New York, Mar 13 (AP/UNB)- Facebook, already the leader in enabling you to share photos, videos and links, now wants to be a force in messaging, commerce, payments and just about everything else you do online.
The company's ambitions harken to how WeChat has become the centerpiece of digital life in China, where people use it to order movie tickets, subway passes, food delivery and rides. If Facebook succeeds in turning its own messaging services into a platform for everything, it could ultimately threaten established services such as Snapchat, Yelp, Venmo, eBay and even Apple and Amazon.
"It's clear that Facebook does have very broad ambitions here," said Bob O'Donnell, president and chief analyst at Technalysis Research. "Their goal is to be the WeChat of everywhere but China."
But Facebook faces numerous hurdles. A key one is restoring user trust, following a string of privacy failures that includes the sharing of personal information from as many as 87 million users with a consulting firm affiliated with Donald Trump's campaign. And any change may cause users to rethink their relationship with Facebook.
"Facebook has a lot of momentum but it's not completely invincible," said Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates. "People came to Facebook for a particular thing. Offer them a different thing, and they're likely to re-evaluate whether they want to be there at all."
After all, Friendster and Myspace came and went as Facebook grew. Yahoo and AltaVista moved over for Google. And remember when AOL was popular, powerful and rich enough to buy the traditional media company Time Warner? Both AOL and Yahoo are now fading brands within Verizon.
After building an advertising-supported service that depends on vacuuming up data on your hobbies, interests and political views, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced last week that Facebook will now emphasize ways for small groups to communicate in a truly private fashion.
This involves scrambling all messages in WhatsApp, Instagram Direct and Messenger so that even Facebook itself can't read them. Facebook will also let messages automatically disappear after a set amount of time, something rival Snapchat already does.
Facebook, Zuckerberg said, will "then build more ways for people to interact on top of that, including calls, video chats, groups, stories, businesses, payments, commerce, and ultimately a platform for many other kinds of private services."
Facebook declined to further elaborate on its ambitions, and a spokeswoman reinforced that it is early in the process. But there are clues in what Chinese tech giant Tencent has already done with WeChat in China. WeChat combines functions that are typically done by separate companies elsewhere — think of Facebook and its messaging services combined with PayPal and Uber. People use WeChat to buy goods in retail stores, split restaurant bills with friends, pay utility bills, donate to charities and hail rides from the Uber-like Didi Chuxing service.
Facebook already lets people send money to other individuals through Messenger in the U.S. and a few other countries and is testing payments through WhatsApp in India. The New York Times reported that Facebook is also developing its own digital currency to make it easier for users to send money to their messaging contacts.
Facebook didn't offer many details on its digital currency endeavors, but said a "new small team" was looking for ways to make use of the type of technology powering bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies.
While the current payment options require linking Facebook to bank accounts or services such as PayPal, a digital currency could potentially work without them. That could appeal to users, especially in Asia and Africa, with limited access to banking services, said Avivah Litan, a Gartner analyst who specializes in security and payments.
And it would solve a key challenge with commerce on phones. Litan said entering credit card details on a phone is cumbersome, and businesses often lose customers before they complete orders. If Facebook can integrate payments into messaging, it can keep users within Facebook and convince advertisers they're more likely to complete sales.
Facebook could also diversify revenue beyond advertising. For instance, it could take a commission, whether for newspaper subscriptions or food deliveries, much as Apple already does with a cut of up to 30 percent for app payments.
Kay said messaging could become one-stop shop for Yelp-like business reviews, OpenTable restaurant reservations, on-demand delivery similar to Uber and a marketplace akin to eBay — the latter being something Facebook already offers on its main app. Amazon might be tougher to challenge, he said, given the company's expertise in delivery logistics, but there might be pieces such as grocery delivery that Facebook can go after.
Nonetheless, potential Facebook rivals need not pack up yet. Zuckerberg's blog read as a manifesto, a list of things he wants to implement, and it's unclear how much will actually get executed, eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson said. She said it's too soon for competitors to start drastically adapting.
"You cannot be blase about anything Facebook says or does," she said. "But I think there is certainly time to see how this all plays out."
There also might be room for Facebook to sit alongside existing services. Facebook might turn to OpenTable within messaging, for instance, rather than build its own service for dinner reservations.
"It depends on what exactly the product looks like and how differently useful it is for different kinds of audiences," said Brian Wieser, an executive at the advertising consultancy GroupM. "It's not necessarily a zero-sum game."
