Why the WhatsApp acquisition ended with everyone mad at each other
On September 17th of last year, WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton quit the company to start a nonprofit foundation. Six months later, after several former Facebook executives had come forward to criticize the company, Acton tweeted “It is time. #deletefacebook.” Ever since, we’ve wondered what exactly led him to tweet.
Now we know. In his first interview since leaving Facebook, Acton told Forbes’ Parmy Olson that he felt betrayed by the company in two ways. One, Acton believes Facebook misled European Union regulators about its plans to commingle WhatsApp and Facebook data so as to improve its ad targeting capabilities. Two, Facebook began to “explore” advertising-based revenue models for WhatsApp without the founders’ consent. In both cases, Acton felt that Facebook had made him look like a liar. And so he quit, leaving behind $850 million in unvested stock.
”At the end of the day, I sold my company,” Acton told Forbes. “I am a sellout. I acknowledge that.”
On Twitter, pundits mostly rolled their eyes at Acton’s change of heart. Kara Swisher, quoting an unnamed source, offered the funniest parody of Acton’s mea culpa: “I live with this guilt every day on this beachfront property here in Fiji. I can barely see my brand new 200 ft yacht out there in the harbor through the tears I’m shedding for my users’ privacy.”
But not everyone thought it was funny.
David Marcus, who used to lead Facebook Messenger and now runs the company’s experimental blockchain division, was galled by Acton’s chutzpah. In a remarkable post, Marcus filled in what he called “the other side of the story” — which is that the WhatsApp founders had very few workable ideas for repaying the $22 billion that Mark Zuckerberg spent to acquire the company, and in any case they didn’t seem to be working very hard on any of them. Marcus writes:
Marcus went on:
The value of Acton and Marcus having this discussion in public is that both can be right — and that each sheds light, in his own way, on Facebook’s most expensive (and maybe worst-performing, from a return-on-investment perspective) acquisition.
Acton describes how eager Zuckerberg was to acquire the company’s fast-growing network of users, which was about to eclipse the global SMS user base, and to keep it away from Google. Zuckerberg wanted it to much that he made several expensive concessions, including a five-year (!) window in which he promised not to put any pressure on the founders to monetize their app. And he promised that the app would remain end-to-end encrypted, making WhatsApp much more difficult to monetize in the long run.
Marcus fills in some of the other concessions that Facebook made, some of which were first reported in a June piece by Kirsten Grind and Deepa Seetharaman. WhatsApp demanded different offices, larger desks, and a policy against speaking out loud in their workspace — which, according to Marcus, Zuckerberg personally defended. (The founders also demanded toilets with doors that reach the floor, for privacy purposes, a feature that the Guardian’s Olivia Solon memorably described today as “end-to-end encraption.”)
On the other hand, Acton’s account reveals Zuckerberg’s patience for what it was: a time-limited promise to wait out the founders’ principles. In a Twitter thread, Facebook’s just-departed chief security officer, Alex Stamos, defended Zuckerberg’s interest in monetizing WhatsApp. (And at the risk of repeating myself, he did pay $22 billion for it!)
”It is foolish to expect that FB shareholders are going to subsidize a free text/voice/video global communications network forever,” Stamos tweeted. “Eventually, WhatsApp is going to need to generate revenue.” If Acton and his cofounder Jan Koum cared about generating revenue, they presumably would have tried to do so before they left Facebook with their billions.
In short, the WhatsApp founders presented an extremely expensive pain in the ass for a company that, at least before this week, prided itself on low drama among the senior leadership. But Acton wasn’t wrong, really: Facebook wound up having to pay a $122 million fine for commingling that user data. And the fact that WhatsApp ultimately will monetize through advertising does indeed make him look like a liar.
If there’s a happy ending to all this, it’s that Acton eventually got to put his money where his considerable mouth is. He donated $50 million to the folks behind Signal, a nonprofit, end-to-end encrypted app, and is committed to finding non-advertising-based solutions to ensuring its future prosperity. Living your principles can be very expensive — but thanks to Facebook, Brian Acton can now afford it.
