Facebook Takes the Punches While Rest of Silicon Valley Ducks

Google’s ad business is twice as big as Facebook’s. But executives at Google and other big tech companies have avoided intense scrutiny. For now.

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Advertisers Turn the Oscars Into a Super Bowl-Like Platform

Some things aren’t meant to change. #Roseanne is back Tuesday, March 27 at 8|7c on ABC. pic.twitter.com/RulM86jLHq

Proudly presenting an out of this world film created by director Dee Rees. It all begins when #TheWalmartBox arrives. #Oscars pic.twitter.com/OZtoQbRs4h

We stand with women around the world to make their voices heard and their presence known. To bring them front and center, today and every day. Join us as we say #HereWeArehttps://t.co/bVXGJ1NibP

I cannot wrap my head around how tasteless it is for Twitter to create an ad for women’s “empowerment” when they have failed to protect us at every turn. #HereWeAre

that twitter ad is nice but i guess im too wiped out from all the actual harassment on this website to feel very inspired by it

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Bits: Dai and Jack’s Week in Tech: Don’t Trust the Internet

Why the internet is full of lies and why the problem isn’t getting fixed are big questions few in the tech industry seem eager to answer.

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Tech Tip: Sampling Twitter (Without an Account)

Q. I do not have a smartphone. Can I still use Twitter? Do I need an account?

A. Using the Twitter app on a smartphone or a computer is a popular way to keep up with the state of the world in 280-character posts. However, you do not need a touch-screen mobile gadget or even an account to sample the free service.

With or without an account, it is possible to write posts and follow other Twitter users over S.M.S. text on a feature phone that has texting capability and a data plan. Twitter has a set of S.M.S. commands, described in its online help guide and a frequently asked questions page, that let you perform basic actions, like following or unfollowing another Twitter user.

You can also browse posts from users with public accounts on the Twitter.com site, as long as you know the name of the account — also called the “handle” — or accounts you want to read. Once you know the account name, just add it (after a slash) and the end of the twitter.com address to go to that user’s page of tweets on the web — like twitter.com/nytimestech or twitter.com/nasa.


Even if you have not signed up for Twitter, you can browse and read posts from a specific public account by adding the user name after twitter.com in the address field. Credit The New York Times

Using Twitter’s search page to look for account names or topic keywords is another way to see activity on the service. Clicking links or on Twitter posts embedded in other stories can also take you to a user’s account page on the web.

If you want to post and experience Twitter without having to fiddle with S.M.S. codes or manually search for content — but are not quite up to being a public presence in the Twitterverse — you can also create a protected account instead of a public one. With a protected account, you can follow other users with public accounts and add their posts to your feed, but people who want to follow and interact with you must send you a request first.

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Twitter’s Panic After Trump’s Account Is Deleted Caps a Rough Week

Update: We have implemented safeguards to prevent this from happening again. We won’t be able to share all details about our internal investigation or updates to our security measures, but we take this seriously and our teams are on it. https://t.co/8EfEzHvB7p

My Twitter account was taken down for 11 minutes by a rogue employee. I guess the word must finally be getting out-and having an impact.

We just published a clearer version of the Twitter Rules to clarify our policies and how we enforce them https://t.co/gPv9nt3y1M

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Square, the Twitter Boss’s Other Company, Could Pass It in Value

Both of Mr. Dorsey’s children, as he is known to refer to the companies, bear the imprint of their creator and his careful, trimmed-down aesthetic.

But Mr. Dorsey’s eye for simple solutions has not been enough to turn around Twitter since he returned in 2015 to lead the company he helped found in 2006. He has failed to rein in the use and abuse of the service by trolls and political actors, and he has not found a convincing way to make money despite its ardent user base.

At Square, Mr. Dorsey has led one of Silicon Valley’s more understated success stories, built from the little plastic white square that allowed small businesses to accept credit card payments via their iPhones. Square has grown into a much broader financial services company, despite some hiccups, like a much-heralded partnership with Starbucks that flamed out.

Although Twitter’s overall revenue shrank 5 percent in the second quarter from the year before, expanding the company’s losses, at Square, revenue grew 26 percent, moving the company closer to profitability.

