US regulators discuss ‘record-breaking’ fine for Facebook – Washington Post

Of the two huge fines coming down the tracks for Facebook – more on that in my predictions piece here – the one from the FTC is the most politically significant.

The regulator is looking at whether Facebook violated a consent decree it signed in 2011 that, essentially, said Facebook promised to be completely open with users about how their data was being used.

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal took hold, the FTC began investigating, and it is now reportedly considering a punishment. The fine could be enormous, reports the Washington Post:

The penalty is expected to be much larger than the $22.5 million fine the agency imposed on Google in 2012. That fine set a record for the greatest penalty for violating an agreement with the FTC to improve its privacy practices.

Things aren’t moving as quickly as they perhaps could, however – the FTC is currently among the agencies affected by the ongoing government shutdown.


What does record-breaking mean, exactly? It depends, writes a former FTC official and Obama advisor:

FT: Spotify planning $100 in-car device

Financial Times:

Spotify’s device will sync to car stereos via Bluetooth connection, as well as preset buttons that correspond to Spotify playlists, according to people briefed on the plans. The device would also allow people to control the player by voice, these people said. The experience would be similar to how they might access music on Amazon’s Echo speakers but uses the company’s own in-house “Spotify Voice” system, which it began to add to its smartphone apps last year. Spotify aims to charge about $100 for the product, making it cheaper than most brand-name car systems.

You know, just yesterday I was thinking about how difficult it is to use Spotify in your car, even when you have the so-called “premium” experience. My car has Apple’s CarPlay, and navigating Spotify beyond the very basics is very tough.

In contrast, using Spotify at home, via Alexa or Google Home, is a breeze. In fact, it’s probably my primary use of those devices.

Bringing that functionality to the car is both great for consumers and likely a lot safer. At around $100, it’s cheap enough for people to try out without too much concern.

Also, at that price, I suspect it will be dangled as a freebie for new subscribers. All in all, this sounds like a very smart idea from Spotify.

Netflix: Our competition is Fortnite, not HBO

My analysis on Netflix’s earnings, posted on Thursday:

In its letter to shareholders, there’s a candid passage about where Netflix’s real competition lies.

It said it faces greater competition from people watching clips of video game Fortnite over those watching rival entertainment provider HBO.

“When YouTube went down global for a few minutes in October, our viewing and signups spiked for that time,” it added.

It’s what makes predicting Netflix’s future so interesting – they’re not so much in the entertainment business, but the eyeballs business.

You, the consumer, have more things than ever to look at, or interact with, and competition for Netflix will only get fiercer in 2019.

Read our full coverage for all of the details.

I predicted later in that brief take that Netflix’s stock would recover pretty quickly after a bit of slumping today. It still believe that will happen: there are so many reasons for investors to be optimistic. Not only are Netflix Originals proving to be consistently huge hits, suggesting the firm is a creative force to be reckoned with, the firm wow everyone with a new interactive format with Bandersnatch.

Labour shortage means robots might start shearing Aussie sheep

As I’ve often found to be the case, the robotic revolution is more often filling in where there are labour shortages, rather than necessarily pushing humans out. See Australia, where there are too many sheep, reports the ABC:

Faced with a shearer shortage, [Australia’s wool industry] is spending $10 million on research to streamline wool harvesting. Projects range from better shed design to robotics, including one project that would fully automate the process of getting wool off a sheep and into a bale. Jane Littlejohn, who oversees the research arm of the industry’s research and development body Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), described automation as “forward thinking”

It’s desperately needed. According to the ABC, there are 73 million sheep in Australia, and only 2,800 shearers.

Here’s some of this research in action:

Shauna is modelled on a real shorn sheep and has been used by Mickey Clemon and his colleagues to test what’s possible with off-the-shelf technology.

“We found quite a lot is possible,” Dr Clemon said of the nine-month scoping study commissioned by AWI.

Now, my mother grew up on an Irish sheep farm. Having spent many happy summers running around with the sheep, I can confidently tell you the machine will need a lot of practice on a rather more… active participant.

