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(Reuters) – Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg is planning to unify the underlying messaging infrastructure of the WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger services and incorporate end-to-end encryption into these apps, the New York Times reported on Friday.
WhatsApp and Facebook messenger icons are seen on an iPhone in Manchester , Britain March 27, 2017. REUTERS/Phil Noble
The three services will, however, continue as stand-alone apps, the report said, citing four people involved in the effort.
Facebook said it is working on adding end-to-end encryption, which protects messages from being viewed by anyone except the participants in a conversation, to more of its messaging products, and considering ways to make it easier for users to connect across networks.
“There is a lot of discussion and debate as we begin the long process of figuring out all the details of how this will work,” a spokesperson said.
After the changes, a Facebook user, for instance, will be able send an encrypted message to someone who has only a WhatsApp account, according to the New York Times report.
Integrating the messaging services could make it harder for antitrust regulators to break up Facebook by undoing its acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, said Sam Weinstein, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
“If Facebook is worried about that then one way it can defend itself is to integrate those services,” Weinstein said.
But Weinstein said breaking up Facebook is viewed as an “extreme remedy” by regulators, particularly in the United States, so concerns over antitrust scrutiny may not have been a factor behind the integration.
Some former Facebook security engineers and an outside encryption expert said the plan could be good news for user privacy, in particular by extending end-to-end encryption.
“I’m cautiously optimistic it’s a good thing,” said former Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos, who now teaches at Stanford University. “My fear was that they were going to drop end-to-end encryption.”
However, the technology does not always conceal metadata – information about who is talking to whom – sparking concern among some researchers that the data might be shared.
Any metadata integration likely will let Facebook learn more about users, linking identifiers such as phone numbers and email addresses for those using the services independently of each other.
Facebook could use that data to charge more for advertising and targeted services, although it also would have to forgo ads based on message content in Messenger and Instagram.
Other major tradeoffs will have to be made too, Stamos and others said.
Messenger allows strangers to contact people without knowing their phone numbers, for example, increasing the risk of stalking and approaches to children.
Systems based on phone numbers have additional privacy concerns, because governments and other entities can easily extract location information from them.
Stamos said he hoped Facebook would get public input from terrorism experts, child safety officers, privacy advocates and others and be transparent in its reasoning when it makes decisions on the details.
“It should be an open process, because you can’t have it all,” Stamos said.
Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru, Jan Wolfe in Washington and Joseph Menn in San Francisco; Writing by Katie Paul; Editing by Tom Brown
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Instacart said on Tuesday it hired Bangaly Kaba as vice president of growth from Facebook Inc’s Instagram as the grocery delivery startup tries to make itself a household name.
Kaba, who had been with Facebook since 2014, said in a statement to Reuters that his team helped double Instagram’s monthly users to more than 1 billion in about two years, and he saw the opportunity for similar growth at Instacart.
“While the two ‘Instas’ are inherently different products, I see the same growth potential in Instacart that I saw in Instagram’s early days,” he said.
As part of Instacart’s product organization, Kaba’s unit will be focused on attracting customers and turning them into paying members of a grocery service that competes with Amazon.com Inc and several boutique players to bring online grocery orders direct to Americans’ doorsteps.
Instacart’s previous growth chief left in September.
The company raised $ 871 million from investors, including U.S. hedge fund Tiger Global Management, in recent weeks, valuing the startup at nearly $ 7.9 billion.
Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Dan Grebler
(Reuters) – Facebook Inc on Monday said a technical problem prevented some users from accessing and posting on the social network as well as messaging app Whatsapp and Instagram, and it had mostly fixed the issue.
FILE PHOTO: A Facebook panel is seen during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, in Cannes, France, June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo
“Earlier today, a networking issue caused some people to have trouble accessing or posting to various Facebook services. We quickly investigated and started restoring access, and we have nearly fixed the issue for everyone. We’re sorry for the inconvenience,” Facebook spokesman Jay Nancarrow said.
Most affected users experienced problems for less than 90 minutes and the problem was not specific to a particular region.
Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Cynthia Osterman
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Revenue forecasts from Facebook Inc (FB.O) that alarmed investors, fueling the worst day ever for its shares on Thursday, add to the pressure on its Instagram unit to win over more of the ad buyers that have long found success on the company’s flagship app.
FILE PHOTO: The Facebook logo is displayed on their website in an illustration photo taken in Bordeaux, France, February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo
Instagram and Facebook users see about the same number of ads, but Instagram ad prices are half of what Facebook charges because of the limited number of advertisers vying for spots on Instagram, four ad buyers said.
