with advocacy groups to create a targeted ad campaign on the site that will educate users about their responsibilities under the law and to ensure safe firearms transactions, including conducting background checks.

Under pressure from gun safety advocates and New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Facebook and Instagram are announcing new policies intend...
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Facebook mercifully killing off Facebook email

Facebook email was "not popular" in the same sense that the Hindenburg was "not fireproof"

Good news for Facebook users: Facebook has finally succumbed to reality and will soon be phasing out its wildly unpopular Facebook email system.

For those of you unfamiliar with Facebook, here's how things worked before the advent of Facebook email (and hopefully/presumably how things will work again): when you register for Facebook, you use an already-existing email address to do so — say, JaneDoe@email.com.

Then, people who see you on Facebook and wish to contact you privately (as opposed to posting a publicly visible note on your “Wall”) have two options: they can send you a message over Facebook's private messaging system, or through your regular email.

Then Facebook decided to introduce its email system: instead of emails landing in your JaneDoe@email.com inbox, they were shunted into the brand-new email account JaneDoe@Facebook.com, and any emails landed in your Facebook private-messaging system.

Really annoying

From Jane Doe's perspective, this was annoying on two levels: one, if she wants to read all of her emails, she has to log in to Facebook in addition to checking her email.com account.

Even worse, Facebook's messaging system has two layers, and most Facebook users only know about one: your official “Messages” box contains private messages (or Facebook.com emails) sent by your official “Facebook friends.” But messages from anyone else were shunted into a different folder, called “Other.”

(Relevant personal anecdote: my own Facebook account was a couple years old before I knew about the “Other” folder, and I might still be unaware of it had I not read this circa-2011 article in Slate, from a writer furious to discover that some extremely important personal messages had languished unread in her “Other” folder. A worse horror story unfolded in Georgia last year, when a mother in Clayton County went a whole month without knowing her missing son had been murdered – police used Facebook to let her know, and the message sat unread in her “Other” folder.)

Such little kinks still exist in Facebook's private messaging system, but this week, finally, the company announced that it was ending its ill-fated @Facebook.com email experiment: by March, Jane Doe's default email address will once again be JaneDoe@email.com, not JaneDoe@Facebook.com

The blog InsideFacebook.com reported on Feb. 24 that Facebook was doing away with its “unpopular” email service due to “lack of participation.”

Oddly enough, the mainstream media news reports about the closing were often more tongue-in-cheek than the commentary from the blogosphere. For example, when North Carolina TV station and website MyFox8.com shared the news with its readers, the story started by asking “Check your Facebook mail lately? Didn’t think so. Apparently not many others did, either.”

If your tastes run more toward understatement, you'll prefer this quote from the Venture Capital Post: “There probably won't be any lost tears over this change for many users.”

Facebook has finally succumbed to reality and is doing away with its wildly unpopular Facebook email system...
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Facebook buys WhatsApp for $19 billion

WhatsApp users don't sound too happy

Facebook's own reputation might be damaging it, if reactions to the company's planned $19 billion ($4 billion in cash, plus $15 billion in Facebook shares and stock units) acquisition of the WhatsApp cross-platform messaging service is any indication.

While industry analysts initially agreed the move was a smart one from Facebook's perspective — the Reuters headline “Wall Street sees sense in Facebook's $19 billion WhatsApp purchase” is a typical example — the Wall Street Journalnoted that actual Facebook stockholders are slightly less enthused, as the collective value of Facebook shares fell by $1.5 billion by midday Thursday, the day after the announcement broke.

And current WhatsApp users appear even less enthused. Facebook's announcement of the planned acquisition almost immediately inspired the development of a new Facebook page called “Please Don't Ruin WhatsApp” (which collected over 200 “likes” in only the first 20 hours of its existence), and, as Los Angeles Times reporter Jessica Guynn noted, many WhatsApp users reponded to the news by either canceling their accounts, or threatening to.

The main concern cited by most WhatsApp users was the fear that Facebook would clutter WhatsApp with ads. (WhatsApp is –or at least, was – ad-free; its income stream derives from its annual 99-cent subscrption fees.)

However, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg said that “WhatsApp will continue to operate independently within Facebook. The product roadmap will remain unchanged.”

Facebook's own reputation might be damaging it, if reactions to the company's planned $19 billion ($4 billion in cash, plus $15 billion in Facebook shares ...
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Flappy Bird creator pulls the plug on his "addictive" game

Dong Nguyen walks away from $50K per day in ad revenue

There exists an unflattering stereotype to the effect of “Businessmen are greedy people who care only about personal profit no matter who it harms,” and there also exist plenty of genuine real-world examples of businessmen who do, unfortunately, live down to that image.

But there are also those who run exactly counter to that stereotype, and it sounds like Dong Nguyen, the Vietnamese programmer who created the popular (but now-defunct) Flappy Bird game might be one of them.

Fans of Flappy Bird were dismayed last weekend to discover that the popular app game is gone. Why did Nguyen pull the plug on it?

According to Forbes writer Lan Anh Nguyen, to whom he gave an exclusive interview, it's because the game was too addictive. “Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed,” he told Forbes. “But it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it’s best to take down Flappy Bird. It’s gone forever.”

Dong Nguyen was reportedly making up to $50,000 a day from the game.

Granted, there are some odd aspects to Flappy Bird's demise. Lan Anh Nguyen mentioned the particular requirements Dong Nguyen laid down for the interview:

The circumstances surrounding the interview, conducted in Vietnamese, were as much of a soap opera as his public ruminations about whether to take down the app. The interview with Forbes took place in a hotel in Hanoi, with a strict condition that Forbes not reveal Nguyen’s face. It was delayed several hours, in part because Nguyen had a sudden meeting with Vietnam’s deputy prime minister Vu Duc Dam – a remarkable turn of events for someone unknown a week ago. Nguyen says his parents didn’t even know that Flappy Bird existed, much less his role in it, until media coverage spun out of control in the past few days.

Flappy Bird addicts unhappy with Nguyen's act of tough love can find solace in many non-Nguyen Flappy Bird knockoffs, including Flappy Whale, Flappy Penguin, Flappy Angry Bird and Flappy Plane. Dong Nguyen has said he won't sue any of the copycat creators.

There exists an unflattering stereotype to the effect of “Businessmen are greedy people who care only about personal profit no matter who it harms,&r...
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Does social media make you smarter or stupider?

Answer: both.

An old proverb notes that a pessimist will say a glass is half-empty, whereas an optimist will say the glass is half-full. Another proverb observes that “every cloud has a silver lining,” which inspires wags to retort “Yup, and every silver lining has its cloud” or “all silver's destined to tarnish” or something similarly cynical.

Which are all ways of saying that modern life is full of trade-offs, with good and bad aspects to most things. Meanwhile, this whole “Internet/social media/instant worldwide communication for all” business is still brand-new by world historical standards – as of 2014, the majority of people alive can personally remember life before the Internet – and there's still huge disagreement regarding whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, overall.

The latest entry in the “maybe bad thing” category is discussed in this MediaPost blog entry titled “Social Media Makes Us Dumb, But Think We're Smart.” It summarizes a study which researchers at the University of Oregon published in the journal of the Royal Society. Super-short version: the more you rely on social connections for problem-solving, the more your own personal cognitive abilities suffer.

Or so the study results might indicate. Researchers divided 100 test subjects into five groups of 20-member “social networks” with various levels of connectivity. The subjects were then asked to solve some rather difficult “cognitive reflection tests.”

Turns out subjects scored much higher on the tests when they were allowed to ask their social-network connections for the answers – the more connected you are to your network, the more likely you are to get the right answer – but then, after using social connections to help them take the tests, the subjects tended to score more poorly once they had to take the tests by themselves.

Brain not engaged

Here's how the researchers summarized their results:

“When people make false intuitive conclusions and are exposed to the analytic output of their peers, they recognize and adopt this correct output. But they fail to engage analytical reasoning in similar subsequent tasks. Thus, humans exhibit an ‘unreflective copying bias,’ which limits their social learning to the output, rather than the process, of their peers’ reasoning.”

Interesting. But set that aside for a moment, and check out this September 2013 article from Slate, which asked, “Are search engines and the Internet hurting human memory?” and answered “Nope. It's much, much weirder than that.” (The “article” in question is actually an excerpt from Clive Thompson's book "Smarter than you think: How technology is changing our minds for the better.")

Here's a stripped-down and somewhat oversimplified summary: the critics and worrywarts who fret, “Oh dear, people are starting to rely on looking up facts online rather than committing them to memory” are absolutely correct — so far as that goes.

Does it matter?

Yet it doesn't really matter, because supplementing our memories with whatever facts we find online is just an expanded technological version of what people have done for as long as there have been people: rather than try storing the sum total of all human knowledge and ability in our own personal individual brain, we rely on our social networks (family, friends, neighbors, even civilization writ large) to share that burden with us.

If you are half of an “old married couple”—or know people who are—you've seen or participated in this yourself. Read this bit from Thompson's book and see if it doesn't sound familiar:

Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner—and his colleagues Ralph Erber and Paula Raymond—first began to systematically explore “transactive memory” back in the ’80s. Wegner noticed that spouses often divide up memory tasks. The husband knows the in-laws' birthdays and where the spare light bulbs are kept; the wife knows the bank account numbers and how to program the TiVo. If you ask the husband for his bank account number, he'll shrug. If you ask the wife for her sister-in-law's birthday, she can never remember it. Together, they know a lot. Separately, less so. ...

The same thing occurs on a bigger scale with colleagues at work.

