Parler re-platformed as Apple allows social network back into App Store

A shadowy hand holds a smartphone displaying the Parler logo.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Parler is about to be re-platformed.

The app for the “free speech” social media company will be available once again on Apple’s App Store. Apple reinstated Parler on April 14, according to a letter from Apple to Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), which was made public today. Once Parler releases an updated app, iOS users will be able to download it once more.

In the letter to Lee and Buck, Apple said that its App Store review team had spoken with Parler at length about how to bring the app into compliance with company guidelines. “As a result of those conversations, Parler has proposed updates to its app and the app’s content moderation practices,” wrote Timothy Powderly, Apple’s senior director of government affairs.

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#apple-app-store, #content-moderation, #parler, #policy, #social-media

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Apple confirms it will allow Parler to return to App Store

Apple will reinstate Parler on its App Store following its multi-month ban, according to a letter Apple has sent to Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Ken Buck, which was made public today via a post this morning on Congressman Buck’s Twitter. TechCrunch also obtained the letter from Apple directly to confirm. The lawmakers had earlier written to Apple on March 31, 2021 to ask for additional information about why the app, which is heavily favored by conservatives, had been removed from the App Store. Apple’s response explains how Parler had violated its policies but said it has engaged in extensive conversions with Parler’s team since the app’s removal. It also says Parler’s proposed updates to the app, its content, and its moderation practices will allow it to be approved for reinstatement to the App Store immediately update its release.

Apple was one of several tech platforms that banned Parler following the Capitol riot, after it came to light how the app had been used by Trump supporters and other far-right users to call for violence and organize their plans to storm the Capitol. The insurrection left five people dead, over 140 police officers injured, and resulted hundreds of arrests.

Google and Amazon also quickly banned Parler from their respective platforms after the Capitol riot.

In Apple’s case, the company had first given Parler notice the app would be removed unless the company submitted a content moderation improvement plan. But Parler’s then-CEO John Matze posted to his own Parler account that he would not cave to Apple’s ultimatums and the app, having failed to meet Apple’s requirements, was banned. In the weeks that followed, Matze was fired by Parler’s board, controlled by Republican Party donor Rebekah Mercer.

Parler has been working to obtain re-entry to the App Store since its removal, but those efforts continued to fall short. Bloomberg reported last month, for example, that Parler had submitted new guidelines in February that were insufficient to comply with the App Store rules due to issues with violating content. That letter, addressed to Parler’s chief policy officer on Feb. 25, had stated: “There is no place for hateful, racist, discriminatory content on the App Store.”

According to Apple’s new letter, released today, things have changed. It says that Apple has now informed Parler as of April 14, 2021 that its proposed moderation practices will qualify it for reinstatement. The letter, signed by Timothy Powderly
Apple’s Senior Director of Government Affairs in the Americas, says:

In the period since Apple removed the Parler app from the App Store, Apple’s App Review Team has engaged in substantial conversations with Parler in an effort to bring the Parler app into compliance with the Guidelines and reinstate it in the App Store. As a result of those conversations, Parler has proposed updates to its app and the app’s content moderation practices, and the App Review Team has informed Parler as of April 14, 2021 that its proposed updated app will be approved for reinstatement to the App Store. Apple anticipates that the updated Parler app will become available immediately upon Parler releasing it.

The letter also notes that it did not consult with Google or Amazon in respect to its original decision to remove Parler — a response meant to put to rest the false claims of a coordinated effort between tech giants to silence conservatives.

Apple did not detail what specific changes Parler had agreed to, but earlier this year, the app was still non-compliant with Apple’s guidelines for allowing user profile pictures that featured swastikas and white nationalist imagery, and because it had permitted usernames and posts that were misogynistic, homophobic and racist, Bloomberg said at the time.

Apple’s letter, first reported this morning by CNN, indicates Parler will be approved immediately when submitted.

Apple also told TechCrunch the app’s relaunch time frame will be up to Parler to decide, but offered no additional comment.

Apple Response April 19, 2021 by TechCrunch on Scribd

#app-stores, #apple, #apps, #parler

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Parler: We warned the FBI more than 50 times before the Capitol riot

Parler: We warned the FBI more than 50 times before the Capitol riot

Enlarge (credit: Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images)

Embattled right-wing social media firm Parler infamously promises its users a laissez-faire approach to “free speech” on its service. As the company now tells Congress, however, Parler apparently does warn federal authorities when it discovers certain kinds of violent content on its platform—and users who flock to the site for its anything-goes attitude are mad.

Parler’s attorneys explained in a letter (PDF) to the House Oversight Committee that it apparently does have limits on what it finds acceptable and did take seriously some of the violent content posted to its platform ahead of the January 6 events at the US Capitol.

Parler “has acted to remove incitement and threats of violence from its platform and did so numerous times in the days before the unlawful rioting at the Capitol,” the letter explains. It goes on:

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#insurrection, #parler, #policy, #social-media

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Ousted CEO Matze sues Parler, claims board robbed him of millions

Parler leadership is a bit shadowy at the moment.

Enlarge / Parler leadership is a bit shadowy at the moment. (credit: Pavlo Gonchar | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images)

Former Parler CEO John Matze is suing the board of the troubled social media company, alleging that funder Rebekah Mercer and board members she placed engaged in a scheme to steal his share in the company he co-founded.

“While Mercer readily acknowledged and broadly boasted… that Parler was an enterprise worth hundreds of millions of dollars, if not a billion dollars, she and others orchestrated a theft of Matze’s 40 percent ownership, claiming that it could be taken from him for a mere $3.00,” Matze claims in the suit (PDF).

The complaint calls the maneuvering “outlandish and arrogant theft,” adding that “this scheme is epitomized by oppression, fraud, and malice, for which Matze is entitled to receive punitive damages” of at least three times the “millions he is owed in compensatory damages.”

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#john-matze, #lawsuits, #parler, #policy, #rebekah-mercer

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Parler sues Amazon (again), claims AWS ban sank a billion-dollar valuation

The bright screen of a notebook computer illuminates the face of the person using it.

Enlarge / A person browsing Parler in early January, before the site got into a fight with AWS. (credit: Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images)

Social media platform Parler has dropped a federal lawsuit alleging that Amazon colluded with Twitter to drive a rival offline—but in its place, the platform has filed a new state lawsuit alleging that Amazon deliberately tanked Parler’s valuation.

Parler’s new suit (PDF)—filed in King County, Washington, where Amazon is headquartered—argues mainly that Parler is no worse than the competition and that Amazon defamed and devalued it when AWS discontinued service.

The platform has been embroiled in legal battles with Amazon since January, when Amazon cut off Parler’s AWS hosting in the wake of the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. Parler went offline shortly after and remained that way until mid-February.

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#amazon, #aws, #biz-it, #lawsuits, #parler, #policy

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Daily Crunch: Parler is back online

Parler returns from limbo, Uber lobbies Europe and we have more details about Notion’s outage. This is your Daily Crunch for February 15, 2021.

The big story: Parler is back online

The social network known for its far-right user base was dropped by infrastructure provider Amazon Web Services for posts advocating violence. Now it’s back online, albeit with all old posts and content removed for reasons that are currently unclear.

The company says the new site is built with “sustainable, independent technology and not reliant on so-called ‘Big Tech’ for its operations.”

In addition to a new website, Parler also has a new chief executive. Following the ouster of John Matze, Parler is now led by interim CEO Mark Meckler, founder of the Tea Party Patriots — one of the groups involved in organizing the January 6 pro-Trump demonstration that turned into a storming of the U.S. Capitol.

The tech giants

Uber lobbies for ‘Prop 22’-style gig work standards in the EU — The ride-hailing and on-demand food delivery giant has published a white paper in which it lobbies European policymakers for what it describes as a “new standard” for platform work.

GM unveils a refreshed Chevy Bolt EV and its bigger, yet compact crossover sibling — The new vehicles share much of the same DNA but have their own distinct differences.

Google slapped in France over misleading hotel star ratings — Google has agreed to pay a €1.1 million fine over misleading star ratings for hotels.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Notion’s hours-long outage was caused by phishing complaints — With the company’s domain offline, users were unable to access their files, calendars and documents.

Delivery company goPuff is in talks to acquire the UK’s Fancy — Fancy has a strikingly similar model to its potential buyer, leading some to describe it as a mini goPuff.

Private equity firm Marlin snatches up e-commerce optimization platform Lengow — For merchants using Lengow, the platform is the glue that makes all the moving parts of e-commerce stick together.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Investors’ SPAC push could revamp the private market money game — Is this venture capital’s natural evolution?

From dorm rooms to board rooms: How universities are promoting entrepreneurship — Earlier this year, 15 top U.S. universities joined forces to launch a one-stop shop where corporations and startups can discover and license patents.

The Series A deal that launched a near unicorn: Meet Accel’s Steve Loughlin and Ironclad’s Jason Boehmig — Their episode of Extra Crunch Live streams on Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST/12 p.m. PST.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Examining the ‘pipeline problem’ — An AI Now researcher analyzes the history behind a common excuse for the lack of diversity in tech.

India lifts restrictions on mapping and surveying to help local firms — The Indian government said local firms will no longer need a license or other permission to collect, generate, store and share geospatial data of the country.

Meet the Black Female Founders from TC Include at TC Sessions: Justice 2021 — Don’t miss your chance to meet some founders currently participating in TechCrunch’s Include program.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#daily-crunch, #parler, #social

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Parler says it’s back without “Big Tech” after being kicked off Amazon

The Parler logo on a phone screen.

Enlarge / Parler’s logo. (credit: Getty Images | Smith Collection/Gado)

Parler.com is getting back online after being kicked off Amazon’s hosting service, with the controversial social network saying it no longer relies on “Big Tech” for its Web infrastructure. A Parler announcement today said its relaunched website is “built on sustainable, independent technology and not reliant on so-called ‘Big Tech’ for its operations.”

