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.

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How Comcast’s Xfinity Home is using Analytics and more to Drive Business Decisions

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By: Comcast’s Shuvankar Roy, vice president, Xfinity Home and Neeraj Grover, director of business analytics and reporting, Xfinity Home

Q: Why are analytics right to use to drive business decisions?

A: Analytics can help to identify the actual pain points in many parts of the business, including the customer journey. By using analytics, it’s easy to prioritize initiatives and avoid making decisions based on hypothesis, with no evidence to back up your work. Data offers significant insights into your business and can help you to course correct, as needed. Additionally, data can help you to define goals, make forecasts based on trends, patterns or the season.

To give an example, we here at Comcast are hyper-focused on customer satisfaction. For us, it is imperative to gain insights into our customers’ interactions with our front-line employees, such as technicians and customer service representatives, to help serve them better. Measuring the net promoter score or NPS at all levels including transactional, products, and employees help us to identify pain points that customers may experience from our service and products. Without these insights, we would not be able to improve or change processes and better serve our customers at every level.

Q: What type of analytics are essential?

A: To a large extent it depends on the maturity of the organization. To start with, you need Business Intelligence tools to identify and measure leading and lagging indicators. With this level of analysis, you will be able to understand what is driving an uptick and what may be causing a downward spiral.With Business Intelligence, your organization will be able to start predicting what is happening and provide corrections as needed.

As the organization matures and starts collecting more and better quality data, consider digging deeper beneath the numbers by using machine learning algorithms. These can provide further insights into top factors impacting your KPIs and help come up with a few “if-then” solutions that may help improve your metrics. We recommend testing each solution separately to see if the outcome actually enhances the indicators you want to influence.  The tests help foray from predictive into prescriptive analytics.

A particular type of Analytics can also be used for specific applications. For instance, Artificial Intelligence when paired with chatbots can offer your customers immediate access to assistance, and the text analytics can also help provide insights into areas that may need improvement.

Adoption of technology that leverages analytics to solve issues could become the critical differentiating factor to improve service delivery.

Q: With so much data/analytics that exist within a company, what are some best practices to narrow down the data that matter the most?

A: We see three factors of success for any projects: rely on extensive domain knowledge, be very skeptical of visible past trends and don’t  overanalyze,

Providing enough domain knowledge at each step of the way is key to identifying the most relevant data for any analytics study. The structure that works the best for us is having the analytics and business intelligence teams work carefully (or at times embedded) within the business units. This ensures that there is participation from subject matter experts to provide real-time feedback as insights are provided. The input and validation from SMEs ensure that the right data elements are being considered.

The other factor is to be very skeptical of apparent past trends as market conditions evolve. Lastly, avoid over analysis. In some cases getting 80 percent, accurate data is sufficient to understand directional and correct patterns which can help you make timely decisions. Avoid the pitfall of ensuring 100 percent accuracy as you may miss the opportunity to course correct in time.

Q: What type of business decisions can be made based on analytics?

A: Many decisions can be made based on analytics, but it’s important to look at the whole picture such as market conditions and what’s going on in the world. As you begin to make decisions based on analytics keep in mind these key points:

Analytics may be wrong sometimes as correlation is different from causation so take immediate corrective actions when you realize the change that was implemented is not working. Don’t be afraid to pivot and move on to another solution.

Prioritize analytics initiatives based on business goals. You can get a lot of data, and there may be many areas that need to be fixed, but you can’t do it all so narrow in on the few that will make the most significant impact to your business and go from there.

At times, be sure to complement data with other approaches. Sometimes it’s essential to conduct a few focus groups or review processes to find the triggers leading to the lagging data.

Q: Can you share an example where you made some critical business decisions based on the analytics?

A: Losing customers or churn is a measure that is key to most businesses. A while back our team leveraged decision trees and other machine learning algorithms to predict the type of customers that may have a high propensity to churn, and we identified key factors that led to it. The outcome of the machine learning algorithms identified customer engagement – the lack of activity and usage with the service – as the most impactful predictor of customer churn.

The importance of this factor led our teams to dig deeper into customers’ engagement with their services, their tenure, the services they have subscribed, and their preferred channels of engagement with us. This led to further insights into how our customers engage with each product and what service delivery steps could help drive customers to have a better experience. Ultimately, we found that customers who participate with or used the product(s) regularly led to more satisfaction with their service, which lowered churn.

Xfinity Home touch-screen

As the IoT space expands with more and more devices in a secured and connected home, the value for AI to help further improve customer service will be imperative.  Machine learning supported chatbots will become more sophisticated as they can scan for any system issues or other similar customer issues and quickly help to resolve and respond to customers. This level of customer care and service can be provided at an increased scale and response time will be quicker without adding to the cost of operations –the cost to provide the best customer service may even decrease.

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IoT Adoption Is Weaker Than It Should Be

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Never underestimate the fickleness of a tech enthusiast. Drop $ 100 on an Amazon Echo? No problem. Pay about half that for a smart lightbulb like LIFX Color? Not a chance.

