On the morning of December 25th, after a difficult period, 2019 was another bad year for Facebook. From bad treatment of content auditors to botched promotion of cryptocurrency Libra to policies that allow politicians to lie, the social network has jumped from one scandal to another. In response to its bad reputation, Facebook has even created a chatbot that provides employees with public relations-approved mentoring programs to help them answer tough questions from family and friends during the holidays.
Lawmakers are also following Facebook. Last summer, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched a years-long investigation into Facebook’s misuse of consumer data, resulting in a record $5 billion in fines for facebook. Facebook is under criminal investigation for sharing data with other large companies. Senior managers have also left. As censorship mounted, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren called Facebook a monopoly and urged its split.
But this year is not all bad. Facebook has also launched new products that help it continue to dominate the social network. It also moves in a very different direction, encrypting all messages and allowing more communications to be done in small groups. Even if some of its latest bets haven’t paid off, Facebook is still trying to diversify its business.
Facebook’s five worst mistakes of 2019
1 Allow politicians to lie
But while Facebook seems to recognize the dangers of deep-lying technology, it still allows politicians to display disinformation in its targeted ads.
In 2019, the company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, faced harsh criticism for allowing politicians to lie in political ads, saying in a live speech at Georgetown University that it was because of Facebook’s commitment to free speech and democracy. Many believe that the problem with Zuckerberg’s position is that politicians’ facebook ads don’t fall within the realm of free speech, because they are paid speeches that can be micro-targeted at a small segment of the population. Google, by contrast, has eliminated micro-targeting technology for political ads, while Twitter has banned political ads altogether.
2 Tag Instagram and WhatsApp “From Facebook”
While Instagram became powerful, Facebook made the mistake of trying to rename the app, adding “From Facebook” to the photo-sharing platform’s home screen. Facebook’s other flagship, WhatsApp, has made the same change, but many people don’t really know it’s actually owned by Facebook.
Facebook says its goal is to make it more explicit about its parent company for two popular apps. But doing so would also link the apps to the company’s poor public image. As Mordecai Holtz, chief digital strategist at Blue Thread Marketing, wrote in The Express earlier this year: “Putting the ‘From Facebook’ tag on Instagram to put security issues, Government oversight and the overall lack of energy burden son-in-charge are linked to a social media that is already plagued by privacy concerns. “
As part of its overall rebranding plan, the company has also launched a full-scale rebranding of the company: FACEBOOK, in full capitals, separates the company from specific Facebook products. This is a confident statement of the company’s identity. But all in all, it feels like a meaningless design exercise that won’t stop public trust from declining.
3 Treat content auditors incorrectly
In late 2016, Facebook began investing heavily in regulating content on its site. But in 2019 it was reported that human content censors were facing appallingly harsh working conditions while working for Facebook, or the company it employs to do the hard work. Several surveys conducted by The Verge have shown that the culture behind this work is frightening, with low salaries and a lack of mental health support that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in some people.
Ultimately, Facebook wants to fully automate its review process so that artificial intelligence can replace humans to determine what is retained and deleted on its site. But at the same time, reports of content auditors and Facebook’s decision not to treat them as regular employees and not provide adequate benefits have exposed serious flaws in the social network.
4 Trying to place cameras and microphones in each home
In some cases, Facebook listens to users’ complaints, such as how likes make Instagram feel like a toxic popularity contest. But in other cases, it seems to have turned a deaf ear to people’s discontent. This is the case with Portal’s video chat hardware product line, which launched Portal TV in September 2019, expanding its previous product line. Facebook has been hit by a number of data breaches scandals in recent years and questioned how its personal information is used, but it still believes it is a good idea to install cameras and microphones in users’ homes.
Although Facebook initially claimed that the content Portal hears and sees will not be shared with advertisers, portal turns out to be not as private as it seems. A month after the company launched Portal TV, users discovered a vulnerability that allowed users to access their photos without their knowledge (Facebook has since removed the feature).
Overall, Portal’s sales are not good. In October, it was reported that sales of the device, which began in December 2018, were “very low.”
