Facebook Messenger Launches Standalone Video and Text Chat App for macOS and Windows

Facebook today launched a standalone Messenger app for macOS and Windows platforms, allowing users to video and text chat with friends and family from their desktop computer. Along with all of the expected features, Messenger on macOS supports Dark Mode.


The Messenger app connects directly to your Facebook account, so you can chat with existing friends without needing an email or phone number. These chats will sync across the mobile and desktop versions of Messenger as well.

Facebook said that it has noticed "more than a 100% increase" in people using web browsers for audio and video calling on Facebook Messenger, leading to the launch of the new app. For those interested, it's available on the Mac App Store and Microsoft Store from today.
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Facebook Testing Cross-Posting Stories to Instagram

Facebook is testing a new feature that would allow Facebook Stories to be cross-posted to Instagram Stories, reports TechCrunch.

Right now, Instagram Stories can be shared to Facebook Stories, but the reverse is not possible. The new option would allow Stories to be shared interchangeably from one platform to another.


Jane Manchun Wong, who often digs into unreleased features in social media apps, discovered the option to share a Facebook story to Instagram in the Facebook for Android app. In the version of the app with the toggle, once a Facebook Story has been created, there's an option to tap Privacy to review who to share it with, which is where the option to post to Instagram is located.

A Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch that the cross-posting feature is being formally tested to "make it easier to share moments with the people who matter to you."

Facebook has been slowly adding Facebook features to Instagram since Instagram's founders left Facebook in 2018. There's an "Open Facebook" button in the Settings menu of Instagram, and the wording "Instagram - From Facebook" is shown on the title screen of the app.
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Facebook’s ‘Off-Facebook Activity’ Tool Now Available Worldwide to Manage Data From Other Sites

Facebook today announced that its "Off-Facebook Activity" feature is now available to users around the world, after soft launching in Ireland, South Korea, and Spain last summer. Off-Facebook Activity lets you see a summary of the data that third-party apps and websites have shared with Facebook, and delete it if you see fit.


As Facebook explained, other businesses send the social network information about your internet activity on their sites, and Facebook uses that to display customized ads. Off-Facebook Activity lets you look at that information and clear it, and you can even choose to disconnect all future Off-Facebook Activity from your account, or just from specific apps and websites.

Today's news is built around looking towards the next decade of "stronger privacy protections" from Facebook, which the company admits it has a lot of work to do in this regard. These updates include a prompt asking every Facebook user to review their privacy settings and "Login Notifications," which warn you when your Facebook account is used to sign into third-party apps.

It's been nearly two years since the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal hit Facebook, igniting a debate about how user data should be handled and monitored by major companies. In the wake of the event, Facebook has made announcement after announcement about privacy changes, security tools, and promises to enhance its overall ability to protect user information.

Regarding the new Off-Facebook Activity tool, the company said that it welcomes "conversations with privacy experts, policymakers and other companies about how to continue building tools like this."


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Facebook Shelves Controversial Plan to Insert Ads into WhatsApp

Facebook's controversial plan to sell ads in WhatsApp has been put on the back-burner, according to a new report today from The Wall Street Journal.

WhatsApp in recent months disbanded a team that had been established to find the best ways to integrate ads into the service, according to people familiar with the matter. The team's work was then deleted from WhatsApp's code, the people said.
Plans to monetize WhatsApp were floated no longer after Facebook acquired the messaging service in February 2014 for $22 billion. WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum and Brian Acton continually pushed back against the plans, which were a factor that ultimately led both men to quit the company.

Prior to leaving, Koum and Acton changed WhatsApp's terms of service to explicitly forbid displaying ads in the app, which complicated Facebook's future efforts to do so, according to WSJ's sources.

Facebook has changed its platforms' terms of service in the past, but introducing ads on WhatsApp would have required a formal notification of users, creating a potential public-relations problem for Facebook.

Still, Facebook hasn't completely given up on inserting ads into WhatsApp, and reportedly plans to add them to the app's Status feature "at some point." Status allows users to create short-lived posts similar to Instagram's Stories.

