Facebook will not remove deepfakes of Mark Zuckerberg, Kim Kardashian and others from Instagram

Facebook will not remove the faked videos featuring Mark Zuckerberg, Kim Kardashian and President Donald Trump from Instagram, the company said in a statement.

Earlier today, Vice News reported on the existence of videos created by the artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe and video and audio manipulation companies including CannyAIRespeecher and Reflect. 

The work, featured in a site-specific installation in the UK as well as circulating in video online, was the first test of Facebook’s content review policies since the company’s decision not to remove a manipulated video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi received withering criticism from Democratic political leadership.

“We have said all along, poor Facebook, they were unwittingly exploited by the Russians,” Pelosi said in an interview with radio station KQED, quoted by The New York Times. “I think they have proven — by not taking down something they know is false — that they were willing enablers of the Russian interference in our election.”

After the late May incident Facebook’s Neil Potts testified before a smorgasbord of international regulators in Ottawa about deep fakes, saying the company would not remove a video of Mark Zuckerberg . This appears to be the first instance testing the company’s resolve.

“We will treat this content the same way we treat all misinformation on Instagram . If third-party fact-checkers mark it as false, we will filter it from Instagram’s recommendation surfaces like Explore and hashtag pages,” said an Instagram spokesperson in an email to TechCrunch.

The videos appear not to violate any Facebook policies, which means that they will be subject to the treatment any video containing misinformation gets on any of Facebook’s platforms. So the videos will be blocked from appearing in the Explore feature and hashtags won’t work with the offending material.

Facebook already uses image detection technology to find content that has been debunked by its third-party fact checking program on Instagram. When misinformation is only present on Instagram the company is testing the ability to promote links into the fact-checking product on Facebook.

“Spectre interrogates and reveals many of the common tactics and methods that are used by corporate or political actors to influence people’s behaviours and decision making,” said Posters in an artist’s statement about the project. “In response to the recent global scandals concerning data, democracy, privacy and digital surveillance, we wanted to tear open the ‘black box’ of the digital influence industry and reveal to others what it is really like.”

Facebook’s consistent decisions not to remove offending content stands in contrast with YouTube which has taken the opposite approach in dealing with manipulated videos and other material that violate its policies.

YouTube removed the Pelosi video and recently took steps to demonetize and remove videos from the platform that violated its policies of hate speech — including a wholesale purge of content about Nazism.

These issues take on greater significance as the U.S. heads into the next Presidential election in 2020.

“In 2016 and 2017, the UK, US and Europe witnessed massive political shocks as new forms of computational propaganda employed by social media platforms, the ad industry, and political consultancies like Cambridge Analytica [that] were exposed by journalists and digital rights advocates,” said Howe, in a statement about his Spectre project. “We wanted to provide a personalized experience that allows users to feel what is at stake when the data taken from us in countless everyday actions is used in unexpected and potentially dangerous ways.”

Perhaps, the incident will be a lesson to Facebook in what’s potentially at stake as well.

 

How to see another company’s growth tactics and try them yourself

Every company’s online acquisition strategy is out in the open. If you know where to look.

This post shows you exactly where to look, and how to reverse engineer their growth tactics.

Why is this important? Competitive analysis de-risks your own growth experiments: You find the best growth ideas to adopt and the worst ones to avoid.

First, a warning: Your goal is not to repurpose another company’s hard work. That makes you a thief. Your goal is to identify other companies who face the same growth challenges as you, then to study their approaches for solutions to draw from.

As I walk through uncovering a competitor’s tactics, keep in mind which competitors are worth looking at: For instance, you should rarely over-analyze early-stage companies. They’re unlikely to be methodical at growth.

Meaning, if you blindly copy their site and their ads, it’s possible you’ll be copying tactics that are not actually responsible for their growth. Their success may instead be from network effects or other hidden factors.

Instead, it’s safest to get inspiration from companies who’ve sustained high growth rates for a long time, and who face the same growth challenges as you. They’re likely to have sophisticated growth operations worth studying deeply. Examples include:

  • Pinterest
  • Airbnb
  • Amazon
  • Facebook
  • Uber

If these aren’t your direct competitors, don’t worry. You don’t need to audit a direct competitor’s tactics to get incredibly valuable insights.

