Facebook Wants To Sell Your Emotions

Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8, showcased the multitude of new products the social media company plans to roll out over the course of the next year. Staying on-track with its quest to dominate over all in the technology industry, new bot features in Messenger and an updated version of the AI assistant M aim to make Facebook your go-to for all things communication. The common thread among all of Facebook’s newest products, however, was the intensive focus on augmented reality (AR). As Wired claims, “the camera is now the most important thing on your phone. Sharing photos and videos with your friends will continue to be huge, sure. But soon the camera will begin powering new augmented reality experiences inside Facebook. You’ll get games and photo filters, and your surroundings will soon be awash in playful and informational metadata that you can only see by lifting up your handset, opening the Facebook app, and viewing the world through the camera.”

 

AR and VR (virtual reality) are buzzwords thrown around often in tech, particularly when applied to gaming systems like Playstation. They’ve been in commercial use for a while, but the technologies haven’t really taken off in the way the tech industry had predicted…. yet. Facebook’s latest offerings of products subtly integrate AR and VR into the way we communicate, ranging from the gimmicky VR-centric Facebook Spaces to the already popular Snapchat-esque Frame Store app. However, it’s the way in which Facebook is creating a new kind of usability with AR that could be exciting—or frightening. Similar to Pokemon Go, the 2016 AR smartphone game that sparked a nationwide obsession, Facebook’s new tools will allow users to “place virtual objects into the real world when you view your surroundings through your phone. Leave messages on the fridge for your spouse, or tag businesses with floating notes and tips written on walls. We’ll get AR games that incorporate real-world objects thanks to a technology called “SLAM” (simultaneous localization and mapping) that lays a 3-D grid over the table in front of you, turning it into a gameboard. Also, we’ll get AR art, pieces only viewable through your phone.” While these features might be convenient, it begs the question: how does Facebook intend to use all this new, AR-generated data?

 

The best guess is simple: Facebook, like many other technology companies, wants to track far more than just your location data. It wants to profit off of your emotional data.

 

Emotion tracking in advertising isn’t a new concept; Apple’s acquisition of the emotion-tracking technology Emotient went under the radar last year, and companies such as Procter & Gamble are tracking emotion data through Realeyes. Facebook has even indicated well before F8 that it wants to use AI to analyze your photos and videos, in an effort to better understand what ads you might engage with. But teaching technology to have empathy, and using that empathy to sell, is the next great frontier in targeted advertising. Facebook makes a profit off of the user data it generates, so it would only make sense to continue invading user privacy in order to sell their emotions. Take a look at Facebook’s privacy policy sometime—you might be horrified by how much information you agree to handing off to them. For free.

 

A recent rollback of Internet privacy laws by Republican lawmakers isn’t a great sign, especially when partnered with Facebook’s latest data-gathering techniques. Trump’s signing of a bill that strips the Federal Communications Committee’s online privacy regulation is cause for concern; without regulation, “we're building an internet that senses, thinks, and acts. We're building a world-size robot, and we don't even realize it.

 

Unless you want to go completely off the grid, it’s unavoidable to have your data tracked by whatever social media platform you use—and even if you did disappear into the ether, there are still surveillance cameras that track and store your facial image in their database. Facebook will continue to serve as a disrupter in the technology industry, and we will adapt. With a lack of foreseeable online privacy regulatory action, these new tools are indicative of the ethical dilemma in technical innovation: we’re creating a more convenient and innovative way to communicate, but at what cost? 

Words: Staley Sharples

In New E-Commerce Acquisitions, Walmart Is Set To Go Head To Head With Amazon

In the past year, American multinational corporation Walmart has been steadily adding to their retail empire, expanding aggressively into the e-commerce frontier. In 2016, Walmart acquired Jet.com, one of the fastest-growing e-commerce companies in the United States, for $3 billion. Since the acquisition of Jet, Walmart has set their sights on online retailers with strong, loyal consumer followings. Now the proprietor of five major online companies and a sixth acquisition in talks, along with the creation of a Silicon Valley technology incubator by the name of Store Number 8, Walmart is making it clear that the concept of “retail” as we know it is about to be dramatically altered.

Pushing to compete with Amazon, the online retailer and production studio that allows you to buy groceries and stream movies all on the same site, Walmart has set its sights on a varied number of companies. Perhaps the most controversial was Jet's acquisition of Modcloth, a feminist-identifying women’s retailer known for their body-positive clothing and diverse range of sizes. Other companies acquired by Walmart include Moosejaw, an outdoor retailer selling products from Patagonia and North Face; shoe retailer Shoebuy; Hayneedle, a furniture company; and as of press time, Walmart is in discussions to purchase men’s retailer Bonobos as well.

The rapid growth of Walmart’s new e-commerce sector will certainly require the creation of additional jobs, allowing the company to square up to Amazon’s 2017 initiative in making 100,000 US-based jobs available to workers. In a press release issued in January, Walmart claimed that “investments in the coming year will support an estimated 34,000 jobs through continued expansion and improvement in the company’s store network, as well as e-commerce services, while providing specialty training for more than 225,000 of the company’s frontline associates.” As in-store retail jobs dwindle in the face of technology and globalization, the development of more e-commerce jobs could aid workers forced out of retail.

With a brand-new executive order signed by President Trump this week, Walmart’s tech incubator could be another answer to the pressure for US-based companies to “Buy American, Hire American”. Store Number 8’s push to cultivate and analyze new retail technology could lead to even more tech-sector jobs in the US for American workers. The practice of hiring foreign tech workers has been a controversial one, with some claiming that the popular H-1B visa program utilized for high-skilled foreign tech workers takes away opportunities for many American workers, especially minority STEM graduates. However, by hiring the black and Latinx STEM graduates who are often overlooked for technology jobs, Walmart’s incubator could quickly be revered as a major influencer for technology in Silicon Valley.

To disrupt Amazon’s stronghold on the digital retail market, Walmart will have to quickly, and smoothly, integrate their new acquisitions into their already-existing brand, both online and off. They’ll also have to continue to match Amazon’s incentive of new jobs with benefits, which may be a tougher feat for a multinational that’s taken on nearly six e-commerce companies in a year. Regardless, Walmart is set to prove that through digital growth and strategy, we’re about to face a brave new world of retail in the US.

 

Words: Staley Sharples