Author: Josh Constine

Instagram caught selling ads to follower-buying services it banned

TECHCRUNCH Instagram has been earning money from businesses flooding its social network with spam notifications. Instagram hypocritically continues to sell ad space to services that charge clients for fake followers or that automatically follow/unfollow other people to get them to follow the client back. This is despite Instagram reiterating a ban on these businesses in November and threatening the accounts of people who employ them. A TechCrunch investigation initially found 17 services selling fake followers or automated notification spam for luring in followers that were openly advertising on Instagram despite blatantly violating the network’s policies. This demonstrates Instagram’s failure to adequately police its app and ad platform. That neglect led to users being distracted by notifications for follows and Likes generated by bots or fake accounts. Instagram raked in revenue from these services while they diluted the quality of Instagram notifications and wasted people’s time. In response to our investigation, Instagram tells me it’s removed all ads as well as disabled all the Facebook Pages and Instagram accounts of the services we reported were violating its policies. Pages and accounts that themselves weren’t in violation but whose ads were have been banned from advertising on Facebook and Instagram. However, a day later TechCrunch still found ads from two of these services on Instagram, and discovered five more companies paying to promote policy-violating follower growth services. This raises a big...

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Microsoft Bing not only shows child pornography, it suggests it

TECHCRUNCH Illegal child exploitation imagery is easy to find on Microsoft’s Bing search engine. But even more alarming is that Bing will suggest related keywords and images that provide pedophiles with more child pornography. Following an anonymous tip, TechCrunch commissioned a report from online safety startup AntiToxin to investigate. The results were alarming. [WARNING: Do not search for the terms discussed in this article on Bing or elsewhere as you could be committing a crime. AntiToxin is closely supervised by legal counsel and works in conjunction with Israeli authorities to perform this research and properly hand its findings to law enforcement. No illegal imagery is contained in this article, and it has been redacted with red boxes here and inside AntiToxin’s report.] Bing searches can return illegal child abuse imagery The research found that terms like “porn kids”, “porn CP” (a known abbreviation for ‘child pornography’), and “nude family kids” all surfaced illegal child exploitation imagery. And even people not seeking this kind of disgusting imagery could be led to it by Bing. When researchers searched for “Omegle Kids”, referring to a video chat app popular with teens, Bing’s auto-complete suggestions included “Omegle Kids Girls 13” that revealed extensive child pornography when searched. And if a user clicks on those images, Bing showed them more illegal child abuse imagery in its Similar Images feature. Another search for “Omegle for 12 years old”...

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Meet Caper, the AI self-checkout shopping cart

TECHCRUNCH The Amazon boogie-man has every retailer scrambling for ways to fight back. But the cost and effort to install cameras all over the ceiling or into every shelf could block stores from entering the autonomous shopping era. Caper Labs wants to make eliminating checkout lines as easy as replacing their shopping carts while offering a more familiar experience for customers. The startup makes a shopping cart with a built-in barcode scanner and credit card swiper, but it’s finalizing the technology to automatically scan items you drop in thanks to three image recognition cameras and a weight sensor. The company claims people already buy 18 percent more per visit after stores are equipped with its carts. Caper’s cart Today, Caper is revealing that it’s raised a total of $3 million including a $2.15 million seed round led by prestigious First Round Capital and joined by food-focused angels like Instacart co-founder Max Mullen, Plated co-founder Nick Taranto, Jet’s Jetblack shopping concierge co-founder Jenny Fleiss, plus Y Combinator. Caper is now in two retailers in the NYC area, though it plans to use the cash to expand to more and develop a smart shopping basket for smaller stores. “If you walked in to a grocery store 100 years ago versus today, nothing has really changed” says Caper co-founder and CEO Lindon Gao. “It doesn’t make sense that you can order a...

