May 2018

Only a week removed from the implementation of new regulations under GDPR, which came into effect throughout Europe as of May 25th, a succession of prominent social media and tech companies seem to be falling foul of the newly updated laws. This is according to the French privacy advocacy group known as La Quadrature du Net, who have filed as many as seven formal complaints against Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft/LinkedIn, collectively referred to as “GAFAM”, all relating to alleged violations of the terms set out by GDPR.

Complaints were fielded from the public at large and by the time of filing numbered around the 12,000 mark. These complaints, later formalised by La Quadrature, seem to stem from the issue of “forced consent”, which basically amounts to companies telling users that if they wish to use the service(s) on offer, they must agree to the collection and use of their data.

La Quadrature are not the only group to make complaints against the aforementioned companies; in fact a similar organisation known as filed their own official complaints on the very first day that GDPR came into force. The issue of forced consent was also cited in this earlier case, with asserting in no uncertain terms that “access to services can no longer depend on whether a user gives consent to the use of data.”

La Quadrature have made their complaints against Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, and LinkedIn available to the public as templates (in French), and are also allowing any European entity to reuse them to “attack GAFAM or so many others”. Going forward, the group have also promised to file further complaints against Skype, Outlook, Android, WhatsApp, and Instagram, again relating to this matter of forced consent.

Another day, another scandal involving Facebook…

As if the social media giant didn’t have enough problems on its hands right now in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and questions regarding the role the company allegedly played in the manipulation of US election results, Facebook have now been caught up in yet another lawsuit.

The lawsuit in question, filed in December on behalf of the Communications Workers of America union, accuses a number of companies of engaging in age discrimination among jobseekers by means of Facebook’s ad platform, and the lawsuit has now been expanded to include a slew of new companies including Arhaus, Capital One, Citadel, Defenders, Fairfield Residential, IKEA, Leidos, Sleep Number Corp., Triplebyte, Weichert Realtors, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, University of Maryland Medical System, and Facebook themselves. The aforementioned companies are yet to be named as formal defendants, the Register reports.

The accusations stem from the way in which ads can be filtered on Facebook, only appearing to people of a specified gender, race, or age range. The complaint claims that this goes against existing laws designed to promote equal opportunities and prevent discrimination in the job market.

The complaint states:

“A significant portion of large employers and employment agencies in America routinely use Facebook’s ad platform to exclude older workers from receiving employment ads, primarily by selecting an age range for the ad population that excludes older workers; and many companies also use Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences feature to send employment ads to workers who are demographically similar to their younger workforces.

“While Facebook makes it possible to limit which Facebook users will see an ad based on age of the user (including employment ads), federal, state, and local law prohibit age discrimination in advertising and recruiting for job opportunities.”

Facebook declined to comment on the matter.

Ever since news of the Cambridge Analytical scandal first broke, Facebook has been on the receiving end of some widespread and truly sincere criticism, with many turning away from the platform altogether out of fear of their privacy being compromised. Over in Papua New Guinea however, the government are taking a rather more drastic approach.

The country’s Communication Minister, Sam Basil, announced this week that Facebook and its associated services will be banned through Papua New Guinea for the duration of one month in an effort to root out fake users, harmful content, and the spread of misinformation, among other cited issues. During this time, the government will partake in research and analysis of the platform and its use, using this data to shape future policy.

Mr Basil told the Post Courier, “The time will allow information to be collected to identify users that hide behind fake accounts, users that upload pornographic images, users that post false and misleading information on Facebook to be filtered and removed. This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly.

“The [Cyber Crime 2016] Act has already been passed, so what I’m trying to do is to ensure the law is enforced accordingly where perpetrators can be identified and charged accordingly. We cannot allow the abuse of Facebook to continue in the country. I will now work closely with the Police for them to be properly trained and informed to fully enforce the Cyber Crime Act.”

Beyond the ban, Mr Basil also hinted that the PNG government may go so far as to create their own alternative platform to take Facebook’s place. He stated, “We can also look at the possibility of creating a new social network site for PNG citizens to use with genuine profiles as well.

“If there need be then we can gather our local applications developers to create a site that is more conducive for Papua New Guineans to communicate within the country and abroad as well.”
The timescale for this ban does seem rather strange; if Facebook as a platform is so harmful then what do they hope to change in a single month? Moreover, why is a shutdown even necessary if their intention is simply to conduct research and analysis which can be achieved while the site is live? Surely a live site would enable easier and more reliable research? Maybe in time the answers to these questions will become clear, but for now we can only wait to see what transpires.

Since February of this year YouTube has been testing a new approach to sorting content within subscription feeds, switching from a chronologically ordered feed to a ‘personalised’ feed determined by an algorithm. The test has been ticking along quietly behind the scenes largely unnoticed for months, but as the reordered feed begins to roll out to an increasing number of users and creators, the complaints have begun rolling in.

The uproar began with a single complaint regarding the reshuffled subscription feed, which the YouTube team chose to address publicly by tweeting, “We find that some viewers are able to more easily find the videos they want to watch when we order the subs feed in a personalized order vs always showing most recent video first.” With the issue now made public a number of well-known creators and YouTube personalities began to share their own opinions of the ongoing test, and the response was overwhelmingly negative.

