Apple is (temporarily) waiving its App Store fee for Facebook’s online events

Last month, Facebook introduced support for paid online events — and since many of the businesses offering those events have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic, the company also said it would not collect fees for the next year. At the same time, it complained that Apple had “dismissed” its requests to waive the App Store’s customary 30% fee on in-app purchases.

Today, Facebook is announcing a reversal on Apple’s part: Online event fees will be processed through Facebook Pay, without Apple collecting its 30% cut, meaning businesses will receive all of the earnings from their online events, minus taxes. This arrangement will last until December 31 and will not apply to gaming creators.

The news comes after Facebook publicly pressured Apple to change its stance. It even submitted an iOS app update stating that “Apple takes 30% of this purchase” in the events payments flow. (Facebook said Apple rejected the update for including information that’s “irrelevant” to users.)

And while the two companies appear to have come to an agreement, today’s statements from Facebook are still a bit barbed.

“This is a difficult time for small businesses and creators, which is why we are not collecting any fees from paid online events while communities remain closed for the pandemic,” said Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne. “Apple has agreed to provide a brief, three-month respite after which struggling businesses will have to, yet again, pay Apple the full 30% App Store tax.”

Similarly, in discussing the exception for gaming creators, Facebook Gaming Vice President Vivek Sharma said, “We unfortunately had to make this concession to get the temporary reprieve for other businesses.”

When asked about the change, Apple provided the following statement: “The App Store provides a great business opportunity for all developers, who use it to reach half a billion visitors visitors each week across 175 countries. To ensure every developer can create and grow a successful business, Apple maintains a clear, consistent set of guidelines that apply equally to everyone.”

More specifically, Apple said it’s giving Facebook until the end of the year to implement in-app payments for these events and bring them into compliance with App Store rules.

This also comes as Fortnite-maker Epic Games is waging a legal battle and publicity campaign against Apple’s App Store fees, with Fortnite removed Fortnite from the iOS App Store. Epic is also part of a just-announced group of publishers called the Coalition for App Fairness, which is pushing for app store changes or regulation.

#apple, #apps, #facebook, #mobile, #policy, #social

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India’s ShareChat raises $40 million, says its short-video platform Moj now reaches 80 million users

ShareChat, an Indian social network that focuses entirely on serving users in non-English languages, said on Thursday it has raised $40 million from a clutch of investors after the Indian startup added tens of millions of new users in recent months.

The five-year-old Bangalore-based startup said Dr. Pawan Munjal, chief executive and chairman of giant two-wheeler manufacturer Hero MotoCorp, Ajay Shridhar Shriram, chairman of chemical manufacturing company DCM Shriram, and existing investors Twitter, SAIF Partners, Lightspeed Ventures, and India Quotient financed the new round of capital.

Ankush Sachdeva, co-founder and chief executive of ShareChat, told TechCrunch in an interview that the startup’s new fundraise is part of its pre-Series E financing round. TechCrunch understands the startup is engaging with several major VC funds and corporate giants to raise more than $100 million in the next few months.

The new capital will help ShareChat better support creators on its platform, Sachdeva said. ShareChat launched the short-video app Moj in early July, days after New Delhi banned TikTok, which at the time had about 200 million users in India.

In the weeks following TikTok’s ban in India, scores of startups have launched short-video apps in the country. DailyHunt has launched Josh, and Times Internet’s MX Player has launched TakaTak. But Moj has clearly established dominance1 among short-form video apps.

ShareChat said Moj has amassed over 80 million monthly active users, who are spending about 34 minutes on the platform each day.

ShareChat’s marquee and eponymous app, which caters users in 15 Indian languages, itself has grown significantly. The app has amassed 160 million monthly active users 2, up from 60 million during the same period last year. A user on an average spends about 31 minutes on the app each day, the startup said.

“ShareChat has grown phenomenally this calendar year,” he said. The growth of ShareChat in the social media category is a rare success story for the Indian startup ecosystem.

“India could never have dreamt of having a homegrown social media platform, had ShareChat not embarked on the impossible in 2015. ShareChat’s success has given immense hope to India’s startup fraternity, and motivated entrepreneurs to take audacious bets in India’s internet ecosystem,” said Madhukar Sinha, Partner at India Quotient, one of the earliest backers of ShareChat.

In yet another move that is not very common among Indian startups, ShareChat announced earlier this week that it was adding $14 million to its employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) pool, taking the total to $35 million.

Sachdeva told TechCrunch that for a startup of ShareChat’s scale, it is crucial that its employees feel valued, because there are enough other giants in the market looking for their talent. “Our biggest competitors are global peers from the U.S. and Beijing,” he said.

The new capital will also help the startup further invest in its AI prowess and build new products and establish deeper partnerships with music labels, Sachdeva said. TechCrunch reported earlier this year that ShareChat had quietly launched a fantasy sports app called Jeet11.

Sachdeva said Jeet11 is gaining good traction and the startup’s foray into fantasy sports and short-video app categories demonstrates how fast it moves.

ShareChat has also been working with advertisers as it solidifies its monetization avenues, he said. “The brands are loving the fact that they can engage very strongly with users,” he said.

The startup is also thinking about expanding outside of India, though such plans are in early stage, he said. A fraction of ShareChat’s users today already live outside of India. The app has attracted many users of Indian diaspora, he said.

More to follow…


1 Instagram reaches about 150 million monthly active users in India, but it’s unclear if more than half of the app’s userbase has embraced Reels yet.

2  Many players in the industry rely on mobile insight firm AppAnnie and Sensor Tower to track the performance of their apps, their portfolio startups’ apps, and those of their competitors. We often cite AppAnnie and Sensor Tower data, too.

According to AppAnnie, ShareChat had fewer than 20 million monthly active users in India last month. Startup founders and other tech executives who TechCrunch has spoken to say that AppAnnie’s data is usually very reliable, and I can tell you that most of the figures companies claim publicly match with what you see on AppAnnie’s dashboard.

But another thing I have heard from many startup founders is that AppAnnie’s data often misses the mark for apps that have a significant portion of their user base in smaller cities and towns — as is the case with ShareChat.

I asked Sachdeva about it, and he said that ShareChat and many other apps that are popular in smaller Indian cities have not integrated AppAnnie’s SDK into their apps. AppAnnie relies on developers integrating its SDK into their apps to be able to assess the performance of that app and others installed on the handset.

This would explain why AppAnnie estimates that WhatsApp, which claims to have over 400 million users in India and is also popular among users in smaller Indian cities and towns and villages, has about 330 million users.

The contrast between the numbers ShareChat has officially shared and what one of the most reliable and widely used third-party firms offers was too significant, and I thought I should mention this. AppAnnie did not share ShareChat’s figure with TechCrunch — an industry executive did.

#apps, #asia, #funding, #india, #india-quotient, #lightspeed-ventures, #sharechat, #social, #tiktok, #twitter

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Instagram’s TikTok clone Reels updates to allow longer videos, easier edits

Instagram is today rolling out a few changes to its TikTok competitor, Reels, after early reviews of the feature criticized its design and reports indicated it was failing to gain traction. The company says it’s responding to user feedback on a few fronts, by giving Reels users the ability to create longer videos, extend the timer, and by adding tools to trim and delete clips for easier editing.

TikTok helped popularize the short, 15-second video — its default setting. But its app also allows videos up to a minute in length, which is a popular option. Reels, however, launched with support for only the 15-second video. Not surprisingly, the Reels community of early adopters has been asking for the ability to create longer videos, similar to TikTok.

But Instagram isn’t giving them the full one minute. Instead, it’s adding the ability to create a Reel up to 30 seconds long. This could force users to create original content for Reels, instead of repurposing their longer TikTok videos on Instagram.

Image Credits: Instagram

The company says it will also now allow users to extend the timer up to 10 seconds and will allow users to trim and delete clips to make editing simpler.

“We continue to improve Reels based on people’s feedback, and these updates make it easier to create and edit. While it’s still early, we’re seeing a lot of entertaining, creative content,” said Instagram Reels Director, Tessa Lyons-Laing.

The tweaks to the video creation and editing process could help to simplify some of the more troublesome pain points, but don’t fully address the problems facing Reels.

What makes TikTok so easy to use is that you don’t have to be a great video editor to make what appear to be fairly polished, short-form videos synced to music. With TikTok’s Sound Sync feature, for example, the app can automatically find music that synchronizes with your video clips, if you don’t want to take full control of the editing experience.

On Reels, there’s more manual editing involved in terms of locating the right music and matching it up with your edits — which you have to do yourself, instead of leaving it up to the tech to do for you.

Image Credits: Instagram

And despite being a shameless attempt at being a TikTok clone, Reels lacks other TikTok features, like duets or its “Family Pairing” parental controls. It also makes it difficult to figure out how to share videos more privately. Reels can be posted to Stories, where they disappear, or they can appear on your profile in their own tab — which is a confusing design choice. Plus, the integration of Reels in the Instagram app contributes to app bloat. TikTok is an entire social network, but Reels is trying to squeeze that broader creative experience into a much smaller box alongside so many other features, like Stories, Shopping, Live Video, IGTV, and more standard photo and video publishing. It feels like too much.

That said, Reels has managed to onboard a number of high-profile users. Today, it’s touting top Reels from creators like Billy Porter, Blair Imani, Doug the Pug, Prince William and Kate, and Eitan Bernath as examples of its creative content.

Even though TikTok’s fate is still a big question mark in the U.S., it’s not clear, at this point, if Instagram will be poised to absorb the TikTok audience in the event of a ban.

Instagram says the option to create 30 second Reels is rolling out today, while the new trimming and editing features are live now. The Timer extension will also roll out in the next few days.

The features will be available in the 50 countries worldwide where Reels is available and elsewhere, as Reels expands to new markets.

#apps, #facebook, #instagram, #reels, #social, #social-media, #tiktok, #video

0

Pinterest officially launches new Story Pins format in beta

Pinterest is announcing its spin on the increasingly popular stories format today — Story Pins, which combine multiple pages of images, videos, voiceover and overlaid text.

We wrote about Story Pins back in June, and apparently various versions of the format have been in the works since last year. But the company is only officially launching Story Pins in beta today, along with a number of other tools designed to help creators on the platform.

Asked yesterday how Story Pins differ from the stories we’d see on Snapchat, Instagram or any other social media platform, Pinterest’s head of content, creator and homefeed product David Temple told reporters that Pinterest’s approach is different in a few key ways.

