Yo Facebook & Instagram, stop showing Stories reruns

If I watch a Story cross-posted from Instagram to Facebook on either of the apps, it should appear as “watched” at the back of the Stories row on the other app. Why waste my time showing me Stories I already saw?

It’s been over two years since Instagram Stories launched cross-posting to Stories. Countless hours of each feature’s 500 million daily users have been squandered viewing repeats. Facebook and Messenger already synchronized the watched/unwatched state of Stories. It’s long past time that this was expanded to encompass Instagram.

I asked Facebook and Instagram if it had plans for this. A company spokesperson told me that it built cross-posting to make sharing easier to people’s different audiences on Facebook and Instagram, and it’s continuing to explore ways to simplify and improve Stories. But they gave no indication that Facebook realizes how annoying this is or that a solution is in the works.

The end result if this gets fixed? Users would spend more time watching new content, more creators would feel seen, and Facebook’s choice to jam Stories in all its apps would fee less redundant and invasive. If I send a reply to a Story on one app, I’m not going to send it or something different when I see the same Story on the other app a few minutes or hours later. Repeated content leads to more passive viewing and less interactive communication with friends, despite Facebook and Instagram stressing that its this zombie consumption that’s unhealthy.

The only possible downside to changing this could be fewer Stories ad impressions if secondary viewings of peoples’ best friends’ Stories keep them watching more than new content. But prioritizing making money over the user experience is again what Mark Zuckerberg has emphasized is not Facebook’s strategy.

There’s no need to belabor the point any further. Give us back our time. Stop the reruns.

India likely to force Facebook, WhatsApp to identify the originator of messages

New Delhi is inching closer to recommending regulations that would require social media companies and instant messaging app providers operating in the nation to help law enforcement agencies identify users who have posted content — or sent messages — it deems questionable, two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

India will submit the suggested change to the local intermediary liability rules to the nation’s apex court later this month. The suggested change, the conditions of which may be altered before it is finalized, currently says that law enforcement agencies will have to produce a court order before exercising such requests, sources who have been briefed on the matter said.

But regardless, asking companies to comply with such a requirement would be “devastating” for international social media companies, a New Delhi-based policy advocate told TechCrunch on the condition of anonymity.

WhatsApp executives have insisted in the past that they would have to compromise end-to-end encryption of every user to meet such a demand — a move they are willing to fight over.

The government did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening. Sources spoke under the condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to media.

Scores of companies and security experts have urged New Delhi in recent months to be transparent about the changes it planned to make to the local intermediary liability guidelines.

The Indian government proposed (PDF) a series of changes to its intermediary liability rules in late December 2018 that, if enforced, would require to make significant changes millions of services operated by anyone, from small and medium businesses to large corporate giants such as Facebook and Google.

Among the proposed rules, the government said that intermediaries — which it defines as those services that facilitate communication between two or more users and have five million or more users in India — will have to, among other things, be able to trace the originator of questionable content to avoid assuming full liability for their users’ actions.

At the heart of the changes lies the “safe harbor” laws that technology companies have so far enjoyed in many nations. The laws, currently applicable in the U.S. under the Communications Decency Act and India under its 2000 Information Technology Act, say that tech platforms won’t be held liable for the things their users share on the platform.

Many stakeholders have said in recent months that the Indian government was keeping them in the dark by not sharing the changes it was making to the intermediary liability guidelines.

Nobody outside of a small government circle has seen the proposed changes since January of last year, said Shashi Tharoor, one of India’s suavest and most influential opposition politicians, in a recent interview with TechCrunch.

Software Freedom and Law Centre, a New Delhi-based digital advocacy organization, recommended last week that the government should consider removing the traceability requirement from the proposed changes to the law as it was “technically impossible to satisfy for many online intermediaries.”

“No country is demanding such a broad level of traceability as envisaged by the Draft Intermediaries Guidelines,” it added.

TechCrunch could not ascertain other changes the government is recommending.