Amazon cut off Parler’s Web-hosting service on January 10, a few days after a Trump-incited mob stormed the US Capitol, saying that “Parler cannot comply with our terms of service and poses a very real risk to public safety.” Parler sued Amazon in response, but a federal judge denied Parler’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have forced Amazon to reinstate its services.

Now, Parler is using hosting services from a company called SkySilk. Parler said its site is available this week only to users who already had accounts. New users, on the other hand, will be able to sign up next week. While existing users can now log in to Parler, their old posts have been removed from the site, TechCrunch reported.

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#biz-it, #parler, #policy

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Parler crawls back online empty and with a Tea Party CEO

Parler, a social network adopted by the far right and recently kicked off AWS for its userbase’s habit of advocating violence, is back online. The restoration questions the notion that “big tech” can take and keep an unwanted presence offline, but Parler’s return is not quite a triumph, and its new CEO doesn’t suggest much of a change in philosophy.

Users can now log in to Parler on the web, but when they do they will find that all their old posts and content have been removed. It’s unclear whether this was a consequence of the hurried exit from AWS last month, a scorched-earth policy regarding the content that got the site in hot water in the first place or for some other reason.

Fortunately someone had the presence of mind to make a backup, though not with the intention of restoring it. @donk_enby scraped millions of posts and media files from the site for posterity, something that has already borne fruit as researchers have used the files to show, for example, where certain users were on the day of the Capitol riots. (She is currently pointing out various problems with the new Parler’s web rollout.)

The new site is described in a statement as using “sustainable, independent technology and not reliant on so-called ‘Big Tech’ for its operations.” The new host is SkySilk, seemingly a reseller of OVHcloud, and I’ve asked if the company plans to enforce its terms, which generally but not specifically prohibit things like threats of violence. (The details of the terms violations were made more public in Parler’s attempt to force Amazon to reinstate it.)

Parler, for its part, aims to make itself a bit less of an easy target by upping its moderation game. The site will supposedly be using both AI and human moderators to watch for content that could rock the boat — though Facebook has been trying this for years and still hasn’t quite got the hang of it.

They may have an easier job of it, considering Parler is still barred from the Google Play Store and iOS App Store. That’s a huge damper on activity, since mobile users make up a large part of social networks. So the flood of content the site could not adequately monitor in early January may have slowed to a trickle. (I’ve asked the company for more information on this and other matters and will update this post if I hear back.)

Meanwhile, the operation is being overseen by a new interim CEO after the ouster of John Matze by the board. The one to fill the role is Mark Meckler, founder of the Tea Party Patriots, staunch opponents of Obamacare and big fans of debunked COVID-19 treatment hydroxychloroquine. The group was also behind the infamous “America’s Frontline Doctors” event and was one of the organizers of the March to Save America that turned into the Capitol Riots.

Meckler’s pedigree suggests that despite the claimed moderation improvements, this is hardly Parler turning a new leaf. With the deliberate (and apparently unavoidable) break with “Big Tech,” however it is defined, and a CEO who embodies the same qualities that ran amok before, it seems a lot more like stubborn defiance than introspection and graceful compromise.

#parler, #social, #social-media

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Parler’s ownership offer to Trump and possible Russian ties probed by Congress

The Parler logo on a phone screen.

Enlarge / Parler’s logo. (credit: Getty Images | Smith Collection/Gado)

A congressional oversight committee is investigating whether Parler has financial ties to Russian entities, citing reports that the right-wing social network “allowed Russian disinformation to flourish” before the election and hosted calls for violence before a Trump-incited mob stormed the Capitol on January 6. The committee’s chairwoman sent a letter to Parler COO Jeffrey Wernick today, demanding documents on Parler’s ownership, potential ties to Russian individuals or entities, and reported negotiations between Parler and the Trump Organization.

“Parler reportedly allowed Russian disinformation to flourish on its platform prior to the November 2020 election, facilitating Russia’s campaign to sow chaos in the American electorate,” US Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, wrote in the letter to Wernick. “Although similar disinformation was removed by other social media platforms, it was allowed to remain on Parler. When US hosting services cut ties with Parler for repeatedly failing to moderate content advocating violence, Parler re-emerged on a Russian hosting service, DDos-Guard, which has ties to the Russian government and counts the Russian Ministry of Defense as one of its clients.”

Maloney also cited a BuzzFeed report that said, “The Trump Organization negotiated on behalf of then-president Donald Trump to make Parler his primary social network, but it had a condition: an ownership stake in return for joining.” Parler offered Trump’s company a 40 percent ownership stake but negotiations “were ultimately derailed by the events of January 6,” the report said.

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#congress, #parler, #policy, #trump

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This Week in Apps: Warnings over privacy changes, Parler CEO fired, Clubhouse goes mainstream

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.

Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week, we’re taking a look at Clubhouse’s breakout moment — or moments, to be fair. Also, the App Store’s rules were updated, Parler’s CEO was fired and other companies began raising their own red flags about Apple’s privacy changes.

This Week in Apps will soon be a newsletter! Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Clubhouse goes mainstream

The invite-only audio platform has been on a roll, and has already hosted big names in tech, media and entertainment, including Drake, Estelle, Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, Jared Leto, Ashton Kutcher, and others in the Silicon Valley tech scene. But this week was a breakout if there ever was one, when on Monday, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk showed up on Clubhouse, topping the app’s limit of 5,000 people in a single room. With others unable to get in, fans livestreamed the event to other platforms like YouTube, live-tweeted, and set up breakout rooms for the overflow. Musk was later joined by “Vlad The Stock Impaler,” aka Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev, who of course talked about the GameStop saga — and was then interviewed by Musk himself.

Then on Thursday, Clubhouse saw yet another famous guest: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who casually went by “Zuck23” when he joined “The Good Time Show” talk show on the app, as Musk had done before him.

The format of the social media network allowed the execs to informally address a wide audience of listeners with whatever they want to talk about — in Musk’s case, that was space travel, crypto, AI and vaccines, among other things. Zuckerberg, meanwhile, used the time to talk about AR/VR and its future in business and remote work. (If you thought Zoom meetings were bad…).

(And who knows, maybe he wanted give the app a try for other reasons, too.)

There is something unsettling about this whole arrangement, of course. Soft-balled questions lobbed at billionaires, journalists blocked from rooms, and so on — all on an app financed by a VC firm, Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), that’s said to be interested in cutting out the media middleman, to “go direct” instead. (Not coincidentally, the room inviting the big name guests was co-hosted by a16z’s Andreessen and its new GP, Sriram Krishnan, who is described as having an “optimistic” outlook — perhaps a valuable commodity when much of the media does not.)

Regardless of the machinations behind the scenes that made it happen, it’s hard to ignore an app where the biggest names in tech show up to just chat — or even interview one another.

Where is all this going?, is a valid question to be raised. Some have described Clubhouse as the late-night talk show equivalent. A place where interviews aren’t about asking the hard questions, but rather about whatever the guest came there to say or promote. And that’s fine, of course — as long as everyone understands that when big names arrive, they may do so with an agenda, even when it seems they’re just there for fun.

In any event, Clubhouse proved this week it’s no longer a buzzy newcomer. For now, at least, it’s decidedly in the game.

Companies (besides Facebook) warn investors about Apple’s privacy changes

So far, it may have seemed as if the only two businesses taking real issue with Apple’s privacy changes, including the coming changes to IDFA, were Facebook and Google. Facebook took out full-page ads and weighed lawsuits. Google delayed iOS app updates while it figured out privacy labels. But as other companies reported their fourth-quarter earnings, IDFA impacts were also topping their list of concerns.

In Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel’s prepared remarks, he alerted investors to the potential disruption to Snap’s ad business, saying that the privacy changes “will present another risk of interruption” to advertising demand. He noted that it was unclear what the long-term consequences of those changes may be, too. Unity, meanwhile, attached a number to it: IDFA changes would reduce its revenue by about 3%, or $30 million, in 2021.

Image Credits: Facebook

It may be that no one really knows how damaging the IDFA update will be until it rolls out. These are only estimates based on tests and assumptions about user behavior. Plus, there are reports poking holes in Facebook’s claims, which had said that small businesses would suffer a 60% cut in revenues. Those are surely overstated, Harvard Business Review wrote, saying Facebook had cherry-picked and amplified its numbers.

Nevertheless, Facebook is already testing ways to encourage users to accept its tracking. The company on Monday began showing some users prompts that explained why it wants to track and asked users to opt in so Facebook can “provide a better ads experience.” Users could tap “allow” or “don’t allow” in response to the prompt.

Apple updates its App Store Rules

Apple said these were moderate changes — just clarifications and tweaks that had been under way for some time. For example, the new App Store Guidelines now include instructions about how developers should implement the new App Tracking Transparency rules. Another section details how developers can now file an appeal upon an app review rejection.

Other changes are more semantic in nature — changing person-to-person experiences to “services” to broaden the scope, for example, or to clarify how gaming companies can offer a single subscription that works across a variety of standalone apps.

To see what actually changed, go here.

Parler CEO fired

Parler — the app banned from the App Store, Google Play, Amazon AWS, using Okta, etc., etc. — fired its CEO, John Matze, this week after struggling to bring the app back online. According to reports from NPR and others, the firing was due to his disagreement with conservative donor Rebekah Mercer, who controls Parler’s board. Matze argued the app would need to crack down on domestic terrorism and groups that incite violence in order to succeed, he says, but claims he was met with silence. Parler, meanwhile, said those statements were misleading.

After Parler’s rapid deplatforming following the events at the Capitol, other alternative social networks climbed up the charts to take its place. But these apps have not proven themselves to have much staying power. Instead, the top charts are once again filled with the usual: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, etc.

