In Mark Zuckerberg We Trust? The State and Future of Facebook, User Data, Cambridge Analytica, Fake News, Elections, Russia and You

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In the wake of Cambridge Analytica, data misappropriation, #deletefacebook, calls for regulation and pending testimony to U.S. Congress, Facebook announced a series of initiatives to restrict data access and also a renewed selfie awareness to focus efforts on protecting people on the platform. What’s more notable however is that Mark Zuckerberg also hosted a last-minute, rare town hall with media and analysts to explain these efforts and also take tough questions for the better part of an hour.

Let’s start with the company’s news on data restrictions.

To better protect Facebook user information, the company is making the following changes across nine priority areas over the coming months (Sourced from Facebook):

Events API: Until today, people could grant an app permission to get information about events they host or attend, including private events. Doing so allowed users to add Facebook Events to calendar, ticketing or other apps. According to the company, Facebook Events carry information about other people’s attendance as well as posts on the event wall. As of today, apps using the API can no longer access the guest list or posts on the event wall.

Groups API: Currently apps need permission of a group admin or member to access group content for closed groups. For secret groups, apps need the permission of an admin. However, groups contain information about people and conversations and Facebook wants to make sure everything is protected. Moving forward, all third-party apps using the Groups API will need approval from Facebook and an admin to ensure they benefit the group. Apps will no longer be able to access the member list of a group. Facebook is also removing personal information, such as names and profile photos, attached to posts or comments.

Pages API: Previously, third party apps could use the Pages API to read posts or comments from any Page. Doing so lets developers create tools to help Page owners perform common tasks such as schedule posts and reply to comments or messages. At the same time, it also let apps access more data than necessary. Now, Facebook wants to ensure that Page information is only available to apps providing useful services to our community. All future access to the Pages API will need to be approved by Facebook.

Facebook Login: Two weeks, Facebook announced changes to Facebook Login. As of today, Facebook will need to approve all apps that request access to information such as check-ins, likes, photos, posts, videos, events and groups. Additionally, the company no longer allow apps to ask for access to personal information such as religious or political views, relationship status and details, custom friends lists, education and work history, fitness activity, book reading activity, music listening activity, news reading, video watch activity, and games activity. Soon, Facebook will also remove a developer’s ability to request data people shared with them if there has been no activity on the app in at least three months.

Instagram Platform API: Facebook is accelerating the deprecation of the Instagram Platform API effective today.

Search and Account Recovery: Previously, people could enter a phone number or email address into Facebook search to help find their profiles. According to Facebook, “malicious actors” have abused these features to scrape public profile information by submitting phone numbers or email addresses. Given the scale and sophistication of the activity, Facebook believes most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped in this way. This feature is now disabled. Changes are also coming to account recovery to also reduce the risk of scraping. 

Call and Text History: Call and text history was part of an opt-in feature for Messenger or Facebook Lite users on Android. Facebook has reviewed this feature to confirm that it does not collect the content of messages. Logs older than one year will be deleted. More so, broader data, such as the time of calls, will no longer be collected.

Data Providers and Partner Categories: Facebook is shuttering Partner Categories, a product that once let third-party data providers offer their targeting directly on Facebook. The company stated that “although this is common industry practice…winding down…will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook”

App Controls: As of April 9th, Facebook display a link at the top of the News Feed for users to see what apps they use and the information they have shared with those apps. Users will also have streamlined access to remove apps that they no longer need. The company will reveal if information may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica may have had data from as many as 87 million people

Facebook also made a startling announcement. After thorough review, the company believes that Cambridge Analytica may have collected information on as many as 87 million people. 81.6% of these users resided in the United Sates with the rest of the affected users scattered across the Philippines, Indonesia, United Kingdom, Mexico, Canada, India, among others. Original reports from the New York Times estimated that the number of affected users was closer to 50 million.

Mark Zuckerberg Faces the Media; Shows Maturity and Also Inexperienced Leadership

In a rare move, Mark Zuckerberg invited press and analysts to a next-day call where he shared details on the company’s latest moves to protect user data, improve the integrity of information shared on the platform and protect users from misinformation. After initially going AWOL following the Cambridge Analytic data SNAFU, he’s since been on a whirlwind media tour. He genuinely seems to want us to know that he made mistakes, that he’s learning from them and that he’s trying to do the right thing. On our call, he stayed on beyond his allotted time to answer tough questions for the better part of 60 minutes.

From the onset, Mark approached the discussion by acknowledging that he and the rest of Facebook hadn’t done enough to date to prevent its latest fiasco nor had it done enough to protect user trust.

“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough in preventing abuse…that goes for fake news, foreign interference, elections, hate speech, in addition to developers and data privacy,” Zuckerberg stated. “We didn’t take a broad enough view what our responsibility is. It was my fault.”

He further pledged to right these wrongs while focusing on protecting user data and ultimately their Facebook experience.

“It’s not enough to just connect people. We have to make sure those connections are positive and that they’re bringing people closer together,” he said. “It’s not enough to give people a voice. We have to make sure that people aren’t using that voice to hurt people or spread disinformation. And it’s not enough to give people tools to manage apps. We have to ensure that all of those developers protect people’s information too. We have to ensure that everyone in our ecosystem protects information.”

Zuckerberg admitted that protecting data is just one piece of the company’s multi-faceted strategy to get the platform back on track. Misinformation, security issues and user-driven polarization still threaten facts, truth and upcoming elections.

He shared some of the big steps Facebook is taking to combat these issues. “Yesterday we took a big action by taking down Russian IRA pages,” he boasted. “Since we became aware of this activity…we’ve been working to root out the IRA to protect the integrity of elections around the world. All in, we now have about 15,000 people working on security and content review and we’ll have more than 20,000 by the end of this year. This is going to be a major focus for us.”

He added, “While we’ve been doing this, we’ve also been tracing back and identifying this network of fake accounts the IRA has been using so we can work to remove them from Facebook entirely. This is the first action that we’ve taken against the IRA and Russia itself. And it included identifying and taking down a Russian news organization. We have more work to do here.”

Highlights, Observations and Findings

This conversation was pretty dense. In fact, it took hours to pour over the conversation just to put this article together. I understand if you don’t have time to read through the entire interview or listen to the full Q&A. To help, I’ve some of the highlights, insights and takeaways from our hour together.