Spotify’s new test lets influencers post Stories to introduce their own playlists

Spotify is testing a new Stories feature that will allow select influencers to incorporate video elements into their public playlists, TechCrunch has learned and Spotify confirmed. The first influencer to test the feature is makeup and fashion YouTube star Summer Mckeen, who currently has a social media fan base that includes 2.33 million YouTube subscribers, 2.1 million Instagram followers, and 126,455 Spotify followers. Mckeen is using the new feature to introduce a playlist of her all-time favorite songs, which she’s titled her “all time besties.”

Like other Stories’ products found on social media apps, the Spotify version offers a similar experience that includes short video clips that users can tap on to advance to the next screen. There are also horizontal lines at the top that indicate how many screens still await them ahead.

Above: where Stories are found on playlists

Meanwhile, the entry point for the Spotify Story is a circular icon right found above the playlist’s title. This has also been designed to catch your attention with an animated preview of the video you’ll see if you tap through.

Above: Mckeen introduces her playlist of favorite songs

Once in the Story, the clips will play and advance automatically and the playlist where you found the Story is featured at the top. You can also tap the “X” to exit at any time.

Spotify’s unique take on the Stories format involves its use of music, of course.

In the new Stories feature, the influencer can also share video clips that contain small song snippets and the album art as a way of previewing the songs in the playlist. In Mckeen’s case, a few of these follow her introduction of the new playlist.

Above: Song clips in Stories

Mckeen is the first influencer to go live on Spotify Stories, but we understand the company is also planning to roll this out to other notable names across the entertainment, lifestyle and music industries in the near future. This initial group of testers is being determined by a variety of factors — including follower count, how engaged their followers are, and how active the influencer in question is on Spotify. Mckeen was selected because she’s someone who likes to make playlists on her own and has many user-generated playlists she shares with fans.

Spotify isn’t rolling out the feature to its artists, however, as it’s meant to be more a tool for music discovery, rather than one for promotional purposes. Artists, instead, can reach fans creatively using Canvas — the recently launched looping videos product that can take the place of album art when a song plays.

Despite the similarity with other Stories found on apps like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube, Spotify’s goal isn’t to turn its app into another social media platform. Instead, it will rely on the influencers to get the word out to fans themselves using their existing accounts found elsewhere. Mckeen, for example, posted to her Instagram Stories with a deep link directly to the playlist in question.

Above: Mckeen’s IG Story

Currently, the Spotify Stories product can only be seen on iOS and Android, not desktop. (Mckeen’s is here.) And it’s available to all Spotify users — free and paid — although that could one day change. Spotify considers the product just a test for now, but is open to considering a broader rollout in the future.

Spotify confirmed the test to TechCrunch and offered a short statement.

“At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience. Some of those tests end up paving the path for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning,” a Spotify spokesperson said. “We have no further news to share on future plans at this time,” they added.

This is not the first time Spotify has dabbled with a Stories format, however. Last year, Spotify was spotted testing a Stories-like product called Storyline that was similar to “Behind the Lyrics,” but instead allowed artists to share their own insights, inspiration, and other details more directly. This can still be found on Spotify on select songs, but hasn’t become broadly available.

TechCrunch’s Top 10 investigative reports from 2019

Facebook spying on teens, Twitter accounts hijacked by terrorists, and sexual abuse imagery found on Bing and Giphy were amongst the ugly truths revealed by TechCrunch’s investigating reporting in 2019. The tech industry needs more watchdogs than ever as its size enlargens the impact of safety failures and the abuse of power. Whether through malice, naivety, or greed, there was plenty of wrongdoing to sniff out.

Led by our security expert Zack Whittaker, TechCrunch undertook more long-form investigations this year to tackle these growing issues. Our coverage of fundraises, product launches, and glamorous exits only tell half the story. As perhaps the biggest and longest running news outlet dedicated to startups (and the giants they become), we’re responsible for keeping these companies honest and pushing for a more ethical and transparent approach to technology.

If you have a tip potentially worthy of an investigation, contact TechCrunch at [email protected] or by using our anonymous tip line’s form.

Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Here are our top 10 investigations from 2019, and their impact:

Facebook pays teens to spy on their data

Josh Constine’s landmark investigation discovered that Facebook was paying teens and adults $20 in gift cards per month to install a VPN that sent Facebook all their sensitive mobile data for market research purposes. The laundry list of problems with Facebook Research included not informing 187,000 users the data would go to Facebook until they signed up for “Project Atlas”, not receiving proper parental consent for over 4300 minors, and threatening legal action if a user spoke publicly about the program. The program also abused Apple’s enterprise certificate program designed only for distribution of employee-only apps within companies to avoid the App Store review process.