Maybe it’s actually no fun yelling about the world when no one is around to challenge you or fight back?

Weekly News

Apps with earnings news

  • Snap beats with revenue of $911 million in Q4, up 62% YoY, versus $857.4 million expected. Snap’s DAU’s climbed 22% YoY to 265M. But stock dropped over a weak Q1 forecast.
  • PayPal reported stronger-than-expected, pandemic-fueled earnings with EPS up 25.58% YoY to $1.08, beating the estimate of $1.00. Revenue was $6.12 billion up 23.28% YoY year, which beat the estimate of $6.09 billion. The company added 16 million net new accounts, bringing the total to 277 million.
  • Related, Venmo’s TPV grew 60% year over year to $47 billion, and its customer base grew 32%, ending just shy of 70 million accounts. The company expects its revenues will approach $900 million in 2021.
  • Spotify reports revenue growth of 17% YoY to €2.17 billion; 345M MAUs, up 27% YoY; and paid subs to 155 million, up by 24%.

Platforms: Apple

  • Code in the iOS 14.5 beta also suggests new financial features like Apple Card Family for multiuser accounts and a new framework FinHealth that gives automated suggestions to improve your finances.
  • Apple rolls out new and updated design resources for building apps across its platforms, including iOS 14 and iPad OS 14, tvOS 14 and macOS Bir Sur. On mobile, the new design resources for Sketch have been rebuilt to support color variables, and include numerous minor improvements and bug fixes.
  • Apple’s services saw a significant outage this week that impacted, among other things, the App Store, leading to blank pages, broken search results and more.
  • Certain U.S. states will allow casino, sports and lottery games from March 1, 2021. Google already announced a change to Play Store policies, to allow these. In Apple’s updated App Store Guidelines, out this week, it also added “gambling” as one of the app categories that had to be submitted by a legal entity — an indication that it was opening its doors, too.
  • App Store growth hit a six-month high in January 2021, Morgan Stanley said, citing Sensor Tower data that indicated App Store net revenue grew 35% YoY in the month. In Japan and Germany, growth reached 60% and in the U.S. it was 42% YoY, due to pandemic impacts.
  • Some users are saying third-party apps have been crashing after syncing an iPad or iPhone with an M1 Mac.

Platforms: Google

  • Google is said to be exploring its own alternative to Apple’s new anti-tracking feature, which may seem counterintuitive, as Google is in the ads business. But according to a report from Bloomberg, the company is looking into a solution that’s “less stringent” than Apple’s. That could provide some pushback in terms of setting an industry standard.

Gaming

  • YouTube launches Clips, a short-form video feature that lets users clip 5 to 60 seconds of a video and share with others, similar to Twitch’s clips feature. The feature is in limited alpha testing.
  • Epic Games is warning Australia’s market regulator to take action against Apple for using its market power to force developers to pay a 30% commission on paid apps and IAP. Epic is suing Apple in the country, but wants the regulator to step in now.
  • In the U.S., a judge orders a 7-hour deposition from Tim Cook in the Epic vs. Apple lawsuit.
  • Google hasn’t killed game streaming service Stadia yet, but it did announce this week it’s stepping away from first-party games. The company also announced the Stadia Games and Entertainment head Jade Raymond was leaving the company, while the existing staff would be moved to other projects.
  • Amazon Luna’s game streaming service expands to more Android devices, including Pixel 3, 3XL, 3a, 3a XL; Samsung S9, S9+, Note 9. The service was already available on new Pixel, Samsung and OnePlus devices, among others.

Augmented Reality

  • Color of Change launches The Pedestal Project, an AR experience on Instagram that allows users to place statues of racial justice leaders on the empty pedestals where confederate leaders once stood (or anywhere else). At launch, there are three featured leaders included: Rep. John Lewis, Alicia Garza and Chelsea Miller.
  • TikTok partners with WPP to give WPP agencies access to ad products and APIs that are still in development, including new AR formats.

Security & Privacy

  • YouTube adds its App Store privacy label, detailing the data it uses to track users. This includes your physical address, email address, phone number, user and device ID, as well as data linked to you for third-party advertising and for app functionality, product personalization and more.

Fintech

  • Venmo is turning into a financial super app with additions that include crypto, budgeting, saving and shopping with Honey — all of which are planned for this year.
  • Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev has been asked to testify before the House Financial Services Committee on February 18, over the GameStop debacle. The app still hasn’t recovered its reputation — Play Store reviews have gone back down to 1.0 stars, even after a purge.
  • Reddit has its best-ever month in terms of installs, thanks to the “meme stocks” frenzy driven by users of the r/wallstreetbets forum. The app gained 6.6 million downloads in January 2021, up 43% month-over-month, growing its total installs to date to 122.5 million across iOS and Android.
  • Cash App also this week had to halt buying meme stocks like GameStop, AMC, and Nokia after being notified by its clearing broker of increased capital requirements.
  • Robinhood raises another $2.4 billion from shareholders after its $1 billion raise from investors to help it ride out the meme stock trading frenzy.
  • Joompay, a European rival to Venmo and TransferWise, has now launched in the market after obtaining a Luxembourg Electronic Money Institution (EMI) license.

Social & Photos

Image Credits: Snap

  • Snapchat’s TikTok rival “Spotlight” now has 100 million MAUs, the company said during earnings, and is receiving an average of 175,000 video submissions per day. But Snap is heavily fueling this growth by paying out over $1 million per day to the top-performing videos — everyone wants to be TikTok, it seems.
  • TikTok says it will now downrank “unsubstantiated” claims that fact checkers can’t verify. The app will also place a warning banner overtop these videos and discourage users from sharing them with pop-up messages.
  • TikTok owner ByteDance sues Tencent over alleged monopoly practices. The suit claims that Tencent’s WeChat and QQ messaging services won’t allow links to Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.
  • Instagram confirms it’s developing a “Vertical Stories” feed that will allow users to flip through users’ stories vertically, similar to TikTok.
  • IRL, an events website and mobile app, has topped 10 million monthly users as it revamps itself into a social network for events, now including user profiles, group events, and chat.
  • Instagram bans around 400 accounts linked to hacker forum OGUsers, where members buy and sell stolen social media accounts. The hackers used SIM-swapping attacks, harassment and extortion to take over the accounts of  “OG” Instagram users who have coveted short usernames or those with unique words. Twitter and TikTok also took action to target OGUsers members, the companies confirmed.

  • Instagram adds “Recently Deleted,” a new feature that lets you review and recover deleted content. The company says it added protections to stop hackers from accessing your account to reach these items. Deleted stories that are not in your archive will stay in the folder for up to 24 hours. Everything else will be automatically deleted 30 days later.
  • Triller ditches its plans to do a Super Bowl ad and will now host a fan contest instead. The app has struggled to present a challenge to TikTok in the U.S. market.
  • Daily Twitter usage remained consistent despite Trump ban, according to data from Apptopia.

Image Credits: Apptopia

Communication and Messaging

  • Element, a client for federal chat protocol Matrix, was removed from the Play Store this week, for abusive content. But Google made a mistake. This was a third-party client, not the content’s host. And it had already removed the content, based on its own rules. For those unfamiliar, Element is an open network that offers both unencrypted public chatrooms as well as E2EE content. Eventually, the developer got a call from a Google VP who helped the app get reinstated. But the situation, which resulted in 24 hours of downtime, raised a question of how well app stores are prepared to moderate issues that crop up in decentralized platforms and services.
  • Clubhouse CEO Paul Davison confirmed the company will introduce a subscription tool that will allow creators to make money from their rooms.
  • Telegram, benefitting from the shift to private messaging and the WhatsApp backlash, became the most-downloaded app overall in January 2021, across both app stores and on Google Play. On the App Store, it was No. 4 and TikTok was No. 1.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Streaming Services and Media

  • Apple-owned Shazam adds iOS 14 widgets for the first time, allowing you to quickly ID any song that’s playing and see your history.
  • Spotify adds new playlists, podcasts and takeovers for Black History Month, and creates a new “Black History Is Now” hub in the app.
  • The U.S. version of the Discovery+ mobile app gets more first-month downloads (3.3 million) than HBO Max did (3.1 million), Apptopia found. But it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, as existing HBO NOW users were upgraded to Max.

Health & Fitness

  • The Google Fit app on Pixel devices is getting an update that will allow your phone’s camera to measure pulse and breathing rates.

Productivity

  • Microsoft rebrands its document scanner app Office Lens to Microsoft Lens and adds new features, including Image to Text, an Immersive Reader, a QR Code Scanner and the ability to scan up to 100 pages. Lens also now integrates with Teams, so users can record short videos to be sent through Team chats. Uh, TikTok’s about documents, I guess?

Government & Policy

  • Myanmar’s military government orders telecoms to block Facebook until February 7, following coup. The government, which seized power following an election, said the social network is contributing to instability in the country.
  • TikTok will recheck the age of every user in Italy, following an emergency order from the GPDP issued after the January 22 death of a 10-year-old girl who tried the “blackout challenge” she saw on the app. On February 9, every user will have to go through the TikTok age-gate again.

