TIME facebook

Get Ready to Download an Extra App to Send Facebook Messages

A view of and Apple iPhone displaying th
A view of an Apple iPhone displaying the Facebook app's splash screen, May 10, 2012 in Washington. Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

If you enjoy messaging with friends via Facebook’s primary mobile app, you’re soon going to need an entirely new app to keep chatting. The social network is quietly eliminating the ability to chat with friends on its iPhone and Android apps. Instead, users will have to download Messenger, a dedicated chat app from the company, in order to have real-time conversations (to be clear, users can still write on each other’s profile pages and communicate in other ways via the regular Facebook app).

The change was announced earlier this year and has already rolled out in Europe, much to the consternation of many users. Some users have griped that they don’t want to juggle two Facebook apps to perform functions that were easily done in one app before. But the social network says the transition from Facebook proper to Messenger is seamless and that people using Messenger respond about 20 percent faster, boosting usage.

“In the next few days, we’re continuing to notify more people that if they want to send and receive Facebook messages, they’ll need to download the Messenger app,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “As we’ve said, our goal is to focus development efforts on making Messenger the best mobile messaging experience possible and avoid the confusion of having separate Facebook mobile messaging experiences.”

In the last year, Facebook has sharply increased its focus on Messenger, which now has more than 200 million active users. The app has gotten a bevy of new features, such as the ability to send videos, and a redesigned interface that allows for visual conversations, a la Snapchat. The company is also keen to divine a way to make money off its Messenger users—recently, a former PayPal exec jumped ship to Facebook to lead the company’s mobile messaging business.

News of the wider rollout of the Messenger requirement was first reported by TechCrunch.

Facebook’s plan mirrors a similar effort over at Foursquare to force users to download a new app called Swarm to check-in to locations. Unlike Swarm, though, Messenger is already a popular standalone service in its own right.

For now, the Messenger requirement will primarily affect smartphone users. People who access Facebook on the iPad, on desktop computers, on the Windows Phone and through web browsers on their phones won’t be affected.

TIME apps

Facebook’s Slingshot Launches to Take On Snapchat

The most recent newcomer to the self-destructing messages game is Slingshot, birthed from a hackathon and nursed to life by a small crew at Facebook Creative Labs.

The app will feel familiar to anyone who’s used messaging app like Instagram, Vine and Snapchat to share short movies and photos that can be altered with scribbles and doodles.

Photos and videos shared via Slingshot self destruct a la Snapchat, but the main wrinkle where Slingshot is concerned is that if you share something with someone, they can’t see it until they share something back with you. Whatever you send them looks like a blocky mess until they return the favor. We’ll see how long it takes for that to get annoying: I’m imagining petabytes of shots of people’s feet being sent back just so they can see whatever’s been sent to them.

The app will be available today for iOS and Android. The links haven’t quite gone live as of the time this post got published, but you’ll be able to visit sling.me/download once everything’s ready.

Here’s a quick video that shows off the app:

[TNW]

TIME technology

Snapchat Settles With FTC Over False Marketing, Lax Security

The popular photo-sharing app will be subject to new privacy requirements for the next 20 years after the Federal Trade Commission took issue with its claims that photos and videos sent through the app would quickly disappear forever

Snapchat is getting a slap on the wrist from the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly deceptive marketing and a security breach earlier this year that compromised the data of 4.6 million of its users. The startup, which in the past has said that the photo messages people send on its service “disappear forever,” agreed to settle with the FTC over allegations that its app didn’t perform as advertised.

According to the FTC complaint, videos sent through Snapchat were easily accessible by the recipient by plugging a phone into a computer, even though such videos are supposed to disappear in seconds. The complaint also alleges that some iPhone users could take a screenshot of a photo they had received without alerting the sender that the screencap was taken. Snapchat also tracked geolocation information of Android users, a violation of its own privacy policy, according to the complaint.

More serious was the way Snapchat handled users’ phone numbers. According to the FTC, Snapchat accessed the names and phone numbers of its users’ friends without telling them on Apple devices until iOS 6 was introduced. Security lapses in Snapchat’s “Find Friends” feature led to people inadvertently sending snaps to strangers using numbers that didn’t belong to them. “Find Friends” security flaws also allowed attackers to compile a database of 4.6 million users’ names and phone numbers and post it online in January.

Snapchat, which has not formally admitted any wrongdoing, will be subject to a number of privacy requirements over the next 20 years. The company will have to be more transparent in explaining to users how their messages can be accessed, and it must launch a wide-ranging privacy program to ensure users’ data is protected. Snapchat will be subject to privacy reviews every two years to assess its compliance with the FTC’s rules. Violation of the agreement could result in fines of up to $16,000 per transgression.

