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Facebook scandal will give privacy a boost

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The right to user privacy on the Internet continued to make news headlines last week as the Facebook data breach saga headed to Washington. GIL SPERLING, CTO, Popimedia, believes this will provide positive developments for data privacy and consumer protection.

Advertisers, marketers and brands are obviously keeping close tabs on what effect, if any, this latest scandal to befall the world’s largest and most influential social media network will have on the Facebook user base, or to their level of engagement.

Obviously, a mass exodus of users, or a drop in their willingness to engage on the platform will reduce the effectiveness of Facebook’s data-driven advertising model. Should this happen, advertisers will have to ask if the platform can continue to deliver adequate returns on ad spend.

The fundamental issues surrounding the scandal – the privacy and use of users’ personal data – is not new. This is just the latest in a number of issues related to the misuse and abuse of user information, of which Facebook is not the sole perpetrator. Similar data breaches have happened at other Internet companies and social media platforms.

While I don’t believe that there’s widespread apathy towards these breaches among users, I doubt that these latest revelations will be the tipping point for a mass exodus.

The main reason for this is that Zuckerberg and Facebook moved relatively quickly to respond. They have accepted blame and publicly acknowledged that ‘mistakes were made’. They are also implementing corrective steps.

Coming out of Congress

Facing a five-hour barrage of questioning from Congress in Washington, Zuckerberg reaffirmed that the company’s mission of “connecting people” would continue to take precedence over advertisers and developers.

In the session, Zuckerberg stated that: “We need to take a more active view in policing the ecosystem and watching and looking out and making sure that all the members in our community are using these tools in a way that’s going to be good and healthy.”

Obviously, such words are superfluous without meaningful action to back them up, but there has certainly been changes at Facebook since the scandal broke. Having taken responsibility for the breach, Facebook is now acting by assigning resources to solve the issues.

Zuckerberg announced sweeping measures that have already, or will be, implemented across various aspects of the Facebook platform as part of the second phase of the Cambridge Analytica ‘clean up’.

Word up

He is keeping to the promises made about addressing and resolving the issues and he is widely viewed to be acting responsibility.

These measures include notifying all Facebook users whether they were affected by the leak. This will include a notification prompting users to review which apps and websites have permission to see their data. The roll-out of this element started last Monday.

Facebook also adjusted its privacy settings and ad targeting tools to give users more control over their information and is creating a tool to make it easier for users to approve what information is shared about them.

In addition, Facebook is reviewing where additional risks for data leaks exist. Already underway is an audit of all third-party apps that offer the outside world access to the platform via their API. Any app that collected and misused data will be banned from the platform, and every user who engaged with the app in question will be notified.

Further restrictions imposed on access to user data include a lockdown of the Groups, Events and Gaming APIs. These provided data to developers – such as the number of types of events attended by users – that Facebook now says is unnecessary as they should be able to create useful experiences without scraping this information.

Following Zuckerberg’s appearance on Capitol Hill, Facebook also announced a novel bounty programme, which will reward people who find and report cases of data abuse on its platforms with between $500 to $40,000, depending on the significance of the discovery.

While welcomed, these sweeping changes and reforms that seek to impose stricter data safeguards understandably has Facebook marketing partners and advertisers wondering if their ability to target users effectively and deliver a return on their ad spend will now be limited.

Impact on advertisers

South African-based advertisers and agencies needn’t be concerned, though, as the planned changes to the platform will have a minimal impact, if any, on Facebook advertising in our region.

That’s not to say that significant changes weren’t announced, though. For instance, the shutting down of Partner Categories, a feature that enabled ad targeting on the platform by using third-party data provided by data brokers, could have ramifications across the Internet-based and social media marketing industries. However, its impact will be felt predominantly in the US and parts of the EU where the use of third-party data for narrow targeting is common practice.

This approach was not adopted in South Africa, and we believe that this is a move in the right direction to improve industry best practices and ensure greater transparency regarding the responsible use of end-user data.

There have also been a few minor changes to the platform’s automated leads development solution, but these won’t have an impact on the technical capabilities of the solution.

Are these steps sufficient to stave off a significant backlash from users and advertisers?

We believe so.

For brands to continue realising a return on their ad spend on the platform, Facebook needs to ensure that users keep coming back, remain engaged with the content, and continue to feel like they are getting value.

For that to happen, they can’t feel like their right to privacy is being abused.

Based on recent announcements and the steps already taken, it is clear that Facebook has realised the importance of fundamentally changing its data practices to restore trust among users. We feel that Facebook has achieved that with the measures implemented.

This stance aligns with current user and ad data metrics, which haven’t seen a drop off since news of the data breach first broke. Granted, there was a loss in investor value for holders of Facebook stock, but the fundamental value proposition to users and advertisers seems to still be intact.

Protecting the revenue stream

Zuckerberg also reaffirmed the company’s commitment to its advertising model as the primary source of revenue. That means Facebook’s future depends on its ability to deliver a return on ad spend. When asked whether he has considered offering an ad-free, subscription option for users, Zuckerberg didn’t dismiss the idea, but stated that there will always be a free version of Facebook available.

I also believe that the sunk investments made by most users in the platform, having built their profiles over years, even a decade for some, means that something more significant would have to happen for them to divest from the platform.

Obviously, there’s a threshold of user tolerance and many are already weary of the continual breaches in trust. However, Facebook has now taken accountability and has implemented bold and decisive action.

We’re therefore confident that it will remain business as usual for the brands that leverage the platform ethically to effectively reach their target audiences.

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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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