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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.”

See what others are saying (NBC News) (CNBC) (The Street)

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Kim Kardashian to Pay $1.26 Million to SEC Over Unlawful Crypto Promotion

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According to the agency, stars and influencers must disclose how much money they earned for crypto advertising. 


Kardashian Pays Up

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced Monday that it has charged reality TV star Kim Kardashian for “unlawfully touting crypto security.”

Kardashian has agreed to pay $1.26 million in penalties, disgorgement, and interest while cooperating with the SEC’s investigation. The media mogul did not admit to or deny the SEC’s findings as part of the settlement, but she did agree to not promote crypto assets for three years. 

According to a statement from the SEC, federal regulators found that Kardashian “failed to disclose that she was paid $250,000 to publish a post on her Instagram account about EMAX tokens.”

“This case is a reminder that, when celebrities or influencers endorse investment opportunities, including crypto asset securities, it doesn’t mean that those investment products are right for all investors,” SEC Chair Gary Gensler said in a statement. 

The investigation stemmed from a post that Kardashian made on her Instagram story in the summer of 2021 promoting EthereumMax. In it, she asked her 330 million followers if they were interested in cryptocurrency while giving information about the coin. The post included a swipe-up link for users to get more information and potentially invest in it themselves. 

While Kardashian did include a hashtag denoting the post as an ad, the SEC said that did not go far enough. In the group’s statement, Gurbir S. Grewal, the Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, explained that anyone advertising crypto assets “must disclose the nature, source, and amount of compensation they received in exchange for the promotion.”

A “Reminder” For Crypto Promoters 

As a result, the billionaire businesswoman is paying a $1 million penalty fee. On top of that, she has to pay $260,000 in disgorgement, accounting for the payment she received from Ethereum Max and interest. 

Kardashian’s lawyer released a statement saying the star has “fully cooperated with the SEC from the very beginning.”

“She remains willing to do whatever she can to assist the SEC in this matter,” the statement continued. “She wanted to get this matter behind her to avoid a protracted dispute. The agreement she reached with the SEC allows her to do that so that she can move forward with her many different business pursuits.”

This is not the first time Kardashian’s EMAX post landed her in hot water. A U.K. watchdog previously condemned her for shilling the coin, and she was sued earlier this year over allegations that she artificially inflated the coin’s value. 

Gensler said that he hopes the charges from the SEC will serve as “a reminder to celebrities and others that the law requires them to disclose to the public when and how much they are paid to promote investing in securities.”

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (NPR) (Axios)

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Misinformation Makes Up 20% of Top Search Results For Current Events on TikTok, New Research Finds

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According to the report, the app “is consistently feeding millions of young users health misinformation, including some claims that could be dangerous to users’ health.”


Misinformation Thrives on TikTok

As TikTok becomes Gen Z’s favorite search engine, new research by journalism and tech group NewsGuard found that the video app frequently suggests misinformation to users searching for news-related topics. 

NewsGuard used TikTok’s search bar to look up trending news subjects like the 2020 election, COVID-19, the invasion of Ukraine, the upcoming midterms, abortion, school shootings, and more. It analyzed 540 videos based on the top 20 results from 27 subject searches, finding false or misleading claims in 105 of those posts. 

In other words, roughly 20% of the results contained misinformation. 

Some of NewsGuard’s searches contained neutral phrases and words like “2022 election” or “mRNA vaccine,” while others were loaded with more controversial language like “January 6 FBI” or “Uvalde TX conspiracy.” In many cases, those controversial phrases were suggested by TikTok’s own search bar. 

The researchers noted that, for example, during a search on climate change, “climate change debunked” showed up. While looking up COVID-19 vaccines, searches for “covid vaccine injury” or “covid vaccine exposed” were recommended.

Dangerous Results Regarding Health and More

The consequences of some of the false claims made in these videos can be severe. NewsGuard wrote in its report that the search engine “is consistently feeding millions of young users health misinformation, including some claims that could be dangerous to users’ health.”

Among the hoards of hazardous health claims were videos falsely suggesting that COVID-19 vaccines are toxic and cause permanent damage to organs. The report found that there are still several videos touting the anti-parasite hydroxychloroquine as a cure-all remedy, not just for COVID, but for any illness. 

Searches regarding herbal abortions were particularly troublesome. While certain phrases like “mugwort abortion” were blocked, the researchers found several ways around this that lead to multiple videos touting debunked DIY abortion remedies that are not only proven to be ineffective, but can also pose serious health risks. 

NewsGuard claimed that the social media app vowed to remove this content in July, but “two months later, herbal abortion content continues to be easily accessible on the platform.”

