On Day 1 of its annual F8 conference, Facebook on May 1 explained how it is improving its stewardship of user data and showed its development community an impressive list of new projects upon which it wants to focus during the next few years.
At the two-day event at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, Facebook CSO Alex Stamos delivered a keynote address that explained how Facebook is securing itself and its user data in the face of international criticism over protection of users' personal data. Stamos also provided insights and ideas for the developers in the audience about steps they can take that benefit from the lessons learned by Facebook.
[For more detail on the security aspect of the conference, see Sean Michael Kerner's eWEEK reporting here.]
In his part of the keynote, CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg introduced several new functions, including a dating app, another that allows a group to share watching videos in real time, and new ways natural language processing and artificial intelligence will be used in future apps.
AI and Machine Learning Will Be Big in New Apps
As one might expect, the use of AI and machine learning figure prominently in a lot of these new initiatives, most of which are now in testing, with productization coming later this year or in 2019.
The social network has absorbed criticism in recent months regarding its personal data security liabilities, thanks mainly to the misuse of data from about 87 million people collected on the social network by a research firm, Cambridge Analytica, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
"This has been been an intense year!" Zuckerberg said. "We're hard at work making sure people don't misuse this platform. We need to make sure this never happens again, so we're taking a number of steps here. We've started by putting a tool in front of everyone that shows them all the apps they are using and lets them easily remove access to them."
Following the Cambridge Analytica news, Facebook paused its app review program, leaving developers wondering about when they would be able to integrate new apps into their own projects. Zuckerberg on May 1 reopened the app review process.
New Tools Will Better Identify Fake Accounts, Fake News
The company is developing internal AI tools that ostensibly will improve the identification of election interference and fake accounts, problems that were rampant on the platform in the run up to Donald Trump's election victory in 2016. To give users more privacy controls, Facebook is working on a new feature called Clear History, to enable users to delete their browsing information while they are logged in to the main Facebook app.
"This is about the information that we get from websites and apps that are using Facebook's advertising and analytics tools," Zuckerberg said. "You'll be able to clear all this information from your account; you'll even be able to turn it off, having this information stored with your account going forward."
Facebook is close to releasing a new app for filtering bullying and hate speech-type comments. In fact, the main web app already seems to be "listening" on conversations to an extent. During one politically oriented conversation on my own newsfeed, a question popped up in the thread from the app that said: "Is there any hate speech here?" and offered three buttons from which to choose: yes, no and no comment. It was a "no" from me.
Watch Party: Videos with Friends
Another new app, Watch Party (pictured), will allow users to watch video while chatting with friends.
"So, let's say your friend is testifying in Congress," Zuckerberg joked, poking fun at his own recent two-day appearance on Capitol Hill to explain to the House and Senate how Facebook does business and protects its business information. "For example, now you're going to be able to bring your friends together, you can laugh together, you can cry together--some of my friends actually did this!
"Let's not do that again anytime soon!"
As for the new dating app, Zuckerberg said that it's designed for "long-term relationships, not hook-ups." Facebook members can use an opt-in feature if they are interested in meeting new people for potential dates.
By the way, Match.com's stock took a precipitous drop of about 20 percent May 1 ($47.03 to about $35) due to the Facebook announcement.
"Facebook's product could be good for U.S./Russian relationships," a Match.com spokesperson told a reporter, snidely.
NLP Making an Entrance, Too
Zuckerberg revealed that it will bring natural language processing (NLP) integration into Facebook Pages, which will enable users to record better narration over videos, for one thing. It also automatically uses posts from a Page’s inbox to create artificial intelligence that answers questions your customers or followers are most likely to ask.
It's like having your own bot on the page. Facebook's NLP intellectual property comes from Wit.ai, a niche company it acquired three years ago.
When a developer activates the built-in NLP in the Facebook app console, he or she can create a Wit.ai app that can ingest up to 5,000 anonymized messages from a Page inbox and create a new dataset. The developer than can then sort through the dataset and label data drawn from the inbox that represents frequently asked questions.
F8 continues through May 2 at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.
Image: Chris Preimesberger