Facebook beyond Facebook? Instagram, Messenger step up

By Barbara Ortutay

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK _ When Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, it seemed like a big gamble for an unproven little app. Six years later, that little app _ along with Messenger and WhatsApp are serving as Facebook’s safety net for a future that could find its flagship service on the sidelines.

Sure, Facebook reigns in social media today, and this is not likely to change soon. Still, amid the company’s seemingly endless troubles over elections meddling, misinformation, privacy lapses, hacking and hate speech, the idea that Facebook may not always be on top has begun to take hold.

“Facebook could collapse,” said David Kirkpatrick, who wrote a 2010 book on Facebook’s early history.

In an interview, he said the elections manipulations issue “could get so terrifying that advertisers could start to back away. That’s nowhere near happening now, but it could happen.”

That is, as Facebook stops being a virtual watercooler for friendly conversation, but a lair for trolls and misinformation _ advertisers might find the service too dangerous to showcase laundry detergent and shoes.

For now, Facebook is a social and advertising powerhouse. It has 2.23 billion users, a number that’s still growing at a healthy pace outside of the U.S. Wall Street analysts project Facebook’s 2018 revenue will top $55 billion. While the company doesn’t break out revenue among its apps, eMarketer estimates that Instagram will bring in 16 per cent of Facebook’s advertising revenue this year and 25 per cent by 2020. (The research firm does not have estimates for Messenger ads, which are still new and nascent, and WhatsApp, which doesn’t have ads yet.)

“It really speaks to the fact that advertisers love Instagram,” eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson said. “It has the appeal of being a generally positive environment.”

In fact, Instagram is becoming the top social media service for many brands to interact with consumers, said Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO of the social media marketing firm Socialbakers. So even though these companies are reaching a smaller audience than Facebook, these people are “engaging,” or interacting, a lot more with the advertisers, he said.

Facebook is working hard to ensure that Messenger and later, WhatsApp, become viable businesses as well. On Tuesday, Facebook announced plans to make its Messenger app simpler and easier to use. But the redesign also makes it clear that messages from businesses _ and ads _ are becoming increasingly important. Such messages are now front and centre alongside messages with friends and other individuals.

The new Messenger features a “dark mode” that lets people switch to white text on a black background. It has fewer “tabs” or words and icons to tap to get to different sections in the app. The previous version had nine, including “messages,” ”active” to show ongoing conversations, ”groups,“ ”games“ and a ”discover“ icon to find bots to chat with for everything from the weather to horoscopes to shopping. The new version has just three: ”chats,“ ”people“ and ”discover“ to connect with businesses, follow the news or play games.

Stan Chudnovsky, head of product for messaging at Facebook, said the primary intent wasn’t to elevate messaging with businesses. But he said that “when people spend more and more time communicating with each other on a platform, inevitably that is where businesses need to be. It’s almost like print happened and then businesses needed to be on print.”

Facebook, of course, is working hard to nudge people and businesses in this direction, convincing them that chatting on Messenger is more efficient than, say, emailing, calling or tweeting at  an airline, a clothing store or even your bank.

One thing Facebook has always understood is the importance of human connections and interaction. Chudnovsky considers one-on-one communications a “basic human need.” Considering that people use Messenger, and not the main Facebook service, for such interactions, does this mean Messenger is more important than Facebook?

“We don’t take a position on what is more important,” Chudnovsky said.

Still, considering that people no longer need a Facebook account to use Messenger, maybe some day it will be. After all, people (especially younger ones) are using Facebook less frequently, even as they flock to Instagram and its messaging services. A Pew Research Center study recently found that just over half of teens use Facebook, while 72 per cent use Instagram.

“The idea has always been not to replace Facebook, but to add to it,” said Nate Elliott, head of the market research firm Nineteen Insights. “But now that Facebook’s reputation has taken a beating, I’m sure that they see it as a very nice insurance policy.”

Tesla in Autopilot mode crashes into California police car

Authorities say a Tesla sedan in Autopilot mode has crashed into a parked police cruiser in Southern California.

Police Sgt. Jim Cota says the officer was not in the cruiser during the crash Tuesday, May 29, 2018 in Laguna Beach. He says the Tesla driver suffered minor injuries.