In a blog post, Snapchat said that most of the issues the FTC has brought to light have already been addressed. “While we were focused on building, some things didn’t get the attention they could have,” the company wrote. “One of those was being more precise with how we communicated with the Snapchat community. Even before today’s consent decree was announced, we had resolved most of those concerns over the past year by improving the wording of our privacy policy, app description, and in-app just-in-time notifications.”

Today, Snapchat’s privacy policy is pretty clear about just how “ephemeral” the service is: “There may be ways to access messages while still in temporary storage on recipients’ devices or, forensically, even after they are deleted. You should not use Snapchat to send messages if you want to be certain that the recipient cannot keep a copy.”

Getting dinged by the FTC has become something of a rite of passage for social startups. Twitter and Facebook are currently serving similar 20-year sentences under the government agency’s watchful eye.

TIME apps

New Messaging App for Couples: Share Selfies with Your True Love

Just in case you thought the world didn’t yet have enough messaging apps, dating website HowAboutWe has introduced a new one made just for couples. You&Me, launching today for iOS (and coming soon to Android), is a bit like a private Snapchat for you and your beloved. Users can share not only text, photos and stickers, but also music pulled in from Spotify or Rdio. The app also has a unique twist on selfies called “Halfies,” which allows a couple to combine two halves of two different photos to form a single image (example below). For more intimate (or explicit) exchanges, users can send “secret” photos that are obscured by steam until the user rubs it away. This is supposed to make the image sexier—or at least make it less awkward if you unknowingly open a raunchy photo in public.

You&Me
HowAboutWe

“We realized that there weren’t any messaging apps that fully support how couples communicate today — through text, music and rich media — so we built one,” HowAboutWe co-founder Aaron Schildkrout said in a press release. “We created You&Me as the ideal communication resource for people in love.”

Of course, there’s no hard and fast rule that you have to find The One before you download this app. Some early reviews indicate that it might be more fun to use with a best friend. For now, it’s only a one-on-one experience, though, so you’ll have to choose your You&Me partner carefully.

HowAboutWe is hardly the first company to make a messaging app for lovebirds. We’ve written previously about Pair, now called Couple, which offers similar features and boasts more than 2 million downloads. Relationship app Between has 5 million downloads. You&Me has a bold visual flair, though. If you’re into halfsies, this may be the app for you.

TIME Technologizer

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum on the Company’s Latest Milestone: 500 Million Active Users

Jan Koum
WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum shows off his personal phone at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on February 24, 2014 Angel Navarette / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Not yet part of Facebook, which is still in the process of buying it, or a household name in the U.S., the messaging app is continuing to grow, and grow and grow, adding around 25 million new active users every month

When Facebook announced its stunning agreement to acquire messaging app WhatApp last February for $19 billion in stock, cash and restricted stock units, Mark Zuckerberg said that the startup was on track to reach a billion users. That pretty much explained his interest: It’s a figure that doesn’t come up often when discussing networked services other than…well, Facebook.

As of today, it’s official: WhatsApp is halfway there.

In a blog post today, it’s announcing that the app has 500 million users–not just people who registered, but ones who are active participants. I recently sat down with CEO and cofounder Jan Koum at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. to talk about the news.

Judging from its periodic statements over the past year, WhatsApp has been adding around 25 million new active users every month, a pace that isn’t slowing. The 500 million people now on board send tens of billions of text messages a day, along with 700 million photos and 100 million videos.

“On one hand, we were kind of expecting it,” Koum says of reaching the half-billion mark. “We got to 200 million users, 300 million users, 400 million users. It was going to happen sooner or later. But we think it’s an exciting number to share with the world and a good milestone to acknowledge what’s all been organic growth.”

In the U.S., WhatsApp is still probably best known as that company Facebook is in the process of buying. (The FTC signed off on the sale earlier this month–while emphasizing that WhatsApp must continue to abide by privacy promises it made to users–but other regulatory approvals are still pending internationally.) In much of the world, though, it’s already the app all your friends and relatives are using instead of carrier-provided text messaging.

Koum says that the app’s torrid growth tracks with the boom of smartphones–especially Android models. As people in a country join the smartphone era, some of them get WhatsApp. And then their friends and family members do, too, and the service explodes.

WhatsApp’s Android version WhatsApp

Right now, “the four big countries are Brazil, Mexico, India and Russia,” he says. “People who never used computers, never used laptops, never used the Internet are signing up.”