  1. Mark Zuckerberg wants you to know that he’s very sorry. He articulated on several occasions that he feels the weight of his mistakes, mischaracterizations and gross misjudgments on everything…user data, fake news, election tampering, polarization, data scraping, and user trust. He also wants you to know that he’s learning from his mistakes and his priority is fixing these problems while regaining trust moving forward. He sees this as a multi-year strategy of which Facebook is already one year underway.
  2. Facebook now believes that up to 87 million users, not 50, mostly in the US, may have been affected by Kogan’s personality quiz app. Facebook does not know the extent of which user data was sold to or used by Cambridge Analytica. This was not a data breach according to the company. People willingly took Kogan’s quiz.
  3. Facebook has also potentially exposed millions of user profiles to data scraping due to existing API standards on other fronts over the years. The extent of this scraping and how data was used by third parties is unknown. Facebook has turned off access. Even still, it is unacceptable that it wasn’t taken seriously before. Facebook must own its part in exposing data to bad actors who scraped information for nefarious purposes.
  4. Mark believes that Facebook hasn’t done a good enough job explaining user privacy, how the company makes money and how it does and doesn’t use user content/data. This is changing.
  5. Mark, and the board/shareholders, believe, he’s still the right person for the job. Two reporters asked directly whether he’d step down by force or choice. His answer was an emphatic, “no.” His rationale is that this is his ship and he is the one who’s going to fix everything. He stated on several occasions that he wants to do the right thing. While I applaud his “awakening,” he has made some huge missteps as a leader that need more than promises to rectify. I still believe that Facebook would benefit from seasoned, strategic leadership to establish/renew a social contract with users, Facebook and its partners. The company is after all, fighting wars on multiple fronts. And the company has demonstrated a pattern of either negligence or ignorance in the past and then apologizing afterward. One can assume that this pattern will only continue.
  6. There’s still a fair amount naïveté in play here when it comes to user trust, data and weaponizing information against Facebook users. Even though the company is aiming to right its wrongs, there’s more that lies ahead that the company and its key players cannot see yet. There’s a history of missing significant events here. And, Mark has a history of downplaying these events, acting too late and apologizing after the fact. “I didn’t know” is not a suitable response. Even though the company is making important strides, there’s nothing to make me believe that sophisticated data thieves, information terrorists and shape-shifting scammers aren’t already a step or two ahead of the Facebook team. Remember, following the 2016 election, Mark said it was “crazy” that fake news could somehow sway an election. He’s since recanted that reaction, but it was still his initial response and belief.
  7. Facebook is already taking action against economic actors, government interference and lack of truthfulness and promises to do more. Its since removed thousands of Russian IRA accounts. Russia has responded that Facebook’s moves are considered “censorship.”
  8. Not everything is Facebook’s fault, according to Facebook. Mark places some of the onus ofresponsibility on Facebook userswho didn’t read the ToS, manage their data settings or fully understand what happens when you put your entire life online. In his view, and it’s a tough pill to swallow, no one forced users to take a personality quiz. No one is forcing people to share every aspect of their life online. While the company is making it easier for users to understand what they’re signing up for and how to manage what they share, people still don’t realize that with this free service comes an agreement that as a user, they are the product and their attention is for sale.
  9. Moving forward, Facebook isn’t as worried about data breaches as it is about user manipulation and psyops. According to Mark, users are more likely susceptible to “social engineering” threats over hacking and break-ins. Social engineering is the use of centralized planning and coordinated efforts to manipulate individuals to divulge information for fraudulent purposes. This can also be aimed at manipulating individual perspectives, behaviors and also influencing social change (for better or for worse.) Users aren’t prepared to fully understand if, when and how they’re succeptible to manipulation and I’d argue that research needs to be done in understanding how we’re influencing one another based on our own cognitive biases and how we choose to share and perceive information in real-time.
  10. Facebook really wants you to know that it doesn’t sell user data to advertisers. But, it also acknowledges that it could have done and will do a better job in helping users understand Facebook’s business model. Mark said that users want “better ads” and “better experiences.” In addition to fighting information wars, Facebook is also prioritizing ad targeting, better news feeds, and the creation/delivery of better products and services that users love.
  11. Even though upwards of 87 million users may have been affected by Kogan’s personality quiz and some of that user information was sold to and used by Cambridge Analytica, and that user data was also compromised in many other ways for years, the #deletefacebook movement had zero meaningful impact. But still, Mark says that the fact the movement even gained any momentum is “not good.” This leads to a separate but related conversation about useraddictiveness and dependencyon these platforms that kill movements such as #deletefacebook before they gain momentum.
  12. Users cannot rely on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Reddit, et al., to protect them. Respective leaders of each of these platforms MUST fight bad actors to protect users. At the same time, they are not doing enough. Users are in many ways, unwitting pawns in what amounts to not only social engineering, but full-blown information warfare and psyops to cause chaos, disruption or worse. Make no mistake, people, their minds and their beliefs are under attack. It’s not just the “bad actors.” We are witnessing true villains, regardless of intent, damage, abuse and undermine human relationships, truth and digital and real-world democracy.
  13. People and their relationships with one another are being radicalized and weaponized right under their noses. No one is teaching people how this even happens. More so, we are still not exposing the secrets of social design that makes these apps and servicesaddictive. In the face of social disorder, people ar still readily sharing everything about themselves online and believe they are in control of their own experiences, situational analyses and resulting emotions. I don’t know that people could really walk away even if they wanted to and that’s what scares me the most.

Q&A in Full: The Whole Story According to Zuckerberg

Please note that this call was 60 minutes long and what follows is not a complete transcript. I went through the entire conversation to surface key points and context.

David McCabe, Axios: “Given the numbers [around the IRA] have changed so drastically, Why should lawmakers and why should users trust that you’re giving them a full and accurate picture now?”

Zuckerberg: “There is going to be more content that we’re going to find over time. As long as there are people employed in Russia who have the job of trying to find ways to exploit these systems, this is going to be a never-ending battle. You never fully solve security, it’s an arms race. In retrospect, we were behind and we didn’t invest in it upfront. I’m confident that we’re making progress against these adversaries. But they’re very sophisticated. It would be a mistake to assume that you can fully solve a problem like this…”

Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC: “Back in November 2016, dismissed as crazy that fake news could have swung the election. Are you taking this seriously enough…?”

Zuckerberg: “Yes. I clearly made a mistake by just dismissing fake news as crazy as [not] having an impact. What I think is clear at this point, is that it was too flippant. I should never have referred to it as crazy. This is clearly a problem that requires careful work…This is an important area of work for us.”

Ian Sherr, CNET: “You just announced 87 million people affected by Cambridge Analytica, how long have you known this number because the 50 million number has been out there for a while. It feels like the data keeps changing on us and we’re not getting a full forthright view of what’s going on here.”

Zuckerberg: “We only just finalized our understanding of the situation in the last couple of days. We didn’t put out the 50 million number…we wanted to wait until we had a full understanding. Just to give you the complete picture on this, we don’t have logs going back for when exactly [Aleksandr] Kogan’s app queried for everyone’s friends…We wanted to take a broad view and a conservative estimate. I’m quite confident given our analysis, that it is not more than 87 million. It very well could be less…”

David Ingram, Reuters: “…Why weren’t there audits of the use of the social graph API years ago between the 2010 – 2015 period.

Zuckerberg: “In retrospect, I think we should have been doing more all along. Just to speak to how we were thinking about it at the time, as just a matter of explanation, I’m not trying to defend this now…I think our view in a number of aspects of our relationship with people was that our job was to give them tools and that it was largely people’s responsibility in how they chose to use them…I think it was wrong in retrospect to have that limited of a view but the reason why we acted the way that we did was because I think we viewed when someone chose to share their data and then the platform acted in a way that it was designed with the personality quiz app, our view is that, yes, Kogan broke the policies. And, he broke expectations, but also people chose to share that data with them. But today, given what we know, not just about developers, but across all of our tools and just across what our place in society is, it’s such a big service that’s so central in people’s lives, I think we understand that we need to take a broader view of our responsibility. We’re not just building tools that we have to take responsibility for the outcomes in how people use those tools as well. That’s why we didn’t do it at the time. Knowing what I know today, clearly we should have done more and we will going forward.

Cecilia King, NY Times: “Mark, you have indicated that you could be comfortable with some sort of regulation. I’d like to ask you about privacy regulations that are about to take effect in Europe…GDPR. Would you be comfortable with those types of data protection regulation in the U.S. and with global users.”

Zuckerberg: “Regulations like the GDPR are very positive…We intend to make all the same controls and settings everywhere not just Europe.”

Tony Romm, Washington Post: “Do you believe that this [data scraping] was all in violation of your 2011 settlement with the FTC?”

