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Instagram focuses on kids, as Facebook beats forecasts

July 28, 2021, 9:16 PM UTC

Few lifestyle tweaks have had as profound an impact on my mental health as shoving Instagram’s app onto another screen. (See my recommended “screen cleanse.”)

So, when Facebook makes changes to its popular photo-sharing app, I’m typically not the first to know. But the media behemoth is, indeed, making some changes; namely, it’s trying to make the scene safer for youths.

In the coming weeks, teen profiles are going to be made private by default, starting first in the U.S., U.K., France, Australia, and Japan. Also, marketers will no longer be able to target minors — kids under 16 or 18, depending on the state — with ads according to their supposed interests across Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram. (It’s already illegal to collect information on kids under 13 without parental consent, thanks to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.)

The updates will make Facebook’s fiefdom a slightly less creepy place to hang out. Facebook will still collect data on everyone’s activities across other websites and apps, but it won’t let its customers—marketers—use that information, at least until everyone hits a certain birthday. Instead, the product-pushers will have to wait and stick to kludgier demographic targeting, based on age, gender, and location.

Why make these changes now? Perhaps because Facebook came under fire a couple months ago after an investigation revealed that advertisers could sprinkle ads into the eyeballs of children who were, according to Zuckerberg’s algorithms, interested in gambling, smoking, alcohol, and extreme weight loss. Fun hobbies for the kids. (I am reminded of when Facebook labeled one of my food interests as “shotgun.”)

Facebook is attempting to burnish its image as a more responsible social network. That’s especially true as Big Tech comes under fire from regulators around the globe and as the company faces intensifying competition from perennial rivals, like Snapchat and Google’s YouTube, and the newest cool kids, like TikTok and Discord.

Another factor makes Facebook’s decision a wise business move. The company is developing a defanged version of Instagram for under-13-year-olds—apparently, it’s a top priority. The teen-friendly makeover provides some cover for that planned rollout.

Also, Facebook just posted its second-quarter earnings this afternoon. Like it’s tech giant peers, it had a bang-up second quarter. More on that below.

NEWSWORTHY

Vax up, Googlers. Google has delayed its return-to-the-office plans until mid-October. The search giant announced Wednesday that employees are required to be be vaccinated against COVID-19 to do so.

Big tech posts big beats. Apple, Alphabet, and Microsoft had yet another blow-out quarter, as expected. Google parent company Alphabet managed to more than double its net income year over year, thanks primarily to YouTube's online advertising sales. Apple TV and Apple Music helped lift the iPhone giant to 93% higher quarterly profits, though CFO Luca Maestri dashed hopes for that high level of growth to continue next quarter. And while Microsoft took a hit in its Xbox gaming subscription business, its profits still climbed 47% from the same period of 2020. All told, Apple, Alphabet, and Microsoft posted combined quarterly profits of $57 billion. 

Facebook joins in too. Mark Zuckerberg's social media behemoth got in on the fun as well Wednesday. Facebook's Q2 EPS of $3.61 and revenue of $29.1 billion handily beat analyst expectations; however, the company did warn of slowing growth: "In the third and fourth quarters of 2021, we expect year-over-year total revenue growth rates to decelerate significantly on a sequential basis as we lap periods of increasingly strong growth." Facebook shares fell by as much as 5% after the close Wednesday. 

Activision Blizzard walkout. A group of Activision Blizzard employees moved forward with their walkout Wednesday, following CEO Bobby Kotick's acknowledgement that the company's had a "tone-deaf" reaction to a recently filed sexual discrimination lawsuit from California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing. In a response, employees who arranged the walkout said Activision Blizzard still failed "to address critical elements at the heart" of their concerns, according to The Verge

Twitter-commerce. Joining fellow social media giants like Instagram and Facebook in the shopping business is none other than Twitter. The company has started testing a new feature on its iOS app in the U.S. where a small group of participating businesses — including Arden Cove and GameStop — can feature products for sale near the top of their profiles. This marks the latest step from Twitter to monetize its platform, having recently rolled out Tip Jar and the long-awaited premium subscription service Twitter Blue.

By the way, say hello to Declan Harty, the newest member of the Data Sheet crew! This edition was lovingly aggregated by him.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

PunkSpider's back. Wired has published an in-depth look at the resurrection of PunkSpider, the controversial hacker tool set to be released onto the web next week by creators Alejandro Caceres and Jason Hopper. Designed to publicly identify hackable vulnerabilities on websites, PunkSpider is a lightning rod in the tech community, where many worry about not only the challenges that identifying weaknesses will create for website administrators but also the legality of the tool altogether.   

Already, PunkSpider has identified scripting vulnerabilities in Kickstarter.com and LendingTree.com, according to Wired, which reported that Kickstarter said it was "actively addressing" the flaw on its site. To Caceres and Hopper, that is the whole point of why PunkSpider should exist: To get website administrators to fix what are sometimes simple problems quickly.  

From the article:

Caceres himself admits that PunkSpider could have unintended consequences. But he stands by his belief that its value for the web's defense outweighs any harm it could cause. "It's a controversial project. It's not black and white. But we need to try something new," Caceres says. "If I created a monster here, it's because I had to try something."

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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Walmart to sell e-commerce tech to small rivals in latest challenge to Amazon by Phil Wahba

As barbershops boom, Squire Technologies draws a $750 million valuation by Lucinda Shen

Alaska Airlines pioneers A.I. to plan flight routes, saving fuel and time by Jeremy Kahn

Soylent, once the beverage of tech bros, finds a new audience by Beth Kowitt

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BEFORE YOU GO

UFOs, extraterrestrial tech, and a few million. A group of scientists is going on the hunt for evidence of extraterrestrial technological equipment after the U.S. government's highly anticipated report on UFOs, or UAPs (as I just learned they are more properly called), fell flat. The aptly named Galileo Project — created by Harvard astronomy professor Avi Loeb and Bruker Corp. CEO Frank Laukien — says it is "dedicated to the proposition that humans can no longer ignore the possible existence of Extraterrestrial Technological Civilizations (ETCs)." Led by Loeb, the project has almost $2 million in private funding, much of which will go toward buying telescopes and developing sensors for any possible extraterrestrial satellites in the Earth's orbit, according to Scientific American.

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