Zack Whittaker reports on Wednesday’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing, at which Apple, Amazon, Google and Twitter, along with AT&T and Charter, met to discuss privacy. Two big takeaways: they all want a national privacy law to supercede (and weaken) the one recently passed in California; and also Google took a beating over China:
Former Google scientist Jack Poulson asked senators to push the company on its controversial Chinese search engine plans. (And Ted Cruz did!)
Canadian firm AggregateIQ, linked to the Facebook & Cambridge Analytica data scandal, violated the new General Data Protection Regulation and could face a fine.
British people want Facebook and Google to fund their newspapers:
Kevin Roose explores USAReally, an RT-style propaganda outlet masquerading as a news agency. The founder denies he’s doing anything untoward, but it was just banned by Reddit this week:
Some people will do anything to get back on Reddit after they’re banned. Particularly Russian hackers, reports Ben Collins:
America’s electronic voting systems are more vulnerable than ever, Kim Zetter argues in a big new feature. So why isn’t anyone trying to fix them?
Kashmir Hill has a great investigation into what Facebook does with your phone number once you give it to the company for the purposes of two-factor authentication. Advertisers can target you at that number within a couple weeks.
Sarah Frier smartly frames the Instagram founders’ departure as the final step in Mark Zuckerberg’s risky consolidation of power:
Meaningless but funny stat: Snap stock jumped 5 percent when Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger quit Instagram.
Josh Constine reports on Facebook’s little-loved Stories product, which just hit 300 million daily users (out of 2.2 billion monthly) after 18 months in the marketplace, despite being the first thing that users see when they open the app. Still, that’s apparently enough to start selling ads in stories, so Facebook is doing that. (The most interesting nugget here is in the lede, which reveals the existence of a Facebook sandbox app called Blink where employees test new features. I’d love to see it sometime!)
Alexis Madrigal says WhatsApp gets too much of the blame for communal violence in India. (Counterpoint: it doesn’t seem like it’s helping much, either!)
Lizza Dwoskin investigates Instagram’s drug problem. (Her findings were substantial enough to trigger this response blog post from Facebook’s Monika Bickert.)
Tech giants are buying giant amounts of equipment, Shira Ovide reports:
Adi Robertson, who attended Facebook’s VR conference today, reports that Oculus’ next headset is the Quest: a $399 standalone virtual reality headset that’s launching in the spring of 2019:
Oculus’ new avatars will be more lifelike, using “simulated eye and mouth movement and micro-expressions,” Nick Statt reports.
Ben Thompson is excellent today on what the Instagram founders’ departure means for the company:
And finally ...
Gabriel Gundacker amassed 800,000 followers on Vine before Twitter killed it. Now he’s back with what writer Jonah Engel Bromwich calls “the post-Vine Vine”: a slightly extended riff on a thing that still falls a bit short of a traditional YouTube video. Gundacker’s viral post-Vine Vine — a dadaist tribute to a movie poster featuring the actress Zendaya as a character named Meechee — offers a fittingly absurd end to the day.
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September 27, 2018 at 05:09AM
7 gadgets and tools that actually make DIY fun (well, more fun)
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September 27, 2018 at 04:28AM
'Fortnite' season six arrives with invisibility and pets
It feels like we had to wait forever, but it's finally here: Fortnite season six has begun. As is customary with any new competitive window, tonnes of new content has landed, but it's also time to say goodbye to items and locations you may have come to love (or really really hate). The theme for season six is "Darkness Rises," turning the island shadowy thanks to the otherworldly powers exhibited by "The Cube."
So what's new? First up is the addition of brand new locations, including a floating island in Loot Lake, a haunted castle (can you guess where that's located?), corn fields and what are known as "Corrupted Areas." These spooky spots will typically feature a new consumable called a Shadow Stone, which is a mini cube that grants you invisibility for a short period. During this time, you won't be able to use your weapons and you will only remain invisible if you stand still. If you do move, you'll leave behind a trail that can alert enemy players.
Epic Games says that Shadow Stones will grant increased movement speed, jump height and negate fall damage, but also bind a "Phase" power that will allow you to pass through walls (and other objects). It'll remain active for 45 seconds, but it can be cancelled by pressing the aim button. Important if you need to make a quick escape.