Rather than going after any particular country, Koum says, WhatsApp has always obsessed about the overall usage number. “We’re pretty confident that eventually we will a reach tipping point in the U.S. as well. Russia only tipped in the last six months. A switch flipped, and we took off.”

Though WhatsApp’s customer base may skew towards young people who like to share lots of quick messages and lots of photos, Koum says that it’s a mistake to assume that it’s just kids who are keeping the app growing. “We hear lots of stories where grandparents go to a store and buy a smartphone so they can keep in touch with kids and grandkids,” he says. That dynamic is helped by the app’s ridiculously easy setup–you don’t even have to create a user name or password–and features such as the ability to adjust the font size for easy readability.

The growth in smartphones isn’t enough to keep WhatsApp growing, however. There may be roughly two billion smartphones in the world, Koum notes, but between 500 million and one billion of them may be used without a data plan. In most cases, that’s because of cost, but the availability of Internet access isn’t a given everywhere.

“We take [connectivity] for granted in Silicon Valley, where you turn on your phone and see twenty different Wi-Fi networks,” he says. He told me how moved he’d been by a National Geographic photo showing people in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa standing on a beach with their phones in outstretched arms, trying to catch a stray wireless signal from neighboring Somalia, and says that he’s passionate about efforts such as Internet.org, a partnership between Facebook and mobile technology companies to bring Internet access to everybody, everywhere.

“We have no plans to change anything about how we execute.”Even in developed countries, “not everybody is on a data plan, which is unfortunate,” he says. So for the past two and a half years, WhatsApp has been busy partnering with wireless carriers around the world to offer affordable access to its service.

“We’ve done some really cool deals, and they’re not all cookie-cutter,” Koum explains. In India, you can sign up to get unlimited WhatsApp for 30 cents a month. In Hong Kong, you can buy a WhatsApp roaming pass. In Germany, there are WhatsApp-branded SIM cards, with unlimited WhatsApp service and starter credits for voice and data.

Rather than carriers looking at WhatsApp solely as a scary, disruptive force killing their ability to make money off text messaging, such offerings turn the service into a “win-win-win,” Koum says. “Users get unlimited WhatsApp. We get happy users who don’t have to worry about data. Carriers get people willing to sign up for data plans.”

The Future–and Oh Yeah, Facebook

For all of its growth, WhatsApp remains a famously lean operation: It got those 500 million active users with a team that only recently reached 60 staffers, for a ratio of over eight million users per employee. Koum says that the company doesn’t need to grow huge to serve even more folks. But “we do need more people–we’re actively hiring,” he says.

In particular, it’s beefing up its ability to provide customer support in more languages, including Portuguese, German, Ukranian, Polish and Romanian. “If anyone reading this article speaks multiple languages, they should apply,” he jokes.

When news of the Facebook acquisition broke, it inspired many people to worry about what it meant for the future of WhatsApp, whose business model has had a decidedly un-Facebookian slant in the past. The company makes money from customers–who pay 99 cents a year for service after the first year–and has been staunchly anti-advertising.

Both companies said at the time that WhatsApp would continue to be run independently and according to its existing principles, a point Koum stressed when I asked him about it.

“What makes our product work is the way we’re tightly focused on messaging and being an SMS replacement,” he says. The company plans to stick with that approach as it looks to “continuing to get to a billion users, and then two billion users. I think Facebook understands that, and Mark [Zuckerberg] understands that quite well. We have no plans to change anything about how we execute.”

As for competition from other messaging apps–and boy, is there a lot of it–Koum told me that some of WhatsApp’s rivals, such as Japan’s Line and China’s WeChat, are getting distracted from their core missions. People use WhatsApp, he says, to “keep in touch with each other, not movie stars or sports stars or random people you meet on the Internet. That’s why we’re succeeding internationally.”

“We want to do one thing and do it really well. For us, that’s communications between people who are friends and relatives.”

TIME messaging

WhatsApp Just Reached an Impressive New Milestone

Fackbook Acquires WhatsApp For $16 Billion
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The mobile messaging platform WhatsApp is getting more popular. The company announced via its Twitter account Monday night that it processed a record 64 billion messages in a single day recently. The total was comprised of 20 billion messages sent by users and 44 billion received. That’s up significantly from the last publicly disclosed figure of 54 billion messages (18 billion sent, 36 billion received) processed on New Year’s Eve 2013.

