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Facebook Won’t Budge On Letting Drag Queens Keep Their Names


Facebook will not be changing its real-name policy for the drag queen community. San Francisco drag queens met with representatives from the company yesterday afternoon to talk through a recent mass deletion of their personal profile pages. Facebook started deleting accounts of hundreds of members of the drag community last week after deciding these profiles were in violation of the policy.

Facebook warned account holders that they must change their drag names to their birth names or get shut down. Members of the drag community believes their stage names are their real names and that they should not be forced to go by their birth names on Facebook. The queens were hopeful that meeting with Facebook yesterday afternoon would possibly mean the company would create an exception to the policy and allow them to keep the names they go by. However, that meeting did not go as they had hoped.

The drag queen community had scheduled a protest for Wednesday at Facebook headquarters meant to show their frustration over having to change their names. However, protest organizer LilMiss HotMess (Harris David) postponed the protest after Facebook agreed to meet with the drag community and other city officials yesterday. Facebook did decide to temporarily reactivate the profiles of several hundred members of the drag queen community whose profiles were recently deactivated; however, it stood by its real-names policy.

“This will give [the drag queens] a chance to decide how they’d like to represent themselves on Facebook,” said a Facebook spokesperson in a statement to TechCrunch. “Over the next two weeks, we hope that they will decide to confirm their real name, change their name to their real name, or convert their profile to a Page.”

Heklina, a drag queen whose profile had been previously deleted, tells me she still has some hope. “Well, it wasn’t really just lip service but we’re going to try to meet with them one more time before we decide to mobilize for a protest,” she says.

The drag community has now started a petition on to get support behind changing Facebook policy to allow them to keep their names. They are pretty near their goal of 25,000 signatures in support of them keeping their drag names, too. Here is an excerpt from the petition:

We cannot emphasize enough that Facebook is a poor arbiter of what is or isn’t a real name. Performers with legitimate-appearing names get locked out of their accounts while people with account names like “Jane ICanBeBadAllByMyself Doe” go without scrutiny. And, unfortunately, for those who choose not to use their legal names for reasons of privacy, safety, or preference, there is no way to access their account to download and preserve all their photos and information that they have built up on Facebook over the years without bypassing the name change requirement.

Facebook has provided a statement from Chris Wolf, national chair of the Anti-Defamation League’s Civil Rights Committee regarding the real-name policy. Wolf sides with Facebook’s intent to provide real names as a safety measure. “As someone who has studied online hate for 20 years, I know that a real-name policy works to prevent hate speech and harassment. Simply put, anonymity allows people to engage in harassment and bullying,” he says.

The irony in all of this is that it may have been an anonymous person who targeted the drag queens in the first place by turning in their profile pages to Facebook. The social media site relies on human beings to alert them to a violation of policy. Whether real or not, someone posted anonymously on Secret that they were the person who turned the drag queens in.

“There’s a difference between anonymous profiles and those with a different name. We have an identity. Theres no way these people are going to go out and bully people. We have to stand by our names,” points out Sister Roma, a drag performer and 20-year member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

It should be noted that Facebook does make certain exceptions to its real-names policy for celebrities. The New York Times reported back in 2012 that Lady Gaga was allowed to use her stage name on her own profile page. We weren’t sure exactly which page the New York Times may be referring to. However, a quick profile page search revealed quite a few Stefani Germanottas (aka Lady Gaga). It’s doubtful these profiles are operating under their own real names. I myself created a fake Justin Bieber account as a gag a few years back. That account appears to be gone now. However, what’s to stop people from creating any number of fake accounts with real-sounding names versus drag queens who have real accounts, with real people behind them but choose to use their stage names?

What’s also unclear is how Facebook plans to enforce the policy beyond U.S. borders. It has been pointed out that there are Burmese Facebook accounts with names of feudal-era Burmese kings, princesses and poets who are, well, no longer alive.

For now, it seems, Facebook is sticking to the policy as-is and encouraging the now-reactivated account holders to change their names within the next two weeks.

