1. Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested by Cambridge Analytica
It was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm, harvested data from approximately 50 million Facebook users to influence the 2016 US presidential election. User data was collected through a Facebook app, called MyDigitalLife, developed by Aleksandr Kogan, a researcher at Cambridge University. Though only 270,000 Facebook users took the quiz, the app exposed a loophole in the Facebook API that also permitted data collection from the Facebook friends of quiz takers. Kogan then passed the data to Cambridge Analytica, which used it to create voter profiles and tailor communications for the Trump campaign. Though Cambridge Analytica has said it deleted the personal data years ago, recent reports claim otherwise. Facebook has since suspended Cambridge Analytica and hired a digital forensic auditor to understand what data still exists.
Implications: The breach highlights a larger privacy debate over how data is used and shared and whether or not platforms should be regulated. Though Facebook will enforce stricter controls over what data can be accessed by third parties, and promises to simplify privacy controls and inform users of data misuse, these changes will take time to implement. Yet, despite the increased call to delete the platform, Facebook’s role in changing how we preserve life events, share moments, and interact with people and places will likely deter users from boycotting it completely.
2. Failures with Uber’s autonomous vehicle sensors and Tesla’s autopilot software result in fatal accidents
In mid-March, a 49-year old pedestrian was killed by a self-driving car operated by Uber in Tempe, Arizona. Two-weeks later, a Tesla vehicle functioning under Autopilot software crashed in California, killing the driver. The incident involving Uber is believed to be the first pedestrian death associated with autonomous technology, while the one involving Tesla marks the second fatality around its Autopilot technology. Regulators in Arizona, who have previously been the most lenient with autonomous vehicle testing, have since suspended Uber’s license. As Tesla’s Autopilot technology is already built into its vehicles and does not require a driverless car test license, next steps from regulators in California are unclear.
Implications: The fatal incidents will likely renew debate around self-driving technology and the need for stricter government regulation. Though advancements in autonomous vehicle technology are promising and could eventually be superior to and safer than human drivers, it is still in its infancy.
3. Instagram tests a New Posts button to give users more control over their feed
In a recent blog post Instagram acknowledged months of user requests for a chronological feed and announced a change in its algorithm to prioritize new posts on its feed. Through the integration of a “New Posts” button, users will be able to choose when they want to refresh the feed, as opposed to letting it happen automatically. The controversy around the feed started in June 2016, when Instagram changed its algorithm from a reverse-chronological feed (i.e., newest first) to a relevancy feed, mirroring Facebook’s. Though the platform claimed the change would result in higher engagement, users were outraged as they felt they were missing posts they wanted to see. Recently, many upset Instagram users started to migrate towards Vero, a social media app that sorts posts in reverse-chronological feed.
Implications: The change in the algorithm aims to strike a balance between showing relevant content (i.e. the relevancy feed) and making sure users do not miss important posts they care about (i.e. the reverse-chronological feed).
4. Snapchat brings augmented reality creator lenses to the app’s carousel and tests @-mention tagging
Snapchat will begin to feature augmented reality lenses built by third-party creators in the app’s main screen this month. Users will be able to identify the new lenses on the app’s carousel by a “i” icon, which can be tapped on to reveal details about who created it. Snapchat also announced that it is testing the ability to @-mention tag another user in a Story, creating a swipe up “more” option that shows the tagged person’s name, handle, Bitmoji, and an add button. The feature would let friends tag each other in Stories, or promote influencers on the platform.
Implications: The integration of these new features are examples of Snapchat’s “creator boosts” effort to promote and empower its creative community. The integration of creator lenses incentivizes developers to discover and test Snapchat’s Lens Studio, while the @-mention tagging capability better supports Snapchat’s influencer base, potentially offering new messaging and collaboration opportunities for marketers.
5. YouTube adds a new augmented reality green screen effect to its Stories feature
In a recent blog post, YouTube, which is owned by Google, announced that it will add augmented reality green screen filters to its Stories feature in a limited beta for YouTube creators. The new mobile video-editing technique uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to make replacing the background of a video as easy as adding a filter to a photo.
Implications: Google is using the beta for YouTube stories to further test new technology. As it continues to improve, it is likely that this feature could become available across other Google apps and its AR services in the future.