You can look past direct competitors.

You’ll gain useful insights from auditing the user acquisition funnel of any company who has a similar audience and business model.

Examples of audiences:

  • Wealthy consumers
  • Enterprise businesses
  • Middle-class adults who use Chrome
  • Dog owners
  • And so on

Audiences matter because their behaviors and needs differ wildly. Each requires its own growth strategy. You want to audit a company whose audiences is similar to yours.

You also want to ensure the company shares your business model. Examples include:

  • A high-touch sales process with multiple phone calls
  • A consumer ecommerce site with easy checkout
  • A self-serve SaaS signup with a freemium plan
  • A pay-to-play mobile game
  • And so on

Each model may necessitate different ads, landing pages, automated emails, and sales collateral.

The process

Never implement another company’s tactics blindly.

There’s an effective process for growth analysis, and it looks like this:

  1. Source potential growth ideas.
  2. Prioritize them.
  3. A/B test them.
  4. Measure if an A/B variant significantly outperformed its baseline and whether the cost of implementing the winner would be worthwhile.
  5. Only then should you implement it.

An example

Here’s a brief example before we dive into tactics.

Let’s pretend we’re a SaaS company offering consumer banking tools, and that we’re struggling to get users to onboard our app. Our hypothesis is that visitors are bouncing because they don’t trust us with their sensitive information.

Our first step is to define both our audience and our business model:

  • Audience: Tech-savvy, adult consumers.
    Business model: SaaS freemium funnel.

Our next step is to look for companies who share those two aspects. (We can find them on Crunchbase.)

Once we have a few in hand, we look for how they handle customers’ sensitive information throughout their funnel. Specifically, we audit their:

It’s time to learn how we audit all that. I’ll share how our marketer training program teaches marketers to do this on the job.

Tactic #1: How to see a company’s A/B tests

Australia’s design unicorn, Canva, picks up two free image-sharing services, and launches new photo product

Canva, the design and publishing platform taking on Adobe, PowerPoint, and others, has acquired the free stock image providers Pexels and Pixabay and launched a new subscription service for its premium image marketplace, Photos Unlimited.

Taken together, the new strategic moves represent a concerted effort by the company to add more graphic options to its design toolkit.

“With over 1 million images downloaded over 500 million times on their platforms combined, both Pexels and Pixabay have proven that there is a huge demand for free, quality content from small businesses, social media marketers and others — not just from designers and companies with big budgets,” said Canva chief executive Melanie Perkins, in a statement.

Perkins declined to disclose how much Canva spent on the two stock image services.

As a result of the acquisition, Canva users will have access to Pexels and Pixabay’s images through the Canva platform free of charge. Photographs on the respective sites will continue to be free for all users as well, according to Perkins.

“No other design platform truly believes in the mission of empowering the world to design like Canva, and providing free stock content is central to their mission. Today’s announcement signifies a huge step forward in the right direction,” said Pexels co-founder, Ingo Joseph, in a statement. “We’re on our way to put an end to cheesy stock photos and open the doors to more authentic, trending content for free.”

In addition to the free services, Canva is rolling out Photos Unlimited, a subscription service for $12.95 per-month or $120 per-year for the company’s own premium stock photos. That’s in addition to the $1 per-image, per-use, or $20 for lifetime use of images that Canva charges for through its platform.

Canva has over 15 million monthly active users who have made over 1 billion designs since the company launched in 2013.

The Australian company has raised $86.6 million from institutional investors like Australia’s own Blackbird Ventures, Felicis Ventures, Matrix Partners, and Sequoia Capital, alongside celebrity investors including Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson. Canva’s currently valued at over $1 billion.

 

Chat app Line is adding Snap-style disappearing stories

Facebook cloning Snap to death may be old news, but others are only just following suit. Line, the Japanese messaging app that’s popular in Asia, just became the latest to clone Snap’s ephemeral story concept.

The company announced today that it is adding stories that disappear after 24-hours to its timeline feature, a social network like feed that sits in its app, and user profiles. The update is rolling out to users now and the concept is very much identical to Snap, Instagram and others that have embraced time-limited content.