5 Launch cryptocurrencies
This is perhaps the oddest of Facebook’s various sideline businesses. Libra, the long-rumoured global cryptocurrency, was announced in 2019. The currency will not be controlled by Facebook, but by the Swiss-based Libra Currency Association. The latter is a non-profit organization consisting of 100 companies. But facebook has not received regulatory support since it announced the plan. While Zuckerberg will not be able to fully control Libra, he has stressed that it will only be used to provide a more convenient cash exchange between Facebook friends, including Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Financial Services Committee Chairman Maxine Waters Many politicians, including Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin see it as a threat to the global financial system.
Such censorship has led to the submission of many companies that have joined Libra, including big names such as eBay, Stripe, Mastercard and PayPal. Libra coin is still likely to be officially launched in 2020. After so much criticism, Facebook’s handling of the launch may partly reflect what the company will look like in the next decade: an ongoing battle with regulators for global dominance.
Facebook’s five biggest wins in 2019
1 Embrace encryption
WhatsApp has long used encryption – in 2019, Zuckerberg announced his vision to encrypt the rest of Facebook’s messaging services, including Facebook Messenger. The move signals that Facebook is beginning to shift to private messages and group conversations. Until now, the company has always adopted a semi-public news flow model.
When Zuckerberg announced the shift in March 2019, he pushed the plan through structural changes. But it is misleading: Facebook intends to apply encryption to more of its services, but has not said what plans it intends to use to cut the private data it collects. Sceptics say that while encryption is often a good thing for privacy and security, the transition may be more about shirking responsibility for child pornography, false vaccination information and other undesirable content that has been circulating on the social network. In addition, Zuckerberg’s goal is to integrate the encrypted backends of WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram Direct so that users can send messages between the three platforms , a change that critics say could make it harder for companies to break up.
2 Double Bet on Instagram Shopping
This year, one of Facebook’s positive developments is the introduction of direct checkout for Instagram shopping, making it easier for users to buy everything they see in the growing number of ads on the photo-sharing platform. With this feature, users can check out without leaving the app, formally identifying the way users are used to Instagram: discover what they want to buy, and run ads and sell products. The feature will be tested in the spring of 2019 with a handful of companies, including Nike, Warby Parker, H.M. and Prada. In December 2019, Instagram also posted a shoppingable video, the first step being a remake of Celine Dion’s 1996 classic, It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.
According to Ashley Yuki, head of product management at Instagram, 130 million people take to Instagram each month to post about e-commerce, and 80 percent of users follow the brand on the platform. Instagram shopping is a classic example of Facebook’s overall product strategy: see how people use products organically, and then build dedicated tools to support them.
3 Launch of initiative to combat deep forgery
Facebook became a hotbed of false Russian propaganda during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the company hopes to avoid the same mistake in 2020. That’s why it’s so urgent to crack down on deep fakes, algorithmicly fake dissonal videos that can impose words that someone hasn’t said (the most famous of which shows former President Barack Obama calling President Trump a “liar”). Looking ahead, Facebook formed an industry alliance in 2019 that will fund tools that can detect the fake videos. As part of the Deep Forgery Detection Challenge, it will design a baseline to evaluate these tools and hire actors to create thousands of videos to test third-party deep forgery detectors.
4 Test remove likes from Instagram
While Facebook doesn’t care much about its content reviewers, it’s starting to focus on the negative impact its interface has on its users. The company began testing in 2019 to stop showing likes on Instagram. That doesn’t mean you won’t know how many people like your latest vacation photos, but people who scroll through your posts won’t immediately bejealous of your popularity because they can’t see if other people like your post.
The change may also make it applicable to the Facebook platform. The company began testing it after communicating with mental health professionals, but the move could also help reduce the spread of misinformation.
5 Betting on new businesses
While Portal may not be a strong line of business, it shows that Facebook is trying to diversify its business. Facebook currently generates 98.5 percent of its revenue from advertising, but it is looking for new ways to reduce its reliance on ads or improve its ability to microtarget users.
This includes trying to use augmented reality glasses, virtual reality and even brain-machine interfaces. In 2019, Facebook acquired a company called CTRL-Labs, which claims to have a bracelet that decodes a user’s brain waves. But it also includes other types of bets, such as podcasts, travel apps, newsletters, and even e-mail. According to the New York Times, Facebook has created a separate company to build some of the new products so that the people who created them are freer to experiment. Facebook may never be anyone’s email choice, but the company’s attempts at new things will help it grow in the future.