Funding and M&A

  • Uber buys alcohol delivery service Drizly for $1.1 billion. Drizly’s website and app let users order alcohol in markets across the U.S. but is often hampered by local liquor laws. Gross bookings were up 300% YoY, ahead of the deal.
  • Vivino, a wine recommendation and marketplace app, raises $155 million Series D led by Sweden’s Kinnevik. The app now has 50 million users and data set of 1.5 billion photos of wine labels.
  • Mobile ad platform and games publisher AppLovin acquires Berlin-based mobile ad attribution company Adjust in what’s being reported as a $1 billion deal, but is reportedly less. The deal comes at a time when the ad attribution market is being dramatically altered by Apple’s ATT. Mobile Dev Memo explains the deal will give Applovin visibility into which games and driving conversions for Adjust customers, to benefit its own ad campaigns.
  • Latitude, a startup that uses AI to build storylines for games, raises $3.3 million in seed funding. Its first title is AI Dungeon, an open-ended text adventure game.
  • Chinese social gaming startup Guangzhou Quwan Network Technology raises $100 million Series B from Matrix Partners China and Orchid Asia Group Management. The company provides instant voice messaging, social gaming, esports and game distribution and operates voice chat app TT Voice, which has over 100 million users.
  • Consumer trading app Flink, a sort of Robinhood for the Mexican market, raises $12 million Series A led by Accel.
  • Commuting platform Hip, which offers both an online dashboard and mobile app, raises $12 million led by NFX and Magenta Venture Partners. The app works with bus and shuttle providers to plan routes for commuters and offers COVID-19 tracing services.
  • Bot MD, a Signapore-based app that offers doctors an AI chatbot for looking up important information, raises $5 million Series A led by Monk’s Hill Ventures. The funds will help the app to expand elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and India.
  • Meditation and sleep app Expectful raises $3 million in seed funding for its app aimed at new mothers. The company plans to expand the app to become a broader wellness resource for hopeful, expecting and new parents.
  • Brightwheel, an app that allows preschools, daycare providers and camps to communicate with parents raises $55 million in a round led by Addition, valuing the business at $600+ million. Laurene Powell Jobs’s Emerson Collective and Jeff Weiner’s Next Play Ventures also participated.
  • ELSA, a Google-backed language learning app co-founded in 2015 by Vietnamese entrepreneur Vu Van and engineer Xavier Anguera, raises $15 million a round co-led by Vietnam Investments Group and SIG.
  • Financial super app Djamo gets Y Combinator backing for its solution for consumers in Francophone Africa.
  • Bumble IPO filing sets price range for up to $1B. The dating app makers aims to sell 34.5 million shares at $28 to $30 apiece, valuing the business potentially at $6.46B.

Downloads

Reese’s Book Club

Image Credits: Hello Sunshine Apps

Actress and producer Reese Witherspoon’s media company Hello Sunshine has launched an app for Reese’s Book Club — the book club that focuses on diverse voices where women are the center of their stories. The book club today has nearly 2 million Instagram followers and 38 book picks that made The New York Times bestseller list. Its books have also been adapted into film and TV projects, including Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere,” upcoming Amazon series “Daisy Jones and the Six, Netflix’s “From Scratch,” and forthcoming film “Where the Crawdads Sing.”

The new app lets users keep track of the new monthly picks, browse past selections, join community discussions with fellow readers, hear from authors, compete for prizes and, soon, buy exclusives items that will help fund The Readership, a pay-it-forward platform aimed at amplifying diverse voices and promoting literacy, which may include efforts like installing book nooks in local communities and supporting indie booksellers.

The app is a free download on the App Store and Google Play.

Carrot Weather

Image Credits: Carrot Weather

Everyone’s favorite snarky weather app received a major overhaul toward the end of January, which includes a redesigned interface, new icons, tools to design the UI how you want it (an “interface maker”), new “secret locations” (a fun Easter egg) and more. The app has also switched to a vertical layout that fills the screen with information, which also includes smart cards that bubble up with weather info when it’s needed. Carrot Weather is also now a free download with subscriptions, instead of a paid app.

#app-stores, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #clubhouse, #developers, #google, #mobile, #parler, #privacy, #tc, #this-week-in-apps

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Parler CEO says board fired him for planning to ban “neo-Nazi” groups

Parler leadership is a bit shadowy at the moment.

Enlarge / Parler leadership is a bit shadowy at the moment. (credit: Pavlo Gonchar | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images)

Parler co-founder and CEO John Matze, who helmed the company through its explosive 2020 growth and even more explosive 2021 deplatforming, has reportedly been fired.

The company board ousted the former executive last Friday, The Wall Street Journal was first to report. In a statement, Matze said he “met constant resistance” to his “product vision,” his “strong belief in free speech,” and his view of how Parler should be run, adding that he advocated for “more product stability and what I believe is a more effective approach to content moderation.” Matze claimed to have been within “days” of bringing Parler back online at the time he was ousted.

Matze’s original approach to content moderation—i.e., not having any—is what landed Parler in hot water last month and resulted in it eventually being kicked off the entire Internet.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#john-matze, #parler, #policy, #politics

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This Week in Apps: TikTok viral hit breaks Spotify records, inauguration boosts news app installs, judge rules against Parler

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.

Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week, we’re looking into how President Biden’s inauguration impacted news apps, the latest in the Parler lawsuit, and how TikTok’s app continues to shape culture, among other things.

Top Stories

Judge says Amazon doesn’t have to host Parler on AWS

logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler

Logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler. Image Credits: TechCrunch

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle this week ruled that Amazon won’t be required to restore access to web services to Parler. As you may recall, Parler sued Amazon for booting it from AWS’ infrastructure, effectively forcing it offline. Like Apple and Google before it, Amazon had decided that the calls for violence that were being spread on Parler violated its terms of service. It also said that Parler showed an “unwillingness and inability” to remove dangerous posts that called for the rape, torture and assassination of politicians, tech executives and many others, the AP reported.

Amazon’s decision shouldn’t have been a surprise for Parler. Amazon had reported 98 examples of Parler posts that incited violence over the past several weeks before its decision. It told Parler these were clear violations of the terms of service.

Parler’s lawsuit against Amazon, however, went on to claim breach of contract and even made antitrust allegations.

The judge shot down Parler’s claims that Amazon and Twitter were colluding over the decision to kick the app off AWS. Parler’s claims over breach of contract were denied, too, as the contract had never said Amazon had to give Parler 30 days to fix things. (Not to mention the fact that Parler breached the contract on its side, too.) It also said Parler had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction to restore access to Amazon’s web services.

The ruling only blocks Parler from forcing Amazon to again host it as the lawsuit proceeds, but is not the final ruling in the overall case, which is continuing.

TikTok drives another pop song to No. 1 on Billboard charts, breaks Spotify’s record

@livbedumb♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

We already knew TikTok was playing a large role in influencing music charts and listening behavior. For example, Billboard last year noted how TikTok drove hits from Sony artists like Doja Cat (“Say So”) and 24kGoldn (“Mood”), and helped Sony discover new talent. Columbia also signed viral TikTok artists like Lil Nas X, Powfu, StaySolidRocky, Jawsh 685, Arizona Zervas and 24kGoldn. Meanwhile, Nielsen has said that no other app had helped break more songs in 2020 than TikTok.

This month, we’ve witnessed yet another example of this phenomenon. Olivia Rodrigo, the 17-year-old star of Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical: the Series” released her latest song, “Drivers License” on January 8. The pop ballad and breakup anthem is believed to be referencing the actress’ relationship with co-star Joshua Bassett, which gave the song even more appeal to fans.

Upon its release the song was heavily streamed by TikTok users, which helped make it an overnight sensation of sorts. According to a report by The WSJ, Billboard counted 76.1 million streams and 38,000 downloads in the U.S. during the week of its release. It also made a historic debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100, becoming the first smash hit of 2021.

On January 11, “Drivers License” broke Spotify’s record for most streams per day (for a non-holiday song) with 15.17 million global streams. On TikTok, meanwhile, the number of videos featuring the song and the views they received doubled every day, The WSJ said.

Charli D’Amelio’s dance to it on the app has now generated 5 million “Likes” across nearly 33 million views, as of the time of writing.

@charlidamelio♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

Of course, other TikTok hits have broken out in the past, too — even reaching No. 1 like “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd) and “Mood” (24kGoldn). But the success of “Drivers License” may be in part due to the way it focuses on a subject that’s more relevant to TikTok’s young, teenage user base. It talks about first loves and being dumped for the other girl. And its title and opening refer to a time many adults have forgotten: the momentous day when you get your driver’s license. It’s highly relatable to the TikTok crowd who fully embraced it and made it a hit.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple stops signing iOS 12.5, making iOS 12.5.1 the only versions of iOS available to older devices.
  • A report claims Apple’s iOS 15 update will cut support for devices with an A9 chip, like the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s Plus and the original iPhone SE.
  • New analysis estimates Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes will cause a roughly 7% revenue hit for Facebook in Q2. The revenue hit will continue in following quarters and will be “material.”

Platforms: Google

  • Google adds “trending” icons to the Play Store. New arrow icons appeared in the Top Charts tab, which indicate whether an app’s downloads are trending up or down, in terms of popularity. This could provide an early signal about those that may still be rising in the charts or beginning to fall out of favor, despite their current high position.
  • Google appears to be working on a Restricted Networking mode for Android 12. The mode, discovered by XDA Developers digging in the Android Open Source Project, would disable network access for all third-party apps.

Gaming

  • Goama (or Go Games) introduced a way for developers to integrate social games into their apps, which was showcased at CES. The company focuses on Asia and Latin America and has more than 15 partners, including GCash and Rappi, for digital payments and communications.
  • Fortnite maker Epic Games is getting into movies. The animated feature film Gilgamesh will use Epic’s Unreal Engine technology to tell the story of the king-turned-deity. The movie is not an in-house project, but rather is financed through Epic’s $100M MegaGrants fund.

Augmented Reality

  • Patents around Apple’s AR and VR efforts describe how a system could be identified in a way that’s similar to FaceID, then either permitted or denied the ability to change their appearance in the game.
  • Pinterest launches AR try-on for eyeshadow in its mobile app using Lens technology and ModiFace data. The app already offered AR try-on for lipsticks.