“We look forward to continuing the conversation with the LGBT community, so that we can work to ensure they can continue to connect and engage on Facebook,” says a Facebook spokesperson.

Sister Roma, Heklina and others hope to get a date to meet with Facebook again soon. “We hope to meet with real decision makers and make progress on this issue,” says Sister Roma.

IMAGE BY Flickr USER Chris Hunkeler

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Winter Is (Probably) Coming (Soon)


Duck everyone. It’s a bubble. Or something close to one. And the good times are going to slow down. Probably soon.

That’s the gist of a recent interview that venture capitalist Bill Gurley gave. His words matter because they cut to the simple fact that too many companies are burning too much money.

Making money is better than losing money, but losing money — burn — can be the prudent and responsible thing to do. Under certain circumstances, it’s great to burn: If you are quickly growing and seeing a huge return over time on invested dollars, setting fire to cash can be great. If your unit economics rock, venture dollars will rain from the ceiling. Use them.

But not all burns are equal: Your burn isn’t my burn or their burn. Sometimes it can look like you’re burning and growing when, in reality, the flicker from your burn that’s dancing in your eyes is actually your business melting the fuck down. The difference is in the details. Let’s run a cohort analysis!

Gurley isn’t the only venture capitalist who is irked that some startups are spending like Croesus while generating newspaper-like revenues. Fred Wilson also recently took shots at the matter:

We have multiple portfolio companies burning multiple millions of dollars a month. Thankfully its not our entire portfolio. But it is more than I’d like and more than I’m personally comfortable with.

I’ve been grumpy for months, possibly for longer than that, about this. I’ve pushed back on long term leases that I thought were outrageous, I’ve pushed back on spending plans that I thought were too aggressive and too risky, I’ve made myself a pain in the ass to more than a few CEOs.

I’m really happy that I’m not alone in thinking this way. At some point you have to build a real business, generate real profits, sustain the company without the largess of investor’s capital, and start producing value the old fashioned way.


Gurley points out that losing millions per month is the new normal. People who would have been afraid to join a firm that heats its floors by burning hundred dollar bills now do so  with abandon. Why? Because the market cares about top — and not bottom — lines. At least for now.

It’s Groupon’s early days all over again.

Gurley hits on the idea of risk repeatedly. The more you boost your burn, the more risk you take on. And if you’re a venture capitalist, the more risk you take on, the more potential loss you face. Profits are great. Losses less so.

The underlying point of Gurley’s and Wilson’s respective riffs is that many companies will have to reduce their burn in the future. And it won’t be easy. And the pair likely won’t be willing to give larger sums to companies that just torched their prior round in ways that they didn’t precisely approve of.

Cash is the oxygen of business. When it runs out, the company dies.

Burning The VC Dollar On Both Ends

Gurley’s thesis isn’t hard to follow: Companies are being rewarded by the market for spending — and losing — huge sums of private capital that they can cheaply and quickly raise given the current investment and equities climate. Or, put another way, investors are giving companies huge sums to burn, because the market is willing to value revenue growth above all else, and thus everyone downstream wins even as losses mount.

This works precisely until it doesn’t.

As long as interest rates remain low, and the public markets remain near record highs, an appetite for larger returns will manifest itself in large amounts of capital accessible to. So the game, for now, is still afoot.

The flip of that, if you want to stare at the market from the top, is simply that piles of public money are helping to keep private money stupid. Amplifying the above is the fact that large tech companies are cash-rich at the moment, boosting sale prices for companies both strong and weak. That money often ends up back in the cycle, and then it’s once more around the sun.

All this leads to a heady condition where startups are burning like mad to generate as much heat as they can, because when you do burn the candle at both ends, to quote Christopher Hitchens, it gives a lovely light.

Klarna Announces U.S. Team As It Plans For 2015 Launch In The U.S.


The payments market in the U.S. couldn’t be be more competitive, and now yet another player is entering the mix. Stockholm-based Klarna is set to announce its U.S. team ahead of expansion plans into North America, which will begin in earnest at the beginning of 2015.

