Facebook Tests Snapchat-Like Stories Feature, Updates Privacy Basics for Easier Understanding

Facebook Tests Snapchat-Like Stories Feature, Updates Privacy Basics for Easier Understanding

Photo Credit: Image via Business Insider


  • Facebook Stories is being tested in Ireland initially
  • Privacy Basics redesigned for better organised information
  • Facebook Messenger will soon show up ads like news feed

In a move that will hardly come as a surprise to anyone, Facebook is testing a Stories feature, similar to the one present on Snapchat, on its mobile application on iOS and Android. Notably, Facebook-owned Instagram also introduced its own version of the feature, essentially a clone of the one present on Snapchat, last year in August. The social media networking giant has also updated the privacy settings available on its platform by making them easier to understand with the help of more guides. Finally, the company says it will start showing

Facebook Stories feature has begun testing in Ireland but will roll out to other countries in coming months, reports Business Insider, citing a Facebook spokeperson. The new feature is said to work similarly to Instagram and Snapchat. Users can choose to share images and videos that will disappear after a time span of 24 hours. The shared content in Facebook Stories will not be visible on news feed or on user’s timeline and viewers can reply to someone’s story through a direct message, as pointed out by BusinessInsider.

Unsurprisingly, you also get to add selfie filters to the videos and images through the feature. Just like on Instagram and Snapchat, the shared Stories will be visible on top of the screen, as per the report.

Separately, in order to make it easier for people to make use of the privacy tools available on the social media networking platform, Facebook has revamped its Privacy Basics to make sure important features are easier to find. On the basis of user feedback, the information on privacy and account security has been organised in such a way that users understand it easily, as per the company’s claims.

fb privacy basics story FB Privacy Basics Story

Privacy Basics provides 32 interactive guides available in 44 languages to help users understand the security tools and features available at their disposal.

“Privacy Basics gives you tips for things like securing your account, understanding who can see posts and knowing what your profile looks like to others,” the company said in its news post.

The revamped Privacy Basics essentially allows users to review who will be able to see their post, crucial information on their profile, apps that they are using, and more.

Apart from these additions, in coming weeks, Facebook is about to conduct a test, limited to Australia and Thailand as of now, which adds advertisements inside its Messenger app just like the ones present on its News Feed. Similar to how the company shows birthday notifications, these advertisements from businesses will show up in the area below your recent conversations.

messenger ads blog story Messenger Ads

“No one will see an ad in a conversation without clicking on an ad experience on the Messenger home screen or starting a conversation with a brand – these test ads won’t originate in your conversations,” Facebook said in a separate news post.

Notably, users who will be part of this test will be able to hide or report specific ads that they find inappropriate or intrusive.

Facebook has also revamped its News Feed to surface more relevant videos. With its new change, Facebook looks at “percent completion” to understand which videos were more compelling for the user. The social media company announced on Wednesday that it has modified its system for showing trending topics in order to better deliver news.

Tags: Facebook Stories, Snapchat Stories, Instagram Stories, Facebook, Apps, Social, Facebook Privacy Basics, Facebook Ads,Messenger

RIP Free Basics, No More Refunds on Amazon, and Other Headlines This Week

RIP Free Basics, No More Refunds on Amazon, and Other Headlines This Week

This week in tech, we’ve seen some major developments on Net Neutrality in India, and also some impressive scientific developments. There were also some big game releases, so there’s a lot to track. Worried you missed out on any news this week? Here are the highlights that we’ve picked this week.

Apple, no stranger to legal tussles, might be back in court again thanks to iPhone Error 53. Google meanwhile is having a good year, and gave CEO Sundar Pichai a record setting stock grant of $199 million, making him the highest paid CEO of a publicly traded company in the US this year.