[Y]ou each begin to subconsciously delegate the task of remembering that stuff to the other, treating one’s partners like a notepad or encyclopedia, and they do the reverse. In many respects, Wegner noted, people are superior to notepads and encyclopedias, because we’re much quicker to query: Just yell a fuzzily phrased question across to the next cubicle (where do we keep the thing that we use for that thing?) and you’ll get an answer in seconds. We share the work of remembering, Wegner argued, because it makes us collectively smarter.

Of course, remembering and retrieving facts — whether by yourself or with others — isn't quite the same thing as using applied knowledge, skill or intelligence to solve challenging cognitive puzzles. Yet they do seem to share one trait in common: “You do much better with others than you do by yourself.” That's the glass-half-full interpretation, anyway; you could also say “I do much worse by myself than when I get help from others.”

An old joking proverb notes that a pessimist will say a glass is half-empty, whereas an optimist will say the glass is half-full. ...
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Singles sound off on dating, sex and marriage

Dating landscape has changed in some ways, not so much in others

Have attitudes about romance and dating changed in recent years? Has the new generation of singles – people in their 20s and 30s – reshaped the whole idea of love?

Pertinent questions as Valentines Day approaches and issues explored in a new survey of singles from online dating site Match.com. The annual survey, now in its fourth year, suggests singles of all ages are leading the way toward more intimate partnerships and dramatically altering traditional beliefs about sex, love and attachment.

New to this year's survey were questions designed to explore the impact of singles on the economy and how much they spend on their dating lives.

“It's thrilling for me, as an anthropologist, to dig deep into singles' collective psyche with this annual survey, and watch singles of all ages lead the way toward a less prejudiced society,” said Dr. Helen Fisher, Match.com's science advisor.

What's new?

What did Fisher learn from the responses to this year's survey? That men are far more loving -- and committed -- than most believe. That women are eagerly embracing self-expression and independence. That older people are still ‘hip’ and that new sexual and social taboos are emerging. And something else that might surprise you.

“Both sexes are entering new relationships slowly -- with the aim to make them last,” Fisher said.

Whether the two parties want the relationship to end in marriage or not, they seem to want it to be long-term, providing some of the perceived benefits of relationships from earlier generations.

Valuable information

Here are some things that singles should know:

That first date may be more important than you think. You might be going into it as a one-time thing but your partner may have other ideas. The survey shows that 51% of singles on a first date have “imagined a future together.” It might surprise you to learn that slightly more men than women admit to this.

You may expect to be judged by your date, but how will you be judged? If you're a man, you are more likely to judge a woman by her tattoos. You are not likely to even look at her shoes.

Women, on the other hand, don't put much stock in the kind of car you're driving. On the other hand, she will pay close attention to your clothes.

Change the subject

Are there topics of conversation you should avoid on a first date? You betcha. The survey found both men and women would prefer not to hear about your past relationships, your political views, or your belief – or lack of belief – in a deity.

What about sex on a first date? The survey shows only eight percent of women are okay with it but – no surprise here – 37% of men think it's a fine idea. Both sexes generally agree that kissing is okay.

Tried and true

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Seventy-nine percent of singles in their twenties and 62% of singles in their thirties say they want to get married. Overall, 50% of men and 55% of women are eager to walk down the aisle.

Another thing that hasn't changed much is tolerance for tardiness. Thirty-five percent of men and 39% of women believe you only can be up to 15 minutes late for a date, while 11% of singles think being late is always unacceptable.

In the end, dating does more than stimulate your social life. It also stimulates the economy. They survey found that singles spend nearly $61.53 per month on dating-related activities, totaling approximately $738.36 each year per individual. With 111 million singles in the U.S., adds up to some $82 billion a year.

Have attitudes about romance and dating changed in recent years? Has the new generation of singles – people in their 20s and 30s – reshaped the...
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Facebook and SecondSync team up to analyze your TV discussion data

Unrelated to recent class action suits charging Facebook with data manipulation

On Jan. 30, Facebook proudly announced on its blog that it is teaming up with a “social TV analytics specialist” called SecondSync in order to “help clients understand how people are using Facebook to talk about topics such as TV,” according to the blog post.

We don't know who these clients are or what specific understanding they lack, and we especially don't know why SecondSync thinks this partnership with Facebook is a good idea.

After all: Facebook is already facing multiple class action lawsuits charging that it has not only been reading the contents of allegedly “private” messages sent on its site, but also using links to massage “like” counts.

In other words, if you and your friend both think Congressman Dungheap is an idiot, and occasionally private-message each other with a link to his Facebook page alongside commentary like “Wow, the congressman is being extra-stupid today, even for him” – that bit of political analysis there actually increases the congressman's “like” count on Facebook, if the lawsuit allegations are correct.

(And they very well might be; as early as October 2012, The Next Web tech blog reported “Facebook confirms it is scanning your private messages for links to increase Like counters.”)

Inflated feelgood data

Granted, if Congressman Dungheap is 14 years old and really, really wants his Facebook page to have more Likes than the Facebook pages of his classmates down at the middle school, then having Facebook portray him as more popular than he is probably counts as a good thing, from Dungheap's perspective.

But if Dungheap is, hypothetically, a grownup politician trying to figure out what the voters actually think about him, so as to determine what campaign strategies might best increase his chance of re-election – in that case, we can't help wondering if maybe falsely inflated feelgood data is worse than no data at all.

Does Facebook do the same with TV shows? If you and five of your Facebook friends all agree “I hate this stupid TV show, which insults both my intelligence and my basic baseline humanity,” will Facebook conclude “Whoa, there's six people who really hate that stupid TV show,” or will the stupid TV show's Facebook page get six more Likes added to its counter?

Since SecondSync is supposed to help Facebook analyze whatever TV data it gleans from its users, we'll guess/hope the answer to both questions is “No.”

On Jan. 30, Facebook proudly announced on its blog that it is teaming up with a “social TV analytics specialist” called SecondSync in order to ...
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Is political peace possible on Facebook?

Researcher suggests listening to, not tuning out, opposing views

The 2012 election seems like ancient history now but some of the friendships damaged by political posturing on Facebook linger on.

Bob, a retired military officer in Washington, D.C., who voted for Obama, said it remains hard to read some of the posts by Facebook friends who supported Romney. He says the Facebook experience has begun to color his real-life relationships.

“It got nasty,” he said. “Instead of enabling relationships Facebook is destroying them.”

Carla Naumburg, a Massachusetts blogger, posted a plea last Election Day for peace on both sides of the Facebook political divide.

“I started getting concerned when I noticed friends announcing that they will unfriend people on Facebook who are voting for the other guy,” she wrote. “I saw the same trend on Twitter, and on the news. And I realized that relationships are falling apart all over the country, not just in my community.”

Disturbing trend

It's not just consumers and bloggers who have noted this disturbing trend. A new study from Georgia Tech examines how politics divides people on social media. People who think their friends have opposing opinions engage less on Facebook, they discovered.

For those who stay logged in and express their political views, the researchers found they tend to stick to their own circles, ignore those on the other side and become more polarized.

In an effort to be helpful, the researchers came up with a few suggestions for Facebook. They say that by displaying shared interests between friends during their politically heated encounters, Facebook could help defuse possible arguments and alleviate tension. In other words, people need to be reminded of what they have in common, despite political differences. They say increasing exposure and engagement to weak ties could make people more resilient in the face of political argument.

Echo chamber

“People are mainly friends with those who share similar values and interests. They tend to interact with them the most, a phenomenon called homophily,” said Catherine Grevet, the Georgia Tech Ph.D. student who led the study. “But that means they rarely interact with the few friends with differing opinions. As a result, they aren’t exposed to opposing viewpoints.”

The researchers fault Facebook’s algorithms. Newsfeeds are filled with the friends a person most often interacts with, typically those with strong ties. Grevet would like to see Facebook sprinkle in a few status updates on both sides of political issues. That, she says, would expose people to different opinions, which are typically held by weak ties.

“Designing social media toward nudging users to strengthen relationships with weak ties with different viewpoints could have beneficial consequences for the platform, users and society,” said Grevet.

The study

Consumers rate Facebook

Grevet's study examined more than 100 politically active Facebook users in the spring of 2013 amid debates about budget cuts, gay marriage and gun control regulations. The majority of participants were liberal, female and under the age of 40, reflecting the traditional Facebook user.

More than 70% of participants said they don’t talk about politics with their friends with different opinions. When they were presented with a post they didn’t agree with, 60% said they ignored it and didn’t comment. When they did, sometimes it made the person question the relationship and drop the friend.

“Even though people could simply unfriend someone with different opinions, and there were certainly those who did that, there were many relationships that were able to be maintained,” said Grevet. “Through a combination of behaviors on Facebook like hiding, tuning out, logging off or avoiding certain conversations, people negotiated around those differences to stay connected.”

But Grevet thinks Facebook users should embrace their differences and that the social media site could make that happen if it would remind friends of their shared interests.

The 2012 election seems like ancient history now but some of the friendships damaged by political posturing on Facebook linger on.Bob, a retired military...
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Love and marriage: both leave you vulnerable to online scams

Con artists use online dating sites to ensnare new victims

Of all types of scammers and con artists out there, probably the worst are those who prey not on people's sense of greed (“Hey, gimme your bank info and I'll share the zillions of dollars I'm smuggling out of a foreign country”), but on people's nobler emotions and instincts.

There are the notorious “Grandma scams,” when scammers contact people and pretend to be a friend or relative who is in deep trouble and needs money to get out of it.

And particularly heartbreaking are the love scams, where con artists pretend a romantic interest in their victims before clearing out their bank accounts.