“Story features on other platforms are designed to show you what people are doing,” Temple said. “Story Pins are designed to show you how people are trying new ideas and new products. That means the features and intent are dramatically different.”

For one thing, he noted that they’re not ephemeral, meaning that they don’t disappear after a set period of time, and can still be surfaced via search or other discovery mechanisms: “The best ideas and Story Pins remain relevant for months.”

In addition, the main interaction with a Story Pin (as with other forms of content on Pinterest) is to save it for, rather than a simple like button. And they can include lists of the necessary supplies or ingredients.

All of this, Temple argued, tilts Story Pins towards inspiration, utility and a general positive tone, as does the gradual way Pinterest is rolling this out.

“We want to be deliberate and thoughtful with the growth that we have on on here, to ensure that the tone for the content and the community remains positive,” he said.

This new feature also makes Pinterest more of a platform where creator content can be published directly, rather than simply distributed and shared after it’s published elsewhere.

To that end, Pinterest is also unveiling new creator profiles designed to showcase a creator’s published content, rather than just the Pins that they’ve saved. It’s also launching a new engagement tab and analytics dashboard, so creators can see how Pinterest users are responding to their content.

Story Pins are being rolled out to select U.S. creators, while the new analytics features are available to all Pinterest users with business accounts.

The announcement comes as Pinterest just broke its daily download record and moved to the top of App Store rankings thanks to interest in iOS 14 design ideas.

Less happily, it also comes after Pinterest employees walked out over the summer following complaints of racial and gender discrimination. Those complaints weren’t addressed directly in yesterday’s press conference, but Temple did emphasize the company’s goal of ensuring that at least 50% of creators publishing Story Pins come from underrepresented backgrounds, and that a similar diversity is reflected in the company’s “creator amplifications and marketing and editorial surfaces.”

“We can only fulfill our mission of helping everyone to create the life they want to live if everyone on Pinterest can find inspiration,” he said. “And it’s really hard to feel inspired if you don’t feel represented.”

#pinterest, #social

0

Facebook denies it will pull service in Europe over data transfer ban

Facebook’s head of global policy has denied the tech giant could close its service to Europeans if local regulators order it to suspend data transfers to the US following a landmark Court of Justice ruling in July that has cemented the schism between US surveillance laws and EU privacy rights.

Press reports emerged this week of a Dublin court filing by Facebook, which is seeking a stay to a preliminary suspension order on its EU-US data transfers, that suggested the tech giant could pull out of the region if regulators enforce a ban against its use of a data transfer mechanism known as Standard Contractual Clauses.

The court filing is attached to Facebook’s application for a judicial review of a preliminary suspension order from Ireland’s Data Protection Commission earlier this month, as Facebook’s lead EU data supervisor responded to the implications of the CJEU ruling.

“We of course won’t [shut down in Europe] — and the reason we won’t of course is precisely because we want to continue to serve customer and small and medium sized businesses in Europe,” said Facebook VP Nick Clegg during a livestreamed EU policy debate yesterday.

However he also warned of “profound effects” on scores of digital businesses if a way is not found by lawmakers on both sides of the pond to resolve the legal uncertainty around US data transfers — making a pitch to politicians to come up with a new legal ‘sticking plaster’ for EU-US data transfers now that a flagship arrangement, called Privacy Shield, is dead.

“We have a major issue — which is that for various complex, legal, political and other reasons question marks are being raised about the current legal basis under which data transfers occur. If those legal means of data transfer are removed — not by us, but by regulators — then of course that will have a profound effect on how, not just our services, but countless other companies operate. We’re trying to avoid that.”

The Facebook VP was speaking during an EBS panel debate on rebooting the regional economy “towards a green, digital and resilient union” — which included the EU’s commissioner for the economy, Paolo Gentiloni, and others.

Discussing the Dublin legal filing, Clegg suggested that an overenthusiastic reporter “slightly overwrote” in their interpretation of the document. “We’ve taken legal action in the Dublin courts to — in a sense — to try to send a signal that this is a really big issue for the whole European economy, for all small and large companies that rely on data transfers,” he said.

Clegg went on to claim that while Facebook being forced to suspend data transfers from the EU to the US “would of course be very bad for Facebook” the impact of such an order “would be absolutely disastrous for the economy as a whole”.

“What is at stake here is quite a big issue that in the end can only be resolved politically between a continued negotiation between the US and the EU that clearly is not going to happen until there’s a new US administration in place after the transition period in the early part of next year,” he said, indicating Facebook is using Ireland’s courts to try to buy time for a political fix.

“We need the time and the space for the political process between the EU and the US to work out so that companies can have confidence going fwd that they’re able to transfer data going forward,” he added.

Clegg also sought to present Facebook’s platform as a vital component of any regional economy recovery — talking up its utility to European SMEs for reaching customers.

Some 25M European companies use its apps and tools, he said — impressing that the “vast majority” do so for free and further claiming activity on Facebook’s ad platform could be linked to sales of 208BN, and 3M+ jobs, per independent estimates.

“In terms of the economic recovery, our most important role is to continue to provide that extraordinary capacity for small businesses to do something which in the past only big businesses could do,” he said. “In the past only big businesses had the fancy marketing budgets and could take out bill boards and television and radio ads. The transformational effect of social media and Facebook in part economically speaking is that it’s levelled the playing field.”

Clegg went further on this point — linking the mass exploitation of Internet users’ personal data to the economic value generated by regional businesses via what he badged “personalized advertising” — aka “Facebook’s business model”.

“The personalized advertising model allows us to do that — allows us to level the playing field,” he claimed.

The tech giant’s processing of Europeans’ personal data remains under investigation on multiple fronts by EU regulators — meaning that as well as the clear threat to its US transfers Facebook’s core business model risks being unpicked by regulators if it faces enforcement action over multiple claimed data protection violations in future.

“I’m acutely aware that it is a business model that has plenty of criticism aimed at it and there’s a totally legitimate debate which rages in Brussels and elsewhere about how Facebook gathers, stores and monetizes data — and that is a totally legitimate and ongoing debate — but I hope people will not overlook that that business model has one ingenious benefit, amongst others, which is that it allows small businesses to operate on the same basis as big businesses in reaching their customers,” he said.

Never one to waste a lobbying opportunity, Clegg argued the pandemic has made this capacity “even more important” with EU populations under lockdown and fewer opportunities for businesses to engage in face to face selling.

Taxing times

The knotty issue of digital tax reform also came up during the debate.

Gentiloni reiterated the Commission position that it wants to see global agreement on reforming tax rules to take account of the shift to online business but he said the bloc is willing to go ahead with a European digital tax if that effort fails.

“We can’t remain with the model of the previous century,” he said, before going on to flesh out the challenges facing global accord on the issue. “We don’t want to be the one breaking this OECD process. To be honest, there was a lot of progress in this thing that we call ‘inclusive framework’ — more than dozens of countries working together and reaching something like an agreement on a new form of digital tax but then one single country — but a very important one — is not agreeing with this solution, is proposing a different one. But this different solution, the so called ‘Safe Harbor’, appears a little bit like an optional solution and it’s a bit difficult to conceive of an optional solution because of course you don’t pay ‘optional taxes’, I don’t think so. But we are still committed towards the end of this year to try to find this solution.

“My absolute preferred solution would be a global one. For many reasons — for avoiding tensions among different countries, and for facilitating for business the payment of taxes — but I want to say very clearly that we have a second best solution which is a European digital taxation because the alternative to this would be to have, as we already have in legislation, a French one, an Italian one, a Spanish one and I don’t think this is a good solution for Facebook or other companies. So we’re working for global but if global is not possible we will go European.”

Facebook’s Clegg said the company “will pay the taxes that are due under the rules that operate”, adding that if there is a European digital tax it will “of course” abide by it. But he too said Facebook’s preference is for a global arrangement.

#data-transfers, #digital-tax-reform, #europe, #facebook, #nick-clegg, #policy, #privacy, #privacy-shield, #schrems-ii, #social

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Event discovery network IRL raises $16M Series B after refocusing on virtual events

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the way a number of companies have had to do business. For the event discovery startup, IRL, it meant pivoting into the virtual events space. This April, the startup quickly reacted to government lockdowns and restrictions on in-person gatherings to focus on helping people find their online counterparts and other virtual events, like live-streamed concerts, Zoom parties, esports tournaments, and more. Today, those efforts are paying off as IRL announces $16 million in Series B funding and the expansion of its social calendaring app to colleges.

The new round was led by Goodwater Capital with participation from Founders Fund, Floodgate, and Raine, and comes on top of the $11 million IRL had previously raised, including its $8 million Series A last year.

The coronavirus pandemic, surprisingly, may have made IRL relevant to a wider audience. Before, IRL was mostly useful to those who lived in areas where there were a lot of events to attend, or who could afford to travel. But with the refocusing on “remote life” instead of “real life,” more people could launch the app to find something interesting to do — even if it was only online.

In fitting with its new focus, IRL redesigned its app earlier this year to create a new homescreen experience where users could discover events they could attend remotely. This design continues to be tweaked, and now features a colorful “discover” tab in the app where you can tap into various event categories, like gaming, music, tv, wellness, sports, podcasts, lifestyle, and more, including those sourced from partners like TikTok, Meetup, Twitch, Spotify, SoundCloud, HBO, Ticketmaster, Eventbrite, and others.

There are also dedicated sections for events you’re following and a curated Top Picks. The IRL in-app calendar, meanwhile, lets you easily see what’s happening today and in the weeks and months ahead.

Since its refocusing on virtual events, IRL has brought people together for online happenings like Burning Man’s Multiverse and TikTok Live’s The Weekend Experience, for example.

According to TikTok, IRL had helped it gauge early interest in its The Weekend Experience event, with some 52,000 IRL RSVPs and 1.1 million followers on its IRL profile.

Image Credits: IRL screenshot via TechCrunch

“IRL has been an amazing platform for us to engage with more of our audience and meet new potential users,” said Jenny Zhu, Head of Integrated Marketing U.S. at TikTok. She also added that TikTok sees “major traffic coming from IRL” and is “excited to continue our partnership.”