Klarna, a European giant, which has raised $282.1 million over six rounds of financing, according to CrunchBase, has set the groundwork for its move into the U.S. by lining up a who’s who of U.S. firepower to guide its expansion on North American shores. Investors in the company include Sequoia Capital, General Atlantic, DST and Atomico.

The company recruited Brian Billingsley from Alliance Data as chief executive of North America; former Bill Me Later and PayPal director Carol Hargrave as chief marketing officer; and former Apple payments counsel, Jin Han, as chief legal counsel for North America. Earlier U.S. recruits included chief credit officer Matthew Risley from Treliant Risk Advisors and chief financial officer John Keatley from Green Dot Corporation.

“Can you imagine if 70 to 90 people walked away from the checkout because it’s too cumbersome? That’s exactly what happens online today,” says Billingsley. “Companies spend hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, per-year to get people onto their site, and then they’re losing them.”

Klarna, like U.S. incumbent Stripe, or PayPal, is looking to change that.

Already a powerhouse in Europe through organic growth in the Nordic region (and the acquisition of Germany’s payment service Sofort), Klarna has long been rumored to be eyeing the U.S. market — and now the company is making its move.

Akin to its strategy for growth in the Europe, the company does has its eye on acquisitions here in the U.S., according to Billingsley. “It’s definitely not off the table,” he says. “We have very supportive investors in all of our markets.”

Using Klarna online shoppers enter only have to enter information like an email address and zip code to buy an item. After that, Klarna assumes all the risk from the purchase transaction, pays the retailer, and collects the amount due from the customer within 14 days. In Europe, Klarna has 25 million users and 45,000 retailers. The company is estimating revenues of more than $300 million in 2013 and is used for 200,000 transactions per-day globally.

Behind Klarna’s network is a complicated set of anti-fraud technologies that can help the company assume the credit and financial risks that an individual merchant might have to otherwise carry. This means that when a customer buys a product online, Klarna assumes the risks even before a customer has potentially paid for the product. They have a one-click purchase option that they say allows merchants to see on average a 10-30 percent uptick in sales.

The company says that its technology works particularly well online. The average checkout conversion is between 1% and 10% for typical checkouts on mobile devices, but using Klarna, the company claims conversion rates of roughly 50%.

Billingsley says the service slots into a different segment of the shopping experience than payment solutions like the new Apple Pay feature. “We’re focused on buying. And the customer can pay however they want to pay later,” says Billingsley. “Apple Pay will be a way to pay our settlement invoice.”

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Video: Man Buys The First iPhone 6 In Perth, Immediately Drops It Onto Concrete



On the upside, it doesn’t look like the screen got too busted up.

Plus, hey, even if it was shattered… at least he got a U2 album out of it*.

[* haha just kidding no one wants that]

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Europe Seeks A Common Appeals Process For The ‘Right To Be Forgotten’


Data protection regulators in Europe are working on creating a common set of guidelines for handling appeals by individuals whose requests to search engines to de-index personal information, under the region’s recent right to be forgotten ruling, have been refused.

The Article 29 Working Party (WP29), which is composed of representatives from the data protection regulators of individual European Union Member States, said the aim is to ensure a “coordinated and consistent approach” in the handling of complaints.

The so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ (rtbf) refers to a judgement by Europe’s top court back in May which determined that search engines are data controllers and are therefore subject to European data protection legislation, and must accept and process requests by private individuals to remove links to outdated or irrelevant information about them.

The WP29 met this week to come up with draft criteria for the appeals guidelines, and yesterday issued a press release stating they have agreed on a “common ‘tool-box’ to ensure a coordinated approach to the handling of complaints resulting from search engines’ refusals to “de-list” complainants from their results”.

While the rtbf ruling requires search engines to accept and process requests it does not require them to grant requests. Indeed there is rather a requirement that data controllers weigh up whether the information involved in a de-indexing request is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive for the purposes of the data processing”, and that they balance requests against other fundamental rights, such as the freedom of expression and of the media.