Facebook agreed to pay $19 billion for WhatsApp in February because CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks the messaging app can grow from its current 450 million monthly users to 1 billion users within a few years. The companies said WhatsApp was adding 1 million new users each day at the time of its purchase. Clearly it’s still growing at a healthy clip.

The figures also show that WhatsApp is increasingly being used for group discussions. On New Year’s Eve, a WhatsApp user sent a message to two people on average. On the new record day, people sent messages to 2.2 people on average, a 10 percent increase. Internet users are increasingly looking for private platforms to have discussions, such as WhatsApp and Snapchat, rather than openly broadcasting all their thoughts to their social network on Facebook. But Zuckerberg now owns the fastest-growing platform for that purpose.

In fact, all of Facebook’s high-profile properties are growing quickly. Last week the company revealed that Instagram has passed 200 million monthly users, up from 150 million users in September.

TIME Big Picture

The Value of Facebook and WhatsApp: Connecting the Unconnected

Fackbook Acquires WhatsApp For $16 Billion
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Or what Facebook and WhatsApp have in common with AOL.

Over the past month, I have received a number of questions from the industry audiences we present our data to about Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp. Most audiences I present industry trends to have a hard time recognizing the value of this deal.

The easiest way to understand what is happening with Facebook and now with WhatsApp is to recognize that Facebook and WhatsApp are foundational points in one of the greater industry trends today: connecting the unconnected.

Many U.S. readers will recall that a gateway once served as their portal to the Internet. It was called America Online. This single service was responsible for bringing an incredible number of people in the developed world online for the first time. From that single gateway, we discovered what it was like to connect with each other virtually — to learn, to play, and even to shop. Similarly, in many developing parts of the world, Facebook and WhatsApp are acting like America Online: as the gateways to the Internet for emerging markets.

As I’ve studied markets like India, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, it becomes clear that some of the biggest drivers of data plans and smartphone use are Facebook and WhatsApp. In China, the world’s current largest smartphone market, Facebook and WhatsApp play a role, but it’s a role that’s being overtaken by more robust local services from Alibaba, Weibo, Tencent, and more. What all of those services have in common is that they are portals — some may say walled gardens — of services. Consumers can shop, search, and connect through many of these services. They are the entry point to the online world and will play a leading role in connecting the next billion consumers all over the globe.

When viewed in this light, it’s hard to believe that we have reached “peak” Facebook, as many like to argue. I’ve been bearish on Facebook from time to time, but this move with WhatsApp makes me more optimistic about Facebook’s staying power, at least for the next few years. Services like Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat (from Tencent), and other portals play the crucial role of helping people connect for the first time. We still have billions of consumers on the planet who have never connected to the Internet, and these services are catalysts for that market. That is where optimism for Facebook is found. But challenges and questions still remain.

The mobile era is quite different from the desktop era in that larger screens drive more continuous usage time per session. The average consumer spends nearly five hours on the Internet per day when using a computer, compared with just about two hours per day when using a mobile device according to Internet World Statistics.

The context of the mobile device is different from the desktop. With the desktop web, a user is generally stationary, which allows for greater time spent per session. With mobile, the user is often not stationary for long periods of time, and is therefore limited in their ability to record long sessions. Even in markets where the PC is nonexistent and the smartphone is the only personal computer, screen sessions are limited. This makes it tough for software companies like Facebook and WhatsApp because they are competing for short usage sessions spread out throughout an entire day. The reality is minutes per session on mobile versus hours per session on the PC. This is the great paradox of the two very different Internet experiences.

We are still in uncharted territory. The biggest opportunities ahead are ones that have not existed before. They are also ones that many companies who built their legacies in the “PC” or “desktop” era are ill-equipped to capitalize on. This is what makes this industry so fascinating.

As we celebrate the web being 25 years old, we do so realizing that the desktop web was just the opening act. It has reached its peak. We are now in the early stages of the mobile web. Things will happen faster and change more in mobile over the course of the next 10 years than they did in the past 25 years of the desktop web. New powerhouses will emerge. Look for them to come from markets outside of the United States, where millions of people are connecting to the web for the first time every day.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week

TIME Security

You Don’t Need to Be a Sexter to Want a Self-Destructing Message Service

Getty Images

With hacking on the rise, the demand for ultra secure, ultra private self-destructing messages is building

The January hack attack on Snapchat outraged its users, 4.6 million of whom entrusted their personal information to the self-destructing messaging service, only to find their names and phone numbers had been leaked and made searchable on a well-meaning, creepy-looking website. It outraged tech reporters, who lambasted the company for its unapologetic response. One Wall Street Journal writer even proposed a boycott of Snapchat.

