People

Facebook’s push to protect young users is a peek at the future of social

More options, more proactive protections, fewer one-size-fits-all answers for being a person on the internet.

The Instagram logo on a dark background

Social media companies are racing to find ways to protect underage people on their apps.

Image: Alexander Shatov/Unsplash

Social media companies used to see themselves as open squares, places where everyone could be together in beautiful, skipping-arm-in-arm harmony. But that's not the vision anymore.

Now, Facebook and others are going private. They're trying to rebuild around small groups and messaging. They're also trying to figure out how to build platforms that work for everyone, that don't try to apply the same set of rules to billions of people around the world, that bring everyone together but on each user's terms. It's tricky.

The best indicator of where it's all headed? Young people. Social companies are racing to find ways to protect underage people on their apps, and much of what works for teens will likely end up rolling out to the rest of the platform.

  • Facebook announced Tuesday that new users under 16 (or 18 in some places) will have their Instagram accounts made private by default. For underage users who already have a public account, Instagram will now show a pop-up explaining how to go private. And there are more privacy settings coming, the company said.
  • It'll also be harder for "potentially suspicious accounts" to find and follow accounts run by younger users. Facebook said it's looking at signals like whether accounts have been blocked by other young users, and keeping them away from young people's accounts.
  • And advertisers will get a much less targeted look at these young users, too. They can still reach young users, but not based on their web activity or interests.
  • Facebook's still planning to build its controversial app just for kids, by the way. But it's pretty clear that it's never going to be able to keep them off the main apps entirely.

Facebook's following TikTok's lead in setting accounts private by default and in taking steps toward cordoning those users off from the rest of the platform. "We are creating an additional buffer around young people," Instagram's Karina Newton told NBC News.

It's all about options. Giving users options has been frowned upon for years. The logic was simple enough: Most people won't change their default settings anyway, so the onus is on the product to get things right automatically. More algorithms, fewer settings. Less friction! Now, people are being given more choices and more tools with which to decide their experience.

  • Defaults do still matter, though. Instagram said that in early testing, 80% of new underage users kept their accounts private, even though the "Public" button is just a tap away.
  • And on TikTok, most young users are by default sharing with their "Friends" — meaning only people they follow who follow them back — and video downloads are turned off.
  • Everybody's learning from Snapchat, too, which continues to grow like crazy in part because it's a fundamentally private experience that users create for themselves, rather than having a giant mass of people thrust at them as soon as they log in.

As ever, execution will be the challenge here. Facebook acknowledged it's still trying to figure out the right way to verify people's age — because there's not much to stop new ones from just, you know, lying — and often, by the time someone reports a rule break, it's already too late. The only option for the platforms is to be more proactive and more careful. Doing that with young users is an obvious choice, because the stakes are so high and the relative business hit fairly low, but it'll be equally important and much harder to make the same decisions for the broader user base.

But whether it was Twitter serving the "Are you sure you want to share this article you haven't read?" pop-up or some of these privacy-focused tools that let people choose who can reach or read them, the focus has clearly shifted away from building the One Perfect System to letting users build it for themselves. At the scale at which these companies operate, that's the only way it's ever going to work.

Protocol | Enterprise

How Cloudflare thinks it can become ‘the fourth major public cloud’

With its new low-cost R2 cloud storage service, Cloudflare is jumping into direct competition with the AWS service that launched the cloud computing revolution.

Cloudflare will not charge data-egress fees for customers using R2, taking direct aim at the fees AWS charges developers to move data out of its widely popular S3 storage service.

Photo: Martina Albertazzi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cloudflare is ready to launch a new cloud object storage service that promises to be cheaper than the established alternatives, a step the company believes will catapult it into direct competition with AWS and other cloud providers.

The service will be called R2 — "one less than S3," quipped Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince in an interview with Protocol ahead of Cloudflare's announcement Tuesday morning. Cloudflare will not charge data-egress fees for customers using R2, taking direct aim at the fees AWS charges developers to move data out of its widely popular S3 storage service.

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Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is Protocol's enterprise editor, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

The pandemic won't be over until the economy recovers. While cities, states and regions across the U.S. are grappling with new variants, shifting mask policies and other factors that directly impact businesses large and small, it is nevertheless time for brands and enterprises to jumpstart COVID-19 recovery strategies.

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Michele Morelli, Foursquare
As SVP of Marketing, Michele is responsible for overseeing the brand strategy, communications, and product and performance marketing of Foursquare’s apps and enterprise products. Prior to joining Foursquare, Michele held several senior leadership positions with wide-ranging responsibilities at AOL, Toluna, Citibank and Yahoo!.
Power

VR pioneer The Void is plotting a comeback

Assets of the location-based VR startup have been acquired by a former investor, who plans a relaunch with key former team members.

The Void's New York outpost closed during the pandemic. Now, the company is planning a comeback under new ownership.

Photo: The Void

Location-based VR pioneer The Void may rise from the ashes next year: A former investor has acquired key assets of the defunct startup and is now looking to relaunch it with key team members, Protocol has learned. The company is said to be actively fundraising, and is getting ready to start hiring additional talent soon.

The Void's patents and trademarks were recently acquired by Hyper Reality Partners, a company headed by former OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel, who also used to be an investor in and board member of The Void. Hyper Reality Partners is actively fundraising for a relaunch of the VR startup, and is said to have raised as much as $20 million already, according to an industry insider.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Protocol | Workplace

A new McKinsey study shows that women do more emotional labor at work

The 2021 Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey found that women are far more likely than men to help their teams manage time and work-life balance and provide emotional support.

Senior leaders who identify as women were 60% more likely to provide emotional support to their teams and 26% more likely to help team members navigate work/life challenges, according to the report.

Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty Images

Over the last year, emotional support, time management skills and work-life balance have become drastically more important and difficult in the workplace — and women leaders were far more likely than men to step in and do that work for their teams, according to the latest iteration of McKinsey and LeanIn.org's annual Women in the Workplace report.

Senior leaders who identify as women were 60% more likely to provide emotional support to their teams, 24% more likely to ensure their teams' workload is manageable and 26% more likely to help team members navigate work/life challenges, according to the report. In addition, about one in five women senior leaders spend a substantial amount of time on DEI work that is not central to their job, compared to less than one in 10 male senior leaders.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Amazon needs New World’s launch to be a success

New World arrives Tuesday. Whether it flops could determine the future of Amazon Games.

New World launches on Tuesday, after four delays. It could be Amazon's first big hit.

Image: Amazon

Amazon's New World launches on Tuesday, marking the end of a long and bumpy road to release day for the company's most pivotal video game release to date. There's a lot riding on New World, a massively multiplayer online game in the vein of iconic successes like Blizzard's long-running World of Warcraft and Square Enix's immensely popular Final Fantasy XIV.

If the game succeeds, New World will mark a rare success for a technology company in the gaming space. With the exception of Microsoft, which entered the console game industry nearly two decades ago, tech firms have tried time and again to use their engineering talent and resources to crack the code behind making successful video games. Almost every attempt has failed, but Amazon is the closest to having a hit on its hands. If it flops, we could see Amazon's gaming ambitions go the way of Google's.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
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