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Facebook’s flavour of the Moment

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When a billion human beings logged onto Facebook last Monday, it was just one landmark in the social network’s quest to connect humanity. For South Africans, another came just a day later, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When a billion people log on to your service in a single day, you know you’re having a massive impact on humanity. That’s one in seven people on the planet. But it also means that you have a huge challenge on your hands: how to keep them coming back, and how to keep improving their experience when they do come back.

Last Tuesday, the day after Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had reached a billion visitors in one day, Facebook introduced South Africans to a new service designed to enhance the sharing culture that is at the heart of the social network’s success.

Called Moments, it’s described as “a private way to share photos with friends”. It groups photos on one’s phone based on when they were taken, and uses facial recognition technology to identify the people in the photos. Friends can then synchronise from the same event, choosing with whom they want to share and sync. In the process they receive photos from the same event taken by those friends.

In a blog post when it was first launched in the United States in June, Moments product manager Will Ruben explained the thinking:

“With a phone at everyone’s fingertips, the moments in our lives are captured by a new kind of photographer: our friends. It’s hard to get the photos your friends have taken of you, and everyone always insists on taking that same group shot with multiple phones to ensure they get a copy. Even if you do end up getting some of your friends’ photos, it’s difficult to keep them all organized in one place on your phone.

“Syncing photos with the Moments app is a private way to give photos to friends and get the photos you didn’t take.”

As with most new Facebook products and services, Moments has been rolled out on a staggered basis, beginning in North America in June and finally reaching South Africa two months later.

“We’re excited to be launching it in many more countries around the world,” Ruben said in an interview this week. “It will also be translated into many more languages.”

A key aspect of Moments is that it is not integrated into Facebook itself, but is what Ruben describes as “a totally separate experience from the normal Facebook experience”. That’s because it’s a product of Creative Labs, a division of Facebook that, it says, “is crafting new apps to support the diverse ways people want to connect and share”. However, it is generally regarded as the space where small teams have free reign to experiment with new apps and options.

“Our group came together to solve a specific problem,” says Ruben. “We’ve all experienced those times when we’re hanging out with friends and take pics and say we’ll send them later but that never happens. It’s too hard to share lot of photos with a small group of people. You also have big group shots where everyone has their own version because they each had it taken with their own phone cameras.”

Sharing in Moments, he stresses, is totally separate from sharing on Facebook: “It’s you, your pics and your friends. By sharing in this way, it increases the chance of getting that pic you know was taken but you didn’t have on your own phone.”

The facial recognition technology at the heart of Moments may seem intimidating to those who have heard of such techniques being used for law enforcement. However, Facebook has been using it for several years already, as the basis for recommending which friends to tag in photos users post in their timelines.

Moments takes this a step further not in terms of technological advance, but in terms of how the technology can be put to use. Aside from identifying faces, it also synchronises them, links them up between friends’ albums – where they have accepted the link – and offers suggestions for who is in what pic.

“Moments also organizes pics in other ways,” says Ruben. “You can see all the pics you received in chronological gallery view, like a camera roll, but with a higher signal to noise ratio than a camera roll, because it not only syncs those pics that you took with friends, but also contains other people’s photos.

“I have 1400 photos of myself, and 1300 of my girlfriend, mostly because other people have synced photos of myself they’ve taken. I also have five pics of my brother Andrew he doesn’t have yet, so he can just press the Check button and he has five photos of himself he wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

The coup de grace for Moments is that it can automatically make a movie of the best photos in a particular “moment”, for example to tell the story of a wedding. The user can choose from a number of themes, and the app creates photo transitions to beat of music, making for what Ruben calls “a high quality sharing experience”.

The movie can be edited quickly, with photos added or removed if the app missed key images or added unwanted ones. The entire movie is then instantly recalibrated so that the music still keeps time with the images.

Aside from putting a good few existing apps out of business, Moments is also an answer to an increasingly common question in social media: Can we ever get enough of sharing? For now, the answer seems to be “No”.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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Revealing the real cost of ‘free’ online services

A free service by Finnish cybersecurity provider F-Secure reveals the real cost of using “free” services by Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, among others.

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What do Google, Facebook, and Amazon have in common? Privacy and identity scandals. From Cambridge Analytica to Google’s vulnerability in Google+, the amount of personal data sitting on these platforms is enormous.

Cybersecurity provider F-Secure has released a free online tool that helps expose the true cost of using some of the web’s most popular free services. And that cost is the abundance of data that has been collected about users by Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon Alexa, Twitter, and Snapchat. The good news is that you can take back your data “gold”.

F-Secure Data Discovery Portal sends users directly to the often hard-to-locate resources provided by each of these tech giants that allow users to review their data, securely and privately.