Zuckerberg: “We’ve worked hard to make sure that we comply with it. The reality here is that we have to take a broader view of our responsibility, rather than just legal responsibility. We’re focused on doing the right thing and making sure people’s information is protected. We’re doing investigations, we’re locking down the platform, etc. I think our responsibilities to the people who use Facebook are greater than what’s written in that order and that’s the standard that I want to hold us to.”

Hannah Kuchler, Financial Times, “Investors have raised a lot of concerns about whether this is the result of corporate governance issues at Facebook. Has the board discussed whether you should step down as chairman?”

Zuckerberg: “Ahhh, not that I’m aware of.”

Alexis Madrigal, Atlantic: “Have you ever made a decision that benefitted Facebook’s business but not the community.”

Zuckerberg: “The thing that makes our product challenging to manage and operate are not the trade offs between people and the business, I actually think that those are quite easy, because over the long term the business will be better if you serve people. I just think it would be near sighted to focus on short term revenue over what value to people is and I don’t think we’re that short-sighted. All of the hard decisions we have to make are actually trade-offs between people. One of the big differences between the type of product we’re building, which is why I refer to it as a community and what do I think some of the specific governance issues we have are that different people who use Facebook have different interests. Some people want to share political speech that they think is valid, while others think it’s hate speech. These are real values questions and trade-offs between free-expression on one hand and making sure it’s a safe community on the other hand…we’re doing that in an environment that’s static. The social norms are changing continually and they’re different in every country around the world. Getting those trade-offs right is hard and we certainly don’t always get them right.”

Alyssa Newcomb, NBC News: “You’ve said that you’ve clearly made mistakes in the past. Do you still think you’re the best person to run Facebook moving forward?”

Zuckerberg: “Yes. I think life is about learning from the mistakes and figuring out what you need to do to move forward. The reality is that when you’re building something like Facebook that is unprecedented in the world, there are going to be things that you mess up…I don’t think anyone is going to be perfect. I think that what people can hold us accountable for is learning from the mistakes and continually doing better and continuing to evolve what our view of our responsibility is. And, at the end of the day, whether we’re building things that people like and if it makes their lives better. I think it’s important not to lose sight of that through all of this. I’m the first to admit that we didn’t take a broad enough view of what our responsibilities were. I also think it’s important to keep in mind that there are billions of people who love the services that we’re building because they’re getting real value…That’s something that I’m really proud of my company for doing…”

Josh Constine, TechCrunch: “Facebook explained that the account recovery and search tools using emails and phone numbers could have been used to scrape information about all of Facebook users, when did Facebook find out about this scraping operation and if that was before a month ago, why didn’t Facebook inform the public about it immediately?”

Zuckerberg: “We looked into this and understood it more over the last few days as part of the audit of our overall system. Everyone has a setting on Facebook that controls, it’s right in your privacy settings, whether people can look you up by your contact information. Most people have that turned on and that’s the default. A lot of people have also turned it off. It’s not quite everyone. Certainly, the potential here would be that over the period of time this feature has been around, people have been able to scrape public information. It is reasonable to expect that, if you had that setting turned on, that at some point over the last several years, someone has probably accessed your public information in this way.”

Will Oremus, Slate: “You run a company that relies on people who are willing to share data that is then used to target them with ads. We also now know it can be used to manipulate ways or ways they don’t expect. We also know that you are very protective of your own privacy in certain ways. You acknowledged you put tape over your webcam at one point. I think you bought the lot around one of your homes to get more privacy. What other steps do you take to protect your privacy online? As a user of Facebook, would you sign up for apps like the personality quiz?”

Zuckerberg: “I certainly use a lot of apps. I’m a power user of the internet. In order to protect privacy, I would advise that people follow a lot of the best practices around security. Turn on two-factor authentication. Change your passwords regularly. Don’t have password recovery tools be information that you make publicly available…look out and understand that most of the attacks are going to be social engineering and not necessary people trying to break into security systems. For Facebook specifically, I think one of the things we need to do…are just the privacy controls that you already have. Especially leading up to the GDPR event, people are going to ask if we’re going to implement all of those things. My answer to that is, we’ve had almost all of what’s implemented in there for years…the fact that most people are not aware of that is an issue. We need to do a better job of putting those tools in front of people and not just offering them. I would encourage people to use them and make sure they’re comfortable how their information is used on our systems and others.”

Sarah Frier, Bloomberg: “There’s broad concern that user data given years ago could be anywhere by now. What results do you hope to achieve from the audits and what won’t you be able to find?”

Zuckerberg: “No measure you take on security is going to be perfect. But, a lot of the strategy has to involve changing the economics of potential bad actors to make it not worth doing what they might do otherwise. We’re not going to be able to go out and find every bad use of data. What we can do is make it a lot harder for folks to do that moving forward, change the calculus on anyone who’s considering doing something sketchy going forward, and I actually do think we’ll eventually be able to uncover a large amount of bad activity of what exists and we will be able to go in and do audits to make sure people get rid of that data.”

Steve Kovach, Business Insider: “Has anyone been fired related to the Cambridge Analytica issue or any data privacy issue?”

Zuckerberg: “I have not. I think we’re still working through this. At the end of the day, this is my responsibility. I started this place. I run it. I’m responsible for what happens here. I’m going to do the best job helping to run it going forward. I’m not looking to throw anyone else under the bus for mistakes that we made here.”

Nancy Cortez, CBS News: “Your critics say Facebook’s business model depends on harvesting personal data, so how can you reassure users that their information isn’t going to be used in a way that they don’t expect?”

Zuckerberg: “I think we can do a better job of explaining what we actually do. There are many misperceptions around what we do that I think we haven’t succeeded in clearing up for years. First, the vast majority of the data that Facebook knows about you is because you chose to share it. It’s not tracking…we don’t track and we don’t buy and sell [data]…In terms of ad activity, that’s a relatively smaller part of what we’re doing. The majority of the activity is people actually sharing information on Facebook, which is why I think people understand how much content is there because they put all the photos and information there themselves. For some reason, we haven’t been able to kick this notion for years, that we sell data to advertisers. We don’t. It just goes counter to our own incentives…We can certainly do a better job of trying to explain this and make these things understandable. The reality is that the way we run the service is, people share information, we use that to help people connect and to make the services better, and we run ads to make it a free service that everyone in the world can afford.”

Rebecca Jarvis, ABC News: Cambridge Analytica has tweeted now since this conversation began, ‘When Facebook contacted us to let us know the data had been improperly obtained, we immediately deleted the raw data from our file server, and began the process of searching for and removing any of its derivatives in our system.’ Now that you have this finalized understanding, do you agree with Cambridge Analytica’s interpretation in this tweet and will Facebook be pursuing legal action against them?”

Zuckerberg: “I don’t think what we announced today is connected to what they just said at all. What we announced with the 87 million is the maximum number of people that we could calculate could have been accessed. We don’t know how many people’s information Kogan actually got. We don’t know what he sold to Cambridge Analytica. We don’t today what they have in their system. What we have said and what they agreed to is to do a full forensic audit of their systems so we can get those answers. But at the same time, the UK government and the ICO are doing a government interpretation and that takes precedence. We’ve stood down temporarily…and once that’s down, we’ll resume ours so we can get answers to the questions you’re asking and ultimately make sure that not of the data persists or is being used improperly. At that point, if it makes sense, we will take legal action, if we need to do that to protect people’s information.

Alex Kantrowitz, Buzzfeed, “Facebook’s so good at making money. I wonder if your problems could somewhat be mitigated if company didn’t try to make so much. You could still run Facebook as a free service, but collect significantly less data and offer significantly less ad targeting…so, I wonder if that would put you and society and less risk.”