The fallout was enormous. Lawmakers wrote angry letters to Facebook. TechCrunch soon discovered a similar market research program from Google called Screenwise Meter that the company promptly shut down. Apple punished both Google and Facebook by shutting down all their employee-only apps for a day, causing office disruptions since Facebookers couldn’t access their shuttle schedule or lunch menu. Facebook tried to claim the program was above board, but finally succumbed to the backlash and shut down Facebook Research and all paid data collection programs for users under 18. Most importantly, the investigation led Facebook to shut down its Onavo app, which offered a VPN but in reality sucked in tons of mobile usage data to figure out which competitors to copy. Onavo helped Facebook realize it should acquire messaging rival WhatsApp for $19 billion, and it’s now at the center of anti-trust investigations into the company. TechCrunch’s reporting weakened Facebook’s exploitative market surveillance, pitted tech’s giants against each other, and raised the bar for transparency and ethics in data collection.

Protecting The WannaCry Kill Switch

Zack Whittaker’s profile of the heroes who helped save the internet from the fast-spreading WannaCry ransomware reveals the precarious nature of cybersecurity. The gripping tale documenting Marcus Hutchins’ benevolent work establishing the WannaCry kill switch may have contributed to a judge’s decision to sentence him to just one year of supervised release instead of 10 years in prison for an unrelated charge of creating malware as a teenager.

The dangers of Elon Musk’s tunnel

TechCrunch contributor Mark Harris’ investigation discovered inadequate emergency exits and more problems with Elon Musk’s plan for his Boring Company to build a Washington D.C.-to-Baltimore tunnel. Consulting fire safety and tunnel engineering experts, Harris build a strong case for why state and local governments should be suspicious of technology disrupters cutting corners in public infrastructure.

Bing image search is full of child abuse

Josh Constine’s investigation exposed how Bing’s image search results both showed child sexual abuse imagery, but also suggested search terms to innocent users that would surface this illegal material. A tip led Constine to commission a report by anti-abuse startup AntiToxin (now L1ght), forcing Microsoft to commit to UK regulators that it would make significant changes to stop this from happening. However, a follow-up investigation by the New York Times citing TechCrunch’s report revealed Bing had made little progress.

Expelled despite exculpatory data

Zack Whittaker’s investigation surfaced contradictory evidence in a case of alleged grade tampering by Tufts student Tiffany Filler who was questionably expelled. The article casts significant doubt on the accusations, and that could help the student get a fair shot at future academic or professional endeavors.

Burned by an educational laptop

Natasha Lomas’ chronicle of troubles at educational computer hardware startup pi-top, including a device malfunction that injured a U.S. student. An internal email revealed the student had suffered a “a very nasty finger burn” from a pi-top 3 laptop designed to be disassembled. Reliability issues swelled and layoffs ensued. The report highlights how startups operating in the physical world, especially around sensitive populations like students, must make safety a top priority.

Giphy fails to block child abuse imagery

Sarah Perez and Zack Whittaker teamed up with child protection startup L1ght to expose Giphy’s negligence in blocking sexual abuse imagery. The report revealed how criminals used the site to share illegal imagery, which was then accidentally indexed by search engines. TechCrunch’s investigation demonstrated that it’s not just public tech giants who need to be more vigilant about their content.

Airbnb’s weakness on anti-discrimination

Megan Rose Dickey explored a botched case of discrimination policy enforcement by Airbnb when a blind and deaf traveler’s reservation was cancelled because they have a guide dog. Airbnb tried to just “educate” the host who was accused of discrimination instead of levying any real punishment until Dickey’s reporting pushed it to suspend them for a month. The investigation reveals the lengths Airbnb goes to in order to protect its money-generating hosts, and how policy problems could mar its IPO.