In terms of growth, IRL claims its users are now tracking over 1 million hours per spent daily in “Time Together” — a metric that tabulates the number of hours users are spending together at the events they RSVP’d to, virtual or otherwise. In addition, IRL says it has seen 10x growth in daily active users and a total of 300 million “Time Together” hours since last June. It also claims 5.5 million MAUs.

While IRL doesn’t share its download figures, app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower estimates the app has seen a total of 7.7 million installs across iOS and Android.

With the additional capital, IRL is expanding with the launch of a college network.

Its goal is to improve upon the Facebook experience for the younger, student demographic by helping college users find, share, and attend academic and social events, both physical and virtual. However, just this month Facebook launched its own college network, Facebook Campus, which allows students to privately network and track student events on the Facebook platform, outside of their main Facebook profile.

IRL says it’s starting its college network with 100 colleges and universities across the North America, including Harvard, Columbia and NYU. Facebook Campus, meanwhile, launched with 30 schools.

“IRL is the only social platform that helps users find the best ways to spend their time and actually encourages them to get off the platform,” said IRL founder and CEO Abraham Shafi, Founder, about the launch of the new network. “Colleges and universities, in particular, need a way to build and foster a sense of community, whether their students are away from campus remote learning or on campus practicing hybrid learning,” he explained.

For IRL’s investor, Chi-Hua Chien, a Managing Partner at Goodwater Capital, the potential in IRL is its focus on real connections and community-building.

“We believe IRL will grow to become one of the major social networks powering communities on the Internet and in the real world,” Chien said. “IRL delivers on the promise to make social media less isolating, by helping drive authentic connection between friends and family around events they care about,” he added.

 

#apps, #funding, #social, #startups

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Daily Crunch: This TikTok deal is pretty confusing

Companies send out conflicting messages about the TikTok deal, Microsoft acquires a gaming giant and the WeChat ban is temporarily blocked. This is your Daily Crunch for September 21, 2020.

The big story: This TikTok deal is pretty confusing

This keeps getting more confusing. Apparently TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has reached a deal with Walmart and Oracle that will allow the Chinese social media app to continue operating in the United States, and the deal has been approved by Donald Trump. But it’s hard to tell exactly what this agreement entails.

ByteDance said it would retain 80% control of TikTok, while selling 20% of the company to Walmart and Oracle as “commercial partner” and “trusted technology partner,” respectively. However, Oracle released a seemingly conflicting statement, claiming that Americans will have majority ownership and “ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.”

So what’s going on here? We’re trying to figure it out.

The tech giants

Microsoft set to acquire Bethesda parent ZeniMax for $7.5B — ZeniMax owns some of the biggest publishers in gaming, including Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, ZeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog and Roundhouse Studios.

Trump administration’s WeChat ban is blocked by US district court — More news about the Trump administration’s efforts to ban some high-profile Chinese apps: A district court judge in San Francisco has temporarily stayed the nationwide ban on WeChat.

Nikola’s chairman steps down, stock crashes following allegations of fraud — This comes in the wake of a report from a noted short-seller accusing the electric truck company of fraud.

Startups, funding and venture capital

With $100M in funding, Playco is already a mobile gaming unicorn — Playco is a new mobile gaming startup created by Game Closure co-founder Michael Carter and Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron.

Indian mobile gaming platform Mobile Premier League raises $90 million — Mobile Premier League operates a pure-play gaming platform that hosts a range of tournaments.

A meeting room of one’s own: Three VCs discuss breaking out of big firms to start their own gigs — We talked to Construct Capital’s Dayna Grayson, Renegade Partners’ Renata Quintini and Plexo Capital’s Lo Toney.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Edtech investors are panning for gold — At Disrupt, investors told us how they separate the gold from the dust.

Despite slowdowns, pandemic accelerates shifts in hardware manufacturing — China continues to be the dominant global force, but the price of labor and political uncertainty has led many companies to begin looking elsewhere.

The Peloton effect — Alex Wilhelm examines the latest VC activity in connected fitness.

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

Everything else

Ireland’s data watchdog slammed for letting adtech carry on ‘biggest breach of all time’ — The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is putting more pressure on the country’s data watchdog to take enforcement action.

Pandemic accelerated cord cutting, making 2020 the worst-ever year for pay TV — According to new research from eMarketer, the cable, satellite and telecom TV industry is on track to lose the most subscribers ever.

Original Content podcast: ‘Wireless’ shows off Quibi’s Turnstyle technology — I interviewed the director of the new Quibi series.

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.

#apps, #bytedance, #daily-crunch, #mobile, #oracle, #social, #tiktok, #walmart

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Instagram CEO, ACLU slam TikTok and WeChat app bans for putting US freedoms into the balance

As people begin to process the announcement from the U.S. Department of Commerce detailing how it plans, on grounds of national security, to shut down TikTok and WeChat — starting with app downloads and updates for both, plus all of WeChat’s services, on September 20, with TikTok following with a shut down of servers and services on November 12 — the CEO of Instagram and the ACLU are among those that are speaking out against the move.

The CEO of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, wasted little time in taking to Twitter to criticize the announcement. His particular beef is the implication the move will have for US companies — like his — that also have built their businesses around operating across national boundaries.

In essence, if the U.S. starts to ban international companies from operating in the U.S., then it opens the door for other countries to take the same approach with U.S. companies.

Meanwhile, the ACLU has been outspoken in criticizing the announcement on the grounds of free speech.

“This order violates the First Amendment rights of people in the United States by restricting their ability to communicate and conduct important transactions on the two social media platforms,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, in a statement today.

Shamsi added that ironically, while the U.S. government might be crying foul over national security, blocking app updates poses a security threat in itself.

“The order also harms the privacy and security of millions of existing TikTok and WeChat users in the United States by blocking software updates, which can fix vulnerabilities and make the apps more secure. In implementing President Trump’s abuse of emergency powers, Secretary Ross is undermining our rights and our security. To truly address privacy concerns raised by social media platforms, Congress should enact comprehensive surveillance reform and strong consumer data privacy legislation.”

Vanessa Pappas, who is the acting CEO of TikTok, also stepped in to endorse Mosseri’s words and publicly asked Facebook to join TikTok’s litigation against the U.S. over its moves.

We agree that this type of ban would be bad for the industry. We invite Facebook and Instagram to publicly join our challenge and support our litigation,” she said in her own tweet responding to Mosseri, while also retweeting the ACLU. (Interesting how Twitter becomes Switzlerland in these stories, huh?) “This is a moment to put aside our competition and focus on core principles like freedom of expression and due process of law.”

The move to shutter these apps has been wrapped in an increasingly complex set of issues, and these two dissenting voices highlight not just some of the conflict between those issues, but the potential consequences and detriment of acting based on one issue over another.

The Trump administration has stated that the main reason it has pinpointed the apps has been to “safeguard the national security of the United States” in the face of nefarious activity out of China, where the owners of WeChat and TikTok, respectively Tencent and ByteDance, are based:

“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has demonstrated the means and motives to use these apps to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the U.S.,” today statement from the U.S. Department of Commerce noted. “Today’s announced prohibitions, when combined, protect users in the U.S. by eliminating access to these applications and significantly reducing their functionality.”

In reality, it’s hard to know where the truth actually lies.

In the case of the ACLU and Mosseri’s comments, they are highlighting issues of principles but not necessarily precedent.

It’s not as if the US would be the first country to take a nationalist approach to how it permits the operation of apps. Facebook and its stable of apps, as of right now, are unable to operate in China without a VPN (and even with a VPN things can get tricky). And free speech is regularly ignored in a range of countries today.

But the US has always positioned itself as a standard bearer in both of these areas, and so apart from the self-interest that Instagram might have in advocating for more free market policies, it points to wider market and business position that’s being eroded.

The issue, of course, is a little like an onion (a stinking onion, I’d say), with well more than just a couple of layers around it, and with the ramifications bigger than TikTok (with 100 million users in the U.S. and huge in pop culture beyond even that) or WeChat (much smaller in the U.S. but huge elsewhere and valued by those who do use it).

The Trump administration has been carefully selecting issues to tackle to give voters reassurance of Trump’s commitment to “Make America Great Again,” building examples of how it’s helping to promote U.S. interests and demote those that stand in its way. China has been a huge part of that image building, positioned as an adversary in industrial, defence and other arenas. Pinpointing specific apps and how they might pose a security threat by sucking up our data fits neatly into that strategy.

But are they really security threats, or are they just doing the same kind of nefarious data ingesting that every social app does in order to work? Will the US banning them really mean that other countries, up to now more in favor of a free market, will fall in line and take a similar approach? Will people really stop being able to express themselves?

Those are the questions that Trump has forced into the balance with his actions, and even if they were not issues before, they have very much become so now.

#aclu, #first-amendment, #government, #instagram, #privacy, #security, #social, #tc, #tiktok, #trump

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Daily Crunch: Twitter tightens security ahead of election

Twitter takes preemptive steps to avoid election-related hacks, we check out the new Apple Watches and Facebook launches new business tools. This is your Daily Crunch for September 17, 2020.

The big story: Twitter tightens security ahead of election

Twitter said today that “high-profile, election-related” accounts in the United States will be receiving notifications telling them they’re required to adopt strong passwords. The company will also be enabling password reset protections for those accounts, and encouraging them to adopt two-factor authentication.

And on top of the steps that it’s requiring candidates to take, Twitter also said it’s adopting additional “proactive internal security safeguards,” such as more sophisticated alerts.

This comes after Twitter was hacked in July, resulting in many high-profile accounts tweeting out a cryptocurrency scam. The company probably wants to avoid an election-related repeat.

The tech giants

A closer look at the new Apple Watches — This isn’t our full review, but rather Brian Heater’s first impressions of the Series 6 and SE.

Facebook launches Facebook Business Suite, an app for managing business accounts across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger — The app offers combined access to a business’s key updates and priorities across Facebook and Instagram.

Amazon makes Alexa Routines shareable — In the U.S., Alexa users will be able to visit the Routines section in the Alexa app, then click on the routine they want to share and grab a shareable URL.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Connected fitness startup Tonal raises another $110 million — It’s a pretty massive round for the strength training company, especially as the space has become increasingly crowded in recent years.

Amazon’s first five climate fund investments include Tesla co-founder JB Straubel’s startup Redwood Materials — Redwood Materials is a recycling startup aiming to create a circular supply chain.