Beto O’Rourke has spent nearly $1m on tweets

I missed this when it was published a few days back, but it’s worth having a look at: Democrats (or at least the ones captured by this study) spent a combined $2.5m on promoted tweets between June 2018-January 2019. The biggest spender was Beto O’Rourke, with a grand total of $925,900 spent on Twitter alone:

Equipped with more money than anyone else, it’s not surprising O’Rourke was the top spender overall. But even with all that cash on hand, O’Rourke used Twitter to raise even more money for his record-breaking Senate campaign in Texas. O’Rourke splurged on a handful of ads, spending at least $57,100 and generating 4.1 million impressions on a promoted tweet urging supporters to chip in after news of new spending from a pro-Ted Cruz super PAC.

The Center for Responsive Politics research discusses the difficulty in ascertaining the source of funding. Around $50k was spent by groups not disclosing their origins.

Absent from the Twitter spenders list was Donald Trump, who didn’t spend a penny. But then, with 50 million followers, and a media waiting on every tweet, he hardly needs to.

Facebook, however, is a different story for the President. He has reportedly spent at least $8m on the site since records began in May.

Here’s the Center on the fuller picture of digital spending in US politics:

The amount of digital ad spending reported to the FEC has increased in recent years. A conservative calculation of spending on digital services reported to the FEC by House candidates exceeded $33.3 million in the 2018 election cycle, more than twice the $16.2 million spent in the 2016 election cycle. The increase in digital spending continues a growing trend, rising from $12.7 million in 2014 and just $5.9 million in 2012. Altogether, candidates running for federal office spent more than $71.9 million during the 2018 election cycle, with $29.8 million by Senate candidates and $8.8 million by presidential candidates.

Democrats have spent substantially more than Republicans on digital services in the 2018 election cycle, as reported to FEC. However, Republicans outspent Democrats on digital in the three prior election cycles.

Ashley Feinberg to Jack Dorsey: would you ever delete Twitter?

The Internet’s Ashley Feinberg has interviewed Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey.

Like Feinberg, I’m amazed he agreed to this. But I’m glad he did. I’d encourage you to read the whole exchange as, if nothing else, it really exposes Dorsey’s lack of clear thinking on the solutions to what many refer to as the “hell site” that is Twitter.

My favourite back-and-forth is the kind of questioning most journalists wouldn’t go near as it seems preposterous – but we do learn something about how Dorsey views his creation.

Here it is:

AF: Is there any situation at all in which you would decide to delete the site?

JD: Now I remember why I unfollowed you! Because that’s all you DM me, “delete the site.”

Well, that’s … Maybe half the time.

But how is that going to help?

That’s the question, though. Is there a situation where you would just decide that it’s better to be free of this?

Should we just delete all the negative things in the world?

Are you saying Twitter is a negative thing?

Well, that’s what you’re assuming when you say that.

Not necessarily.

What would you use if we deleted it?

I don’t know, I’d have a lot more time on my hands.

What would you do with that time?

I really can’t even begin to imagine.

I just … I don’t think it’s constructive. I’d rather hear constructive ideas on what we could fix. We get a lot of complaints. We get a lot of issues, and they’re all coming from a good place of good intent. But we have to dig under and figure out what the patterns are that we need to prioritize and fix. Because we can only do so much at once. So when somebody constantly tells me, “delete the site,” it’s just not helpful. Whereas other folks tell me, “Hey, you know if you do this one thing you would just have a massive impact.”

Facebook employees busted for posting reviews of Portal

Guess what? They all said it was GREAT*.

The NYT’s Kevin Roose discovered an eerie coincidence that at least three very positive reviews of Facebook’s new Portal video chat device seemed to come from Facebook employees (who certainly did not make that fact clear in their review).

Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth, who runs Facebook’s hardware division, replied:

*The Portal is pretty great. Smart, sleek technology. Only issue, of course, is that Facebook made it. I doubt we’ll get any sales figures from Facebook. Anecdotally, very few people were tweeting about finding a Portal under the Christmas tree this year – but then, the target audience is perhaps unlikely to be posting on Twitter, so we’re relying on things like this…

Tim Cook: Time for action on data privacy

{Credit: Time)

Apple’s Tim Cook has, in a brief Time op-ed, laid out a mini-manifesto for what sweeping privacy regulation in the US might look like. Here’s the crux:

[W]e believe the Federal Trade Commission should establish a data-broker clearinghouse, requiring all data brokers to register, enabling consumers to track the transactions that have bundled and sold their data from place to place, and giving users the power to delete their data on demand, freely, easily and online, once and for all.