Frankly, price isn’t the reason only one in 10 households is connected via the Internet of Things. Rather, Gartner’s 2016 survey found that 75 percent of consumers are content to leave their recliners to manually adjust the thermostat or blinds. Give up Alexa? No way — Americans love their smart speakers, with 42 percent calling them “essential” for daily life. Yet they’re indifferent to the many IoT innovations that make smart speakers worthwhile.

So what’s going on? Are Americans no longer dreaming of the Jetsons-esque future they once were? Or are tech firms simply struggling to get the word out about their IoT offerings?

Well, considering that tech companies sink more of their revenues into marketing than those in any other sector, the issue isn’t consumer unawareness. In fact, it’s a trio of issues — clumsy integrations with the user’s life, lacking data security and privacy protections, and dubious value propositions — that can’t be solved simply by boosting budgets or buying ads. To up the adoption ante, IoT firms need to learn some important lessons in product design and consumer protection.

Making IoT Adoption a No-Brainer, Not a Migraine

Part of the reason Americans aren’t adopting IoT devices en masse is that IoT integrations take work. A “Star Trek”-worthy home simply isn’t a priority for a young mother chasing down sleep, no matter how much she loves technology.

Instead of removing barriers for that mother — “eliminating the jump,” so to speak — most IoT companies expect her to wade through jargon, create new accounts, and fumble with supposedly cooperative interfaces. Part of this is inherent to IoT products, which must coordinate with other software or hardware, but the bottom line is that consumers crave simplicity.

Unsurprisingly, the tech companies that make adoption easiest tend to be the ones with the most adopted products. Everyone uses Google products, for example, because they play so well together. When I ask Google Home to add events to my calendar, I love that it also pushes reminders to my phone or smartwatch. It’s seamless, smart, and hype-worthy.

Expect IoT companies to become better at fueling the hype engine. Not only will they learn to master the “efficient handshake,” bringing easier-to-use products to market more efficiently, but they’ll tap tools like Kickstarter to secure buy-in from fans, creating trust through transparency and a sense of shared investment.

Putting Consumers in the Data Driver’s Seat

Even IoT companies that make adoption easy, however, face a trust barrier. Consumers have seen connected Jeeps hacked on the highway, cardiac implants compromised, baby monitors broken into, and more.

Although stronger device security is paramount to greater adoption, IoT companies must go a step further: They need to put consumers in control of their own data. People who’ve put their trust in an IoT company shouldn’t have to jump through hoops or pay to “request” their own data. And they certainly shouldn’t have to parse legal documents just to discover how the IoT company will share that data.

Right now, when an IoT user shares their information, they’re essentially surrendering it for sake of marketing. Customers avoid doing so because not only do they not benefit, but they also put their data at risk of being stolen or used against them later by an insurer, employer, or financier. The IoT world needs something akin to the restaurant and ride-sharing industries’ online rating systems. Both users and businesses in those sectors derive value from customers sharing their experiences.

Even IoT health and wellness companies, which have an even greater responsibility to be good data hosts than their peers, can’t claim to put users in control of their own data. Fitness tracking companies, including Fitbit, were caught flat-footed when InformationWeek reported that their accompanying apps leaked customer information and left the door open to data forgery. For Fitbit or any other IoT company, better data stewardship could be a real differentiator.

Distinguishing Between Distractions and Enhancements

Data protections, however, can’t solve the problem of gimmicky IoT products. Voice apps that work with Amazon Echo or Google Home may be cool, for example, but do consumers really need them? Evidently, consumers don’t think so, with just 3 percent of first-time users continuing to use the apps two weeks later.

That’s the ugly truth about many IoT devices: They just don’t solve a real consumer pain point. If more than one in 10 homes is to be connected to the IoT, then costly “smart home” products must do more than just dim the lights.

Take robot vacuums, which operate — and provide fodder for amusing cat videos — in 20 percent of homes. Even that isn’t a great adoption rate, considering how long they’ve been available, but there’s a reason they’re twice as common as connected homes. Everyone sees value in a machine that can autonomously pick up dust from his floors.

IoT is still a young market, but it needs to flush out the offerings destined to go nowhere. A simple safeguard is a “shoe first” strategy that allows stakeholders to try out prototypes. Tech firms tend to be great at prototyping for the stakeholders, but they all too often forget about consumers. Consumers tend to think about “cool” when testing a product, while stakeholders often consider things like adoption, data security, and iterative potential.

So is the world ready for the IoT? More so, I think, than today’s adoption numbers imply. The truth is that many IoT companies aren’t creating secure products with real value and customer data protections. The products that tick those boxes best are being adopted, but they’re in the minority. Until that changes, don’t expect IoT adoption rates to, either.

