Facebook hints Graph Search for mobile soon, more standalone apps

30.01.2014, 13:13

Facebook reached another mobile milestone today, declaring it has made more money from ads on its phone and tablet apps than its desktop site, and that’s spurring new mobile features.

FB Graph Search

In particular, the social network’s comprehensive Graph Search will make its way to mobile devices soon, announced CEO Mark Zuckerberg during Facebook’s fourth quarter earnings call.

“We’re really early in the game on this,” he said referring to the desktop-only graph search.

“You can see that because we haven’t even really rolled out our mobile version of graph search yet and we’re a mobile company.

“Pretty soon, you should expect us to roll out the mobile version of this. I think that’s going to be an important step because most of the usage of Facebook overall is on mobile.”

Facebook users can expect further tweaks to the company’s iOS and Android apps when graph search reaches mobile devices.

However, the changes are likely limited to English-speaking countries, as Graph Search has only recently exited beta in the US and begun to roll out in the UK.

“It’s only in English so far, and we have to internationalize it,” noted Zuckerberg. “There’s a long roadmap of things we need to do. But it’s going to be incredibly useful when it’s ready.”

He sees Graph Search’s wider roll out as a three to five year investment rather than a more typical one or two year project.

At issue are the trillions of pieces of content that people have shared on Facebook. Ranking it all is going to be a multi-year effort.

“As a number of people on the team who have worked on web search engines in the past have told me, a trillion pieces of content is more than the index in any web search engine,” he boasted.

Facebook didn’t have any more information on its loss among teens as daily active users, saying “it doesn’t have any new data to report today.”

However, Zuckerberg did hint that the company is interested in continuing to build apps outside of the Facebook platform like it has with Instagram and most recently Messenger.

“One of the things that we want to try to do over the next few years is build a handful of great new experiences that are separate from Facebook today that [give] people new ways to share.”

“You can see it from our own offering, not just from Facebook but also Instagram and Messenger already today. We’re going to keep on working on this over the next few years.”

That means the rumored Flipboard-esque Paper app may join Facebook’s standalone app list that currently consists of Instagram, Messenger, Pages and it’s ill-fated Snapchat clone, Poke.

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Facebook develops petabyte Blu-ray storage prototype

30.01.2014, 12:41

Facebook has developed a prototype Blu-ray storage system capable of holding 1 petabyte of data, a move that could revitalise the Blu-ray industry.

Like it or not, that’s BIG!

The social media giant is about to step on toes in the storage market by delivering on a promise it made at last year’s Open Compute Summit to use Blu-ray discs as a replacement for current cold storage systems.

The prototype, revealed by Facebook’s VP of Engineering Jay Parikh at this year’s summit, achieves the petabyte figure by using 10,000 Blu-ray discs in one cabinet, according to GigaOM. There are also plans to boost this up to a not too shabby 5 petabytes per cabinet.

Parikh said the new system would cut storage costs by 50 per cent and reduce energy consumption by 80 per cent, which should please the capitalists and environmentalists alike. They will also last for 50 years, easily trumping the survivability of existing hard drive storage.

The novel approach to cold storage could give Blu-ray a much-needed boost in the face of a shift away from disc storage to online streaming. With Netflix set to slowly ramp up its 4k efforts, and the Blu-ray Disc Association hoping to get a decent slice of the ultra high-definition market, a basic storage system could increase Blu-ray sales significantly.

Just in case you think Facebook is only experimenting at this stage, consider that it already has its first Blu-ray cold storage site in production, hosting 30 petabytes of data. It also plans to launch another in the near future, and expects to reach 150 petabytes within months.

If Facebook ever does lose most of its members, as Princeton University predicts, it could always consider becoming a data storage company. There’s nothing wrong with having a backup plan.

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Why Facebook’s latest Android update wants to read your text messages

28.01.2014, 14:32

Facebook’s latest Android update requires you to give it the fairly invasive permission to read your text messages.