With Goat Capital, Justin Kan and Robin Chan want to keep founding alongside the right teams — Goat Capital is a hybrid incubator, as opposed to a pure seed investment firm.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra asks 6 VCs how to raise funding when the sky is falling — Deal velocity has gone up!

Startup founders must overcome information overload — Entrepreneurs share their tips for weighing advice and data.

Does early-stage health tech need more ‘patient’ capital? — Steve O’Hear interviews Dr. Fiona Pathiraja of early-stage health tech fund Crista Galli Ventures.

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

Everything else

Jennifer Doudna sees CRISPR gene-editing tech as a Swiss Army knife for COVID-19 and beyond — Doudna is one of the pioneers of the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR, and she discussed its potential at Disrupt.

Hulu tests its co-viewing feature ‘Watch Party’ with ad-supported viewers — Hulu Watch Party was initially only available for subscribers on the service’s ad-free tier.

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, #policy, #social, #twitter

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Twitter tightens account security for political candidates ahead of US election

Twitter is taking steps to tighten account security for a range of users ahead of the US presidential election, including by requiring the use of strong passwords.

“We’re taking the additional step of proactively implementing account security measures for a designated group of high-profile, election-related Twitter accounts in the US. Starting today, these accounts will be informed via an in-app notification from Twitter of some of the initial account security measures we will be requiring or strongly recommending going forward,” it said in a blog post announcing the pre-emptive step.

Image credit: Twitter

Last month Twitter said it would be dialling up efforts to combat misinformation and election interference, as well as pledging to help get out the vote — going on to out an election hub to help voters navigate the 2020 poll earlier this week.

Its latest election-focused security move follows an embarrassing account hack incident in July which saw scores of verified users’ accounts accessed and used to tweet out a cryptocurrency scam.

Clearly, Twitter won’t want a politically-flavored repeat of that.

Twitter said accounts that will be required to take steps to tighten their security are:

  • US Executive Branch and Congress

  • US Governors and Secretaries of State

  • Presidential campaigns, political parties and candidates with Twitter Election Labels running for US House, US Senate, or Governor

  • Major US news outlets and political journalists

As well as requiring users in these categories to have a strong password — prompting those without one to update it next time they log in — Twitter said it will also enable Password reset protection for the accounts by default.

“This is a setting that helps prevent unauthorized password changes by requiring an account to confirm its email address or phone number to initiate a password reset,” it noted.

It will also encourage the target types of users to enable Two-factor authentication (2FA) as a further measure to bolster against unauthorized logins. Although it will not be requiring 2FA be switched on.

The platform also said it would be implementing extra layers of what it called “proactive internal security safeguards” for the aforementioned accounts, including:

  • More sophisticated detections and alerts to help us, and account holders, respond rapidly to suspicious activity

  • Increased login defenses to prevent malicious account takeover attempts

  • Expedited account recovery support to ensure account security issues are resolved quickly

Also today, Twitter released more detail about how its platform manipulation and spam policies apply to groups seeking to coordinate to cause harm, giving the example of the conspiracy group QAnon. It began a crack down on the conspiracy group in July, when it banned thousands of accounts that had been spreading baseless BS which Twitter said had “the potential to lead to offline harm”.

#election-security, #hacking, #online-disinformation, #policy, #political-misinformation, #security, #social, #twitter, #us-election-2020

0

Facebook launches Facebook Business Suite, an app for managing business accounts across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger

Facebook this morning launched a new app designed to make it easier for businesses to manage their pages and profiles across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger in a single place. The app, Facebook Business Suite, combines access to the business’s key updates and priorities, and offers a way to draft and schedule feed posts for both Facebook and Instagram, view insights and create ads.

To use the new app, business will first need to link their Facebook and Instagram business accounts, if they hadn’t already.

Once logged into Facebook, the Business Suite can be accessed on the desktop at business.facebook.com. On mobile, users of the existing Pages Manager App will see an option to join Business Suite instead. The app will also become available as a standalone download for both iOS and Android.

Image Credits: Facebook

Inside Business Suite, business owners will be able to see critical alerts, messages, comments and other activity taking place across Facebook and Instagram right in the new app’s homescreen. They can also set up personalized saved replies here, in order to respond to common customer inquiries.

The app offers tools for creating feed posts for Facebook and Instagram, scheduling posts, and provides insights on what’s working. Here, businesses can view their posts’ reach, engagement and performance across both Facebook and Instagram. They can also choose to create an ad to help boost that engagement and grow their audience, if needed.

Facebook says it’s initially building Facebook Business Suite with the needs of small businesses first, as so many have been forced by the pandemic to find new ways to reach customers and sell online. However, the long-term plan is to build out a set of tools that can be used by all businesses, including larger ones. The company aims to address that market sometime next year. Business Suite will also expand to include WhatsApp in the future.

Related to the news, Facebook published two surveys offering insights on small business trends. One, the monthly Global State of Small Business Report, produced in partnership with the World Bank and OECD, found that businesses that make more than 25% of sales online are more likely to be reporting higher sales this year, and are less likely to have laid off employees.

A second study details the impact of COVID-19 on consumer purchasing patterns and use of digital tools. Nearly half of respondents said they spent more money online overall since the outbreak, and 40% increased their use of social media and online messaging for product and business recommendations, Facebook says.

Of course, these fairly upbeat reports on the state of small businesses in the midst of the pandemic don’t provide the full picture. In the U.S., for example, Yelp is reporting that 60% of the U.S. businesses that closed due to COVID-19 won’t be re-opening. As of August, 163,735 of U.S. businesses have closed since the start of the pandemic, the report said, up 23% since mid-July.

These closures could impact Facebook as well, as the majority of Facebook’s advertisers are small and medium-sized businesses. But Facebook’s global nature protects it. Even if the U.S. loses more small businesses due to its mishandling of the pandemic, there are far more advertisers are outside the U.S. that Facebook taps into.

Facebook says the Business Suite will gradually roll out during the month of September. The app joins several others Facebook offers today for its business customers, including Facebook Pages Manager, Facebook Analytics, and Facebook Ads Manager. However, Facebook notes that its new Business Suite isn’t currently designed to serve those who use Ads Manager.

#advertising, #apps, #business, #businesses, #facebook, #marketing, #small-business, #social, #social-media

0

Facebook addresses political controversy in India, monetization opportunities, startup investments

At the beginning of the previous decade, Facebook had a tiny presence in India. It had just started to slowly expand its team in the country and was inking deals with telecom operators to make access to its service free to users and even offer incentives such as free voice credit.

India’s internet population, now the second largest with more than 500 million connected users, itself was very small. In early 2011, the country had fewer than 100 million internet users.

But Facebook ended up playing a crucial role in the last decade. So much so that by the end of it, the social juggernaut was reaching nearly every internet user in the country. WhatsApp alone reaches more than 400 million internet users in India, more than any other app in the country, according to mobile insight firm App Annie.

This reach of Facebook in India didn’t go unnoticed. Politicians in the country today heavily rely on Facebook services, including WhatsApp, to get their message out. But it has also complicated things.

Rumors have spread on WhatsApp that cost lives, and politicians from both the large political parties in India in recent weeks have accused the company of showing favoritism to the other side.

To address these issues, and the role Facebook wishes to play in India, Ajit Mohan, the head of the company’s business in the country, joined us at Disrupt 2020. Following are some of the highlights.

On controversy

A recent report in WSJ claimed that Ankhi Das, one of Facebook’s top executives in India, decided against taking down a post from a politician from the ruling party. She did so, the report claimed, because she feared it could hurt the company’s business prospects in India.

In Mohan’s first interview since the controversy broke, he refuted the claims that any executive in the country holds power to influence how Facebook enforces its content policy.

“We believe that it’s important for us to be open and neutral and non-partisan,” he said. “We have deep belief and conviction that our enabling role is as a neutral party that allows speech of all kinds, that allows expression of all kinds, including political expression, and a lot of the guidelines that we have developed are to make sure that we really enable our diversity of expression and opinion so long as we’re able to make sure that the safety and security of people are protected.”

Mohan said the internal processes and systems inside Facebook are designed to ensure that any opinion and preference of an employee or a group of employees is “quite separate from the company and the company’s objective enforcement of its own policies.”

He said individuals can offer input on decisions, but nobody — including Ankhi Das — can unilaterally influence the decision Facebook takes on content enforcement.

“We do allow free expression inside the company as well. We don’t have any constraints on people expressing their point of view, but we see that separate from the enforcement of our content policy. […] The content policy itself, in the context of India, is a team that stands separate from the public policy team that is led by Ankhi,” he added.

This photo illustration shows an Indian newspaper vendor reading a newspaper with a full back page advertisement from WhatsApp intended to counter fake information, in New Delhi on July 10, 2018. (Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP)

On India and monetization

Even as Facebook has amassed hundreds of millions of users in India, the world’s second largest market contributes little to its bottom line. So why does Facebook care so much about the country?

“India is in the middle of a very exciting economic and social transformation where digital has a massive role to play. In just the last four years, more than 500 million users have come online. The pace of this transformation probably has no parallel in either human history or even in the digital transformation happening in countries around the world,” he said.

“For a company like ours, if you look at the family of apps across WhatsApp and Instagram, we believe we have a useful role to play in fueling this transformation,” he said.

Even as Facebook does not generate a lot of revenue from India, Mohan said the company has established itself as one of the most trusted platforms for marketers. “They look to us as a material partner in their marketing agenda,” he said.

He said the company is hopeful that advertising as a GDP will go up in India. “Therefore ad-revenue will become substantial over time,” he said.

For Facebook, India is also crucial because it allows the company to build some unique products that solve issues for India but could be replicated in other markets. The company is currently testing an integration of WhatsApp, which currently does not have a business model despite having over 2 billion users, with new Indian e-commerce JioMart, to allow users to easily track their orders.

“We think there is opportunity to build India-first models, experiment at scale, and in a world where we succeed, we see huge opportunity in taking some of these models global,” he said.

Facebook as a VC

Facebook does not usually invest in startups. But in India, the company has invested in social-commerce firm Meesho, online learning platform Unacademy — it even participated in its follow-up round — and it wrote a $5.7 billion check to Jio Platforms earlier this year. So why is Facebook taking this investment route in India?