Last week, a 66-year-old divorcee in San Jose, Calif., who was looking for love on Christian Mingle wound up bilked out of half a million dollars—although, luckily for her, authorities in Turkey were able to recover $200,000 of it. Even that was a longshot, though — authorities put the chances of recovering the remaining $300,000 at less than 1 percent.

The following week, a 50-something widow in Winder, Georgia was taken in by a similar scam (though for many orders of magnitude less money): she met a man on an unnamed “Christian dating site” and he eventually asked her to lend him $8,000 for a new generator. She was luckily too skeptical (or broke) to send him the full amount — but she did wire him $500.

She is unlikely to get any of her money back — and until her next disability check comes in, she'll have difficulty paying her bills in the meantime.

Winder is a small town – a quick online search says its population in 2012 was less than 14,300 people – and yet, when its local news reported the story of a local woman cheated out of $500 through a dating site, the last line of that news story said this: “Winder police said they frequently get reports like this and there often is not much that can be done when money is transferred to a foreign bank account.”

Nothing to be done

Unfortunately, the police are right; there usually isn't anything they can do to recover money in such situations. But if police even in a tiny town like Winder “frequently” get such scam reports, think what that implies about the appalling frequency of such scam attempts overall!

Of course, such scams aren't limited to Christian dating sites, nor even to American ones; on the other side of the Atlantic, the Mirfield Reporter (UK) noted on Jan. 10 that “Honeytrap bride” Sidra Fatima, who used an Asian dating site to bilk British would-be suitors out of £35,000 (roughly $52,500), managed to avoid jailtime for her role in the scam.

Fatima's scam was more elaborate than the other two mentioned here: she actually met her would-be victims in person, pretending to be interested in marriage (even though she was already married, to her scam partner).

We can't offer any advice on how to find true love, let alone how long it takes before you should relax enough to say “I know, love and can trust this person.” Furthermore, other than “Don't mix business with pleasure” we have no idea how romantic couples ought to handle the tricky subject of one making a personal or business loan to the other. However, we will say this: if you've never so much as been in the same room with someone, you do not know them well enough to lend them money.

Following this rule wouldn't necessarily have been enough to save Fatima's victims from being cheated, but it would've helped the widow and the divorcee whose hearts and bank accounts were both stolen by some thieving date-site scammers last week.

The worst con artists prey not on people's sense of greed but their nobler emotions and instincts...
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Is Facebook like a disease?

Research paper compares it to an infectious disease outbreak

Facebook is like a disease. So says a research paper that exploded onto the scene yesterday. Written by two Princeton PhD students, the paper basically says that social media sites follow the same outbreak, growth and decline patterns as epidemics.

Most of them have a life cycle that extends for only about three years after they reach their peak, which would mean that Facebook is on its way out and will be mostly a memory in a year or two.

Sound outrageous? Perhaps, but Joshua Spechler and John Cannarella point to MySpace as a prime example, It peaked in 2008 and then rapidly dwindled to nearly nothing by 2011.

Rapid decline

Using Google search data as their basis, the reserchers say that Facebook reached its peak in 2012 and has already started to decline.

"Extrapolating the best fit model into the future suggests that Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80% of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017," they said, adding that the site has "already reached the peak of its popularity and has entered a decline phase."

A Facebook spokesman said the paper was "nonsense" but others have noted that younger teens have been abandoning Facebook in droves recently, with older users replacing them. While not necessarily a bad thing, it's nevertheless a trend that raises questions about Facebook's future.

Overall, Facebook's numbers are up, the company notes, with nearly 1.2 billion users in a given month. Advertising revenue is also up.

The students aren't saying anything publicly while they wait for their paper to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Facebook is like a disease. So says a research paper that exploded onto the scene yesterday. Written by two Princeton PhD students, the paper basically say...
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Class-action lawsuit alleges email harvesting at LinkedIn

The latest social-media site to face similar claims

Although we have no personal experience in the matter, we'd always figured “product endorsement spokesperson” must be a pretty sweet gig if you can land it. After all, saying “Hi there! I'm me, and I think this-here product is great” (or variants thereof) is surely easier than the more traditional “Make money via finding a job and working at it five days a week” route.

But that assumes you actually get paid for your product endorsements. But if you have an Internet connection (and you wouldn't be reading this if you didn't) there is, apparently, an ever-growing chance you might be in the product-endorsement biz after all — without your knowledge or consent, and certainly without any resulting increase in your personal net worth.

Facebook has recently been subjected to various lawsuits from users who allege that Facebook falsely claimed they “like” various products or pages, for advertising purposes. Meanwhile, LinkedIn has faced a similar class-action suit since at least last September.

Siphons email contacts

Courthouse News Service reported an update to that story on Jan. 14, first with background explaining the allegations that LinkedIn has been harvesting users' email addresses without permission:

LinkedIn faces a federal class action in San Francisco claiming it siphons email contacts from users' external email accounts and then spams them with "endorsement emails." Users want LinkedIn to pay them for using their identities to sell premium memberships, grow its member base and save money on acquiring new members.... in [the plaintiffs'] brief opposing LinkedIn's motion to dismiss, they say "a few cryptic disclosures on a website" do not give LinkedIn the right "to harvest users' email addresses and broadcast users' persona to hundreds of people."

The brief also gives the following example: “LinkedIn attempts to access a user's Gmail account if the user has Gmail open in another browser window or has not logged out of Gmail. If an email account is open, LinkedIn accesses the account by using the open email session. LinkedIn does not prompt members for a password. Instead, LinkedIn sweeps the external email account for every email address a user has been emailed by, CCed, or emailed. For many users this is thousands of addresses."

The actual class-action suit dates back to last September; the Jan. 14 update focuses on the plaintiff's rebuttals to LinkedIn's earlier defense claims; for example, LinkedIn representatives tried arguing its actions regarding email addresses lack standing because the emails do not “injure or enrich anyone,” when in fact, LinkedIn charges members $10 to send messages to members they're not linked to — thus implying LinkedIn values each of those promotional emails at $10.

Although we have no personal experience in the matter, we'd always figured “product endorsement spokesperson” must be a pretty sweet gig if you can land it...
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False "like" allegations lead to Facebook lawsuits

Is Facebook monetizing opinions you don't actually hold?

Like all social media companies, Facebook uses proprietary algorithms to determine everything from what advertisements you see on your “feed” to which of your friends' posts get priority over others. Because they're proprietary, nobody (save for a few high-ranking Facebook executives) can say exactly what they are, and such confusion might be the foundation for some odd lawsuits Facebook's been facing recently.

Colorado resident Anthony DiTorro is suing Facebook for misrepresentation, claiming that he (DiTorro) has never visited the USA Today website, let alone “liked” it, yet a perusal of DiTorro's online Facebook activity allegedly shows that DiTorro “liked” USA Today, and Facebook even went so far as to mention this in sponsored posts pushing USA Today in the personal feeds of his friends.

Know who your friends are

A brief pause to explain Facebook terminology: if you have a Facebook account, you can choose exactly which people can see it or post on it; these people are your Facebook “friends.” The place where you actually do things – your virtual online hangout, if you will – is your Facebook “Wall.” You can post comments, pictures and links on your own Wall, or your friends' Walls. Your “Feed” is where you see various posts and comments your Friends made on their Walls or others'. Your Feed will also include “sponsored posts,” which are basically advertisements. And, finally: if you want, you can click a little button indicating that you “like” any given post or comment.

So it's hard to discuss a Facebook lawsuit without sounding rather middle-schoolish, debating such questions as, “Do you or do you not 'like' this?” or “Are you or are you not his 'friend'?” But DiTorro's lawsuit ultimately is based on the allegation that DiTorro never made any Facebook posts or clicked any “Like” buttons in favor of USA Today, yet Facebook falsely let DiTorro's Friends think he did.

It's tempting to chuckle over DiTorro's umbrage here (“USA Today? How dare you accuse me of reading a Gannett publication! Them's fightin' words”), but in all seriousness: imagine how you'd feel if your friends and family thought you supported something you actually found downright abhorrent: a politician whose policies you firmly oppose, say.

DiTorro's is hardly the only lawsuit making such allegations against Facebook. Last month, just before the New Year turned, two Facebook users in California alleged that Facebook has been scanning the contents of private messages in order to boost various “like” counts.

Awful politician

Going back to the earlier example of the politician you despise: imagine you and a Facebook friend are having a discussion over the Facebook private message system, specifically discussing how much you dislike that politico. You send a link to his page, along with the comment “Look at this incredibly stupid new policy he's promoting now!” and your friend responds, “Terrible! He really is an awful politician, isn't he?”

According to the lawsuit, your little discussion there ends up increasing said politician's “like” count, thus making him appear more popular than he actually is.

But that lawsuit makes far more serious allegations: that such scans of private messages violate anti-wiretapping laws. The lawsuit alleges “Facebook misleads users into believing that they have a secure, private mechanism for communication -- Facebook’s private messaging function -- when, in fact, Facebook intercepts and scans the content and treats portions of that content no differently than a public 'Like' or post, broadcast openly across the Internet.”

If you're worried that Facebook is using your own name to push products or causes you don't actually like, you might try posting a request on your own Facebook Wall, asking your friends to give you a heads-up if they see any announcements that you “liked” something. (But make sure you word your request very carefully, lest you find yourself inundated with messages saying “Hey, Facebook says you 'like' the fact that your friend just had a healthy baby!” Trust us on this.)

Like all social media companies, Facebook uses proprietary algorithms to determine everything from what advertisements you see on your "feed" t...
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Your social media connections might determine your borrowing ability

Data mining agencies don't ignore your online activity

If you watch TV crime dramas, you know that when people get arrested the police are supposed to read them their rights, so at some point the cops will recite the following phrase: “Anything you say can and will be used against you.”