“As posts vanish after 24 hours, there is no need to worry about overposting or having posts remain in the feed,” Line, which is listed in the U.S. and Japan, wrote in an update. “Stories allows friends to discover real-time information on Timeline that is available only for that moment.”

Snap pioneered self-destructed content in its app, and the concept has now become present across most of the most popular internet services in the world.

In particular, Facebook added stories to across the board: to its core app, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, the world’s most popular chat app with over 1.5 billion monthly users. Indeed, Facebook claims that WhatsApp stories are used by 500 million people, while the company has built Instagram into a service that has long had more users than Snap — currently over one billion.

The approach doesn’t always work, though — Facebook is shuttering its most brazen Snap copy, a camera app built around Instagram direct messages.

Line doesn’t have anything like the reach of Facebook’s constellation of social apps, but it is Japan’s dominant messaging platform and is popular in Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia.

The Japanese company doesn’t give out global user numbers but it reported 164 million monthly users in its four key markets as of Q1 2019, that’s down one million year-on-year. Japan accounts for 80 million of that figure, ahead of Thailand (44 million), Taiwan (21 million) and Indonesia (19 million.)

While user growth has stagnated, Line has been able to extract increase revenue. In addition to a foray into services — in Japan its range covers ride-hailing, food delivery, music streaming and payments — it has increased advertising in the app’s timeline tab, and that is likely a big reason for the release of stories. The new feature may help timeline get more eyeballs, while the company could follow the lead of Snap and Instagram to monetize stories by allowing businesses in.

In Line’s case, that could work reasonably well — for advertising — since users can opt to follow business accounts already. It would make sense, then, to let companies push stories to users that opted in follow their account. But that’s a long way in the future and it will depend on how the new feature is received by users.

Pinterest delivers first earnings report as a public company

Pinterest (NYSE: PINS) shared impressive first-quarter financials on Thursday after the closing bell in what was its first earnings report as a public company.

The digital pinboard went public in April, rising 25 percent during its first day trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Pinterest’s public market performance has continued to stay in the green, closing up about 8 percent Thursday at nearly $31 per share for a market cap of $16.7 billion.

The company, led by co-founder and chief executive officer Ben Silbermann, posted revenues of $202 million on losses of $41.4 million for the three months ending March 31, 2019. This surpassed Wall Street’s revenue estimates of about $200 million in Q1 revenue and represents significant growth from last year’s Q1 revenues of $131 million. Losses, however, came in slightly higher than the expected adjusted loss of 11 cents per share at 32 cents per share.

“The IPO was a significant milestone, but our focus at Pinterest hasn’t changed,” Silbermann said in a statement. “We want to help people discover inspiring ideas for every aspect of their lives, from fashion and home decor to travel and fitness. Our success can be seen in our Q1 results, and we’re excited to continue to grow our reach and impact in the years to come.”

Pinterest in April sold 75 million Class A shares in an IPO that raised $1.4 billion. The IPO gave the company a fully diluted market cap of $12.6 billion, a figure slightly larger than its Series H valuation of $12.3 billion. This was amid concerns the company would see a slighter smaller valuation upon its IPO and gain the unseemly title of “undercorn.”

Pinterest previously disclosed revenues of $755.9 million in the year ending December 31, 2018, up from $472.8 million in 2017. Losses, meanwhile, shrank to $62.9 million last year from $130 million in 2017. For the full year 2019, Pinterest, expected to reach profitability by 2021, predicts full-year revenues of between $1.05 billion and $1.08 billion, up from $755.9 million in 2018.

Pinterest post-IPO performance and earnings report comes in stark contrast to both Lyft and Uber’s treatment on their respective stock exchanges. Lyft, for its part, has fallen since its IPO despite an initial pop of 21 percent. In its first-ever earnings report as a public company, released last week, posted first-quarter revenues of $776 million on losses of $1.14 billion, including $894 million of stock-based compensation and related payroll tax expenses. The company’s revenues surpassed Wall Street estimates of $740 million while losses came in much higher as a result of IPO-related expenses.

