For the first time, male cheerleaders at the Super Bowl

At this Sunday’s Super Bowl, Quinton Peron and Napoleon Jinnies will make history as the first male cheerleaders ever to appear at the event.

CBS News has the story:

Jenn Padilla and Emily Leibert, two other cheerleaders, were floored. “There was a bit of shock at first but then you realize it’s nothing new and if the talent was there, which it was, then they deserve to be on this team,” said Leibert.

They’ll be supporting the Los Angeles Rams as they face the New England Patriots in what promises to be an AMAZING AFTERNOON OF FOOOTBAAAAA… sorry. I just can’t.

Still – good on you, lads. Gender stereotypes can be shattered in more ways that we perhaps think.

Chinese censors hurt Apple’s bottom line

The Verge pulls out an interesting detail from the Apple earnings call:

Apple says it lost revenue due to China’s temporary ban on approving new video games last year. The financial hurt from the censorship of iOS mobile games was one of the many reasons Apple cited for its $4.8 billion revenue decline in Greater China during the 2018 holiday quarter, with the company generally pointing to the country’s economic slowdown.

Obviously, Apple’s 27% revenue drop in China can’t all be attributed to this. But it does speak to the wider barrier to doing consistent good business in China.

Apple’s earnings were, on the whole, pretty positive – but only because investors had been primed for a bad bad quarter.

Services continue to boom and, as most predicted, the Apple Watch seems to have had a very good Christmas. We don’t know for sure how much of $7.3bn “wearables and accessories” sales were the Watch, but it’s a fair assumption to say it’s a very large part. The sector is now bringing in more than the iPad.

Elon’s year, as told by his air travel

Wonderfully inventive angle from the Washington Post. It dug up flight records from Elon Musk’s private jet, revealing a year of heavy, globe-spanning travel.

From the story:

Musk’s jet logged more than 250 flights for his work, pet projects and vacations across Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East during a year when he said his electric-car giant was losing up to $100 million a week and teetered on the brink of collapse.

Musk of course isn’t the only high-powered CEO with a private jet, of course. But the rules are arguably different for the man who runs one of the world’s most famous renewable energy advocates, and irony the Post points out:

[It] also reveals an awkward dynamic for one of the world’s most outspoken crusaders of renewable energy: In September, a few days after calling fossil fuels “the dumbest experiment in human history,” his plane burned thousands of pounds of jet fuel flying 300 miles from L.A. to Oakland so Musk could view a competitive video-gaming event.

There’s nothing particularly damaging here, and Tesla’s PR team has dodged the awkward “how much?” question by saying it did not cover Musk’s personal travel. But, as the article notes, that leaves a lot of wiggle room over what constitutes work/pleasure.

Salvador Dali’s AI clone will welcome visitors to his museum

From Engadget:

A team from Goodby Silverstein & Partners used footage of Dali to train a machine learning system on how to mimic the artist’s face, and superimposed that on an actor with a similar physique.

The Daily Telegraph’s tech newsletter jokes that this is AI stealing yet another job – that of Dali, who presumably would have relished the chance to show people around a museum about himself. But now, thanks to AI (and the fact he’s been dead for 30 years), he’ll no longer get the chance.

This technique of finding a body-a-like to recreate people could be effective in this setting – though it will be difficult to mimic the mannerisms of Dali accurately.

A similar technique was used to create a “hologram” of Michael Jackson. It’s good at first, very striking. But the longer it goes on the more you realise something just isn’t quite right.

Apple left with egg on its FaceTime

Apple is busy containing the fall out after it emerged FaceTime has a major bug that allows callers to eavesdrop on recipients, even if they don’t pick up. 9to5Mac broke the story:

The bug lets you call anyone with FaceTime, and immediately hear the audio coming from their phone — before the person on the other end has accepted or rejected the incoming call. Apple says the issue will be addressed in a software update “later this week”.

Naturally, this poses a pretty privacy problem as you can essentially listen in on any iOS user, although it still rings like normal, so you can’t be 100% covert about it. Nevertheless, there is no indication on the recipient’s side that you could hear any of their audio.

Axios’ Ina Fried noticed that Apple seems to have disabled the group function on FaceTime, which is where the flaw lies. That come ahead of a planned fix that will be pushed out some time in the next few days:

Any flaw with Apple is a big story, more so than most other firms – much to Cupertino’s annoyance, privately.