In India, there’s some interesting news about phones this week – Reliance Retail’s fourth Lyf-branded smartphone, the Flame 1, launched at Rs. 6,490. The phone supports 4G LTE, and will work on Reliance Jio’s network, as well as any other 1800MHz network. The Android 5.1 Lollipop-based Flame 1 offers dual-SIM support. The handset is powered by a 1.1GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 (MSM8909) processor clubbed with 1GB of RAM. It packs 8GB of inbuilt storage and supports expandable storage via microSD card (up to 32GB). Reliance isn’t the only player with 4G news this week though – Vodafone rolled out its service in Bengaluru this week.

vodafone_4g_delhi_reuters.jpgHTC has slashed the price of the HTC Desire 728 Dual SIM by Rs. 1,000 – the phone was launched just last month, at Rs. 17,990, and is now available at Rs. 16,990. Speaking of shopping online though, you’re not going to be able to get refunds on phones from Amazon anymore. “All mobile phones that are fulfilled by Amazon, purchased on or after 7th February 2016, will have a replacement only policy. Mobile phone items that are fulfilled by Amazon will no longer be eligible for refunds,” a statement posted on Amazon India’s returns policy page states.

There were some big developments in gaming, as one of the biggest piracy groups in the world announced it won’t crack single-player PC games anymore. This would have given game companies something to feel happy about, except that the group quickly took an about face on the subject. Thegroup’s chief announced they were close to breaking the copy protection on games like FIFA 16. This was apparently because people thought the group was quitting because of the technical challenges in the new copy protection, so it wants to prove that isn’t the case.

At the same time, piracy for shows and movies might get even easier, as you can now stream movies, TV shows on the Pirate Bay so all you need is your browser – no torrents software is needed, thanks to a plugin called Torrents Time. It may not be a very good idea though if you are worried about your privacy and security.

thepiratebay_logo_wiki_1.jpgMeanwhile, at the start of the week, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) laid downregulations on discriminatory pricing that are strongly in favour of net neutrality. These new regulations also don’t allow for Facebook’s Free Basics which is why the social network shut down the project in India.

Not everyone was happy with the decision, which drew a lot of criticism from several Silicon Valley luminaires, especially Facebook board member Marc Andreessen, who said an anti-colonial mindset was hurting India. Although Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had earlier said he was disappointed by the Trai verdict, he condemned Andreessen’s outburst, saying he found the comments deeply upsetting.

Facebook isn’t the only social network in the spotlight this week though. Twitter has drawn ire for its changes to the timeline, and the company rolled out the new Facebook-like algorithmic timeline. The good news – if you don’t like this feature – is that you can opt out of seeing the updates. CEO Jack Dorsey, under pressure to improve Twitter’s financial prospects, also said he is planning to make Twitter less confusing.

square_dorsey_ap.jpgQualcomm unveiled new Snapdragon SoCs for mobiles, which will probably make their way into phones soon. A fuel-cell maker also talked about new battery technology that could give smartphones a seven day battery life.

On Friday, Albert Einstein’s century-old theory about gravitational waves was confirmed and it’s a major development that may inaugurate a new era of astronomy in which gravitational waves are tools for studying the most mysterious and exotic objects in the universe. That being said, it’s also a pretty complicated subject. If you’re wondering what are gravitational waves, and why should you care, the previous link should have you covered.

These were the big highlights of this week according to us. Did we miss something? Tell us via the comments.


Zuckerberg Goes on the Offensive, but Free Basics Isn’t Wholly Benevolent

Zuckerberg Goes on the Offensive, but Free Basics Isn't Wholly Benevolent

With just two days left for responses to Trai’s consultation paper on differential pricing, it seems that Facebook is doing everything it can to win the debate, at least in terms of submissions. The last time Trai asked for responses, this battle was fought by Internet activists and startups. Now, Facebook pre-empted the PR offensive by launching its campaign first, and using every means possible, from outdoor media to newspaper ads, to YouTube, and even Reddit.

(Also see: Free Basics vs. Free Internet: Your Guide to the Raging Net Neutrality Debate)

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chairman of Facebook penned an opinion column in a leading daily on Monday, where he claims that Free Basics protects net neutrality. Actually going into the details however shows that he’s cherry-picked facts and played loose with them to make his case, and Free Basics isn’t as benevolent as he wants to make it sound. We went through his post, and here are our responses.