However, for now the focus is said to be on developing money-making features that enable businesses to communicate with customers and better manage those interactions.

Before the acquisition, WhatsApp was initially a paid-for app and later transitioned to a $0.99 annual subscription service. Facebook made the service free after buying it and later unveiled its own revenue-generating plans for the platform, which has 1.5 billion users globally.


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Bug in Facebook App Accesses the Camera in the Background

The Facebook for iOS app appears to be accessing the iPhone or iPad's camera in the background when the app is in use, according to multiple reports on Twitter.

The sliver of brown in this demo photo is the Facebook app accessing the camera behind the timeline.

When scrolling through the Facebook timeline, several users saw the camera activated in the background, as demonstrated in the tweets below.



One Facebook user found it through an interface bug that shows a small sliver of the display when looking at a photo, while another found it when rotating a device.

Both The Next Web and CNET were able to reproduce the issue and confirmed that the camera is activated in the background when using Facebook on iOS. The issue appears to impact iPhones running iOS 13, including the newest release version of ‌iOS 13‌, iOS 13.2.2. Devices running iOS 12 do not appear to be impacted.

Facebook vice president of integrity Guy Rosen this morning said that it "sounds like a bug" and that Facebook is looking into it, but Facebook has not officially commented on the issue.


Security researcher Will Strafach told TechCrunch that it appears to be a "harmless but creepy looking bug."

For the Facebook app to access the camera in the background, camera and microphone access must be enabled in the Settings app. Those concerned about the bug can disable Facebook's access to these features on the iPhone and the ‌iPad‌, or delete the Facebook app.


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US, UK, and Australia Urge Zuckerberg Not to Extend Encrypted Messaging to Facebook and Instagram

U.S., U.K., and Australian officials have contacted Facebook to request that it provides authorities with a way to access encrypted messages sent by users over the social network, it was revealed today.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp already uses end-to-end encryption to ensure only senders and recipients can read messages, but Facebook intends to extend the same protocols to its Messenger and Instagram Direct chat platforms.


However, government officials have penned an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him not to go ahead with the plan – or if it does, to at least give authorities a way to read encrypted messages for reasons of law enforcement, and in particular to prevent child sexual exploitation.

A draft of the letter, obtained by BuzzFeed News, is set to be released in tandem with an announcement on a new data-sharing agreement between law enforcement in the U.S. and the U.K. aimed at removing barriers to cross-border surveillance.
"We are writing to request that Facebook does not proceed with its plan to implement end-to-end encryption across its messaging services without ensuring that there is no reduction to user safety," the letter reads.

"Risks to public safety from Facebook’s proposals are exacerbated in the context of a single platform that would combine inaccessible messaging services with open profiles, providing unique routes for prospective offenders to identify and groom our children."

"Security enhancements to the virtual world should not make us more vulnerable in the physical world. Companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes."
The letter, dated October 4, is signed by U.S. Attorney General William P Barr, U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel, acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, and the Australian minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton.
"We believe people have the right to have a private conversation online, wherever they are in the world," a Facebook spokesperson said in response to the letter. "Ahead of our plans to bring more security and privacy to our messaging apps, we are consulting closely with child safety experts, governments and technology companies and devoting new teams and sophisticated technology so we can use all the information available to us to help keep people safe."

"We strongly oppose government attempts to build backdoors because they would undermine the privacy and security of people everywhere."
Zuckerberg also defended his decision to encrypt Facebook's messaging services, despite concerns about its impact on child exploitation and other criminal activity.

Speaking on Thursday in a livestreamed version of the company's weekly internal Q&A session, the CEO said child exploitation risks weighed "most heavily" on him when he was making the decision and pledged steps to minimize harm.

Apple has long opposed government attempts to gain access to encrypted communications through the use of backdoors in iOS devices.

In 2016, a U.S. federal judge ordered Apple to help the FBI hack into the iPhone owned by Syed Farook, one of the shooters in the December 2015 attacks in San Bernardino.