Expired emails let terrorists tweet propaganda

Zack Whittaker discovered that Islamic State propaganda was being spread through hijacked Twitter accounts. His investigation revealed that if the email address associated with a Twitter account expired, attackers could re-register it to gain access and then receive password resets sent from Twitter. The article revealed the savvy but not necessarily sophisticated ways terrorist groups are exploiting big tech’s security shortcomings, and identified a dangerous loophole for all sites to close.

Porn & gambling apps slip past Apple

Josh Constine found dozens of pornography and real-money gambling apps had broken Apple’s rules but avoided App Store review by abusing its enterprise certificate program — many based in China. The report revealed the weak and easily defrauded requirements to receive an enterprise certificate. Seven months later, Apple revealed a spike in porn and gambling app takedown requests from China. The investigation could push Apple to tighten its enterprise certificate policies, and proved the company has plenty of its own problems to handle despite CEO Tim Cook’s frequent jabs at the policies of other tech giants.

Bonus: HQ Trivia employees fired for trying to remove CEO

This Game Of Thrones-worthy tale was too intriguing to leave out, even if the impact was more of a warning to all startup executives. Josh Constine’s look inside gaming startup HQ Trivia revealed a saga of employee revolt in response to its CEO’s ineptitude and inaction as the company nose-dived. Employees who organized a petition to the board to remove the CEO were fired, leading to further talent departures and stagnation. The investigation served to remind startup executives that they are responsible to their employees, who can exert power through collective action or their exodus.

If you have a tip for Josh Constine, you can reach him via encrypted Signal or text at (585)750-5674, joshc at TechCrunch dot com, or through Twitter DMs

Instagram drops IGTV button, but only 1% downloaded the app

At most, 7 million of Instagram’s 1 billion-plus users have downloaded its standalone IGTV app in the 18 months since launch. And now, Instagram’s main app is removing the annoying orange IGTV button from its home page in what feels like an admission of lackluster results. For reference, TikTok received 1.15 billion downloads in the same period since IGTV launched in June 2018. In just the US, TikTok received 80.5 million downloads compared to IGTV’s 1.1 million since then, according to research commissioned by TechCrunch from Sensor Tower.

To be fair, TikTok has spent huge sums on install ads. But while long-form mobile video might gain steam as the years progress, Instagram hasn’t seemed to crack the code yet.

“As we’ve continued to work on making it easier for people to create and discover IGTV content, we’ve learned that most people are finding IGTV content through previews in Feed, the IGTV channel in Explore, creators’ profiles and the standalone app. Very few are clicking into the IGTV icon in the top right corner of the home screen in the Instagram app” a Facebook company spokesperson tells TechCrunch. “We always aim to keep Instagram as simple as possible, so we’re removing this icon based on these learnings and feedback from our community.”

Instagram users don’t need the separate IGTV app to watch longer videos, as the IGTV experience is embedded in the main app and can be accessed via in-feed teasers, a tab of the Explore page, promo stickers in Stories, and profile tabs. Still, the fact that it wasn’t an appealing enough destination to warrant a home page button shows IGTV hasn’t become a staple like past Instagram launches including video, Stories, augmented reality filters, or Close Friends.

One thing still missing is an open way for Instagram creators to earn money directly from their IGTV videos. Users can’t get an ad revenue share like with YouTube or Facebook Watch. They also can’t receive tips or sell exclusive content subscriptions like on Facebook, Twitch, or Patreon.

The only financial support Facebook and Instagram have offered IGTV creators is reimbursement for production costs for a few celebrities. Those contracts also require creators to avoid making content related to politics, social issues, or elections, according to Bloomberg‘s Lucas Shaw and Sarah Frier.

“In the last few years we’ve offset small production costs for video creators on our platforms and have put certain guidelines in place,” a Facebook spokesperson told Bloomberg. “We believe there’s a fundamental difference between allowing political and issue-based content on our platform and funding it ourselves.” That seems somewhat hypocritical given Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s criticism of Chinese app TikTok over censorship of political content.

Now users need to tap the IGTV tab inside Instagram Explore to view long-form videoAnother thing absent from IGTV? Large view counts. The first 20 IGTV videos I saw today in its Popular feed all had fewer than 200,000 views. BabyAriel, a creator with nearly 10 million Instagram followers that the company touted as a top IGTV creator has only post 20 of the longer videos to date with only one receiving over 500,000 views.

