Facebook’s latest privacy debacle stirs up more regulatory interest from lawmakers

Facebook’s latest privacy debacle stirs up more regulatory interest from lawmakers

Facebook’s late Friday disclosure that a data analytics company with ties to the Trump campaign improperly obtained — and then failed to destroy — the private data of 50 million users is generating more unwanted attention from politicians, some of whom were already beating the drums of regulation in the company’s direction.

On Saturday morning, Facebook dove into the semantics of its disclosure, arguing against wording in the New York Times story the company was attempting to get out in front of that referred to the incident as a breach. Most of this happened on the Twitter account of Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos before Stamos took down his tweets and the gist of the conversation made its way into an update to Facebook’s official post.

“People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked,” the added language argued.


While the language is up for debate, lawmakers don’t appear to be looking kindly on Facebook’s arguably legitimate effort to sidestep data breach notification laws that, were this a proper hack, could have required the company to disclose that it lost track of the data of 50 million users, only 270,000 of which consented to data sharing to the third party app involved. (In April of 2015, Facebook changed its policy, shutting down the API that shared friends data with third-party Facebook apps that they did not consent to sharing in the first place.)

While most lawmakers and politicians haven’t crafted formal statements yet (expect a landslide of those on Monday), a few are weighing in. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar calling for Facebook’s chief executive — and not just its counsel — to appear before the Senate Judiciary committee.


Senator Mark Warner, a prominent figure in tech’s role in enabling Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, used the incident to call attention to a piece of bipartisan legislation called the Honest Ads Act, designed to “prevent foreign interference in future elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements.”

“This is more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West,” Warner said in a statement. “Whether it’s allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive micro-targeting based on ill-gotten user data, it’s clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency.”

That call for transparency was echoed Saturday by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey who announced that her office would be launching an investigation into the situation. “Massachusetts residents deserve answers immediately from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” Healey tweeted. TechCrunch has reached out to Healey’s office for additional information.

On Cambridge Analytica’s side, it looks possible that the company may have violated Federal Election Commission laws forbidding foreign participation in domestic U.S. elections. The FEC enforces a “broad prohibition on foreign national activity in connection with elections in the United States.”

“Now is a time of reckoning for all tech and internet companies to truly consider their impact on democracies worldwide,” said Nuala O’Connor, President of the Center for Democracy & Technology. “Internet users in the U.S. are left incredibly vulnerable to this sort of abuse because of the lack of comprehensive data protection and privacy laws, which leaves this data unprotected.”

Just what lawmakers intend to do about big tech’s latest privacy debacle will be more clear come Monday, but the chorus calling for regulation is likely to grow louder from here on out.

Facebook’s latest privacy debacle stirs up more regulatory interest from lawmakers
Source: TechCrunch

Tinder owner Match is suing Bumble over patents

Tinder owner Match is suing Bumble over patents

Drama is heating up between the dating apps.

Tinder, which is owned by Match Group, is suing rival Bumble, alleging patent infringement and misuse of intellectual property.

The suit alleges that Bumble “copied Tinder’s world-changing, card-swipe-based, mutual opt-in premise.” The lawsuit also accuses Tinder-turned-Bumble employees Chris Gulczynski and Sarah Mick of copying elements of the design. “Bumble has released at least two features that its co-founders learned of and developed confidentially while at Tinder in violation of confidentiality agreements.”

It’s complicated because Bumble was founded by CEO Whitney Wolfe, who was also a co-founder at Tinder. She wound up suing Tinder for sexual harassment. 

Yet Match hasn’t let the history stop it from trying to buy hotter-than-hot Bumble anyway. As Axios’s Dan Primack pointed out, this lawsuit may actually try to force the hand for a deal. Bumble is majority-owned by Badoo, a dating company based in London and Moscow.

(It wouldn’t be the first time a dating site sued another and then bought it. JDate did this with JSwipe.)

Match provided the following statement:

Match Group has invested significant resources and creative expertise in the development of our industry-leading suite of products. We are committed to protecting the intellectual property and proprietary data that defines our business. Accordingly, we are prepared when necessary to enforce our patents and other intellectual property rights against any operator in the dating space who infringes upon those rights.

I have, um, tested out both Tinder and Bumble and they are similar. Both let you swipe on nearby users with limited information like photos, age, school and employer. And users can only chat if both opt-in.

However, Tinder has developed more of the reputation as a “hookup” app and Bumble doesn’t seem to have quite the same image, largely because it requires women to initiate the conversation, thus setting the tone.

As TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez pointed out recently, “according to App Annie, Tinder is more than 10x bigger in terms of monthly users and 7x bigger in terms of downloads in the last 12 months, versus Bumble.”

We’ve reached out to Bumble for comment.

Tinder owner Match is suing Bumble over patents
Source: TechCrunch

Samsung’s Galaxy S9 gets Disney AR Emojis at launch

Samsung’s Galaxy S9 gets Disney AR Emojis at launch

Samsung’s Galaxy S9 gets Disney AR Emojis at launch

I wasn’t alone in suggesting that Samsung’s Animoji competitors were, well, creepy. AR Emojis sit firmly in the uncanny valley between face scans and cartoon characters — generally lacking the adorableness of Apple’s offering. They have, however, had one saving grace: Disney, the entertainment company that essentially owns all of your best childhood memories. 