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The Top 10 CRM Companies for Business Owners

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The market has become flooded with customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, making it incredibly difficult to narrow the field enough to find the right CRM software for your needs. If you have a good idea of what you’re looking for, however, the sheer number of options can be beneficial, allowing you to zero in and find the perfect fit.

Every business — theoretically, at least — has customers, but that doesn’t mean that every business needs a CRM. There are, however, a few different business models that will be able to realize significant benefits from an investment in CRM software. Those with sales teams will have an advantage when it comes to finding patterns in consumer behavior, and a CRM will help them identify the most effective steps of the sales funnel — as well as those that need more work.

A CRM solution will also help identify the most promising leads so your team doesn’t accidentally let them slip through the cracks. Any business that needs to market itself will benefit from these insights and the improved ROI brought about through a CRM, as will businesses looking to automate certain tasks that are taking valuable time away from other functions in the organization.

If your business needs to track leads, rank them, improve the sales funnel, and become more efficient, a CRM is a good place to start. There are hundreds of options out there. I’ve(or my team) has tried over 60 different CRM software tools. We decided to tell you which ones are the best according to us. To make things easier, this is post and list is more geared towards small to medium sized business owners.  

Top 10 CRM Companies for Business Owners

  1. HubSpot

HubSpot’s free version offers what is essentially an intro to CRM solutions, complete with an abundance of training guides and resources.

HubSpot Academy gives users access to valuable classes and certification programs to educate them on all aspects of running a business.

HubSpot takes the top spot, however, because of its wide-ranging capabilities — the CRM core has specific hubs for sales, marketing, and customer experience to bring the different sides and needs of a business together, eliminating silos.

  1. Spiro

Spiro’s secret sauce lies in its AI capabilities, which can speed up information processing and yield more effective relationships with clients. The solution also comes with a bot that can compile data from various sources, such as calendars and emails, to provide sales personnel with a to-do list that’s always up-to-date.

It also handles the data entry aspects of sales, freeing salespeople up to spend time nurturing relationships without losing the valuable data embedded in each call — in fact, Spiro’s reports have eight times the data richness of other reports.

  1. Hatchbuck

An ideal option for small business users, Hatchbuck helps manage contacts and automates follow-ups, tracking individuals as they move through the sales funnel and alerting you when prospects are ready to make a purchase.

Having sales and marketing working together prevents leads from going unnoticed, and this solution will get the job done without having to pay for more than what your small business truly needs.

Best of all, its integration with Zapier means small businesses don’t have to give up the tools they’re already using, and the platform provides smart insights into the sales and marketing data it collects.

  1. Salesforce

Salesforce’s cloud-based CRM solution offers an option that can cater to both enterprises and small businesses. Salesforce offers plenty of features and functionalities, including advanced analytics powered by its Einstein AI, project management tools, and customizable dashboards.

Its Customer Success Platform offers powerful apps that can help businesses develop a consistent e-commerce customer experience and collaborate on campaigns.

  1. ONTRAPORT

ONTRAPORT offers the “most powerful visual marketing automation and reporting platform in the world,” enabling small businesses to map their customer journey and utilize data to create visuals of trends and patterns.

Its Projection Mode uses predictive intelligence to anticipate what prospects and customers will do next and make decisions based on data. The platform’s automated workflow tools aim to help brands measure their work rather than create more of it.

  1. Insightly

Insightly is a great option for midsize businesses, and it offers a free edition so users can try the product out; Insightly also offers paying users upgraded features to keep it relevant as businesses grow and become more complex.

The platform provides relationship maps to help businesses adopt the best approach and tracks contacts’ contacts, creating organizational hierarchies to streamline communication. Insightly also automates workflows and creates milestones to keep teams on track.

  1. Zoho CRM

While it doesn’t offer the same degree of customization as many competitors, Zoho is a great value with an intuitive, user-friendly interface, making it possible to implement without bringing in a developer.

In addition, Zoho has a full suite of other business apps that will work seamlessly with its CRM. Its ominchannel focus features a conversational AI, Zia, as well as SalesSignals, which streamlines notifications and ensures businesses hit every customer touchpoint.

  1. Agile CRM

An affordable SaaS solution, Agile allows a team of up to 10 users to manage a collective group of 50,000 contacts for free.

Compared to other CRMs that can cost thousands of dollars per month, Agile CRM’s enterprise version is quite a value at less than $ 50 per user per month. Its all-in-one CRM package aligns messaging across an entire company and seals data leaks so organizations can make the most of their information. The CRM automatically creates tasks for salespeople and automates marketing features, helping teams save time.

  1. Pipedrive

Pipedrive is created with small business owners in mind, and the speedy setup and intuitive design mean that no training is required. The “light-touch sales platform” ensures businesses can get started using the product minutes after setup, and it uses a visual display to show how deals in the pipeline are progressing and help salespeople pinpoint their to-do tasks and deadlines.