“We wanted to create a program for taking minority investments in early-stage startups to figure out how we could be helpful to startup founders and the ecosystem as a whole. The starting point was backing teams that were building models that in some ways were unique to India and could go global. Since we made an investment in Meesho, they have made a strong thrust in Indonesia. These are the kind of companies where we feel we can add value as well as we can learn from these startups,” he said.

The partnership with Jio Platforms follows a different rationale. “The transformation we talked about in India in the last few years, Jio triggered it,” he said. Other than that, Facebook is exploring ways to work with Jio, such as with its partnership with Jio’s venture JioMart. “It can really fuel the small and medium business that is good for the Indian economy,” he said.

Mohan said the company continues to explore more opportunities in Indian startups, especially with those where the teams think Facebook can add value, but he said there is no mandate of any kind that Facebook has to invest in, say dozens of startups in three to four years. “It’s not a volume play,” he said.

But would these firms, including Reliance Industries, which operates Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, will receive any special access on Facebook’s services. What if Amazon, BigBasket, Grofers, or Flipkart want to integrate with WhatsApp, too? Mohan said Facebook platform is open for every firm and everyone will receive the same level of access and opportunities.

In the interview, Mohan, who ran the Disney-run Hotstar on-demand streaming service in India, also talked about the growing usage of video in India, the state of WhatsApp Pay’s rollout in the country, what Facebook thinks of India’s ban on Chinese apps, and much more. You can watch the full interview below.

#ajit-mohan, #apps, #asia, #disrupt, #disrupt-2020, #facebook, #facebook-india, #hotstar, #meesho, #social, #techcrunch-disrupt, #unacademy, #venture-capital, #whatsapp, #whatsapp-pay

0

Twitter flags Indian politician’s years-old tweet for violating its policy

Twitter has flagged a post from Indian politician T. Raja Singh for violating its policy days after TechCrunch asked the social giant about the three-year-old questionable tweet.

In a video tweet, Singh urged India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and others citizens in the country to move Rohingya Muslim immigrants, including those “who supported terrorism,” out of the nation as he feared that they would become a “headache for the nation” in the future. “#Deport RohingyaMuslims,” he tweeted.

Singh, who belongs to India’s ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party and has made hateful speeches in public appearances in the past, also urged his followers to make his tweet “viral” on the platform so that every “Hindu and [other] Indians” see it. He did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s a similar message that Singh had also posted on Facebook, which ultimately led the Menlo Park-headquartered firm to permanently ban him from the platform.

Facebook has received some of the harshest backlash it has seen to date in the country in part for its initial inaction on Singh’s posts. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that a top Facebook executive in India had decided to not take action on Singh’s posts as she feared it could hurt the company’s business prospects in the country.

In a statement to TechCrunch, a Twitter spokesperson said that Singh’s tweet was “actioned” for violating its hateful conduct policy.

“Twitter has zero-tolerance policies in place to address threats of violence, abuse and harassment, and hateful conduct. If we identify accounts that violate these rules, we’ll take enforcement action,” the spokesperson added.

A September 13 tweet, which Singh has retweeted from his account, shows a warning message from Twitter that says his account was locked for the aforementioned tweet. Singh has posted several tweets since September 13, suggesting the matter has been resolved. The aforementioned tweet still shows it is in violation of Twitter rules.

The slow reactions from Twitter and Facebook, both of which count India as an important market, illustrates lapses in their content moderation efforts in the world’s second largest market.

Twitter, which had about 70 million monthly active users on its official app in India last month (according to mobile insights firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch), has been particularly slow — or unresponsive — in the country in taking actions despite reports from users.

In January, India’s ruling party was accused of running a deceptive Twitter campaign to gain support for a controversial lawnothing new for Twitter in India — but the company never responded to questions. A month before that, snowfall in Kashmir, a highly sensitive region that hasn’t had internet connection for months, began trending on Twitter in the U.S. It mysteriously disappeared after many journalists questioned how it made it to the list.

A Twitter spokesperson in India pointed TechCrunch to an FAQ article at the time that explained how Trending Topics work. Nothing in the FAQ article addressed the question.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #india, #social, #twitter

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Triller aims for TikTok with additions of influencers like Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae

Triller had been poised to benefit from a potential TikTok ban in the U.S. Though that may not happen now, given the apparent Oracle deal, the chaos around TikTok has increased the attention given to alternative apps such as Triller. As TikTok users sought out a new home — or at least hedged their bets in the event of a full ban — Triller’s app shot up the app store charts. It even became the No. 1 across 80 different countries at some point, Triller CEO Mike Lu says. At Techcrunch Disrupt 2020, Lu today spoke of Triller’s growing potential and what makes its app unique. He also touched on Triller’s involvement in several high-profile additions, including influencers and public figures like TikTok star Charli D’Amelio and family, and even Trump himself.

Lu also noted another top TikToker, Addison Rae, will make her way to Triller this week, as well.

Though Triller has often positioned itself as a different sort of app than TikTok, the company has steadily worked to onboard the same set of influencers that made TikTok so popular. TikTok star Josh Richards recently joined Triller as both an investor and chief strategy officer, despite being only 18, for example. Other TikTok stars Noah Beck and Griffin Johnson also joined Triller earlier this summer.

And just this week, Triller snagged TikTok’s queen herself, Charli D’Amelio, whose current TikTok account has 87 million followers.

Though Triller often benefits from influencers setting up their own accounts, Lu confirmed Triller reached out to D’Amelio to establish the relationship and to learn how the company could help her create a different type of presence on the Triller app.

Deal terms were not disclosed but Lu said that, “up until a month ago, we had never paid anyone to make a video.”

TikTok stars aren’t the only notable new additions. Last month, Donald Trump launched his own official Triller account, as well, to promote his political campaign.

Lu said he welcomes all the new users, including Trump.

“We’re an open platform and what we really strive for is creativity. So, we welcome anyone — regardless of whether you’re on the left side or the right side of the fence — to express yourself on the Triller platform,” he said. “Seeing some of the world leaders and also some of the biggest influencers in the world join the platform is very exciting for Triller.”

Lu also explained how Triller differentiates itself from the broader social media app lineup, noting that much of the focus of older social networks had been on allowing users to post status updates, not creative content.

Triller’s identity, Lu added, “has always been around music, around content, and around creative discovery.”

“I think that we will always shine more than your traditional status updates — which I think that the world of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter has done really well” he said. But today’s users “really don’t post creative content to those old platforms anymore,” he continued. “They’re actually posting them on platforms like ourselves, where they’re looking for an expressive and creative outlet.”

Lu claimed Triller also benefitted from older social networks’ attempt to enter the short-form video space.

When Instagram launched its TikTok competitor, Reels, Triller saw a 20% spike in usage, Lu said.

“We realized that a lot of users who were waiting for Reels…they saw what it was. And they decided they’re sticking to Triller,” he said.

On the topic of business matters, Lu declined to speak about recent reports of its supposed billion dollar valuation, but did confirm Triller is in the process of raising new funding. He also declined to speak about the status of Triller’s reported $20 billion bid with Centricus for TikTok assets, but said the company believed it would have been a good home for TikTok creator content from an infrastructure perspective.

Not surprisingly, given Triller’s potential growth in the midst of TikTok concerns, Lu also supported the idea that TikTok could be a security threat to U.S. users.

“Given the sensitivity of the data [and] the amount of data that they collect, it does pose a national risk,” Lu said of TikTok. “This is a Chinese-owned  company. The data is sitting, probably, not here in the States…” he added, seemingly refuting TikTok’s claims that its U.S. data was on U.S. servers.

“We take that stuff very seriously. We are a U.S.- based company,” he said, noting how Triller was complaint with U.S. regulations, like COPPA. “Something we actually take very strong pride in is making sure that we uphold [Triller] to the right standards that we’re used to, and as well as the privacy of our users and our citizens,” Lu said.

 

 

 

#apps, #disrupt-2020, #media, #mobile, #social, #tiktok, #triller

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Facebook announces $4.3 million grant for small businesses in India, introduces support for gift cards

More than a third of small and medium-sized businesses on Facebook in India expect cash flow to be a challenge for them as they navigate through the coronavirus pandemic in the next few months, according to a report by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank.

Facebook, which reaches nearly every internet users in India and which collaborated with OECD and World Bank on the report, wants to help. The social giant today announced a grant of $4.3 million for more than 3,000 small businesses across Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore (Indian cities where the company has its offices).

In an interview with TechCrunch, Ajit Mohan, head of Facebook India, said the grant includes both cash and ad credits, with cash constituting the larger share. These businesses don’t have to advertise on Facebook to be eligible for the grant, he said. Businesses can apply for the grant starting today.

The India grant is part of the company’s $100 million global grant for small businesses that it announced in March.

Gift Cards on Facebook and Instagram

Additionally, Facebook and Instagram have also launched capabilities for businesses in India to sell gift cards. “During the pandemic, it’s been inspiring to see how people and businesses have come together on the Facebook family of apps to support their local communities,” said Mohan.

These gift cards, which will be issued by startups Quiksilver and PayU, are designed to help businesses get the immediate cash flow to stay afloat. Users can redeem these gift cards at these businesses later on.

The announcement today comes as Facebook begins to engage deeply with small businesses in the country. The company invested $5.7 billion in Jio Platforms earlier this year and said it would work with the Indian giant to explore ways to serve the nation’s 60 million businesses.

“The recovery of small businesses from the pandemic will be critical to the recovery of Indian economy, and we want to do everything we can to help. Today we’re building on our commitment by announcing the small business grant for India,” said Mohan.

Scores of businesses in India already use Facebook to reach potential customers. WhiteHat Jr., an 18-month-old startup that teaches coding to kids, is one of the businesses that has used Facebook extensively in recent quarters. The startup was acquired by Indian decacorn Byju’s for $300 million last month.

More on Facebook’s business in India tomorrow. Mohan will be joining us at Disrupt conference.

#apps, #asia, #coronavirus, #facebook, #india, #social

0

Leaked memo excoriates Facebook’s ‘slapdash and haphazard’ response to global political manipulation

A former Facebook data scientist dropped a detailed, damning memo on her last day there, calling the social network out for what she describes as an arbitrary, slow, and generally inadequate response to fake accounts and activity affecting politics worldwide.

BuzzFeed News acquired the full memo and has published excerpts in this report, which is well worth reading in its entirety.

Zhang was reportedly fired earlier in September for, as she describes it, ongoing disagreement with management about the company’s priorities and response to widespread manipulation.

