FACEBOOK IS ATTEMPTING to wash off the stink of the Cambridge Analytica scandal by embracing privacy in a big way at its F8 conference.
"What happened with Cambridge Analytica was a major breach of trust. So we need to make sure this never happens again," a seemingly dynamic Mark Zuckerberg said, before reiterating that Facebook will be restricting the data developers will be able to access through the social network platform.
He highlighted that any app that had access to large amounts of Facebook data before changes to data controls came into effect in 2014 will also get a probe from his minions.
And to better protect users, Zuck revealed Clear History, which as the name would suggest in a simple tool for Facebook users to clear the data Facebook has on their browsing history.
"You'll be able to use this tool to see the information about the apps and websites you've interacted with. You'll be able to clear all this information from your account, and you'll even be able to turn off having this information stored with your account going forward," explained Zuck.
However, it's worth noting that Facebook won't entirely purge this data as it will need it to keep serving ads, but it will strip out any personally identifying information points that could tell advertisers who you are; basically, you get more privacy but Facebook will still make bank off the back of your info, like it or lump it.
So that's kind of good news for the privacy conscious, but Zuck also said Facebook is going to do more to tackle illegitimate propaganda and the spread of fake news.
Straight off the cuff, Zuckerberg declared Facebook was "slow to identify Russian interference" within the US general election. As such, anyone wanting to run political ads or large pages will need to be verified by a government ID.
And by the end of the year, Zuck claims Facebook will have 20,000 people working on security and content review, in an effort to prevent the social network from being used to erode the integrity of elections; we'd argue the current crop of politicians with their BS claims do that well enough as it is.
As for fake news, Facebook will keep bringing in more fact checking partners across the globe to verified posts making bold claims.
Facebook-owned Instagram is also getting bit of spit and polish to buff off trolls, with an updated comment filter designed to purge comments that attack a person's appearance or character, as well as threats made against said person's health and well-being.
The flip side to adding more features that could, ironically, allow Facebook users to hide a bit better from the world, was Facebook introducing a bucket load of new social features.
Instagram and WhatsApp will now get group video calling for up to four people at once, so users can not only like that pic of smashed avocado on sourdough but then bother three other pals to get them to go for brunch.
Speaking of sharing, Facebook is now making it easier to share content from other apps like Spotify to the social network and Instagram. The latter is also getting a mode called Focus that blurs out the background of an Instagram 'story' yet still keeps the posters face in sharp focus, because that's something that will apparently appeal - search us, we'd rather stare at dynamic backgrounds than someone's gurning mug.
Messenger, which has a rather fussy UI, is getting an interface revamp and will have features like support for 4K photos, augmented reality effects, and artificial intelligence powered translation.
And to top it all off, Facebook will soon be bringing the ability to snap 3D photos and post them to the News Feed, as opposed to just being able to view 360-degree videos and pics.
Slide into my VR
Having bought Oculus Rift for a cool $2bn back in 2014, it's no surprise virtual reality (VR) would be high on Facebook's agenda. At F8, Zuck's grinning face popped out that the Oculus Go, a self-contained VR headset, will ship that day.
He then handed over to his cronies who spurted about a bevvy of VR features, such as the ability to watch sports games in a virtual environment which will be available through an Oculus TV hub that'll pull content from partners such as ESPN and Lionsgate. There will also be features that allow people to create a "Watch Party" whereby they all meet up in a virtual environment to watch 2D or 3D stuff on-demand or live; basically you'll soon never need to leave your home.
Using something called "pointillism effect" - one for Photoshop nerds - Facebook will take computer vision and use it to fill in the gaps in old grainy photos to enable them to be recreated in VR which people can then visit together in a virtual environment; think re-visiting an old family home with parents in VR.
"It feels like you're in a dream; it is wild," said Zuckerberg, who'd have clearly taken the blue pill over the red one.
Augmented reality is also getting a look in with the ability to pull out 3D objects from posts, likely from brands pushing products, and then superimpose them onto photos or a camera feed of your own home. The feature will then be extended into VR, allowing for users of the Oculus Go to see how the selected 3D object would look in a virtual representation of a person's physical space, room or home.
Perhaps the most unusual announcement from Zuck and pals was the plan to bring dating profiles to the social network.
Seemingly ignoring that there's an orgy of dating apps that already pull Facebook photos and data into them, Zuckerberg explained that the new dating profiles will be designed to not match users with their friends but instead allow people to find potential partners through their interests and photos.
Users on the search for some lovin' will be able to browse nearby events or groups relating to their interests to meet people they might have things in common with. Facebook will serve up potential romantic interests, but the profile will be light on information, mostly listing interests and providing pics for people to peruse.
Once a person finds another they're interested in, they can select a photo from said person's profile and use it as a "conversation starter", which will be carried out in a private chat that's kept separate from WhatsApp or Messenger. These conversations will only be text-based to prevent people from sending lewd pics.
Zuck said that the dating profiles are for romance, rather than hook-up orientated: "This is going to be for building real, long-term relationships, okay? Not just hookups."
Many dating apps claim that these days, as having a quick fumble and roll seems to be frowned upon by apps trying to grow into the next big thing, though they do on occasion still facilitate such stimulating encounters.
The dating profiles are being tested at the moment, so there's no firm timeline on when they will come over to general access, but we wouldn't be surprised to see them slide into the main social platform by the end of the year.
F8 2018 looked to portray Facebook as a more privacy conscious company that's feeling a tad guilty about data use scandals. But at the same time, it's business as usual for Zuckerberg and his crew, with Facebook attempting to make its social network and other apps a combined platform for all manner of data and content.
And its efforts in VR at first seem to be the way to help the tech break out of a niche, but at the same time, it comes across that Facebook wants its users to fully plunge into virtual worlds, hoovering up 3D stuff from partner firms and brands while Facebook flogs ever more ads.
A cynic could see Facebook's efforts as a means to ensnare its users into a virtual world while it wrangles ever more data from them, almost for the sheer hell of it; think The Matrix only as a shit movie. µ
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