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Facebook profits top $10B as its CEO exalts the ‘metaverse’

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Facebook profits top $10B as its CEO exalts the 'metaverse'

Concerns about a revenue growth slowdown pushed Facebook’s shares lower in after-hours trading Wednesday, not long after the company reported that its second-quarter profits doubled thanks to a massive increase in advertising revenue.

But CEO Mark Zuckerberg set his sights far beyond the second half of 2021, exalting what he sees as the next phase of how people experience the internet. What the rest of the world might know as augmented and virtual reality with a dash of science fiction, Zuckerberg and others are calling “the metaverse,” a futuristic and somewhat vague notion that encompasses AR, VR and new, yet-to-be-imagined ways of connecting to one another via technology.

Zuckerberg expects the metaverse to be the next big thing after the mobile internet, although he’s had a spotty track record when it comes to predicting major trends of the near future. At Facebook’s f8 conference four years ago, for instance, Zuckerberg predicted a future where you will sit in your bedroom wearing a headset and take a virtual vacation with faraway friends and family, or use your smartphone’s camera to virtually spruce up your dinky apartment.

So far, this has not materialized. Then there’s Libra — now known as Diem — a cryptocurrency project Facebook launched in 2019 amid great fanfare. At the time, Facebook envisioned Libra as an emerging global digital currency; its ambitions have since been scaled back considerably amid regulatory and commercial backlash.

In a conference call with analysts, Zuckerberg called the metaverse the “next generation of the internet and next chapter for us as a company,” one that he said will create “entirely new experiences and economic opportunities.”

For now, though, Facebook still has to contend with more mundane matters such as antitrust crackdowns in the U.S. and elsewhere as well as concerns about how it handles vaccine-related and political misinformation on its platform. The company said, as it has before, that it expects challenges in its ability to target ads this year — including regulatory pressure and Apple’s privacy changes that make it harder for companies like Facebook to track people who can opt out of that form of surveillance.

Although the social network doubled its profit in the second quarter, in part because of higher average prices it charged for the ads it delivers to its nearly 3 billion users. But the company said it doesn’t expect revenue to continue to grow at such a breakneck pace in the second half of the year.

“This quarter’s results are extremely strong and show little sign of impact from Apple’s iOS update as of yet,” said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson, noting that in the year-ago quarter Facebook saw its slowest revenue growth since going public, so it was an easy comparison. “But it’s also due to the fact that there is enormous demand for Facebook and Instagram advertising, and more competition leads to higher ad prices.”

Separately, Facebook said on Wednesday that it will make vaccines mandatory for employees in the U.S. who work in offices. Exceptions will be made for medical and other reasons. Google announced a similar policy earlier in the day.

The Menlo Park, California-based company earned $10.39 billion, or $3.61 per share, in the April-June period. That’s up from $5.18 billion, or $1.80 per share, a year earlier. Revenue jumped 56% to $28.58 billion from $18.32 billion. Analysts, on average, were expecting earnings of $3.04 per share and revenue of $24.85 billion, according to a poll by FactSet.

Advertising revenue growth was driven by a 47% year-over-year increase in the average price per ad and a 6% increase in the number of ads shown to people. Facebook said it expects ad prices, not the amount of ads it delivers, to continue to drive growth.

The company predicted uncertainty for 2021 back in January, saying its revenue in the latter half of the year could face significant pressure. Because revenue grew so quickly in the second half of 2020, Facebook said at the time that it could have trouble keeping up that pace.

Williamson said the third quarter will be an important one for the company, “as the full effects of the Apple update take hold.”

“We will have a much better sense of how well Facebook has been able to adjust its core ad targeting products to manage the reduced amount of information it can tap into,” she said.

Facebook had 2.9 billion monthly users as of June, up 7% from a year earlier.

Shares fell $11.77, or 3.2%, to $373.28 in after-hours trading. Earlier in the day, the stock hit an all-time high of $377. 55 in anticipation of the results, so the decline wasn’t unexpected.

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Apple’s new iPhone 13 devices are facing technical difficulties

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Apple

If you aren’t able to unlock your Apple Watch that’s connected to your new iPhone 13, you’re not alone.  

Apple has recently announced that the tech giant has found an issue where the “unlock with Apple Watch” option does not work with new iPhone 13 devices.  

A document posted on its support page explains the issue, noting that users “might see ‘Unable to Communicate with Apple Watch’ if you try to unlock your iPhone while wearing a face mask, or you might not be able to set up Unlock with Apple Watch.” 