The police SUV ended up with its two passenger-side wheels on a sidewalk.

Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot mode has come under scrutiny following other recent crashes. The carmaker says the function is not designed to avoid a collision and warns drivers not to rely on it entirely.

Uber says it remains committed to Toronto hub for self driving car research

Uber Technologies Inc. says the Arizona research centre that conducted a fatal test of a self-diving car is being shut down but the company is “doubling down” on its efforts at engineering hubs in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

Uber says it is “very committed” to the self-driving vehicle project and its Toronto engineering hub has several positions currently open, with others likely to be added.

It also aims to resume operations in Pittsburg this summer and it’s in conversations with state officials in California and the cities of San Francisco and Sacramento but it provided less detail about its Toronto operation.

Uber previously suspended all of its autonomous vehicle operations following a fatal March accident, where one of its cars hit a 49-year-old woman who was crossing the street in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe.

At the time, Uber said it had been testing two self-driving vehicles in Toronto for months, but the automobiles had not been picking up passengers.

Toronto is only one of several Ontario cities that are hosting limited tests of increasingly autonomous vehicles being conducted by several companies in what’s being promoted as the next major step in automotive technology.

Texters who distract drivers could be held liable in accidents: insurance expert

By Peter Rakobowchuk

THE CANADIAN PRESS

MONTREAL _ An insurance and legal expert says texters could be held liable for any damages if they message someone they know is driving and that person has an accident.

“There’s an increasing public safety issue of operators of vehicles who are distracted while driving,” lawyer Jordan Solway said in a recent interview.

“And if you contribute in the same way as if you’re in the vehicle, and you interfere with their driving of the vehicle, you could be held responsible for that injured third party.”

Solway, vice-president of claim at Travelers Canada, pointed to a New Jersey court ruling from 2013 that said the sender of a text who causes a driver to become distracted and have an accident may be held liable.

The case involved an 18-year-old driver’s girlfriend who texted him about 25 seconds before his pickup truck crossed a median and seriously injured a motorcyclist and his wife. Both bikers lost their left legs as a result of the 2009 accident.

Solway said there have been no similar cases in Canada yet, but he believes it’s just a matter of time.

He compares it to what happens when a bar owner or the host of a party has to take responsibility for someone who is drinking, becomes intoxicated and gets into a vehicle.

“It’s analogous you’re putting someone in a position where they could cause harm to themselves or a third party,” Solway said.

Travelers Canada also commissioned a recent online survey that delved into what may be distracting drivers.

The No. 1 reason may not be surprising.

Thirty-one per cent said it was because they have family obligations that require constant attention. By gender, 40 per cent of females gave that reason, while it was 23 per cent among males.

In Quebec, 23 per cent cited family obligations, while in Ontario the figure was 41 per cent.

When it came to other reasons, 27 per cent said they didn’t want to miss something important, another 14 per cent said they always wanted to be available for work and eight per cent said they were afraid of upsetting the boss if they didn“t answer.

“I think it’s a (consequence) unfortunately of living in a highly connected world where, if someone doesn’t respond immediately to an email or a text, your concern is they are ignoring you,” Solway noted.

The Harris Poll was conducted March 9-12 and involved 948 Canadian drivers aged 18 and over.

An Insurance Bureau of Canada spokesman says companies must implement policies to discourage drivers from texting _ and individuals who may be texting them _ while they are on the road.

“The aspect of determining liability or fault in cases lke that would rest with the courts,” Pete Karageorgos said in an interview.

“It has to be a whole host of instances in terms of not just the act of texting, but also the act of reading the text or responding or having that phone in your hand.”

He said some insurers are seeing more instances of rear-end-type collisions which typically happen when the driver in the back isn’t paying attention.

“It’s a concern that we share as an industry because that will impact premiums,” Karageorgos added.

But Quebec’s automobile insurance board provided some encouraging statistics involving drivers who violated the law, which prohibits the use of a hand-held device while driving.

The highest number was in 2013 when there were close to 68,000 infractions, including 19,000 that involved drivers between the ages of 25 and 34.

