QUANTech #34: New Web, Facebook turmoil and AI in China


Digital information technology is increasingly becoming entrenched into the fabric of our society, and it will not be long before we all permanently connect via the Internet. As the extensive digitisation of society is set to radically change practically all aspects of our lives, QUANTech (#QTech) aims at helping you stay in the know about the rapidly changing landscape of both organisations and society alike in the digital age.

#QTech is brought to you by Denys Malengreau (@D_MLG), digital advisor to QUANT.

Reading time: 10-12 minutes

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: New Web, Facebook turmoil and AI in China

This week, the founder of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee followed up on the interview he gave about the « Solid » project to Vanity Fair this summer, as reported in QUANTech 21. In a new article, the iconic figure of the Web brought up the ambitions of the « Solid » project while announcing a newly created company (cf. Inrupt) whose John Bruce will be the CEO. The latter also shared his vision. All in all, « Solid » is a promising project that deserves to be followed closely.

2018 is the year of the Facebook turmoil. We have learned this week that the social network underwent the biggest attack on its system in 14 years. 50 million accounts were compromised. As a precautionary measure, Facebook has logged out 90 million accounts. We do not know much more about the matter so far, but this incident, which allowed hackers to potentially access other services using Facebook login, reminds us of the importance of not associating all our online services using a quick login through Facebook, Google or any other. We do not own these platforms. As a result, we do not control how our data may be handled backstage.

That said, we would better use an email address to log in to any online service. It is a tad bit more time-consuming, but it is worth acting so to ensure proper control over our personal data.

This news also highlighted the limits of Facebook's spam detection algorithm, which blocked the sharing of articles from well-known news outlets on the topic. Unless it was censored on purpose, but there is no evidence to back this assumption.

We have also learned through Gizmodo that Facebook cross-references phone directories with profiles to associate different phone numbers referring to a single person, even if the latter has not explicitly shared one or more numbers with the social network. In short: If one of your friends has a phone number on your name that you have not provided Facebook with, and the latter agrees to share the directory with your number in with Facebook, your number will be associated with your so-called « shadow profile » —data that the social network refuses to share with users for security reasons (cf. hearings earlier this year). This data is then used for advertising purposes. The data, along with the number you could use to secure your account with the double-authentication —remember to favour Google Authenticator instead— are all used to improve the targeting proposal offered to Facebook customers: advertisers, those who pay.

Finally, in the Facebook ecosystem, emblematic figures of previously acquired services Instagram ($1 billion in 2012) and WhatsApp ($22 billion in 2014) are making the headlines. And it is not for the benefit of Facebook.

After the resignation of Instagram founders last week, it is WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton who caught attention this week with an inflammatory interview given to Forbes following his departure from the Facebook group a few months ago. He had disappeared from the radar since his « It is time. #deletefacebook » tweet back in March. In the interview with Forbes, Brian Acton stated: « I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day. » Today, he invested $50 million in the creation of the Signal Foundation, which aims at boosting widespread adoption of Signal, a WhatsApp clone that aims to return to the ideological genesis of the messaging app founded along with Jan Koum: confidentiality of correspondence and no advertising. You can learn more about how to make the most out of Signal here.

As more and more frequently now, China has been in the news again this week. The Middle Kingdom will outspend the United States on AI researchBaidu's CEO (Google's Chinese equivalent) considers AI to have a much greater impact than the Internet itself— by the end of 2018, according to a report. On the topic, the South China Morning Post published an interesting article, which puts into perspective the race for AI between the US and China. The article cites an Oxford study that highlights China's strengths and weaknesses in its fierce competition with the United States in this area.