Zuckerberg: “People tell us that if they’re going to see ads, they want the ads to be good. The way the ads are good is making it so that when someone tells us they have an interest…that the ads are actually relevant to what they care about. Like most of the hard decisions that we make, this is one where there’s a trade-off between values people really care about. On the one hand, people want relevant experiences and on the other hand, I do think that there’s some discomfort how data is used in systems like ads. I think the feedback is overwhelmingly on the side of wanting a better experience…”

Nancy Scola, Politico, “When you became aware in 2015 that Cambridge Analytica inappropriately accessed this Facebook data, did you know that firm’s role in American politics and in Republican politics in particular?”

Zuckerberg: “I certainly didn’t. One of the things in retrospect…people ask, ‘why didn’t you ban them back then?’ We banned Kogan’s app from the platform back then. Why didn’t we do that? It turns out, in our understanding of the situation, that they weren’t any of Facebook’s services back then. They weren’t an advertiser, although they went on to become one in the 2016 election. They weren’t administering tools and they didn’t build an app directly. They were not really a player we had been paying attention to.”

Carlos Hernandez, Expansion: “Mark, you mentioned that one of the main important aspects of Facebook is the people. And, one of the biggest things around the use of these social platforms is the complexity of users understanding how these companies store data and use their information. With everything that is happening, how can you help users learn better how Facebook, What’s App and Instagram is collecting and using data?”

Zuckerberg: “I think we need to do a better job of explaining the principles that the service operates under. But, the main principles are, you have control of everything you put on the service, most of the content that Facebook knows about you is because you chose to share that content with friends and put it on your profile and we’re going to use data to make the services better…but, we’re never going to sell your information. If we can get to a place where we can communicate that in a way people understand it, then we have a shot at distilling this down to a simpler thing. That’s certainly not something we’ve succeeded at doing historically.

Kurt Wagner, Recode: “There’s been the whole #deletefacebook thing from a couple of weeks ago, there’s been advertisers who have said that they’re pulling advertising money or pull their pages down altogether, I’m wondering if on the back end, have you seen any actual change in usage from users or change in ad buys over the last couple weeks…”

Zuckerberg: “I don’t think there’s been any meaningful impact that we’ve observed. But look, it’s not good. I don’t want anyone to be unhappy with our services or what we do as a company. Even if we can’t measure a change in the usage of the products or the business…it’s still speaks to feeling like this was a massive breach of trust and we have a lot of work to do to repair that.”

Fernando Santillanes, Grupo Milenio: “There’s a lot of concern in Mexico about fake news. Associating with media to identify these fake articles is not enough. What do you say to all the Facebook users who want to see Facebook take a more active Facebook position to detect and suppress fake news?”

Zuckerberg: “This is an important question. 2018 is going to be an important year for protecting important election integrity around the world. Let me talk about how we’re fighting fake news across the board. There are three different types of activity that require different strategies for fighting them. It’s important people understand all of what we’re doing here. The three basic categories are, 1) there are economic actors who are basically spammers, 2) governments trying to interfere in elections, which is basically a security issue and 3) polarization and lack of truthfulness in what you describe as the media.”

In response to economic actors, he explained, “These are folks like the Macedonian trolls. What these folks are doing, it’s just an economic game. It’s not ideological at all. They come up with the most sensational thing they can in order to get you to click on it so they can make money on ads. If we can make it so that the economics stop working for them, then they’ll move on to something else. These are literally the same type of people who have been sending you Viagra emails in the 90s. We can attack it on both sides. On the revenue side, we make it so that they can’t run on the Facebook ad network. On the distribution side, we make it so that as we detect this stuff, it gets less distribution on News Feeds.”

The second category involves national security issues, i.e. Russian election interference. Zuckerberg’s response to solve this problem involves identifying bad actors, “People are setting up these large networks of fake accounts and we need to track that really carefully in order to remove it from Facebook entirely as a security issue.”

The third category is about media, which Zuckerberg believes requires deeper fact checking. “We find that fact checkers can review high volume things to show useful signals and remove from feeds if it’s a hoax. But there’s still a big polarization issue. Even if someone isn’t sharing something that’s false, they are cherry picking facts to tell one side of a story where the aggregate picture ends up not being true. There, the work we need to do is to promote broadly trusted journalism. The folks who, people across society, believe are going to take the full picture and do a fair and thorough job.”

He closed on that topic on an optimistic note, “Those three streams, if we can do a good job on each of those, will make a big dent across the world and that’s basically the roadmap that we’re executing.”

Casey Newton, The Verge: “With respect to some of the measures you’re putting into place to protect election integrity and to reduce fake news…how are you evaluating the effectiveness of the changes you’re making and how will you communicate wins and losses…?”

Zuckerberg: “One of the big things we’re working on now is a major transparency effort to be able to share the prevalence of different types of bad content. One of the big issues that we see is a lot of the debate around fake news or hate speech happens through anecdotes. People see something that’s bad and shouldn’t be allowed on the service and they call us out on it, and frankly they’re right, it shouldn’t be there and we should do a better job of taking that down. But, what think is missing from the debate today are the prevalence of these different categories of bad content. Whether it’s fake news and all the different kinds there in, hate speech, bullying, terror content, all of things that I think we can all agree are bad and we want to drive down, the most important thing there is to make sure that the numbers that we put out are accurate. We wouldn’t be doing anyone a favor by putting out numbers and coming back a quarter later saying, ‘hey, we messed this up.’ Part of transparency is to inform the public debate and build trust. If we have to go back and restate those because we got it wrong, the calculation internally is that it’s much better to take a little longer to make sure we’re accurate than to put something out that might be wrong. We should be held accountable and measured by the public. It will help create more informed debate. And, my hope over time is that the playbook and scorecard that we put out will also be followed by other internet platforms so that way there can be a standard measure across the industry. “

Barbara Ortutay, Associated Press, “What are you doing differently now to prevent things from happening and not just respond after the fact?

Zuckerberg: “Going forward, a lot of the new product development has already internalized this perspective of the broader responsibility we’re trying to take to make sure our tools are used well. Right now, if you take the election integrity work, in 2016 we were behind where we wanted to be. We had a more traditional view of the security threats. We expected Russia and other countries to try phishing and other security exploits, but not necessarily the misinformation campaign that they did. We were behind. That was a really big miss. We want to make sure we’re not behind again. We’ve been proactively developing AI tools to detect trolls who are spreading fake news or foreign interference…we were able to take down thousands of fake accounts. We’re making progress. It’s not that there’s no bad content out there. I don’t want to ever promise that we’re going to find everything…we need to strengthen our systems. Across the different products that we are building, we are starting to internalize a lot more that we have this broader responsibility. The last thing that I’ll say on this, I wish I could snap my fingers and in six months, we’ll have solved all of these issues. I think the reality is that given how complex Facebook is, and how many systems there are, and how we need to rethink our relationship with people and our responsibility across every single part of what we do, I do think this is a multiyear effort. It will continue to get better every month.”

As I once said, and believe more today than before, with social media comes great responsibility. While optimism leads to great, and even unprecedented innovation, it can also prevent seeing what lies ahead to thwart looming harm and destruction. Zuckerberg and company have to do more than fix what’s broken. It has to look forward to break and subsequently fix what trolls, hackers and bad actors are already seeking to undermine. And it’s not just Facebook. Youtube, Google, Instagram, Reddit, 4/8Chan et al., have to collaborate and coordinate massive efforts to protect users, suppress fake news and promote truth.

The post In Mark Zuckerberg We Trust? The State and Future of Facebook, User Data, Cambridge Analytica, Fake News, Elections, Russia and You appeared first on ReadWrite.