Pipedrive’s automated tracking eliminates time spent on admin processes, and it builds action steps around what will move things forward in the sales funnel. Its strongest feature is its ability to be customized, allowing small businesses to fit the platform to their processes.

  1. SugarCRM

With a separate open-source edition that’s ideal for developers, SugarCRM differentiates itself with lots of custom options and exceptional customer service. It’s also supported on many different operating systems besides Windows and Mac OS, including Linux and Unix.

The CRM boasts the highest Net Promoter Score across major CRM providers; its Hint feature speeds up research prior to calls, and the platform collects information across the sales, marketing, and service functions to create consistency.

The exploding market for CRM solutions makes finding the right one difficult, but their popularity also shows how effective they can be. For businesses of all sizes, the right CRM software can transform an inefficient, disorganized process into a well-oiled, automated machine.

Start your CRM search with this list, and don’t hesitate to try a few out. Taking the time to find the perfect fit will pay off in the long run.

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5 Unexpected Ways Apple’s ARKit Is Changing the Customer Experience Across Industries

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Apple’s ARKit has great implications for e-commerce. It’s the next best thing to literally trying before you buy, and you can do it anywhere you have your iPhone with you. Thanks to AR, consumers get a better feel for products before purchasing, increasing cart checkout totals and reducing returns.

But the capabilities of AR promise big things for other industries, too. Here are five surprising ARKit applications that are changing the customer experience for the better.

1. Car Showrooms

Thanks to e-commerce and review sites, the car industry has been slowly shifting to be more customer friendly.

Augmented created a virtual showroom experience of a Mercedes sedan using ARKit. Users can walk around the car, open and close doors, and try out different paint colors, allowing them to get a feel for the car without having a pushy salesman breathing down their shoulder.

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Once they choose a model and color, users can take it for a test drive with Vincenzo, and imagine what the car would look like parked next to their apartment building.

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2. Ordering Food

Alper Guler of Kabaq Food Technologies created a food ordering app that helps users envision ordering food at a restaurant.

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It’s easy to apply the same technology to food delivery and meal kit services like Blue Apron. If consumers can imagine what the finished meal will look like on their table at home, they might be more quick to order or subscribe.

3. Event Marketing

At Disney’s D23 expo this summer, Steve Lukas dropped a “live” Mickey Mouse in front of the conference entrance.

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Companies can do something similar to enhance their brand presence at events, creating a virtual game or scavenger hunt experience to direct attendees their way.

4. Online Tutorials

Whether they’re hardcore DIYers or just want to take on a new craft project, one thing that gives customers pause is whether they’ll be able to actually assemble the final advertised product. Online tutorial videos exploded in recent years to help address this problem.

AR transfers the tutorial from YouTube to your very own craft table or garage, helping you put the product together yourself. Artists can gain inspiration from AR experiences like this one, which shows a friendly blob creature drawing a flower according to your command:

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5. Product Promotion

From logo decals to product samples, companies are always thinking up new ways to give you freebies along with what you purchased. AR unlocks yet another freebie option, allowing customers to bring the brand to life in their own home. For example, upcoming DVD releases of Star Wards might come with an AR version of BB-8 to watch the film alongside the purchaser:

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Alternately, brands can delight customers and cement their loyalty by doing crazy things with their product, like raining endless cans of La Croix down on the floor:

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Conclusion

ARKit will come to all iPhones this fall. Until then, stay up to date with the latest ARKit developments by following MadeWithARKit, a Twitter account and blog showcasing the best submissions so far.

Michael Quoc is the founder & CEO of Dealspotr, an open shopping platform bringing together up-and-coming brands, influencers, and savvy shoppers around today’s best deals. He was previously the Director of Product Management for Yahoo’s media lab, spearheading the launch of several innovative live video and mobile social networking services. Michael has been awarded nine patents relating to mobile and social network applications and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelquoc.

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How Is Technology Going to Change Facebook Ads?

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facebook-f8

Facebook ads are a combination of marketing and technology that some love, some hate, and some simply don’t understand. What’s sometimes seen as a creatively fueled marketing platform is driven by a lot of science — data, metrics, and an ad performance-oriented auction system prove Facebook ads are about technology before anything else.

In 2017, Facebook ads drove nearly $ 27 billion in sales, a 57 percent increase from 2015. Facebook revealed that 84 percent of its money comes from mobile ads. Both stats indicate that Facebook ads will continue to drive traffic and sales and become integral parts of most brands’ marketing efforts.

But the platform can’t remain stagnant, and brands will need to be prepared. How will technology continue to influence Facebook ads and impact brands’ outcomes? Cat Howell, the founder and CEO of Eight Loop Social, a social media strategy firm that specializes in Facebook advertising, offered a few predictions.

Bots will continue to play a bigger role.

Facebook has enabled marketers to use its instant messaging platform, Messenger, as a way to communicate directly with users interacting with their ads. Here, bots often take over, allowing advertisers to automate their sales or lead qualification processes — the bots can do everything from answer basic customer questions to send promo codes. Marketers simply need to “train” the bots via workflows and scripts.

