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Last Updated : May 17, 2018 08:31 PM IST | Source:

Podcast | New features on Facebook

India’s internet penetration is increasing rapidly. And no company knows and understands this better than that friend in blue, Facebook

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The number of internet users in India will reach 500 million by June 2018, according to a report by IAMAI and Kantar IMRB. At the end of December 2017, India had 481 million users, growing 11.34% from 2016. As per the findings of the report, urban India witnessed a growth of 9.66% from December 2016 and is estimated to have around 295 million internet users as on December 2017. On the other hand, rural India witnessed growth of 14.11% from December 2016 and is estimated to have around 186 million internet users as on December 2017.

Even as the government promotes initiatives under Digital India, including the use of internet, mobile internet penetration in rural India remains as low as 18%. But that number is set to increase in the coming years too. As per the most recent estimates, the number of mobile phones in the country is about 650 million, with over 300 million of them smartphones. That number is set to increase too.

The arena of growth in these numbers is increasingly Tier-II, III, and IV cities as well as rural areas in the country. Space on the phone to store photos and videos, low bandwidth and speed available, the cost of data plans are some of the issues that prevent even greater use of smartphones in these parts of the country. It is with these issues in mind that Facebook has released new features – to be rolled out in India first and then elsewhere in the world.

And that is our Story of the Day – Facebook, its new India-first features, and also what Facebook has done to deal with the issue that put the company at the centre of the latest privacy scandal.

According to some estimates, India as of 2017 had the highest number of Facebook users in the world of any country, with over 240 million. That number varies according to different sources, but it is certainly above 200 million, according to most estimates. And clearly, the company also views India as a huge avenue for growth and expansion – the Free Basics episode should give us a sense of that.

The three new features, which will be piloted in India first, and then elsewhere in the world are as follows:

  1. Users will now be able to put up voice posts and share voice messages

  2. Facebook will now let you save your photos and videos directly to your account in the Facebook cloud

  3. Users can now archive their Facebook Stories.

Let’s start with the first one – voice posts:

Facebook will allow voice posts, letting people “share in the moment” without having to share a photo or video. This could also help people who can't necessarily write in the language they want to share in.

“A really important thing that we’ve learnt from WhatsApp is that voice messaging is an increasingly popular way for people to communicate when they don’t want to type out messages,” said Connor Hayes, Director of Product Management at Facebook.

Users will be able to put a background colour to audio posts or a background picture. A voice post on stories can be up to 20 seconds. There is currently no limit for a voice post that is shared to News Feed, but the recording time is restricted by the local storage on the user's device. This could also help people who can't necessarily write in the language they want to share in. The voice post feature deftly bypasses the limitations that users might have about typing in a local language for which there may be no keyboard, and is also useful to people who may not be able to type in English, or type at all – including the semi-literate population.

Facebook did not provide statistics around the popularity of voice messaging in India.

Next feature: Facebook cloud, so to speak, where users can save photos and videos.

Facebook users will now be able to save the photos and videos they capture through the Facebook camera, where only they can see them when they log into their Facebook account. This allows people to save the photos and videos they capture without taking up space on their phone. It can also be used to save photos which users might want to share later. This move is in order to conserve expensive local GBs on entry-level devices with limited storage. Facebook, through its research, has discovered that people with limited space on their phones, have to delete some photos in order to take new ones. The new move makes, well, room for this to no longer be an issue. If there’s a capacity limit to the new storage options, Facebook doesn’t mention it yet.

This feature will initially be available only on Facebook for Android from today and the other two will be rolled out next month. “It is common for people in India to share devices…people have told us they want to save their photos to a more personal space that is tied to their identity and not just the device they are using,” said Connor Hayes.

Finally, you can now archive your Stories on Facebook. The Facebook Story feature which was a transplant from Instagram is a collection of moments cobbled together which stays for only 24 hours. With this new feature, these stories can be archived for posterity. Facebook will also allow users to reshare Stories kept in archive either as a post or in the Stories format. To archive Stories, users must have auto-archive enabled. This feature is certainly going to bring cheer to those Facebook artistes among us – let’s face it, we all know a few of those.

More updates coming from Facebook – this is directly in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. We did a detailed podcast on the scandal, as well as one on the outcome of the Zuckerberg hearing on Capitol Hill when he spoke with US lawmakers on two consecutive days. Now is as good a time as any to give them a quick listen to give yourselves a recent Facebook history lesson.