And we're only half-joking when we suggest maybe a similar rule applies to your personal finances in the electronic era: anything you do can and will be used against you.

For example, your Facebook and Twitter accounts might be used to determine your perceived creditworthiness. The Wall Street Journal discussed this practice on Jan. 8, in its article “Borrowers hit social media hurdles: regulators have concerns about lenders' use of Facebook, other sites.” Journal writer Stephanie Armour noted:

More lending companies are mining Facebook, Twitter and other social-media data to help determine a borrower's creditworthiness or identity, a trend that is raising concerns among consumer groups and Google Ventures, the venture-capital arm of Google Inc., and Accel Partners, an early Facebook Inc. investor—are looking at potential problems such as whether applicants put the same job information on their loan application as they posted on LinkedIn, or if they shared on Facebook that they had been let go by an employer. A small business that draws negative reviews on eBay also could undermine its chances of getting more credit, lending companies say.

So far, this practice appears mostly limited to small start-up loan companies dealing with small amounts of money — the Journal piece mentioned a typical example of a woman who'd borrowed a mere $200 from a company called LendUp.

Secret algorithms

But the practice of small lenders using social media to gauge creditworthiness is not new, though its presence in America arguably is. In 2011, a Hong Kong-based microlender called Lenddo opened for business in the Philippines; it made loans based on secret proprietary algorithms that had something to do with your Twitter followers and Facebook friends. (A writer for New York'sBetabeat blog tried applying for such a loan and was rejected — her own personal score was high enough to qualify for a Lenddo loan, but she had too many Facebook and Twitter connections who did not.)

Microlenders perusing social media sites aren't the only financial institutions willing to judge your creditworthiness according tot he company you keep—or even the places where you shop. As early as 2008, American Express started lowering the credit limits of cardholders in good standing—presumably because the cardholders patronized low-end businesses like Walmart.

An American Express spokeman defended the practice by saying “We’re just doing this to manage risk … customers who make transactions with certain merchants tend to have a higher proportion of credit issues or a higher probability of default.”

Uh-oh. In the past, we have (in good faith) advised people to save money by, for example, shopping in thrift stores and secondhand markets for certain items. We've even engaged in reverse-bragging on our own Facebook and other social media accounts: “Check out this unbelievably gorgeous coat I found for only five bucks!”

We thought we were demonstrating financial prudence — reducing our expenditures, increasing our savings, all the things professional financial advisers urge you to do — but maybe the lending agencies see things differently?

If you watch TV crime dramas, you know that when people get arrested the police are supposed to read them their rights, so at some point the cops will reci...
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Facebook users sue over scanning of "private" messages

The suit claims the messages are treated as though they had been posted publicly

Two Facebook users are suing, claiming that "private" messages are being scanned and used to profile the sender's activities.

“Contrary to its representations, 'private' Facebook messages are systematically intercepted by the company in an effort to learn the contents of the users’ communications,” Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley allege in their complaint, Courthouse News Service reported.

Campbell and Hurley say Facebook wrongfully profits from the information by selling it to advertisers, marketers and data aggregators.

The suit further charges that Facebook fails to adequately inform users that their supposedly private messages are subject to scanning just as though they had been publicly posted on the social network's pages.

It alleges that Facebook violates the federal wiretap law as well as California privacy laws and seeks class action status.

Two Facebook users have sued the social network for allegedly scanning the “private” messages that users send to each other on the platform.&...
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No, you won't hook up with a supermodel through Citysex.com

Reader reports that women profiled there may not even know it

One of the nastiest facts of Internet life is this: once you put your name, image or writings out there, you can’t really control what happens to them next. There’s countless horror stories of people who (for example) set up a perfectly innocuous profile someplace, then found their photo, name and other details appearing in advertisements or profiles with companies they never even knew existed.

We heard just such a story this week, from Anna S. in Minnesota.

I have a plentyoffish.com profile, which is a nonsexual dating website. I was bored one day and decided to Google the screen name I use on my profile for plentyoffish.com. I had noticed that a website appeared as citysex.com had my same user name, location, picture, age and etc listed there. I've made every attempt to contact them and have gotten nowhere. I feel embarrassment and guilt knowing someone my friends, family, or anyone that googles my user name is shown citysex.com. I'm extremely depressed knowing that millions of people I don't know are seeing my picture and information, thinking I want to meet for sex.

Uh-oh. We visited Citysex.com, which promises to help us “Find your perfect match & GET LAID TONIGHT!” It also claims that the small, obscure and downright boring suburban town where we live is populated by an implausibly high number of young-adult supermodel clones, all looking to have either a “discreet affair,” a “kinky relationship” or “group sex.” With us. Tonight. Because, despite looking like supermodels, these people supposedly can’t find a date without the assistance of a skeevy-looking sex site.

Our plan was to find the Citysex.com “Contact us” feature, then write to ask them how somebody like Anna could take down a fake profile. What we discovered is that Citysex.com is based in Cyprus. Its “privacy policy” basically boils down to “Once you register with us, we can do pretty much whatever we want with your profile.” But what about people who never registered with them in the first place?

The closest we could find was this:


The Site also offers all Members and Users a procedure for 'Opting-Out' if the Member or User subsequently chooses to revoke or withdraw any consent to receive Offers by sending an e-mail from the email address you wish to opt out to "cs@citysex.com" clearly stating the email address in the body of the email and that the Member or User has revoked or withdrawn consent to receive any future Offers from Site to such email address.

This doesn’t bode well for Anna. Suppose, for example, we decided to use our email address to set up a fake Citysex profile for you, and then you learn of this and try taking your fake profile down — if we’re reading this Citysex agreement correctly, there’s nothing you can do because your fake profile will only go away if the takedown request is sent from our email address.

Not too encouraging

Hoping to be proven wrong, we did send a message to that Citysex email address, giving them Anna’s details and asking how she can get “her” profile taken down; we also gave this information to Anna herself. But, frankly, we’ll be very surprised if anything comes of it — especially in light of what we found when we did an online search for “Citysex.com” and “scam.”

Scambook.com has been collecting Citysex complaints since February 2012. Most of the complaints involved unapproved credit card charges – “I signed up for one month membership, they charged me for three” or “they advertised ‘free to join’ … then came an unauthorized charge on my credit card.” But men also complained that the women in the profiles were fake: “none of the girls are real, they are paid models. As soon as I ask one I was chatting with I found out real quick she doesn’t know anything about the town I live in, population 200. I ask her to meet me at the diner and she said which one. We don't have one just a single red light..she finally slipped and said she lived in LA.”

Citysex also came up on a Yahoo answers board; a man posted a question about a scammy come-on he received, allegedly from a beautiful woman sending “friend” requests to random men on Facebook. Two weeks before our search, someone else reported getting similarly scammy Facebook requests: “I actually have this [girl] trying to do this. Same site and is wanting me to go to a redirecting site just to get to CitySex. I kept asking what the name of the site was and she was playing dumb.”

Citysex.com also came up on the Dating Judge website (which is not safe to click on at work or around children, due to some sexually explicit images); Datingjudge.com apparently judges sex-and-dating sites for their trustworthiness, and tagged Citysex.com in many of its scam-alert postings. Citysex.com also got a “Trust Score” of zero percent on Scamadviser.com (which lists it as a US-based site, rather than Cypriot),  and multiple people at PissedConsumer.com warn that “City sex is a scam.”

So if you are a man looking to meet a sexy woman, we can definitely tell you you’ll meet no such women through Citysex.com. But if you’re a woman horrified to learn that Citysex is using your name and image to reel in gullible men — unfortunately, we have no idea what you can do, other than perhaps showing your friends and family this article, should any of them be foolish enough to think you actually posted a come-hither profile on Citysex.com.

One of the nastiest facts of Internet life is this: once you put your name, image or writings out there, you can’t really control what happens to the...
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True.com sale is off; failed buyer trashes Texas attorney general

PlentyofFish will have to go fishing for new members elsewhere

Earlier this month, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott objected to the proposed sale of True.com, saying the sale would violate a privacy pledge the site made to its 43 million members when they signed up for the dating service.

Now the would-be buyer -- PlentyofFish -- says the deal is off and its CEO and founder, Markus Frind, says he finds Abbott's objections ridiculous.

“The fact that the Texas AG stopped one dating site from buying another dating site without user consent is like asking all Twitter users to approve its IPO,” Mr. Frind said, the Wall Street Journal reported.

True, based in Plano, Texas, has been in bankruptcy for more than a year and has been trying to sell its assets and go out of business. But what's its biggest asset? That's right -- its database of 43 million members.

Frind had offered to pay $700,000 for the troubled site but, writing on his personal blog, he said the deal wasn't important enough to justify a huge legal bill to fight the Texas complaint. And he said the site's not worth much without the database.

“Who in their right mind is going to buy a dating site with 43 million members if you are not allowed access to those members?” Frind asked on his personal blog.

Plenty of friends

PlentyofFish, by the way, has a pretty good privacy record, from all appearances. It lets users restrict what kind of people can contact them and gives users plenty of space to post photos and write about themselves. 

Perhaps most significantly, PlentyofFish is free. It makes its money from advertising instead of from fees charged to its members. It is mentioned in passing in numerous negative reviews of other services on ConsumerAffairs, like one from Nancy of Garfield, Ohio.

While complaining about the fees charged by eHarmony, Nancy said: "Take what you like from this, but if you ever want to meet an actual person and have an actual DATE, try OKCupid or plentyofFish. Just bring your asbestos shorts, ladies, they all think we are all desperate. REALLY."

