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The future of social is private

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Good morning! This Wednesday, Instagram rolls out new privacy changes, Elizabeth Warren wants Janet Yellen to lead crypto regulations, and SpaceX shakes up a tiny Texas town.

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The Big Story

Instagram's new rules

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 yesterday 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.

— David Pierce (email | twitter)


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People Are Talking

Joe Biden said a cyberattack could spark the country's next war:

  • "I think it's more than likely we're going to end up, if we end up in a war — a real shooting war with a major power — it's going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach of great consequence and it's increasing exponentially, the capabilities."

Elizabeth Warren wants Janet Yellen to take point on crypto regulation:

  • "It is essential that the policy response to the risks posed by these assets is coordinated and holistic, rather than fragmented amongst individual financial agencies."

On Protocol | Policy: Erie Meyer, FTC's chief technologist, is targeting illegal data use:

  • "We're going to make sure that data abusers face consequences for their wrongdoing."

Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao suggested he may be on his way out:

  • "I don't think I'm the best person to lead that effort. I think having somebody with a very strong regulatory background is actually better."

Molson Hart thinks Amazon is ripping off his plush toy business:

  • "I'm all for competing with @amazon. It doesn't matter that they have a trillion-dollar advantage against us. Seriously. Our team can kick their ass in plush and educational toys, but they need to play fair and this isn't fair!"

Making Moves

Conductor is eyeing an IPO. But it's unclear what valuation the Brazilian payments company is aiming for, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, bike-sharing app Hello called off its U.S. public listing, joining the litany of other Chinese companies backing out of the states.

Nick Hobbs and Andrea Huey will join Twitter's Experience unit as the company acquires their subscription news app, Brief.

Anna-Sophie Harling will audit disinformation and hate speech at Ofcom. She's currently a leader at NewsGuard Technologies, which has been a Big Tech critic in the past.

Jay Parikh is joining Lacework as co-CEO and a board member. He previously led Facebook's engineering and infrastructure unit.

Karen Worstell and Amelia Estwick are heading to VMware to work on cybersecurity and threat research. Worstell previously served as a Microsoft CISO, and Estwick worked at the NSA's Threat Operations Center.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: SpaceX and Starbase are changing Brownsville, Texas in a big way. Elon Musk's outer-space ambitions promise jobs and money for the tiny town, but its residents don't care for the wealth. Even the launch pad is a sign that Brownsville's rich history and habitat are in jeopardy.
  • Apple, Alphabet and Microsoft made $57 billionin combined profit last quarter, smashing estimates. But Apple warned that the chip shortage could hurt iPhone sales later this year.
  • Robinhood is facing another investigation. FINRA is looking for documents and information related to the company's founders while it prepares for an IPO this week.
  • Activism Blizzard employees are planning a strike today. Workers at Blizzard Entertainment, where most of the gender discrimination allegations were made, are staging the walkout outside its Irvine campus. CEO Bobby Kotick said in a letter to staff that his initial responses to the allegations "were, quite frankly, tone deaf."
  • On Protocol | Workplace: COVID-19 is shaking up Asana's plans. The company is delaying its new San Francisco headquarters opening from September until at least February, marking the fourth tech giant to delay its return to work.
  • Pinterest is getting into social commerce. It's allowing creators to pocket money through sponsored partnerships and tools like "product pins," which lets users tag products for others to buy. Once again, cash keeps creators.
  • Google leveled up its bug-hunting game. The company created, which security researchers can use to submit issues. And if you want to level up your bug-hunting skills, it also launched Bug Hunter University (try adding that to your LinkedIn).
  • eBay's former security manager, Philip Cooke, was sentenced to 18 months for his involvement in a cyberstalking conspiracy. Cooke is the first of five ex-employees to be sentenced.

One More Thing

Getting serious about security

Talking about security isn't always fun. But it can be if you're listening to other people talk about it. Ruby Zefo, Uber's chief privacy officer, recommends two particularly good security talkers: K Royal and Paul Breitbarth, the hosts of the podcast Serious Privacy. On the show, the hosts chat about privacy and data security topics ranging from ransomware attacks to the Colorado Privacy Act.

The hosts dive into the practical areas of security, like what to do if you are the victim of a security breach, and dig into questions like how remote work affects privacy. You can start almost anywhere, but the most recent episode, with Logitech's Emerald de Leeuw, is a great one.


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