When the lack of monetization is combined with less than stellar view counts compared to YouTube and TikTok, it’s understandable why some creators might be hesistant to dedicate time to IGTV. Without their content keeping the feature reliably interesting, it’s no surprise users aren’t voluntarily diving in from the home page.

In another sign that Instagram is folding IGTV deeper into its app rather than providing it more breathing room of its own, and that it’s eager for more content, you can now opt to post IGTV videos right from the main Instagram feed post video uploader. AdWeek Social Pro reported this new “long video” upload option yesterday. A Facebook company spokesperson tells me “We want to keep our video upload process as simple as possible” and that “Our goal is to create a central place for video uploads”.

 

IGTV launched with a zealotish devotion to long-form vertical video despite the fact that little high quality content of this nature was being produced. Landscape orientation is helpful for longer clips that often require establishing shots and fitting multiple people on screen, while vertical was better for quick selfie monologues.

Yet Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom described IGTV to me in August 2018, declaring that “What I’m most proud of is that Instagram took a stand and tried a brand new thing that is frankly hard to pull off. Full-screen vertical video that’s mobile only. That doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

Now it doesn’t exist on Instagram at all since May 2019 when IGTV retreated from its orthodoxy and began allowing landscape content. I’d recommended it do that from the beginning, or at least offer a cropping tool for helping users turn their landscape videos into coherent vertical ones, but nothing’s been launched there either.

If Instagram still cares about IGTV, it needs to attract more must-see videos by helping creators get paid for their art. Or it needs to pour investment into buying high quality programming like Snapchat Discover’s Shows. If Instagram doesn’t care, it should divert development resources to it’s TikTok clone Reels that actually looks very well made and has a shot at stealing market share in the remixable social entertainment space.

For a company that’s won by betting big and moving fast, IGTV feels half-baked and sluggish. That might have been alright when Snapchat was shrinking and TikTok was still Musically, but Instagram is heading into an era of much stiffer competition. Quibi and more want to consume multi-minute spans of video viewing on mobile, and the space could grow as adults familiarize with the format. But offering the platform isn’t enough for Instagram. It needs to actively assist creators with finding what content works, and how to earn sustainable wages marking it.

44% of TikTok’s all-time downloads were in 2019, but app hasn’t figured out monetization

Despite the U.S. government’s concerns over TikTok, which most recently led to the U.S. Navy banning service members’ use of the app, TikTok had a stellar 2019 in terms of both downloads and revenue. According to new data from Sensor Tower, 44% of TikTok’s total 1.65 billion downloads to date, or 738+ million installs, took place in 2019 alone. And though TikTok is still just experimenting with different means of monetization, the app had its best year in terms of revenue, grossing $176.9 million in 2019 — or 71% of its all-time revenue of $247.6 million.

Apptopia had previously reported TikTok was generating $50 million per quarter.

The number of TikTok downloads in 2019 is up 13% from the 655 million installs the app saw in 2018, with the holiday quarter (Q4 2019) being TikTok’s best ever, with 219 million downloads, up 6% from TikTok’s previous best quarter, Q4 2018. TikTok was also the second-most downloaded (non-game) app worldwide across the Apple App Store and Google Play in 2019, according to Sensor Tower data.

However, App Annie’s recent “State of Mobile” report put it in fourth place, behind Messenger, Facebook and WhatsApp — not just behind WhatsApp, as Sensor Tower does.

Regardless, the increase in TikTok downloads in 2019 is largely tied to the app’s traction in India. Though the app was briefly banned in the country earlier in the year, that market still accounted for 44% (or 323 million) of 2019’s total downloads. That’s a 27% increase from 2018.

TikTok’s home country, China, is TikTok’s biggest revenue driver, with iOS consumer spend of $122.9 million, or 69% of the total and more than triple what U.S. users spent in the app ($36 million). The U.K. was the third-largest contributor in terms of revenue, with users spending $4.2 million in 2019.

These numbers, however, are minuscule in comparison with the billions upon billions earned by Facebook on an annual basis, or even the low-digit billions earned by smaller social apps like Twitter. To be fair, TikTok remains in an experimental phase with regards to revenue. In 2019, it ran a variety of ad formats, including brand takeovers, in-feed native video, hashtag challenges and lens filters. It even dabbled in social commerce.