Samsung teased the partnership this month at Mobile World Congress, during the big Galaxy S9 launch, but didn’t offer much in the way of specifics. There is, however, some good news on the front. Disney’s AR Emojis will be available at launch for the S9 and S9+ — which, as it so happens, is today.

Right now, only Mickey and Minnie are available, accessible to phone buyers as a free download.  More character offerings from such blockbuster films as The Incredibles, Zootopia and Frozen will be made available before the end of the year.

The decision to go with Samsung is no doubt a sore spot for Apple, which has had a tight partnership with Disney for decades, including numerous product crossovers and shared board members. But the entertainment giant is no doubt looking to spread the love. The company also recently licensed Star Wars characters for some very Porg-y Pixel 2 AR stickers.

“By extending our characters and stories to new digital platforms,” Disney VP John Love said in a release tied to the announcement, “we are creating daily Disney experiences everywhere our audience goes, and we are able to draw in new generations of fans.”

The S9 hits the market today, priced starting at $720.

Samsung’s Galaxy S9 gets Disney AR Emojis at launch
Source: TechCrunch

Blue Vision Labs, which builds ‘collaborative’ AR, emerges from stealth with $14.5M led by GV

Blue Vision Labs, which builds ‘collaborative’ AR, emerges from stealth with .5M led by GV

Blue Vision Labs, a London-based augmented reality startup co-founded by computer vision experts from Oxford and Imperial College, is emerging from stealth today with a new platform that it claims will be the first to bring ‘collaboration’ to the AR experience: with an app built on Blue Vision’s technology (via its API and SDK), multiple users will be able to see the same virtual objects, and interact with each other in that virtual space with spatial accuracy that hasn’t been seen in widely-available AR services before.

Scenarios where this kind of feature could come in useful could include multi-player games, on-street navigation apps, social media applications and education. Peter Ondruska, the startup’s co-founder and CEO, tells me that Blue Vision’s tech can pinpoint people and other moving objects in a space to within centimeters of their actual location — far more accurate than typical GPS — meaning that it could give far better results in apps that require two parties to find each other, such as in a ride-hailing app. (Hands up if you and your Uber driver have ever lost each other before you’ve even stepped foot in the vehicle.)

Blue Vision has been in stealth mode for the past two years building its product — and its founding team, which also includes Lukas Platinsky, Hugo Grimmett, and repeat entrepreneurs Andrej Pancik and Bryan Baum, have been working on the idea since 2011 — but now it is finally hitting the ground running.

Along with the launch of its SDK for developers, Blue Vision announcing that it has raised $17 million in funding — $14.5 million in a new Series A led by Alphabet’s GV, plus another $2.5 million in Seed funding that it raised earlier from Accel, Horizons Ventures, SV Angel and others — all of whom also participated in this latest round, too.

The SDK will initially be free to use, Ondruska said.

There’s been a surge of interest in augmented and virtual reality technology in the last couple of years, fuelled by some interesting moves from larger tech companies like Google and Apple — launching developer kits to build applications, and working on more hardware to consume it — investments by larger media companies in building content for these platforms, and the hundreds of millions of dollars that investors are pouring into the army of startups that are building both software and hardware to usher in this new age of how we will, apparently, soon be seeing the world.

Some of these investments have so far felt like audacious moonshots. (Magic Leap’s hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, for example, have yet to materialise into anything we can use, virtually or otherwise.) But some are making their way to people today, and causing a stir, if not a massive wave of usage. (Think here of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore.)

And VR development has even already started to tackle the collaboration challenge too: recall Facebook’s Oculus division work on Rooms, where you can interact with multiple people.

Blue Vision’s approach is a little different, in that it requires no more hardware than what many people already have — a smartphone and a basic smartphone camera — both to interact with the experience and to ingest the environment to create it. The fact that it provides that relatively low barrier to entry, while also doing an enormous amount of heavy lifting at the back end to solve a persistent challenge in AR, is what potentially makes the company unique and noteworthy.

“They have reduced the need for specific, tailored hardware,” said GV’s Tom Hulme, who is joining the board. “Where we might have needed multiple lenses before, they have achieved same thing with a basic smartphone lens.”

Some of that heavy lifting has also involved building highly detailed maps that developers can now use to build collaborative AR experiences: the idea here is that the map of a space becomes the canvas onto which all of the other objects get placed for their interactions.

Ondruska said that initially the company has built maps covering the city centers of London, San Francisco and New York, with plans to add more locations. Users, he said, can also essentially “build” locations on the fly while using apps powered by Blue Vision, although these would work less well in fast-moving environments, where you might need to reference locations more accurately and pick up more detail.

Some have projected that AR-based applications could generate $83 billion by 2021. That seems like a big leap, considering we’re now already at 2018 and so far our biggest “hit” in AR has been Pokemon Go. Ondruska believes that this is because there have been missing pieces in making AR a truly seamless and smooth experience, and that his team has built the parts that will complete the picture.

“One of the reasons why AR hasn’t really reached mass market adoption is because of the tech that is on the market,” he said. “Single-user experiences are limiting. We are allowing the next step, letting people see the right place, for example. None of that was possible before in AR because the backend didn’t exist. But by filling this piece, we are creating new AR use cases, ones that are important and will be used on a daily basis.”



Blue Vision Labs, which builds ‘collaborative’ AR, emerges from stealth with .5M led by GV
Source: TechCrunch