Last Friday Facebook announced the purchase of Giphy for $ 400 million. The question immediately arose: why does Facebook want a search and publication service for GIFs? May be Facebook hasn’t bought Giphy for GIFs!!!
The truth is that several experts and analysts make it clear: Facebook does not want Giphy for GIFs , but because with that service they gain control over an element that is already an integral part of many social networks such as Twitter or messaging applications that compete with WhatsApp. and Facebook Messenger. Data collection reopens the debate on Facebook and privacy.
A disturbing acquisition
The purchase of Giphy by Facebook has been a surprise, and unlike other previous operations, Facebook’s strategy here is not to “get rid of a competitor”, but to gain control of a transversal service that many social networks and Messaging applications use them as a natural part of those communication channels.
The New York Times’ Mike Isaac made a very clear summary of that strategic value: Giphy is embedded in many very popular services , he said, and the SDK makes it mandatory for anyone using it to communicate their device identifier.
This acquisition is similar to that of the Onavo data analytics service , with which they detected that the rates of sending messages on WhatsApp threatened their own messaging service years ago.
This service allowed them to detect market trends and react quickly, and the company from Zuckerberg ended up buying it in October 2013 for $ 200 million. Five months later they bought WhatsApp for 19,000 million and the rest, as they say, is history .
As in that other case, Giphy provides Facebook with another important resource not only to collect data, but to detect trends in all types of markets and be able to react to all of them.
Giphy as Trojan horse to infiltrate the competition
The acquisition announcement has raised suspicions among those already concerned about Facebook’s data collection. As noted by OneZero, this acquisition will allow the company “to have access to vast amounts of data on how GIFs are used in thousands of applications.”
This service has 300 million active users, and what these users do not realize is that every time they search for a GIF or send it, a “beacon” is generated that allows that company to track how and where it is shared. that GIF, in addition to the mood associated with that message.
Facebook’s move is not entirely new: Google already bought its competitor , Tenor, in 2018, and the platform is part of its Android keyboard, Gboard .
The impact for the rest of the services is clear: Facebook achieves with this operation to know the behavior of users in applications that it does not control, and this data collection with aspects such as mood could further shape its advertising platform .
At the moment few of those platforms have indicated whether they will make changes as a result of that purchase, but the integration of Giphy in messaging platforms poses a unique situation for companies like Apple, which integrates it in iMessage, or Twitter , where this service is used massively.
Sarah Frier, a journalist from Bloomberg, indicated that Facebook knows, for example, which GIFs are used on WhatsApp and how often , although from the company it was indicated – something usual – that the data is anonymous and not individually identifiable.
Giphy will continue to operate independently and all companies that used it or want to use the service will continue to have access to its catalog of GIFs and its API, but as indicated by Wired , this gives Facebook “a new window” with which to observe to your competitors .
“Blocking” collection is possible: This is how they do it in Signal
Cybersecurity experts such as Moxie Marlinspike – creator of the protocol and the encrypted messaging application Signal – have wanted to clarify that at least in their case there are several measures to protect the privacy of users.
Thus, this developer indicated, the idea is to avoid that those who provide the algorithms for searching GIFs cannot collect data from users.
They do this by using TLS connections that cause Signal servers to never “see” the plain text of what is being transmitted or received, and Giphy also cannot know who made the request for a certain GIF with a certain search term.
Some companies have already made some comments about the suspicions that this may generate in the future use of their services. Slack, for example, indicated in The Verge that Giphy “does not receive any data about the users or companies that use Giphy in their integration in Slack”, and something similar indicated in Telegram, whose spokesmen assured that this data is not shared and that They are preparing the transition that allows to do without the service .
It will be interesting to see how services such as Twitter, iMessage, Reddit, Slack or TikTok react, services and massive social networks with hundreds of millions of users who now expose themselves to bringing home that Trojan horse that Facebook now raises with that operation.
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