Meanwhile, only a handful of creators have been able to earn money in live streams through tipping — another area that deserves to see expansion in the months ahead if TikTok aims to take on YouTube as a home for creator talent.

When it comes to monetization, TikTok is challenged because it doesn’t have as much personal information about its users, compared with a network like Facebook and its rich user profile data. That means advertisers can’t target ads based on user interests and demographics in the same way. Because of this, brands will sometimes forgo working with TikTok itself to deal directly with its influencer stars, instead.

What TikTok lacks in revenue, it makes up for in user engagement. According to App Annie, time spent in the app was up 210% year-over-year in 2019, to reach a total 68 billion hours. TikTok clearly has users’ attention, but now it will need to figure out how to capitalize on those eyeballs and actually make money.

Reached for comment, TikTok confirmed it doesn’t share its own stats on installs or revenue, so third-party estimates are the only way to track the app’s growth for now.

YouTube launches Profile cards that show a user’s comment history

Last September, YouTube began testing a new feature called profile cards, which showed a user’s public information and comment history on the current channel. The feature was touted as a way for creators to more easily identify their biggest fans by offering easy access to their past comments. Now, YouTube is launching the product to the general public, initially on Android.

YouTube hopes the new feature will help users “explore comments, build connections with others, and contribute to a more welcoming YouTube overall,” the company explains.

To use Profile cards, you’ll just tap on the profile picture of anyone who’s commenting to view their card. Here, information like their name, profile photo, subscriptions, subscriber counts, and recent comments will appear in a pop-up card. All this information is publicly available on YouTube, but the Profile card consolidates it in one place.

If you’re already subscribed to the commenter’s channel, the Profile card will indicate this; otherwise, you can click the red “Subscribe” link to start following the commenter on YouTube.

To be clear, the comment history that displays isn’t a user’s full YouTube comment history (though that would be interesting!). Instead, the Profile card only shows the comments on the channel you’re viewing when you click to view the card.

A link to the commenter’s channel is also included, towards the bottom.

While YouTube has promoted the feature as a way to connect with community members and identify a channel’s best commenters, it could also be useful for identifying trolls. Being able to see the commenter’s history on the channel can help creators or moderators make more informed decisions about whether future comments from the same users should be hidden, or if the user is trustworthy enough to earn a spot on the “approved users” list, for example.

When the feature launched into testing this fall, feedback was largely positive — especially since some see it as a way to help raise their own channel’s profile by being an active commenter. More recent feedback, however, has a few users asking for an opt-out option so their comments aren’t shown, citing concerns about out-of-context remarks or privacy issues.

YouTube says the feature is available now on Android and will launch on other devices in the future.

Profile cards are one of a few changes launching on YouTube. Also new are optional topics in the Subscriptions feed on iOS, which make it easier for subscribers to filter their subscriptions by topics like “Today,” “Unwatched,” “Live,” “Posts,” “Continue Watching,” and more.

Instagram tests Direct Messaging on web where encryption fails

Instagram will finally let you chat from your web browser, but the launch contradicts Facebook’s plan for end-to-end encryption in all its messaging apps. Today Instagram began testing Direct Messages on the web for a small percentage of users around the globe, a year after TechCrunch reported it was testing web DMs.

When fully rolled out, Instagram tells us its website users will be able to see when they’ve received new DMs, view their whole inbox, start new message threads or group chats, send photos (but not capture them), double click to Like and share posts from their feed via Direct so they can gossip or blast friends with memes. You won’t be able to send videos, but can view non-disappearing ones. Instagram’s CEO Adam Mosseri tweeted that he hopes to “bring this to everyone soon” once the kinks are worked out.

Web DMs could help office workers, students and others stuck on a full-size computer all day or who don’t have room on their phone for another app to spend more time and stay better connected on Instagram. Direct is crucial to Instagram’s efforts to stay ahead of Snapchat, which has seen its Stories product mercilessly copied by Facebook but is still growing thanks to its rapid fire visual messaging feature that’s popular with teens.