For now, analysts say, potential competitors need to pay attention and be ready to adapt once details are out. Businesses that ignore the threat do so at their own peril.
Potential rivals can also start emphasizing how they are different from Facebook — as Apple is doing by stressing privacy protections in its devices and services. O'Donnell added that those in payments need to make sure their services are compelling and easy to use so that they can compete with whatever Facebook brings.
Apple, Amazon, eBay and OpenTable didn't respond to messages for comment. Yelp, Snap and PayPal, which also owns Venmo, declined to comment.
The most immediate threat Facebook poses is to other messaging services. Apple's iMessage is popular on iPhones, but there's no version for Android. Facebook could look more appealing as it breaks down walls and makes its three discrete messaging services work together as though they were one.
Snapchat, meanwhile, has struggled since Facebook and its Instagram service copied a feature for posting temporary "stories" that disappear after 24 hours. Zuckerberg dedicated a section of his blog announcement to "reducing permanence," suggesting that Facebook will now take on Snapchat's core feature of letting photos "disappear" after a set number of seconds.
"It's yet another example of Facebook trying to attack Snapchat," BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield said.
But whether Facebook succeeds will depend on how many people are willing to move their conversations. Greenfield said Snapchat has a lock on its core, younger audience.
Facebook's plan may face external competition of its own. Unlike WeChat, Facebook faces new privacy regulation in Europe and calls for more controls in the U.S., Forrester analyst Jessica Liu wrote . Zuckerberg is trying to strike an "impossible balance" between capturing more of users' time, appealing to advertisers and appealing to regulators.
"Zuckerberg can't have his cake and eat it, too," she wrote.
San Francisco, Mar 8 (AP/UNB) — After building a social network that turned into a surveillance system, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he's shifting his company's focus to messaging services designed to serve as fortresses of privacy.
Instead of just being the network that connects everyone, Facebook wants to encourage small groups of people to carry on encrypted conversations that neither Facebook nor any other outsider can read. It also plans to let messages automatically disappear, a feature pioneered by its rival Snapchat that could limit the risks posed by a trail of social media posts that follow people throughout their lives.
It's a major bet by Zuckerberg, who sees it as a way to push Facebook more firmly into a messaging market that's growing faster than its main social networking business. It might also help Facebook ward off government regulators, although the Facebook CEO made clear that he expects the company's messaging business to complement, not replace, its core businesses.
But there are plenty of obstacles. Facebook has weathered more than two years of turbulence for repeated privacy lapses, spreading disinformation, allowing Russian agents to conduct targeted propaganda campaigns and a rising tide of hate speech and abuse. Zuckerberg submitted to two days of grilling on Capitol Hill last April. All that increases the challenge of convincing users that Facebook really means it about privacy this time.
Encrypted conversations could alleviate some of those problems, but it could make others worse. Security is an "admirable goal," said Forrester Research analyst Fatemeh Khatibloo. "I'm just not sure it addresses the bigger issues Facebook is facing right now."
Facebook grew into a colossus by vacuuming up people's information in every possible way and dissecting it to shoot targeted ads back at them. Anything that jeopardizes that machine could pose a major threat to the company's share price, which would also affect its ability to attract and retain talented engineers and other employees.
In a Wednesday interview with The Associated Press, Zuckerberg predicted Facebook's emphasis on privacy will do more to help the company's business than hurt it. While most of the stock market slipped in Wednesday trading, Facebook's shares gained $1.25 to close at $172.51.
The Facebook CEO has been telegraphing some of these changes to investors for the past six months, but his Wednesday blog post is the first time he has explained the idea to the more than two billion people that use Facebook's services and look at its ads. Those ads are expected to generate $67 billion in revenue this year, according to the research firm eMarketer.
If everything falls into place, Facebook will also display similar advertising on the privacy-protected messaging services. Those services are also likely to offer other moneymaking features, such as a digital wallet, as Facebook attempts to build something similar to Tencent's popular WeChat service in Asia.
"If you think about your life, you probably spend more time communicating privately than publicly," Zuckerberg said during the AP interview. "The overall opportunity here is a lot larger than what we have built in terms of Facebook and Instagram."
That's far from proven. While Facebook has already tried to show ads in the Messenger app, it's seen only limited success. It hasn't even tested the concept in WhatsApp since it acquired that service for $22 billion in 2014.
"There are some huge unknowns about how successful Facebook is going to be rolling advertising into a more private messaging environment," said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson.