While complaining about Match.com, Matt of Falls Church, Va., commended PlentyofFish and OKCupid, another free site, for blocking profile spam: "[They] block ip addresses from scammer havens and have much lower volumes of fake profiles compared to Match.com. But Match, a subscription service, is replete with scam artists."

So, whether it's for the best or not, it's true that True.com members won't be getting plenty of new friends from PlentyofFish. 

Earlier this month, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott objected to the proposed sale of True.com, saying the sale would violate a privacy pledge the site m...
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Texas objects to sale of True.com's 43-million-member database

When they signed up, customers were told their information was safe with True

Although you would never know it to look at its site, dating site True.com has been in bankruptcy proceedings for more than a year and is in the process of selling off its assets.

One of those assets is its database of 43 million consumers. The site's parent company, True Beginnings, based in Plano, Texas, has been seeking permission from the bankruptcy court to sell its database to a Canadian dating service.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott thinks that's a bad idea.

"The proper course is for True.com and its bankruptcy trustee to seek the customers’ permission before selling their private information to a third party – and that’s exactly what our legal action asks the bankruptcy court to require before the case proceeds,” Abbott said in a statement after he filed an objection with the court.

Unfortunately, Abbott's action would only affect the 2 million or so Texans registered with the service. The other 41 million are on their own.

In the court filing objecting to the membership database sale, Abbott argues that the bankruptcy trustee must first give True.com’s members an opportunity to object to the sale of their personal information. True Beginnings has stated that it merely intends to notify members via email that their personal information has been sold.

However, the proposed email notice does not ask customers to first approve the transfer of their sensitive data. Under the current transfer process, to which Abbott objects, the information would be transferred unless the customer takes direct steps to opt-out.

Abbott seeks approval for customers to be allowed to opt-in by having them express approval for the transfer of their personal information.

"Ambiguous and deceptive"

During the sign-up process, True.com customers were told their personal information could not be transferred without their consent. However, Abbott says that "ambiguous and deceptive language embedded within True.com’s privacy policy quietly noted that members’ personal information held in the company’s database would be treated as a transferable asset in the event the company was acquired by a third-party buyer."

The Attorney General’s legal filing urges the bankruptcy court to require the trustee to abide by the terms presented to customers when they signed up for the dating web site.

Although you would never know it to look at its site, dating site True.com has been in bankruptcy proceedings for more than a year and is in the process of...
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Critics say Facebook privacy changes endanger teens

The changes would expose teens to the same data collection adults now face

Over 20 public health, media, youth, and consumer advocacy groups have written to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) objecting to Facebook’s recent proposed changes to its privacy policy. The groups raised concerns about the potential negative impact of these changes on teens, saying the changes would expose teens to the same problematic data collection and sophisticated ad-targeted practices that adults currently face.

“The FTC, which has acknowledged that teens require special privacy safeguards, must act now to limit the ways in which Facebook collects data and engages in targeted marketing directed at adolescents,” the organizations say in a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez.

The groups—including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Consumers Union, Public Citizen, Consumer Watchdog, Pediatrics Now, and the National Collaboration for Youth—challenged changes to the “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” that give Facebook permission to use, for commercial purposes, the name, profile picture, actions, and other information concerning its teen users.

"Unfair terms"

The groups also objected to new language directed at 13-to-17-year-old users that states that teens “represent that at least one of their guardians or parents have given consent for this use of their personal information on their behalf.”

“[The FTC] should prevent Facebook from imposing unfair terms on teens and their parents that place them in a position of having to say they secured informed, affirmative consent from a parent or guardian,” the letter said. 

“These new changes should raise alarms among parents and any groups concerned about the welfare of teens using Facebook,” said Joy Spencer, who runs the Center for Digital Democracy’s digital marketing and youth project. “By giving itself permission to use the name, profile picture and other content of teens as it sees fit for commercial purposes, Facebook will bring to bear the full weight of a very powerful marketing apparatus to teen social networks.”

Dr. Gwenn O’Keefe at Pediatrics Now also expressed concern. “Given the number of teens who are legally on Facebook and pre-teens who are on there posing as teens,” she declared, “it’s in everyone’s interest that Facebook create an environment that is appropriate and healthy for the development of teens.”

Consent decree

Citing the FTC’s 2011 Consent Decree with Facebook, the letter asked the agency to hold Facebook accountable, redress the changes, and protect the interests of teens.

Facebook recently settled a class-action lawsuit about sponsored stories by promising to change some of the language in its terms of service, in order to reflect how the program operates. Among other revisions, Facebook said it would add language requiring minors to represent that their parents agreed to the terms of service -- including the use of their children's names and photos in sponsored stories ads. 

Facebook also said it would give users more control over their appearance in sponsored stories, and would pay $15 each to around 600,000 people who objected to their appearance in prior sponsored-stories advertisements.

Over 20 public health, media, youth, and consumer advocacy groups sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today objecting to Facebook’s r...
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Facebook settles "sponsored stories" lawsuit for $20 million

Users will get about $15 each, the rest going to non-profit privacy groups

A U.S. district court judge has approved a $20 million settlement to be paid by Facebook to users whose names and likenesses were used in "sponsored story" ads.

Facebook users who complained about their likenesses being used in the so-called sponsored stories will at last be getting a few dollars -- about $15 -- for their trouble.

The "stories" were really ads that showed users that their "friends" had clicked on "like" buttons for various products. Not only were the "stories" not stories, the users featured in the endorsements had not agreed to having their image and name used.

They hadn't been paid anything either. After all, why sell out if you don't get any money for it?

Consumers rate Facebook

Now, $15 may not sound like much but the judge had at times expressed skepticism that anyone had been harmed very much by the unwitting endorsements, sleazy and unethical though it may have been for Facebook to shanghai users' good names.

"We are pleased that the settlement has received final approval," Facebook said in a statement.

Money that's left over will go to a group of non-profits agreed upon by the plaintiffs, including the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Facebook says it doesn't do sponsored stories anymore. Actually, it does. It just calls them something else, but that's another, um, story.

The suit was dragged on since 2011, when it was filed by five plaintiffs. About 7,000 users have opted out of the settlement, leaving them free to file their own lawsuits.

A U.S. district court judge has approved a $20 million settlement to be paid by Facebook to users whose names and likenesses were used in "sponsored s...
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New drinkware hopes to reduce date rapes

When glass and straw detect common date-rape drugs, they turn red

The date-rape risk is a lot higher than you might think. According to the University of the Sciences, one in four college-aged women have been the victim of an actual or attempted date rape.

The Florida Institute of Technology found that 84% of rape victims knew their attacker and 57% of rapes happened on a date. One in four college men admitted to using sexual aggression with women. And, not surprisingly, 90% of date rapes involve alcohol, often including spiked drinks.

To help alert potential date-rape victims, a company called DrinkSavvy has created 16-ounce cups and straws that change colors if they detect that a drink has been spiked. They look for GHB, ketamine or rohypnol, three commonly-used date rape drugs.

Mike Abramson, the founder of DrinkSavvy and John MacDonald, a professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, came up with the new drinkware. Abramson said he was the victim of someone spiking his drink, which was unpleasant at the time at least gave him a new-business idea.

"Within the past three years, three of my close friends, and myself have been unwitting victims of consuming an odorless, colorless and tasteless drug slipped into our drink," wrote Abramson"That is why it is our goal to have as many bars and clubs as possible to simply swap out their current drinkware for DrinkSavvy, making it the new safety standard."

If a drink contains either GHB, ketamine or rohypnol and it's in a DrinkSavvy cup, red stripes will appear on the cup, telling you something is wrong. If the drink is safe, the glass remains clear. Ditto with the straws.


To get this project off the ground, Abramson went to the crowd-funding site Indiegogo and raised $52,089. And he says that in the near future, his company will roll out a full line of products that can detect if a drink has been spiked. The company plans to release stirrers, glass ware, bottles and cans, in addition to the cups and straws.

"That means discrete effortless and continuous drink monitoring throughout the night," said Abramson. "Because the same drinkware that you're drinking with, is also the color-changing indicator that makes invisible drugs visible."

Another part of Abramson's goal is to give these cups and straws to rape crisis centers for free while retailing them online. Not surprisingly, he wants to encourage colleges, bars, clubs, lounges and other places to use his stuff.

Lots of fans

Abramson may not have much money but he does have a lot of fans.

"As a career prosecutor, I know the value of this product," wrote district attorney Stephanie Anderson, who gave money for this project. "It's the most effective sexual assault prevention strategy."

Another financial contributor said, "If widely distributed, the technology could provide a significant safety measure."

Abramson said a full line of products could be rolled out as early as 2014. But until then, there are some safety measures people can take when they're out drinking and having fun. And these safety measures should still be followed once the DrinkSavvy products are available.

For one, don't let anyone bring you a drink. Get it yourself.

If someone offers to buy you a drink, go to the bar with him, because it only takes a second to put something in your glass. Most experts would probably say only use these rules if a stranger buys you a drink, but it wouldn't hurt to get your own drink all of the time.

And two: Never leave your drink unattended, because again, something can be added to your glass in the blink of an eye.

Plus, trust your instincts. If you feel strange after one drink or you feel more intoxicated than you think you should be, go the hospital and have a friend accompany you. 

It's a difficult truth to swallow, but the possibility of someone getting date raped is relatively high.According to statistics released by the Universit...
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Old news is new again, as Facebook sees it

Facebook shuffles things around to keep ads alive longer

It used to be said that news was a highly perishable commodity and that yesterday's news was about as useful as, well, any number of useless things.