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Facebook’s Phone-Scraping “Scandal” Just Shows How Little We Trust the Company

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Facebook hasn’t yet woken up from the ongoing PR nightmare brought on by Cambridge Analytica, and it may already be facing yet another: an Ars Technica investigation found that Facebook collected and stored data on Android phone users’ calls and texts, including phone numbers and length of calls.

The thing is, it doesn’t yet appear that Facebook broke any laws or used data without permission; rather, the data seems to have come by way of another unclear permission opt-in for Facebook apps. It’s shady, for sure, but the method may not be illegal or even nefarious (Facebook says it’s all aimed at improving users’ experience).

But the fact that we’re once again talking about it shows how far our trust in Facebook has fallen.

Cambridge Analytica was able to scrape data from millions of users because Facebook’s privacy rules at the time allowed its app to gather information not just from users, but also from their friends (of course, most Facebook users didn’t know that at the time).

Facebook was able to store call and text data from Android phones (but not other models) through a similar loophole, Ars Technica‘s investigation suggests. If Android users downloaded Facebook apps, like Messenger, in 2015, they granted those apps permission to access their contacts, and included call and message logs by default. Though Android later changed this permission structure, Facebook and other apps could continue to access calls and texts by specifying that they were written to the earlier software. That loophole stayed open until October 2017, when Google updated the way Androids stored their data.

Android users could purge that data, but they first had to know it was being collected. What’s more, Ars Technica found that even when they did so, contacts remained in the Facebook app’s contact management tool.

In a blog posted on March 25, Facebook retorted with a “fact check” of these claims, stating that call and text logging is only an opt-in feature that Android users have to specifically agree to when they install Messenger or Facebook Lite.

Yet Ars Technica states that this contradicts users’ experiences. Reporter Sean Gallagher notes that he never installed Messenger on his Android device, only the Facebook app, and that he never opted into call or SMS collecting. Yet there are still call logs from the time that Facebook was installed. That seems to be because opt-in was the default mode when those apps were installed.

Thanks to the Cambridge Analytica debacle, Facebook’s stock has already fallen dramatically. Users already feel negatively about Facebook, and other social media companies are becoming less popular with it. This suggests that social media users not longer trust Facebook, and that trust won’t be easy to regain — especially since yet another data collection scandal is dogging the company.

These back-to-back scandals also hint at something much more unsettling: that there could be more Cambridge Analyticas, more violations of users’ trust.

We haven’t yet learned about just how much data Facebook has collected — or is still collecting — about its users using sketchy privacy agreements. Indeed, the Federal Trade Commission announced on March 26 that it is opening an investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices, which could signal there are more reveals about the social media company ahead.

If you’re thinking of taking a break from social media for a while, you’re not the only one.

The post Facebook’s Phone-Scraping “Scandal” Just Shows How Little We Trust the Company appeared first on Futurism.


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How Raya’s $8/month dating app turned exclusivity into trust

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The swipe is where the similarity ends. Raya is less like Tinder and more like a secret society. You need a member’s recommendations or a lot of friends inside to join, and you have to apply with an essay question. It costs a flat $ 7.99 for everyone, women and celebrities included. You show yourself off with a video slideshow set to music of your choice. And it’s for professional networking as well as dating, with parallel profiles for each.

Launched in March 2015, Raya has purposefully flown under the radar. No interviews. Little info about the founders. Not even a profile on Crunchbase’s startup index. In fact, in late 2016 it quietly acquired video messaging startup Chime, led by early Facebooker Jared Morgenstern, without anyone noticing. He’d become Raya’s first investor a year earlier. But Chime was fizzling out after raising $ 1.2 million. “I learned the not everyone who leaves Facebook, their next thing turns to gold” Morgenstern laughs. So he sold it to Raya for equity and brought four of his employees to build new experiences for the app.

Now the startup’s COO, Morgenstern has agreed to give TechCrunch the deepest look yet at Raya, where the pretty, popular, and powerful meet each other.


Temptation Via Trust

Raya COO Jared Morgenstern

“Raya is a utility for introducing you to people who can change your life. Soho House uses physical space, we’re trying to use software” says Morgenstern, referencing the global network of members-only venues.

We’re chatting in a coffee shop in San Francisco. It’s an odd place to discuss Raya, given the company has largely shunned Silicon Valley in favor of building a less nerdy community in LA, New York, London, and Paris. The exclusivity might feel discriminatory for some, even if you’re chosen based on your connections rather than your wealth or race. Though people already self-segregate based on where they go to socialize. You could argue Raya just does the same digitally

Morgenstern refuses to tell me how much Raya has raised, how it started, or anything about its co-founder Mike McGuiness who owns LA public relations company the Co-Op Agency beyond that the team is a “Humble, focused group that prefers not to be part of the story.” But he did reveal some of the core tenets that have reportedly attracted celebrities like DJs Diplo and Skrillex, actors Elijah Wood and Amy Schumer, and musicians Demi Lovato and John Mayer, plus scores of Instagram models and tattooed creative directors.

Raya’s iOS-only app isn’t a swiping game for fun and personal validation. Its interface and curated community are designed to get you from discovering someone to texting if you’re both interested to actually meeting in person as soon as possible. Like at a top-tier university or night club, there’s supposed to be an in-group sense of comraderie that makes people more open to each other.

Then there are the rules.

“This is an intimate community with zero-tolerance for disrespect or mean-spirited behavior. Be nice to each other. Say hello like adults” says an interstitial screen that blocks use until you confirm you understand and agree every time you open the app. That means no sleazy pick-up lines or objectifying language. You’re also not allowed to screenshot, and you’ll be chastized with a numbered and filed warning if you do.

It all makes Raya feel consequential. You’re not swiping through infinite anybodies and sorting through reams of annoying messages. People act right because they don’t want to lose access. Raya recreates the feel of dating or networking in a small town, where your reputation follows you. And that sense of trust has opened a big opportunity where competitors like Tinder or LinkedIn can’t follow.

Self-Expression To First Impression

Until now, Raya showed you people in your city as well as around the world — which is a bit weird since it would be hard to ever run into each other. But to achieve its mission of getting you offline to meet people in-person, it’s now letting you see nearby people on a map when GPS says they’re at hotspots like bars, dancehalls, and cafes. The idea is that if you both swipe right, you could skip the texting and just walk up to each other.

“I’m not sure why Tinder and the other big meeting people apps aren’t doing this” says Morgenstern. But the answer seems obvious. It would be creepy on a big public dating app. Even other exclusive dating apps like The League that induct people due to their resume more than their personality might feel too unsavory for a map, since having gone to an Ivy League college doesn’t mean you’re not a jerk. Hell, it might make that more likely.

But this startup is betting that its vetted, interconnected, “cool” community will be excited to pick fellow Raya members out of the crowd to see if they have a spark or business synergy.

That brings Raya closer to the holy grail of networking apps where you can discover who you’re compatible with in the same room without risking the crash-and-burn failed come-ons. You can filter by age and gender when browsing social connections, or by “Entertainment & Culture”, “Art & Design”, and “Business & Tech” buckets for work. And through their bio and extended slideshows of photos set to their favorite song, you get a better understanding of someone than from just a few profile pics on other apps.

Users can always report people they’ve connected with if they act sketchy, though with the new map feature I was dismayed to learn they can’t yet report people they haven’t seen or rejected in the app. That could lower the consequences for finding someone you want to meet, learning a bit about them, but then approaching without prior consent. However, Morgenstern insists.”The real risk is the density challenge”.