Colleen Ballinger, the creator behind the popular YouTube channel Miranda Sings, expressed her concern via tweet. “I don’t see a single positive response to this announcement,” she asserted. “Please reconsider. This will really hurt your content creators!!!!”

Other creators to join Ms Ballinger in publicly expressing their dislike of the newly ordered feed include video game vlogger Seán McLoughlin (better known as Jacksepticeye), and Grace Helbig, known for her comedic content.

When approached by Variety for more information on the subject, a YouTube representative responded, “With more videos coming to YouTube every minute we’re always experimenting with ways to help people more easily find, watch and share the videos that matter most to them.

“This is one of many small experiments we run all the time on YouTube. We use both quantitative data as well as user and creator feedback to make decisions on which features to launch.”

Lifetime Deals and Shelfware are Burning a Hole in Our Pockets and Here's Why - image courtesy of

American poet and essayist Criss Jami says, “An over-indulgence of anything, even something as pure as water, can intoxicate.” When you become enslaved to a habit, an addiction forms.  The world of tech isn’t immune.

Many entrepreneurs the world over scramble when they hear of a new SaaS (Service as a Software) launch. Innovators and early adopters jump at the chance to be on beta lists and claim review rights as affiliates. We lurch haphazardly like drunken magpies desperate to possess the new shiny tools ahead of our competitors.  Some of us are hedging our bets on the next big success, some are thinking of pure functionally, wanting to piece together kit to make our lives easier and others are savings-savvy, realising that beyond the Lifetime Deal (LTD) a hefty recurring monthly payment is sure to follow.

As life-changing Speaker, bestselling Author, and Behavioural Scientist Dr Steve Maraboli puts it, “Intent reveals desire. Action reveals commitment.” By investing in our entrepreneurial plans we are reaffirming belief in ourselves and in the future of our businesses. Who hasn’t built things as you want them to be rather than who you are?

There’s an obsessive compulsive streak which reveals itself in the forums and private Facebook groups. Long post listings of who has hoarded what, who stacked codes and who has been visionary enough to see how the tech could all interlink and intertwine - one day. Sneak peaks and heads-ups with preferential rates, coupons, OTO (One Time Offer) upsells and lifetime membership options are compared, contrasted and generally sell out.

Austin-based Appsumo normally run two deals per week. They started in 2011 and estimate they’ve saved their members over half a billion US dollars so far.

Allegedly there are 57 million freelancers in America and 2 million in the UK and around 12,000 SaaS companies worldwide. Plenty of potential customers then. Entrepreneurs are driven. They think in terms of connectivity, saving time, money or resources. They are by their very nature, innovative - connecting things together in a different way to produce something new.

Tracey Lee Lorenson, Lawyer and Entrepreneur runs the Facebook group “Lifetime Tech Deal Fans” and says some of the strangest behaviour around lifetime deals is that no matter what the deal offers, people will always focus on what they don’t get. Someone may have a mailing list of 100 for example, but complain because the deal is capped at 10,000 per month. Tracey says it’s a real “what am I not getting here?” concern. 

“We’ve had amazing lifetime deals in the group, and some companies have been willing to remove all their branding so members can sell it as their own. In others that’s not an option and people get quite worked up. Some people seem to expect companies to give away their technology in order to help us as entrepreneurs build our business, yet we wouldn’t give our intellectual property to others to sell with no branding for the equivalent of two dollars a month.” Tracey reflects.

Another odd aspect is FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and the timeframe in which people buy their deals. Tracey estimates 30 - 40% of members in the group will wait until the final day of a deal to make their purchase, sometimes adding to cart in the last ten minutes, even with 30 - 60 day return policies.

What we don’t talk about, unless it’s in a jovial meme-style or self-deprecating fashion, is shelfware. The downward trip of intoxication can be several products which remain unused. The term was used by Silver and Marin in their 1994 book “Software Use and Disuse” but it remains unclear who coined the phrase.

Paul continues, “Before you know it, you’re sitting on a pile of shelfware and some of it, if not most is dead!”.

Tracey started her 5500+ Facebook member group in September 2016 after a lifetime deal she’d purchased went south. “There was no place for customers to have discussions,” Tracey said, “…it was all under the companies’ umbrellas and they were controlling those messages. Aggregating our voices has been very powerful. We have way better information on product purchases as a result of Facebook groups like ours. People can share feedback back and forth. Our group also offers a real advantage to SaaS companies because they get a great businesslike customer base without being widely viewed as a $49 for life product.”

Labelling products you don’t intend to implement right away as shelfware is harmful, Tracey cautions. “If it’s a product you didn’t need in the first place you’ve got to be careful about calling it shelfware. In a group like ours, people should be able to make an informed choice about whether they need things. I’d define shelfware as deals which have been abandoned by their founders.

Paul Landa’s view is that “lifetime deals are like the free toys on a magazine, they look great at a distance. Some fall to pieces, the odd one is great but then the others get put in the big box collecting dust to eventually be thrown out.”

In theory, tech companies shouldn't mind if you stack deals and don’t use them. They just gained your moolah without added strain on their systems, but in reality, if you don’t use the tools, you won’t see results. Investment with no engagement can lead to a dull product life cycle.

With little or no interaction, the softer definition of shelfware (not using it) can be the circuit breaker for tech success.