Entertainment

  • The CW app became the No. 1 app on the App Store this week, topping TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, thanks to CW’s season premieres of Batwoman, All American, Riverdale and Nancy Drew.
  • Users of podcasting app Anchor, owned by Spotify, say the app isn’t bringing them any sponsorship opportunities, as promised, beyond those from Spotify and Anchor itself.
  • YouTube launches hashtag landing pages on the web and in its mobile app. The pages are accessible when you click hashtags on YouTube, not via search, and weirdly rank the “best” videos through some inscrutable algorithm.
  • Apple’s Podcasts app adds a new editorial feature, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, meant to increase podcast listening by showcasing the best podcasts as selected by Apple editors.

E-commerce

  • WeChat facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs” in 2020. The figure is more than double that of 2019.

Fintech

  • Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, launched an e-wallet, Douyin Pay. The wallet will supplement the existing payment options, Alipay and WeChat Pay, and will help to support the Douyin app’s growing e-commerce business.
  • Neobank Monzo founder Tom Blomfield left the startup, saying he struggled during the pandemic. “I think [for] a lot of people in the world…going through a pandemic, going through lockdown and the isolation involved in that has an impact on people’s mental health,” he told TechCrunch.
  • New estimates indicate about 50% of the iPhone user base (or 507 million users) now use Apple Pay. 
  • Samsung’s newest phones drop support for MST, which emulates a mag stripe at terminals that don’t support NFC.

Social

  • Indian messaging app, StickerChat, owned by Hike, is shutting down. Founder Kavin Bharti Mittal said India will never have a homegrown messenger unless it bars Western companies from its market. Hike pivoted this month to virtual social apps, Vibe and Rush, which it believes have more potential.
  • Instagram head Adam Mosseri, in a Verge podcast, said he’s not happy with Reels so far, and how he feels most people probably don’t understand the difference between Instagram video and IGTV. He says the social network needs to simplify and consolidate ideas.
  • Facebook and Instagram improve their accessibility features. The apps’ AI-generated image captions now offer far more details about who or what is in the photos, thanks to improvements in image recognition systems.
  • TikTok launches a Q&A feature that lets creators respond to fan questions using text or videos. The feature, rolled out to select creators with more than 10,000 followers, makes it easier to see all the questions in one place.

Health & Fitness

  • Health and fitness app spending jumped 70% last year in Europe to record $544 million, a Sensor Tower report says. The year-over-year increase is far larger than 2019, when growth was just 37.2%. COVID-19 played a large role in this shift as people turned to fitness apps instead of gyms to stay in shape.

Government & Policy

  • Biden’s inauguration boosted installs of U.S. news apps up to 170%, Sensor Tower reported. CNN was the biggest mover, climbing 530 positions to reach No. 41 on the App Store, and up 170% in terms of downloads. News Break was the second highest, climbing 13 positions to No. 65. Right-wing outlet Newsmax climbed 43 spots to reach No. 108. In 2020, the top news apps were: News Break (23.7 million installs); SmartNews (9 million); CNN (5 million); and Fox News (4 million). This month, however, News Break saw 1.2 million installs, followed by Newsmax with about 863,000 installs, the report said.
  • Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) sent a draft decision to fellow EU Data Protection Authorities over the WhatsApp-Facebook data sharing policy. This means a decision on the matter is coming closer to a resolution in terms of what standards of transparency is required by WhatsApp.
  • German app developer Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents filed a complaint with the EU, U.S. DOJ and other antitrust watchdogs around the world over Apple and Google’s rejection of his COVID-related mobile game. Both stores had policies to only approve official COVID-19 apps from health authorities. Mueller renamed the game Viral Days and removed references to the novel coronavirus to get the app approved. However, he still feels the stores’ rules are holding back innovation.

Productivity

  • Basecamp’s Hey, which famously fought back against Apple’s App Store rules over IAP last year, has launched a business-focused platform, Hey for Work, expected to be public in Q1. The app has more App Store ratings than rival Superhuman, a report found. Currently, Hey has a 4.7-star rating across 3.3K reviews; Superhuman has 3.9 rating across only 274 reviews.

Trends

  • Baby boomers are increasingly using apps. Baby boomers/Gen Xers in the U.S. spent 30% more time year-over-year in their most used apps, App Annie reports. That’s a larger increase than either Millennials or Gen Z, at 18% and 16%, respectively.

Funding and M&A

  • Curtsy, a clothing resale app for Gen Z women, raised an $11 million Series A led by Index Ventures. The app tackles some of the problems with online resale by sending shipping supplies and labels to sellers, and by making the marketplace accessible to new and casual sellers.
  • Storytelling platform Wattpad acquired by South Korea’s Naver for $600 million. The reading apps whose stories have turned into book and Netflix hits will be incorporated into Naver’s publishing platform Webtoon.
  • On-demand delivery app Glovo partnered with Swiss-based real estate firm, Stoneweg, which is investing €100 million in building and refurbishing real estate in key markets to build out Glovo’s network of “dark stores.”
  • Pocket Casts app is up for sale. The podcast app was acquired nearly three years ago by a public radio consortium of top podcast producers (NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago and This American Life). The owners have now agreed to sell the app, which posted a net loss in 2020. (NPR’s share of the loss was over $800,000.)
  • Travel app Maps.me raised $50 million in a round led by Alameda Research. The funding will go toward the launch of a multi-currency wallet. Cryptocurrency lender Genesis Capital and institutional cryptocurrency firm CMS Holdings also participated in the round, Coindesk reported.
  • Bangalore-based hyperlocal delivery app Dunzo raised $40 million in a round that included investment from Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada and Alteria.
  • London-based food delivery app Deliveroo raised $180 million in new funding from existing investors, led by Durable Capital Partners and Fidelity Management, valuing the business at more than $7 billion.
  • Dating Group acquired Swiss startup Once, a dating app that sends one match per day, for $18 million.

Downloads

Bodyguard

Image Credits: Bodyguard

A French content moderation app called Bodyguard, detailed here by TechCrunch, has brought its service to the English-speaking market. The app allows you to choose the level of content moderation you want to see on top social networks, like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch. You can choose to hide toxic content across a range of categories, like insults, body shaming, moral harassment, sexual harassment, racism and homophobia and indicate whether the content is a low or high priority to block.

Beeper

Image Credits: Beeper

Pebble’s founder and current YC Partner Eric Migicovsky has launched a new app, Beeper, that aims to centralize in one interface 15 different chat apps, including iMessage. The app relies on an open-source federated, encrypted messaging protocol called Matrix that uses “bridges” to connect to the various networks to move the messages. However, iMessage support is more wonky, as the company actually ships you an old iPhone to make the connection to the network. But this system allows you to access Beeper on non-Apple devices, the company says. The app is slowly onboarding new users due to initial demand. The app works across MacOS, Windows, Linux‍, iOS and Android and charges $10/mo for the service.

 

#actress, #adam-mosseri, #alipay, #alteria, #amazon, #amazon-web-services, #android, #app-developer, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #arkansas, #asia, #bangalore, #biden, #bodyguard, #columbia, #computing, #data-protection-commission, #dating-group, #disney, #doj, #driver, #durable-capital-partners, #e-commerce, #epic-games, #eric-migicovsky, #europe, #european-union, #fidelity-management, #food, #fox-news, #glovo, #google, #hana-financial-investment, #india, #instagram, #iphone, #ireland, #itunes, #judge, #latin-america, #linux, #london, #macos, #microsoft-windows, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-devices, #netflix, #operating-systems, #parler, #pinterest, #play-store, #president, #real-estate, #seattle, #sensor-tower, #social-network, #social-networks, #software, #sony, #south-korea, #spotify, #stoneweg, #superhuman, #this-american-life, #tiktok, #tom-blomfield, #twitch, #twitter, #united-states, #wattpad, #web-services, #wnyc

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Parler’s attempt to get back on Amazon Web Services rejected by judge

3D Amazon logo hangs from a convention center ceiling.

Enlarge / Amazon Web Services (AWS) logo displayed during the 4th edition of the Viva Technology show at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on May 17, 2019, in Paris, France. (credit: Chesnot | Getty Images)

A federal judge today rejected Parler’s motion for a preliminary injunction against Amazon Web Services (AWS), scuttling the social network’s attempt to quickly get back onto Amazon’s Web-hosting platform.

Parler, which bills itself as a conservative alternative to Twitter, had asked for a court order requiring Amazon to reinstate its Web-hosting service pending a full trial. But “Parler has fallen far short… of demonstrating, as it must, that it has raised serious questions going to the merits of its claims,” and it has failed to prove “that the balance of equities tips in its favor, let alone strongly so; or that the public interests lie in granting the injunction,” said the ruling by Judge Barbara Jacobs Rothstein in US District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Parler could still prevail in the case, but it won’t be reinstated to Amazon’s service in the meantime. Parler accused Amazon of conspiracy in restraint of trade, in violation of the Sherman Act; breach of contract; and tortious interference with business expectancy.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#amazon-web-services, #parler, #policy

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Judge denies Parler’s bid to make Amazon restore service

A federal judge has denied an attempt by conservative social network Parler to force Amazon to host it on AWS. As expected by most who read Parler’s ramshackle legal arguments, the court found nothing in the lawsuit that could justify intervention, only “faint and factually inaccurate speculation.”

In the order, filed in the Western Washington U.S. District Court, Judge Barbara Rothstein explained how little Parler actually brought to the table to support its allegations that Amazon and Twitter were engaged in antitrust collusion and that AWS had broken its contract.

On the question of antitrust, Parler fell far short of demonstrating anything at all, let alone collusion in breach of the Sherman Act.

The evidence it has submitted in support of the claim is both dwindlingly slight, and disputed by AWS. Importantly, Parler has submitted no evidence that AWS and Twitter acted together intentionally — or even at all — in restraint of trade.