But amid the chorus of anger rose one discordantly joyful voice: Nico Sell, co-founder of Wickr and a hungry competitor to Snapchat. “We are happy to see 50 percent more growth this year since the hack,” she wrote via her own self-destructing message service. “Kabooooommmmmmmmmm!” she added. Six seconds later a fireball engulfed the message in animated flames and smoke, wiping it clean from all devices for good, she says. The future of her business depends on it.

(MORE: Snapchat Promises Security Fixes After Hack)

The demand for the most secure, most private self-destructing message out there builds with each spectacular story of hack attack. Sell has a front row seat to the panic. Users flocked to her app after hackers infiltrated Snapchat and Skype and in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures — the motherlode of hacking stories. As Snowden revealed NSA taps in Germany, Brazil, Mexico and France, Sell saw spikes in usage as high as 1000% in one affected country after the next, perfectly coinciding with the news. Even after the dust settles on these stories, Sell expects more snafus to come. “Do you know how many other people are looking at your social graphs too,” she asks, “and buying it and making money off of it?”

Odds are you do have some vague awareness of the threat. A poll by the Pew Research Center found that 86% of people online have attempted to rub out some of their digital footprints by clearing caches or encrypting emails, while 55% have taken steps to avoid observation by specific organizations or people. And then on the extreme end of alarm there is Sell, the outlier. “When I used to tell people I boycotted Facebook,” she says, “people used to look at me like I was insane.”

But Sell views the internet from a slightly different vantage point than the average respondent to a tech survey. She’s a longtime organizer of the annual hacker conference DEFCON and she’s the co-founder of r00tz, a not-for-profit organization that teaches schoolchildren how to hack cell phones, text messages and laptop cameras, until their faith in online privacy drains away completely.

(MORE: US Tech Titans Reveal New Data About NSA Snooping)

“They can learn how to do it in half an hour,” Sell says, “and as soon as you learn how to do those things you quickly change your habits.” The wider public will make the same shift, she suspects, albeit more haltingly and most likely as the hackees. That’s when Wickr swoops in with its sales pitch.

“Security is on a sliding scale of what’s more or less ephemeral,” Sell says. The shorter a message lives, the fewer devices it touches, the fewer the recipients — the harder it is for an outsider to sneak a peek. Wickr spent years designing the most fleeting message on the market. The instant a message leaves the phone it gets scrambled by military-grade encryption technology. Each message has an individual key for decryption. At no point does the message sit alongside thousands of other messages on a server with a master key. Only the sender and recipient have the key and then at the appointed time (6 days or less), kaboom, the message, the key, everything goes up in smoke.

“Everyone else in this market is competing on stickers and emojis,” Sell says, while Wickr competes on security so fiercely that it recently offered a $100,000 bounty to any hacker who could crack its code.

(MORE: Emojis, Exploding Coupons Could be Snapchat’s Future)

Chest-thumping gestures aside, there is one drawback to this business model. Wickr users can only send messages to other Wickr users, an airtight community of roughly 1 million, which is a tiny fraction of Snapchat’s 30 million users and an infinitesimally tiny fraction of Facebook’s 1.2 billion users. While Sell insists the company has seen “hockey stick” shaped growth, it’s cold comfort to the newcomers who have left most of their social network behind.

Even if their contacts never follow suit, the idea of Wickr, however niche-y, still matters, because it carves out one of the spaces where people separated by distance can confide in one another. And they’re not just the future Anthony Weiners of the world. Whistleblowers, protesters and human rights activists crave privacy just as much as sexters. If they’re assured of it, they can work and organize under conditions of extreme duress.

Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, lists a few of the threats he’s encountered in the field, in part because of stunts like hacking North Korea with balloons and USB drives. “Wished death by the govt of Venezuela,” he writes via self-destructing text, “called a ‘lapdog’ by Ecuadorian president, a ‘worm’ by the Chechen dictator.”

These threats can have an immediate chilling effect on his communications with activists in the field. “If the person you are corresponding with is careless or has his telephone confiscated or stolen it means the people they are in touch with, all of them, are compromised.”

Chats that leave no trace, however, have shifted the game of cat-and-mouse distinctly in the mouse’s favor. Halvorssen writes, “This program permits ANY person to be in touch with YOU, a reporter,” among the most irresponsible loudmouths known to man.

Even if the rest of the world chooses to remain outside of Wickr’s walled city on a hill, it at least remains an outlet for those who crave privacy and an option for those who might one day learn to crave it the hard way.

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