But in 2016, the overall total dropped to 46,369. For the 25-34 age group, it decreased to just more than 14,000

The lowest number was in 2008 when there were about 18,250 violations.

Loreena McKennitt is leaving Facebook, but other musicians say it’s not so easy

Loreena McKennitt is leaving Facebook, but other musicians say it’s not so easy

By David Friend

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ Folk singer Claire Coupland doesn’t love Facebook, but when it comes to promoting her music career she’s almost married to the social media goliath.

Her relationship with the platform is fraught with her questions about its true effectiveness, but like most musicians the Toronto-based performer sticks around. She shows up nearly every week to post something that she hopes will attract new listeners and keep the loyal fans entertained, like a new song or recent photo.

And despite concerns over Facebook data breaches, she hasn’t seriously considered joining the chorus of users who severed ties with the platform and deleted their profiles. It seems like most musicians haven’t.

“Everything’s there. It’s all connected already, so I don’t know if it’s wise to get rid of a Facebook fan page,” she said. “I would never get rid of mine.”

Coupland, like many independent musicians early in their careers, is always looking for ways to promote her music without spending a lot of money. Facebook is cheap to use and can potentially reach millions of listeners.

But it’s also problematic for people concerned about privacy and the wider-reaching impact of data exchange between Cambridge Analytica and Facebook that went undetected for some time.

Facebook told investors last week that known data breaches might only be the tip of the iceberg. The company filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission disclosed expectations that “additional incidents of misuse of user data or other undesirable activity by third parties” could emerge in the coming months.

That puts artists in a tough spot where most believe they can’t afford to leave the platform, but they don’t necessarily like it either.

The Darcys’ Wes Marskell holds those mixed feelings for Facebook, calling it an “overarching menace,” but a necessary tool for musicians. He balances his dislike for the platform, and its privacy concerns, against his belief that “everyone else is collecting that sort of data” on its users too.

But as a career musician, he said it offers valuable fan insight that can help determine which cities to play and what resonates with listeners.

“It is helpful to understand who your audience is, who’s participating and what they like,” he said.

But Facebook’s attractive features make it impossible to follow the lead of singer Loreena McKennitt, who recently announced plans to delete her Facebook profile over concerns for the privacy of her fans. The Manitoba-born performer, known for her 1997 hit “The Mummers’ Dance,” has more than 546,000 followers on the platform.

McKennitt said after details of the data exchange between Cambridge Analytica and Facebook were recently made public, she had to make a decision.

“As a business owner and a citizen I became very concerned that Facebook was offside,” she said in a recent interview.

“I’d rather stop partaking in an infrastructure that I know is very compromised.”

McKennitt’s plan to dump the platform, which she says she’ll do on June 1, has been met with mixed reactions from her fans.

Some say the singer is being hypocritical by publicly expressing concerns over privacy, but still using Facebook to promote her new album in the weeks before she officially closes her account. Others are unhappy they’re losing an easy way to learn about the singer’s upcoming tour dates.

Leaving Facebook is a privilege as a musician, McKennitt acknowledged.

“There are many artists whose Facebook page is probably managed by their label,” she said. “They may not even have a choice about whether they can shut it down or not.”

“I’m also lucky from the standpoint that I’m kind of a legacy artist,” she added. “I could retire tomorrow and I’d be fine.”

Younger acts are operating in a totally different social media world, said Rebecca Webster, president of music publicity firm Webster Media Consulting Inc.

“Definitely Facebook is a place where artists need to be,” she said. “I always think of it as the water cooler.”

But Webster doesn’t see Facebook holding any sort of unwieldy position against its social media competitors. It’s an instrument in the digital toolbox alongside Instagram, Twitter and all the others, she said.

“Media is impermanent, and it has been for quite a while, and the only way you survive is by transitioning and changing,” she said.

“You have to keep learning and finding where the people are.”

Tamara Campbell believes music fans generally find it valuable to know where their favourite artists will be. It’s one of the reasons why the Toronto-based music publicist encourages independent artists to invest in a website.

She said many new artists often don’t think about the value of a permanent home base when they’re trying to cater to every trendy social media platform.