1) Free Basics is not the Internet

Here’s what Zuckerberg said in his column:

We have collections of free basic books. They’re called libraries. They don’t contain every book, but they still provide a world of good. We have free basic healthcare. Public hospitals don’t offer every treatment, but they still save lives. We have free basic education. Every child deserves to go to school. And in the 21st century, everyone also deserves access to the tools and information that can help them to achieve all those other public services, and all their fundamental social and economic rights. That’s why everyone also deserves access to free basic internet services.

Free Basics is not the Internet – rather, it is only a tiny fraction of it and doesn’t provide access to many services, such as YouTube, Gmail, Google, or Twitter, the last of which has proven to be a vital communications platform for disaster response and real-time data broadcasts. Considering India’s literacy levels, a low-bandwidth solution isn’t the most ideal use case – rural people might be more inclined to use video, VoIP services, messaging and file transfer, or want to photos larger than 200 KB. Even the government-subsidised Internet accounts given to students by VSNL in the late 90s gave users access to the full Internet. We’re not debating that free Internet wouldn’t be a wonderful thing, but that’s no reason for the Indian government to hand over the privacy of its citizens to a multinational corporation that works on an advertising-funded business model, where people are the product. What Facebook stands to gain from its data retention policies on these users is a near monopoly on the next billion users who will come online.

2) There’s no guarantee that it will be ad free

Zuckerberg wrote:

“This isn’t about Facebook’s commercial interests – there aren’t even any ads in the version of Facebook in Free Basics. If people lose access to free basic services they will simply lose access to the opportunities offered by the internet today.”

While Free Basics doesn’t serve any ads at present, Chris Daniels, VP, Internet.org didn’t rule out the possibility of running ads on it in the future, when asked in a recently concluded AMA on Reddit. Facebook famously diluted its core value proposition for its page owners by throttling organic reach to single digits, making users pay to reach communities they had put countless hours into curating and cultivating. While Facebook says that Free Basics is ad free at present, it’s possible that the company will be exploring opportunities to monetise the platform in the future, by its own admission.

3) Third party audits are like a band-aid to a bleeding gash

Zuckerberg says:

We are also happy to have a third party audit what apps we accept and reject and why, and we’ve proposed this to IAMAI and Nasscom.

Facebook does not guarantee that a site submitted on its platform will be available through Free Basics. The selection process is not transparent, and third-party audits for which apps get accepted and which are rejected is still at a proposal stage. Moreover, a third-party audit will only further slow the selection and rejection process, making getting onto Free Basics a tedious, counter productive exercise carried out without transparency. Large corporations which can devote resources might not have a problem, but small startups, or urgent relief efforts, would get bogged down and wouldn’t be able to reach their potential audience.

(Also read: Facebook’s Internet.org: New Name, Same Problems)

4) The only bridge to digital equality is the full Internet

More than 35 operators have launched Free Basics and 15 million people have come online. And half the people who use Free Basics to go online for the first time pay to access the full internet within 30 days.

MarkZuckerberg_Townhall_main.jpgZuckerberg claims that Free Basics has brought over 15 million people online, and that it serves as a stairway to the full Internet. He had made the same claim in late October when he visited India, but we haven’t seen any clear source as a citation for this claim. Telecom operators could make a better use case for the Internet by offering free data packages, but the reason they aren’t doing so is because they’re waiting and watching to see how this plays out. The net neutrality battle has been brewing for a lot longer, and if Facebook wins, it’s possible that other telecom operators will also roll out their zero rating plans, making for a balkanised Internet.

5) There are plenty of valid reasons to oppose Free Basics

There’s no valid basis for denying people the choice to use Free Basics, and that’s what thousands of people across India have chosen to tell Trai over the last few weeks.

