TIME Companies

Mark Zuckerberg Doesn’t Want All the Credit for Bringing the Internet to More People

Mark Zuckerberg attendes Mobile World Congress 2015
David Ramos—Getty Images Founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg speaks during his keynote conference during the first day of the Mobile World Congress 2015 at the Fira Gran Via complex on March 2, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.

"It's really important not to lose sight of the fact that people driving this are the operators"

Mark Zuckerberg kept a low profile Monday during his Mobile World Congress keynote about Internet.org, Facebook’s project to spread Internet connectivity to underserved areas with wireless carriers’ help.

The Facebook founder downplayed his company’s role in Internet.org, instead urging the audience to recognize the work and investments of mobile carriers. Zuckerberg delivered his keynote alongside executives from three global telecommunications companies.

“While it’s sexy to talk about [Internet.org’s Internet-beaming] satellites, the real work happens here, by the companies. It’s really important not to lose sight of the fact that people driving this are the operators,” Zuckerberg said. “Too often Internet.org is conflated with Facebook.”

People in the parts of the developing world where Internet.org’s app is available get access to Facebook, Google search and some other services for free. But the end goal is to convince these users to eventually purchase data plans from wireless carriers — and so far, Internet.org has been successfully driving new smartphone use.

“It Colombia, it’s very encouraging to see about 50% more people in three weeks in our network as new data users,” said Mario Zanotti, senior EVP of Latin America at telecom company Millicom. “In Tanzania, we have seen a ten-fold increase in the number of smartphone sales since we launched the [Internet.org] campaign. So it’s pretty impressive numbers.”

Despite Zuckerberg’s efforts to highlight the work of Internet.org’s carrier partners, it’s hard to see the project being successful without Facebook’s involvement. Zuckerberg’s company has largely spearheaded the organization’s efforts, while its offerings in the Internet.org app, like Facebook Messenger, are a big draw to attract users.

However, some mobile carries could be worried that Facebook might cannibalize their voice and texting plans with its own services. Last year, Facebook acquired chat app WhatsApp, which became popular as means of avoiding wireless carriers’ texting fees.

“This is a point of tension between operators and Facebook in particular. It’s a consideration for any company to be careful to deliver the ‘key’ to the competitor,” said Jon Fredrik Baksaas, CEO of telecom company Telenor. “You really want to watch that ‘key’, and you want to control how that ‘key’ develops. That’s where the disruption comes.”

TIME Virtual Reality

Here’s How Valve Cracked Virtual Reality’s Biggest Problem

This is shaping up to be the most important year in the tumultuous, not-quite-there-yet history of virtual reality.

A number of companies, from Facebook and Samsung to Google and Microsoft, are making significant pushes into the technology, which has been a mainstay of science fiction for decades but has largely failed to materialize as a viable consumer product. The latest piece of kit, the HTC Vive announced this weekend, is the product of a collaboration between the Taiwanese phone giant and Valve, the purveyor of the most important software distribution platform on the PC, Steam.

Virtual reality, or VR, has a long tortured history. Until three years ago, the technology was more or less moribund. Then Palmer Luckey (now 22), reignited interest with a series of prototypes for a new device called the Oculus Rift, which improved significantly on the old technology by taking advantage of advances in components for phones. His company, Oculus VR, was acquired by Facebook last year for $2 billion.

Most of Oculus’ advances, which are now being adopted or emulated by the likes of Sony and Samsung, are in how images are displayed to users wearing the headset. Long story short, a VR system has to display two sets of images—one for each eye—at very fast rates or the viewer will get nauseous.

But the HTC Vive, which the companies say will be available later this year, solves the next most vexing problems: once a viewer is seeing 3D space, how do they maneuver and manipulate the environment around them. Aside from content that is compatible with VR, these are the biggest outstanding questions. Once you’re there, what can you do and how do you do it?

