White House says a draft executive order reviewing social media companies is not “official”

A draft executive order circulating around the White House “is not the result of an official White House policymaking process,” according to deputy White House press secretary, Lindsay Walters.

According to a report in The Washington Post, Walters denied that White House staff had worked on a draft executive order that would require every federal agency to study how social media platforms moderate user behavior and refer any instances of perceived bias to the Justice Department for further study and potential legal action.

Bloomberg first reported the draft executive order and a copy of the document was acquired and published by Business Insider.

Here’s the relevant text of the draft (from Business Insider):

Section 2. Agency Responsibilities. (a) Executive departments and agencies with authorities that could be used to enhance competition among online platforms (agencies) shall, where consistent with other laws, use those authorities to promote competition and ensure that no online platform exercises market power in a way that harms consumers, including through the exercise of bias.

(b) Agencies with authority to investigate anticompetitive conduct shall thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws, as defined in subsection (a) of the first section of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 12, or any other law intended to protect competition.

(c) Should an agency learn of possible or actual anticompetitive conduct by a platform that the agency lacks the authority to investigate and/or prosecute, the matter should be referred to the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Competition of the Federal Trade Commission.

While there are several reasonable arguments to be made for and against the regulation of social media platforms, “bias” is probably the least among them.

That hasn’t stopped the steady drumbeat of accusations of bias under the guise of “anticompetitive regulation” against platforms like Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter from increasing in volume and tempo in recent months.

Bias was the key concern Republican lawmakers brought up when Mark Zuckerberg was called to testify before Congress earlier this year. And bias was front and center in Republican lawmakers’ questioning of Jack Dorsey, Sheryl Sandberg, and Google’s empty chair when they were called before Congress earlier this month to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Justice Department has even called in the attorneys general of several states to review the legality of the moderation policies of social media platforms later this month (spoiler alert: they’re totally legal).

With all of this activity focused on tech companies, it’s no surprise that the administration would turn to the Executive Order — a preferred weapon of choice for Presidents who find their agenda stalled in the face of an uncooperative legislature (or prevailing rule of law).

However, as the Post reported, aides in the White House said there’s little chance of this becoming actual policy.

… three White House aides soon insisted they didn’t write the draft order, didn’t know where it came from, and generally found it to be unworkable policy anyway. One senior White House official confirmed the document had been floating around the White House but had not gone through the formal process, which is controlled by the staff secretary.

On-demand trucking app Convoy raises $185M at $1B valuation

CapitalG, the growth equity arm of Alphabet, has led the $185 million round in Convoy, its first investment in the Seattle-based, tech-enabled trucking network.

The round brings Convoy’s total raised to $265 million and values the company at $1 billion. New investors T. Rowe Price and Lone Pine Capital participated in the financing alongside existing investors.

Convoy has long been backed by Greylock Partners, which led the startup’s Series A in 2015. Y Combinator is also a backer. In an unusual move last year, Y Combinator led a $62 million round in Convoy in what was the first time the accelerator deployed capital from its continuity fund into a late-stage company that was not a YC graduate.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, Bezos Expeditions and former Starbucks president Howard Behar are also Convoy investors.

Founded by a pair of former Amazonians, Dan Lewis and Grant Goodale, Convoy is trying to transform the $800 billion trucking industry, which is no easy feat. Dubbed the ‘Uber for trucks,’ Convoy’s app connects truckers with people who need freight moved. With the new funding, it’ll expand nationwide and move beyond just freight matching.

“Trucks run empty 40% of the time, and they often sit idle due to inefficient scheduling,” Convoy CEO Dan Lewis said in a statement. “This is a drag on the economy, the environment, and the bottom lines of shippers and carriers alike.”

According to GeekWire, Convoy is working on a new suite of tools to help truckers combine tasks so they waste less time. And it’s working to provide shippers access to tracking and pricing data through its platform.

As part of the deal, CapitalG partner David Lawee will join Convoy’s board of directors.

