A federal judge found that NSA programs for collecting bulk phone "metadata" are legal. Metadata consists of stored information about calls—i.e., what numbers you call, when you called them, for how long, and possibly where you were when you made the calls—but not the contents of actual conversations.
The ruling effectively dismissed a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. “This blunt tool only works because it collects everything,” Judge William Pauley said of the NSA program in his decision.
Judge Pauley's decision conflicts with a separate ruling last week by a federal judge in Washington, who found that the mass collection of phone records may be unconstitutional and described the program as "Orwellian." That conflict sets up a likely showdown before the Supreme Court.
Yet another study—this one based on ethnographic, not statistical, research—claims that teens are leaving Facebook in droves. But where Facebook is going, it might not need them.
Thanks, Mom And Dad
As part of a recent European Union-funded study, social-science researchers spent time with 16-to-18 year olds in the UK and found that Facebook is “dead and buried” for many teens. The culprit? Parents.
See also: Teens To Facebook: "OK, Bye!"
The social network that was once popular with young people looking for an online community away from parents’ prying eyes has turned into a way for family to stay in touch with the hyper-connected younger demographic. Teens apparently don’t like that.
The researchers discovered that teens are ditching Facebook in favor of other services like Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat. “Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with [Facebook],” writes Daniel Miller, the lead anthropologist for the study.
It comes as no surprise that young people are abandoning Facebook. The company admitted in its October earnings call that the company was losing favor with teens, specifically daily active users.
At the time, Facebook claimed the findings were of “questionable significance,” and that may be true—though not for the reasons you might think. Truth is, Facebook might not need teens as much as many people seem to think.
Facebook is attempting to become a platform for finding and sharing news and current events, not just for interacting with friends. Recent updates to the social network have aimed to create a news feed that isn’t filled with memes and selfies—and that's thus more meaningful. One algorithm tweak pushed news front-and-center, while Facebook partnerships with publishers aim to help the media better understand conversations and trends.
Mark Zuckerberg has admitted he wants Facebook to be “the best personalized newspaper in the world.” I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager, I couldn’t be bothered to read the news.
Facebook might be losing popularity with teenagers, but that’s not the market the company is trying to court. Parents, in fact, are the target.
So while teens spend their days snapping each other, Facebook will continue to cater to a market better suited for both its advertisers and publishing partners—adults concerned about current events and the occasional Grumpy Cat.
Earlier this week, the hacker group Gibson Security published what it claimed was Snapchat's API, and revealed two security exploits that could allow hackers to scrape phone number and personal data from Snapchat. Turns out, it appears to be accurate.
See also: Snapchat Flaws Allegedly Expose Phone Number, Account Information
Snapchat confirmed that the group had posted documentation for its private API and responded to the scraping claim this way:
If someone were able upload a huge set of phone numbers, like every number in an area code, or every possible number in the U.S., they could create a database of the results and match usernames to phone numbers that way. Over the past year we’ve implemented various safeguards to make it more difficult to do.
Snapchat's admission was vague, though it suggested that the company isn't terribly concerned about potential privacy violations. The company said it continues to implement countermeasures to limit spam and abuse.
The era of exponential growth of smartphones and apps in the United States and other English-speaking countries is beginning to come to an end.
The fact of the matter is that almost everyone in the United States who wants a smartphone or a tablet already has one. The market for mobile devices is filling out at the edges between lower-income individuals and techno-holdouts who are now just getting onto the train to ubiquitous computing. The mobile market in the U.S. is mature.
What does that mean for app developers? On one hand, it means that the installed base of users to download their wares is massive. On the other hand, it means much more competition for user eyeballs, downloads, attentions and overall opportunity.
Data from mobile analytics company Flurry points this out through the lens of Christmas Day. The holiday is the biggest gift-giving day of the year for much of the English-speaking world and over the past several years has been the day with the most smartphone and tablet activations, as people unwrap their shiny new gadgets. In the past couple of years, these people would often be receiving their very first smartphone or tablet ever. The first thing they would do with those new devices would be to go to the various app stores and browse for cool and interesting things to use.
This practice still happens, of course, but not quite like it has in recent years. Many people receiving new gadgets for Christmas are not on their first ever device. Consumers are well familiar with these devices and what they can do. Hence, they likely already have a cadre of trusted apps and services that they will then re-install on their new devices. For instance, if you got a new iPad this year, there is a good chance you just went to iTunes and restored your device from your previous backups on from your old iPad.
Downloads on Christmas day were 11% higher than they were in 2012, according to Flurry. That translates into about 364 million app downloads on Christmas, definitely the biggest day of the year for app developers. That being said, the rate was down from the 36% growth in download volume between 2011 and 2012.
December is one of the biggest download months of the year for developers, but download spikes for the average December day were only 25% greater than the year before, down from 97% between 2011 and 20112.
Flurry’s Mary Ellen Gordon writes:
The biggest growth in mobile now is coming in countries where Christmas is a less significant holiday or not celebrated at all, so new device activations and app downloads come at different times of the year in those places. And because those high-growth areas are joining an already large global market, overall growth rates are less striking than when the mobile market was new.
The biggest lesson here is that the end of the year is still a big target for mobile developers. The Christmas Day spike will continue to be a very real and very relevant day for app developers. But the maturation of the market and the behavior of consumers is beginning to streamline in such a way that it is harder to break through the clutter at any time of the year. As ReadWrite noted late in 2012, the smartphone app gold rush is basically over.
That does not mean there is not opportunity for developers to carve out a niche in the app stores. But just like the gold rush in the U.S. in the mid-to-late 1800s, the opportunities are fewer and further between, sandwiched among entrenched interests that got their first and made their mark.