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Facebook’s Messenger adds Star Wars-themed features and AR effects

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Star Wars has come to Facebook’s Messenger app. Facebook today announced a new set of Star Wars-themed features for Messenger users, including a chat theme, reactions, stickers and AR effects. The features were developed in partnership with Disney to help promote the upcoming film, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” which premieres nationwide on December 20.

Both the stickers and the reactions allow users to express themselves using characters from both sides of The Force, says Facebook. For example, you can laugh like Finn, act surprised like Rey, cry like C-3PO, act angry like Kylo or give a BB-8 thumbs up or a Stormtrooper thumbs down.

Disney also helped to create a set of limited-edition AR effects that can be used both while taking photos and selfies or when you’re on video calls.

One, the Lightspeed Effect, gives the appearance of jumping into hyperspace. Another, the Cockpit Effect, lets you see yourself as a member of the Resistance, traveling across the galaxy in Poe Dameron’s X-Wing. The Dark vs Light Effect lets you choose your side of the Force.

There’s also a Star Wars chat theme you can enable from the Messenger thread settings, which makes messages appear as if in outer space. (You access the Settings by tapping the thread’s name — typically the name or names of those you’re chatting with at the top of the screen, unless you or someone else has already renamed the chat.)

All the features are free to use.

This isn’t the first time Disney has partnered with a major tech company on a big marketing push around the Star Wars franchise. In 2015, Disney teamed up with Google to built out a new tool that let you theme its suite of apps, including Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps Chrome and others with either a Light Side or Dark Side effect. Facebook that year also let users change their profile photo to a Star Wars-themed pic where they posed with a red Dark Side cross-guard lightsaber or a Light Side blue one.

And in 2017, Google launched an AR Stickers app with a set of licensed characters from Star Wars to promote “The Last Jedi.” Apple got on board, too, with an updated version of its Clips app with a set of new “Selfie Scenes,” including those for the Millennium Falcon and Mega-Destroyer, also from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

These sorts of collaborations benefit both parties. In the case of this new Messenger partnership, Disney gets to market its new movie to Messenger’s more than one billion users. Meanwhile, Facebook gains increased usage and engagement for its popular Messenger app in a competitive market, where AR effects alone can be a key selling point for attracting users. As with many prior partnerships, no money exchanged hands here.

The new Star Wars features are rolling out today, December 12, to Messenger.

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Stock spikes after better-than-expected revenue, buyback announcement

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Stock spikes after better-than-expected revenue, buyback announcement

Meta (META) reported its Q4 2022 earnings today after the bell, and the Facebook parent beat key revenue expectations and growing losses on its metaverse operation. It also announced a $40 billion stock buyback plan.

Here’s what the key numbers looked like, as compared to analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Q4 Revenue – $32.17 billion actual versus $31.65 billion expected

Advertising Revenue – $31.25 billion actual versus $30.86 billion expected

Adjusted Earnings Per Share (EPS) – $1.76 actual versus $2.26 expected

Facebook Daily Active Users (DAUs) – 2 billion actual versus 1.98 billion expected

Family of Apps Daily Active Users (DAUs) – 2.96 billion actual versus 2.92 billion expected

Reality Labs Operating Loss – -$4.28 billion actual versus -$3.99 billion expected

The company’s stock bumped about 14% in after-hours trading.

Good headline numbers aside, there’s a lot to question about Meta’s results today, as its metaverse division Reality Labs clocked a larger-than-expected loss of -$4.28 billion, more than $200 million more than Wall Street expected.

Perhaps more than surpassing revenue expectations, Meta has successfully cut costs.

“We anticipate our full-year 2023 total expenses will be in the range of $89-95 billion, lowered from our prior outlook of $94-$100 billion due to slower anticipated growth in payroll expenses and cost of revenue,” Meta CFO Susan Li said in a statement.

The company’s in hot pursuit of efficiency, and appears to have been ruthless in its cost-cutting efforts.

“We expect capital expenditures to be in the range of $30-33 billion, lowered from our prior estimate of $34-37 billion,” Li’s statement continues. “The reduced outlook reflects our updated plans for lower data center construction spend in 2023 as we shift to a new data center architecture that is more cost efficient and can support both AI and non-AI workloads.”

Meta’s buyback was a strong move, given that the company laid off 11,000 workers in November and more jobs are reportedly on the table even now. Moreover, the company’s C-suite re-shuffled substantially through last year, with longtime COO Sheryl Sandberg officially leaving the company in September.