Google’s parental control software Family Link expands to teens

Google’s parental control software for mobile devices, Family Link, will now help parents of teenagers, too. The company announced this morning the addition of new features aimed at parents of children over the age of 13. Perhaps the most controversial choice Google has made with this expansion is that teens can choose to turn off supervision via the software. While this does send an alert to parents, it’s a decidedly odd choice.

After all, if parents are planning on controlling smartphone use through Family Link – which lets them do things like manage and track screen time, view the location of the device, or control which apps are able to be installed, for example – it seems that parent and child would have already had a conversation about the topic.

And while it’s a nice gesture to ask teens to give consent to monitoring, it’s a hollow one – teens, after all, are still children, and parents likely bought them their device and are paying the phone bill. Parents at this point should have already established that using a phone is a privilege, not a right, and that there are ground rules, as well as what those rules are.

Parents should have had the conversation about how usage and location is tracked, and discussed what sort of content should or should not be viewed and shared on the teens’ phone. Allowing the kid to just “opt out” should not be how that conversation starts.

Plus, you can’t really argue that teens could somehow be surreptitiously monitored by parents, given that parents are approving their app downloads and setting screen time limits, among other things, if on Family Link. They must have some awareness there’s a control mechanism in place.

The software’s support for teens rolls out this week worldwide, Google says, as part of Family Link’s global expansion. The applicable age for a teen varies by country, but in the U.S. it’s 13. The app will also be available for Chromebook devices. And soon, parents will be able to manage Family Link devices through Google Assistant voice commands, too.

 

 

 

Mobile social network Path, once a challenger to Facebook, is closing down

It’s that time again, folks, time to say goodbye to a social media service from days past.

Following the shuttering of Klout earlier this year, now Path, the one-time rival to Facebook, is closing its doors, according to an announcement made today. (Yes, you may be surprised to learn that Path was still alive.)

The eight-year-old service will close down in one month — October 18 — but it will be removed from the App Store and Google Play on October 1. Any remaining users have until October 18 to download a copy of their data, which can be done here.

Path was founded by former Facebook product manager Dave Morin, and ex-Napster duo Dustin Mierau and Shawn Fanning . The company burst onto the scene in 2010 with a mobile social networking app that was visually pleasing and — importantly — limited to just 50 friends per user. That positioned it as a more private alternative to Facebook with some additional design bells and whistles, although the friend restriction was later lifted and then removed altogether.

At its peak, the service had around 15 million users and it was once raising money at a valuation of $500 million. Indeed, Google tried to buy it for $100 million when it was just months old. All in all, the startup raised $55 million from investors that included top Silicon Valley names like Index, Kleiner Perkins and Redpoint.

Facebook ultimately defeated Path, but it stole a number of features from its smaller rival

But looks fade, and social media is a tough place when you’re not Facebook, which today has over 1.5 billion active users and aggressively ‘borrowed’ elements from Path’s design back in the day.

Path’s road took a turn for the worse and the much-hyped startup lost staff, users and momentum (and user data). The company tried to launch a separate app to connected businesses and users — Path Talk — but that didn’t work and ultimately it was sold to Korea’s Kakao — a messaging and internet giant — in an undisclosed deal in 2015. Kakao bought the app because it was popular in Indonesia, the world’s fourth-largest population where Path had four million users, and the Korean firm was making a major play for that market, which is Southeast Asia’s largest economy and a growing market for internet users.

However, Path hasn’t kicked on in the last three years and now Kakao is discarding it altogether.

“It is with deep regret that we announce that we will stop providing our beloved service, Path. We started Path in 2010 as a small team of passionate and experienced designers and engineers. Over the years we have tried to lay out our mission: through technology and design we aim to be a source of happiness, meaning, and connection to our users,” the company said in a statement.

Thanks Aulia

A new CSS-based web attack will crash and restart your iPhone

A security researcher has found a new way to crash and restart any iPhone — with just a few lines of code.