In the 6,600-word memo, Zhang describes a system where the focus is very much on ordinary spam — which is of course a major problem for the platform — while “coordinated inauthentic behavior” (CIB) attempting to influence elections is not awarded as much priority or resources. Unless it’s politically expedient, for example if a botnet needs to be rolled up before testimony in Congress or pressure from the press.

As the memo reported by BuzzFeed News reads:

It’s an open secret within the civic integrity space that Facebook’s short-term decisions are largely motivated by PR and the potential for negative attention… It’s why I’ve seen priorities of escalations shoot up when others start threatening to go to the press, and why I was informed by a leader in my organization that my civic work was not impactful under the rationale that if the problems were meaningful they would have attracted attention, became a press fire, and convinced the company to devote more attention to the space.

Overall, the focus of my organization – and most of Facebook – was on large-scale problems, an approach which fixated us on spam. The civic aspect was discounted because of its small volume, its disproportionate impact ignored.

I’ve asked Facebook for comment on the memo, including the following specific claims reportedly made by Zhang:

  • Large scale political manipulation returned in Honduras weeks after Facebook made attempts to stop it
  • Her report of coordinated manipulation campaigns in Azerbaijan was not investigated for a year afterwards
  • More than 10 million fake reactions and accounts were removed from the US and Brazil 2018 elections and never disclosed
  • A major political influence campaign in Delhi, India this February was never reported
  • Some 672,000 accounts were removed this spring from COVID-related misinformation campaigns in Spain and the U.S., also never disclosed
  • Whether to pursue a misinformation campaign at all is often left to mid-level employees like Zhang, who claimed she had “no oversight whatsoever”
  • Zhang’s push to dedicate more resources to civic platform problems led to her dismissal

The memo states outright what many have suspected is the case all along: That Facebook “projects an image of strength and competence… but the reality is that many of our actions are slapdash and haphazard accidents.” Not only that, but that the picture of Facebook’s efforts to combat this sort of thing is highly tailored by the company itself and not, it seems, in any way a complete or accurate one.

This post will be updated if we receive any substantial comment from Facebook.

#facebook, #government, #policy, #social

0

YouTube hit with UK class action style suit seeking $3BN+ for ‘unlawful’ use of kids’ data

Another class action style lawsuit has been lodged against a tech giant in the UK alleging violations of privacy and seeking major damages. The latest representative action, filed against Google-owned YouTube, accuses the platform of routinely breaking UK and European data protection laws by unlawfully targeting up to five million under-13-year-olds with addictive programming and harvests their data for advertisers.

UK and EU law contain specific protections for children’s data, limiting the age at which minors can legally consent to their data being processed — in the case of the UK’s Data Protection Act to aged 13.

The suit is being brought by international law firm Hausfeld and Foxglove, a tech justice non-profit, which says they’re seeking damages from YouTube of more than £2.5BN (~$3.2BN).

Per the firms, it’s the first such representative litigation brought against a tech giant on behalf of children and among the largest such cases to date. (Last month a similar class style action was filed against Oracle in the UK alleging breaches of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) related to cookie tracking.)

If the case succeeds, they say millions of British households whose kids watch YouTube may be owed “hundreds of pounds” in damages.

Duncan McCann, a researcher on the digital economy and father of three children all under 13 who watch YouTube and have their data collected and ads targeted at them by Google, is serving as representative claimant in the case.

Commenting in a statement, McCann said: “My kids love YouTube, and I want them to be able to use it. But it isn’t ‘free’ — we’re paying for it with our private lives and our kids’ mental health. I try to be relatively conscious of what’s happening with my kids’ data online but even so it’s just impossible to combat Google’s lure and influence, which comes from its surveillance power. There’s a massive power imbalance between us and them, and it needs to be fixed.”

“The [YouTube] website has no user practical age requirements and makes no adequate attempt to limit usage by youngsters,” notes Hausfeld in a press release about the lawsuit.

While a Foxglove release about the suit points to YouTube pitch materials intended for toy makers Mattel and Hasbro (and made public via an earlier FTC suit against Google) — in which it says the platform described itself as “the new Saturday morning cartoons”, “the number one website visited regularly by kids”, “today’s leader in reaching children age 6-11 against top TV channels”, and “unanimously voted as the favorite website of kids 2-12”.

Reached for comment, a YouTube spokesperson sent us this statement: “We don’t comment on pending litigation. YouTube is not for children under the age of 13. We launched the YouTube Kids app as a dedicated destination for kids and are always working to better protect kids and families on YouTube.”

The tech giant maintains that YouTube is not for under 13s — pointing to the existence of YouTube Kids, a dedicated kids’ app it launched in 2015 to offer what it called a “safer and easier” space for children to discover “family-focused content”, to back up the claim.

Although the company has never claimed that no children under 13 use YouTube. And last year the FTC agreed a $170M settlement with Google to end an investigation by the regulator and the New York Attorney General into alleged collection of children’s personal information by YouTube without the consent of their parents.

The rise in class action style lawsuits being filed in the UK seeking damages for breaches of data protection law follow a notable appeals court decision, just under a year ago, also against Google.

In that case the appeals court unblocked a class-action style lawsuit against the tech giant related to bypassing iOS privacy settings to track iPhone users.

In the US, Google paid $22.5M to the FTC back in 2012 to settle the same charge, and later paid a smaller sum to settle a number of US class action lawsuits. The UK case, meanwhile, continues.

While Europe has historically strong data protection laws, there has been — and still is — a lack of robust regulatory enforcement which is leaving a gap that litigation funders are increasingly willing to plug.

In the UK the challenge for those seeking damages for large scale violations is there’s no direct equivalent to a US class action. But last year’s appeals court ruling in the Safari bypass case has opened the door to representative actions.

The court also said damages could be sought for a breach of the law without needing to prove pecuniary loss or distress, establishing a route to redress for consumers that’s now being tested by several cases.

#advertising-tech, #childrens-data, #data-protection, #europe, #gdpr, #google, #lawsuit, #privacy, #social, #youtube

0

Facebook introduces a co-viewing experience in Messenger, ‘Watch Together’

Facebook today is rolling out a new feature that will allow friends and family to watch videos together over Messenger. The feature, called “Watch Together,” works with all Facebook Watch video content, including its original programs, user uploads, creator content, live streams, and soon, music videos. At launch, the co-watching experience can be used by up to 8 people in a Messenger video chat on mobile, or by up to 50 people in Messenger Rooms.

The COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged a number of streaming services — including Hulu, Plex and Amazon Video — adopt similar co-viewing features, or at the very least, unofficially permit third-party apps that enable co-watching, like Netflix Party.

However, Facebook didn’t just jump on this bandwagon. It actually announced its plans to develop a co-viewing experience for Messenger at its F8 developer conference two years ago. And the product has been in development ever since.

Image Credits: Facebook

To roll out something like co-viewing across Messenger is a significant technical challenge. The service hooks into the Facebook Watch CDN (content distribution network), to pull the videos into Messenger. It also then developed a system that allows for tight synchronization between the various users’ streams of the same video. That, too, can be difficult, as someone in a rural area may have slower bandwidth speeds than someone in an urban metro, but the service has to make sure they’re seeing the same part of the video at the same time.

Image Credits: Facebook

To use the feature, users have to first be in a Messenger video call or a Messenger Room — it can’t be kicked off from the Facebook Watch tab or anywhere else. From Messenger, they’re able to start a co-watching session by selecting the new option from a drawer that pulls up from the bottom of the screen. Initially, this feature is only available on iOS and Android mobile devices, Facebook says.

From the interface that appears, users can then browse or search to find something to watch together. Facebook Watch content is organized into categories like “TV & Movies,” “Watched” (your recently watched content), “Uploaded” (your own videos), and “Suggested.”

While users can’t create playlists or queues, all participants can help choose videos. That is, there’s not one person directing the experience for others. Everyone can also stop, pause, jump forward or back in the videos, too.

Though many may use the feature for a sort of lean-back co-watching experience, it has other potential. For example, a group could get together to watch a fitness video and workout together.

Though official music videos recently became available on Facebook Watch, thanks to Facebook’s new deal with record labels, they’re not immediately available in this co-viewing experience. However, Facebook says that they’ll be added in the next few weeks, initially in the U.S., India and Thailand to start. Each market will also feature localized content under the “TV & Movies” section, too.

The feature will begin rolling out globally across iOS and Android, but Facebook intends to have web support ready in a matter of weeks, and other platforms, like desktop, will follow.

 

#apps, #media, #mobile, #social

0

As COVID-19 era drags on, VCs look beyond Zoom calls for due diligence and sourcing

While the coronavirus has accelerated the dealmaking pace for many early-stage startups, activity has not come without adaptation.

Remote investment struggles for investors were clear from the get go: it’s challenging to invest millions in someone you have never met, and there’s not a lot to learn from “off-the-cuff” conversations that are calendared days in advance. Some investors said the pandemic was forcing them to stick with people they know in categories where they have experience, limiting the network that one can push money into.

Over six months into a global pandemic, though, new techniques are emerging to address some of these woes. The very art of a deal, from due diligence to sourcing, is changing from a cultural and technological standpoint.

One of the new places that recreates informal bonding and camaraderie is Matchbox.VC, formerly Fortnite.VC.

The service connects founders and investors over video games to network and source deals in a low-stress environment. Matchbox.VC was inspired from a tweet by Founders Fund principal Delian Asparouhov and has garnered interest from investors like Arjun Sethi from Tribe Capital, Ryan Shea, the ex-founder of Blockstack, Jake Chapman from AlphafundVC and Peter Rojas from Betaworks. Its last game night was backed by Yac, Tribe Capital and Shrug Capital.

The pitch is simple: founders and investors sign up on the website, answer basic questions about their focus, company and stage before picking three game choices from eight options that include Fortnite, COD: Warzone and Valorant.

#clubhouse, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #lunchclub, #social, #startups, #tc, #video

0

Facebook seeks fresh legal delay to block order to suspend its transatlantic data transfers

Facebook is firing up its lawyers to try to block EU regulators from forcing it to suspend transatlantic data transfers in the wake of a landmark ruling by Europe’s top court this summer.

The tech giant has applied to judges in Ireland to seek a judicial review of a preliminary suspension order, it has emerged.