Part of the trade off with startup tech offers can be that the offers aren’t full-grown. The roadmap is bulging - but the pay off is you get a say in what’s on the cards - shaping what you need. Companies are keen to hear their customers’ feedback as they develop. Shelfware blunts that edge and creators can lose critical market intelligence.

Globally, SaaS is predicted to reach 99.7 billion dollars in revenue by 2020. We can expect even more tools to tempt us into the future.  

Perhaps ultimately the bottom line is if you’re thinking like a business and planning for the future, to build your empire and make your life easier, then the occasional purchase error resulting in shelfware is both inevitable and forgivable.

Img: Marco Verch 
Be it the result of a nasty breakup, a devious opportunist, or a malicious act from a vindictive party or individual, the sharing of intimate images online for the purposes of revenge and/or humiliation, known as ‘revenge porn’, is an increasingly widespread and damaging issue. The ease with which such images can now be proliferated online is astounding, and as such individuals are more susceptible than ever to this form of spiteful and loathsome attack.

Late last year Facebook announced a somewhat controversial scheme aimed at tackling this issue, launched at the time exclusively in Australia. Basically the company were asking any individuals who may be concerned about their private photos being shared online to send them in themselves. The image would then be viewed on a single occasion by one of Facebook’s specially-trained representatives in order for it to be converted into a digital code which is then stored for later reference. The image itself is not saved, but the code allows Facebook’s system to detect if the same photo is then uploaded again, preventing others from sharing your most intimate snaps. The controversy of course stemmed from these “specially-trained representatives” who are asked to view these photos when they are sent in, though it is hard to imagine how such a system would work without some form of human involvement.

Despite any apparent controversy however Facebook are pressing forward with the scheme, expanding its reach beyond Australia to cover the US, Canada, and the UK.

Facebook’s Global Head of Safety, Antigone Davis, explained how the program would work in a recent Facebook post:
  • Anyone who fears an intimate image of them may be shared publicly can contact one of our partners to submit a form
  • After submitting the form, the victim receives an email containing a secure, one-time upload link
  • The victim can use the link to upload images they fear will be shared
  • One of a handful of specifically trained members of our Community Operations Safety Team will review the report and create a unique fingerprint, or hash, [which] allows us to identify future uploads of the images without keeping copies of them on our servers
  • Once we create these hashes, we notify the victim via email and delete the images from our servers - no later than seven days
  • We store the hashes so any time someone tries to upload an image with the same fingerprint, we can block it from appearing on Facebook, Instagram or Messenger
If you are concerned about your private photos being shared online, and have no qualms about one of Facebook’s team seeing it once to ‘hash’ it, then the service may be of use. It still seems that the best way to prevent your intimate photos being shared online is to not take them in the first place, but it would be wrong to blame the victim in a situation like this; ultimately you are doing nothing wrong by sharing these moments with a partner, but they should be ashamed for breaking that trust.

When it comes to streaming music, few companies have been able to stand up against the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. These platforms have now integrated themselves so well into not just the daily lives of users but also the methodology and practices of the music industry itself that any company hoping to supplant them or even compete in a significant way is sure to have an uphill battle ahead of them.

However if there’s one company in the world with enough might behind them to take a bite out of Apple and Spotify’s dominant market share, it’s Google. Enter YouTube Music; a brand new music streaming service with a library that includes not only the biggest original hits new and old but also YouTube’s tremendous catalogue of remixes, live performances, covers and music videos.

News of the new service was officially announced via the official YouTube blog last week, at which time the company also unveiled the rather sleek reimagined mobile app (see above). Two versions of the app will be available; a free, ad-supported variant, and the flagship premium service, which includes an ad-free experience and background listening for the cost of $9.99 per month.

Users of the YouTube Premium service, formerly known as YouTube Red, will have YouTube Music included as part of their subscription, although the cost for this has now risen to $11.99 per month.
For those eager to try out the service in the UK, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait. YouTube officially began rolling out early access across the U.S., Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea yesterday (May 22nd), but there is no word as of yet on when YouTube Music may reach our shores here in the UK.

Img: Emojipedia/Twitter 

As any long time user of both the Twitter platform and Android devices will likely know, the experience can differ somewhat depending on the exact device and, more importantly, operating system that you are using. Among Android users the adoption rate for new OS and updates is reportedly rather slow, with as little as 6% of users having installed the latest Oreo update at the time of writing. This makes it difficult where emoji are concerned as each iteration carries with it its own emoji keyboard, leading to situations whereby users see nothing but crossed out black boxes in place of emoji when scrolling through them Twitter app. This may seem like a minor issue on the surface, but given how widely used emoji have become on Twitter and other platforms it can provide to be a real headache for users.

Well it seems that Twitter themselves have now decided to take action against this disjointed user experience by implementing their own emoji keyboard for Android devices, known as ‘Twemoji’. These will be shown to users of the app in place of the native emoji provided by the likes of Google and Samsung, although there is an option to turn the feature off if desired.

The new Twemoji library, first reported on by Emojipedia, was created using Google’s own EmojiCompat support library – a tool launched by Google in 2017 to allow app developers and companies to upload their own emoji which are supported across all platforms, rather than relying on the fast-changing selection provided by the Android OS.