To remain in keeping with the horror theme, Epic has also created new cosmetics. If you buy the Battle Pass (which remains 950 vBucks), you'll be given two outfits right away: Calamity and DJ Yonder. However, the big news is the arrival of pets; a variety of animals that can be swapped in as your choice of Back Bling. Official season six teasers show a lizard, dog and dragon, but there will certainly be more to unlock (and spend your hard-earned virtual currency on).
Although Season six brings with it plenty of new content, some things weren't fit for the shadow world. They include the impulse grenade, suppressed SMG, LMG, bouncers and C4 (or remote explosives). They will, however, remain available in Playground mode. To balance weapons, grappler charges have been reduced from 15 to 10, double barrel shotgun damage has been nerfed from 143/150 to 114/120. Dual pistols -- the gun you'll always see first when dropping in -- will now appear less and less.
In order to separate controller players from those who utilize a mouse and keyboard (commonly referred to as cheaters), Epic will now put group mouse and keyboard players in PC matchmaking. Players can start a match with a mouse and keyboard, then switch to a controller, but they won't be able to do it the other way around.
Footsteps should now also be more identifiable, with player sounds from below now sounding more echoey. The further below the player is, the lower the pitch, and it'll be the opposite for rivals who have built above you. Glider sounds are now more obvious, ensuring you don't get completely ambushed by a squad flying in from above.
Lastly, storm phases have been subtly tweaked. There will now be less wait time between surges, but the storm will close in slightly slower than before. This should motivate players to begin moving earlier, likely resulting in more confrontations.
To see the full extent of the changes, you will need to update your game drop in and see all of the new areas, consumables, skins and emotes for yourself.
via Engadget http://www.engadget.com
September 27, 2018 at 04:06AM
LG announces V40 ThinQ with a total of five cameras
LG just made the V40 ThinQ official in Korea (via Phandroid). The announcement confirms a five-camera handset, with three cameras mounted on its rear and two on the front, just as we’ve seen previously in in the leaks.
The announcement confirms that the device will have a slightly larger 6.4-inch screen than last year’s model, and will be available in red, blue and gray. A rear-mounted fingerprint scanner can also be seen in LG’s teaser trailer that matches earlier leaks. Although LG doesn’t show the V40’s front, previous leaks, that have now proven to be accurate, revealed an edge-to-edge notched display.
Otherwise, the V40 looks a lot like its V30 predecessor with a couple of design touches from this year’s G7. Reports suggest the handset will include a Snapdragon 845, a Quad DAC, and a dedicated button to activate Google Assistant. But we’ll have to wait until the phone’s official launch on October 3 for official confirmation.
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September 27, 2018 at 04:05AM
Dish adds dual tuners to AirTV Player through an adapter
Dish's AirTV Player is an intriguing mix of an over-the-air player with streaming services, but that single tuner has made it difficult to recommend if you want to both record and watch live broadcasts. You won't have to make that compromise from now on, though, if you're willing to pay. The company has launched a dual tuner adapter that enables simultaneous recording and viewing, or recording for two channels if there are two must-see shows you're going to miss.
You can buy the adapter by itself for $29, or as part of a bundle with the AirTV Player for $119. If you don't need the dual tuner support, you're in for a minor treat as well. You now get the single tuner adapter for the same $99 price as the old internet-only kit. If you are content to rely exclusively on streaming sources, the Player sells for a reduced $89.
via Engadget http://www.engadget.com
September 27, 2018 at 03:42AM
Fortnite season six brings pets, a floating island, and an invisibility item
Fortnite’s eventful summer is coming to a close, meaning that a new battle pass season is on the horizon. The battle royale game is getting into the holiday spirit through a Halloween-themed new update that’s packed with cool new stuff.
Called “Darkness Rises,” Fortnite season six will have 100 unlockable levels for its Battle Pass, which will dole out a variety of spooky items for users, like an awesome-looking werewolf skin.
Also, as always, there are huge map changes — including a dance stage, and a floating island at Loot Lake.