…Indeed, Parler has failed to do more than raise the specter of preferential treatment of Twitter by AWS.

Amazon had explained in its filing that not only does AWS not even host Twitter yet, though there are plans to do so, but that there are strict rules in place to prevent discussing one client with another. This was more than enough to dispute Parler’s flimsy claim, Rothstein noted.

On breach of contract, Parler had in the course of its argument essentially admitted to breach of contract on its end, but said that Amazon had broken its side of the bargain by not giving it 30 days to fix the problem as stipulated in the customer service agreement (CSA) at Section 7.2(b)(i). Turns out that doesn’t even matter:

Parler fails to acknowledge, let alone dispute, that Section 7.2(b)(ii) — the provision immediately following — authorizes AWS to terminate the Agreement “immediately upon notice” and without providing any opportunity to cure…

So the 30 day agreement was never in play if Amazon didn’t want it to be; one imagines that the clause is for less immediately concerning causes for action. Contract breach argument denied.

Parler’s allegation that Amazon was “motivated by political animus” likewise holds no water, according to the judge.

Parler has failed to allege basic facts that would support several elements of this claim. Most fatally, as discussed above, it has failed to raise more than the scantest speculation that AWS’s actions were taken for an improper purpose or by improper means… To the contrary, the evidence at this point suggests that AWS’s termination of the CSA was in response to Parler’s material breach.

The company also made the argument that it would suffer “irreparable harm” if AWS services were not restored, and in fact Rothstein had no reason to doubt Parler’s claims that it may face “extinction” as a result of these circumstances. Except that “Parler’s claims to irreparable harm are substantially diminished by its admission ‘that much of that harm would be compensable by damages.’ ”

In other words, money would fix it — which means it isn’t exactly irreparable.

On other legalities and technicalities, Rothstein finds that Parler makes no case or that Amazon’s case is much stronger — for instance, that being forced to host violent and hateful content would damage AWS’s reputation, perhaps even irreparably.

As is important to note in cases like this, the judge is not ruling on the merits of the whole case, only on the arguments and evidence presented in the request for an injunction to restore services while the case proceeds.

“To be clear, the Court is not dismissing Parler’s substantive underlying claims at this time” — which is to say that it is not dismissing the substance of the claims, not asserting that they have substance. But Parler “has fallen far short” of demonstrating what it needs to in order to justify a legal intervention of that type.

The case will proceed to its next date, if indeed Parler has not faced the “extinction” it warned of by then.

Rothstein Order on Parler i… by TechCrunch

#amazon, #aws, #lawsuit, #parler

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Parler seems to be sliding back onto the Internet, but not onto mobile

The bright screen of a notebook computer illuminates the face of the person using it.

Enlarge / A person browsing Parler in early January, back when it had content up other than vague promises to overcome being thrown off the whole Internet and return louder than ever. (credit: Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images)

Right-wing social media platform Parler, which has been offline since Amazon Web Services dropped it like a hot potato last week, has reappeared on the Web with a promise to return as a fully functional service “soon.”

Although the platform’s Android and iOS apps are still defunct, this weekend its URL once again began to resolve to an actual website instead of an error notice. The site at the moment consists solely of the homepage, which has a message from company CEO John Matze.

“Now seems like the right time to remind you all—both lovers and haters—why we started this platform,” the message reads. “We believe privacy is paramount and free speech essential, especially on social media. Our aim has always been to provide a nonpartisan public square where individuals can enjoy and exercise their rights to both. We will resolve any challenge before us and plan to welcome all of you back soon. We will not let civil discourse perish!”

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ddos-guard, #deplatforming, #epik, #extremism, #gab, #parler, #policy, #social-media

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This Week in Apps: Parler deplatformed, alt apps rise, looking back at 2020 trends

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.

Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

Top Stories

The right-wing gets deplatformed

Last weekend, Google and Apple removed Parler from their respective app stores, the latter after first giving the app 24 hours to come up with a new moderation strategy to address the threats of violence and illegal activity taking place on the app in the wake of the Capitol riot. When Parler failed to take adequate measures, the app was pulled down.

What happened afterwards was unprecedented. All of Parler’s technology backend services providers pulled support for Parler, too, including Amazon AWS (which has led to a lawsuit), Stripe and even Okta, which Parler was only using as a free trial. Other vendors also refused to do business with the app, potentially ending its ability to operate for good.

But although Parler is down, its data lives on. Several efforts have been made to archive Parler data for posterity — and for tipping off the FBI. Gizmodo made a map using the GPS data of 70,000 Parler posts. Another effort, Y’all Qaeda, is also using location data to map videos from Parler to locations around the Capitol building.

These visualizations are possible because the data itself was quickly archived by internet archivist @donk_enby before Parler was taken down, and because Parler stored rich metadata with each user’s post. That means each user’s precise location was recorded when they uploaded their photos and videos to the app.

It’s a gold mine for investigators and a further indication of the privilege these rioters believed they had to avoid prosecution or the extent to which they were willing to throw their life away for their cause — the false reality painted for them by Trump, his allies and other outlets that repeated the “big lie” until they truly believed only a revolution could save our democracy.

The move to kick Parler offline followed the broader deplatforming of Trump, who’s accused of inciting the violence, in part by his refusal to concede and his continued lies about a “rigged election.” As a result, Trump has been deplatformed across social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, YouTube, Reddit, Discord and Snapchat, while e-commerce platform Shopify kicked out Trump merch shops and PayPal refused to process transactions for some groups of Trump supporters.

Alternative social apps post gains following Capitol riot

Parler was the most high-profile app used by the Capitol rioters, but others found themselves compromised by the same crowd. Walkie-talkie app Zello, for instance, was used by some insurrectionists during the January 6 riot to communicate. Telegram, meanwhile, recently had to block dozens of hardcore hate channels that were threatening violence, including those led by Nazis (which were reported for years with no action by the company, some claim).

Now, many in the radical right are moving to new platforms outside of the mainstream. Immediately following the Capitol riot, MeWe, CloutHub and other privacy-focused rivals to big tech began topping the app stores, alongside the privacy-focused messengers Signal and Telegram. YouTube alternative Rumble also gained ground due to recent events. Right-wingers even mistakenly downloaded the wrong “Parlor” app and a local newspaper app they thought was the uncensored social network Gab. (They’re not always the brightest bulbs.)

This could soon prove to be another difficult situation for the platforms to address, as we already came across highly concerning posts distributed on MeWe, which had used extreme hate speech or threatened violence. MeWe claims it moderates its content, but its recent growth to now 15 million users may be making that difficult — especially since it’s inheriting the former Parler users, including the radical far-right. The company has not been able to properly moderate the content, which may make it the next to be gone.

2020 annual review

App Annie this week released its annual review of the mobile app industry finding (as noted above) that mobile app downloads grew by 7% year-over-year to a record 218 billion in 2020. Consumer spending also grew by 20% to also hit a new milestone of $143 billion, led by markets that included China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom. Consumers spent 3.5 trillion minutes on Android devices in 2020. Meanwhile, U.S. users now spend more time in apps (four hours) than watching live TV (3.7 hours).

The full report examines other key trends across social, gaming, finance, e-commerce, video and streaming, mobile food ordering, business apps, edtech and much more. We pulled out some highlights here, such as TikTok’s chart-topping year by downloads, the rise in livestreamed and social shopping, consumers spending 40% more time streaming on mobile YoY and other key trends.

Sensor Tower also released its own annual report, which specifically explored the impact of COVID-19; the growth in business apps, led by Zoom; mobile gaming; and the slow recovery of travel apps, among other things.

Samsung reveals its new flagships

Image Credits: Samsung

Though not “apps” news per se, it’s worth making note of what’s next in the Android ecosystem of high-end devices. This week was Samsung’s Unpacked press event, where the company revealed its latest flagship devices and other products. The big news was Samsung’s three new phones and their now lower prices: the glass-backed Galaxy S21 ($799) and S21 Plus ($999), and the S21 Ultra ($1,199), which is S Pen compatible.

The now more streamlined camera systems are the key feature of the new phones, and include:

  • S21 and S21 Plus: A 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12-megapixel wide and 64-megapixel telephoto with 30x space zoom.
  • S21 Ultra: A 12-megapixel ultra-wide, 108-megapixel wide and, for the first time, a dual-telephoto lens system with 3x and 10x optical zoom. The Ultra also improves low-light shooting with its Bright Night sensor.

The devices support UWB and there’s a wild AI-powered photo feature that lets you tap to remove people from the background of your photos. (How well it works is TBD). Other software imaging updates allow you to pull stills from 8K shooting, better image stabilization and a new “Vlogger view” for shooting from front and back cameras as the same time.

Also launched were Samsung’s AirPods rival, the Galaxy Buds Pro, and its Tile rival, the Galaxy SmartTag.

 

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple releases second iOS 14.2 developer beta. The update brings improvements to the HomePod mini handoff experience and an update to the Find My app to ready it for supporting third-party accessories.
  • Apple will soon allow third-parties to join the Find My app ahead of its AirTags launch. Tile had argued before regulators last year that Apple was giving itself first-party advantage with AirTags in Find My. Apple subsequently launched the Find My Accessory Program to begin certifying third-party products. AirTags’ existence was also leaked again this week.
  • Apple is working to bring its Music and Podcasts apps to the Microsoft Store.
  • Apple may be working on a podcast subscription service, per The Information.

Platforms: Google

  • Google appears to be working on an app hibernation feature for Android 12. The feature would hibernate unused apps to free up space.
  • Google pulls several personal loan apps from the Play Store in India. The company said several of the apps had been targeting vulnerable borrowers, then abusing them and using other extreme tactics when they couldn’t pay. Critics say Google took too long to respond to the outcry, which has already prompted suicides. Police have also frozen bank accounts holding $58 million for alleged scams conducted through 30 apps, none of which had approval from India’s central bank.