While this change will be seen as inconsequential by many, any steps towards a cohesive and consistent user experience should be applauded; now if only they could sort out the platform’s many other problems…

The rise of social media has brought with it a wealth of benefits, forging and rekindling connections new and old and even helping businesses and other ventures find success. That being said the online world is not without its dangers, particularly where it pertains to children. These were recently brought to light once again as part of the Internet Safety Strategy consultation, published on Sunday 20th May, prompting UK Digital Secretary Matt Hancock to announce that new online safety laws will soon be created and introduced in a bid to tackle the “Wild West elements” of the internet and ultimately ensure that the UK becomes “the safest place in the world to be online”.

“Digital technology is overwhelmingly a force for good across the world and we must always champion innovation and change for the better,” said Mr Hancock during his announcement. “At the same time I have been clear that we have to address the Wild West elements of the Internet through legislation, in a way that supports innovation. We strongly support technology companies to start up and grow, and we want to work with them to keep our citizens safe.

“People increasingly live their lives through online platforms so it’s more important than ever that people are safe and parents can have confidence they can keep their children from harm,” he continued, “The measures we’re taking forward today will help make sure children are protected online and balance the need for safety with the great freedoms the internet brings just as we have to strike this balance offline.”

While it is unclear as yet what form this new legislation will take, or when exactly it will be introduced, the UK Government says you can rest assured it is coming. The specifics are to be developed over the coming months/years in collaboration with tech companies, children’s charities and other unspecified stakeholders, with the UK Government taking the lead. For now the DCMS and Home Office will be working with other government departments to create a white paper, to be published later this year, which will “set out legislation to be brought forward that tackles a range of both legal and illegal harms”.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said of the Government’s ongoing efforts, “Criminals are using the internet to further their exploitation and abuse of children, while terrorists are abusing these platforms to recruit people and incite atrocities. We need to protect our communities from these heinous crimes and vile propaganda and that is why this Government has been taking the lead on this issue.

“But more needs to be done and this is why we will continue to work with the companies and the public to do everything we can to stop the misuse of these platforms. Only by working together can we defeat those who seek to do us harm.”

Have you ever actually sat down and quantified the amount of time you spend absent-mindedly flicking through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter? Perhaps more importantly, what value do you glean from the time spent? Well according to the latest campaign from Romanian publisher Black Button Books, the answer is far too much, and very little.

The campaign, orchestrated by the Romanian ad agency Friends\TBWA , aims to correct this apparent issue by stating quite plainly that we should “Read Something Better”, breaking away from our endless passive consumption of social media and instead dedicating our time to something more worthwhile.

In a statement provided to Little Black Book Online, an agency representative explained the rationale behind the campaign as follows:

“Romania has one of the lowest reading rates per capita, so together with our client, Black Button Books, an indie publishing house, we decided to try to do something to encourage people to read more. And better.

“The campaign is based on the insight that people don't realize how much they actually read online every day, and they don't realize how much of it is worthless. However, when they see a book, they get discouraged by its length. So, by confronting them with this truth we hope to spark awareness and make them read something better, at least from time to time.”

The campaign itself takes a light-hearted tone, including print placements mocking the three most popular social networks (see article top) and a set of highly creative videos which highlight just how ludicrous the situation can become. The videos reimagine both Facebook and Instagram as physical books, and are quite effective in making their point while maintaining the necessary air of humour.

LinkedIn has always presented itself as a professional networking platform; a hub for influencers, recruiters, and jobseekers alike. Now they’re taking their commitment to helping their users fin d employment to the next level with the launch of their brand new ‘How You Match’ feature.

As announced via the LinkedIn blog earlier this week, when you view a job on LinkedIn you can now look toward the right-hand side of the page to find ‘How You Match’. Here you’ll find a checklist of how factors such as your education level, skills, years of experience, and current job title, match up with the company’s stated requirements. As an added bonus for premium members, these users will also see their applicant rank within the posting, which tells said users if they’re in the top percentile of applicants for the job.

Along with the ‘How You Match’ feature, LinkedIn have also announced another new addition in the form of a 1-Click Apply button for certain job postings on both mobile and desktop versions of the platform. This, as the name suggests, allows users to save their basic information and resume so they can easily apply for a job with a single click or tap.

Also included in the aforementioned announcement were a set of tips provided by LinkedIn in order to help users maximise the benefits of these new features. The company’s recommendations are as follows:
  • Keep your skills fresh. In today’s quickly changing workforce, staying on top of your skills and showing what you know matters more than ever. In fact, nearly 40% of recruiters are using skills to search for talent. Some of our recent research found that soft skills like communication, and basic digital literacy skills like email and typing are in high demand from employers right now, and facing national shortages. You can now reorder and pin skills to make sure the right information is standing out.
  • Update your location, industry and current role. These will all not only help get the most accurate results from How You Match, but will also help recruiters find you and help us recommend the right jobs for you. Having your location on your profile also makes you up to 23 times more likely to be found in search results.
  • Add your education. Your education makes it easier for your classmates and other alumni to find you on LinkedIn - and you never know what opportunity a new connection (or re-connection) might bring. Each new connection represents 400 new people you can get introduced to, 100 new companies who may be looking for talent like you, and a connection to more than 500 jobs.