Early development kits for the Oculus employ a standard console controller to move around, but that can be disorienting. Sony’s Morpheus prototype for the Playstation4 uses a set of controllers that look like ice cream cones with lightbulbs on top with similar results. And Microsoft’s recently unveiled HoloLens, which projects images onto the real world, uses hand gestures and arm motions. It’s still unclear which approach will win out.

HTC says its system will come with a base station that can track a user’s movements in 3D space. The company also hinted at a specific controller, perhaps a set of gloves, to enable users to manipulate virtual objects. Details are still scant, but this could solve the problems of mobility in a simulated 3D environment.

If Valve and HTC have indeed managed to do that, virtual reality may finally be ready for prime time.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 27

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Hollywood is less diverse than its audiences — and it might be hurting the bottom line.

By Austin Siegemund-Broka in the Hollywood Reporter

2. Facebook’s new suicide prevention tools finally get it right.

By Ashley Feinberg in Gizmodo

3. How will we understand the power of the bacteria in our bodies? Meet the crowdsourced American Gut project.

By American Gut

4. The road to artificial intelligence begins with computers mastering video games like a human being in the 80s.

By Rebecca Morelle at BBC News

5. Salting roads and plowing snow is inefficient and costly. A smart algorithm can save cities millions.

By Marcus Woo in Wired

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

How Facebook Is Helping Suicidal People

Facebook will offer suicide prevention resources to users posting troubling messages

Facebook is going to give timelier help to users who post updates suggesting thoughts of suicide, the company announced on Wednesday.

According to a Facebook post written by Product Manager Rob Boyle and Safety Specialist Nicole Staubli, a trained team will review reports of posts that appear to be suicidal and if necessary send the poster notifications with suicide prevention resources, such as a connection to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline hotline.

The Facebook support posts are expected to look something like this:

Facebook-Suicide-Prevention-hotline-posts
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They also will contact the person reporting the posts, providing them with options to call or message the potentially suicidal friend, or to also seek the advice of a trained professional.

The new approach is an update on a clunkier system, implemented in 2011, that required users to upload links and screenshots to the official Facebook suicide prevention page.

For the project, Facebook worked with suicide prevention organizations Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention, Now Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Save.org.

The company was clear that the update was not a replacement for local emergency services.

MONEY privacy

Your Embarrassing Online Searches About Health Problems Aren’t Private

camera aimed at laptop
Thomas Jackson—Getty Images

A new study found that 91% of health-related web pages reveal potentially sensitive information to third parties like data brokers and online advertisers.

Hypochondriacs beware: That Google search for “STD symptoms” could go into your digital dossier.

A new study has found that health-related web pages often leak information about you and the information you access to third parties, raising concerns about online privacy.

To conduct the study, University of Pennsylvania PhD student Timothy Libert analyzed the top 50 search results for 1,986 common diseases, some 80,000 web pages. He found that on 91% of the pages, third parties like social networks, advertisers, and data brokers could access information about who was viewing the page, like the user’s IP address. On 70% of the pages, those third parties could see information about specific “conditions, treatments and diseases” viewed.

Altogether, 78% of the health-related web pages sent information about you to Google, 31% sent information to Facebook, and 5% sent information to Experian, a credit bureau and data broker.

What’s the big deal? Libert has two major concerns about these practices. The first is that the third parties could match you with your medical search results, a problem he calls “personal identification.” This isn’t a totally imaginary scenario—data brokers routinely collect information about you from your online activity, shopping habits, and public records, then turn around and sell that information to advertisers. That already includes sensitive medical information: One data broker was caught hawking lists of “rape sufferers,” “domestic abuse victims” and “HIV/AIDS patients.”

Second, advertisers could discriminate against you based on your medical searches, regardless of whether your search results are ever connected to you personally. That’s called “blind discrimination.” In other words, advertisers could serve you certain ads and offer you certain promotions based on the websites you read. Again, this practice can be innocuous, but it can also have a dark side. “It’s like any other form of discrimination,” Libert says. “If you’re going to extend a favorable offer to somebody, your best client probably isn’t somebody with terminal cancer.”

