With a now-total ban on WhatsApp, China has finally ousted Facebook for good, and Russia is threatening to do the same if the social media platform does not abide by its government’s rules (ironic, as Russia reached at least 10 million American Facebook users with its U.S. election propaganda ads, according to the latest tally). Also in this week’s tracker: Facebook leverages Apple’s Face ID for account recovery, and Android users can skip the bells and whistles with Messenger Lite.
The Russian Federation says Facebook must store Russians’ personal data on Russian servers, per internet regulation laws. If the social media site fails to do so, the Russian government says the site will be blocked going forward, beginning in 2018 — and it is not messing around, since the same thing happened to LinkedIn last year. In July, the government banned virtual private networks (VPNs), which some citizens were using to access blocked content such as LinkedIn.
While Twitter has said it’s working toward compliance by mid-2018, Facebook has made no such promise. Critics say the law requiring Facebook and similar sites to store personal information on local servers is being selectively enforced by a government that wants to micromanage what its people can see online.
Calling The Kettle Black
It’s a bit rich hearing Russia tell Facebook to follow the rules, especially when Russia used Facebook ads to spread propaganda and tamper with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
A new report by CNBC says that approximately 10 million Facebook users saw the roughly 3,000 ads bought by Russian groups that aimed to influence the U.S. election — and those are just the ads Facebook has identified so far. The company admits there may be others it has not yet found.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg has taken back his initial remark that it was “crazy” to think his site had been used in that way. He said in a post last month that the site planned to make it “a lot harder” for the “bad people in the world” to interfere in such a manner.
They’re With The Banned
Russia isn’t the only one setting up roadblocks for Facebook. Though China has banned the social network itself since 2009, Facebook’s messaging app WhatsApp has so far been allowed. Now, however, after blocking WhatsApp's photo sharing and video chats in July, the Chinese government has blocked texting on the app as well — effectively leaving Facebook with no footholds in the country.
China’s cyber watchdog has been cracking down with online censorship leading up to an annual communist conference to be held this month. Tencent’s WeChat, Baidu and Weibo — all local players — have all been fined for allowing banned content on their platforms. Banned content includes anything the government deems to be fake news, pornography and/or content that incites ethnic tensions and “threatens social order.”
Hello, It’s Me
If you’ve ever had your Facebook account hacked or had the social network mistake you for a spam bot, you know how frustrating it can be to regain access to your account or verify your identity (and humanity). The process becomes even more frustrating if it happens someplace where two-factor authentication SMS messages cannot be received, such as on a plane or abroad.
Facebook has been piloting several methods for addressing this, the latest of which leverages Apple’s Face ID to verify users’ identities quickly and easily. Facebook said the feature is only available on devices the user has already used to log in to his or her account, and would not be used for any purpose other than account recovery.
Additional account recovery methods Facebook has recently tested include identifying photos of friends and sending a recovery code to the user’s selected “trusted friends,” who can then relay the access code.
Messenger has gotten to be a bit much for some, with a snowballing collection of features that most recently swelled to include Snapchat-style stories, selfie filters and games.
Enter Facebook Messenger Lite, an Android-only app created to enable users to access Messenger in areas with poor connectivity. The Lite app has now expanded to the U.S., U.K., Canada and Ireland as an alternative to the bloated Messenger app — although, unfortunately for iPhone users, there’s no iOS version and no plans to make one.