The Facebook platform is awash with teen users, and many under their stated minimum age whether they would like to admit to that or not. With this user base comes a perilous predicament; how to keep them safe as they drift away from parental supervision and must learn to navigate the online world of their own accord.

To help their younger users to stay safe and secure on the platform, as well as offer guidance on how to navigate the site itself, Facebook this week launched their brand new Youth Portal. The online resource serves as a central hub for teens who may be concerned or have queries about the platform and its services. The portal offers resources such as:
  • Education: Information on how to get the most out of products like Pages, Groups, Events, and Profile, while staying safe. Plus, information on the types of data Facebook collects and how we use it
  • Peer Voices: First person accounts from teens around the world about how they are using technology in new and creative ways
  • Ways to control your experience: Tips on things like security, reporting content, and deciding who can see what you share
  • Advice: What to do if you need a social media break, and some guidelines for how to get the most out of the internet
The Youth Portal serves as a public example of Facebook’s purported commitment to protecting the privacy of its youngest users, though given how many teens tend to interact with social media apps and platforms I honestly expect this to be largely ignored by its intended audience. Instead, I expect the parents of teens using the platform to frequent the site most often.

The Youth Portal went live on May 15th 2018, and is available in 60 languages.

I am a firm believer that from time to time, we must allow ourselves a moment to conduct a form of internal evaluation exercise, clarifying that the person or ‘avatar’ we develop in social networks is really the person we want to be, and be seen as. The first thing is to plan a series of goals or achievements that we must meet to develop our purposes in the network. These purposes can be personal or professional. Examples of these goals may include personal ambitions such as getting a love interest towards the end of the year, ambitious pursuits like becoming mayor of your city, or professional endeavours like presenting yourself as a trustworthy seller more concerned about the welfare of clients than pure financial gain.

As I wrote before, the purposes are varied and we must bear in mind that when we have many goals or objectives at the same time, one can play against the other. If I offer to be aware of my clients 24 hours a day and resolve questions promptly, this alone is very possible; however if I do not have an employee who can keep an eye on things on my behalf then I may end up in a situation whereby I have no time to pursue other goals like going on a date, and if I do find the time I’ll likely be overly distracted by phone calls, messages and emails. Therefore, it is best to start with small and practical goals, increasing the demands we place upon ourselves little-by-little over time.

You cannot expect to have twenty thousand followers in less than an hour if you have never created content, much less if it is your first time posting on social networks. We establish our place within these online networks in a gradual way, much as we do when getting to know someone in any other walk of life; first we start making an impression of ourselves, then a conversation, later a friendship and from that link a level of trust is generated. In person it takes us years, even decades, to become known as friends, professionals or a committed husband or wife. Even so there are always surprises; imagine then what happens in the network that is a cold and more technological medium where words, emoticons, and even photos and videos play a part in crafting our online persona. So to begin this internal evaluation exercise we should all try to do the following:
  1. Create a character profile (Avatar) in the same write psychological characteristics by which I want to be known.
  2. Be clear about the Avatar’s objectives in the network. Direct my publications towards the purpose to be achieved.
  3. This is the most important of all, read your posts from time to time and see if what you’re posting on the networks (call Facebook, Instagram, twitter, snapshot, etc.) corresponds to the profile you designed at the beginning.
When you finish developing this exercise and see that your profile and goals do not correspond to your publications, you should look for ways to amend the course. That is to say, correct what does not help to develop your goals and even create ways to improve your image. In the end, this online Avatar is your other self, it is part of you, in the best of cases it’s yourself and you must take care of how to present yourself to the world.

As part of Google’s wider commitment to reducing the amount of time we spend glued to the screens of our phones, as expressed during the I/O 2018 conference which took place earlier this week, YouTube are rolling out a brand new feature which aims to gently remind users to take a break from binge-watching fail videos and hopefully do something a little more productive.

Google’s wider efforts include a slurry of new features to be incorporated into the upcoming Android P update, such as a breakdown of the number of times you’ve unlocked your device, a grouping system for notifications, and details on how much time you’re spending in individual apps.

YouTube’s initial update is a little more focused, with the primary offering being an optional setting which prompts you to take a break following a set period of time on the app. This can be turned on by opening the settings menu and selecting the “Remind me to take a break” option. At this point users can choose to be prompted every 15, 30, 60, 90, or 180 minutes - or of course never. It is worth noting however that this is turned off by default and can easily be ignored even by those users who do opt to activate the feature, so it is unclear how much help it will actually be.

Along with the new “Take a Break” feature, YouTube are also adding a new setting which creates what they call a “scheduled digest”, combining all of the individual notifications you’d normally get from the app into a single list that’s delivered at a time of day of your choosing, further reducing the time you spend checking your phone.

User privacy on social media platforms is arguably the hot topic of the moment, and as such it stands to reason that consumers and industry insiders alike are being particularly vigilant when it comes to the practices employed by companies in regards to the gathering and use of our personal data. The latest to get caught up in this furore are banking group Allied Irish Bank (AIB), who have recently been accused of spying on the social media accounts of their customers.

According to a report in the Irish Independent, mortgage applicants now have to sign a consent form allowing the bank to check their social media accounts. The bank insists this is necessary as it “helps us to understand your behaviour”, however mortgage brokers have spoken out against AIB and accusing the banking group of playing “Big Brother with their social media information”.