Investors have been counting on revenue from Instagram to overcome stalling usage of Facebook’s core app. But the gap it has to fill has widened sooner than expected.
The social media company suffered the biggest one-day wipeout in U.S. stock market history, losing more than $ 120 billion in market capitalization as shares fell 19 percent a day after executives forecast years of lower profit margins due to regulatory pressure over privacy.
Instagram users are not accustomed to clicking on links in posts, which makes the service less effective at generating online purchases than Facebook, said Erik Huberman, founder of the ad buying agency Hawke Media.
Data about viewership of ads is lacking in comparison to Facebook, he added.
“There are fundamental issues with the platform…which means any type of modern marketer would be hesitant to increase spend on Instagram,” Huberman said.
Some advertisers fond of Facebook are seeing subpar results on Instagram, according to advertising buyers. Others have been stymied by the higher bar for eye-catching content on Instagram and a general unease among advertisers about a newer service, the ad buyers said.
“A lot of businesses don’t put ads on Instagram because the reality is they don’t have the content to play on Instagram,” said David Herrmann, advertising director at Social Outlier, which spends nearly $ 15 million each quarter on Facebook ads on behalf of clients. “A local flooring business is not going to appeal on Instagram, like on Facebook.”
Instagram is its parent company’s fastest-growing slice of revenue, but it touts 4 million fewer monthly advertisers globally. As Instagram has shown more ads, the average price per ad across Facebook’s entire family of apps has declined in two straight quarters after a year of upswing. A new privacy law in Europe also has affected prices.
The latest results prompted Stifel, Nicolaus & Co analyst Scott Devitt to lower an Instagram revenue estimate for 2019 to $ 13 billion from $ l4.64 billion, with lowered expectations for prices and views.
Instagram and Facebook declined to comment for this story.
Company executives have reason for optimism. The average price for an ad seen 1,000 times was $ 4.70 on Instagram during the second quarter, rising twice as fast as standard Facebook ads compared with the prior quarter, according to data tracked by marketing software firm Kenshoo.
Instagram has worked for advertisers seeking name recognition or posting attractive video content, such as movie trailers, said Mark Smith of the ad buying agency True Interactive, which spends $ 25 million annually on Facebook and Instagram for clients including Redbox and Montage Hotels.
New features for users and advertisers, including replicating an ad design tool rival Snap Inc (SNAP.N) launched last year, could help reduce the apprehension among other advertisers, said Chris Costello, Kenshoo’s senior director of marketing research.
Earlier this year, Instagram introduced options that automatically formats advertisers’ videos and let them have multiple photos in an ad. But companies still must have higher-quality content than on Facebook to get noticed, Costello said.
Tom Buontempo, president of ad agency Attention, said a first step is getting more companies to open free Instagram accounts, which is needed to advertise.
“Surprisingly, there are still quite a few advertisers who haven’t leveraged the potential of Instagram’s ad products,” he said.
Reporting by Paresh Dave; Additional reporting by Sheila Dang; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Lisa Shumaker
When Google launched its Pixel 2 flagship smartphone last year, it included something of a surprise: A co-processor called Pixel Visual Core, the company’s first homegrown, consumer-facing piece of silicon. And while that feels like a momentous foray, the co-processor has lain dormant for months. Monday, Pixel Visual Core goes to work.
As it turns out—and as Google had nodded at previously—the hidden chip inside every Pixel serves a narrow but critical purpose. It will use its eight custom cores, its ability to crunch 3 trillion operations per second, all in the service of making your photos look better. Specifically, the photos you take through third-party apps like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Snapchat.
Those are the three partners at the Pixel Visual Core switch-flipping; since it’s open to all developers, more will presumably follow. They’ll all gain the powers to produce Google’s HDR+ images, photos that rely on a series of post-processing tricks to make images shot with the Pixel appear more balanced and lifelike. Photos taken with the Pixel Camera app have already benefited from HDR+ powers since launch—that’s one reason Pixel 2 earned the highest marks yet given to a smartphone by industry-standard photo-rater DxOMark. But Pixel Visual Core will extend the feature to the streams, feeds, and snaps of Pixel owners as well, after an update that will roll out early this week.
To understand why Google would devote its first homemade smartphone processor to a relatively narrow function—not just photography, but HDR+ specifically—it helps to understand the importance of HDR+ to the Pixel’s photo prowess. For starters, it’s not the HDR you’re used to.
“HDR+ actually works shockingly differently,” says Isaac Reynolds, project manager for Pixel Camera. Where HDR essentially tries to combine three or so simultaneous exposures for the best result, HDR+ takes up to 10 identical underexposed shots. “We take them all and chop them into little bits, and line them on top of one another, and average the image together,” says Reynolds, who ticks off the reduction in noise and color quality as just two of the benefits.