IN SHORT (reading time)

EU now recognizes digital IDs across borders. (5-6m)
Council backs Commission's plans to invest €1 billion in world-class European supercomputers. (6-7m)
Hrafnsson is the new Editor-in-Chief at Wikileaks, replacing Julian Assange. (<1m)
Elon Musk charged with securities fraud for misleading tweets. (2-3m)
Elon Musk settles SEC fraud charges; Tesla charged with and resolves securities law charge. (4-5m)
Verizon turns on world’s first 5G network. (3-4m)
About why 5G matters to VR adoption. (8-10m)
The first “social network” of brains lets three people transmit thoughts to each other’s heads. (6-8m)
Apple makes billions from Google's dominance in search. (4-5m)
Without invading our privacy, does Google even have a business? (5-6m)
40 lessons learned from Jack Ma. (16-18m)
[VIDEO] Lenovo to unveil flexible smartphone-watch hybrid this fall.
[VIDEO] Humanoid construction robot installs drywall by itself.
[VIDEO] Facebook and RED teams up to create an impressive 8K 360° camera


Facebook launched new advertising features aimed at « Stories » this week, sharing a notable figure at the same time: More than 300 million people use Facebook Stories and Messenger Stories every day. What is this content format about? What is its genesis, its impact and the future it is promised to? Analysis.

A « Story » is a mobile-friendly content format consisting of a vertical slideshow comprising video clips and/or photos with filters and other stickers. This format is intended to be short, ephemeral and authentic. And it comes as close as possible to what a shared moment like the one we experienced off-screen can look like. The « snackable » dimension (content which can be consumed quickly and easily) of this format is certainly a factor that contributes to explain its current success.

Historically, Snapchat (or Snap) invented the format (October 2013). Originally, this format had a rather pronounced sexual connotation, which is by no means due to chance. Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s co-founder and CEO, thought of Snapchat as a boost for pick-up lines and hook-ups. In short, the hashtag (#) is to Twitter what the « Story » is to Snapchat.

However, any platform with a will for serious competition against digital ogres (cf. GAFAM) seems most likely prone to facing to the following dilemma: to be bought out or to be eaten. To break this dilemma, more choice and less control by the Facebook-Google duopoly in the marketplace is needed. These two have almost abundant cash at their disposal.

As a reminder: Facebook tried to acquire Snapchat twice. First with a $1b offer, later with a $3b offer in 2013. Evan Spiegel turned down both. According to Business Insider’s Alex Heath, Google was also interested in buying Snapchat for at least $30b in 2016.

In the end, Evan Spiegel never sold. So, eaten? Although invented and popularised by Snapchat, the « Story » format was eventually copied and duplicated by the Facebook group, first on Instagram (Instagram Stories, August 2016), then on WhatsApp (Status, February 2017), Facebook Messenger (Messenger Day, March 2017) and Facebook (Facebook Stories, March 2017). The copy is completely assumed by Facebook.

Sources: New Constructs, LLC, company filings, and company announcements

Although Snapchat keeps living on, the numbers speak for themselves. In addition to the 300 million daily users on both Facebook and Messenger, Stories have quickly gained popularity on Instagram and WhatsApp too, thanks to Facebook’s traction power (1b+ users on Instagram only).

The very popular « Story » format place it alongside the success attributed to video. At Facebook’s annual developer conference F8 back in April, we learned about Facebook's perspective: the « Story » format is to exceed content consumption in the news feed. Messaging remains far ahead.

Prospective for « Stories » at Facebook Developer Conference (April 2018)

For its part, Google, which has just celebrated its 20th anniversary, announced a new « AMP Story » format to bring « visual storytelling to the open web » back in February. They are now rolling it out. This is nothing more than an equivalent format. The implementation of the « Story » format goes mainstream across platforms. Will Twitter, LinkedIn and others follow? The question is worth asking.

All in all, what is particularly interesting about Stories is its temporal dimension. Unlike other formats that are intended to nurture some sort of digital legacy daily, Stories disappear after 24 hours. The ephemeral component inherent to the format gives it a dimension of rarity.

In an ecosystem (cf. social networks) saturated with infobesity, the programmed finiteness of Stories backs the observation or assumption we may have about the shortened cycle of information lifespan. The news is a good example: Yesterday is old, this morning is already far away.

In short, the « Story » content format has become extremely popular, depicting a more genuine picture of what the real world looks like while we share about it. This helps blend both the real and virtual worlds. The rise of an « onlife » as envisioned by Oxford’s Luciano Floridi. Next step: Immersive moments through holograms and other virtual or augmented realities? Story to follow...

Talk soon!

Denys Malengreau