Gaming

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

  • 48,000 mobile games were purged from the China App Store in December 2020, reports Sensor Tower. The games removed in 2020 for not having acquired the proper Chinese gaming license, had generated nearly $3 billion in lifetime revenue.
  • The top grossing mobile game in December 2020 was Honor of Kings with $258 million in player spending, up 58% year-over-year, according to Sensor Tower. PUBG Mobile was No. 2. followed by Genshin Impact.
  • Among Us was the most downloaded mobile game in December 2020, per Apptopia. with an estimated 48 million new downloads in the month, most through Google Play.
  • Epic Games demands Fortnite to be reinstated on the App Store, in a U.K. legal filing. The game maker is engaged in multiple lawsuits over the “Apple tax.”

Security

  • Amazon’s Ring app exposed users’ home addresses. Amazon says there’s no evidence the security flaw had been exploited by anyone.
  • New research details how law enforcements gets into iOS and Android smartphones and cloud backups of their data.

Privacy

  • Signal’s Brian Acton says recent outrage over WhatsApp’s terms are driving installs of the private messaging app. Third-party data indicates Signal has around 20 million MAUs as of December 2020. The app also saw a surge due to the U.S. Capitol riots, with 7.5 million downloads from January 6-10.
  • Telegram user base in India was up 110% in 2020. The app now has 115 million MAUs in India, which could allow it to better compete with WhatsApp.
  • Privacy concerns are also driving sign-ups for encrypted email providers, ProtonMail and Tutanota. The former reports a 3x rise in recent weeks, while the latter said usage has doubled size WhatsApp released its new T&Cs.
  • FTC settled with period-tracking app Flo for sharing user health data with third-party analytics and marketing services, when it had promised to keep data private. The app must now obtain user consent and will be subject to an independent review of its practices.
  • FTC settled with Ever, the maker of a photo storage app that had pivoted to selling facial recognition services. The company used the photos it collected to train facial recognition algorithms. It’s been order to delete that data and all face embeddings derived from photos without user consent.
  • Muslim prayer app Salaat First (Prayer Times) was found to be recording and selling user location info to a data broker. The firm collecting the data had been linked to a supply chain that involved a U.S. government contractor who worked with ICE, Customs and Border Protection, and the FBI.
  • TikTok changed the privacy settings and defaults for users under 18. Children 13-15 will have private accounts by default. Other restrictions apply on features like commenting, Dueting, Stitching and more for all under 18. TikTok also partnered with Common Sense Networks to help it curate age-appropriate content for users under 13.

Government & Policy

  • Italy’s data protection agency, the GPDP, said it contacted the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) to raise concerns over WhatsApp’s requirement for users to accept its updated T&Cs to continue to use the service. The law requires that users are informed of each specific use of their data and given a choice as to whether their data is processed. The new in-app notification doesn’t make the changes clear nor allow that option.
  • Turkey starts an antitrust investigation into Facebook and WhatsApp. The investigation was prompted by WhatsApp’s new Terms of Service, effective February 8, which allows data sharing with Facebook.
  • WhatsApp then delayed its T&C changes, as a result.

Health & Fitness

  • Google this week fixed an issue with its Android Exposure Notification System that’s used by COVID-19 tracking apps. The impacted apps took longer to load and carry out their exposure checks.

Edtech

  • Amazon makes an education push in India with JEE preparation app. The company launched Amazon Academy, a service that will help students in India prepare for the Joint Entrance Examinations (JEE), a government-backed entrance assessment for admission into various engineering colleges.

Funding and M&A (and IPOs)

  • PayPal acquired the 30% stake it didn’t already own in China’s GoPay, making it the first foreign firm in China with full ownership of its payments business.
  • Therapy app Talkspace will go public through a $1.4 billion merger with SPAC Hudson Executive Investment Corp.
  • Snap acquired location data startup StreetCred. The team will join the company and work on maps and location-related products for Snapchat.
  • BlaBla raised $1.5 million for its language-learning app that teaches English using TikTok-like videos. The startup, a participant in Y Combinator’s 2020 summer batch, had previously applied to YC seven times. Other investors include Amino Capital, Starling Ventures and Wayra X.
  • Poshmark, the online and mobile app for reselling clothing, IPO’d and closed up more than 140% on day one.
  • Dating app Bumble also filed to go public. The company claims 42 million MAUs, with 2.4 million paying users through the first nine months of 2020. It lost $117 million on $417 million in revenue during that time.
  • Blog platform Medium acquired Paris-based Glose, a mobile app that lets you buy and read books on mobile devices.
  • Indonesian investment app Ajaib raised $25 million Series A led by Horizons Venture and Alpha JWC. Inspired by Robinhood, the app offers low-fee stock trading and access to mutual funds.
  • Mailchimp acquired Chatitive, a B2B messaging startup that helps businesses reach customers over text messages.
  • Chinese fitness app Keep raised $360 million Series F led by SoftBank Vision Fund. The six-year-old startup that allows fitness influencers to host live classes over video is now valued at $2 billion.
  • Google finalized Fitbit acquisition. Google confirmed it will allow Fitbit users to continue to connect with third-party services and said the health data will be kept separate and not used for ads.
  • On-demand U.K. supermarket Weezy raised $20 million Series A for its Postmates-like app that delivers groceries in as fast as 15 minutes, on average.

Downloads

Bandsintown

COVID has cancelled concerts, which required Bandsintown to pivot from helping people find shows to attend to a new subscription service for live music. The company this week launched Bandsintown Plus, a $9.99 per month pass that gives users access to more than 25 concerts per month. The shows offered are exclusive to the platform, and not available on other sites like YouTube, Twitch, Apple Music or Spotify.

Piñata Farms

Image Credits: Piñata Farms

This new social video app lets you put anyone or anything into an existing video to make humorous video memes. The computer vision-powered app lets you do things like crop out a head from a photo, for example, or use thousands of in-app items to add to your existing video. The resulting creations can be shared in the app, privately through messaging or out to other social platforms. Available on iOS only.

Capture App

Image Credits: Numbers Protocol

This new blockchain camera app, reviewed here on TechCrunch, uses tech commercialized by the Taiwan-based startup, Numbers Protocol. The app secures the metadata associated with photos you take on the blockchain, also allowing users to adjust privacy settings if they don’t want to share a precise location. Any subsequent changes to the photo are then traced and recorded. Use cases for the technology include journalism (plus combating fake news), as well as a way for photographers to assure their photos are attributed correctly. The app is available on the App Store and Google Play.

Marsbot for AirPods

Image Credits: Foursquare Labs, Inc.

A new experiment from Foursquare Labs, Marsbot, offers an audio guide to your city. As you walk or bike around, the app gives you running commentary about the places around you using data from Foursquare, other content providers and snippets from other app users. The app is also optimized for AirPods, making it iOS-only.

Loupe

Image Credits: Loupe

Loupe is a new app that modernizes sports card collecting. The app allows users to participate in daily box breaks, host their own livestreams with chats, collect alongside fellow collectors and purchase new sports card singles, packs and boxes when they hit the market, among other things. The app is available on iOS.

 

#android, #android-apps, #app-stores, #apple, #apps, #capitol-riot, #developers, #google, #ios, #ios-apps, #mobile, #mobile-apps, #parler, #tc, #this-week-in-apps

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Parler CEO admits site may never recover from Amazon ban

Parler CEO admits site may never recover from Amazon ban

Enlarge (credit: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Parler may never recover from being banned by Amazon and a number of other technology companies, CEO John Matze told Reuters in a Wednesday interview.

“I am an optimist,” he said at one point in the conversation. “It may take days, it may take weeks but Parler will return and when we do we will be stronger.”

But at another point in the conversation, he acknowledged, “It could be never. We don’t know yet.”

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#hate-speech, #january-6, #parler, #policy

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Filing: Amazon warned Parler for months about “more than 100” violent threats

3D logo hangs from a convention center ceiling.

Enlarge / Amazon Web Services (AWS) logo displayed during the 4th edition of the Viva Technology show at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on May 17, 2019, in Paris, France. (credit: Chesnot | Getty Images)

Amazon on Tuesday brought receipts in its response to seemingly defunct social networking platform Parler’s lawsuit against it, detailing AWS’ repeated efforts to get Parler to address explicit threats of violence posted to the service.

In the wake of the violent insurrection at the US Capitol last Wednesday, AWS kicked Parler off its Web-hosting platform at midnight Sunday evening. In response, Parler filed a lawsuit accusing Amazon of breaking a contract for political reasons and colluding with Twitter to drive a competitor offline.

But the ban has nothing to do with “stifling viewpoints” or a “conspiracy” to restrain a competitor, Amazon said in its response filing (PDF). Instead, Amazon said, “This case is about Parler’s demonstrated unwillingness and inability” to remove actively dangerous content, including posts that incite and plan “the rape, torture, and assassination of named public officials and private citizens… AWS suspended Parler’s account as a last resort to prevent further access to such content, including plans for violence to disrupt the impending Presidential transition.”

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#amazon, #antitrust, #aws, #insurrection, #lawsuits, #parler, #policy, #section-230, #sedition

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Parler’s amateur coding could come back to haunt Capitol Hill rioters

Parler?

Enlarge / Parler? (credit: Getty Images)

By now, you may have heard of the hacker who says she scraped 99 percent of posts from Parler, the Twitter-wannabe site used by Trump supporters to help organize last Wednesday’s violent insurrection on Capitol Hill. What you may not know yet is the abysmal coding and security that made the scraping so easy.