One major issue here is that the banking group seem to offer no way to opt out; basically if you wish to do business with the bank, you must agree to this ‘check’ of your online presence. For many this may present issues, with those involved in activist movements such as anti-eviction rallies surfacing as a notable example of groups who may suffer at the hands of this practice.

The bank has defended its social media monitoring, stating that it complies with all data protection requirements and only monitors “personal information provided on AIB Group social channels to respond and deal with customer queries”.

The bank also added that it engages in “regular social listening” whereby it monitors trends and sentiment towards the brand on Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels. However, AIB stated that it never analyses individual customers’ social media accounts or uses that information to analyse any individual’s behaviour.

In the wake of a heavy slew of criticism concerning the role of social media platforms in enabling outside individuals to allegedly meddle in the US election, Facebook have made the decision to ban ads relating to the Irish abortion referendum if the ad in question is being run by parties or individuals outside of Ireland. Google meanwhile have gone one step further and banned all ads relating to the referendum regardless of where they come from.

Announcing the decision earlier this week, a Facebook spokesperson stated, “As part of our efforts to help protect the integrity of elections and referendums from undue influence, we will begin rejecting ads related to the referendum if they are being run by advertisers based outside of Ireland.”

A google spokesman later echoed this statement, declaring, “Following our update around election integrity efforts globally, we have decided to pause all ads related to the Irish referendum on the eighth amendment.”

I can only see the decision on the part of both companies as a good thing here, as it should allow the democratic process to proceed without hindrance from outside parties on the platforms. Given how social media has long been credited with the creation of ‘echo chambers’ or ‘social media bubbles’ which limit our access to more diverse sources of information and differing opinions, this should help make the online world more of a level playing field and thereby allow for a fairer process. The bubble still exists of course as this phenomenon is fuelled by far more than ads, but at least your attention can no longer be bought in the hope of securing your vote.

The addictive nature of gambling is widely known; it is a well-documented struggle for many and one that can ultimately have a drastic and disastrous effect on the livelihood and wellbeing of the sufferer. Gambling is not the only pastime that can progress into a damaging addiction however, with experts now frequently warning that if utilised incorrectly, social media can become a similar burden.
Now experts are warning that social media addiction bares more similarity to an ingrained dependency on gambling than previously known, with many prominent platforms in fact using the exact same methodology to keep their users hooked.

In a recent conversation with The Guardian, MIT anthropologist Natasha Schüll - author of the widely-acclaimed exploration into the psychology of gambling 'Addiction by Design', published in 2014 - said, “Facebook, Twitter and other companies use methods similar to the gambling industry to keep users on their sites. In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention – which is measured in clicks and time spent.”

“If you disengage, you get peppered with little messages or bonus offers to get your attention and pull you back in,” continued Schüll. “We have to start recognising the costs of time spent on social media. It’s not just a game – it affects us financially, physically and emotionally.”

Ms Schüll is far from the only individual to hold this sentiment. Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction and Director of Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit, compares the methodology to that employed by slot machines. He states, “The rewards are what psychologists refer to as variable reinforcement schedules and is the key to social media users repeatedly checking their screens. Social media sites are chock-a-block with unpredictable rewards. They are trying to grab users’ attentions ... to make social media users create a routine and habitually check their screens.”

Professor Daniel Kruger, an expert in human behaviour at the University of Michigan, offers a rather stark summary, “Phantom calls and notifications are linked to our psychological craving for such signals. These social media messages can activate the same brain mechanisms as cocaine and this is just one of the ways to identify those mechanisms because our minds are a physiological product of our brain.

“There are whole departments trying to design their systems to be as addictive as possible. They want you to be permanently online and by bombarding you with messages and stimuli try to redirect your attention back to their app or webpage.”

Last week Facebook hosted their annual F8 Conference, and this year’s event certainly provided no shortage of talking points. Over the course of the two-day conference Facebook unveiled new dating features, advances in AI and the addition of upvotes and downvotes to name just a few examples, but our highlight from day two has got to be the demonstration given of Facebook’s advancements in the fields of AR and VR.

The demonstration focused on the recreation of realistic physical environments in a digital space. Making use of a brand new prototype system the company’s researchers have been able to convincingly recreate such spaces in full 3D, as displayed in the side-by-side comparison video below.

In a blog post summarising the events of the F8 Conference, Facebook said, “Facebook’s advancements in AR and VR draw from an array of research areas to help us create better shared experiences, regardless of physical distance. From capturing realistic-looking surroundings to producing next-generation avatars, we’re closer to making AR/VR experiences feel like reality.”

Facebook are also testing this functionality on old 2D photos, allowing users to easily recreate spaces from their past and explore them anew. This is achieved using machine learning technology alongside “point-cloud reconstruction”, transforming photos and videos into immersive 3D worlds.

You may have noticed in the above quote that as well as working on the creation of realistic environments to explore, Facebook are also delving into ways to help computers generate photorealistic avatars. Their remarkable progress can be seen in the video below.

Account security is an important matter for users, and rightly so. Our online profiles often contain sensitive or private information, and as they are of course associated with an individual, group, or company, any comments made on such platforms may land the person associated with the account in some rather hot water. That is why it is somewhat alarming to learn that Twitter recently identified a bug within their own systems which stored user passwords, completely unmasked, in an internal log.