But as Facebook’s former Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos tweeted, “This is fascinating, as it cuts directly against the announced goal of E2E encrypted compatibility between FB/IG/WA. Nobody has ever built a trustworthy web-based E2EE messenger, and I was expecting them to drop web support in FB Messenger. Right hand versus left?”

A year ago Facebook announced it planned to eventually unify Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram Direct so users could chat with each other across apps. It also said it would extend end-to-end encryption from WhatsApp to include Instagram Direct and all of Facebook Messenger, though it could take years to complete. That security protocol means that only the sender and recipient would be able to view the contents of a message, while Facebook, governments and hackers wouldn’t know what was being shared.

Yet Stamos explains that historically, security researchers haven’t been able to store cryptographic secrets in JavaScript, which is how the Instagram website runs, though he admits this could be solved in the future. More problematically, Stamos writes that “the model by which code on the web is distributed, which is directly from the vendor in a customizable fashion. This means that inserting a backdoor for one specific user is much much easier than in the mobile app paradigm,” where attackers would have to compromise both Facebook/Instagram and either Apple or Google’s app stores.

“Fixing this problem is extremely hard and would require fundamental changes to how the WWW [world wide web] works” says Stamos. At least we know Instagram has been preparing for today’s launch since at least February when mobile researcher Jane Manchun Wong alerted us. We’ve asked Instagram for more details on how it plans to cover web DMs with end-to-end encryption or whether they’ll be exempt from the plan. [Update: An Instagram spokesperson tells me that as with Instagram Direct on mobile, messages currently are not encrypted. The company is working on making its messaging products end-to-end encrypted, and it continues to consider ways to accomplish this.]

Critics have called the messaging unification a blatant attempt to stifle regulators and prevent Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp from being broken up. Yet Facebook has stayed the course on the plan while weathering a $5 billion fine plus a slew of privacy and transparency changes mandated by an FTC settlement for its past offenses.

Personally, I’m excited, because it will make DMing sources via Instagram easier, and mean I spend less time opening my phone and potentially being distracted by other apps while working. Almost 10 years after Instagram’s launch and six years since adding Direct, the app seems to finally be embracing its position as a utility, not just entertainment.

Instagram’s Boomerang evolves with SloMo, Echo, & Duo effects

Nearly five years after launching, Instagram’s back-and-forth video loop maker Boomerang is finally getting a big update. Users around the globe can now  add SlowMo, “Echo” blurring, and “Duo” rapid rewind special effects to their Boomerangs, as well as trim their length. This is the biggest creative upgrade yet for one of mobile’s most popular content creation tools.

The effects could help keep Instagram interesting. After so many years of Boomerangs, many viewers simply skip past them in Stories after the first loop since they’re so consistent. The extra visual flare of the new effects could keep people’s attention for a few more seconds and unlock new forms of comedy. That’s critical as Instagram tries to compete with TikTok, which has tons of special effects that have spawned their own meme formats.

Starting today, people on Instagram will be able to share new SloMo, Echo and Duo Boomerang modes on Instagram” a Facebook company spokesperson tells TechCrunch. “Your Instagram camera gives you ways to express yourself and easily share what you’re doing, thinking or feeling with your friends. Boomerang is one of the most beloved camera formats and we’re excited to expand the creative ways that you can use Boomerang to turn everyday moments into something fun and unexpected.”

The new Boomerang tools can be found by swiping right on Instagram to open the Stories composer, and then swiping left at the bottom of the screen’s shutter selector. After shooting a Boomerang, an infinity symbol button atop the screen reveals the alternate effects and video trimmer.

Typically, Boomerang captures one second of silent video which is then played forward and then in reverse three times to create a six second loop that can be shared or downloaded as a video. Here are the new effects you can add plus how Instagram described them to me in a statement:

  • SlowMo – Reduces Boomerangs to half-speed so they play for two seconds in each direction instead of one second. “Slows down your Boomerang to capture each detail”
  • Echo – Adds a motion blur effect so a translucent trail appears behind anything moving, almost like you’re drunk or tripping. “Creates a double vision effect.”
  • Duo – Rapidly rewinds the clip to the beginning with a glitchy, digitized look. “Both speeds up and slows down your Boomerang, adding a texturized effect.”
  • Trimming – Shorten your Boomerang with similar controls to iPhone’s camera roll or the Instagram feed video composer. “Edit the length of your Boomerang, and when it starts or ends.”