Uber suffered through a catastrophic IPO last week only to continue falling in the days since. The ride-hailing giant was previously valued at $72 billion by venture capitalists on the private market. It priced its stock at $45 a share for an $82.4 billion valuation last week. The company closed Thursday trading at about $43 per share for a market cap of $72.5 billion.

Pinterest’s disruptive digital advertising business appears to be more attractive to Wall Street than ride-hailing however. In addition to delivering an attractive earnings report, Pinterest displayed user growth. The company now counts 291 million monthly active users, a 22 percent increase from Q1 2018. Pinterest continues to gain global users, growing an impressive 29 percent in the last year. The U.S., however, remains the company’s core market where average revenue per user grew 41 percent to $2.25.

Pinterest was undeterred by skeptics, who predicted its nice-guy image and history of slower growth would make for a poor performing public company. Today, it’s market cap has surpassed Lyft, which was worth billions more before the two companies transitioned into the public markets.

How long Pinterest can stay in the green remains to be seen.

Facebook introduces ‘one strike’ policy to combat abuse of its live-streaming service

Facebook is cracking down on its live streaming service after it was used to broadcast the shocking mass shootings that left 50 dead at two Christchurch mosques in New Zealand in March. The social network said today that it is implementing a ‘one strike’ rule that will prevent users who break its rules from using the Facebook Live service.

“From now on, anyone who violates our most serious policies will be restricted from using Live for set periods of time — for example 30 days — starting on their first offense. For instance, someone who shares a link to a statement from a terrorist group with no context will now be immediately blocked from using Live for a set period of time,” Facebook VP of integrity Guy Rosen wrote.

The company said it plans to implement additional restrictions for these people, which will include limiting their ability to take out ads on the social network. Those who violate Facebook’s policy against “dangerous individuals and organizations” — a new introduction that it used to ban a number of right-wing figures earlier this month — will be restricted from using Live, although Facebook isn’t being specific on the duration of the bans or what it would take to trigger a permanent bar from live-streaming.

Facebook is increasingly using AI to detect and counter violent and dangerous content on its platform, but that approach simply isn’t working.

Beyond the challenge of non-English languages — Facebook’s AI detection system has failed in Myanmar, for example, despite what CEO Mark Zuckerberg had claimedthe detection system wasn’t robust in dealing with the aftermath of Christchurch.

The stream itself was not reported to Facebook until 12 minutes after it had ended, while Facebook failed to block 20 percent of the videos of the live stream that were later uploaded to its site. Indeed, TechCrunch found several videos still on Facebook more than 12 hours after the attack despite the social network’s efforts to cherry pick ‘vanity stats’ that appeared to show its AI and human teams had things under control.

Acknowledging that failure indirectly, Facebook said it will invest $7.5 million in “new research partnerships with leading academics from three universities, designed to improve image and video analysis technology.”

Early partners in this initiative include The University of Maryland, Cornell University and The University of California, Berkeley, which it said will assist with techniques to detect manipulated images, video and audio. Another objective is to use technology to identify the difference between those who deliberately manipulate media, and those who so “unwittingly.”

Facebook said it hopes to add other research partners to the initiative, which is also focused on combating deepfakes.

“Although we deployed a number of techniques to eventually find these variants, including video and audio matching technology, we realized that this is an area where we need to invest in further research,” Rosen conceded in the blog post.

Facebook’s announcement comes less than one day after a collection of world leaders, including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, called on tech companies to sign a pledge to increase their efforts to combat toxic content.

According to people working for the French Economy Ministry, the Christchurch Call doesn’t contain any specific recommendations for new regulation. Rather, countries can decide what they mean by violent and extremist content.

“For now, it’s a focus on an event in particular that caused an issue for multiple countries,” French Digital Minister Cédric O said in a briefing with journalists.

Facebook sues analytics firm Rankwave over data misuse

Facebook might have another Cambridge Analytica on its hands. In a late Friday news dump, Facebook revealed that today it filed a lawsuit alleging South Korean analytics firm Rankwave abused its developer platform, and has refused to cooperate with a mandatory compliance check regarding how it used Facebook data.