That’s not just hype, or at least not entirely. HDR+ really does have tangible benefits—especially in Google’s implementation.
“HDR+ technology is a very good technology for noise and data preservation. This removes the noise in the picture,” says Hervé Macudzinski, manager of DxOMark.com. “That enables Google to provide a nice picture with low level noise high level detail.”
You can see an example of what that means in the below before-and-after shots, with the usual caveat that Google provided them, and your own experience may vary.
The various benefits of HDR+ are also more or less pronounced depending on the conditions of the shot you’re taking. It helps especially bringing clarity to low-light images, or to give an assist if you for some reason take a portrait with the sun at someone’s back.
Google’s not the only company capable of this particular trick, but its execution clearly stands apart.
“The HDR+ is very impressive because they did something very efficient,” says Macudzinski. “If you want to do that, it’s going to be optimized and very powerful.”
Pixel Visual Core will also power two related photographic enhancements; RAISR, a technique to sharpen zoomed-in shots, and Zero Shutter Lag, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Until now, these optimizations have been off limits for third-party developers. Photos taken within the Instagram app, for instance, look a bit muddled compared to those taken with the Pixel’s native camera app. Which is where Pixel Visual Core comes in.
Sharing the Wealth
The primary benefit of the Pixel Visual Core, now that it’s on? You still won’t even notice it, says Ofer Shacham, the chip’s engineering manager.
“If we look at HDR+ as a key benchmark for us, it gives us the ability to run five times faster than anything else in existence, while consuming about 1/10th of the energy of the battery. We can put it under the hood,” says Schacham. “We basically hide it. That’s what enables every developer to use it, while not consuming energy from the battery, and even better, reducing the energy consumption from the battery while those applications take pictures.”
That also hints at why Google decided to go it alone with Pixel Visual Core, rather than rely on the powerful Snapdragon 835 processor that handles the bulk of the Pixel 2’s computational needs. The Pixel Visual Core offers not just customization, but flexibility.
“Google in a sense is a software and algorithm company,” says Schacham. “We want something that allows us to rapidly innovate, rapidly change the algorithm, rapidly improve it.”
To that end, the Pixel Visual Core is also programmable. That means while it works primarily in service of HDR+ today, it could go toward making other applications zip in the future, a possibility that Schacham acknowledges, while declining to go into detail on what sorts of use cases Google envisions.
More broadly, though, the Pixel Visual Core represents Google’s first foray into an increasingly common trend of smartphone manufacturers rolling their own silicon, giving itself tighter control over its product and weaning itself off of chip giant Qualcomm.
“I think it’s significant in that, first off, Google is an advertising company, who is also an operating system provider, and they are going more deeply vertical in what they’re doing by adding semiconductor features to enhance the experience,” says Patrick Moorhead, president of Moor Insights & Strategies. “Any time somebody in software gets into hardware, interesting things happen—as in interesting really good, or interesting really bad.”
It would also make sense, Moorhead says, for Google to extend its processor plans beyond Pixel Visual Core. Microsoft uses a custom system-on-a-chip for the Xbox. Apple’s A series SoC has contributed greatly to the iPhone’s dominance. And with Google having poached a key Apple chip designer last summer, it seems unlikely that an HDR+ coprocessor is the end of the line.
For now, though, Pixel 2 owners can look forward to adding an HDR+ veneer to their social media pics—while waiting Google’s broader ambitions to come more fully into focus.
This week in security, we took a long look at a long-running scam: A man who hacked his way into at least 78 hotel rooms over the course of several years, thanks to a known bug that let him slip in and out like a ghost. Or if you’re into something a little more whimsical, we found what very much appear to be the Amazon Wish Lists of several of Donald Trump’s inner circle. Something for everyone! And there’s so much more.
The alt-right has said they came to Charlottesville with peaceful intentions, but online chats leading up to the event suggest at least some of them had violence on the brain. North Korean president Kim Jong-Un appears to have had a similar mindset this week, sending a missile over Japan with no warning, a direct and defiant response to Trump’s previous nuclear bluster.
Thinking more locally, it turns out to be alarmingly easy to steal money off of gift cards. The rates that prisons charge inmates to conduct video chats with loved ones are so exorbitant that they amount to a different kind of theft. We also took an in-depth look at how the Android Security team helped fortify the recent Oreo release—and took big steps to help solve the operating system’s ongoing fragmentation woes.
Of course, there’s more, which is why we’ve rounded up all the news we didn’t break or cover in depth this week. As usual, click on the headlines to read the full stories, and be safe out there.