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Instagram now lets you regram your posts to multiple accounts

TECHCRUNCH Instagram is swaying the balance towards simplicity but away from originality. It’s adding the ability to publish feed posts to different accounts you control at the same time by toggling them on within the composer screen. An Instagram spokesperson confirms this option is becoming available to all iOS users, telling TechCrunch “We are rolling out this feature to provide a better experience for people who often post to multiple accounts.” This “self regram” could make it easier for businesses, influencers, and regular folks with Instas and Finstas to publish the same meme, promotional image, or other content across their profiles simultaneously instead of having to post on one at a time. But it could also make Instagram’s feed a bit more cookie-cutter, with different audiences of different accounts seeing the same shots and captions. The desire to keep the feed original and personal has been a driving force behind Instagram refusing to add a native regram feature for sharing other people’s feed posts to your audience. Instagram gives all iOS users the ability to publish a post to several of their own accounts at once Recontextualizing posts uniquely for different accounts or networks is some of the most common social media guru advice. A personal account might want to publish with a more informal, colloquial and intimate style. A business account might be better off acting generally accessible...

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Zuckerberg’s 2019 challenge is to hold public talks on tech & society

TECHCRUNCH Rather than just focus on Facebook’s problems like his 2018 challenge, this year Mark Zuckerberg wants to give transparency to his deliberations and invite the views of others. Today he announced his 2019 challenge will be “to host a series of public discussions about the future of technology in society — the opportunities, the challenges, the hopes, and the anxieties.” He plans to hold the talks with different leaders, experts, and community members in a variety of formats and venues, though they’ll all be publicly viewable from his Facebook and Instagram accounts or traditional media. This isn’t the first time Zuckerberg has held a series of public talks. He ran community Q&A sessions in 2014 and 2015 to take questions directly from his users. The idea for Facebook Reactions for expressing emotions beyond “Likes” first emerged during those talks. From his initial framing of the challenge, though, it already sounds like Zuckerberg sees more Facebook as the answer to many of the issues facing society. He asks “There are so many big questions about the world we want to live in and technology’s place in it. Do we want technology to keep giving more people a voice, or will traditional gatekeepers control what ideas can be expressed? Should we decentralize authority through encryption or other means to put more power in people’s hands? In a world where many physical...

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To automate bigger stores than Amazon, Standard Cognition buys Explorer.ai

TECHCRUNCH Standard Cognition helps retail stores stand up to Jeff Bezos’ juggernaut. The $50 million-funded autonomous checkout startup is racing to equip bigger shops with scanless payment technology that lets customers walk out the door without ever stopping at a cashier. While Amazon Go opens its own 2,000 square foot boutiques, Standard Cognition is working on outfitting 20,000 square foot and larger drug stores and grocers. That led Standard Cognition to make its first acquisition, Explorer.ai. Why would an automated checkout company acquire a self-driving car startup? Because whether you’re tracking shoppers or pedestrians, you need sophisticated maps of the real world. The more accurate the machine vision is, the larger the store you can equip. And since Standard Cognition uses ceiling-based cameras instead of putting them on every shelf like Amazon, it’s much cheaper to keep eyes on a bigger space. Standard Cognition is only just over a year old, but with the backing of Y Combinator, Alexis Ohanian and Garry Tan’s Initialized Capital, and a fast-moving team of seven co-founders, it believes it can outmaneuver Amazon. That means doing whatever it can to leap forward. Standard Cognition already had in-house mapping technology, but Explorer.ai’s team and tech could accelerate its quest to bring even 100,000 sq ft big box supercenters into the automated checkout age. “It’s the wild west — applying cutting-edge, state-of-the-art machine learning research that’s hot...

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Instagram accidentally rolled out tap-to-advance feed, removes it

TECHCRUNCH Instagram confirms that a bug this morning mistakenly rolled out a massive change to its feed that replaced the traditional scrolling with horizontal tap-to-advance like with Stories. In October, TechCrunch reported Instagram was testing tap-to-advance for browsing through Explore posts. But many users woke up to a shock this morning when their familiar vertical swipe stopped advancing the main feed. Many users immediately complained that the gesture felt awkward and annoying. “This was caused by a bug and we quickly rolled it back” an Instagram spokesperson tells TechCrunch. It’s possible that Instagram could still bring tap-to-advance to the...

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Google & Facebook fed ad dollars to child porn discovery apps

TECHCRUNCH Google has scrambled to remove third-party apps that led users to child porn sharing groups on WhatsApp in the wake of TechCrunch’s report about the problem last week. We contacted Google with the name of one these apps and evidence that it and others offered links to WhatsApp groups for sharing child exploitation imagery. Following publication of our article, Google removed that app and at least five like it from the Google Play store. Several of these apps had over 100,000 downloads, and they’re still functional on devices that already downloaded them. A screenshot from today of active...

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