“Having your own URL is almost like having your own social insurance number,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter if you have a million followers, if you can’t sell a $10 album it’s worthless to you, if that’s what you’re looking for.”

Coupland is trying to keep the big picture in mind as she navigates her social media future. The folk singer recently began to make plans to update her website with flashier graphics. She’s also forging ahead with the proven success of another traditional digital approach _ the email newsletter.

“If they come to a show, I get their email address,” Coupland said. “That’s the one thing that’s pretty tried and true for me.”

She also strongly believes in the value of word-of-mouth.

“If you make something really great, people will find it and they’ll share it,” she said.

SUVs to steal the New York International Auto Show

By Tom Krisher:

Yes, there will be a few cars, but SUVs will capture most of the headlines at this year’s New York International Auto Show.

Automakers will be shoring up gaps in their SUV lineups and revamping models that already are popular in the hottest-selling part of the U.S. market.

Leading the way is Toyota with an all-new RAV4 compact SUV, which last year was the most popular vehicle in the U.S. that isn’t a truck. There are also new SUVs coming from Subaru, Volkswagen, Acura, Cadillac and Lincoln.

There won’t be many cars. Nissan will show off a redesigned Altima midsize sedan, while Toyota will roll out a new Corolla hatchback. Kia will unveil a new K900 big luxury sedan, among others.

But SUVs, which hit a record 43 per cent of U.S. sales last year at just over 7.3 million, according to Kelley Blue Book, will steal the show. Here are some wheels to watch:

CADILLAC XT4

The compact SUV is now the largest part of the U.S. market, and Cadillac hasn’t had a product to offer _ until now. The General Motors luxury brand rolled out the new XT4 SUV at a pre-show event in New York Tuesday night. It’s built on underpinnings specifically designed for the Cadillac brand and comes with sculpted looks and an interior that Cadillac says is luxurious and spacious. The company says it will have segment-leading back-seat legroom. It’s powered by a 237 horsepower 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a nine-speed automatic transmission that will get an estimated 30 miles per gallon on the highway. The XT4 is available in the fall and starts at $35,790 including shipping.

VOLKSWAGEN ATLAS CROSS SPORT CONCEPT

Volkswagen broadens its growing SUV lineup with a five-seat version of the three-row Atlas. The company calls the Atlas Cross Sport a concept, but it’s almost ready to be built at the automaker’s U.S. factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The new version is 7.5 inches shorter than the seven-seat Atlas. The concept is powered by a 355-horsepower plug-in hybrid system with a V6 gasoline engine and a battery that can take it 26 miles on electric power. The hybrid concept can go from zero to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, VW says. There’s also a “mild hybrid” with 310-horsepower from a V6 and a smaller hybrid battery. The SUV is due in showrooms sometime next year. Mileage and price were not announced.

TOYOTA RAV4

Toyota sold almost 408,000 RAV4 compact SUVs last year, making it the new American family car and the top-selling vehicle in the nation aside from Detroit’s popular big pickups. In an effort to stay on top, Toyota is revamping the RAV for the 2019 model year. The fifth-generation comes on all-new underpinnings that the company says will give it better handling and a smoother ride. It’s also slightly wider and a little lower. New looks are more chiseled and athletic, and the distance between the wheels grows by 1.2 inches for more passenger and cargo space. It comes standard with Toyota’s safety system that includes automatic emergency braking. It’s powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine and an eight-speed transmission, or a 2.5-litre gas-electric hybrid system with a continuously variable transmission. Horsepower, gas mileage and price weren’t released. The new RAV hits showrooms in the fall.

LINCOLN AVIATOR

Ford’s luxury brand finally gets an Explorer-like midsize SUV with three rows of seats to compete in the hot luxury SUV market. The company was to unveil the Aviator Wednesday. Few details were given, except that it will have a twin-turbo engine of undisclosed size as well as a plug-in hybrid option. Ford says it will have tapered lines and a roomy interior. It also gets standard safety features such as automatic emergency braking and can be opened and started with a smart phone. The Aviator goes on sale sometime next year. The price wasn’t disclosed.

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