Does Zuckerberg want to chat?

It was spotted and brought to the internet’s attention by a Reddit user, who assumed that the inclusion of access to your phone’s SMS and MMS messages was to allow Facebook to skim off more information about you for yet more targeted advertising.

But Facebook tells us it’s actually for a much less alarming reason. When we spoke to the social network, a spokesperson pointed us in the direction of Facebook Android engineer Franci Penov’s response to the post.

He explained that the READ_SMS permission is used to “automatically intercept login approvals SMS messages for people that have turned 2-factor authentication for their accounts, or for phone confirmation when you add a phone number to your Facebook account.”

If they could, Facebook’s engineers would make the permission more specific, so that the app can read only the messages sent from a specific number (although Penov also notes that this would cause a lot of problems given that the numbers used vary from country to country).

The other thing on the engineers’ wishlist is to tailor the required permissions based on your own preferences – so if you didn’t opt for 2-factor authentication on your Facebook account, the app wouldn’t request permission to read your messages.

So while the social network steered clear of explicitly telling us it’s not skimming your messages for marketing reasons, a relatively innocent explanation for the rather alarming sounding request does exist.

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Tech firms strike major deal with US gov to disclose data request figures

28.01.2014, 9:26

Update: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, and LinkedIn have issued the following statement announcing that they have withdrawn their lawsuits challenging the government’s gag order against FISA requests:

A little less marker, please!

“We filed our lawsuits because we believe that the public has a right to know about the volume and types of national security requests we receive. We’re pleased the Department of Justice has agreed that we and other providers can disclose this information. While this is a very positive step, we’ll continue to encourage Congress to take additional steps to address all of the reforms we believe are needed.”

Original story continues below…

The US Department of Justice has announced a deal with tech firms that will allow companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple to reveal previously secret information about the numbers of requests for data they receive.

The numbers these companies will now be able to disclose include requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as well as national security letters they receive in a year.

It’s a significant step forward towards greater transparency post-NSA revelations, though as with any brokerage, a few concessions were made.

The requests will need to be revealed in groups of 250 or 1,000, and there will be a two-year window for companies receiving orders for the first time and companies that have receives new types of requests. During that window, the orders cannot be disclosed.

Despite those restrictions – apparently designed to give the government and law enforcement time to act on information before requests are revealed – the changes are an improvement over the current set-up.

In an amusing reversal of the “Thanks Obama” meme, which humorously blames the president for things he has nothing to do with, it seems his plan for NSA reform actually is responsible for the deal. Or at least, that’s how US Attorney Eric Holder tells it.

The DOJ document was served to Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and LinkedIn via email. But it seems this applies to all tech companies who receive government data requests, not just those named.

Google has been fighting the FISA gag order since as early as summer 2013, and late last year it said that government requests related to user information had doubled in three years.

Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft also joined in on the fight in 2013.

Apple has responded to this announcement already, issuing a document titled “Update on National Security and Law Enforcement Orders” in which it discloses that it has received fewer than 250 government requests for user data related to fewer than 250 user accounts.

Attorney General Holder’s announcement also touched on the NSA’s bulk data collection programs like Prism and Dishfire.

He said some of these programs have already been shut down, and any remaining ones may be subject to transparency reports in the future.

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YouTube, Facebook data caught up in UK’s ‘Squeaky Dolphin’ spy program

28.01.2014, 8:59

British spies didn’t stop short of allegedly infiltrating apps like Angry Birds to monitor web users, going as far as gathering YouTube, Facebook and Twitter data, says a new report.

Monitoring Gangnam Style?

This was accomplished by tapping into fiber optic cables used by the internet at large, according to an NBC News report that is said to be the latest NSA document leak by Edward Snowden.

The GCHQ presentation, dubbed “Psychology A New Kind of SIGDEV” (Signals Development), ended up in Snowden’s hands because British spies were showing the tactics to their American counterparts.