Howell doesn’t see this bot influence slowing down anytime soon. “AI is even doing creative at this stage,” she says. “But the AI needs to be managed — people still need to set objectives and put parameters in place so the AI knows what to do. It’s all about how you communicate the results or the ROI of the AI’s efforts.”

Does this mean AI will replace Facebook marketers? Howell says they’ll still be needed, but the role will shift; Facebook marketers will simply need to expand their skill sets to use the data from bots. “The role will require data analysis and an understanding of whether the bot is working correctly; Facebook marketers will need to report back to management and clients the outcomes and payoffs,” she explains. “Three people may have been managing an account, and then it will become just one. But that one will provide needed human analysis.”

Reporting will become more robust.

The ROI metrics of Facebook ads would ultimately stay the same; those running Facebook ads are consumed with one thing: How much business is this generating for me? They want to know whether the platform is driving business or awareness and how much each click is costing them. Howell anticipates that although the metrics won’t change, reporting will become more robust.

“When you put automation in place, you’ll pick up on issues happening in sales funnels a lot faster than you can with humans because a human may not understand how to manually interpret that data,” she says. “One thing that’s really cool with AI running ads at the moment that’s hard for humans to replicate is making mass duplicate ads at a scale humans can’t manage.”

They can also manage split tests a lot better, resulting in faster, more thorough comparisons. “Bots are getting great results because they can do testing on a great scale humans can’t at volume,” Howell explains. “Humans on the back end need to identify the end goal, such as where traffic is going, and direct the bot. But bots are understanding exactly what bids others are putting out into market and how they’re winning auctions.”

Facebook’s invasive nature will benefit users.

While people have expressed discomfort about the invasive nature of Facebook, they’re not likely to do anything differently — there are too many benefits. “Facebook Payments is in beta right now and would operate straight through Messenger,” Howell says. “A lot of people are on the fence because they don’t want to give Facebook too many details. Others feel Facebook already knows so much about them, what’s one credit card number?”

People, she says, adapt to change, particularly when it creates more convenience, and this is reflected in the high adoption rates of the Facebook and Messenger apps. And this applies to businesses, too. “Consumerism is only going up, not down. We’re becoming monsters when it comes to consumerism. It’s why everyone wants to advertise on Facebook,” Howell says.

But she does predict that the increasing amount of information being gathered on Facebook’s huge user base is to going to lead to a focus on creating customized experiences for each user. “Budgets will definitely be funneled in that direction,” Howell says. “People want to make sure they’re not leaving any money on the table when it comes to business automation. Marketers are now held accountable to specific results, and they have to track outcomes and create ties between certain actions and revenue streams. Customized experiences, based on data, will fill the gap in showing how specific actions lead to specific outcomes.”

What’s next? A concierge service, Howell believes. “Facebook has so much data on us that it’s only a matter of time before Facebook will start telling people what to do when they’re traveling in other cities, whom they should date — Facebook would really know the kind of person someone’s into. Facebook’s AI is going to start talking to personal AIs like Siri.”

She says ads show how much Facebook knows about us; combining that knowledge with predictive AI will make Facebook a part of our lives beyond our news feed. “The only competitor who could do something similar based on our usage is Amazon,” Howell explains. “If it has a pixel — Instagram, email, etc. — Facebook can use it and go to another level in influencing our lives and matching us with certain things.”

Facebook ads may, at the end of the day, focus on getting brands a piece of the market. But the platform’s emphasis on data and metrics will strengthen — more bots, better reporting, and a concierge service may all be part of the future presented by Facebook’s ad platform. Facebook’s fingers will reach further into our lives, but we just may welcome it.

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6 Ways to Make Buying a House More Affordable in This Tech Age

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Colorful residential row houses in US capital before sunset in late autumn.

If you feel that buying a house has become less affordable in recent years, it’s not your imagination. A Harvard University study found that nearly 40 million Americans live in housing they can’t afford, meaning they’re spending more than 30 percent of their income on the place they own or rent. That represents a 146 percent increase over the past 16 years.

As the Harvard study found, home prices have gone up — by as much as 50 percent in some areas — but wages haven’t maintained the same pace. That means millions of Americans who dream of owning a home have felt themselves hampered by not just student debt and credit card debt but also by their reduced buying power.

The trick, then, is to find ways to make buying a house more affordable — and most of these have nothing to do with your income. Over the past six months I purchased a new home and then sold my old home. I’ve learned a lot about how to find homes online. In todays tech age buying a house is possible and finding the right deal is possible. Here is how I did it.

  1. Cut the commission.

Commission on real estate transactions sits at just over 5 percent nationwide. That’s a big chunk of change to fork over right as you’re moving into a new home that may need repairs or furnishing. Some people avoid commission by working with a friend who’s a realtor — and willing to give up his or her agent or broker fees.