While it’s not clear exactly which celebrities were impacted, Instagram acknowledged this week that a bug in its API allowed hackers to get their hands on the phone numbers and email addresses of “high-profile” Instagram users, which presumably means verified accounts. No passwords were compromised, and Instagram says it has contacted all impacted accounts. The worst-case scenario here would be some semi-elaborate social engineering that led to an account takeover, but mostly, if you’re famous, you might want to change your number.
It turns out that digital security gets pretty messy after we’ve put computers in our pockets, our cars, our door locks—and perhaps most of all, our bodies. There’s no better evidence of that than hundreds of thousands of people with heart conditions being told by the US government that they need to update their pacemakers’ firmware or face a potentially deadly hacker attack. This week the FDA warned 465,000 people with pacemakers made by St. Jude Medical, now owned by the healthcare company Abbott, that they’d need to visit a doctor who can perform a firmware update on the digital devices in their chests designed to fix a critical security vulnerability in those life-saving gadgets. Last year the hedge fund Muddy Waters revealed with the help of the security consultancy MedSec that St. Jude’s pacemakers were vulnerable to hackers who could take control of the software used to configure the pacemakers and wirelessly attack them from as far as 100 feet away. That would allow hackers to disable the pacemakers or even use them to deliver potentially fatal electric shocks. While Muddy Waters used that revelation as an opportunity to short-sell St. Jude’s stock in a controversial move, their findings were nonetheless backed up by security firm Bishop Fox, which independently tested the pacemakers. The FDA’s announcement this week means that pacemaker patients now have a solution to that cardiac security threat—but one that requires a doctor’s appointment rather than a mere internet update to implement.
Spam scourges are not new to the internet. But the recently discovered Onliner spambot looks like a particularly nasty specimen. The list comprises 711 million records, which include email addresses and, in some cases, passwords as well. The spambot sends emails to each of those accounts that contain a single, invisible tracking pixel, which sends back details about the target’s operating system. That helps an attacker know who to target with so-called Ursnif malware, which only affects Windows devices. What makes Onliner particularly insidious is its ability to circumvent spam filters, by using confirmed email addresses gleaned from previous public breaches to disseminate the spam. Bad times! As always, don’t open emails from people you don’t trust, and if you do, set your inbox to block images to make it harder for pixels to track you.
Kaspersky may be under constant suspicion—and even an FBI investigation—due to its ties to the Kremlin, but that doesn’t stop it from occasionally exposing Russian hacking operations. This week the company revealed that in February it alerted its customers to a hacking operation it called WhiteBear, which it believes is likely a subgroup of the hacking team Turla, believed to be employed by the Russian government. The WhiteBear operation penetrated a series of embassies and consulates around the world from February to September of 2016, Kaspersky’s analysts say, but switched to targeted military organizations in the first half of 2017. Kaspersky has been under FBI investigation for possible ties to the Putin regime, and the cybersecurity industry has repeatedly warned that its antivirus software could be used for covert spying. But the WhiteBear report should serve as a counterexample to anyone who describes Kaspersky as a simple pawn of Kremlin spy agencies, and it’s not the first time Kaspersky has exposed Russian spying. At its Security Analysts Summit in April, the company’s researchers detailed connections between Turla and a 20-year-old backdoor used in Russia’s global spying operation known as Moonlight Maze.
Reading all the news from Google I/O may have kept you too busy to keep up with this week’s app news. We’ve kept up for you.
Each week we round up the most important app news along with some of the coolest new and updated apps to help you stay in the loop with everything you need on your phone.Here’s what caught our eye this week. If you’re looking for more, make sure to check out last week’s roundup of top apps.
Google Assistant comes to iOS
Using advanced machine learning, Google Photos can intelligently identify people, places, and things — and it’s all easily searchable. One of the cooler things in Google Photos is the Assistant (not to be confused with Google’s other Assistant on Android and Google Home).
In the Google Photos app on iOS and Android, the Assistant is a card-based panel that does three things:
Shows you the status of your backup.
Automatically creates “movies” based on related video clips.
Creates “animations” using batches of bursted photos. (You can also create your own animations by manually selecting between 2-50 photos, but the end result is the same — you still get a GIF file.) Read more…
An Instagram bug affecting some users is preventing them from temporarily disabling their accounts, TechCrunch reports. “Disabling” on Instagram works similarly as on Facebook, meaning that the account will be hidden as though it has been deleted. It temporarily hides all actions by that account including posts, likes, comments and the profile.
Users have been complaining about the issue on social networks like Twitter and Reddit since February. Several users were redirected to the home page after trying to disable the account.