The slides are said to be part of the UK government’s “Squeaky Dolphin” spying program and detailed how to track unencrypted YouTube views, Facebook likes, Twitter trends and even Blogger posts.

With access to such data, British spies are said to have been able to analyze YouTube in real time to figure out which videos were going viral before protests broke out in volatile countries.

This reportedly worked well in Bahrain. Two past Bahrain protest videos went viral again on February 13, 2012, leading to a heads-up of anti-government protests that took place the next day.

A year earlier, without a spy program on the scale of Squeaky Dolphin in place, UK intelligence agencies – like all Western intelligence – missed the Arab Spring uprising of 2011.

Both Google and Facebook took issue with the intrusive collection of their users’ data, while a a GCHQ spokesperson told NBC News that it was working within the law when doing so.

Facebook and Twitter have since encrypted their data, which would prevent governments from simply tapping into and collecting data via fiber optic cables.

Google, however, hasn’t encrypted YouTube and Blogger data, although it has rolled out encryption for several of its data-sensitive products over the last several months.

With Snowden reports putting the tell in intel with leaks of programs like Prism and Squeaky Dolphin, intelligence officials are claiming that lives or being put at risk.

Privacy advocates are saying something slightly different: the internet’s credibility is being put at risk.

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Facebook testing mobile ad network, shouldn’t affect your News Feed … yet

23.01.2014, 9:37

It seems like Facebook is trying to be a good Samaritan … to advertisers.

To be fair, it is bound to happen!

The social media giant has announced it will begin testing a mobile ad network with a sampling of advertisers and app developers.

Similar experiments have been done in the past without any solid results, but this time Facebook will have a guiding hand in the matter by “working directly with a small number of advertisers and publishers, rather than an outside ad-serving platform.”

The app companies in question have not been mentioned.

While the thought of “more ads” is enough to punch your computer screen or throw your phone at the wall, it seems like none of this will directly affect your Facebook News Feed.

For now, it looks like the advertisers and the third party apps will simply be benefitting from Facebook’s “rich targeting,” with the social media site reaping the revenue.

But it may only be a matter of time until all the outside testing begins to trickle into Facebook’s own mobile app to rake in more dough.

The company has already been quite ambitious with its marketing endeavors like calling a truce with Google to sell ad space, and implementing sponsored Instagram photos. And don’t forget the video ads.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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Facebook adds Twitter-esque Trending news feeds for hot topics

17.01.2014, 11:10

Facebook added Trending as a new addition to news feeds to help users spot interesting and relevant conversations flaring up on the social network.

Trendy Facebook

The Trending section will be located on the upper right of the news feed showing a lists of topics personalized to the users’ interests. Each topic including TV shows, events, and people shows up as a headline with a brief explanation on why it is trending.

Clicking through any of these items brings up a more focused feed on specific topics complete with friend posts and news items from the users’ liked pages. For example, a Golden Globe awards Trending page would bring up stories from ABC and a dozen friend posts regaling about what a stud Matthew McConaughey is…or what have you.

The social network didn’t give out any specifics on Trending’s roll out plan other than it will come to select countries.

In an age of “information overload,” Facebook is the latest social media company to offer users a way to cut through the noise. Just a week ago, Yahoo introduced the News Digest app at its CES 2014 Keynote, which curates news around the web into a “comprehensive, complete and easy” reading list.

Clutter is a problem on Facebook and between all the pages and groups, the regular Facebook news feed looks like a schizophrenic mess. There’s no doubt the social network introduced Trending so users could easily find specific topics and jump on events

Prior to the update, searching for a specific topic on Facebook only brought up events and groups. Trending is a long overdue update as Twitter has had hashtags all this time.

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Zuckerberg to open MWC 2014 as Facebook’s mobile focus bigger than ever

16.01.2014, 14:38

In a matter of weeks we’ll be descending on Barcelona for MWC 2014 and, as it turns out, so will Mark Zuckerberg.