Finding Your Tribe

Raya’s map doesn’t help much if there are no other members for 100 miles. The company doesn’t restrict the app to certain cities, or schools like Facebook originally did to beat the density problem. Instead it relies on the fact that if you’re in the middle of nowhere you probably don’t have friends on it to pull you in. Still, that makes it tough for Raya to break into new locales.

But the beauty of the business is that since all users pay $ 7.99 per month, it doesn’t need that many to earn plenty of money. And at less than the price of a cocktail, the subscription deters trolls without being unaffordable. Morgenstern says “The most common reason to stop your subscription: I found somebody.” That ‘success = churn’ equation drags on most dating apps. Since Raya has professional networking as well though, he says some people still continue the subscription even after they find their sweetheart.

“I’m happily in a relationship and I’m excited to use maps” Morgenstern declares. In that sense, Raya wants to expand those moments in life when you’re eager and open to meet people, like the first days of college. “At Raya we don’t think that’s something that should only happen when you’re single or when you’re twenty or when you move to a new city.”

The bottomless pits of Tinder and LinkedIn can make meeting people online feel haphazard to the point of exhaustion. We’re tribal creatures who haven’t evolved ways to deal with the decision paralysis and the anxiety caused by the paradox of choice. When there’s infinite people to choose from, we freeze up, or always wonder if the next one would have been better than the one we picked. Maybe we need Raya-like apps for all sorts of different subcultures beyond the hipsters that dominate its community, as I wrote in my 2015’s piece “Rise Of The Micro-Tinders”. But if Raya’s price and exclusivity lets people be both vulnerable and accountable, it could forge a more civil way to make a connection.

Mobile – TechCrunch

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iOS 11’s increased pairing security requires passcode for the “Trust This Computer” prompt

iOS 11 has introduced security-enhancing tweaks, including one that changes how trust is established between your computer and an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch connected to it…. Read the rest of this post here

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Drivers don’t trust Uber. This is how it’s trying to win them back.

The $ 70 billion ride-hail company is changing its ways to please its most important customers: Its drivers.

On a busy evening in February 2017, while America watched the New England Patriots face off against the Atlanta Falcons in the Superbowl, Uber’s former CEO Travis Kalanick was having his own sort of showdown.

It started off as a friendly UberBlack ride. Kalanick, who sat between two women in an SUV, shimmied to Maroon 5 as the driver, Fawzi Kamel, brought them to their destination.

It ended, however, with Kalanick and Kamel in a heated debate over pay. Kamel claimed the company lowered the fares on its premium black car service. Kalanick denied it.

“You know what,” Kalanick said to Kamel before he abruptly exited the car. “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else.”

The now infamous encounter, which was caught on video, validated the primary concern of Uber’s three million drivers: Kalanick — and, by extension, Uber — wasn’t listening to them.

A video still of Travis Kalanick in the back seat of an Uber ride, talking to the driver Screengrab from Bloomberg video

“Uber, can you hear me?”

Driver partners. That was, and still often is, what the combative CEO and Uber called the contractors operating on the $ 69 billion ride-hail company’s platform across the world.

To many of those drivers, however, after years of undercutting fares, raising commissions and refusing to listen to their demands, Uber was seen as less a partner and more a shadowy, money-hungry entity that fettered them to the company because of its hold on the market.

In spite of drivers’ many attempts to effect change through protests and sometimes lawsuits, the ride-hail company was rarely amenable to their requests or demands, often vehemently opposing some of the most-requested features from drivers, such as tipping.

Still, Uber insisted it cared about the drivers.

This year, however, circumstances forced Uber’s hand. Improving driver relations became more crucial than ever as competition grew and the supply of new drivers Uber could recruit or poach dwindled. Uber could no longer simply replace with new ones the sometimes dissatisfied drivers who left the platform. Maintaining its supply of existing drivers was an even more important factor in hitting profitability for a company that still loses $ 1.46 billion a quarter.

That was compounded by the series of scandals Uber faced in 2017 — from executive turnover to allegations of stolen trade secrets, all of which ultimately led to a drop in marketshare.

The company is in the midst up of an upheaval under the tutelage of its new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. With an eye on taking the company public in 2019, Khosrowshahi is attempting to atone for the sins of Uber’s past.

But the effort to rehabilitate the relationship with drivers started under Kalanick and buoyed the faltering employee morale following his ouster. There is no clearer illustration of Uber’s shift toward drivers than the introduction of tipping.

Kalanick, who focused much of his leadership on creating a top-of-the-line service for passengers, had long been concerned that riders would feel pressured into tipping their drivers and that it would result in a deterioration of the rider experience.

But in April 2017, a little more than a month after the video surfaced, Kalanick joined a dozen or so of his executives — including the company’s newly minted head of product, Daniel Graf, and the head of driver product, Aaron Schildkrout — to discuss adding tipping to the app. The meeting, which Schildkrout spearheaded, was a culmination of years of internal pressure on Kalanick to allow riders to have the option to tip their drivers.

By berating Kamel, the Uber driver, Kalanick had painted himself into a corner, and those staffers who had long fought for tipping seized on the opportunity. Schildkrout and his team of researchers, designers and product managers presented him with a series of charts and research that showed that the vast majority of riders and drivers wanted this feature, and that it could be done in a way that didn’t pressure riders.

“Travis and other people’s resistance to tipping was very much that they didn’t want it to become a sort of meaningless obligation where the platform … passes costs to the … purchasing customer,” Schildkrout told Recode in August.

More than that, it would show drivers that the company finally heard them. One-on-one meetings Kalanick had with the company’s chief economist John List and later with Schildkrout also served to convince the notoriously competitive CEO that tipping was a good idea.

With Kalanick’s blessing, Uber launched its tipping feature two months later.

In doing so, the company marked the beginning of a 180-day driver improvement campaign — a cross-company effort that Schildkrout, as well as Uber’s regional general manager of the U.S. and Canada, Rachel Holt, had been working on since the winter of 2016.

While that tipping conversation happened months into the company’s work on the driver improvement campaign, it’s emblematic of how people within the company leveraged Uber’s reputation issues to create a sense of urgency and fervency around making Uber for the first time ever a better opportunity for drivers.

Interviews with executives Uber made available as well as several former and current employees suggest this is a major shift within the company that had traditionally been primarily concerned with the rider experience.

The campaign was not without its missteps, and some drivers are still left wanting, but this was the first clear move by Uber to change not only the narrative but the actual workings of its driver operations.

The Year of the Driver

It wasn’t the first year the company tried to focus on the driver, but given the myriad scandals and an increasingly menacing business problem, 2017 had to be the year of the driver.

As they did before the start of every year, Uber executives, including Kalanick, began discussing what the priorities should be for 2017 toward the end of fall 2016.

To Holt and Schildkrout, focusing on driver retention was no longer just a moral obligation to treat drivers better, nor was it just about fixing the company’s image. It was a business problem and it was pressing.

As many of its markets, namely the U.S., matured, the ride-hail company came up against a huge challenge: There were fewer pools of people who were qualified and needed or wanted to drive for Uber that it hadn’t already contacted. Of those who did try driving for Uber, about 30 percent churned — stopped driving for the company — every quarter, several sources told Recode.

The company’s years of focusing primarily on new driver acquisition had caught up to it. Uber needed to figure out not just how to get new drivers, but how to keep them.

That problem was exacerbated by last year’s #deleteUber campaign that caused the ride-hail behemoth to cede considerable marketshare to its rival, Lyft. (Lyft, too, rolled out new driver features in lockstep with Uber.)

Uber drivers strike over fare cuts in New York. One holds a sign that reads, “Respect the Drivers.” Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images

So Uber began introducing new features aimed at making drivers’ experience easier and more seamless. In the first few months of the improvement campaign, the company attempted to answer drivers’ most frequent complaints: Tipping, pay transparency and customer support. The company also attempted to enhance its biggest value proposition for drivers: Flexibility.