The issue first came to light when Reddit users on the r/AppleWatch subreddit began reporting that they were facing this technical difficulty, with some users complaining that the issue was never there with older iPhone devices. 

Earlier this year, the smartphone giant released the unlock feature that utilized Face ID with a paired Apple Watch, hand-in-hand with the release of iOS 14.5. The feature requires both the iPhone and the Watch to have a stable Wi-Fi connection as a turned-on Bluetooth. “The Watch needs to have wrist detection turned on and be passcode-protected, and it has to be on your wrist and unlocked for the feature to work,” according to The Verge

Apple didn’t explicitly mention what’s causing the problem with the iPhone 13 devices in its support document. However, the company reassured users that it will be “fixed in an upcoming software update,” but without mention a date.  

Even though Apple has just begun testing the iOS 15.1 beta, the tech giant has a documented history of delivering quick fixes. So, tech experts believe that users should expect the issue to become part of the past in the upcoming few days.  

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For many Haitian migrants, journey to Texas started online

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For many Haitian migrants, journey to Texas started online

For the final leg of his journey from Chile to the United States, Haitian migrant Fabricio Jean followed detailed instructions sent to him via WhatsApp from his brother in New Jersey who had recently taken the route to the Texas border.

His brother wired him money for the trip, then meticulously mapped it out, warning him of areas heavy with Mexican immigration officials.

“You will need about 20,000 pesos (about $1,000 U.S. dollars) for the buses. You need to take this bus to this location and then take another bus,” recounted Jean, who spoke to The Associated Press after reaching the border town of Del Rio.

What Jean didn’t expect was to find thousands of Haitian migrants like himself crossing at the same remote spot. The 38-year-old, his wife and two young children earlier this month joined as many as 14,000 mostly Haitian migrants camped under a Del Rio bridge.

A confluence of factors caused the sudden sharp increase at the Texas town of about 35,000 residents. Interviews with dozens of Haitian migrants, immigration attorneys and advocates reveal a phenomenon produced partly by confusion over the Biden administration’s policies after authorities recently extended protections for the more than 100,000 Haitians living in the United States.

It also reflects the power of Facebook, YouTube and platforms like WhatsApp, which migrants use to share information that can get distorted as it speeds through immigrant communities, directing migration flows. That’s especially true for tight-knit groups like the Creole-and-French-speaking Haitians, many of whom left their homeland after its devastating 2010 earthquake and have been living in Latin America, drawn by Brazil and Chile’s once-booming economies.

In extending protections for Haitians this spring, the Biden administration cited security concerns and social unrest in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the temporary protections were limited to those residing in the U.S. before July 29 — but that condition was often missing in posts, leading Haitians outside the United States to believe they, too, were eligible.

Mayorkas acknowledged that this week, saying “we are very concerned that Haitians who are taking the irregular migration path are receiving misinformation that the border is open,” or that they qualify for protected status despite the expired deadline.

“I want to make sure it is known that this is not the way to come to the United States,” he said.

Thousands of Haitians have been stuck in Mexican border towns since 2016, when the Obama administration abruptly halted a policy that initially allowed them in on humanitarian grounds.

Online messages touting the Mexican town of Ciudad Acuña, across from Del Rio, started after President Joe Biden took office and began reversing some of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Ciudad Acuña has been spared the drug and gang violence seen elsewhere along the border. Some of the social media posts recommending it appear to have come from human smugglers seeking to drum up business, according to immigrant advocates.

Haitians began crossing there this year, but their numbers ballooned after a Biden administration program that briefly opened the door to some asylum seekers ended, said Nicole Phillips, of the San Diego-based Haitian Bridge Alliance, which advocates for Haitian migrants. The program allowed in a select number of people deemed by humanitarian groups to be at high risk in Mexico.

Once it ceased in August, people panicked, and the messages recommending Ciudad Acuña “went viral,” Phillips said.

“That’s why they rushed at this time to get in,” she said. “They realized they wouldn’t be able to get in legally through a port-of-entry like they were hoping.”

Del Rio is just one example of how technology that has put a smartphone in the hands of nearly every migrant is transforming migration flows, according to advocates. Migrants often monitor the news and share information on routes. The most popular platform is WhatsApp, which connects 2 billion people worldwide.

In 2020, after Turkey announced that the land border with Greece was open, thousands of migrants headed there – only to find the gates closed on the Greek side. Similar sudden mass migrations have happened elsewhere in Europe.

In 2018, social media posts and WhatsApp messages fueled caravans that swelled to 10,000 mostly Central American migrants who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Last week, in a Facebook group for Haitians in Chile with 26,000 members, one member posted specific instructions on routes through Mexico. It included paths to avoid and recommended certain bus companies.