Sabri Haddouche tweeted a proof-of-concept webpage with just 15 lines of code which, if visited, will crash and restart an iPhone or iPad. Those on macOS may also see Safari freeze when opening the link.

The code exploits a weakness in iOS’ web rendering engine WebKit, which Apple mandates all apps and browsers use, Haddouche told TechCrunch. He explained that nesting a ton of elements — such as <div> tags — inside a backdrop filter property in CSS, you can use up all of the device’s resources and cause a kernel panic, which shuts down and restarts the operating system to prevent damage.

“Anything that renders HTML on iOS is affected,” he said. That means anyone sending you a link on Facebook or Twitter, or if any webpage you visit includes the code, or anyone sending you an email, he warned.

TechCrunch tested the exploit running on the most recent mobile software iOS 11.4.1, and confirm it crashes and restarts the phone. Thomas Reed, director of Mac & Mobile at security firm Malwarebytes confirmed that  the most recent iOS 12 beta also froze when tapping the link.

The lucky whose devices won’t crash may just see their device restart (or “respring”) the user interface instead.

For those curious, you can see how it works without it running the crash-inducing code.

The good news is that as annoying as this attack is, it can’t be used to run malicious code, he said, meaning malware can’t run and data can’t be stolen using this attack. But there’s no easy way to prevent the attack from working. One tap on a booby-trapped link sent in a message or opening an HTML email that renders the code can crash the device instantly.

Haddouche contacted Apple on Friday about the attack, which is said to be investigating. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook is opening its first data center in Asia

Facebook is opening its first data center in Asia. The company announced today that it is planning an 11-story building in Singapore that will help its services run faster and more efficiently. The development will cost SG$1.4 billion, or around US$1 billion, the company confirmed.

The social networking firm said that it anticipates that the building will be powered 100 percent by renewable energy. It said also that it will utilize a new ‘StatePoint Liquid Cooling’ system technology, which the firm claims minimizes the consumption of water and power.

Facebook said that the project will create hundreds of jobs and “form part of our growing presence in Singapore and across Asia.”

A render of what Facebook anticipates that its data center in Singapore will look like

Asia Pacific accounts for 894 million monthly users, that’s 40 percent of the total user base and it makes it the highest region based on users. However, when it comes to actually making money, the region is lagging. Asia Pacific brought in total sales of $2.3 billion in Facebook’s most recent quarter of business, that’s just 18 percent of total revenue and less than half of the revenue made from the U.S. during the same period. Enabling more efficient services is one step to helping to close that revenue gap.

Facebook isn’t the only global tech firm that’s investing in data centers in Asia lately. Google recently revealed that it plans to develop a third data center in Singapore. The firm also has data centers for Asia that are located in Taiwan.

Chat app Line hopes its own crypto token can solve its user growth problem

Line, the Japanese messaging app firm that’s best known for its cutesy characters and stickers, is pushing deeper into crypto after it launched its own token to help grow its stagnant user base.

Line went public two years ago with 218 million monthly active users, but it hasn’t been able to kick on. The company no longer gives out its worldwide user number, but the number of active users in its four biggest markets has fallen from 169 million in Q2 2017 to 164 million in its recent Q2 2018 period.

Link — Line’s token — isn’t being minted through an ICO, instead, it’ll be given out to Line users as an incentive for using certain services. Line hasn’t said exactly how it can be earned yet, although it is likely that it’ll be tied to specific activities to promote engagement.

Line plans to use Link to incentive user activity on its messaging app and other services

The token will be listed on Bitbox — Line’s crypto exchange — and it’ll be used it to buy content like stickers and webcomics, as well as other Line services. It’ll also be possible to use Link to get a lower commission rate on trading in the same way that Binance, the world’s largest exchange, uses its BNB token.

Line currently has a virtual currency for its in-app content and services, and you’d imagine that Link will replace it in the future.

It’s worth noting, however, that Link hasn’t launched in Japan yet. That’s because Line is awaiting regulatory approval for its token and exchange, so, for now, those in Japan — which is Line’s largest market — will earn virtual tokens which can be traded for Link in the future.