But that's analog thinking. If you want to stay on top today, you have to think digitally -- and sometimes that means taking old news and plopping it down on top of the new news.

At least that's how Facebook sees it, or at least how it explains the latest changes in its so-called news feed, which is sort of Facebook's front page.

Through a tweak to the news feed ranking algorithm, “organic stories that people did not scroll down far enough to see can reappear near the top of News Feed if the stories are still getting lots of likes and comments,” Facebook said in its new News Feed FYI blog post, a feature that is supposed to at least partly demystify the news feed.

In short, updates missed initially get bumped back up in the feed to help boost overall engagement. So if you didn't like something Tuesday, maybe you'll like it Wednesday, seems to be the thinking. 

And maybe it's true.

Facebook says its tests show that the change resulted in a 5% increase in the number of likes, comments, and shares on the organic posts people saw from friends, and an 8% increase across the same metrics from "brand pages" -- those from companies rather than just plain old people -- on the site. Where people previously read 57% of updates, on average, the ranking change has led to 70% of updates being read, the blog said.

“The data suggests that this update does a better job of showing people the stories they want to see, even if they missed them the first time. For Page owners, this means their most popular organic Page posts have a higher chance of being shown to more people, even if they're more than a few hours old,” according to the post by Facebook Engineering Director Lars Backstrom.

Backstrom said there are about 1,500 updates the average Facebook user could look at had he but world enough and time. 

So this is all supposed to make our lives better? No, it's supposed to make advertisers' lives better, as we understand it. On a recent conference call with analysts, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said about one in five of the posts people see in their news feeds now are ads.

Zuckerberg said Facebook will "invest more on improving the quality of news feed ads by increasing the number of marketers and overall demand in the bidding process for ad placement."

More ads, more often, in other words. 

Facebook on Tuesday said it would begin publishing blog posts dedicated to explaining ongoing changes to the news feed, the central feature of the social n...
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'I have a great credit score' is the new pick-up line

Both men and women are looking for someone who can balance a check book

Want to impress someone with whom you share a romantic interest? Add this to your collection of ice breakers and pick-up lines: “I have a 755 credit score.”

According to a recent survey by a division of Experian, both men and women find financial responsibility a highly desirable trait. In fact, the survey shows that among women, 96 percent say financial responsibility is important, compared to 87 percent noting physical attractiveness as an important quality.

Men, on the other hand, still prefer physical attractiveness as the primary trait but financial responsibility is a close second, with 91 percent saying it's important. Overall, only “personal compatibility” trumps financial responsibility in the selection of a potential mate.

Bigger issue for women

It may comes as a surprise to some men but women rank financial compatibility and sexual intimacy as equally important. According to the survey, women view "is financially responsible" and "pays bills on time" as the top two financial attributes when deciding if a potential mate is attractive. Together, men and women both view "spends beyond means" and "has debt" as potential deal-breakers.

In a marriage, both parties bring their individual credit scores to the relationship. Throughout the marriage they will continue to have an individual credit score, based on financial transactions conducted only in their name. But they will also have a joint credit score, and if one partner drags it down, mortgages and auto loans will be more expensive, if you can even qualify for them at all.

Relationships go south

Relationships often crumble because one partner is not as financially responsible as the other. Chris, of Lewisville, Idaho, experienced the downside of a financially incompatible mate when she went shopping for car insurance quotes at Geico.

“Their representative tells me thank you for my interest on my quote she would be happy to help me, Chris writes in a ConsumerAffairs post. “But she then proceeds to tell me I owe them money on a delinquent account. I am floored because I have never used Geico. She then goes on about that the account is from 2007 and belonged to my now ex-husband. We were married in 2010 and then divorced, shortly after. I have my own insurance carrier and was never on my husbands car insurance.”

Melissa, of Tracy, Calif., signed for a truck loan at Ally Bank with her husband. Then they got a divorce.

“Ally managed to keep my name on the documents without me signing and still reports to the credit agency that I have a loan, Melissa writes..”Three years later I am still trying to get my ex-husbands truck off my credit.”

Suze Orman's advice

Personal finance guru Suze Orman advises couples to get to know one another's financial orientation very early in the relationship. She calls it “financial intimacy.”

“Financial intimacy is not about contributing the same amount to the joint checking account,” Orman writes on her website. “I am talking about building an understanding and respect for your individual financial personalities and learning how to meld any differences so you are financially in sync.”

To help couple determine whether they are in sync financially, Orman has devised this quiz.

The FreeCreditscore.com survey suggests singles who want to become couples are giving financial matters higher priority than they once did. Nearly half of the respondents in the survey say they discuss their credit score with a romantic prospect or partner, and 39 percent discuss it within the first year of a relationship. Consumers who want to fix credit score issues may benefit from our credit repair companies guide.

Want to impress someone with whom you share a romantic interest? Add this to your collection of ice breakers and pick-up lines: “I have a 755 credit ...
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Are you sharing too much information?

With Twitter, Facebook and other social media, it's very easy to do

We all could use a filter when it comes to posting things online. Just ask New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. Or actor Alec Baldwin. Or journalist Geraldo Rivera.

All have Tweeted, or Facebooked, or shared pictures, thoughts and opinions that they lived to regret. A case of “too much information,” which seems to happen quite a bit in the digital age.

"Sharing itself is not new, but consumers now have unlimited opportunities to share their thoughts, opinions, and photos, or otherwise promote themselves and their self-image online,” said Russell Belk, a York University professor and author of a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. “Digital devices help us share more, and more broadly, then ever before."

The good and the bad

And that's not always a good thing. Blogging encourages us to share everything. What is YouTube's slogan? “Broadcast yourself.” Sometimes sharing is good, sometimes it's not so good.

An example of a good kind of sharing is when consumers share their experience with a product or service, on sites like ConsumerAffairs. These reviews can help other consumers make better, more informed decisions.

But on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, posters sometimes disable their filters. For example, Dianne, of Sunderland, UK, is an artist who says she focuses on “sensual art,” similar to what you see on Khajuraho temples in India – except that the subjects in her art are “elves and extraterrestrials.” She didn't get a good reception when she posted some of her erotic art on Facebook.

“It had started about a year ago, where they would remove my artwork and then block me over a 30-day period,” she shared in a ConsumerAffairs post.

Eye of the beholder

To Dianne, her work is art, erotic though it might be. To others viewing her page, however, it might appear to be something else entirely. In Dianne's case, she might do well to consider a different venue for her work, one where her intent and purpose would not be misconstrued.

Alice, of Branchville, N.J., likes to share her politics. She says she's a retired teacher who strongly supports 2nd Amendment rights. She shares those views freely on Facebook, sometimes triggering a sharp reaction from people reading her posts.

“I do not use foul language,” she writes. “I am a Christian. I do not threaten. I do not post pornography. I do urge all to use their legal rights to redress by contacting their representatives through peaceful protesting and boycotting. All of these are legal and it is our right as free Americans. My views may upset the liberals and Socialists; however, I have a right to free speech.”

Facebook, or course, has rights too – including the right to set terms and conditions for the use of its site. After all, consumers aren't paying anything to use it and Facebook has to try and keep 800 million people happy. The bigger issue, however, may be how much and what kind of information should be shared in the first place.

Brave new world

In the normal world, if you climb up on a soap box and deliver a rousing, opinionated speech, only those within earshot are exposed. If you tell a raunchy joke or recount your exploits during a serious night on the town, only a small circle of people know your secret. When you post on the Internet, it can go viral.

"Due to an online disinhibition effect and a tendency to confess to far more shortcomings and errors than they would divulge face-to-face, consumers seem to disclose more and may wind up 'oversharing' through digital media to their eventual regret," Belk said.

Don't press send

Over-sharing happens a lot in the sports world, where egos are large and emotions often run high. Former NFL player and coach Herman Edwards delivered memorable advice to rookies in a seminar at the start of the 2011 season. He warned the young athletes, most of whom had just become millionaires, that expressing themselves in anger on Twitter would lead to unwanted, and perhaps career-damaging publicity.

“You know the little 'send' button on your phone?” he asked. “Instead of 'send' on the phone there should be a button that says 'don't press send.' So when you Tweet all that stuff out and you get ready, you'll stop and think. 'Don't press send.'”

Finally, sharing too much information on Twitter or Facebook could damage your reputation in real and tangible ways. A 2012 study of employers from six different industries revealed that many employers are using the Facebook profiles of job candidates to filter out weaker applicants based on perception of lifestyle, attitudes and personal appearance.

In other words, it could keep you from making the final cut. You can argue the fairness of it, but it's becoming a fact of life.

So when you are tempted to let it all hang out, perhaps it would be wise to remember Herman Edwards' advice: “Don't press send.”

We all could use a filter when it comes to posting things online. Just ask New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. Or actor Alec Baldwin. Or journalist ...
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Emotions and social media: a dangerous mix

A survey finds that folks are getting meaner and meaner online

You've probably seen it before -- people arguing on social media.

It usually starts small. An unwanted photo posted or some comment put up that's subtle but still very mean.

And after that, they're off to the races -- hurling insults at each other, trying to outdo the other in a competition of meanness and trying to think of the harshest thing to say or post. And it's all played out in front of everyone on social media to see and comment on.

Going public

It happens with couples too.

A small tiff starts at home before the couple heads off to work. On the way to work, at least one person thinks of a point or insult he or she should have used during the tiff.

And by the time that person gets to work, the social media war is launched and the argument that started in the privacy of the bedroom is now on Facebook or Twitter for everyone to witness.