“Good luck and be careful,” said the post, written in Haitian Creole.

Another member shared a different route in the comments. The group’s members have since relayed stories of horrific conditions in Del Rio and risks of being deported.

The International Organization for Migration found most of the 238 Haitians who were surveyed in March after passing through a 60-mile (100-kilometer) stretch of jungle between Colombia and Panama known as the Darien Gap received route information from family or friends who had made the dangerous trek.

About 15% said they saw instructions on the internet.

Agency spokesman Jorge Gallo said the instructions led the migrants to believe crossing the gap was “difficult but not impossible.”

But just as similar messages drew many Haitians to Del Rio, news of the Biden administration deporting hundreds on the Texas border caused some to change their plans.

A 32-year-old Haitian woman who made it to Del Rio with her two teenage children bought bus tickets to Mexico City after receiving a cousin’s audio message via WhatsApp. She previously lived in Chile for four years.

“Wait in Mexico until this month is over. They will pick up everyone under the bridge. After that, they will give me the contact to enter Miami,” said the recording in Creole, which she played for an AP reporter. The AP is withholding the woman’s name to protect her safety.

Facebook Inc., which owns WhatsApp, allows people to exchange information about crossing borders, even illegally, but its policy bars posts that ask for money for services that facilitate human smuggling.

Robins Exile said he and his pregnant wife, who left Brazil after he lost his job amid the pandemic-wracked economy, headed to Tijuana, Mexico, instead after seeing warnings via YouTube and WhatsApp from fellow Haitian migrants.

“A lot of Haitians are advising now not to come to Acuña. They say it’s no longer a good place,” he said.

On Wednesday, Antonio Pierre, 33, who was camped in Del Rio with his wife and daughter, listened to the news on his friend’s cellphone.

“The U.S. is releasing some but just a few,” he said, referring to U.S. officials who told the AP on Tuesday that thousands of Haitians in custody were being let go and ordered to report to an immigration office, contradicting the Biden administration’s announcement that all Haitians camped in the town would be expelled to Haiti.

Nelson Saintil and his wife and four children had been camped in Texas but moved back to Mexico as they awaited word on where to go next to avoid deportation.

“I do not want to be like mice who do not find out that they are falling into a trap,” he said. “Because returning to Haiti is to bury a person alive.”


DEL RIO, Texas (AP)

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Facebook footed $13 billion bill on security since 2016, report finds

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Facebook publicized that since 2016 the social network mogul invested over $13 billion by onboarding 40,000 new staffers to endorse the platform’s security and safety measures, following a series of leaks by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

Weeks after the Wall Street Journal’s “The Facebook Files” were published, the social media giant went back over to the same grounds and revealed in a blog post the extent it is willing to take to safeguard and maintain safety and security on its platform.

“In the past, we didn’t address safety and security challenged early enough in the product development process,” Facebook said.

“But we have fundamentally changed that approach. Today, we embed teams focusing specifically on safety and security issues directly into product development teams, allowing us to address these issues during our product development process, not after it,” the post added.

In its series of allegations, the WSJ averred that Facebook purposely postponed any action implementation during the COVID-19 period, even though the Big Tech giant was aware of the severity of the situation and the effects of spreading misinformation and misleading emotional burden on its userbase.

According to the newspaper, Facebook was aware of the affliction it was exposing its users to, and the platform refrained from dealing with or fixing these issues out of worry it might influence user engagement.

In a way to embellish the Big Tech giant’s public image, Facebook executive Nick Clegg issued a counterstatement accusing the publication of intentionally mislabeling what the company was trying to accomplish during the pandemic.

To highlight the Big Tech mogul’s efforts, the platform’s security teams executed a plan leading to a purge of more than 150 stealthy influence operations. Facebook’s sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) played a major role in blocking 3 billion fake accounts in the first half of 2021 and has upgraded itself since then.

“Today, we embed teams focusing specifically on safety and security issues directly into product development teams, allowing us to address these issues during our product development process, not after it. Products also have to go through an Integrity Review process, similar to the Privacy Review process, so we can anticipate potential abuses and build in ways to mitigate them. Here are a few examples of how far we’ve come,” the post declared.

In parallel, the company proceeded to exonerate itself from The Facebook Files by revealing that it consciously removed content that represented a direct violation of its standards on hate speech, in addition to removing 15 times more of similar content from its platform and Instagram in 2017 alone.

This happened by implementing advanced technology that acts by learning from one language to apply the same tactics on all posts in various languages to augment its performance level. 

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