Some critics are convinced that Facebook has become so powerful — even a threat to democracy as well as to people's privacy — that it needs to be reined in by tougher regulations or even a corporate breakup.
But unraveling Facebook could become more difficult if Zuckerberg can successfully stitch together the messaging services behind an encrypted wall.
"I see that as the goal of this entire thing," said Blake Reid, a University of Colorado law professor who specializes in technology and policy. He said Facebook could tell antitrust authorities that WhatsApp, Instagram Direct and Facebook Messenger are tied so tightly together that it couldn't unwind them.
Combining the three services also lets Facebook build more complete data profiles on all of its users. Already, businesses can already target Facebook and Instagram users with the same ads, and marketing campaigns are likely coming to WhatsApp eventually.
Facebook's focus on messaging privacy raises other concerns. Messaging apps have in the past helped fake news and rumors spread fast, sometimes with deadly consequences. A report from University of Oxford researchers last year found evidence of widespread disinformation campaigns on chat applications like WhatsApp. In one particularly brutal example, the Indian government last year accused WhatsApp of fueling rumors that led to lynchings and mob violence that wounded dozens.
Facebook responded by restricting the number of groups to which a message could be forwarded and labeling forwarded messages as such. On Wednesday, Zuckerberg said that Facebook needs to protect both privacy and safety as it encrypted messaging services, although he noted to an "inherent trade-off" between security and safety, simply because Facebook won't be able to read encrypted conversations.
And in some cases, Facebook could allow some content to automatically disappear in a day or two, as if it were a fleeting mirage.
"Some people want to store their messages forever and some people think having large collections of photos or messages is a liability as much as it is an asset," Zuckerberg told the AP. "Figuring out the balance is a really important one."
San Francisco, Feb 23 (AP/UNB) — Twitter co-founder Evan Williams will leave the social media company's board of directors at the end of the month.
Twitter announced his departure in a securities filings Friday and Williams tweeted confirmation of the news.
Williams served as Twitter's CEO from 2008 to 2010 and now is chief executive of publishing site Medium.com. He tweeted that stepping down will let him focus on other projects and that he will still be rooting for the Twitter team.
He was the second-largest Twitter shareholder on the company's board behind CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey.
Dorsey tweeted his appreciation for Williams, who served on the board for 12 years.
Dhaka, Feb 18 (UNB) – The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) on Monday ordered the International Internet Gateway (IIG) to block access to 55 more porn sites.
Emdadul Haque, general secretary of Internet Service Providers’ Association of Bangladesh, told UNB that they had carried out the BTRC’s directives.
Since February 6, the BTRC had ordered blocking access to more than 2,800 porn sites.
The High Court had directed the government to take initiative to block pornography websites in November 2016. BTRC had blocked about 500 sites at that time.
London, Feb 18 (AP/UNB) — British lawmakers issued a scathing report Monday that accused Facebook of intentionally violating privacy and anti-competition laws in the U.K., and called for greater oversight of social media companies.
The report on fake news and disinformation on social media sites followed an 18-month investigation by Parliament's influential media committee. The committee recommended that social media sites should have to follow a mandatory code of ethics overseen by an independent regulator to better control harmful or illegal content.
The report called out Facebook in particular, saying that the site's structure seems to be designed to "conceal knowledge of and responsibility for specific decisions."
"It is evident that Facebook intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws," the report states. It also accuses CEO Mark Zuckerberg of showing contempt for the U.K. Parliament by declining numerous invitations to appear before the committee.
"Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like 'digital gangsters' in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law," the report added.
Parliamentary committee reports are intended to influence government policy, but are not binding.
Facebook said it shared "the committee's concerns about false news and election integrity" and was open to "meaningful regulation."
"While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago," said Facebook's U.K. public policy manager, Karim Palant.
"We have tripled the size of the team working to detect and protect users from bad content to 30,000 people and invested heavily in machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer vision technology to help prevent this type of abuse."
Facebook and other internet companies have been facing increased scrutiny over how they handle user data and have come under fire for not doing enough to stop misuse of their platforms by groups trying to sway elections.
The report echoes and expands upon an interim report with similar findings issued by the committee in July . And in December , a trove of documents released by the committee offered evidence that the social network had used its enormous trove of user data as a competitive weapon, often in ways designed to keep its users in the dark.
Facebook faced its biggest privacy scandal last year when Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct British political data-mining firm that worked for the 2016 Donald Trump campaign, accessed the private information of up to 87 million users.