“What you do with the data collection is entirely between you and the service,” says Erka Koivunen, F-Secure Chief Information Security Officer. “We don’t see – and don’t want to see – your settings or your data. Our only goal is to help you find out how much of your information is out there.”

More than half of adult Facebook users, 54%, adjusted how they use the site in the wake of the scandal that revealed Cambridge Analytica had collected data without users’ permission.* But the biggest social network in the world continues to grow, reporting 2.3 billion monthly users at the end of 2018.**

“You often hear, ‘if you’re not paying, you’re the product.’ But your data is an asset to any company, whether you’re paying for a product or not,” says Koivunen. “Data enables tech companies to sell billions in ads and products, building some of the biggest businesses in the history of money.”

F-Secure is offering the tool as part of the company’s growing focus on identity protection that secures consumers before, during, and after data breaches. By spreading awareness of the potential costs of these “free” services, the Data Discovery Portal aims to make users aware that securing their data and identity is more important than ever.

A recent F-Secure survey found that 54% of internet users over 25 worry about someone hacking into their social media accounts.*** Data is only as secure as the networks of the companies that collect it, and the passwords and tactics used to protect our accounts. While the settings these sites offer are useful, they cannot eliminate the collection of data.

Koivunen says: “While consumers effectively volunteer this information, they should know the privacy and security implications of building accounts that hold more potential insight about our identities than we could possibly share with our family. All of that information could be available to a hacker through a breach or an account takeover.”

However, there is no silver bullet for users when it comes to permanently locking down security or hiding it from the services they choose to use.

“Default privacy settings are typically quite loose, whether you’re using a social network, apps, browsers or any service,” says Koivunen. “Review your settings now, if you haven’t already, and periodically afterwards. And no matter what you can do, nothing stops these companies from knowing what you’re doing when you’re logged into their services.”

*Source: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/09/05/americans-are-changing-their-relationship-with-facebook/
**Source: https://www.theverge.com/2019/1/30/18204186/facebook-q4-2018-earnings-user-growth-revenue-increase-privacy-scandals
***Source: F-Secure Identity Protection Consumer (B2C) Survey, May 2019, conducted in cooperation with survey partner Toluna, 9 countries (USA, UK, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Brazil, Finland, Sweden, and Japan), 400 respondents per country = 3600 respondents (+25years)

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WhatsApp comes to KaiOS

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By the end of September, WhatsApp will be pre-installed on all phones running the KaiOS operating system, which turns feature phones into smart phones. The announcement was made yesterday by KaiOS Technologies, maker of the KaiOS mobile operating system for smart feature phones, and Facebook. WhatsApp is also available for download in the KaiStore, on both 512MB and 256MB RAM devices.

“KaiOS has been a critical partner in helping us bring private messaging to smart feature phones around the world,” said Matt Idema, COO of WhatsApp. “Providing WhatsApp on KaiOS helps bridge the digital gap to connect friends and family in a simple, reliable and secure way.”

WhatsApp is a messaging tool used by more than 1.5 billion people worldwide who need a simple, reliable and secure way to communicate with friends and family. Users can use calling and messaging capabilities with end-to-end encryption that keeps correspondence private and secure. 

WhatsApp was first launched on the KaiOS-powered JioPhone in India in September of 2018. Now, with the broad release, the app is expected to reach millions of new users across Africa, Europe, North America, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.

“We’re thrilled to bring WhatsApp to the KaiOS platform and extend such an important means of communication to a brand new demographic,” said Sebastien Codeville, CEO of KaiOS Technologies. “We strive to make the internet and digital services accessible for everyone and offering WhatsApp on affordable smart feature phones is a giant leap towards this goal. We can’t wait to see the next billion users connect in meaningful ways with their loved ones, communities, and others across the globe.”

KaiOS-powered smart feature phones are a new category of mobile devices that combine the affordability of a feature phone with the essential features of a smartphone. They meet a growing demand for affordable devices from people living across Africa – and other emerging markets – who are not currently online. 

WhatsApp is now available for download from KaiStore, an app store specifically designed for KaiOS-powered devices and home to the world’s most popular apps, including the Google Assistant, YouTube, Facebook, Google Maps and Twitter. Apps in the KaiStore are customised to minimise data usage and maximise user experience for smart feature phone users.

In Africa, the KaiOS-powered MTN Smart and Orange Sanza are currently available in 22 countries, offering 256MB RAM and 3G connectivity.

KaiOS currently powers more than 100 million devices shipped worldwide, in over 100 countries. The platform enables a new category of devices that require limited memory, while still offering a rich user experience.

* For more details, visit: Meet The Devices That Are Powered by KaiOS

* Also read Arthur Goldstuck’s story, Smart feature phones spell KaiOS

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