Facebook Giving Friends' Posts Priority Over Brands in News Feeds

Today’s topics include Facebook now prioritizing friends’ posts over news and business items; Skype adopting Open Whisper Systems’ Signal Protocol for encrypted conversations; Google saying its Spectre and Meltdown fixes do not harm system performance; and Dropbox expecting to go public in early 2018.

Facebook believes that brands and news are "crowding out" personal interactions on the social network. So it is prioritizing and placing news and other items from people already in your network ahead of items from brands and publishers, using its analytics to publish what it assumes its users would rather see.

While the change is automatic, Facebook users can go into Preferences to indicate they would like to continue to see posts from their preferred news and brand Pages.

Emphasizing the personal over posts from businesses could easily mean fewer ads in the feeds, though CEO Mark Zuckerberg deliberately didn't mention ads in explaining the changes.

Zuckerberg said this change is all about “making sure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent.” He indicated that Facebook had heard from users to make this change, because more businesses are taking full advantage of an effective and inexpensive way to reach followers through the network and are “crowding out” social posts.

Private, end-to-end encrypted conversations are coming to Skype courtesy of Signal, the secure messaging app from Open Whisper Systems.

Powered by the open-source Signal Protocol also used by Facebook, Google and WhatsApp, the Signal mobile app fully encrypts data, allowing users to send text-based messages, videos and audio while thwarting third-party attempts to snoop on their communications.

Open Whisper Systems representative Joshua Lund said, "At Signal, our goal is to make private communication simple and ubiquitous. With hundreds of millions of active users, Skype is one of the most popular applications in the world, and we’re excited that Private Conversations in Skype will allow more users to take advantage of Signal Protocol’s strong encryption properties for secure communication."

Security researchers have warned that fixes from multiple vendors for the Spectre and Meltdown microprocessor vulnerabilities significantly slow down system performance, but they need to be implemented anyway given the severity of the threat posed by the flaws. Google, however, last week claimed that the mitigations it has developed have little impact on the performance of its cloud services.

In fact, Google’s mitigation for Spectre has been so effective that the company has moved the code for the update to open source so others can benefit from it.

The mitigation, dubbed Retpoline, uses a "novel software binary modification technique" that eliminates the need to disable the speculative execution feature in affected CPUs, thus protecting against the Spectre flaw with little performance loss.

San Francisco-based cloud storage and file-sharing provider Dropbox has filed confidentially for an initial public offering, according to a Jan. 11 Bloomberg News report. The company has been rumored to be going public for at least five years, and it looks like management is now serious about pulling the trigger.

According to the report, Dropbox’s goal is to list on an exchange in the first half of 2018, with the listing to be led by Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.

Dropbox launched in 2008 and has 200,000 paying customers worldwide. Thanks to its freemium service model, the company has about 500 million registered users—8 million of which are paying or non-paying business users. Its private-market valuation, based on previous venture capital fund-raising, is estimated at $10 billion.