Facebook

The Big F8 Rundown: The Changes Are A-Coming

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While Facebook’s annual developer conference is always a big event, this year all eyes were particularly on the social network after recent events found Facebook on the front page a lot, but for all the wrong reasons.  Though Facebook’s earnings seemed relatively unharmed by the recent Cambridge Analytica revelations, CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s time in front of the two houses of Congress early last month made it clear that regulators are watching for changes. The strong implication was that if they didn’t see the right kind, they might decide to step in and make them for Facebook (and the rest of the digital/social world).

And Facebook had lots of changes, upgrades and new ideas to announce.

On the privacy front — Mark Zuckerberg announced early in his keynote address that Facebook will be adding a “Clear History” button that will give users essentially the same power to clear their Facebook history that they have to clear their web browser’s history.  The tool specifically removes information Facebook has about users’ interactions away from Facebook. Facebook will also allow their users to disable the social media network’s ability to track their non-Facebook web activities.

“This is the kind of control that we think people should have,” Zuckerberg said.

And it is certainly the type of control regulators might like to see.  That feature is not out yet, though it is planned for release over the next few months.

Zuckerberg also noted that after hitting pause as a result of the Cambridge Analytica mess, Facebook will be reopening its app review process.

“Now, I know that it hasn’t been easy being a developer these past couple months, that’s probably an understatement. What I can assure you is that we’re hard at work making sure people don’t misuse this platform so you can all keep building things that people love, and today I’m happy to share that we’re reopening app reviews so you can all keep moving forward,” Facebook’s CEO noted from the stage during his keynote, to a loud round of applause.

And there was more to announce still.

The most eye-catching — and headline generating — part of the day came when Facebook announced that in its ongoing quest to “help people form connections,” it will formally be getting into the dating game through a new service called FaceDate. The new program — which is slated to start testing later this year — allows those looking to make a love connection on Facebook to make a profile that’s only visible to non-friends who’ve also opted in to finding romance. Facebook will use its data to play matchmaker — and allow potential life mates to message sweet nothings to each other via dedicated inbox rather than Messenger.

And what does it mean, exactly, for Facebook to use its data to play matchmaker?  According to the company: “potential matches will be recommended based on dating preferences, things in common, and mutual friends. They’ll have the option to discover others with similar interests through their Groups or Events.”

Whether people will think this is cool or just a bit creepy remains to be seen — but investors certainly took notice.  IAC — parent firm to Match Group, which itself is parent firm to Tinder and Match.com — took a 22 percent hit to its stock price on the announcement of the news.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they had a bit of shade to throw Facebook’s way.

“Come on in. The water’s warm. Their product could be great for U.S./Russia relationships,” IAC’s CEO Joey Levin noted in an official statement.  (Zing.)

And apart from the news, Facebook also had a lot of upgrades to announce.

Messenger is getting a full redesign, with an eye toward streamlining and tightening up the presentation of the app for users. Today Messenger features an oft-complained-about plethora of buttons and tabs, which has sent a large number of users off to less feature-filled — but also simpler — Messenger Lite.

The new design will reduce the number of buttons within a conversation from six to four, will make it easier to access video chat from the top of the screen, will use gradient text bubbles (think Skype) and even add a dark mode to make it easier to look at in a shared bed (because hey, FaceDate could really work out for some people).

Facebook will also be putting a toe into translation services by offering English-Spanish conversions for users in the U.S. who start a conversation through Facebook Marketplace, its peer-to-peer commerce feature.

That is slated to expand — Facebook notes it plans to “launch this functionality in additional languages and countries.” U.S. Messenger users will likely see this feature rollout throughout the service over the next few weeks.

And speaking of seeing — Facebook also announced that video chat is coming to everything.

Facebook plans to roll out video chat and group video chat to Instagram in the next few weeks. WhatsApp is adding group video chat (one-on-one video chat has been online at WhatsApp for 2 years). The chats will only work in-platform; a Facebook Messenger user can’t chat an Instagram chat user.

The new chat functions will come with  augmented reality effects — face filters. Mark Zuckerberg, when demoing these, noted they were particularly popular with his own children when he video chats them while traveling for business.

“Daddy looks like a bunny” is probably not something anyone expected to hear the CEO of Facebook say yesterday — but it is something everyone is better for having heard.

Finally, Mark Zuckerberg did get to have an Oprah moment from the stage yesterday when he announced the launch of the Oculus Go — Facebook’s newly released virtual reality headset.  After touting its many fun features, he told his audience that as a gift for coming out to F8, they were each going home with a Go of their own.

Not quite a car — but it can offer up a reasonable facsimile of driving one, we’re told.

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