It happens every day and according to VitalSmarts, a company that provides corporate training, 78% of folks say they've noticed an increase in online meanness and 76% say they've witnessed at least one argument on social media. Another 88% feel that people are meaner on social media than they are face-to-face.

How come?

And why is this?

Some might say the anonymity of social media gives people a certain amount of courage they wouldn't normally have and what they wouldn't say in person, they'll say much easier on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Then of course you have folks who aren't able to count to 10 in order to cool off, and with their device being nearby it's very easy to post something in anger.

Simply put, personal emotions and social media don't mix, so it's best not to post anything if you feel stressed, angry or sad, experts say.

A new arena

Joseph Grenny, co-author of the study, said social media has become the official place where people come to have difficult conversations, and those conversations can easily turn into nasty ones.

"Social media platforms allow us to connect with others and strengthen relationships in ways that weren't possible before," said Grenny. "Sadly, they have also become the default forums for holding high-stakes conversations, blasting polarizing opinions and making statements with little regard for those within screen shot.

"We struggle to speak candidly and respectfully in person, let alone through a forum that allows no immediate feedback or the opportunity to see how our words will affect each other," Grenny explained.

VitalSmarts surveyed 2,698 people and 81% said they had interactions online that were either "difficult" or "emotionally-charged." In addition, 19% said they have less face-to-face contact with a friend or follower because that person said something mean to them online. 

It's everywhere

But it's not just social media pages where people post cruel and hurtful things.

Have you ever read the comments on an online news story? No matter what the subject matter is, you're almost guaranteed to read something that's over-the-top-mean, insensitive, racist, homophobic -- or just plain unnecessary.

When you go to places like YouTube and read some of the comments on a music video or performance, a lot of people go out of their way to say how much they hate the song or video.

Take a deep breath

Susan Avello, a blogger for HR Virtual Cafe, says when you find yourself being mean on social media or hating everything online, it might be time to take a break.

"A good friend once told me 'You seem to be in a place of hating everything. Perhaps you should take a social media break.' I'll never forget that," Avello wrote. "If you find yourself hating everyone on social media and everything that's being put out there perhaps it's time for you to take a social media sabbatical. Go spend time with the family. Take a vacation and leave your devices at home.

"There's no reason to lash out at others just because you're in a funk," writes Avello.

Grenny agrees, and says you should ask yourself why you really use social media. Do you use it to have good communication, to get noticed or to get something off your chest that you would never say in person?

Grenny says the use of  "hot words" should be avoided when communicating online, meaning if you disagree with somebody, don't call the person a jerk or stupid -- just say you disagree.

Grenny notes that people who argue online often "agree on 80% of the topic but create a false sense of conflict when they spend all their time arguing over the other 20%."

The best advice: Take the conflict off-line and don't try to settle it through social media because it's too easy for your emotions to take over and cause you to post something that you may regret for a long time.

You've probably seen it before. Two people arguing on social media.It usually starts small. An unwanted photo posted or some comment put up that's subtle...
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Texas sues senior dating service

"Matchmaker Matchmaker" uses high-pressure tactics to intimidate members, state charges

Texas has sued a Beaumont senior dating service, Matchmaker Matchmaker, charging it uses "high pressure sales tactics" to sign up customers at prices as high as $10,000.

It says the company uses "coercive and at times physically intimidating tactics to convince prospective senior citizen clients and others to sign expensive 'membership agreements' for their services, costing $3,000 to $10,000."

Luna has operated dating services under various names, including Matchmaker, Two of Us, 2 of a Kind, and Together Dating.

In his lawsuit, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says Luna uses "dating mining" to find potential customers and also sells leads and customer contact information to other businesses and also uses the information for telemarketing calls, even though the company is not a registered telemarketer in Texas, Courthouse News Service reports.

The lawsuits charges that Matchmaker's sales staff is "trained in dubious and aggressive recruitment practices," including false claims that Matchmaker has a database of thousands of potential dates, is affiliated with the Better Business Bureau and does psychological evaluations of all its potential members.

"Customers, mostly senior citizens, complain that they are kept in a room at Matchmaker defendants' business for hours to listen to high pressure sales tactics until they agreed to sign a 'membership agreement.' Consumers report that defendant Luna has physically placed himself between the consumer and an exit and even placed his hands on a 65-year-old female customer and told her that he would not let her leave until she signed up for the program," the lawsuit states.

Texas has sued a Beaumont senior dating service, Matchmaker Matchmaker, charging it uses "high pressure sales tactics" to sign up customers at prices as hi...
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Georgia Student Sues Over Facebook Photo

School district official uses her bikini-clad image without permission, she says

The fact that Facebook photos are often accessible to the general public has spawned another lawsuit, this time from a Georgia college student who says a school district official swiped a photo of her in a bikini.

Chelsea Chaney, a freshman at the University of Georgia, was horrified to find out that the Director of Technology for Fayette County Schools used a photo of her standing next to a cardboard cutout of rap star Snoop Dog to demonstrate the dangers of posting questionable pictures on social media channels.

The director of technology paired the photo with the warning that, "Once it's there, it's there to stay."

Student “embarrassed,” “horrified”

Chaney told local ABC affiliate WSB-TV that when she was the photo, "I was embarrassed. I was horrified."

"It never crossed my mind that this would ever, ever happen to me," Chaney told the news channel.

Chaney’s lawyer, Pete Wellborn, told the affiliate that the school district “used [the photo] out of context to suggest that Chelsea is a promiscuous  abuser of alcohol.”

"Their idea that putting something on Facebook gives them a license to steal it and Carte blanche to do with it what they did is wrong ethically, it's wrong morally and it's absolutely wrong legally," Wellborn told WSB-TV.

Chaney told WSB-TV that she wishes the photo “was taken more seriously and [I had] gotten a more sincere apology.”

Chaney is seeking $2 million in damages.

Facebook photo litigation nothing new

The suit is just the latest reminder that, yes, photos posted to Facebook can very easily end up plastered all over the Internet. The social media giant has been wrangling with a lawsuit concerning the company’s use of members’ photos to promote “sponsored stories.”

And last year, a Minnesota man sued an uncle for tagging him in a photo that he didn’t want others to see, coupled with a sarcastic caption. Aaron Olson, the aggrieved tagee, said the behavior constituted harassment.

Unfortunately for Olson, the judge hearing his case ruled that “[c]omments that are mean and disrespectful, coupled with innocuous family photos, do not affect a person’s safety, security, or privacy — and certainly not substantially so."

The fact that Facebook photos are often accessible to the general public has spawned another lawsuit, this time from a Georgia college student who says a s...
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Online dating produces better marriages?

Critics assail eHarmony-funded study. "They got their money's worth," one sniffs.

How did you meet your spouse or significant other? It's increasingly likely it wasn't in a bar, at your church's ice cream social or on a safari to Outer Burundi. 

These days, folks are increasingly hooking up online, and a sizeable percentage of them are staying hooked. In fact, a new study claims that marriages between people who met online are at least as stable and satisfying as those who met in more physical venues -- and perhaps more so. Critics were quick to question the findings, however.

Imagine a study that said couples who first met at the theater had better marriages than couples who met at a rodeo, UCLA social psychologist Benjamin Karney told the Los Angeles Times.

"Would you then conclude that meeting at the theater leads to better marriages? I think not," Karney said. "You might conclude that couples who go to the theater are different from couples who go to the rodeo in ways that also happen to be associated with marital success."

The study of 20,000 people was organized by John Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago and scientific adviser to eHarmony.com, which paid for the study and was quick to begin cranking out publicity touting its results.

Participants had all gotten married between 2005 and 2012. A third had met their spouse online, about half through online dating, the rest through chat rooms, gaming and so forth.

Researchers who analyzed the results said the online marriages were not only "durable" but were slightly more so than marriages that happened through more traditional means. In other words, those who met online were less likely to be divorced.

Those who were still married were asked to rate the happiness of their union and, again, those who had met online were slightly happier than the others.

The results were analyzed by statisticians Elizabeth Ogburn and Tyler VanderWeele of the Harvard School of Public Health, who had no monetary interest in the outcome. The researchers' findings were reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"Not left to chance"

eHarmony was quick to trumpet the findings, saying they showed  eHarmony ranks first in creating more online marriages than any other online site, ranked eHarmony first in its measures of marital satisfaction and showed eHarmony has the lowest rates of divorce and separation than couples who met through other online and offline meeting places.

“The overarching goal of eHarmony has always been to reduce the divorce rate by helping build quality relationships that are based on compatibility and not left to chance," said Dr. Neil Clark Warren, founder and CEO of eHarmony. "To have consistently the happiest marriages with the lowest divorce rate, we now have the foundation in place that will enable the addition of new services as we transform into a more general relationship site.”

Warren claimed that eHarmony was on the road to "change a whole generation and countless other generations to follow.”

Critics pounce

Consumers rate eHarmony

That might be going a little far, some skeptics cautioned.

UCLA's Karney said the study appears to have been well designed and conducted. But the suggestion that match-making websites produce more successful marriages is misleading, he said.

"The authors allude to the possibility that the Internet is changing relationships and making them better," said Karney, who has studied the dynamics of long-term relationships extensively. "These data cannot support those conclusions."

Harry Reis, a psychologist at the University of Rochester, said the study took demographic factors into account but did not control for "personality, mental health status, drug and alcohol use, history of domestic violence, and motivation to form a relationship,” according to the Washington Post. Yet all of these factors are known to affect marital outcomes, he said.

“It is entirely possible that when these factors are taken into account, online meeting may have worse outcomes than offline meeting,” Reis told the Post.