TechCrunch has attained a copy of the lawsuit that alleges that Rankwave misused Facebook data outside of the apps where it was collected, purposefully delayed responding to a cease-and-desist order, claimed it didn’t violate Facebook policy, lied about not using its apps since 2018 when they were accessed in April 2019, and then refused to comply with a mandatory audit of its data practices.

“By filing the lawsuit, we are sending a message to developers that Facebook is serious about enforcing our policies, including requiring developers to cooperate with us during an investigation” Facebook’s director of platform enforcement and litigation Jessica Romero wrote. Facebook tells TechCrunch that “To date Rankwave has not participated in our investigation and we are trying to get more info from them to determine if there was any misuse of Pages data.”

 

Facebook explains that “Rankwave used the Facebook data associated with Rankwave’s apps to create and sell advertising and marketing analytics and models — which violated Facebook’s policies and terms”  and that it “failed to comply with Facebook’s requests for proof of Rankwave’s compliance with Facebook policies, including an audit.”

More specifically, Facebook cites that its “Platform Policies largely restrict Developers from using Facebook data outside of the environment of the app, for any purpose other than enhancing the app users’ experience on the app.” But Rankwave used Facebook data outside those apps.

Facebook alleges that “Rankwave’s B2B apps were installed and used by businesses to track and analyze activity on their Facebook Pages . . . Rankwave operated a consumer app called the “Rankwave App.” This consumer app was designed to measure the app user’s popularity on Facebook by analyzing the level of interaction that other users had with the app user’s Facebook posts. On its website, Rankwave claimed that this app calculated a user’s ‘Social influence score’ by ‘evaluating your social activities’ and receiving ‘responses from your friends.'”

Facebook is seeking monetary damages plus injunctive relief restraining Rankwave from accessing the Facebook Platform, requiring it to comply with Facebook’s audit, requiring that it delete all Facebook data.

You can learn more about Rankwave’s analytics practices from this 2014 presentation.

Facebook says it filed a US lawsuit to shut down a follower-buying service in New Zealand

Facebook is cracking down on services that promise to help Instagram users buy themselves a large following on the photo app. The social network said today that it has filed a lawsuit against a New Zealand-based company that operates one such ‘follower-buying service.’

The suit is in a U.S. court and is targeting the three individuals running the company, which has not been named.

“The complaint alleges the company and individuals used different companies and websites to sell fake engagement services to Instagram users. We previously suspended accounts associated with the defendants and formally warned them in writing that they were in violation of our Terms of Use, however, their activity persisted,” Facebook wrote in a post.

We were not initially able to get a copy of the lawsuit, but have asked Facebook for further details.

This action comes months after a TechCrunch expose identified 17 follower-buyer services that were using Instagram’s own advertising network to peddle their wares to users of the service.

Instagram responded by saying it had removed all ads as well as disabled all the Facebook Pages and Instagram accounts of the services that we reported were violating its policies. However, just one day later, TechCrunch found advertising from two of the companies Instagram, while a further five were found to be paying to promote policy-violating follower-growth services.

Facebook has stepped up its efforts to crack down on “inauthentic behavior” on its platforms in recent months. That’s included removing accounts and pages from Facebook and Instagram in countries that include India, Pakistan, the Philippines, the U.K, Romania, Iran, Russia, Macedonia and Kosovo this year. Higher-profile action has included the suspension of removal of UK far-right activist Tommy Robinson from Facebook and in Myanmar, where Facebook has been much-criticized, the company banned four armed groups.

Tumblr – finally – enables HTTPS for all accounts

Better late than never, Tumblr has rolled out HTTPS across its entire site.

In a brief post on Tumblr’s engineering page, the company said all Tumblr sites will now have the web encryption setting enabled by default, though it admitted the move was “long-overdue.”

Tumblr, which like TechCrunch is owned by Verizon, has 464 million users and at the time of writing ranks in at 44 of the top 100 sites based on Alexa traffic data. Until the HTTPS switchover, it was the highest ranked site that didn’t enable HTTPS across its entire site.

The rollout followed an earlier effort to switch the site over to HTTPS in 2017, but required users to enable the feature.

HTTPS — the “s” stands for “secure” — ensures the website or app you’re using is encrypted, ensuring nobody can intercept and steal your data or modify the website. Millions of websites have embraced the web encryption standard in recent years amid concerns about privacy, tracking and surveillance.