The FBI asked Apple to create a version of iOS that would both disable passcode security features and allow passcodes to be entered electronically, allowing it to then brute force the passcode on the device.

Apple announced that it would oppose the order in an open letter penned by Tim Cook, who said the FBI's request would set a "dangerous precedent" with serious implications for the future of smartphone encryption. Apple said the software the FBI asked for could serve as a "master key" able to be used to get information from any iPhone or iPad - including its most recent devices - while the FBI claimed it only wanted access to a single iPhone.

Apple's dispute with the FBI ended on March 28, 2016 after the government found an alternate way to access the data on the iPhone through the help of Israeli firm Cellebrite and withdrew the lawsuit.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.


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Facebook Announces ‘Portal TV’ for Streaming Content and Holding Video Calls

Facebook today announced a new set of Portal video chat devices, including one that is aimed to compete in the streaming TV market. This device is called the Portal TV, and it connects to a TV set with a standard HDMI cable and can stream content as well as enable video calls through Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.


According to Facebook, video calling is the primary feature of Portal TV, because there aren't many supported streaming apps announced as of today. Customers will be able to stream Amazon Prime Video, listen to Spotify, and download apps like Showtime, CBS All Access, Starz, Pluto TV, Red Bull TV, and Neverthink.

More apps are said to be coming soon, but Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and other popular platforms will not be on Portal TV at launch.

Speaking with Bloomberg, Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth said that the ability to video call friends and family on a TV-based device will make it unique in a crowded market. Bosworth went on to suggest that people will likely switch on alternative devices for their video streaming when they're done video calling on Portal TV.

Otherwise, Facebook is also launching updated Portal devices in two new sizes: an 8-inch "Portal Mini" and 10-inch regular "Portal." The new Portals have improved speakers, and a physical shutter so users can easily disable the camera and microphone.


Of course, with any news related to Facebook, the company has attempted to double down on privacy assurances. With the new Portal models, it said that users can opt out of the company accessing voice recordings collected by the Portal in their home. Facebook will transcribe some "Hey Portal" audio clips if users don't opt out of it, however.

Bloomberg posted a separate story about this earlier today, detailing how Facebook "paused human review of audio" in August, while it worked on a way to give customers more control over the feature. The default option will still be for Facebook to automatically collect and transcribe "Hey Portal" commands, so users will have to be aware of this and navigate into their settings to opt out.

The Portal TV will cost $149, the Portal Mini will cost $129, and the Portal will cost $179. The Portal Mini and Portal will launch October 15, while the Portal TV is set to launch on November 5.


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Facebook Preps Users for Apple’s New Location Tracking Alerts in iOS 13

Facebook has attempted to pre-empt awkward questions about privacy ahead of the launch of iOS 13, with a blog post explaining what Apple's new location data alerts mean for users of its mobile app.


As we've covered elsewhere, Apple has doubled down on its privacy features in iOS 13, giving iPhone and iPad users a more granular view of how third-party apps access their location information – something that's obviously of concern to Facebook.

In a blog post titled "Understanding Updates to Your Device's Location Settings," the social network company highlights the fact that pop-up notifications now let users know when an app is using their location in the background, and even show a map of the location data that the app has tracked. The alerts also make users aware of how often apps are tracking them and their motivation for doing so.

Facebook points out that while iOS 12 gives users the option to allow apps access to precise location information "Always," "While Using the App" or "Never," iOS 13 adds an additional "Allow Once" option for permitting restricted one-time access. The social media giant clearly wants users to know that regardless of these changes, "Facebook is better with location..."
It powers features like check-ins and makes planning events easier. It helps improve ads and keep you and the Facebook community safe. Features like Find Wi-Fi and Nearby Friends use precise location even when you're not using the app to make sure that alerts and tools are accurate and personalized for you.
It's no secret that Facebook harvests huge amounts of data on all of its users, but the company is clearly trying to allay concerns when the alerts start rolling in on Facebook users' devices once they've updated to iOS 13.