Another option is to use a service like Beycome, which removes the middleman (aka the realtor) and allows buyers and sellers to interact directly. The platform digitizes the standard FSBO transaction by helping with listings, scheduling home tours, and finalizing the deal with a contract.

  1. Boost your credit score.

It’s no secret that a higher credit score results in a lower interest rate. Boosting your credit score from “fair” to “good,” for example, could make mortgage payments feasible — and improving your credit score could also help you qualify for loans or lines of credit for things you may want to do to the house in the future, such as replace furniture or build an addition.

To raise your score, pay all your bills on time, keep your credit card balances low, and avoid opening up new lines of credit when possible — every “hard pull” on your credit affects your score.

  1. Look for the best numbers.

Don’t settle for the first loan rate you’re given — shop around to see which lender can give you the lowest rate. Some people successfully counter one lender’s offer with another’s to get the rate they want with the lender they want. The other number you can look to lower alongside your interest rate is your down payment; determine whether the homes you’re looking at qualify for special programs. Some of these ask for down payments as low as 3 percent; the USDA Rural Development ProgramVA loans, and the Navy Federal Credit Union all offer zero-payment loans.

  1. Invest in DIY.

Fixer-upper homes and do-it-yourself projects haven’t just fueled HGTV; they’ve also helped lots of new homeowners quench their thirst for a home. Some repairs or renovations are, without a doubt, costly — replacing a roof or overhauling an entire kitchen can represent a big upfront cost.

But many houses on the market need TLC — say, a new coat of paint — or simply need to be tweaked in stages to meet a new owner’s preferences. Being your own general contractor means you get to spend money simply on materials, not on labor or mark-ups, meaning more money stays in your pocket. Each improvement will also result in more equity for you, so your hard work will result in real money earned down the road.

  1. Protect your investment.

One price that sometimes surprises new homeowners is the cost of home insurance. To keep the cost of a homeowner policy low, talk to your insurance company about bundling your home and car policies for a reduced rate.

You can also protect your home investment by looking for credits beyond the purchase price. A common credit is one awarded for overdue repairs, but some people are also able to earn credits for closing costs or home warranties. All of these options can reduce the overall cost of purchasing the home.

  1. Rein in your expectations.

If you’ve saved up for a home for years, you likely have your heart set on something very specific: Victorian style, lots of turrets, window seats built in for every kid, original hardwood floors. But the term “starter home” exists for a reason — most people need to “trade up” to a bigger home down the line.

It’s important to spend less than you can truly afford to cushion yourself against a market crash and to be able to save for the other priorities you might have, like retirement or college. Look for what meets your needs and makes you happy — while that 1990s ranch home may look a bit cookie-cutter compared to your beloved Victorians, if it’s in a good school district, close to work, and big enough for your family, it may be the smartest choice.

Buying a house may be less affordable than it once was, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. By looking for ways that you can increase the spending power of the money and credit you currently have, you can improve your chances of buying a house you can truly afford — and be happy to call home.

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5 Ways to Save Money for Your Side Hustle

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Most people start side hustles because they want to be business owners and make some extra money — maybe even enough to eventually stop working their day job. But if they’re not careful, their side hustle could actually end up costing them money.

U.S. News & World Report found that some people lose money on their side ventures. Their money was sunk in certifications, workspace rentals, maintenance fees, and self-employment taxes. Add in potential lost productivity from physical exhaustion or distractions, and you may be losing money at your day job, too, in terms of raises, bonuses, or promotions.

That means it’s important to save money before and during the launch of your side hustle. Having a cushion makes it possible to plan ahead, make smart decisions regarding your business, and expand when you’re ready. It also guarantees you’ll take action based on what’s best for your business, not what’s best for your wallet in the moment.

Here are a few ways to help your side hustle be profitable without draining your funds.

  1. Sign up for automatic savings. A lot of people open checking accounts and savings accounts simultaneously, with the goal of eventually moving money from checking into savings to create a safety net. With 57 percent of Americans having less than $ 1,000 in their savings accounts, it’s clear that doesn’t happen often in reality.

To overcome your best intentions you never fulfill, open an account that has automatic savings set up. Chime has an Automatic Savings program that ensures users automatically transfer 10 percent of their paycheck to savings and have rounded-up amounts added to their savings every time they use their Chime card. In turn, you’ll be saving without doing anything additional, and the best savings are the ones you never see — because you’ve never tempted to tap them.

  1. Presell your goods and services with advance payment. Harvard Business Review reported that presales can actually boost long-term sales, so this is a great investment in your business’s end game. Best of all, presales ensure there’s a market for your product or service, meaning you won’t be wasting money by investing more in your side hustle.

Presell what you’re working on, whether that’s a webinar, a line of T-shirts, or a translation service. One great way to do this is by offering some sort of sample, from an online portfolio of your work to a case study of another project you worked on. Ask people to not just sign up but commit to your offering by paying upfront. This allows you to anticipate and cover expenses — say, materials or the web designer who’s building your webinar landing page — before using any of your own money.

