Fixing Facebook’s privacy problem

Facebook has been receiving criticism once again for how they handled users’ personal data. Here is a quick summary: in 2013, a 3rd party developer acquired large amounts of data from about 50 million users through an old platform capability (which was removed by Facebook itself one year later to prevent abuse); this data was then used to target US voters during the 2016 Presidential Election. The issue is complex in depth and it highlights a bigger underlying problem: users’ privacy expectations are not aligned with the commitment from most tech companies.

Zuckerberg said in a recent interview with Wired, “early on […] we had this very idealistic vision around how data portability would allow all these different new experiences, and I think the feedback that we’ve gotten from our community and from the world is that privacy and having the data locked down is more important to people.”

Regardless, Facebook never committed to fully lock down users’ data, and their business model was in fact built around the value that data can have for advertisers through interest relevance and demographic targeting. Google and Facebook accounted for 73% of all US digital ad revenue in the second quarter of FY18, up from 63% two years before.

I can nonetheless relate to that idealistic vision between privacy and technology. The more information the Google Assistant knows about the music I like, the better it can personalize my listening experience. Richer actions become available too, like allowing me to control the Nest thermostat or the lights by voice. At the end of the day, I’m trusting Google with my music taste and the devices installed in my house, and I get the benefit of convenience in return.

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Why did you stop posting on Facebook?

Many of my friends have stopped posting on Facebook. Some have uninstalled the app and others even deleted their accounts.

They are not posting on Twitter either, and the more ephemeral Snapchat hasn’t reached critical mass among my closest friends.

Instagram is the only place where I still get a glimpse of the most intimate side of the people I love the most, but I’d say only 20% of my online friends actively use it.

What causes someone to stop sharing on social media? Is it a natural part of being over 30? Or is there an actual problem with the platform? Talking to 12 of these friends, I learned that there are several groups.

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Saving Twitter

With the acquisition of LinkedIn by Microsoft, many investors started buying Twitter stock thinking that the struggling social network would be next. Nick Bilton, one of my favorite writers with Twitter insights, recently explained why this is unlikely. So if nobody is going to buy Twitter, what can it do to survive? Can Twitter be saved?

I agree with Bilton, Twitter will not sell in the near future, specially given its latest investments in SoundCloud and Magic Pony Technology. In fact, I believe Twitter has several great opportunities within reach to overcome this difficult period.

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How I fixed my News Feed on Facebook

For the last month, I’ve been doing an experiment with my News Feed on Facebook; the goal was to make it a more personal place again, and less of the news-sharing site that it seems to be nowadays.

I’m not saying Facebook is not for sharing news, or interesting websites, or memes… after all, I’ve done that same thing for a long time. The problem is that at some point I got bored of seeing my News Feed filled with these impersonal stories and I ended up visiting Facebook way less than I used to. And when I did, I would incessantly scroll through my News Feed, looking for posts that shared something more personal (an idea, a feeling, a picture), but I found very few of these.

Ideally, Facebook should provide the following option: hide all external content, including content generated by accounts that I’m not following. This wouldn’t necessarily go against the company goal, “to help you connect with the people and things you care about the most“, but admittedly, advertisers and investors wouldn’t be so happy with an option that helps users see less content.

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Will Paper kill the original Facebook app?

Facebook announced yesterday a new standalone app: Paper. I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first: another reading app? what can Paper provide that Flipboard or Pulse don’t already? But then I looked at all the possibilities that Paper actually has and, well, now I think that Facebook could be on the verge of cannibalizing its main app.

 

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The social network war

Not many people were surprised when Facebook announced a couple of months ago that 751 million users connect via mobile each month (54% more than the previous year); the trend is clear: our mobile phone will soon become the main device we use to connect to the Internet (if it isn’t already). Today I will focus on two clear examples, a failure and a success.

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