To recap, the scraping was pulled off by a hacker who goes by the handle donk_enby. She originally set out to archive content posted to Parler last Wednesday in hopes of preserving self-incriminating material before account holders came to their senses and deleted it. By Sunday, donk_enby said she had collected roughly 80 terabytes of posts, including more than 1 million videos, many of which contained the GPS metadata identifying the exact locations of where the videos were shot.

“For the journalists DMing me to ask, in non-technical terms, I’d describe the current Parler archival situation as ‘a bunch of people running into a burning building trying to grab as many things as we can,’” donk_enby wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “Things will be available in a more accessible form later.”

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #capitol, #parler, #policy, #tech

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Amazon is removing products promoting the QAnon conspiracy

Amazon has begun the process of removing QAnon-related products from its platform.

A spokesperson for the company said that the process may take a few days. Any sellers that attempt to evade the company’s systems and list products will be subject to action, including a blanket selling ban across Amazon stores.

News of the ban was first reported by The New York Times.

The company is shutting down the nation’s newest favorite conspiracy theory by removing products sold by QAnon adherents from its platform after supporters were prominently on display at the riot in the nation’s Capitol last week.

Amazon’s ban of Q-related products follows the company’s decision to remove Parler from its web servers and cloud services platform.

The ban applies to any self-published books that promote QAnon or any clothing, posters, stickers, or other merchandise related to the Q conspiracy theory.

Amazon has policies that prohibit products that “promote, incite, or glorify hate or violence toward any person or group,” the company said.

A cursory search of the company’s platform on Monday revealed that the ban isn’t being applied to all of the Q-related products for sale.

Seven pages of Q-related products were surfaced under the search for “WWG1WGA” an acronym for the Q-related phrase, “Where we go one, we go all.”

The widely discredited Q conspiracy theory was born from a stew of different conspiracy theories that emerged from the 4chan message boards back in 2017.

Since its emergence, the conspiracy theory has grabbed the attention of conservative activists, and its supporters were highly visible among the group of rioters that stormed the Capitol building last week — even as at least one Q-believer joined Congress the same week.

Amazon’s decision to ban the sale of Q-related goods comes many, many, many years after the movement was first linked to violence, as TechCrunch previously reported.

Criminal acts committed by believers have included the fatal shooting a mob boss in Staten Island and blocking the Hoover Dam bridge in an armed standoff.

The conspiracy’s followers have also interfered with legitimate child safety efforts by hijacking the hashtag #savethechildren, and exporting their extreme ideas into mainstream conversation under the guise of helping children. Facebook, which previously banned QAnonlimited the hashtag’s reach in late 2020 because of the interference.

#amazon, #articles, #congress, #deception, #facebook, #fake-news, #parler, #qanon, #tc, #united-states, #web-servers

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Daily Crunch: Parler sues Amazon after going offline

Platforms and infrastructure providers dump Parler, Microsoft unveils a new Surface and a Chinese fitness app raises $360 million. This is your Daily Crunch for January 11, 2021.

The big story: Parler sues Amazon after going offline

President Donald Trump has found himself banned from most of the major social media and internet platforms, with companies pointing to his role in inciting the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol last week, as well as his continuing statements expressing support for the rioters.

Right-wing social network Parler might seem like an obvious beneficiary of those bans, but the app itself has come under scrutiny — Apple and Google removed it from their respective app stores for failing to moderate comments calling for violent or criminal behavior, and Amazon Web Services followed suit, resulting in the social network going offline.

In response, Parler sued Amazon over alleged antitrust issues. Meanwhile, alternative social media and messenger apps have suddenly become much more popular.

The tech giants

Microsoft’s latest business-focused Surface is focused on remote work — Pricing for the Surface Pro 7+ starts at $899 for the Wi-Fi version and $1,149 for LTE.

Snap acquires location data startup StreetCred — Four StreetCred team members are joining Snap, where they’ll be working on map and location-related products.

Samsung’s upcycling program is designed to give new life to old tech — Samsung says the program “reimagines the lifecycle of an older Galaxy phone and offers consumers options on how they might be able to repurpose their device to create a variety of convenient IoT tools.”

Startups, funding and venture capital

Vision Fund backs Chinese fitness app Keep in $360M round — The latest fundraise values the six-year-old startup at about $2 billion post-money.

Revolut applies for UK banking license — It’s hard to believe that fintech startup Revolut doesn’t already have a proper banking license in its home country.

Orange spins out Orange Ventures with $430M allocation — With this new corporate structure, Orange Ventures could attract third-party investors.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Affirm boosts its IPO price target, more than doubling its latest private valuation — Who is mispricing whom?

Flexible VC: A new model for startups targeting profitability — A new category of investors has emerged offering a hybrid between VC and revenue-based investment.

Get live feedback on your pitch deck from big-name VCs on Extra Crunch Live — As a part of Extra Crunch Live, we’ll be offering EC members the chance to get live feedback on their pitch decks from our guests.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Hulu discounts its on-demand service to $1.99 per month for students — This represents a more than 65% discount off Hulu’s ad-supported subscription.

Original Content podcast: Despite some odd choices, ‘The Undoing’ lays out a satisfying mystery — Your podcast hosts caught up on their mystery viewing over the holidays.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#amazon-web-services, #daily-crunch, #parler, #policy, #social

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Parler goes dark, sues Amazon to demand immediate reinstatement

Parler goes dark, sues Amazon to demand immediate reinstatement

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Ars Technica)

In less than three days, social networking service Parler has gone from darling of the right wing to a has-been service that can no longer be accessed online. In response, the company is now suing its former Web host, Amazon, alleging the hosting giant intentionally colluded with rival social service Twitter to knock a competitor out of the market.

Amazon Web Services’ decision to cut Parler off “is apparently motivated by political animus,” Parler writes in its suit (PDF). “It is also apparently designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter.”

Parler asks the court to grant a temporary restraining order against Amazon and “order AWS to maintain Parler’s account until further notice.” The company also seeks damages “in an amount to be determined at trial.”

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#conspiracy-theories, #deplatforming, #extremism, #insurrection, #parler, #policy, #social-media, #terrorism

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Parler sues Amazon, leveling far-fetched antitrust allegations

Parler has sued Amazon after the beleaguered conservative social media site was expelled from AWS, filing a fanciful complaint alleging the internet giant took it out for political reasons — and in an antitrust conspiracy to benefit Twitter. But its own allegations, including breach of contract, are belied by evidence they supply alongside the suit.

In the lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. Western District Court, Parler complains that “AWS’s decision to effectively terminate Parler’s account is apparently motivated by political animus. It is also apparently designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter.”

Regarding the “political animus” it is difficult to speak to Parler’s reasoning, since that argument is supported nowhere in the suit — it simply is never referred to again.

There is the suggestion that Amazon has shown more tolerance for offending content on Twitter than on Parler, but this isn’t well substantiated. For instance, the suit notes that “Hang Mike Pence” trended on Friday the 8th, without noting that much of this volume was, as any user of Twitter can see by searching, people decrying this phrase as having been chanted by the rioters in the Capitol two days prior.

By way of contrast, one Parler post cited by Amazon says that “we need to start systematicly [sic] assasinating [sic] #liberal leaders, liberal activists, #blm leaders and supporters,” and so on. As TechCrunch has been monitoring Parler conversations, we can say that this is far from an isolated example of this rhetoric.

The antitrust argument suggests a conspiracy by Amazon to protect and advance the interests of Twitter. Specifically, the argument is that because Twitter is a major customer of AWS, and Parler is a threat to Twitter, Amazon wanted to take Parler out of the picture.

Given the context of Parler’s looming threat to Twitter and the fact that the Twitter ban might not long muzzle the President if he switched to Parler, potentially bringing tens of millions of followers with him, AWS moved to shut down Parler.

This argument is not convincing for several reasons, but the most obvious one is that Parler was at the time also an AWS customer. If people are going to one customer to another, why would Amazon care at all, let alone enough to interfere to the point of legal and ethical dubiety?

The lawsuit also accuses Amazon of leaking the email communicating Parler’s imminent suspension to reporters before it was sent to administrators at the site. (It also says that Amazon “sought to defame” Parler, though defamation is not part of the legal complaint. Parler seems to be using this term rather loosely.)

Lastly Parler says Amazon is in breach of contract, having not given the 30 days warning stipulated in the terms of service. The exception is if a “material breach remains uncured for a period of 30 days” after notice. As Parler explains it:

On January 8, 2021, AWS brought concerns to Parler about user content that encouraged violence. Parler addressed them, and then AWS said it was “okay” with Parler.

The next day, January 9, 2021, AWS brought more “bad” content to Parler and Parler took down all of that content by the evening.

Thus, there was no uncured material breach of the Agreement for 30 days, as required for termination.

But in the email attached as evidence to the lawsuit — literally exhibit A — Amazon makes it clear the issues have been ongoing for longer than that (emphasis added):

Over the past several weeks, we’ve reported 98 examples to Parler of posts that clearly encourage and incite violence… You remove some violent content when contacted by us or others, but not always with urgency… It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service.

You can read the rest of the letter here, but it’s obvious that Amazon is not simply saying that a few days of violations are the cause of Parler’s being kicked off the service.

Parler asks a judge for a Temporary Restraining Order that would restore its access to AWS services while the rest of the case is argued, and for damages to be specified at trial.

TechCrunch has asked Amazon for comment and will update this post if we hear back. Meanwhile you can read the full complaint below:

Parler v Amazon by TechCrunch on Scribd

#amazon, #aws, #capitol-riots, #lawsuit, #parler

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Scraped Parler data is a metadata goldmine

Embattled social media platform Parler is offline after Apple, Google and Amazon pulled the plug on the site after the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol last week that left five people dead.

But while the site is gone (for now), millions of posts published to the site since the riot are not.

A lone hacker scraped millions of posts, videos and photos published to the site after the riot but before the site went offline on Monday, preserving a huge trove of potential evidence for