  1. Trade services. If you’re just starting your side hustle, you’re likely reliant upon others to help you get started, whether that’s a screenprinting press you rent time at or a photographer friend who helps you capture images for your website. While some people will simply help you out of the goodness of their heart or their excitement to see you succeed, some won’t — and it’s also not a great idea to be indebted to lots of people from the outset.

Instead, work with vendors, distributors, or service providers to establish a trade relationship. If your service translates work into Spanish and your website builder is actually needing translation services for a few clients’ websites, you have a setting ripe for exchange. If your T-shirt business works with a screenprinter whose passion project is a summer camp, offer to design shirts for special camp events in exchange for screenprinting time. These are all ways to staunch the outflow of cash while setting your side hustle up for success.

  1. Use your blog to profit. In this day and age, you need a blog to propel your business to success — even if you don’t have a big following, sharing your knowledge and experiences with visitors to your site can build your credibility and push them to work with you. But you don’t have to see your blog as a drag on delivering your products or services — it can be its own source of income, too.

By working with affiliate marketers, hosting ads on your blog, and writing sponsored posts or reviews, your blog can bring in money, too. And these can be helpful to visitors — say, a post about a brand of running shoes you highly recommend pairing with your running app — which helps make you “sticky” in clients’ minds. You can use additional income from sponsored posts or affiliate links to fuel your side hustle, making it a money saver rather than a distraction.

  1. Claim all your small business expenses. While there are some sticky tax details regarding side hustles — like estimated quarterly taxes — there also some benefits, like claiming expenses for your business. A lot of entrepreneurs miss the deductions hidden within the 74,000 pages of tax code, so educate yourself on what you can claim.

If you use your home office, for example, you can claim not just the space, but also the utilities associated with it, such as internet. You can write off equipment you’ve purchased for your side hustle, from computers to cake decorating utensils; you can also write off expenses for travel, including airfare, mileage, or lodging. But you have to track it all in order to claim it. 1tap is a platform that helps entrepreneurs track receipts so they can claim every deduction owed come tax season; it even uses character recognition to eliminate data entry, saving hustlers both time and money.

Side hustles are intended to make money, not bleed you dry. To avoid putting in more than you’re getting out, take advantage of these methods for saving your side hustle money so it can make a profit. If you can avoid worrying about money, you’ll be able to focus on building a strong business — and you may even find yourself no longer needing your day job.  

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The True Definition of Luck: aka “The Frank Wilson Theory”

How Complete Beginners are using an ‘Untapped’ Google Network to create Passive Income ON DEMAND

keith krach

What Matters Most is Luck. Not!

During my battle-tested career, I have always heard, “Krach, you are just so lucky.” I look down at the ground and shrug my shoulders and say, “Yah, I guess I’m just lucky” or, “I was just at right place, right time.”

I am certainly blessed. Born into a loving family, growing up in the heartland of this great country in a simpler time and humble manner. I learned to appreciate the value of hard work and I grew up with an earnest desire to make a difference in the world.  I’ve spent a lot of time in my life thinking about the concept of luck and what that word really means. Is it flipping a coin at a fork in the road or being dealt the right card at the right moment? Whether you choose to believe it’s karma or a blessing, there are divine moments that protect and shape us. But most of the time, I believe that we make our own luck.  Luck is self-propelling and a magic that we can generate and magnify. I believe the definition of luck is when preparation meets opportunity. The harder you work, the luckier you get.  I call it the Frank Wilson Theory.

When Frank Wilson joined our basketball team in 7th grade, I thought he was the luckiest guy I had ever met. He immediately emerged as the star of our squad, scoring on average a sparkling 18 points a game. I was baffled though. He could barely jump, let alone dribble, and his jump shot was extremely ugly (sorry, Frank). He was a lefty and he would awkwardly short-arm the ball toward the hoop. I just couldn’t understand how this guy could score so many points. I figured he was just lucky.

Then one day, the father of one of our teammates brought a 16-millimeter video camera to shoot one of our games. We played well and won the game, thanks to another game-winning shot from Frank. The next day at practice, the coach invited us all to watch the tape of the game. While everyone else followed the action of the game, I kept my eyes focused on Frank the entire time. As the tape played, it hit me like lightning. What Frank could do better than all of us was what he did when he didn’t have the ball. The act of getting in the right position at the right time was what mattered most. He would use his smallish frame to duck around picks and slide into open positions just under the hoop and in the corners where, when someone passed the ball, he could hit his little duck-shot with perfect accuracy.

I began to see Frank in a new light. I also began to watch him at practice. While the rest of the team was lobbing up half-court trick shots and goofing around, there was Frank running drills, by himself. What I realized, it wasn’t that Frank wasn’t lucky when it came to playing basketball—he was prepared. When the opportunity presented itself, Frank was right there, ready to make his own “luck.” That was how Frank taught me a profound lesson:

What matters most in life is what you do when nobody is looking.

