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New book details Marissa Mayer’s struggles to save Yahoo 



When Marissa Mayer showed up for her first day of work at Yahoo on the morning of July 17, 2012, she was greeted by the company’s shy cofounder David Filo, who made a show of unrolling a “large purple carpet” to lead Mayer into the office building. After walking through the doors, she saw signs welcoming her, a crowd of employees gathered to greet her and loads of gifts inside her office.

Business executives and politicians, including a White House official, had left voicemail messages to congratulate the new Yahoo CEO. NBC’s Today wanted an interview. Employees greeted her like a savior, with one hanging a poster of Mayer’s face above the word “Hope,” imitating the famous Shepard Fairey illustration of Barack Obama.

Everyone seemed fascinated in and optimistic about the smart, young, tech-savvy former Google executive who had just been added to the far too short list of women running multi-billion-dollar public tech companies. But like all honeymoons, this one wouldn’t last.

In Marissa Mayer and The Fight to Save Yahoo!, a new book out this week, Business Insider‘s chief correspondent Nicholas Carlson offers the captivating inside story of Mayer’s rise at Google, the hype around her hiring at Yahoo and the missteps in her first two years as CEO that raised concerns among employees and investors alike. [Full disclosure: Carlson was my boss when I worked at Business Insider.]

The book, which began as a long feature article published in 2013, was done without the cooperation of Mayer or Yahoo and is instead based on interviews with friends, teachers and colleagues from Yahoo and Google. It presents Mayer as a very smart — though perhaps not quite visionary — executive who struggles to relate to people and relies heavily on data, except when it matters most.

Mayer pushed to hire big name media personalities like Katie Couric and expand into more premium content without any evidence that such moves would connect with Yahoo’s audience. Several of the top executives she hired were people who reached out to her rather than the other way around. One of those, Henrique De Castro, talked a particularly good game and was apparently hired for a huge sum of money without being vetted at all by Mayer’s Yahoo. He completely failed to boost display ad sales and was ultimately pushed out of the company after just 15 months, costing the company tens of millions.

To her credit, Mayer succeeded in reenergizing Yahoo employees, speeding up product development and devoting more attention to mobile, an area that was sorely lacking in resources prior to her arrival. But as Carlson explains, her decision to implement a controversial employee review system cut into morale and the products she pushed failed to offset declines in Yahoo’s ad sales and search market share.

Throughout her first two years as CEO, Mayer’s success or failures didn’t matter all that much. Yahoo’s stock continued to trend up thanks to an investment years earlier in Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, which finally went public in September 2014. That IPO gives Mayer more cash to play with, but there is little left to camouflage the struggles in Yahoo’s core business.

For now, Mayer and her team continue to work to improve ad revenue, improve its existing product lineup and ideally find a new breakthrough product to help make Yahoo relevant again. As Carlson explains, though, that is a Herculean task.

“Ultimately, Yahoo suffers from the fact that the reason it ever succeeded in the first place was because it solved a global problem that lasted for only a moment. The early Internet was hard to use, and Yahoo made it easier. Yahoo was the Internet,” Carlson writes. “Then the Internet was flooded with capital and infinite solutions for infinite problems, and the need for Yahoo faded. The company hasn’t found its purpose since.”

Over the years, a successful Hollywood executive, a brassy self-made woman and one the company’s founders have all tried and largely failed to achieve that mission. If Mayer does end up failing, at least she will be in good company.


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Last year, Instagram introduced an enhanced comment filter that uses machine learning to spot offensive words and phrases in challenging contexts. Now, the company is expanding similar coverage to photos and captions. Today, it announced that it will use AI to “proactively detect bullying” before sending content to human moderators for review.

The new feature will roll out to users in the coming weeks, launching in time for October’s National Bullying Prevention Month in the US and just before Anti-Bullying Week in the UK. The same technology is also being added to live videos to filter comments there as well.

This is the first product announcement under new Instagram chief Adam Mosseri who took over following the hasty departure of co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger last month. The split was reportedly due to simmering tensions between the pair and parent company Facebook, which has frequently meddled with Instagram’s product.

With public trust in Facebook continuing to fall, Instagram remains the bright spot in the company’s product lineup. It’s popular, profitable, and it has yet to be tainted by the scandals that have undermined Facebook. In this context, using AI to help weed out offensive content and keep Instagram a home for good vibes is extremely important.

A story published in Wired last year explained some of the details of Instagram’s machine learning comment filters, but it’s well-established that this sort of technology is no silver bulletfor content moderation. AI is cheap to deploy at scale, yes, but it still has trouble dealing with human context and nuance. That’s why it’s good that these new bullying filters also send content to human moderators to perform the final check. Automation without oversight is a recipe for disaster.

Interestingly, Instagram says it’s not just analyzing photos captions to identify bullying, but also the photo itself. Speaking to The Verge, a spokesperson gave the example of the AI looking for split-screen images as an example of potential bullying, as one person might be negatively compared to another. What other factors the AI will look for though isn’t clear. That might be a good idea considering that when Facebook announced it would scan memes using AI, people immediately started thinking of ways to get around such filters.

Along with the new filters, Instagram is also launching a “kindness camera effect,” which sounds like it’s a way to spread a positive message as a method to boost user engagement. While using the rear camera, the effects fill the screen with an overlay of “kind comments in many languages.” Switch to your front-facing camera, and you get a shimmer of hearts and a polite encouragement to “tag a friend you want to support.”

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Yes, Facebook Dating is a real thing. And we may have just received a sneak peek.

Jane Manchun Wong — an app researcher who’s spotted Facebook features in the past, like Talent Show — posted photos from what she claims is an internal test of Facebook Dating.


The company wouldn’t say whether these pics are the real deal, although it did confirm it’s testing Facebook Dating internally.

Two months ago, at its F8 developer conference, Facebook shared that it was developing a dating app. Aspiring yenta Mark Zuckerberg explained it was “going to be for building real, long-term relationships, not hookups.”

Later, on its blog, Facebook dished out a few more details: “People will be able to create a dating profile that is separate from their Facebook profile — and potential matches will be recommended based on dating preferences, things in common, and mutual friends. They’ll have the option to discover others with similar interests through their Groups or Events.”

From Wong’s photos, it looks like the app will let you prevent your current Facebook friends from seeing your dating profile, thus avoiding potential embarrassment. It’ll also offer a variety of gender options, including trans man, trans woman, and non-binary.

No word on when, exactly, Facebook Dating will become available to the public. Guess you’ll just have to make do with Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid, Happn, Grindr, Hinge, and the thousands of other dating apps out there in the meantime.

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Security researchers have discovered that it’s possible for hackers to change both the content and the sender of a WhatsApp message after you’ve received it …

This includes the ability to change quoted messages, to make it appear you said something you didn’t.

CNET reports that the possibility was discovered by Check Point Software Technologies.

The firm] found that hackers can create a hacked version of the app and alter a quoted message (a past one that someone is replying directly one) to change the content or sender.

The hacker would, however, need to be part of the chat, so the vulnerability mostly applies to group chats.

WhatsApp told the NYT that it was not aware of the technique being used in the wild, and a cure would be worse than the problem.

One solution would be to create transcripts of every message exchange to verify the accuracy of every quote. Creating such a transcript is a significant privacy risk because those accounts of what people wrote to each other must be stored somewhere, the company said.

All WhatsApp messages are protected by end-to-end encryption, which means that only those within a chat would be able to exploit the loophole. Storing a transcript would effectively mean removing that end-to-end encryption.

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