But this particular cock-up is given added energy thanks to Apple’s posturing on privacy. Indeed, it comes on National Privacy Day. Here’s what Tim Cook had to say before the flaw story broke:

Oh, and it comes less than a month after this:

British kids turned off by Facebook, but, obviously…

Worrying news for Facebook as a study by UK media regulator Ofcom suggests young people are using Facebook less often. My colleague Chris Fox, writing for BBC News:

Its report suggests 72% of 12- to 15-year-olds with a social media account use Facebook, down from 74% in 2017.

But, you can’t have a Facebook downturn story without:

But Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, gained popularity. In 2018, 23% named it as their main social network, up from 14% in 2017.

There are some great stats in that piece, so I urge you to read it in full. Most poignantly, I think, is the percentage of parents who feel the benefits of using social media outweigh the downsides. Just over half (54%) now think that – down from 67% in 2014.

The views of parents matter when it comes to how often kids are exposed to technology. Millennial parents will not repeat the willful ignorance approach when it comes to technology, I’m sure of it.

We’ll find out if any of these findings correlate to Facebook as a whole on Wednesday when its announces its quarterly earnings.

Daytime TV 2.0

This week, the first episode of Nine Months with Courtney Cox, a new Facebook Watch docuseries, attracted less than 500k views.

I guess it just couldn’t compete with Slippery Ice Fails.

150m views. Good grief. Facebook will never compete with Netflix, and it’s falling behind in attracting top talent compared to YouTube.

But what it can do quite easily is become the online home of mindless daytime TV. And you know what? That’s a niche that many want filling.

Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram: will it blend?

Mike Isaac at the New York Times reports that Mark Zuckerberg plans to unite his three biggest services into one core infrastructure. It would mean a message sent from WhatsApp could go into Messenger, or a DM in Instagram… or something along those lines, at least.

It’s a controversial move, not least within Facebook where it is said to have been one of the factors that prompted the founders of both WhatsApp and Instagram to leave the company. The rank-and-file seems upset too:

More recently, dozens of WhatsApp employees clashed with Mr. Zuckerberg over the integration plan on internal message boards and during a contentious staff meeting in December, according to four people who attended or were briefed on the event.

Zuckerberg can also expect heavy external criticism from lawmakers that will see this as definitive evidence that Facebook is an immovable social media monopoly:

The two sides of US politics don’t agree on much. But when it comes to how to handle a problem like Facebook, mumbles over monopoly concerns have lately turned to roars.

Here’s a flashback to Zuckerberg’s Senate hearing last May, as told by Quartz:

A frustrated [Linsday Graham, Republican Senator] cut him off. “If I’m upset with Facebook, what’s the equivalent product I can go sign up for?” he said. “I’m talking about real competition you face … I’m not talking about categories.”

The Facebook CEO weaved around the question, citing a statistic that “the average American uses eight different apps to communicate with their friends and stay in touch.” Graham finally stated the question on many people’s minds.

“You don’t think you have a monopoly?” he asked.

“It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me,” Zuckerberg responded, to some laughter in the room.

The simplest way to knock Facebook down a peg or two would be to force the company to break out Instagram and WhatsApp into separate companies, just as they were before. Today, that looks like a clean break.

But if Facebook manages to merge the three services, with a central platform, it can make a stronger argument that spinning out the apps would not be straightforward at all. It isn’t three products, Zuckerberg could argue. It’s just one you can access in a variety of ways.

As we ponder Zuckerberg’s strategy, it’s perhaps telling that his first major change to Facebook post-scandals is arguably not intended not to solve its problems, but to protect its power.

Zuckerberg answers alternative allegations

A lot of words, sure, but not much said: Mark Zuckerberg has written this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. It’ll be in print on Friday.

Here’s an excerpt that caught my eye:

Another question is whether we leave harmful or divisive content up because it drives engagement. We don’t. People consistently tell us they don’t want to see this content. Advertisers don’t want their brands anywhere near it. The only reason bad content remains is because the people and artificial-intelligence systems we use to review it are not perfect—not because we have an incentive to ignore it. Our systems are still evolving and improving.

I don’t think anyone has credibly accused Facebook of this, actually.

Rather, people (correctly) state that Facebook – through algorithms that are designed to reward engagement – promotes posts that have got a lot of people clicking or commenting. That formula breeds the spread of divisive posts, whether it’s about Donald Trump or the colour of a dress.

Facebook seems to be developing a habit of answering allegations by first subtly altering the specifics of the complaint.

Tin foil hat time: as I’m writing this, we’re awaiting some likely-negative news to drop about Facebook. Is the company trying to seize the news agenda? It’ll need something a bit more substantial than this, if so.