In a statement posted to the company’s official blog, Twitter said, “When you set a password for your Twitter account, we use technology that masks it so no one at the company can see it. We recently identified a bug that stored passwords unmasked in an internal log. We have fixed the bug, and our investigation shows no indication of breach or misuse by anyone.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we ask that you consider changing your password on all services where you’ve used this password. You can change your Twitter password anytime by going to the password settings page.”

The same notification was also sent to users via email.

So how exactly did this happen? Passwords stored within Twitter’s systems, obviously a necessary thing to do to enable verification, are ordinarily ‘masked’ using a process known as ‘hashing’ facilitated by a function called bcrypt. The bcrypt function replaces the actual password with a randomised set of numbers to which the system will refer for validation without revealing any actual details. The bug Twitter themselves identified was causing passwords to be stored within an internal log in their original form before the hashing process was completed. While Twitter insists that their investigation shows no sign of any issues as a result of the bug, there are nonetheless recommending that users change their passwords.

In light of this bug being found Twitter have offered the following tips on account security:
  1. Change your password on Twitter and on any other service where you may have used the same password.
  2. Use a strong password that you don’t reuse on other websites.
  3. Enable login verification, also known as two factor authentication. This is the single best action you can take to increase your account security.
  4. Use a password manager to make sure you’re using strong, unique passwords everywhere.

Snapchat just can’t catch a break at the moment, though to be fair the problem seems to be largely of their own making. Ever since the company decided to implement a major redesign of their flagship app the public’s opinion has been swayed somewhat toward the negative as users have become frustrated with the company’s apparent refusal to reverse the “annoying” changes. This is despite the fact that by the time February came around more than 1.2 million users had signed a petition demanding that Snapchat revert to their previous design.

Kylie Jenner, controversial as her fame may be in the eyes of the wider public, was once the app’s largest-drawing account. When she took to Twitter back in February to ask, “Does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore?”, it signalled dire times for the company.

In fairness Snap Inc. has been attempting to resolve the issue with yet more recent redesigns, but these have failed to win over the user base. Now these dire times have been reflected in the company’s finances, as Snap Inc.’s share price dropped by a massive 22% in early trading. A combination of the aforementioned user backlash, along with the company’s ongoing struggle to compete with the global giant that is Facebook and the ever-popular Instagram, are attributed with causing Snapchat’s financial woes.

Growth is proving to be a major hurdle for the app; in fact Snapchat also issued a growth warning which indicated that due to the fallout surrounding the redesign they were expecting a substantial slowdown in revenue throughout the current quarter. As you may expect this admission wo0rried analysts and investors alike causing the share price to suffer as a result.

Ding-dong! The witch is dead. This is the cry being heard across social media platforms as Cambridge Analytica, the UK-based political consulting firm embroiled in the Facebook data harvesting scandal, have announced that they are immediately ceasing all operations and beginning insolvency proceeding in the UK and US.

The company announced their decision in a press release on May 2nd, throughout which they continued to deny any wrongdoing.

“Over the past several months, Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of numerous unfounded accusations and, despite the Company’s efforts to correct the record, has been vilified for activities that are not only legal, but also widely accepted as a standard component of online advertising in both the political and commercial arenas,” the company stated.

“Despite Cambridge Analytica’s unwavering confidence that its employees have acted ethically and lawfully, the siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the Company’s customers and suppliers.  As a result, it has been determined that it is no longer viable to continue operating the business, which left Cambridge Analytica with no realistic alternative to placing the Company into administration.”

The problem in the eyes of the public is that the scandal was more about ethics than laws; in fact surely the upcoming overhaul of regulations under GDPR is evidence enough that current laws are insufficient. While Cambridge Analytica and their parent company SCL Elections Ltd. May not have broken any laws they have damaged their reputation irreparably and lost any measure of trust the public may have granted them. In the wake of all this, the company’s closure comes as no real surprise.

Video is experiencing something of a boom on Twitter and seems to be turning their fortunes in the process. Twitter assert that video now accounts for more than half of their ad revenue and was again the fastest-growing ad format in the first quarter of 2018; a fact they are clearly keen to capitalise on as the company announced during their 2018 Digital Content NewFronts event that they are upping the number of premium content deals they hold with traditional media partners to nearly double its current figure, and they’re bringing in some pretty notable brands as they do so.

Media companies now partnering with Twitter include the likes of Disney/ESPN, NBC Universal, Viacom, Live Nation Entertainment, Hearst Magazine Digital Studios, and Will Packer Media. The company have also expanded existing deals with sporting bodies such as MLB and MLS.

To give you an idea of the sort of content you can expect, NBC Universal will distribute live video from NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, and E!. Viacom meanwhile will reportedly distribute a total of four live shows based on MTV, BET, and Comedy Central properties.

Most exciting from my own point of view however is the deal with Disney/ESPN, which will bring live shows from ESPN, ABC, Disney Channel, Disney Motion Pictures, and the now global-behemoth that is Marvel.

In a blog post explaining the new deals, the company stated, “Twitter is what’s happening and this makes it a unique and powerful platform for premium video content that people watch and discuss in real time. With these new content offerings, we’re helping people enjoy more great video content, helping publishers drive more revenue, and helping brands align with the best mobile video content, all at massive and accelerating scale. If you’re a brand, there’s no better time to reach and engage your audience through premium video content.”