The tech-savvy might think their searches are private because they delete cookies or use a private browser, like Google Chrome’s “incognito mode.” Sorry, but no.

That’s because of the way websites work. Libert explains that a web page is like a recipe. The code says, “display an image from this file” or “play this video from Youtube.” To pull in content from another website’s server—like a video from Youtube—your server makes a “request” to that third-party server, and reveals information about you in the process. For example, the third party can see the name of the webpage you’re visiting, which may sound harmless, but can reveal a lot. You might not, for example, want advertisers and data brokers to know that you recently read “www.cdc.gov/hiv”.

“Even if you’re using incognito mode or something, the HTTP requests, at the very basic level, are still being made,” Libert says.

And you usually don’t even know it’s happening. While you can see evidence of some third-party requests, like Youtube videos and Facebook “like” buttons, Libert says most requests are bits of code invisible to the non-programmer’s eye.

Legally, this is all aboveboard. The HIPAA law protecting medical privacy only applies to medical services like insurance claims, not other businesses.

So while Libert wants lawmakers to beef up online privacy protections, he says in the meantime, your best bet is to install a browser extension like Ghostery or Adblock Plus.

“They don’t catch everything, but they catch a lot,” Libert says.

TIME Social Media

The Definitive Guide to Weird Facebook

Yes, Weird Facebook is definitely a thing

Weird Facebook shouldn’t exist.

Wait, let me back up a minute, if you have no idea what I’m talking about. You know when something like this pops up in your Facebook feed?

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The Kernel

That’s what we’d call Weird Facebook: a loose conglomeration of pages that post bizarre image macros. Fodder for the dumb guys you hung out with in high school.

The groups vary widely in the number of followers they attract. The biggest group I could find was Freddy Yolo, which has around 70,000 followers. S*** Memes has about 40,000, and Creme de la meme clocks in at 35,000. Below that tier, there are a handful of pages with 10,000 to 15,000 followers, and further down still, a vast array of groups with several thousand followers. Not a throng, but nothing to shake a stick at.

Those numbers are all the more impressive considering that Facebook doesn’t do anything to encourage the existence of these groups.

I’ll give you an example: Say someone recommends that you check out @fart on Twitter. Within 10 minutes, the similar accounts feature will take you to the top 20 or 30 pages that constitute Weird Twitter.

Read the rest of the story at the Daily Dot.

TIME Advertising

Sheryl Sandberg: Simplifying Facebook Ads Led to Enormous Growth

FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit - Day 2
Paul Morigi—Getty Images Chief operating officer of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg speaks onstage at the FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit on Oct. 16, 2013 in Washington D.C.

The company hit the milestone Tuesday

Facebook has come a long way from the banner ads that populated the site back in 2004. The world’s largest social network announced Tuesday that it now has 2 million “active advertisers,” defined as an advertiser that’s placed an ad in the last 28 days.

The company crossed the milestone less than two years after it reached 1 million advertisers in June 2013.

Facebook has recently been taking pains to court small businesses in particular, cutting the number of ad products in half to make its offerings easier to understand. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company has also been hosting free marketing training sessions around the country. A new Ads Manager app launching for iOS Tuesday that lets Facebook advertisers create and edit ads on the go could help lure still more smaller marketers.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg attributes the company’s fast advertiser growth to the streamlined ad products in particular. “A couple years ago, our offering was, ‘Do you want to become a Facebook advertiser?’ That sounds complicated,” Sandberg says. “Now you do a post, and we ask, ‘Do you want to promote this post?’ That’s a pretty easy on-ramp to being an advertiser.”

Though Facebook likes to say its ads are effective because of the amount of data it has about its users, Forrester researcher Nate Elliot says advertisers are actually attracted to the platform mostly because of the sheer number of people using it: 1.3 billion. Citing surveys of marketers, Elliot says Facebook ads have not been found to be particularly more effective than other online ads.