And here’s what drivers got. As of December 2017, drivers received $ 200 million in tips. Compare that to Lyft, which has offered a tipping option since it was founded about six years ago and only just paid out $ 250 million in tips as of June 2017.

Drivers would be paid extra for long trips, they’d get an additional flat fee for every new pickup on an UberPool ride, be paid for every minute they waited for a passenger over two minutes and they’d have 24/7 phone support.

Other features were more about the process of driving and the kind of information drivers were getting.

By the company’s own admission, the specifics of what drivers were taking home versus what Uber was making was a black box. For instance, drivers have often complained about not knowing what their passengers paid and, at times, being paid less than what their riders tell them they’ve been charged.

So the company started offering some basic information drivers didn’t have before, specifically, the price of each fare (what the rider pays), how much they earned from each ride and any discounts or subsidies that may have been applied to each trip.

Astoundingly, prior to this change drivers had little idea what anyone was paying on each ride unless they asked the passenger.

According to the company, the volume of complaints or questions drivers have about pay and other features have decreased over the course of the campaign. However, the company would not disclose the difference between ticket volume before and after the campaign.

While some drivers recognized the effort the company was putting into making the experience better, others felt it was too little too late.

“Most drivers don’t feel the system is fair,” Cameron Kruger, who had been driving for Uber in New York City for more than a year and a half, told Recode in the days after the campaign first launched. “I’ll put it like this. You’re going to take away my three-bedroom house and you’re going to give me back planks of wood, and you’re going to build me little shacks and say, ‘See, here’s a little of this back.’”

There was always a question of whether the company was genuine in its efforts. To some, both internally and externally, it didn’t matter, so long as it made some improvements. But to Holt and Schildkrout, trust was a key factor in ensuring the campaign would be successful.

“Absolutely it needs to be genuine,” Holt told Recode. “I think it is. I really believe it is. I think we need drivers to feel that and our teams need to feel that.”

That wasn’t always an easy feat to accomplish under Kalanick, who was forced out of Uber in June. For years, he thought of the rider as Uber’s primary customer. Though many felt the driver video was a moment that humbled the pugnacious CEO more than any other — leading to his first public admission that he needed to grow up — the incident with the Uber driver indicated otherwise.

In the hours after the video was released, Kalanick and a few other executives broached the idea of apologizing and buying the driver’s cars to make it up to him.

Less than than 48 hours later, Kalanick faced the driver again. The executive got into a long debate with Kamel in a subsequent meeting set up for him to apologize, as Recode first reported.

Ahead of the meeting, Kalanick had intended to reach a rapprochement with the driver, these sources say. He and other executives — including Uber’s now Senior Vice President of Communications Jill Hazelbaker; Rachel Whetstone, the SVP of policy and comms at the time; Holt; Jeff Jones, the former president; and others — agreed he should meet with Kamel to apologize.

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick VCG / Getty

During that gathering, Kalanick and others suggested he use his own money to pay Kamel for the cost of his cars. Kamel owns two cars that operate on Uber’s platform under a black car business called West Coast Limos.

Since Kamel’s primary complaint with Kalanick was that Kamel bought cars to drive for Uber and had been losing money because of lowered fares, they discussed Kalanick possibly covering the depreciated value of the cars.

The meeting took place within two days after the video came to light. Kalanick was advised to apologize and immediately leave. Instead, Kalanick spent an hour or so with Kamel, sources say, to express his regret for how he behaved but also to talk through many of the same issues they discussed in the video.

Naturally, Kamel was upset in the aftermath of his original encounter with Kalanick. But a spokesperson for Kalanick said that the subsequent meeting was not argumentative and that it ended well. The spokesperson declined to comment on whether Kalanick gave Kamel any money.

However, Kalanick offered Kamel $ 200,000, Bloomberg News later reported.

At least one Uber executive was uncomfortable with the meeting. Kalanick was accompanied by Wayne Ting, the general manager of Uber’s Northern California operations at the time. After the meeting, Ting told a few executives at Uber that he was unable to get Kalanick to leave. Sources say he also expressed his frustration to leadership in an email and felt Kalanick acted irresponsibly.

Salle Yoo, the company’s former chief legal counsel, acted quickly and made it clear Kalanick had to invest his own money and broker a deal with his own legal counsel — not Uber’s.

Still, the driver improvement campaign went on as planned. Uber launched its crusade to retain drivers on June 22. A day later, under mounting pressure from major shareholders who were generally frustrated with his leadership, Kalanick formally resigned from the company.

A dozen deputies, including Holt, took the reins of Uber. Under them, the driver improvement campaign became the rallying cry of the company.

Growth über alles

Many of Uber’s problems in 2017 stemmed from its obsession with growth. Expanding its business and growing its marketshare often came at the cost of operational needs, such as providing human resources with training and tools to properly deal with employee issues. Some say that is what led to the company’s mismanagement of the sexism and harassment claims Susan Fowler detailed in her essay.

That was also the case, Holt said, when it came to creating a good experience for drivers.

“From the time I was there, growth has been a huge focus and priority,” Holt, who joined Uber in 2011, said. “In trying to keep up with the growth and keep pace with what was happening in the business, the focus on, ‘How do we create the most compelling driver experience?’ just wasn’t top of mind for us as much as it should’ve been.”

Instead, Uber invested all of its time and resources in recruiting new drivers and relatively little on retaining drivers. The company ran a sophisticated and often expensive driver recruitment campaign. The idea was drivers would use the service that had more riders and in turn more rides. By that logic, all Uber had to do was continue to recruit new drivers while it focused on making its service as efficient and convenient as possible for passengers.

Uber used a combination of subsidies, promotions and a process called slogging — singling out drivers on competing services such as Lyft to convert them to Uber drivers — to grow its driver pool.

“We’ve always put a lot of energy to figure out the best possible way to get drivers on the road,” Schildkrout told Recode last August. “Many innovations have occurred in the on-boarding space from how we just get people interested in the platform in the first place from advertising to convincing riders that they should try to become drivers and referrals and so forth.”

Once a driver joined the platform, Uber would funnel more rides to the newcomers or to lapsed drivers using specialized software in an effort to show how robust the service was, or in the case of lapsed drivers, to encourage them to continue driving for Uber, sources familiar told Recode.

The company regularly experimented with ways to ease the process for new drivers. Other examples include initially limiting UberPool requests until the driver got used to the platform. The company says it is not currently experimenting with funneling rides to new or returning drivers.

But after completing their first five to 10 rides, for most drivers the number of ride requests would drop. So too would much of the company’s efforts to keep them on the platform.

“I think we have done not nearly enough to support them to be successful drivers,” Schildkrout said in August. “So I would say we still have a long, long way to go in this area and we have significant-sized teams now focused on solving those problems.”

Starting over

Uber had lost the trust of both the public and a large proportion of its employees as it grappled with the many public scandals of 2017. Morale was low as employees saw the ouster of Kalanick, the co-founder and company’s primary evangelist.

Though some lamented his departure, others saw this as an opportunity to start fresh.

For the first time, teams across Uber were focused on making good on their promises to drivers instead of just figuring out how to win at all costs and grow the business. The campaign was the first cross-functional effort of its kind, Holt told Recode, banding together Uber’s operations, engineering, marketing and other teams.

In an email to staff introducing the campaign, obtained by Recode, Schildkrout and Holt called for the full collaboration of all of Uber’s employees.