The timing couldn’t be better for Twitter, and investors are already getting excited about what these new deals may mean for the company’s prospects. I suppose only time will tell on that front, but as users we are surely on the winning end of this.

For a full breakdown of all new content coming to Twitter as part of the new deals, take a look at the summary provided in the original report from Variety.

Taking to the stage in San Jose, California for the F8 Facebook Developer Conference on May 1st, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced during his keynote speech that Facebook will be delving into the world of dating with new features designed for “building real, long-term relationships - not just for hook-ups.” The latter comment, which Zuckerberg delivered with a chuckle, appears to be a not-so-subtle swipe at long-established dating apps like Tinder, which has gained something of a negative reputation in many circles.

In a blog post summarising the first day of the F8 Conference, Facebook shed further light on how exactly the new feature will work, reiterating the explanation given on stage by Facebook product chief Chris Cox.

Facebook product chief Chris Cox addresses the audience at the F8 Conference   - Img: Facebook
“People already use Facebook to meet new people, and we want to make that experience better,” the post states, “People will be able to create a dating profile that is separate from their Facebook profile - and potential matches will be recommended based on dating preferences, things in common, and mutual friends. They’ll have the option to discover others with similar interests through their Groups or Events. However, what people do within the dating feature will not be shown to their friends. We’ll share more information when this begins testing later this year.”

User privacy and of course the potential for embarrassment are always concerns with such features, especially on a site such as Facebook which contains much of our personal information and links to our social circles. Attempting to address this concern, Zuckerberg told the F8 audience, “We have designed this with privacy and safety in mind from the beginning. Your friends aren’t going to see your profile, and you’re only going to be suggested to people who are not your friends.”

The announcement is already having an impact upon established brands in the dating game such as Tinder and OkCupid, both owned by parent company Match Group. The Verge reports that as soon as Facebook’s plans were announced, Match Group’s stock dropped by 17%.

As is apparently the way with each and every new feature Facebook launch however, this one is not without its controversies. Some have questioned the company’s decision to allow individuals listed as ‘in a relationship’ or ‘married’ to use the dating feature as they fear it will promote extramarital relationships and messy break-ups. Others however point to the occurrence of open relationships and other non-monogamous forms of relationships and instead applaud Facebook for their inclusivity.

According to the latest Nielsen data, long relied upon to measure audiences for television, radio and newspapers in media markets, cord-cutting has risen to the point whereby more than half of 18-49 year-olds in the US are either light viewers of TV or do not subscribe to TV at all. This presents something of a dilemma to advertisers hoping to gain exposure to these markets.

Viewers are slowly but surely drifting away from the classic television format and shifting towards on-demand services and platforms where they can watch what they want, when they want; an assertion backed up by a recent Google-commissioned Nielsen custom fusion study which found that of the aforementioned cord-cutters, as many as 90% instead turn to YouTube for their fix.

Img: Esther Vargas
This is a finding which YouTube themselves are of course keen to capitalise on, and so in an effort to do just that they recently announced what they describe as “a new set of opportunities on YouTube to help brands reach these viewers across content and devices.” Basically, they are making it easier for advertisers to reach users watching via set-top boxes, gaming consoles, streaming devices and smart TVs.

In an official announcement posted to the YouTube blog, the company stated, “We’re amidst the second major shift in how people watch video on YouTube. In the past few years, we witnessed mobile viewership exceed desktop, marking the first major shift in how people interacted with YouTube. Now, in 2018, viewers are returning to that original, purpose-built device for video viewing – the television set.

“TV screens are our fastest growing screen counting over 150 million hours of watch time per day. We heard from advertisers that they want in so we have been working to make it easy for you to find your most engaged, valuable audience while they are watching YouTube on a TV set, with the new TV screens device type. In the coming months, we’ll add TV screens – joining computers, mobile phones and tablets – to AdWords and DoubleClick Bid Manager, so advertisers globally can tailor their campaigns for this environment – for example, by using a different creative.”

Also as part of the update YouTube TV will be added to Google Preferred for the first time, allowing advertisers access to full-length TV inventory and further simplifying the process for those who want to reach YouTube’s viewers regardless of the device they’re using.

Twitter seem to be putting a lot of effort into the promotion of news links on the platform as of late; the first sign of this came last month when they began placing such links in prime position atop users’ news feeds, and now they’re going one step further by grouping all related tweets from your friends and extended network together with the story itself.

The new feature shares many similarities with the approach used by rival platform Facebook, who have long since grouped together related links, shares and comments. In the case of Twitter however as it makes even more sense given how they have subtly changed their focus and even the classification of their app from ‘social networking’ to ‘news’ in recent times. It is hoped that this new feature will increase engagement with news articles whilst also helping users to gain a more complete overview of the subject in question as comments relating to the piece will be immediately visible.

The feature will also substantially help in tidying up users’ timelines, as multiple stories on the same subject will no longer appear separately at various points in your news feed.

A twitter spokesperson confirmed in a conversation with BuzzFeed that the new feature has now been rolled out to all users across iOS, Android and desktop. So whatever platform you may use Twitter on, you can expect to see a lot more news links on your timeline from now on.

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