There are other other alternatives to Free Basics that telecom operators and Internet companies have offered that are net neutral – these include Mozilla Foundation, Grameenphone, Gigato, and MCent. Aircel had introduced free basic Internet for all its new subscribers starting October. Telecom operators offering a free introductory access package for a limited period could prove just as effective in bringing the bottom of the economic pyramid online. More and more people come online each year because the Internet does not need a sales pitch – for every story of a farmer who used Facebook’s Free Basics, there are millions of stories of Indian citizens who used the Internet to improve their income, get access to education, information, and jobs.


Free Basics mess: Facebook board member makes things worse by bringing up colonialism

Free Basics mess: Facebook board member makes things worse by bringing up colonialism
Photo Credit: via Twitter
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Even before India’s internet regulator officially banned Facebook’s Free Basics platform, at least in its current form, it had already made its opinion of the social media giant evident. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India criticised Facebook for trying to turn a policy discourse into a majoritarian opinion poll, and called its campaign “crude” and “dangerous.” Now Marc Andreesen, a venture capitalist and director on Facebook’s board has made things even worse.

Andreesen had been involved in a discussion with Vikram Chachra, partner at an Indian seed capital firm, about the telecom regulator’s decision to ban Free Basics – Facebook’s product aimed at providing a version of the internet to users for free, with the social media company claiming it wanted to help connect those who don’t currently have access to the internet.

Andreessen’s reference to colonialism wasn’t the first time Facebook’s service had been compared to the East India Company, which (in short) provided “free” industrialisation to the country while slowly annexing land and eventually coming to rule the country.

Many had in fact made the reference to Free Basics being similar to colonialism, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s anguished op-ed wondering “who could possibly be against” Free Basics certainly had a whiff of the well-meaning colonial Westerner about it.

What was different about Andreessen’s colonial reference was that it was positive, bringing up the old argument that the East India Company and the British Raj had been good for India. (Shashi Tharoor had some thoughts on this, here).

Facebook was eventually not allowed to prevail in India because of the efforts of activists who argued that services like Free Basics violated the principle of net neutrality, which suggests roughly that all traffic on the internet should be treated the same.

Even if Free Basics claimed it was an open platform, the activists argued, it still could have potentially balkanised the internet. When the regulator eventually issued guidelines, it concluded much the same, saying services like Free Basics “militate against the very basis on which the internet has developed.”The regulator’s ruling has only spurred on the debate online in India, with some arguing that it was a knee-jerk decision because of the huge support that net neutrality activists had managed to drum up, while others insisted that it would help preserve the openness of the internet.

As you might imagine, Andreessen’s attempt to enter into this conversation by criticising “anti-colonialism” got a little pushback.

Andreesen deleted his original tweet about anti-colonialism, but continued to argue about Free Basics being good for India, before realising that Indian twitter had heard about him. Eventually, this happened:

But the incident also served as a reminder of how tone-deaf some of the attempts to popularise Free Basics in India were. After Facebook got initial push-back from the net neutrality community when it attempted to introduce Free Basics’ predecessor, Internet.org, into the country, it changed the name from something that sounded both like the internet itself and a non-profit (it is neither) and sought to make the platform more open.

When even this did not suffice, it unleashed a marketing blitzkrieg, buying up tremendous amounts of ad space in newspapers and on billboards around the country, attempting to sell the idea that poor Indians would benefit from Free Basics. It seemed to miss out on the mistrust Indians have for massive corporations claiming to give things away and, as Zuckerberg pointed out, could not understand who could possibly be against freebies.

Things then got even worse when Facebook attempted to use its platform and users to influence the debate on Free Basics. Facebook users were encouraged to tell TRAI that they supported the service, prompting the regulator to point out that it wasn’t a poll about the Free Basics, but a policy consultation on differential pricing.

Facebook also accidentally opened up the campaign to users outside India making it seem even more suspicious how it was using its global platform to lobby TRAI. It eventually attempted to pivot, but was still told by TRAI that its campaign had been crude and dangerous.

Andreessen’s latest foray into the field, though not a part of Facebook’s official marketing efforts, only seemed to confirm the tone-deaf nature of Silicon Valley’s response to the Indian debate.