Apple usually releases new versions of iOS one or two weeks after it unveils new iPhones. Apple's iPhone event takes place today at 10:00 a.m Pacific Time, so we should see iOS 13 drop relatively soon. MacRumors will be providing live coverage of today's event both here on MacRumors.com and on the MacRumorsLive Twitter account. Stay tuned.

Related Roundups: iOS 13, iPadOS

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Hundreds of Millions of Phone Numbers From Facebook Accounts Leaked Online

An exposed server with more than 419 million records from Facebook users has been discovered online, reports TechCrunch.

The server was not protected with a password and was accessible to anyone. It featured 133 million records from U.S.-based Facebook users, 18 million records from users in the UK, and 50 million records on users in Vietnam.


The records contained each person's unique Facebook ID along with the phone number listed on the account. Facebook IDs are unique numbers that can be associated with an account to discover a person's username.

Facebook restricted access to phone numbers more than a year ago, so the database that was found is older than that. A Facebook spokesperson said that the data had been scraped prior to when Facebook cut off access to phone numbers, calling the dataset "old."
"This dataset is old and appears to have information obtained before we made changes last year to remove people's ability to find others using their phone numbers," the spokesperson said. "The dataset has been taken down and we have seen no evidence that Facebook accounts were compromised."
TechCrunch was able to verify multiple records in the database by matching a known Facebook user's phone number against a listed Facebook ID. Other records were verified by matching phone numbers with Facebook's password reset feature, which can be used to partially reveal a phone number linked to an account. Records primarily had phone numbers, but in some cases, also had usernames, genders, and country location.

Image via TechCrunch

Phone number security has become increasingly important over the course of the last few years due to SIM-hacking, which involves calling a phone carrier and asking for a SIM transfer for a specific number, thereby giving access to anything linked to that phone number, such as two-factor verification, password reset info, and more.

SIM-hacking requires little more than a phone number and social engineering skills, and it has been devastating for people who have been impacted. Leaked phone numbers also expose Facebook users to spam calls, which have also become more and more prevalent over the last several years.

The database was originally found by security researcher Sanyam Jain, who said that he was able to locate phone numbers associated with several celebrities. It's not clear who owned the database nor where it originated from, but it was taken offline after TechCrunch contacted the web host. There is no word on why the data was scraped from Facebook or what it was used for.


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Facebook Paid Contractors to Transcribe Messenger Voice Chats

Facebook paid “hundreds of outside contractors” to transcribe user audio clips from its Messenger app, reports Bloomberg.

Employees who worked on the transcription were not told where the audio was recorded or how it was obtained, nor were they told why Facebook needs conversations transcribed.


Facebook says that while it had indeed been transcribing audio, it no longer plans to do so. "We paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” Facebook told Bloomberg.

Facebook’s decision to pause its audio transcribing comes following scrutiny of human review programs from Apple, Amazon, and Google. The three companies use employees to review voice assistant requests and accidental activations for improvement purposes.

One firm that Facebook uses to transcribe Messenger conversations is TaskUs, a company that also reviews Facebook content for possible policy violations.

Facebook says that users who had voice chats transcribed had opted in, and that the transcriptions were used to make sure Facebook’s AI correctly interpreted the messages. Despite this, Facebook did not disclose to users that third parties may be reviewing audio, which led some of Facebook’s contractors to “feel their work is unethical.”

Facebook’s data use policy does mention the collection of “content, communications, and other information,” but there’s no specific mention of audio.
Facebook says its “systems automatically process content and communications you and others provide to analyze context and what’s in them.” It includes no mention of other human beings screening the content. In a list of “types of third parties we share information with,” Facebook doesn’t mention a transcription team, but vaguely refers to “vendors and service providers who support our business” by “analyzing how our products are used.”

While Facebook claims it has stopped the audio transcription program, those concerned should refrain from using Facebook services like Messenger and WhatsApp.

Google and Apple have temporarily suspended their human audio review programs, while Amazon is letting Alexa users opt out. In the future, when Apple re-implements human review of Siri queries, there will be a clear privacy policy and opt-out option.


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