Apple has come in for some criticism lately for talking a big game on data privacy, while simultaneously enabling firms like Facebook and Google to collect it through the iPhone.

But this piece from Cook seems to consider the wider picture, taking aim not so much at the big firms already in the spotlight, but those working behind the scenes to scrape together data from various dubious sources and sell it on to advertisers. For a dissection of how that can happen, I’d recommend this alarming New York Times investigation published last month.

Here’s what Cook says on these so-called “data brokers”:

Right now, all of these secondary markets for your information exist in a shadow economy that’s largely unchecked—out of sight of consumers, regulators and lawmakers.

Let’s be clear: you never signed up for that. We think every user should have the chance to say, “Wait a minute. That’s my information that you’re selling, and I didn’t consent.”

If Cook’s recommendations come to bear, it will leave the question of what happens to the internet advertising economy if its most important commodity – personal data – is restricted.

In fresh approach, Facebook now denying allegations that haven’t even been made


The internet isn’t what it used to be.

Facebook has been compelled to comment further on a Wired story contemplating the meaning behind that 10-year meme that’s been doing the rounds lately. You know, compare a picture of yourself from then and now (which is as much about how good cameras are now than anything else).

Here’s what Wired’s Kate O’Neill posited:

Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics and, more specifically, on age progression (e.g., how people are likely to look as they get older). Ideally, you’d want a broad and rigorous dataset with lots of people’s pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart—say, 10 years.

Now, O’Neill doesn’t – for a moment – say she thinks Facebook is behind the meme. She included a quote from them to push home that point. She’s just exploring what the possibilities might be if it had been. It’s a useful look at how memes like this could be used to compel the public to quickly organise data for machine learning purposes. It’s worth thinking about.

But after a tweet did the rounds, Facebook commented again, with a snark that propels this think piece into a fresh day’s news cycle:

Oh dear. I have to say, I do have a little empathy towards a PR team that must feel it is having hundreds of turds thrown at it daily, only some of which it was responsible for, er, producing.

German ‘epic’ was YouTube’s most successful ad in Europe last year

YouTube’s EMEA team has published a ranking of the most popular ads in the region in 2018, determined by “an algorithm that factors in audience engagement (watch time, likes, shares), video views, and audience retention (how much of a video people watched)”.

Here’s the winner:

In case you couldn’t follow it, YouTube explains the ad is from a “German online real estate portal Immowelt, with its epic narrative depicting the search for larger living spaces through the ancestor of the main character, Eddy”.

Well done Eddy, well done Immowelt, and well done FYFF, the ad agency with a name you should under no circumstances Google if you’re at work.

The rest of the list is below. Christmas is well represented. Google’s Home Alone ad is in second place, and John Lewis did very well (sixth place), despite reaction to the TV spots being rather soft compared to previous years. Sainsbury’s’ seasonal effort came in seventh.

Special mention to Nike, also – it’s ‘Dream Crazy’ ad, featuring footballer-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick, was fourth on the list.

Video TitleVideo UrlBrandUploader Country Code
1Hör auf deine innere Stimmo! #fuerimmo | Vollversion | immowelt.de
2Home Alone Again with the Google Assistant
3“Álex y Julia”, con Michelle Jenner, Oriol Pla y Dani de la Torre. Estrella Damm 2018 Damm ESES
4Nike – Dream Crazy
5The LEGO Movie Characters present: Safety Video – Turkish Airlines AirlinesTR
6John Lewis & Partners Christmas Ad 2018 – #EltonJohnLewis 🎹 Lewis & PartnersGB
7The Big Night | Sainsbury’s Ad | Christmas 2018’sGB
8Clash of Clans: Hammer Jam! of ClansFI
9YouTube Music: Open the world of music. It’s all here. MusicUS
10Galaxy Note9: Fortnite Supply Drop