Facebook has axed 583 million fake accounts in the first three months of 2018, the social media giant said on Tuesday, detailing how it enforces "community standards" against sexual or violent images, terrorist propaganda or hate speech. Facebook said those closures came on top of blocking millions of attempts to create fake accounts every day. Despite this, the group said fake profiles still make up 3-4 percent of all active accounts. It claimed to detect almost 100 percent of spam and to have removed 837 million posts assimilated to spam over the same period.

The company went on to say that it pulled or issued warnings on nearly 30 million posts containing sexual or violent images, terrorist propaganda or hate speech during the first quarter.

Improved technology using artificial intelligence had helped it act on 3.4 million posts containing graphic violence, nearly three times as many as it had in the last quarter of 2017.

In 85.6 percent of the cases, Facebook detected the images before being alerted to them by users. The report also claimed that about 200 apps had been suspended on its platform as part of an investigation into misuse of private user data. Listeners will recall that it was one such external app ‘thisisyourdigitallife’, created by Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan, which was at the centre of the data scandal. The data harvested based on the access that app gave to millions of users in America which was then sold to Cambridge Analytica, which was then used to target voters in the run-up to the presidential election, was essentially the crux of the scandal.

Improved IT also helped Facebook take action against 1.9 million posts containing terrorist propaganda, a 73 percent increase. Nearly all were dealt with before any alert was raised, the company said. It attributed the increase to the enhanced use of photo-detection technology.

And finally, hate speech. Hate speech is harder to police using automated methods; however, as racist or homophobic hate speech is often quoted on posts by their targets or activists. "It may take a human to understand and accurately interpret nuances like... self-referential comments or sarcasm," the report said, noting that Facebook aims to "protect and respect both expression and personal safety".

Facebook took action against 2.5 million pieces of hate speech content during the period, a 56% increase over October-December. But only 38 percent had been detected through Facebook's efforts - the rest – 62% - had been flagged by users. So clearly, room for improvement and also indicating the challenges involved in understanding the nuances of hate speech. The posts that keep the Facebook reviewers the busiest are those showing adult nudity or sexual activity -- quite apart from child pornography, which is not covered by the report.

Some 21 million such posts were handled in the period, a similar number to October-December 2017.

In its zeal to police inappropriate content, there have been a few misses as well. In March, Facebook apologised for temporarily removing an advert featuring French artist Eugene Delacroix's famous work "Liberty Leading the People" because it depicts a bare-breasted woman.

Facebook's head of global policy management Monika Bicket said the group had kept a commitment to recruit 3,000 more staff to lift the numbers dedicated to enforcing standards to 7,500 at the start of this year, PTI went on to report.

Here’s hoping that all your Facebooking experiences is a little safer, and a lot more tolerable to your sensibilities, henceforth.

There is another India-related piece of information coming in from Facebook. This time, the company being asked to divulge information by, well, the government! The government of India is believed to have made 12,000 requests to Facebook for its data between July and December 2017. This is the second highest number of requests made by any government to the social media platform, according to a report on The Times of India. Only the US made more requests than India. Facebook claimed that it responded to 53% of the requests made by Indian authorities. After the US and India, the UK, Germany, France, and Brazil made up the rest of the top request-making nations.

Facebook described the nature of the requests in the meeting, saying “government officials sometimes make requests for data about people who use Facebook as part of ongoing official investigations. A vast majority of these requests relate to criminal cases such as robberies or kidnapping. In many of these cases, these government requests seek basic subscriber information such as name, registration, date and length of service.”

Facebook also released data on ‘internet disruptions’ and ‘intentional restrictions on connectivity’ which has affected the availability of the social media site and its services. India was first on the list with 14 shutdowns during the July-December period in 2017. Iraq and Turkey followed in second and third places.

The reasons cited for the interruptions are internet shutdowns ordered by the government, or suspension of internet services in some regions.

Russia and Pakistan were among the countries that made the least number of data requests. Makes you think. But don’t think too much before Liking or Sharing these podcasts on because all we Poke to do, I mean hope to do, is to make you a smart listener and even smarter investor.
First Published on May 17, 2018 08:26 pm
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