Earlier this week Facebook confirmed it had received a preliminary order from its lead EU data regulator — Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) — ordering it to suspend transfers.

That’s the logical conclusion after the so-called Schrems II ruling which struck down a flagship EU-US data transfer arrangement on the grounds of US surveillance overreach — simultaneously casting doubt on the legality of alternative mechanisms for EU to US data transfers in cases where the data controller is subject to FISA 702 (as Facebook is).

Today The Currency reported that Dublin commercial law firm, Mason Hayes + Curran, filed papers with the Irish High Court yesterday, naming Ireland’s data protection commissioners as defendant in the judicial review action.

Facebook confirmed the application — sending us this statement: “A lack of safe, secure and legal international data transfers would have damaging consequences for the European economy. We urge regulators to adopt a pragmatic and proportionate approach until a sustainable long-term solution can be reached.”

In further remarks the company did not want directly quoted it told us it believes the preliminary order is premature as it said it expects further regulator guidance in the wake of the Schrems II ruling.

It’s not clear what further guidance Facebook is hankering for, nor what grounds it is claiming for seeking a judicial review of the DPC’s process. We asked it about this but it declined to offer any details. However the tech giant’s intent to (further) delay regulatory action which threats its business interests is crystal clear.

The original complaint against Facebook’s transatlantic data transfers dates all the way back to 2013.

 

Ireland’s legal system allows for ex parte applications for judicial review. So all Facebook had to do to file an application to the High Court to challenge the DPC’s preliminary order is a statement of grounds, a verifying affidavit and an ex parte docket (plus any relevant court fee). Oh and it had to be sure this paperwork was submitted on A4.

The DPC’s deputy commissioner, Graham Doyle, declined to comment on the latest twist in the neverending saga.

#cjeu, #data-transfers, #europe, #facebook, #irish-dpc, #lawsuit, #max-schrems, #privacy, #schrems-ii, #social

0

TikTok fixes Android bugs that could have led to account hijacks

TikTok has fixed four security bugs in its Android app that could have led to the hijacking of user accounts.

The vulnerabilities, discovered by app security startup Oversecured, could have allowed a malicious app on the same device to steal sensitive files, like session tokens, from inside the TikTok app. Session tokens are small files that keep the user logged in without having to re-enter their passwords. But if stolen, these tokens can give an attacker access to a user’s account without needing their password.

The malicious app would have to exploit the vulnerabilities to inject a malicious file into the vulnerable TikTok app. Once the user opens the app, the malicious file is triggered, letting the malicious app access and send stolen session tokens to the attacker’s server silently in the background.

Sergey Toshin, founder of Oversecured, told TechCrunch, that the malicious app could also hijack TikTok’s app permissions, allowing it access to the Android device’s camera, microphone, and the private data on the device, like photos and videos.

Oversecured published technical details of the bugs on its website.

TikTok said it fixed the bugs earlier this year after Oversecured reported the vulnerabilities.

“As part of our ongoing efforts to build the safest and most secure platform in the industry, we constantly work with third parties to find and fix bugs,” said TikTok spokesperson Hilary McQuaide. “While the bugs in question would only pose a risk if a user had also downloaded a malicious application onto their Android device, we have fixed them. We appreciate the researcher reporting this issue to us so that we could fix it, and we encourage all of our users to download the latest version of the app.”

News of the bugs come just days before an anticipated ban on TikTok is set to take effect. The Trump administration declared the video sharing app a threat to national security earlier this year over its ties to China.

ByteDance, the Beijing-headquartered parent company of TikTok, has denied the claims, and sued the federal government to challenge the allegations.

TikTok, which is not accessible in China, said it had “never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”

#android, #apps, #beijing, #bytedance, #federal-government, #mobile-security, #security, #social, #tiktok

0

Daily Crunch: Facebook launches a college-only network

Facebook returns to its college roots, Alexa gets a printing feature and we take a deep dive into Unity’s business. This is your Daily Crunch for September 10, 2020.

The big story: Facebook launches a college-only network

If you’re old and decrepit like me, you remember when Facebook was only for college students and required a college email address to join. Well, it seems everything old is new again, because the company is piloting a new feature called Facebook Campus … which is only for college students and requires a college email address to join.

Facebook’s Charmaine Hung argued that the product is particularly relevant now: “With COVID-19, we see that many students aren’t returning to campus in the fall. Now, classes are being held online and students are trying to react to this new normal of what it’s like to connect to clubs and organizations that you care about, when you’re not together.”

Of course, this could also be a way for Facebook to try to stay relevant to a younger demographic, before they move on to other apps.

The tech giants

Amazon launches Alexa Print, a way to print lists, recipes, games and educational content using your voice — The feature works with any second-generation Echo device or newer, as well as a range of printers.

Google says it’s eliminating Autocomplete suggestions that target candidates or voting — The company says that it will now remove any Autocomplete predictions that seem to endorse or oppose a candidate or a political party, or that make a claim about voting or the electoral process.

Microsoft Surface Duo review — Brian Heater calls it a beautiful, expensive work in progress.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Orchard real estate platform raises $69 million Series C led by Revolution Growth — Orchard (formerly Perch) launched in 2017 with a mission to digitize the entire experience of buying and selling a home.

How Unity built a gaming engine for the future — Eric Peckham offers an in-depth look at the company’s financials as it prepares to go public.

India’s Zomato raises $100M from Tiger Global, says it is planning to file for IPO next year — In an email to employees, CEO Deepinder Goyal said the food delivery startup has about $250 million cash in the bank, with several more “big name” investors preparing to join the current round.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Use ‘productive paranoia’ to build cybersecurity culture at your startup — We asked Casey Ellis, founder, chairman and chief technology officer at Bugcrowd, to share his ideas for how startups can improve their security posture.

What’s driving API-powered startups forward in 2020? — It’s not hard to find startups with API-based delivery models that are doing well this year.

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

Everything else

Announcing the Startup Battlefield companies at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020 — This is our most competitive batch to date.

$3 million Breakthrough Prize goes to scientist designing molecules to fight COVID-19 — David Baker’s work over the last 20 years has helped validate the idea that computers can help us understand and create complex molecules like proteins.

Recorded music revenue is up on streaming growth, as physical sales plummet — With vastly more people stuck inside seeking novel methods of entertainment, paid subscriptions are up 24% year-over-year.

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, #facebook, #mobile, #social

0

Facebook returns to its roots with Campus, a college student-only social network

Facebook is getting back to its roots as a college-focused social network. The company announced today the launch of a new social networking platform, Facebook Campus, which offers college students a private place to connect with classmates, join groups, discover upcoming campus events, get updates from their school’s administration and chat with other students from their dorm, clubs or any other campus group.

The new platform requires a school email address (@.edu) to join and will live within a dedicated section of the Facebook app. It will be accessible from a tab at the bottom of the screen or from the “More” menu alongside sections like Watch, Dating, Gaming, News, Marketplace and others.

“We wanted to create a product where it was easy for classmates to meet each other, foster new relationships and also easily start conversations,” explains Facebook Campus Product Manager Charmaine Hung. “And we really think that Campus is more relevant than ever right now. With COVID-19, we see that many students aren’t returning to campus in the fall. Now, classes are being held online and students are trying to react to this new normal of what it’s like to connect to clubs and organizations that you care about, when you’re not together,” she added.

More broadly, Facebook likely wanted to address its “teen problem,” and Facebook Campus is its solution.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook, according to reports, has been losing its grip on the younger demographic, as they’ve shifted their attention to other social apps, like YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram. According to a 2018 study from the Pew Research Center, only 51% of U.S. users ages 13 through 17 said they used Facebook, down from 71% who said the same in 2015. Meanwhile, a 2019 survey by Edison Research indicated that Facebook had lost 15 million users since 2017, with the biggest drop coming from the 12 to 34-year-old group.

Facebook Campus is built to bring these users back by offering a more exclusive place for private networking within Facebook. It’s similar, in some ways, to Facebook’s effort to address the needs of corporate users with Facebook Workplace. Instead of being new ideas for social networking, these platforms leverage Facebook’s existing technology, like News Feed and Groups, to deliver solutions for particular demographics.

At launch, Facebook Campus is only available at around 30 colleges and universities across the U.S. (see full list below), but the company plans to expand over time.

Some of the colleges have a deeper partnership with Facebook and have signed up to publish updates and news to their students’ Facebook Campus feed, as well. In these cases, the college or university may encourage various student leaders to join the network, too.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook will market the new app both within its app and offline. Students may be prompted to join Campus through a prompt in News Feed if Facebook has enough data to indicate they’re likely a student at a supported college. For example, if a Facebook user regularly visited a supported university’s Facebook Page, Facebook may display the Facebook Campus sign-up prompt. There are also student-led incentive programs where students who increase enrollment are rewarded with Facebook Campus swag, like t-shirts and towels.

In addition to requiring a .edu email address, Facebook Campus requires a graduation year — and it will need to be no more than five years out from the present.

After signing up, students create their Facebook Campus profile. While this is linked on the back end to the student’s main Facebook profile, it lets them add college-specific details that won’t automatically appear anywhere else on Facebook. Here, Campus users can add their graduation year, dorm, major and minor, classes they’re taking, hometown, Instagram profile and more.

Image Credits: Facebook

This information can only be viewed by other Facebook Campus users who attend the same school. It also helps power Campus’ student directory, where Facebook Campus users can search students by name, year, major or class, or browse to find classmates to add as friends, including those who are in their same dorm or clubs.

Image Credits: Facebook

Within Facebook Campus, students can also discover and join Groups and Events for their school. These can be those associated with official student clubs or Greek organizations, those associated with a particular dorm or even those just focused on a particular interest, like photography, cooking, writing, hiking, etc. Students can create buy/sell groups or roommate search groups, too, or anything else not in violation of Facebook’s terms.

These groups and events essentially function like those on Facebook itself, with the exception being that they can only be viewed, joined and accessed by students.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook Campus also has its own private Chat section, which is kept separate from Facebook and Messenger. These group chats work a little differently, as users don’t actually have to find and invite members. Instead, students in a particular group can opt to join its associated chat, if they choose.

All updates from your groups, clubs and events are in the Facebook Campus News Feed. But unlike on Facebook proper, students can’t post to their personal profile within Campus. They can only post to groups, events or chats.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook says this decision helps cut down on spam and allows users to focus their energy on engaging with smaller communities they’re involved with.