“Without drivers Uber wouldn’t exist, and, if we are honest with ourselves, over the last few years — as we’ve raced to keep pace with our own tremendous growth — we have not fully delivered on what it means to be a partner,” the email read. “This is changing — starting today.”

It became the reason many of its employees across these functions stayed, according to many sources.

“I think we have a privileged moment where the business need and the moral need are perfectly aligned,” Schildkrout told Recode.

Schildkrout, the co-founder of dating site HowAboutWe, has worn many hats since he joined Uber in 2015. He started as the head of data and made his way across the company as the head of growth and then the head of rider product. As it happens, the head of driver product would be his last role at Uber.

Schildkrout, who had been considering taking time away from the company before the campaign, was among those who stayed at Uber to see the driver improvement project through. Just a day after Uber launched the last part of its 180-day driver improvement campaign in December, he announced he was leaving the company.

“This last year of work to transform our relationship with drivers has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life,” Schildkrout wrote in an internal email announcing his departure.

The company is hoping that the steady drumbeat of new features for drivers will help build a more solid foundation for their frayed relationship.

But the elephant in the room, drivers told Recode, are the low fares.

“They can’t earn our trust because the way they broke our trust is by lowering the fares,” said Kruger, a New Jersey-based driver who has a 4.96 rating — that’s good. “To make us feel good you’re going to give us rider compliments? That doesn’t pay my bills.”

However, there’s little chance Uber will raise the rates at which it pays its drivers. The company argues higher fares would drive down volume, ultimately resulting in the same or less income.

One driver in the Bay Area, Daryl Townsend, has been driving since 2014 and says if the fare goes any lower he’ll stop using Uber.

“It was good when it started,” Townsend told Recode. “Driving for Uber kind of feels like the Titanic. Each time it’s getting worse and worse and worse. The point of that is you have to be intelligent and know what you’re doing. It is getting worse. It’s going from $ 40 to $ 30 and some days you only make $ 25 an hour.”

Overall sentiment, however, is improving. Over the course of the campaign, Uber surveyed select drivers after each new batch of features was launched. By November 2017, favorability among drivers improved about 7 percent since the campaign started in June, according to internal charts Recode obtained. Churn, Uber said, has improved too but wouldn’t say by how much.

Though the company is optimistic about the impact the campaign is having, a single moment clearly illustrated the frailty of its driver relationship. In the third month of the company’s campaign — which focused on promoting flexibility — Uber introduced a number of improvements around its driver destination feature.

The feature allows drivers to specify a location they want to reach, allowing them to maximize their time and accept rides that are going in that direction, especially when they want to finish working for the day and head home.

Previously, the company allowed drivers to do this only twice a day. After testing the feature in some cities and seeing little degradation to wait times, the company increased that to six. According to Schildkrout, Uber even contemplated allowing drivers to pick as many destinations as they wanted every day.

But upon launching the additional driver destinations and heavily marketing that to drivers, Uber quickly realized that it was hurting its marketplace.

In some cities, a few routes were not being serviced because drivers’ destination preferences took supply away from certain routes. It also increased the time it took to pick up passengers.

After attempting to solve the problem with subtle changes — such as setting drop-offs as anything within a mile of the driver destination — Schildkrout and an emergency response team realized it was getting worse.

In a matter of days, Uber rolled back driver destinations from six per day to two in those cities. Still, because the company had marketed the feature so heavily and drivers liked it so much, those problems persisted in markets where usage was still very high. So, the company added additional limitations during specific times — such as peak hours.

For drivers, this was a clear moment of Uber going back on its word. The promises they’d been making since the start of the campaign meant nothing. Uber would always pick the marketplace over them.

But Schildkrout insisted the deterioration of the marketplace also hurt drivers. Higher ETAs to pick up riders meant fewer rides for drivers and more time driving without a fare.

“Building trust with drivers is of the absolute utmost importance,” he told Recode. “Going back on this feature was not something that we took lightly, and unless we were extremely sure that it was not good for anybody — riders or drivers — we would never have done it. And we’re working incredibly hard to come up with something that’s better for both riders and drivers that meets driver’s needs for deep flexibility.”

The company has been working on new and more refined features, he said, that actually respond more specifically to the needs of drivers instead of a feature that acts as a one-size fits all solution to the desire to have more control.

Still, Schildkrout spent a good deal of his time responding directly to drivers who tweet at him.

This moment, deep into the campaign, illustrated how fraught Uber’s relationship with its drivers still was. The question of whether the company was actually listening to them remains at the heart of the issue.

“They’re trying to paint lipstick on a pig,” Townsend told Recode of the destination filter rollback. “They haven’t really changed but they’re saying they have.”

Uber contends it is listening to the drivers. In fact, the process to come up with new features proves they’re listening, sources inside the company said, because it starts with driver feedback.

The company has a squadron of researchers who embed with the driver team and gather qualitative and quantitative data through driver interviews and other methods. That team works to bridge the gap between what drivers say they want and what features the company can actually develop that would solve those pain points.

That, for example, was how driver destinations and driver profiles were originally conceived. For destinations, drivers said they wanted more flexibility and control over where and when they drove.

Driver profiles, on the other hand, came out of complaints about rider behavior. Drivers wanted riders to behave better and respect them more. The profile, which tells riders about the driver and features any compliments other riders might’ve given them, was an attempt at humanizing the rider-driver relationship.

Each part of the process, the company contends, responds to specific driver issues and feedback such as earnings transparency. Moreover, Uber employees are now encouraged to drive on the platform to get a first-hand feel for what it would take to feel truly like a partner.

The campaign may have ended officially but Uber’s work is not over. The company concedes that this was about getting the fundamentals of the relationship right so that it could continue to improve and innovate upon the driver experience.

“We’re going to continue to drive this as a core priority,” Holt said. “That won’t change as we are starting to move the needle in a really meaningful way in terms of the results we’re seeing from the campaign.”

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Facebook’s trust survey isn’t too short — but it is written badly

The recent disclosure of Facebook’s media trust survey caused a lot of hand-wringing about its brevity and format. To wit:

I have no qualms about the length of the survey. The longer a survey takes to complete, the less time participants spend per question and the higher the drop-off rate. Less time spent per question leads to careless answers. Thus, a short survey is, ostensibly, a considered and completed survey. For their paean to minimalism, I salute the team behind this survey. However, the problem here isn’t that the survey is short. Rather, the two survey…

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Last Friday, Facebook announced two key changes to the News Feed: one, it would reduce the amount of news in the News Feed from roughly 5 percent to 4 percent; and two, it would begin taking into account how trusted a publisher is when ranking it in the feed. Trust levels are to be determined by a survey, and today BuzzFeed’s Alex Kantrowitz got ahold of it. The survey consists of two questions:

Do you recognize the following websites?

– Yes

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– Entirely

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Journalists noted that this was not a particularly comprehensive survey. ”People could game this survey,” said the FT’s Hannah Kuchler. ”I’ve filled out more robust surveys at fast food…

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OnePlus released two great smartphones in 2017, but the smartphone startup is facing more and better competition than ever before. That's great for you and me, but much trickier for a startup still trying to carve out a notable niche for itself. What…
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How to gain consumer trust for your ICO launch in 2018

Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) offer an attractive, alternative form of fundraising, harnessing cyber currencies instead of approaching banks and VCs. 2017 saw more than 200 ICOs raise a combined total of over $ 3 billion as early-stage startups, and investors have jumped in with two feet. However, while the prospect of raising money without having to sign your life away to bankers, or enter the VC ‘shark tank’ may make early stage startups’ mouths water, companies raising through ICOs still have to convince individuals to invest in their projects. And with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) having charged a number of…

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