The divergent fate of Mr. Dorsey’s two companies can be understood simply as a matter of timing and control. When he began his second stint as Twitter’s chief executive in 2015, the company was already struggling and had a series of internal problems that were hard to change, including executive turnover and competing strategic visions.

At Square, on the other hand, Mr. Dorsey was able to build the whole company from the ground up, with knowledge from Twitter of how things can go wrong.

“Square wasn’t Jack’s first rodeo,” said Randy Reddig, who was on the founding team at Square in 2009. “It was obvious early on at the company that he took lessons learned from his time at Twitter and applied them at Square.”

Mr. Reddig said that Mr. Dorsey’s education from Twitter’s fractious early years was particularly apparent in the control that Mr. Dorsey kept over hiring and compensation decisions at Square, with a focus on creating a loyal team.

Through Twitter and Square, Mr. Dorsey declined to comment for this article.

Mr. Dorsey’s success at Square and his trouble at Twitter also tell a broader story about Silicon Valley, where the boring, back-end businesses often end up generating more money than the flashy social networks and consumer services that capture the public’s eye.

Mr. Dorsey trained Square’s sights on a mostly invisible business — electronic payments — that has momentum as more and more commerce moves online.


The Square credit card reader. Credit Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Capgemini recently estimated that electronic payments should grow 10.9 percent a year between 2015 and 2020. It is no coincidence that the most successful American financial start-up of the last decade, aside from Square, is Stripe, which helps online businesses take payments.

Beyond just payments, though, Square has taken aim at the much larger goal of providing a tech-savvy alternative to the big banks, expanding out from payments to lending and online deposits.

This summer, Square applied for a bank charter in Utah, one of just three so-called fintech firms to take such a bold step (the others are Social Finance and Varo).

Square is most visibly positioned to use a bank license with its business customers, but the company has also been building more banklike services for consumers, most notably with its app Square Cash.

Square Cash is often described as a competitor and imitator of Venmo, the popular app owned by PayPal that makes it possible for friends to send one another payments by smartphone.

In recent months, though, Square Cash has quietly bypassed Venmo to become the most frequently downloaded financial app of any kind on both Apple and Android phones, according to Apptopia. At various points over the past week, Square Cash was ahead of Venmo and Twitter on the charts of the most downloaded iPhone apps.

The big banks had aimed to challenge Venmo with their own service, Zelle, but that has not posed a credible challenge to either Venmo or Square Cash so far, the rankings show.

Mr. Dorsey and his team made several early design choices with Square Cash that helped make it different from Venmo. As would be expected from Mr. Dorsey, Square’s app has a clean, green interface, compared with Venmo’s busy blue dashboard.

Square also made an apparently boring technical decision, to use the debit card networks rather than bank transfers, to move money around. That has made it easier for Square Cash to put money instantly into the bank accounts of its users, and to collect a fee for the service.

These differences appear to have made Square Cash more popular with lower-income customers who more often need instant access to their money and who don’t have as wide a variety of credit cards and other financial options.

“We are reaching an audience that may not have a bank account or may not have a full suite of services from a bank,” Mr. Dorsey told analysts last quarter.


Mr. Dorsey has not found a convincing way for Twitter to make money despite its ardent user base. But at Square, he has led one of Silicon Valley’s more understated success stories. Credit Max Morse/Getty Images

The shift in people using Square Cash as something more like a bank account has been an important one for Square’s bottom line. While Square and PayPal generally don’t make money when customers send money to one another, they can take a cut when customers start using the service to make payments at stores.

This all looks like a similar playbook to the one Square used with its original credit card dongle, starting with a simple service for an underserved audience and then building from there.

Keith Rabois, who was the chief operating officer at Square until 2013, said that the Cash app reflects Mr. Dorsey’s ability to make deceptively simple products that answer a complicated need.

Even though the revenue from Cash is small compared with the money that Square pulls in from businesses, Mr. Rabois said that “it may be the most important thing Square is working on.”

During Mr. Rabois’s tenure at Square, the future did not always look so bright. The company’s first attempt at a consumer application, Square Wallet, never took off and was discontinued, bringing down the Starbucks partnership with it.

Many analysts also expected that Square would have to reduce the price it charged businesses to process credit card transactions as it began working with larger businesses that had more options.

Over time, though, Square has been able to keep its prices stable by offering its business customers other services, such as payroll and scheduling.