Mark Zuckerberg

The Facebook founder has just been announced as the headline keynote speaker for the first day of the event next month.

Zuck will be kicking off the week with a “fireside chat” with David Kirkpatrick, in which he’ll “explore the importance of extending the benefits ubiquituous Internet access to the unconnected world.”
Whether an actual fire will be present is yet to be confirmed.

Last year, Facebook announced plans to bring affordable internet to the two-thirds of the world who don’t have it, so it sounds like a fair amount of the conversation will be centred around that.

Other members of the internet.org initiative include big mobile players Ericsson, Samsung, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and MediaTek.

But more generally, Zuckerberg’s headline presence at the show just goes to show how big mobile is for Facebook right now. Maybe there’ll even be some better news for Facebook Home.

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Facebook news reader ‘Paper’ may flip off Flipboard later this month

15.01.2014, 10:17

Imagine rolling over in bed each morning, awakening your phone and turning to a Facebook product to get caught up on the morning’s happenings. Sounds like something most of us do anyway, right?

Facebook Flipbook?

In the very near future – as soon as the end of the month, actually – Facebook’s long-rumored news reader may finally become part of our information consumption routine.

According to sources speaking with Re/code, Facebook’s news reading service is known as “Paper.” It takes cues from Flipboard, one source said, and will either be a standalone app for mobile or a web experience designed to fit smaller screens.

Like Flipboard, Paper sounds to be an aggregator for content including news stories from the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post as well as status updates from other Facebookers.

It will all be arranged in a eye-popping “paper-like” format, one hard-copy news readers cling to fondly.

Paper’s launch timeline may change, according to one source, so there’s no guarantee we’ll be turning to Facebook for all our newsy needs (beyond baby bump updates) come February 1.

The first inklings of a Facebook reader first popped up in June 2013, but apparently the project has been years in the making and started, as many other FB products have, as an idea to overhaul the News Feed.

We saw some of the News Feed redesign come to life in March 2013, but the other parts left unfinished have found their way to Paper.

If and when Paper makes its way off the virtual presses, users won’t be the only ones to benefit from the rich reading experience; engagement and user eyeballs so valuable to advertisers are certainly a driver for Facebook to finish the project.

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Facebook snaps up Little Eye Labs

09.01.2014, 13:32

Little Eye Labs, an Indian startup that builds mobile app analysis tools, has been bought by Facebook.

Facebook

Founded about a year ago by four Bangalore-based technology professionals Giridhar Murthy, Kumar Rangarajan, Satyam Kandula and Lakshman Kakkirala, Little Eye is backed by GSF and VenturEast Tenet Fund.

Android developers and testers use Little Eye Labs to measure, analyse and optimise the performance of their apps. The company has said that the deal will allow it to leverage Facebook’s ‘world-class infrastructure’ to help improve performance of the social network’s apps.

“For us, this is an opportunity to make an impact on the more than 1 billion people who use Facebook,” said the Little Eye Labs team in a blog post.

Facebook’s engineering manager Subbu Subramanian told Reuters: “The Little Eye Labs technology will help us to continue improving our Android codebase to make more efficient, higher-performing apps.”

The terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but a report by TechCrunch estimates the price could have been as much as $15 million (£9 million, AU$16 million). The entire team at Little Eye Labs will be moved to Facebook’s headquarters in Menio Park, California.

The acquisition marks the social network giant’s first deal in India. The deal is thought to have been done to boost interest in India’s startup ecosystem, where high profile acquisitions are often rare.

The deal represents “a giant step from an Indian startup ecosystem perspective”, said Praveen Bhadada, from Zinnov, a consultancy specialising in tech companies based in Bangalore.

The company have also said that crrent customers of Little Eye for Android will receive further information on plans to odder a free version of Little Eye until June 2014.

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