In terms of new weaponry, players can now find “Shadow Stones,” a consumable that will render you unable to use weapons -- but you’ll also become invisible, so long as you’re stationary. Shadow Stones also give the player the ability to phase through objects, much like a ghost -- you won’t suffer fall damage, and you’ll move faster. The Impulse Grenade, Suppressed Submachine Gun, Light Machine Gun, Bouncer, and Remote Explosives, meanwhile, have all been vaulted.
But the biggest game-changer in the update is a cosmetic: pets, which you can carry around with you. Yes, this means you’ll be able to give your John Wick a dog. Epic Games are geniuses.
Season five was Fortnite’s best yet, largely because it was so surprising — something always seemed to be happening, no matter when you were logged on. To recap: the season began with a mysterious alien visitor that zipped around the sky, leaving rifts in its wake. These rifts went on to shoot lightning on the desert portion of the map, which progressively got faster until they manifested a giant purple cube. Nobody knew what the cube meant at first, but it was engraved with runes and was indestructible.
Later, when the cube started slowly moving around the map, it not only marked the ground with symbols, it also emitted a low gravity dome that replenished people’s shields. And last week, the cube submerged into Loot Lake, which then turned into a bouncy body of water. As all of this unfolded, smaller events doted the map — Tomato Town, for example, suddenly became a disturbing temple dedicated to the Tomatohead skin. Season five also introduced a heist-based limited-time mode that was unlike anything Fortnite had ever seen before. Together, all of these crafted one of the most vibrant games on the scene yet. With season six, it seems that developers Epic Games seek to maintain Fortnite’s momentum as the best service-based game on the market.
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September 27, 2018 at 03:37AM
Plex is sunsetting Cloud Sync and other features
Plex is clearly doing some major spring cleaning, because it has just killed a handful more barely used features after shutting down its personal cloud streaming service in early September. The company has announced that it's sunsetting plugins, Cloud Sync and Watch Later. If you don't even recognize those features, we wouldn't be surprised -- that's pretty much the reason why Plex is killing them anyway. For instance: only 2 percent of its userbase uses plugins. That's why even though they provided users a way to tie third-party accounts with their Plex accounts, the company ultimately decided to lay them to rest.
Only a small number of people use the Watch Later bookmarking feature, as well, so it had to go. Cloud Sync seems to be the most barely used among the three, though, because Plex is even jokingly(?) asking people to DM the company of a photo of their Cloud Sync library and today's newspaper as proof that they're using it. As TechCrunch explains, the feature allowed you to sync your content from your local library to a cloud storage provider, so you can access it whenever the Plex Media Server isn't available. Obviously, users didn't find it that useful.
"The Plex ecosystem is quite large, and over the years, we've sometimes added things that might have made sense at the time, but didn't age well," the company explained in its post. It added that it didn't approach the process lightly and that it looked at usage numbers and the costs it would take to maintain the features in a way that will keep the people using them satisfied. In other words, it just wasn't worth it to keep them running any longer.
via Engadget http://www.engadget.com
September 27, 2018 at 12:36AM
How To Wipe Your Smart Gadgets Before You Get Rid Of Them
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September 27, 2018 at 12:24AM
BMW throws all its new tech at the X5
The average BMW X5 never strays too far from asphalt. It's more at home navigating mall parking than on a backwoods trail. BMW is changing that with its latest X5, starting at $60,700 for the xDrive 40i. The new SUV (or Sports Activity Vehicle, as BMW calls it) ships with actual "sports" capabilities along with an impressive suite of new technology that's premiering on the X5.
The result is a BMW off-roader with a new infotainment system, updated driver's assist features and a big pile of features that that should keep X5 owners of the future happy even if they never take it off-road. But they totally could.
BMW threw all its new tech into one car and the result is a better X5 that might actually go off-road.
The new X5's technology upgrades start inside with the iDrive 7 infotainment system. It removes the squarish cards found on the current system and replaces them with a customizable layout that supports two to four individual "widgets." Like nearly the rest of the automotive world, BMW has reduced the number of taps needed to navigate to the most used features. By surfacing more items at the top level drivers speed less time with their eyes off the road.