A KeyBanc analyst recently polled 20 businesses that use Square and found that most of them had been offered lower card transaction fees by other companies but passed them up because of the add-ons that Square offers.

One of the most profitable such services is Square Capital, which offers small loans to businesses. The revenue from these loans has been increasing faster than the overall growth of the company and has Square looking more like a bank every day.

These days, one of the biggest concerns that analysts voice about Square is the time that Mr. Dorsey has to spend on Twitter, with all its problems.

During a talk at Silicon Valley’s Computer History Museum in August, Mr. Dorsey said he thought he had proved that he didn’t need to make a choice between the two.

“They both have different needs and are in different phases,” he said. “Focusing on one thing doesn’t mean you completely lose sight of something else.”

Correction: October 25, 2017

An earlier version of this article misidentified the firm where Ron Shevlin is the director of research. It is Cornerstone Advisors, not Capstone Advisors. The article also misstated how Jack Dorsey divides his workday. He typically works at Square in the afternoon and Twitter in the morning, not the other way around.

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Twitter Plans to Open Ad Data to Users

The announcement is part of a major shift in the industry to lift the veil over how its secretive advertising businesses — its cash centers — work, as lawmakers put more pressure on social media companies about the role their sites played in Russia’s attempt to influence the election. Twitter, Facebook and Google are scheduled to appear for hearings before the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on Nov. 1.

Lawmakers like Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, have expressed frustration about Twitter. In late September, he said Twitter’s response was “inadequate” when it was asked to provide evidence of Russian-linked advertising and accounts that spread misinformation or were used to favor a presidential candidate.

At the time, Twitter said it had discovered about 200 accounts linked to Russian efforts to influence the election. But that figure was significantly less than the number uncovered a month earlier by researchers from the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan initiative of the German Marshall Fund, the public policy research group in Washington. The researchers tracked 600 Twitter accounts — both human and suspected automated “bots” — that they linked to Russian attempts to influence the election.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, said that the company’s announcement did not go far enough and that online companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google needed rules that the government could enforce.

Last week, Ms. Klobuchar, Mr. Warner and Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, introduced a bill that would require digital platforms to report who bought political ads on their sites in the same way that TV broadcast stations must maintain databases with those disclosures. The bill was a response to concern that fake accounts linked to Russia on Facebook and other sites were able to fly past monitors on the sites and easily buy thousands of ads promoting racial and other hot-button issues to sow chaos before the election and to influence the result.

“I welcome this transparency,” Ms. Klobuchar said, “but we need a law in place for two major reasons: Not every company will do this, and you need rules for the road.” She added that the companies should not be left to police themselves.

The announcement from Twitter followed a public relations blitz this month by Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, to announce similar voluntary efforts to tighten standards for ad buyers. Lawmakers are still skeptical, saying there are many unanswered questions about whether the social media sites can prevent the mistakes of the 2016 election on their own.

The changes also raise new issues for politicians. For one, advertising agencies often consider their digital strategy part of their “secret sauce” when trying to sell their services to politicians and campaign strategists. Shining a light on the types of ads, the amount spent on them and how often they change could give valuable information to competing candidates.

It is also unclear whether Twitter will be able to keep up with campaigns’ ever-changing digital targeting, budgets and goals, and the company did not mention how it plans to tackle large-scale misinformation spread by bots.

Many of those automated accounts, along with Twitter users with suspected ties to the Russian government, bombarded the platform without buying advertising. Researchers at the cybersecurity firm FireEye discovered that hundreds or thousands of fake accounts regularly sent out messages criticizing Hillary Clinton — sometimes with identical tweets dispatched seconds apart.

Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said transparency in advertising alone “is not a solution to the deployment of bots that amplify fake or misleading content or to the successful efforts of online trolls to promote divisive messages.”

Twitter said it would try to tighten standards for issues-based ads that wouldn’t fall under its new electioneering rules, such as an environmental group’s push for clean-air policies or an energy company’s promotion of environmental deregulation. But the company admitted that the industry had not agreed on definitions for issues ads.

“We will work with our peer companies, other industry leaders, policymakers and ad partners to clearly define them quickly and integrate them into the new approach mentioned above,” Twitter said in its blog post.

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