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Zuckerberg Used Facebook User Data to Help Friends and Hurt Competitors

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  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once considered 100 deals with app developers to potentially sell user data in an attempt to learn the “real market value” of the information, according to an NBC News report.
  • The report cites around 4,000 pages of leaked internal Facebook documents that show that the company instead opted to use the data as a bargaining chip to reward apps that purchased ads, were close friends of executives, or shared data with them in return.

The Report

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once considered selling the company’s user data to third-party app developers to find out just how much the user’s data is worth, all while publically claiming to be protecting that same data.

NBC News released a report Tuesday, saying it had obtained around 4,000 pages of leaked company documents spanning from 2011 to 2015. The documents contained emails, web chats, presentations, spreadsheets, and meeting summaries which reportedly showed that Zuckerberg and his team found ways to leverage Facebook user data to companies it partnered with.

It’s not uncommon for companies to work together to share information about customers, however, Facebook has access to sensitive data that many other companies don’t have access to, like information about friends, relationships, photos, and more.

In some cases, NBC News said that Facebook would reward favored companies by giving them access to the data of its users. It would then deny that same data to rival companies or apps that were not considered “strategic partners.”

For instance, Facebook gave Amazon extended access to user data because Amazon had invested heavily in Facebook advertising and partnered with the company for the launch of the Fire smartphone.

By contrast, Facebook reportedly discussed cutting the app, MessageMe, off from user data access. Facebook’s reasoning was that the app had grown too popular and was now a competitor.

Protecting User Data

All the while, Facebook was publically creating a narrative around its concern for user trust, promising to prioritizer data protections.

Private communication between users is “increasingly important,” Zuckerberg said in a 2014 New York Times interview. “Anything we can do that makes people feel more comfortable is really good.”

However, the documents show that behind the scenes, the company was formulating ways to require third-party applications to compensate them for access to user data, through direct payment, spending on advertising, or data sharing agreements.

Facebook Wants to Maintain Its Dominance

Zuckerberg reportedly talked about pursuing 100 deals to sell data access to developers, “as a path to figuring out the real market value” of Facebook user data and then “setting a public rate” for developers, NBC reported.

“The goal here wouldn’t be the deals themselves, but that through the process of negotiating with them we’d learn what developers would actually pay (which might be different from what they’d say if we just asked them about the value), and then we’d be better informed on our path to set a public rate,” Zuckerberg wrote in a message.

In the end, Facebook decided against selling data directly and instead opted to share it with app developers who were considered “friends” of Zuckerberg, or who invested heavily on Facebook and shared their own valuable data in return.

According to NBC, Zuckerberg “noted that though Facebook could charge developers to access user data, the company stood to benefit more from requiring developers to compensate Facebook in kind — with their own data — and by pushing those developers to pay for advertising on Facebook’s platform.”

The companies ultimate goal was to ensure that Facebook held onto its dominant position in the market.

Facebook Calls Documents Cherry-Picked

Facebook has denied giving any developers or partners preferential treatment because of their spending or personal relationships with executives. Instead, the company told NBC News that its focus on “full reciprocity” was to enable users to share their experiences within outside apps with their Facebook friends.

The company also did not question the authenticity of the documents, which stem from a California court case between Facebook and Six4Three.

Six4Three developed an app called Pikinis, which let people pay to find pictures of users in swimsuits. Six4Three’s app was shut down in 2015 after Facebook changed its policies around the sharing of user data with third-party app developers.

Facebook said the documents are “cherry-picked” and misleading.

“As we’ve said many times, Six4Three — creators of the Pikinis app — cherry picked these documents from years ago as part of a lawsuit to force Facebook to share information on friends of the app’s users,” Paul Grewal, vice president and deputy general counsel at Facebook, said in a statement released by the company.

“The set of documents, by design, tells only one side of the story and omits important context. We still stand by the platform changes we made in 2014/2015 to prevent people from sharing their friends’ information with developers like the creators of Pikinis. The documents were selectively leaked as part of what the court found was evidence of a crime or fraud to publish some, but not all, of the internal discussions at Facebook at the time of our platform changes. But the facts are clear: we’ve never sold people’s data.”