The complexities of the judgement calls involved here are obvious. So it’s not surprising the WP29 is seeking to establish common guidelines across European data protection regulators for determining appeals in instances where initial de-listing requests have not been granted.

Per country inconsistencies on that front would further undermine the rtbf ruling — which is already under sustained attack from free speech campaigners, as well as facing a well-funded lobbying effort by Google especially. The latter is currently engaged in a parallel public debate tour of Europe with the rtbf ruling at its core, in an effort to exert pressure for regulatory reform.

The WP29’s statement holds the line on the rtbf, and notes that data protection authorities in Europe have received complaints as a result of search engines refusing to de-list complainants’ results — which it describes as an illustration of “genuine demand” for data protection. A demand it says the ruling is addressing.

That said, the statement does not detail how many appeals DP authorities have received. According to Reuters the number of appeals is minuscule vs the number of de-listing requests received by Google alone. Earlier this week it reported around 90 appeals filed in the UK, 70 in Spain, 20 in France and 13 in Ireland; vs the more than 120,000 de-listing requests Google has reported receiving from across Europe.

Regarding the specifics of the WP29’s appeals criteria, it says it has agreed to establish a network of “dedicated contact persons” in order to develop common case-handling criteria so that data protection authorities can deal with complaints consistently.

It says this network will provide DPs with:

  • a common record of decisions taken on complaints
  • a dashboard to help identify similar cases as well as new or more difficult cases

The WP29 also confirms it is continuing to consult with stakeholders affected by the rtbf ruling, noting that in addition to the meeting it held with search engines back in July it also met with media companies this week.

Many media outlets have been outspoken critics of the rtbf ruling. Indeed, some outlets have published stories about the data involved in individual de-listing requests, especially where it involves their own content, thereby undermining the ruling by re-publicizing content that private individuals might have been seeking to obscure.

If the WP29 is looking for ways to resolve this re-publication problem it is not yet tipping its hand on how it intends to do that.

The other big issue to consider is how search engines are weighing and judging requests which do not result in an appeal to a DP authority. The effectiveness of the data protection decisions being made by commercial entities is an unknown at this early stage, with the rtbf ruling in place. The WP29 notes only that it is continuing to “analyse how search engines are complying with the ruling”. So presumably that’s an area where it feels it needs to amass more data.

However, with Google’s theatrical — and very public — anti-rtbf lobbying efforts, the WP29’s rather closed-box approach risks becoming problematic. Public confidence can easily be undermined where there is no public oversight of how a ruling is being implemented. And it’s certainly not hard to find critics of the rtbf ruling, given that the information the public is party to is whatever Google — the key protagonist in this drama — chooses to leak.

One thing is certain: the whole process continues to emphasis exactly how much power Google’s data-pointer wields. For more commentary on that power, I recommend reading this excellent blog by UK law professor Paul Bernal.

[Image by Dean Morley via Flickr]

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Twitter Overhauls Its UI On iPhone, Stops Hiding Your Bio


If you’ve ever thought that Twitter’s interface for displaying profiles on phones was a bit wonky: don’t worry, you’re not alone. Even Twitter agrees.

Twitter has just rolled out a new profile interface for iOS users that they’ve been quietly testing for the past few months.

The biggest change? They no longer inexplicably hide everyone’s bio line behind a swipe. Because, seriously… why the hell were they doing that? Why would you not want to see someone’s bio line when you click into their profile?

Your profile will now lead with your background image, your avatar photo, and your bio. Beneath that are three buttons: one that shows your tweets, one that shows just the photos you’ve shared, and one that shows everything you’ve fav’d.

Beyond the profile tweaks, the primary changes are all about embracing the new stuff Apple opened up in iOS 8. You can now retweet/fav/follow/etc. in response to any tweets that pop up on your screen via push notification, for example.

Alas, bios are still wonky and hidden in the latest version of Twitter for Android.

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