Meta Platforms Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg leaves federal court after attending the Facebook parent company’s defense of its acquisition of virtual reality app developer Within Inc., in San Jose, California, U.S. December 20, 2022. REUTERS/Laure Andrillon

Meta’s got a lot of moving parts

Still, on the face of it, these numbers offer up a better-than-expected close out to what’s been an exceptionally difficult year for Meta, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp. In 2022, the company’s stock declined approximately 63%, as the company battled macroeconomic headwinds and a slow ad market.

All in all, it’s been a solid day for Meta, which reportedly won its case against the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this morning, getting the green light to buy VR developer Within. Meta’s proposed acquisition of Within, which makes popular VR app Supernatural, has been in the works since October 2021. However, they’re not out of the woods yet. The FTC, going forward, could appeal and will likely continue to scrutinize Meta’s future deals under Chair Lina Khan.

Allie Garfinkle is a Senior Tech Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @agarfinks and on LinkedIn.

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FTC finds GoodRx shared sensitive health data with Facebook, Google

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FTC finds GoodRx shared sensitive health data with Facebook, Google

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

The FTC on Wednesday filed a court order against GoodRx for failing to notify users that it shared their personal, identifiable health data with Facebook and Google and said it would permanently ban the company from sharing such information for ads, should the court order be federally approved.

Why it matters: The court order is the first FTC action under the Health Breach Notification Rule, which requires companies to notify users when their health data is infringed upon, and includes several safeguards aimed at protecting consumer data.

  • “We’re making clear that apps violating this rule need to come clean with consumers when they share sensitive data improperly,” an FTC official said during a press briefing about the order.
  • The order must be approved by the federal court to go into effect.

Zoom in: The health data GoodRx shared with tech companies includes individually identifiable data on users’ prescription medications and health conditions. Per the complaint:

  • In August 2019, GoodRx compiled lists of users who’d purchased medications for heart disease and high blood pressure and uploaded their email addresses, phone numbers and mobile advertising IDs to Facebook so it could identify their profiles.
  • GoodRx then used that information to target users with relevant ads.

Details: The court order, filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC in California’s Northern District, found GoodRx shared data with companies including Facebook, Google, Criteo, Branch and Twilio. The order found GoodRx:

  • Monetized users’ personal health data to target them with health- and medication-specific ads on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Let third parties it shared data with use the information for research, development or advertising purposes without getting consent.
  • Misrepresented its HIPAA compliance, displaying a seal at the bottom of its telehealth site falsely suggesting it complied with the law.
  • Failed to maintain sufficient policies or procedures to protect its users’ personal health information.

State of play: GoodRx, which offers prescription discount coupons and telehealth services, lets users track their personal health data to save, track and get alerts about prescriptions, refills, pricing and medication purchase history.

  • Per the complaint, the company collects data from users themselves and from pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) that confirm when someone buys a prescription drug using one of its coupons.
  • Since January 2017, more than 55 million consumers have visited or used GoodRx’s website or mobile apps, the complaint says.

What they’re saying: A spokesperson for GoodRx told Axios the company does not agree with the allegations, saying the order “focuses on an old issue that was proactively addressed almost three years ago.”

  • “We admit no wrongdoing,” the spokesperson said. “Entering into the settlement allows us to avoid the time and expense of protracted litigation.”

  • “Health data today isn’t just what your doctor keeps in a file behind a desk,” an FTC official said during the briefing. “And the way we’re enforcing this reflects that new reality.”
  • “We expect this to have a significant impact on the marketplace,” the official added.

Flashback: The FTC in 2021 issued a warning to health apps and others that collect or use consumers’ health information that they must comply with the Health Breach rule.

  • “We are now showing the market that we meant business when we issued that policy statement,” the FTC official said.

What’s next: In addition to charging GoodRx with a $1.5 million civil penalty and banning it from disclosing user health information for ads, the order requires that the company:

  • Direct third parties to delete the consumer health data shared with them and inform users about the breaches and the FTC’s enforcement action.
  • Get users’ consent before sharing health data with third parties for purposes other than ads and detail the types of health information it will disclose to those parties.
  • Limit how long it can retain personal health information.
  • Create a privacy program that includes safeguards to protect such data.

Of note: While the order only binds GoodRx, companies including Facebook who received the data “are on notice that they were in receipt of data that was illegally collected,” another FTC official said.

This story has been updated to include the company’s comment.

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Facebook and Google ad oligopoly is over, fund manager says

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Facebook and Google ad oligopoly is over, fund manager says

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Inge Heydorn, fund manager at GP Bullhound, discusses competition in the digital ad market, what investors will be looking for in Meta’s results, and why it’s “all about TikTok.”

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