Startups Weekly: Zoom CEO says its stock price is ‘too high’

When Zoom hit the public markets Thursday, its IPO pop, a whopping 81 percent, floored everyone, including its own chief executive officer, Eric Yuan.

Yuan became a billionaire this week when his video conferencing business went public. He told Bloomberg that he actually wished his stock hadn’t soared quite so high. I’m guessing his modesty and laser focus attracted Wall Street to his stock; well, that, and the fact that his business is actually profitable. He is, this week proved, not your average tech CEO.

I chatted with him briefly on listing day. Here’s what he had to say.

“I think the future is so bright and the stock price will follow our execution. Our philosophy remains the same even now that we’ve become a public company. The philosophy, first of all, is you have to focus on execution, but how do you do that? For me as a CEO, my number one role is to make sure Zoom customers are happy. Our market is growing and if our customers are happy they are going to pay for our service. I don’t think anything will change after the IPO. We will probably have a much better brand because we are a public company now, it’s a new milestone.”

“The dream is coming true,” he added. 

For the most part, it sounded like Yuan just wants to get back to work.

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IPO corner

You thought I was done with IPO talk? No, definitely not:

  • Pinterest completed its IPO this week too! Here’s the TLDR: Pinterest popped 25 percent on its debut Thursday and is currently trading up 28 percent. Not bad, Pinterest, not bad.
  • Fastly, a startup I’d admittedly never heard of until this week, filed its S-1 and displayed a nice path to profitability. That means the parade of tech IPOs is far from over.
  • Uber… Surprisingly, no Uber IPO news this week. Sit tight, more is surely coming.

$1B for self-driving cars

While I’m on the subject of Uber, the company’s autonomous vehicles unit did, in fact, raise $1 billion, a piece of news that had been previously reported but was confirmed this week. With funding from Toyota, Denso and SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Uber will spin-out its self-driving car unit, called Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group. The deal values ATG at $7.25 billion.

Robots!

The TechCrunch staff traveled to Berkeley this week for a day-long conference on robotics and artificial intelligence. The highlight? Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert debuted the production version of their buzzworthy electric robot. As we noted last year, the company plans to produce around 100 models of the robot in 2019. Raibert said the company is aiming to start production in July or August. There are robots coming off the assembly line now, but they are betas being used for testing, and the company is still doing redesigns. Pricing details will be announced this summer.

Digital health investment is down

Despite notable rounds for digital health businesses like Ro, known for its direct-to-consumer erectile dysfunction medications, investment in the digital health space is actually down, reports TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber. Venture investors, private equity and corporations funneled $2 billion into digital health startups in the first quarter of 2019, down 19 percent from the nearly $2.5 billion invested a year ago. There were also 38 fewer deals done in the first quarter this year than last year, when investors backed 187 early-stage digital health companies, according to data from Mercom Capital Group.

Startup capital

Byton loses co-founder and former CEO, reported $500M Series C to close this summer
Lyric raises $160M from VCs, Airbnb
Brex, the credit card for startups, raises $100M debt round
Ro, a D2C online pharmacy, reaches $500M valuation
Logistics startup Zencargo gets $20M to take on the business of freight forwarding
Co-Star raises $5M to bring its astrology app to Android
Y Combinator grad Fuzzbuzz lands $2.7M seed round to deliver fuzzing as a service

Extra Crunch

Hundreds of billions of dollars in venture capital went into tech startups last year, topping off huge growth this decade. VCs are reviewing more pitch decks than ever, as more people build companies and try to get a slice of the funding opportunities. So how do you do that in such a competitive landscape? Storytelling. Read contributor’s Russ Heddleston’s latest for Extra Crunch: Data tells us that investors love a good story.

Plus: The different playbook of D2C brands

And finally, for the first of a new series on VC-backed exits aptly called The Exit. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney spoke to Bessemer Venture Partners’ Adam Fisher about Dynamic Yield’s $300M exit to McDonald’s.

#Equitypod

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I chat about rounds for Brex, Ro and Kindbody, plus special guest Danny Crichton joined us to discuss the latest in the chip and sensor world.