The effects aren’t entirely original. Snapchat has offered slow-motion and fast-foward video effects since just days after the original launch of Boomerang back in 2015. TikTok meanwhile provides several motion blur filters and glitchy digital transitions. But since these are all available with traditional video, unlike on Instagram where they’re confined to Boomerangs, there’s more creative flexibility to use the effects to hide cuts between takes or play with people’s voices.

Hopefully we’ll see these features brought over to Instagram’s main Stories and video composers. Video trimming would be especially helpful since a boring start to a Story can quickly lead viewers to skip it.

Instagram has had years of domination in the social video space. But with Snapchat finally growing again and TikTok becoming a global phenomenon, Instagram must once again fight to maintain its superiority. Now approaching 10 years old, it’s at risk of becoming stale if it can’t keep giving people ways to make hastily shot phone content compelling.

Over two dozen encryption experts call on India to rethink changes to its intermediary liability rules

Security and encryption experts from around the world are joining a number of organizations to call on India to reconsider its proposed amendments to local intermediary liability rules.

In an open letter to India’s IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday, 27 security and cryptography experts warned the Indian government that if it goes ahead with its originally proposed changes to the law, it could weaken security and limit the use of strong encryption on the internet.

The Indian government proposed (PDF) a series of changes to its intermediary liability rules in late December 2018 that, if enforced, would require millions of services operated by anyone from small and medium businesses to large corporate giants such as Facebook and Google to make significant changes.

The originally proposed rules say that intermediaries — which the government defines as those services that facilitate communication between two or more users and have five million or more users in India — will have to proactively monitor and filter their users’ content and be able to trace the originator of questionable content to avoid assuming full liability for their users’ actions.

“By tying intermediaries’ protection from liability to their ability to monitor communications being sent across their platforms or systems, the amendments would limit the use of end-to-end encryption and encourage others to weaken existing security measures,” the experts wrote in the letter, coordinated by the Internet Society .

With end-to-end encryption, there is no way for the service provider to access its users’ decrypted content, they said. Some of these experts include individuals who work at Google, Twitter, Access Now, Tor Project and World Wide Web Consortium.

“This means that services using end-to-end encryption cannot provide the level of monitoring required in the proposed amendments. Whether it’s through putting a ‘backdoor’ in an encryption protocol, storing cryptographic keys in escrow, adding silent users to group messages, or some other method, there is no way to create ‘exceptional access’ for some without weakening the security of the system for all,” they added.

Technology giants have so far enjoyed what is known as “safe harbor” laws. The laws, currently applicable in the U.S. under the Communications Decency Act and India under its 2000 Information Technology Act, say that tech platforms won’t be held liable for the things their users share on the platform.

Many organizations have expressed in recent days their reservations about the proposed changes to the law. Earlier this week, Mozilla, GitHub and Cloudflare requested the Indian government to be transparent about the proposals that they have made to the intermediary liability rules. Nobody outside the Indian government has seen the current draft of the proposal, which it plans to submit to India’s Supreme Court for approval by January 15.

Among the concerns raised by some is the vague definition of “intermediary” itself. Critics say the last publicly known version of the draft had an extremely broad definition of the term “intermediary,” that would be applicable to a wide-range of service providers, including popular instant messaging clients, internet service providers, cyber cafes and even Wikipedia.

Amanda Keton, general counsel of Wikimedia Foundation, requested the Indian government late last month to rethink the requirement to bring “traceability” on online communication, as doing so, she warned, would interfere with the ability of Wikipedia contributors to freely participate in the project.

A senior executive with an American technology company, who requested anonymity, told TechCrunch on Wednesday that even as the proposed changes to the intermediary guidelines need major changes, it is high time that the Indian government decided to look into this at all.

“Action on social media platforms, and instant communications services is causing damage in the real world. Spread of hoax has cost us more than at least 30 lives. If tomorrow, someone’s sensitive photos and messages leak on the internet, there is currently little they can expect from their service providers. We need a law to deal with the modern internet’s challenges,” he said.