“Facebook knows more about its users than likely any other company in history,” he says. “For its ads to work only about as well as the ads on Yahoo or the ads on a random online network is a bit damning.” Facebook says that in an internal study of 20 retailers, it found a 2% average increase in offline sales for shoppers who were shown a Facebook ad compared to those who were not.

One thing is certain: marketers are continuing to buy them, pumping money into Facebook’s coffers. The company generated $3.8 billion in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2014, a new high. That came almost entirely from advertising. And there are plenty of potential advertisers that remain untapped—Facebook says it hosts a total of 30 million active small business Pages, up from 25 million in November 2013.

Owners of these Pages are increasingly coming to terms with the fact that they’ll have to pay to have their posts seen by many users. Facebook has been ratcheting down the reach of non-paid posts, while it tweaked its News Feed algorithm in January to cut down on promotional posts.

The company is pivoting to promote Pages as a free, simple alternative to a hosted website rather than a free way to get into users’ News Feeds. Nearly a billion people visited Facebook pages directly in October, the company says. “While organic distribution has gone down, as more people have come on the platform, it’s still really the only organic distribution or free distribution that small businesses can get that I’m aware of,” Sandberg says.

However, Elliott warns that Facebook could change the design or utility of Pages at any moment. That means a company could spend time and energy building a Page, only for its efforts to become less valuable down the road.

As for Facebook’s future, the company is continuing to push its video product, noting that 800,000 small businesses posted videos in September 2014. The company is also experimenting with new presentation formats for Pages, such as showing dinner menus or items for purchase on restaurant and retailer’s Pages. As long as users’ eyeballs are glued to Facebook, advertisers large and small will be there too.

“They’ve improved the creative formats and they’ve improved the forms of targeting that are available to marketers as well,” Elliott says. “They still have a lot of room to grow on both counts.”

TIME Social Media

Virginia Police Take to Facebook to Find Rightful Owner of Lost Cocaine

Facebook ThreatExchange Hackers
Bloomberg via Getty Images

No one has come forward to stake their claim to the narcotics yet

While there have been plenty of reports of police brutality and racial profiling in last few months, not every cop is out to abuse his or her power. Some officers are kind, caring individuals who seek to serve the community by reuniting lost property with its rightful owner.

Take the police department of Crewe, Va., for example. After these hardworking public servants were called to a Super Dollar about a large bag of cocaine that had been found on the premises, the officers pursued ever possible channel in an attempt to find the drug’s owner. The officers stopped at nothing, even taking to Facebook in hopes of finding someone who might be missing their big ol’ bag of cocaine.

Read the rest of the story at the Daily Dot.

TIME privacy

How AT&T Wants You to Pay For Your Privacy

AT&T Reports 81 Percent Rise In Q2 Profit
Tim Boyle—Getty Images An AT&T logo is displayed on an AT&T truck July 25, 2006 in Park Ridge, Illinois.

ISP can track your web history and searches

The privilege of not having your every click tracked, saved and regurgitated in the form of targeted ads will only cost you $29 per month on AT&T’s super-fast Internet service.

The company, which just announced it’s bringing its 1-gigabit-per-second service to Kansas City, touts a price tag of $70 per month for the high-speed connection meant to compete with services like Google Fiber. But that’s actually a “premier” offering that allows AT&T to track a user’s search terms and browsing history to serve targeted ads. The standard high-speed service without the tracking costs $99.

AT&T defended the pricing model to The Wall Street Journal by arguing that the ad targeting helps AT&T make more money, which in turn lets customers who participate earn a discount. The model is somewhat similar to the discounted Kindles Amazon sells that show advertising. Companies with free, ad-based services, like Facebook, don’t allow users to fully opt out of being tracked while on their sites.

However, the fact that AT&T is an Internet provider means it could gather a more comprehensive picture of your Web browsing activities than companies with a less intrusive presence. That’s lucrative for advertisers and for ISP’s, but not so great for privacy-minded end users.

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