Other standard forms of conspiracy fodder also occupied space in top search results, including claims that the Uvalde school shooting was planned and that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. 

TikTok’s Search Engine Vs. Google

As part of its research, NewsGuard compared TikTok’s search results and suggestions with Google and found that, by comparison, the latter “provided higher-quality and less-polarizing results, with far less misinformation.”

“For example, searching ‘covid vaccine’ on Google prompted ‘walk-in covid vaccine,’ ‘which covid vaccine is best,’ and ‘types of covid vaccines,’” NewsGuard wrote. “None of these terms was suggested by TikTok.”

This is significant because recent reports show that young Internet users have increasingly turned to TikTok as a search engine over Google. While this might elicit safe results for pasta recipes and DIY tutorials, for people searching for current affairs, there could be significant consequences. 

NewsGuard said that it flagged six videos containing misinformation to TikTok, and the social media app ended up taking those posts down. In a statement to Mashable, the company pledged to fight against misinformation on its platform. 

“Our Community Guidelines make clear that we do not allow harmful misinformation, including medical misinformation, and we will remove it from the platform,” the statement said. “We partner with credible voices to elevate authoritative content on topics related to public health, and partner with independent fact-checkers who help us to assess the accuracy of content.”

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Over 70 TikTok Creators Boycott Amazon as Workers Protest Conditions and Pay

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As the company fends off pressure on both fronts, the Amazon Labor Union continues to back election petitions around the country including one filed Tuesday in upstate New York.


Gen Z Goes to War With Amazon

More than 70 big TikTok creators have pledged not to work with Amazon until it gives in to union workers’ demands, including calls for higher pay, safer working conditions, and increased paid time off.

Twenty-year-old TikToker Elise Joshi, who serves as deputy executive director for the advocacy group organizing the boycott, Gen Z for Change, posted an open letter on Twitter Tuesday.

“Dear Amazon.com,” it reads, “We are a coalition of over 70 TikTok creators with a combined following of 51 million people. Today, August 16th, 2022, we are joining together in solidarity with Amazon workers and union organizers through our People Over Prime Pledge.”

Amazon has refused to recognize the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) since workers voted to unionize at a Staten Island warehouse in April, and it has resisted collective bargaining negotiations.

Although the ALU is not involved in the boycott, its co-founder and interim President Chris Smalls expressed support for it in a statement to The Washington Post, saying, “It’s a good fight to take on because Amazon definitely is afraid of how we used TikTok during our campaigns.”

While the ALU posts videos on TikTok to drum up popular support for the labor movement, Amazon has sought to win large influencers over to its side. In 2017, it launched the Amazon Influencer Program, which offered influencers the opportunity to earn revenue by recommending products in personalized Amazon storefronts.

Last May, the company flew over a dozen Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok stars to a luxurious resort in Mexico.

Emily Rayna Shaw, a TikTok creator with 5.4 million followers who has partnered with Amazon in the past, is participating in the boycott.

“I think their method of offering influencers life-changing payouts to make them feel as if they need to work with them while also refusing to pay their workers behind the scenes is extremely wrong,” she told The Post.

“As an influencer, it’s important to choose the right companies to work with,” said Jackie James, a 19-year-old TikTok creator with 3.4 million followers, who told the outlet she will cease doing deals with Amazon until it changes its ways.

The ALU is demanding that Amazon bump its minimum wage to $30 per hour and stop its union-busting activities.

Slogging Through the ‘Suffocating’ Heat

Amazon is also facing challenges from workers themselves, with some walking out this week at its largest air hub in California, where company-branded planes transport packages to warehouses across the country.

They are asking for the base pay rate to be raised from $17 per hour to $22 per hour.

A group organizing the work stoppage under the name Inland Empire Amazon Workers United said in a statement that over 150 workers participated, but Amazon countered that the true number was only 74.

The Warehouse Worker Resource Center counted 900 workers who signed a petition demanding pay raises.

Inland Empire Amazon Workers United has complained about the “suffocating” heat in the facility, saying that temperatures at the San Bernardino airport reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for 24 days last month.

Amazon spokesperson Paul Flaningan, however, claimed to CNBC that the temperature never surpassed 77 degrees and said the company respects its workers’ right to voice their opinions.

On Tuesday, the ALU backed another warehouse’s decision to file a petition for a union election in upstate New York, roughly 10 miles outside Albany.

The National Labor Relations Board requires signatures from 30% of employees to trigger an election.

See what others are Saying: (The Washington Post (CNBC) (Associated Press)

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