Line is struggling to grow its user numbers

Link will launch next month, and it follows the announcement of BitBox in July and the launch of a dedicated crypto fund in early August.

Line has dodged the legal questions around token sales by not holding an ICO, and the fact it is using the currency to incentivize user engagement and activity isn’t a huge surprise. Line went public in a dual U.S-Japan IPO that raised over $1 billion in 2016 but, despite user numbers declining, it has grown its revenue through additional services.

Increased competition from the likes of Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp is likely its biggest threat, so incentivizing users is a logical strategy. Of course, that depends on how useful Link becomes. If users can exchange it for a decent amount of cash or credits inside Line’s platform it may gain appeal, but if they just pick up trivial amounts, it may be less interesting to them. The bigger picture will be when Link replaces Line’s virtual currency for all purchases but that alone isn’t likely to boost user engagement.

Despite declining user numbers, Line has grown revenue by pushing out services that connect to its messaging platform.

Line also plans to use Link — and the blockchain it has developed to power it — to host decentralized applications (dapps) that will connect to its messaging platform. The company already does a lot more than messaging — for example payments, ride-hailing, music and videos — and it plans to tap third-party developers to build dapps. Generally, though, dapps haven’t taken off. The collectibles game Cryptokitties did blow up late last year, but studies have suggested user activity is massively down this year as the fad has slowly worn off.

Crypto enthusiasts will no doubt take positives from Line’s latest move — it is arguably the largest company to embrace crypto, in terms of end-user audience reach — but it remains to be seen whether Link and its dapps platform can help it crack its user growth and retention issues.

“Over the last seven years, Line was able to grow into a global service because of our users, and now with Link, we wanted to build a user-friendly reward system that gives back to our users. With Link, we would like to continue developing as a user participation-based platform, one that rewards and shares added value through the introduction of easy-to-use dapps for people’s daily lives,” said Line CEO Takeshi Idezawa in a statement.

Unlike Bitcoin, which is mined, Line has minted a total of one billion Link tokens which it said will be “gradually issued according to how this ecosystem develops.” The company plans to keep 200 million tokens, with the remaining 800 million made available as user rewards.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Google Firebase adds in-app messaging, JIRA integration, new reports and more

Firebase is now Google’s default platform for app developers and over the course of the last four years since it was acquired, the service has greatly expanded its feature set and integrations with our Google services. Today, it’s rolling out yet another batch of updates that bring new features, deeper integrations and a few design updates to the service.

The highlight of this release is the launch of in-app messaging, which will allow developers to send targeted and contextual messages to users as they use the app. Developers can customize the look and feel of these in-app notifications, which are rolling out today, but what’s maybe even more important is that this feature is integrated with Firebase Predictions and Google Analytics for Firebase so that developers can just react to current behavior but also Firebase’s predictions of how likely a user is to spend some additional money or stop using the app.

Developers who use Atlassian’s JIRA will also be happy to hear that Firebase is launching an integration with this tool. Firebase users can now create JIRA issues based on crash reports in Firebase. This integration will roll out in the next few weeks.

Another new integration is a deeper connection to Crashlytics, which Google acquired from Twitter in early 2017 (together with Fabric). Firebase will now let you export this data to BigQuery to analyze it — and then visualize it in Google’s Data Studio. And once it’s in BigQuery, it’s your data, so you’re not dependent on Firebase’s retention and deletion defaults.

Talking about reports, Firebase Cloud Messaging is getting a new reporting dashboard and the Firebase Console’s Project Overview page has received a full design overhaul that’ll allow you to see the health and status of your apps on a single page. The Latest Release section now also features live data. These features will start rolling out today and should become available to everybody in the next few weeks.

Firebase Hosting, the service’s web content hosting service, is also getting a small update and now allows you to host multiple websites within one project. And when you push an update, Firebase Hosting now only uploads the files that have changed between releases, which should speed up that process quite a bit.