Writing at Forbes.com, columnist Steven Salzberg said eHarmony got the results it paid for. "I think they got their money’s worth," he sniffed.

How did you meet your spouse or significant other? It's increasingly likely it wasn't in a bar, at your church's ice cream social or on a safari to Outer B...
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Twitter settles suit with TweetAdder

Suit said automation system was contributing to spam

Twitter has settled a lawsuit with TweetAdder, the Twitter automation system that Twitter has called among “the most aggressive tool providers and spammers.”

TweetAdder allows users to schedule tweets, automate multiple Twitter accounts, and use keywords to find certain groups of Twitter users.

The suit, filed in April 2012, was intended to “send a clear message to all would-be spammers,” according to a statement that Twitter released at the time.

"Twitter now has more than 140 million active users, and we continue to grow at a record pace," the statement said. "As our reach expands, we become a more attractive target for spammers. Even though spam is a small fraction of the content you can find on Twitter, we know just how distracting it can be."

Terms of settlement

Under the settlement, TweetAdder promises not to engage in “creating, developing, manufacturing, adapting, modifying, making available, trafficking in, using, disclosing, selling, licensing, distributing (with or without monetary charge), updating, providing customer support for, or offering for use, sale, license, or distribution (with or without monetary charge), any software or technology designed for use in connection with Twitter's service, the use of which would violate Twitter's Terms of Service."

Because of the settlement, TweetAdder has pulled several previous versions of its software and has required its users to upgrade to version 4.0, which apparently complies with the terms of the settlement.

Competitors affected

Twitter also filed suit against a number of TweetAdder’s competitors at the same time last year, including TweetBuddy, Justinlover.info, Troption, and TweetAttacks. Twitter reached a settlement with TweetBuddy last year, but the other suits are still active.

TweetAttacks promised its users that their “profiles will appear to have been created by real people, so it’s a lot more likely that they will stick.” A Pro version of that service purported to allow tweets to be viewed by “thousands or tens of thousands of Twitter users in a matter of minutes.”

Perhaps the most unique of those defendants was Justinlover, which was a site that catered to Justin Bieber fans who wanted to get the singer’s attention.

“If you really want to, all you have to do is to seize the right moment, for example, the time when he just updates his twitter, then immediately leave him messages," the site had advertised. "You'd better keep leaving him messages to attract his attention."

As of publication, the site was no longer active.

Twitter has settled a lawsuit with TweetAdder, the Twitter automation system that Twitter has called among “the most aggressive tool providers and sp...
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Facebook promises to get tougher on hate speech

Advertisers have been pulling their ads rather than offend consumers

Sometimes the free market does what it's supposed to, although not always in the way you might expect. In the latest instance, advertisers are enforcing some minimal standards of decency on Facebook.

For some inexplicable reason, perhaps the result of technocrats taking too many science and math courses, there is a currently popular attitude that the publishers of web sites aren't responsible for what they let people say on their sites; acting like a responsible publisher is somehow seen as censoring free speech.

It is, of course, nothing of the kind. Bigots and misogynists are free to say what they like but publishers aren't required to disseminate their comments. Ironically, it is advertisers who have had to conduct Publishing 101 classes in an attempt to explain this to the likes of Facebook.

Money talks

Feminist groups have been pressuring Facebook to ban pages that glorify violence against women but their efforts didn't bear much fruit until advertisers took notice and let their checkbooks do the talking. Yesterday, Nissan U.K. pulled all of its ads from Facebook because of offensive content on the site.

"Working with Facebook, we realized that if an individual goes to a page that may have offensive content on it, our ads could follow them into those pages," Nissan spokesman David Reuter said, according to Advertising Age.

According to Women, Action & the Media (WAM), one of the women's groups leading the campaign, 15 advertisers pulled their ads from Facebook. 

Message received

Facebook seems to finally be getting the message. 

"We need to do better — and we will," Facebook said in a blog post. It said it has "no tolerance for hate speech or content that is threatening, or incited violence, and we will not tolerate material deemed to be directly harmful to anyone."

"We have been working over the past several months to improve our systems to respond to reports of violations, but the guidelines used by these systems have failed to capture all the content that violates our standards," Facebook said.

It's often forgotten by new media types that advertisers place great value on the environment in which their ads appear. It's the reason that advertisers are still willing to pay more to advertise in, say, Vanity Fair than on web sites that rely on unedited -- or "unmoderated" to use the current patois -- user-generated content that all too often is illiterate, hateful, ill-informed and rife with grammatical and spelling errors that render it all but unreadable.  

Sometimes the free market does what it's supposed to, although not always in the way you might expect. In the latest instance, advertisers are enforcing so...
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Is social media lowering our desire for face time?

Some say yes and think it's even worse for the younger generation

When it comes to social media, there are some people who have signed up for it but never use it and those who use social media once in a while just because it's there. And then you have folks who constantly use it and would rather "tweet" someone than pay them a visit.

Some might say that social media has been a great addition to our culture because it makes keeping up with people so easy. But others  think it has removed our desire to connect with people face-to-face.

Michael Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Cellars says social media is a wonderful thing to have in our society, but it should never replace human interaction.

Up close and personal

"Social media and technology do have their place, but they are not, and never will be, a substitute for in-person interaction," he says.

Houlihan, whose company produces the popular Barefoot Wine, says he would have never achieved the same kind of success through social media. He says meeting with people in person allowed him to establish stronger relationships.

"I can't tell you how many retailers, suppliers, and potential customers I visited in person during those early years," says Houlihan. "What I can tell you is that I would have never gotten satisfactory results if I had tried to build those relationships via email and social media. People don't just buy your product; they buy you."

Houlihan believes that face-to-face contact is the best way to build business relationships. Others feel it's the best way to build relationships overall.

Turning inward

Andrew Keen, author of Digital Vertigo: How Today's Online Social Revolution is Dividing, Diminishing and Disorienting Us, told WebProNews that social media has made a lot of people self-absorbed.

"As we retreat from real social things, and as we retreat from readily watching or listening to other people's ideas -- music, movies, books -- we seem to be more and more preoccupied with broadcasting ourselves, "says Keen. And that, I think is deeply narcissistic and ultimately doesn't reflect well on ourselves as individuals or collectively as a species."

Social media explosion

And just how many people are using social media these days? 

Well, Facebook has over 1.1 billion users. Twitter has 500 million, Pinterest over 48 million and Google + has 343 million users.

And these are just four of the social media sites

A good portion of users admit to using social media sites to keep in touch with their family and friends, which suggests many aren't keeping in touch through face-to-face contact.

According to statistics released by the company NM Incite, 89% of social media users say keeping up with family and friends is the main reason they use sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Making new friends is the second most popular reason, as 70% of users admit to using their keyboard to meet somebody new, which means that a lot of folks aren't meeting people the old fashioned way. 

Younger users

And what about the younger ones? 

Most young kids have never lived in a world that doesn't involve social media, so will their face-to-face communication skills suffer for it?

Yes, said educational psychologist Dr. Kairen Cullen in an interview with The Evening Standard

"New media increases access for lots of children, but on the other hand it doesn't give them experience of face-to-face contact. We only get good at this with lots of practice," she said. "There is this immediate gratification element to new media -- it doesn't allow children to build up patience and time-keeping. It's a mixed picture."

Houlihan agrees and says practice is the only thing that will make a person a good communicator. 

"Like any skill, becoming personable takes practice," he says. "A good way to start is to eliminate virtual communication when in-person communication is possible or more effective. "So shake hands and come out a winner. Remember, genuine, lasting and dependable relationships take time and physical presence. High touch beats high tech every time."

True impact

However there are others who believe that social media isn't as bad as some people may think.

Dr. Megan Moreno, who specializes in adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said when there's a big shift in technology some people get worried that society will be affected negatively.

"When a new technology comes out that is something so important, there is this initial alarmist reaction," said Moreno in an interview with the  The New York Times.

Houlihan says social media is a good thing for our culture, but says it should be used to start a relationship, not maintain one.

"A relationship can start through text, email, or social media; in fact, I encourage entrepreneurs and other businesspeople to utilize those resources," he says. "But in order to be lasting and dependable, a relationship has to grow in person. Yes, developing your face-to-face social skills will make you feel vulnerable at times. As is the case with learning to walk, though feeling vulnerable is why we get so good at it."

Here are Houlihan's reasons why people should use face-to-face contact instead of social media.

  • You're better able to give personalized attention.
  • You're more effective in general.
  • Facial expressions help get your message across, along with your body language and tonality.
  • Your vulnerability shows, which is a good thing.
When it comes to social media, there are people who have signed up but never use it. Then there are people who use social media once in a while just...
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What does Yahoo's purchase of Tumblr mean? Ads

Advertisers may balk, however, at displaying ads on porn and near-porn

When she plunked down $1.1 billion for Tumblr, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer promised Tumblr's users that she would try not to "screw it up."

A day or two later, she had a conference call with investors and was at pains to assure them that she would find a way to "monetize" the popular site. How? Why, with ads of course, a resource the site now lacks but which Yahoo has in abundance.

Mayer said that Yahoo, which operates one of the largest ad networks in the known universe, might find a way to display ads only to users who asked for them. Which probably translates to users who don't find the little opt-out box.

Ads and more ads

This is hardly outrageous though. After all, if you paid $1.1 billion in cash for something, you'd want it to at least try to make a few bucks, wouldn't you?

After all, the defense for all those ads you see everywhere is that they pay for all the great content you wouldn't get otherwise. This argument is OK if we're talking about news, sterling entertainment or even well-organized drivel but in the case of bloggi