Thanks to Frank, I now have a deep conviction of the importance of preparation and constantly sharpening the saw. One of the most tangible examples I can share relates to how I approach public speaking. Whether it’s for a commencement address or a quick TV appearance that will generate a mere sound bite, I will spend hours preparing for a delivery that will take just a few minutes. There have been times when my team has witnessed me spend an entire 90-minute car ride getting ready for a short 3-minute after-dinner speech. I prepare for any question that could come my way. People might applaud me for my great improvisational speaking skills without realizing how much work actually went into making it look casual and spontaneous. So if it looks like I put my foot in my mouth, there is a chance that I meant to put it there.

Similarly, anytime I go to a conference or attend an event, I take the time to memorize the LinkedIn profile of the attendees. There is no better way to meaningfully connect than jumping to the heart of finding something in common with people you “just happened” to meet. I’m fairly confident that if Dale Carnegie were still around to write an update to his classic book How To Win Friends And Influence People, he would have certainly included a chapter on memorizing not just names, but LinkedIn profiles as well (you’re welcome, LinkedIn.)

As Thomas Edison so aptly put it: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” So, Frank, if you are reading this, I’m sorry I ever thought you were lucky. Your example taught me one of the greatest lessons in life—what matters most is what you do when nobody is looking—and that is a wisdom that I have shared with many.  So Frank, wherever you are in this world, I thank you. And I wish you all the luck in the world, knowing full well you don’t need it.

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Do You Have What it Takes to Be an IoT Developer?

How Complete Beginners are using an ‘Untapped’ Google Network to create Passive Income ON DEMAND

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If you constantly find yourself fascinated by the latest technological gadgets hitting the marketplace, have you ever considered becoming one of the people who designs and creates them? This week is Computer Science Education Week, which is the perfect time to explore exciting career options like becoming an IoT developer.

The Internet of Things has been a dream of many companies and individuals for years, but it’s only just beginning to really take off, making now the perfect time to consider making a career out of your passion for connected gadgets. In 2017, the number of connected devices will finally outnumber people, at 8.4 billion—and that’s just the beginning. We’re only now scratching the surface of what’s possible with IoT.  Becoming an IoT developer takes a lot of hard work, and it’s a lot easier if you have the skills and aptitude to succeed in the field. If you’re thinking about getting into IoT development, read on to find out what skills, abilities, and training you’ll need.

Deciding On Your Role

The creation of new IoT devices requires far more than just one developer or engineer to complete—it’s a multi-step process. After all, Netflix’s new recommendation algorithm system took 70 engineers a full year to complete—now think about how many people are needed to create a device like a self-driving car!

Before you move forward with becoming an IoT developer, you’ll need to decide on which part of the process you want to be involved in. Are you interested in programming the devices? The servers? Or perhaps developing the apps or sites users will work with? Focusing on one aspect of the process will allow you to gain more in-depth knowledge.

Know the Right Languages

Any developer needs to know the right languages for the projects they hope to complete. IoT developers are currently best served by knowing languages like JavaScript and Python, though as the industry develops, that might change. Since many IoT devices are controlled by smartphone and tablet apps, hopeful developers should also have a solid understanding of mobile development.

Understand the Role of Data

IoT devices operate on data, typically collected through sensors in the hardware itself. Big data is big business these days, in all kinds of industries. The healthcare industry alone reached 150 exabytes in data by 2011—and the amount has been increasing massively every year. IoT developers need to understand not only how data is collected and used, but how it must be protected in IoT devices, since healthcare devices, self-driving cars, smart homes, and other IoT solutions could become dangerous if hacked—and many early IoT devices have had issues with security.

Other Skills

Having an in-depth knowledge of IoT hardware, machine learning and AI, automation, and networking are all applicable “hard skills” for IoT developers. “Soft skills” including collaboration, adaptability, and curiosity can be useful in an IoT developer role, since most projects will involve working with others and learning new skills on the fly.

Try a Practice Project

If you really want to see how you enjoy the process of programming an IoT solution, try testing it out. Raspberry Pi is an inexpensive, tiny computer that can help you learn the concepts you need to know to become a successful IoT developer, and will also allow you to work on some test projects.

Keep Up with Trends

IoT is changing almost at the speed of light, and successful developers never stand still. Keeping up with what’s new, experimenting and learning new skills is key. This is why becoming part of the community is an important part of becoming an IoT developer.

Getting a Job in IoT

If you think becoming an IoT developer is a good option for you, you won’t have to worry about a lack of opportunity. Some projections indicate that about 4.5 million IoT development roles will be opening by 2020, so it’s a great time to get into the field. Aside from tinkering with your own projects to show you have the skills to become an IoT developer, networking with the community is a great way to get started. In tech, it’s about what you can do and who you know—not the degree you hold. So get out there and start exploring!

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