Sep 24, 2019

Facebook to buy a leading brain interface startup

Facebook's Oculus VR headset. Photo: Amy Osborne / AFP / Getty

Facebook announced Monday that it will buy CTRL-Labs, a startup developing an arm-worn device that reads brain signals. The companies did not disclose the deal's price tag, but reports range from upwards of $500 million to as much as $1 billion.

Why it matters: Facebook has been developing its own brain–machine interface for several years, but this is a major acquisition that could propel its technology quickly forward — and in a way that's potentially less invasive of users' privacy.

Details: CTRL-Labs will join Facebook's Reality Labs division, and will drive new ways of interacting with virtual worlds, Facebook VP Andrew Bosworth wrote on Monday.

  • The startup has been developing wrist-worn devices that can read brain signals from nerves in the arm. It can tell, for example, if you are about to move a finger, but don't move it.
  • As Facebook's Bosworth described it: "It captures your intention so you can share a photo with a friend using an imperceptible movement or just by, well, intending to."

CTRL-Labs founder Thomas Reardon told Axios in an August interview that his company had already begun making some devices available to developers and academic researchers, in hopes of "beginning a new platform wave."

  • "In my dream, people feel frustrated when they take off the band," Reardon said.
  • While the device can pick up a decision to move, it can't decipher higher-level thoughts from your head.
  • That's unlike a different strain of technology that Facebook is working on: head-mounted devices that it says will allow users to do things like type with their thoughts.

Go deeper

Warren-Zuckerberg feud intensifies ahead of 2020

Photos: Getty Images

The battle between Facebook’s chief executive and one of the top 2020 Democratic candidates for president is escalating as the election inches closer.

Our thought bubble: Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Mark Zuckerberg are convenient political targets for one another. Warren can paint Facebook as an example of capitalism gone wild, while Facebook can point to Warren as a misguided regulator who wants to break up its business because she doesn't understand how it works.

Go deeperArrowOct 13, 2019

Facebook takes down Russian and Iranian misinformation operations

Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook announced Monday that it had removed a network of "coordinated inauthentic behavior" originating in Russia, as well as three others originating in Iran, bringing the total number of such "information operations" it has acted against in the last year to more than 50.

Why it matters: Some of the activity was linked to Russia's Internet Research Agency, the government-backed operation that flooded social media with propaganda during the 2016 election, creating networks of fake accounts and, per CNN, targeting Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's campaign.

Go deeperArrowOct 21, 2019

Elizabeth Warren declares open season on Facebook's false ad policy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An ad by Sen. Elizabeth Warren's campaign that says Facebook has endorsed President Trump (before admitting the claim is a lie) is having its intended effect: raising tough questions about Facebook's policy of allowing politicians to make any claims they want.

Why it matters: Facebook has spent much of the last 2 years talking about its efforts to protect elections. But while Facebook is cracking down on foreign interference and deliberate voter suppression, it is giving political candidates carte blanche to distort and deceive.

Go deeperArrowOct 14, 2019