In practice, the layout presents items in a way that's easier to parse with a quick glance. From navigation and media too quick access to the vehicle's off-road camera (more on that later).
The new iDrive 7 also supports profiles that are saved to the cloud. So if you happen to get into another BMW with the same infotainment system (a rental car for example), you can sign into your account and all your favorite locations, contacts and media are ready to go.
The system still uses both a touchscreen and the wheel found in the center console. The wheel also still supports drawing letters, which for some is easier than trying to tap on the screen while rolling down the highway or sitting in a parking lot.
For the times when you are rolling down the expressway, BMW has placed its updated driver's assistance package in the X5. The Extended Traffic Jam Assistant is just that: a new way to get through gridlock. The system will track and follow the vehicle ahead of it even after being stopped for a while. No more tapping the accelerator to re-engage the adaptive cruise control.
During my tests, both the adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist seemed more polished than on other BMWs. But, when you're only using lane-keep-assist the system was overly aggressive getting you back into your lane if you veered out of your area. BMW says that it's going to adjust that before the vehicles go on sale.
In addition to keeping you safer on the highway, the updated system also has an automatic lane-changing feature. Which is nice, but I was more impressed with the Reversing Assistant. The feature records the last 55 yards of the car as it pulls into a parking spot and when you need to pull out later, it recreates that action but in reverse. Helpful for tight parking spaces at the mall where backing out can be tricky. This is in addition to the parallel parking feature that's already on other BMWs.
If a parking lot happens to be down a dirt road (it's probably not, but you never know), the X5 is ready to take on the challenge. It's the first X5 with an available off-road package. BMW has four modes: Snow, Gravel, Sand and Rocks (for heavy terrain). I got a chance to take the X5 off-road somewhere in Georgia. The SUV handled itself admirably over ruts and rocks and down hills. Descents were a breeze thanks to computer-controlled brake-by-wire stopping.
The new tech also extends to offroading with new infotainment features: an orientation screen showing the tilt of the X5 and an offroad camera. That camera actually helped quite a lot while navigation the trail the automaker had picked for its off-road test. A few times, as I crested a hill, I was unable to see the actual trail. I switched the screen to the off-road camera and the trail appeared on the center display, along with the rocks, ruts and tree trunks I wanted to avoid.
It's highly unlikely most X5 drivers will ever take advantage of the new SUV's off-road capabilities, but for the small percentage that actually need to leave the asphalt on a regular basis, during my tests, it looks like the X5 can handle most of what you'll throw at it.
On the actual road, the X5 xDrive 40i I drove was quick for its size. The V6 pushes out 335 horsepower and, according to BMW, will go from zero to 60 in 5.3 seconds. The V8 powered xDrive 50i (starting at $75,750) will do the same thing in 4.6 seconds. Both use an eight-speed Steptronic transmission that's incredibly smooth.
Around corners, BMW's electronically controlled suspension makes you feel like you're driving something lower to the ground. The dampeners also produce a very smooth ride -- which is why people buy a luxury SUV in the first place. That suspension also adjusts itself for towing and when a tire is low. The vehicle will actually reduce the weight going to a nearly flat tire.
While the tech is new, the interior is just a slight evolution of what's already found in current BMWs. Which is fine, the automaker's cabins exude luxury without feeling too ostentatious. That is, except for the new crystal gear shift. BMW took a page out of Volvo's book and fancied up the transmission control. It's even got an X engraved on the inside. It's nice, but not as nice as the heated and cooled cup holders. I prefer beverages served at their intended temperature over a see-through gear shift. But that's just me.
BMW threw everything at the X5 and way more than can (or should) be listed in a review (USB-C ports, optional third-row seating, unlocking the car with an Android phone, a camera that makes sure you're paying attention/not tired, etc) of the car. The result could have been a mess of new features mucking up what makes the X5 a big seller for the automaker. Instead, BMW enhanced an already solid SUV and made it better. Oh, and did I mention, you can take it off-road?
via Engadget http://www.engadget.com
September 27, 2018 at 12:06AM