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Kings of Leon Will Become One of the First Bands To Offer an Album as NFT

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  • The band Kings of Leon will release its new album Friday as a non-fungible token (NFT), making it among the first bands ever to release a full album in such a format. 
  • The album will also be released on Spotify and Apple Music on the same day in a more traditional format.
  • In recent days, celebrities such as Grimes and Logan Paul have made headlines for multi-million dollar earnings from sales of digital art and video NFTs, which are increasingly becoming viewed as a new form of collectors’ items.

Kings of Leon to Release NFT Album 

Kings of Leon will soon become one of the first bands in history to release an album as a non-fungible token (NFT).

While controversial, NFTs are gradually gaining prominence as a new form of collectors’ items, and the band’s new album, “When You See Yourself,” is no exception to that. 

Once it launches on Friday, it will be available for purchase in NFT form for two weeks. After that, no more NFTs of the album will ever be made. 

The exact same album will also be released on Spotify and Apple Music the same day. Unlike the NFTs, these versions of the album will still remain available to stream and purchase even after two weeks’ time.

So What Is an NFT?

There’s been a lot of confusion around NFTs in recent days, especially as more and more headlines tie major celebrities to them. 

For example, Grimes recently sold $6 million worth of NFTs as digital art. Meanwhile, YouTuber Logan Paul first sold $5 million worth of NFTs last month before then raking in another $880,000 from NFT sales.

Think of it this way: Money is fungible, meaning if you trade $1 with a friend, both of you still have a dollar at the end of the day. Millions of other people across the country also own similar dollars that carry the exact same value (some even have millions of dollars each, and I’m very jealous).

However, something is non-fungible when it has a unique identity and can’t be replaced in a trade. For example, you buy a handmade ceramic bowl that your friend made in her art class. No one else in the world will have that exact same piece of art as long as you retain ownership.

NFTs work in a similar way, except they deal strictly with digital files. For example, Logan Paul’s NFT sales page is filled with clips of Pokemon card pulls. Despite those clips being readily available on YouTube to anyone with internet access, some of them have nonetheless sold for up to $20,000.

“Total mint of 3 NFTs for this moment,” the description for his NFTs reads. “This product represents digital ownership of the NFT video of this moment only. This does not represent ownership in a card, a physical asset or of the YouTube video.”

That’s where this gets tricky. Consumers are buying a “moment” but not actually the copyright of the video or even the card featured in it. As mentioned earlier, despite owning the digital file of that moment, pretty much anyone can find a way to access or view it, depending on what it is.

In that sense, NFTs aren’t quite like platforms such as OnlyFans where users pay to view hidden content. 

To put it in terms of physical art collecting: anyone can buy a Monet print. But only one person can own the original,” The Verge noted.

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (Rolling Stone) (The Guardian)

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Epic Games Acquires “Fall Guys” Maker Tonic Games Group

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  • Epic Games said Tuesday that it acquired Tonic Games Group, the parent company behind “Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout.” 
  • Under this deal, “Fall Guys” will have the backing to improve and potentially add cross-play features that exist in other games Epic owns, like “Fortnite” and “Rocket League.” 
  • For now, nothing in the game has changed, though the companies said they plan to bring it to Nintendo Switch and Xbox in the future.

Epic Games Buys “Fall Guys” Maker

Epic Games announced Tuesday that it acquired the parent company behind the popular game “Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout.”

That company is Tonic Games Group, which owns Mediatonic Games.

Epic Games did not release information about how much it paid for the deal when confirming it on its website.

As many online have noted, the family-friendly game seems like a good match for Epic, which has already had massive success with “Fortnite.”

The deal also adds to Epic’s growing portfolio of content. It already has its game-making software– the Unreal Engine as well as its own storefront– the Epic Games Store. It also has previous acquisitions including the video chatting app, House Party, and Psyonix, the game developer behind “Rocket League.”

What This Means for “Fall Guys”

Mediatonic, for its part, expressed excitement about having the backing to improve “Fall Guys” and bring it to more players. 

“Your gameplay isn’t changing and neither is our mission to bring Fall Guys to as many players as possible,” Mediatonic explained in a statement about the deal.

It also noted that the companies still plan to bring the game to Nintendo Switch and Xbox in the future.

For now, there’s been no word about whether “Fall Guys” will become free to play in the future, which Epic did with “Rocket League.”

Still, both companies have expressed interest in introducing cross-play and other features that “Fortnite” and “Rocket League” already have.

“Epic essentially becomes the equivalent of a digital theme park,” video game investor and start-up advisor Joost van Dreunen said in an interview with The Washington Post.

“It is developing a content portfolio that has an aesthetic consistency of bright, colorful, and fun online game play,” he added. “It stands to reason that large IP holders like Disney and others will want to explore releasing special events and activities.”

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (The Washington Post) (Variety)


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6 Dr. Seuss Books Won’t Be Published Anymore Because of Racist Imagery

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  • Six Dr. Seuss books will no longer be published because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced Tuesday.
  • The late author’s company said the decision was made last year after months of feedback from audiences, teachers, and other specialists in the academic field. 
  • However, many school districts and groups have moved away from Dr. Seuss for years because of racist stereotypes and insensitive imagery in some of his work.

Production of Six Offensive Books To End

Six Dr. Seuss books will stop being published because of racist and insensitive imagery, the business that preserves and protects the author’s legacy said Tuesday.

The list of books blocked from production are:

  • “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”
  • “If I Ran the Zoo”
  • “McElligot’s Pool”
  • “On Beyond Zebra!”
  • “Scrambled Eggs Super!”
  • “The Cat’s Quizzer”

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises wrote in its announcement letter. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”

Examples of Offending Content

A 2019 study published in the journal “Research on Diversity in Youth Literature,” looked at 50 books by Dr. Seuss and found 43 out of the 45 characters of color have “characteristics aligning with the definition of Orientalism,” or the stereotypical, offensive portrayal of Asia. It added that the two “African” characters both have anti-Black characteristics.

The study even pointed to specific examples. “In (“The Cat’s Quizzer”), the Japanese character is referred to as ‘a Japanese,’ has a bright yellow face, and is standing on what appears to be Mt. Fuji,” the authors wrote.

It also pointed to “If I Ran the Zoo” as an example of Orientalism and White supremacy.

“The three (and only three) Asian characters who are not wearing conical hats are carrying a White male on their heads in ‘If I Ran the Zoo.’ The White male is not only on top of, and being carried by, these Asian characters, but he is also holding a gun, illustrating dominance,” the study authors wrote. “The text beneath the Asian characters describes them as ‘helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant’ from ‘countries no one can spell.'”

The study also argues that since the majority of human characters in Dr. Seuss’ books are White, his works center Whiteness and thus perpetuate White supremacy.

Academic Groups Move Away From Seuss

The company told the Associated Press that the decision was made last year after months of feedback from audiences, teachers, and other specialists in the academic field.

Still, it’s worth noting that it also comes a week after a school district in Virginia made headlines for allegedly banning books written by Dr. Seuss, whose real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel.

The district eventually clarified that it was not banning his books. Instead, it said it was discouraging the connection between Dr. Seuss and “Read Across America Day,” which falls on the author’s birthday: March 2.

The decision to move away from Dr. Seuss books is not actually an uncommon move. School districts across the country have been doing the same.

The National Education Association, which founded “Read Across America Day” and deliberately aligned it with Dr. Seuss’ birthday, is included in that shift.

According to AP News, it’s been deemphasizing Seuss for years now and encouraging a more diverse reading list for kids.

While many have applauded Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ decision, others noted that it will continue to publish more popular books that have received criticism, including “The Cat in the Hat.”

For now, the company said it’s “committed to listening and learning and will continue to review our entire portfolio.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Deadline) (AP News)

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