A small handful of universities have already partnered with Facebook to distribute announcements to their Facebook Campus channel for their students to see. However, any school can choose to opt-in to this feature at launch.

At launch, the following universities and colleges will support Facebook Campus:

Benedict College; Brown University; California Institute of Technology; College of William & Mary; Duke University; Florida International University; Georgia Southern University; Georgia State University; Johns Hopkins University; Lane College; Lincoln University (Pennsylvania); Middlebury College; New Jersey Institute of Technology; Northwestern University; Rice University; Sarah Lawrence College; Scripps College; Smith College; Spelman College; Stephen F. Austin State University; Tufts University; University at Albany – State University of New York; University of Hartford; University of Louisville; University of Pennsylvania; University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; Vassar College; Virginia Tech; Wellesley College; and Wesleyan University.

While Facebook’s early days saw it targeting Ivy League schools, the company says these first Facebook Campus schools were selected for diversity’s sake. That is, diversity of the student population, diversity of geography and diversity of school specialties (like liberal arts). They also represent a mix of public and private schools.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook Campus, notably, won’t include advertising in its Feed. But it will support Facebook’s advertising business. Advertisers won’t be able to specifically target Facebook Campus users, but they can target users by interest — even if the only place the user indicated they had that interest was within Campus. For example, a user who joined a cooking club in Facebook Campus could be targeted by an advertiser looking to reach users interested in cooking.

Hung said Facebook hasn’t tested Facebook Campus before today, even with small groups. Instead, this launch is considered a pilot for the new experience. The company did spend time conducting roundtables with universities and with student groups to gain product insight and feedback, however.

 

#apps, #facebook, #mobile, #social, #social-media, #tc, #teens

0

Snapchat’s new Lens celebrates tomorrow’s NFL kickoff

Snap and the NFL recently announced a multi-year extension to their content partnership. Now, with the season starting tomorrow, they’re revealing more details about what kinds of content fans can expect to find on Snapchat.

For tomorrow night’s kickoff, they’ve created a special augmented reality Lens that takes fans from the Kansas Chiefs’ locker room (the Chiefs are hosting the Houston Texans) through the tunnel and into Arrowhead stadium, where they’ll be greeted by Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Houston’s Deshaun Watson.

The Lens will be available nationally, and as regular games begin, it will transform into an entrance into a more generic NFL stadium.

After that, the NFL will be creating a highlight show that updates each game day, plus three weekly shows — “Rankings” (which offers historic NFL facts designed to encourage fan debates), “Mic’d Up” (a behind-the-scenes look at what coaches and players say during the games) and and “Predictions.” The NFL will also continue producing “Real Talk with the NFL,” a show that highlights the league’s social justice initiatives.

Ian Trombetta, the NFL’s senior vice president of social and influence marketing, told me that all of this content is created by the league’s social lab in partnership with Snap. And while the NFL continues to see high ratings on traditional linear TV, he said Snapchat plays “a really critical role for us.”

“It’s always about: How do we engage new audiences, younger audiences, and do it in ways that are very authentic to the platforms,” Trombetta said. “We don’t look to do things that are just content dumps.”

NFL Kickoff Portal Lens

Image Credits: Snap

Snapchat says that viewership of NFL content increased 80% during the 2019-20 season, and that 90% of viewers were under the age of 35.

Of course, it’s going to be a strange season. Like other professional sports organizations, the NFL has to test its players for COVID-19, and different teams are taking different approaches towards allowing fans in the stadiums — many games will be taking place without fans at all.

“The [NFL] organization is leaning on us more than they ever had,” Trombetta said. “We didn’t ignore the fact of what’s happening, anyone would be crazy to think we could totally shut that off. There has to be an acknowledgement of it, while also finding new ways, very seamless ways for fans to engage and celebrate rituals around games that they’ve established over years and decades.”

#entertainment, #media, #mobile, #nfl, #snap, #snapchat, #social

0

Twitter begins adding headlines and descriptions to some of its ‘trends’

Twitter is working to make its real-time Trending section less confusing. Last week, the company announced it would begin pinning to the trend’s page a representative tweet that gives more insight about a trend and promised more changes would soon be underway. Today, the company says it will begin writing headlines and descriptions for some of the trends, too, so you’ll better understand why something is showing up in the Explore tab or when you tap into a trend itself.

Combined, these changes could have made Twitter’s Trending section feel more like a newsreader experience, had they been properly and fully rolled out across the Trends product.

For example, instead of only seeing that the rapper “Travis Scott” is trending at No. 1, as he is as of the time writing, Twitter now explains by way of a headline and short summary that he’s trending because his menu collaboration with McDonald’s has just launched. That’s helpful — especially because a celebrity’s name often trends when they’ve passed away or said something outrageous.

Unfortunately, Twitter’s ability to properly annotate its trends is still lacking, despite its recent updates.

There are a number of trends that will still offer no explanation — in particular, those that are led with a hashtag, like today’s #IJustDontBelieve, where users are tweeting about what they don’t believe by filling in the rest of the tweet with their own opinions. The long hashtag #BTS2ndNo1ONHot100, which is driven by fans of the KPop group, BTS, is also left unannotated. For newcomers unfamiliar with how BTS fans heavily use Twitter or the popularity of Twitter’s fill-the-blank memes, these sorts of trends could be confusing.

In other cases where a trend is unannotated, Twitter lets a news headline do the work of adding context.

Often, several of the top trends will be focused on news items of the day. But instead of a summary and headline provided by Twitter, you’ll find a representative news headline link listed alongside the trend instead.

Image Credits: Twitter screenshot by TechCrunch

“Proud Boys,” for example, is the No. 17 trend in the U.S. as of the time of writing. But Twitter only links to an article on the site Daily Beast that references a violent clash between the far-right Proud Boys and protestors. It doesn’t tackle trying to explain why this particular article, detailing one of now many incidents of violence across the U.S., is trending. Users, presumably, are meant to infer that the article itself is getting a lot of attention. But in reality, Twitter users are tweeting a variety of content under the “Proud Boys” trend, including their own videos of violent attacks and standoffs.

In this way, Twitter is doing a disservice by pointing only to a single news article when people aren’t necessarily talking about the article itself — they’re sharing direct footage of what they witnessed or their opinions about the increasing violence in general.

Twitter, meanwhile, has put its curation team to work to summarize less important news, like a trend about Harry Styles’ new look.

Currently, Twitter’s Trending section in the U.S. features a list of 29 trends, but only around a half dozen have a headline or description written by Twitter, at the moment. 

Twitter had said when announcing the changes last week that the descriptions written by its curation team aim to provide straightforward, clearly sourced context around why something is trending on “some” tweets.

What’s not been clear, however, is how Twitter has been picking and choosing which trends to annotate.

Twitter, in theory, could have provided a lot more context around its trends, if it had invested more heavily in the product. There are third-party Twitter API partners that can generate data, like when a trend is breaking, the velocity and number of tweets it’s seeing, the social sentiment around the trend, the location tweets are being generated from and much more. But this sort of data isn’t available directly on Twitter.

Asked why only some of its trends have Twitter-provided explanations, a Twitter spokesperson explained that Twitter will annotate only those trends it believes needs the extra information.

“If a trend is particularly confusing and a lot of people are talking about it, it may get a pinned Tweet or a description,” the spokesperson says. That means Twitter is making editorial decisions to provide less context at times when it’s needed the most.

If, for example, a majority of tweets about a protest were either in support of or in horror of said event, Twitter’s ability to contextualize that trend with data would be incredibly useful. But it’s not taking on those sorts of difficult challenges, it seems.

The spokesperson added that Twitter hopes to add more context to more trends over time.

#social, #tc, #trends, #twitter

0

TikTok joins Europe’s code on tackling hate speech

TikTok, the popular short video sharing app, has joined the European Union’s Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech.

In a statement on joining the code, TikTok’s head of trust and safety for EMEA, Cormac Keenan, said: “We have never allowed hate on TikTok, and we believe it’s important that internet platforms are held to account on an issue as crucial as this.”

The non-legally binding code kicked off four years ago with a handful of tech giants agreeing to measures aimed at accelerating takedowns of illegal content while supporting their users to report hate speech and committing to increase joint working to share best practice to tackle the problem.

Since 2016 the code has grown from single to double figure signatories — and now covers Dailymotion, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Jeuxvideo.com, Microsoft, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube.

TikTok’s statement goes on to highlight the platform’s “zero-tolerance” stance on hate speech and hate groups — in what reads like a tacit dig at Facebook, given the latter’s record of refusing to take down hate speech on ‘freedom of expression‘ grounds (including founder Mark Zuckerberg’s personal defence of letting holocaust denial thrive on his platform).

“We have a zero-tolerance stance on organised hate groups and those associated with them, like accounts that spread or are linked to white supremacy or nationalism, male supremacy, anti-Semitism, and other hate-based ideologies. We also remove race-based harassment and the denial of violent tragedies, such as the Holocaust and slavery,” Keenan writes.

“Our ultimate goal is to eliminate hate on TikTok. We recognise that this may seem an insurmountable challenge as the world is increasingly polarised, but we believe that this shouldn’t stop us from trying. Every bit of progress we make gets us that much closer to a more welcoming community experience for people on TikTok and out in the world.”

It’s interesting that EU hate speech rules are being viewed as a PR opportunity for TikTok to differentiate itself vs rival social platforms — even as most of them (Facebook included) are signed up to the very same code.

TikTok signing up comes a few months after it added its name to a similar EU initiative aimed at tackling the spread of online disinformation via a series of non-legally binding commitments.

The voluntary codes have proved popular with tech giants, given they lack legal compulsion and provide the opportunity for platforms to project the idea they’re doing something about tricky content issues — without the calibre and efficacy of their action being quantifiable.

The codes have also bought time by staving off actual regulation. But that is now looming. EU lawmakers are, for example, eyeing binding transparency rules for platforms to back up voluntary reports of illegal hate speech removals and make sure users are being properly informed of platform actions.

Commissioners are also consulting on and drafting a broader package of measures with the aim of updating long-standing rules wrapping digital services — including looking specifically at the rules around online liability and defining platform responsibilities vis-a-vis content.

A proposal for the Digital Services Act is slated before the end of the year.

The exact shape of the next-gen EU platform regulation remains to be seen but tighter rules for platform giants is one very real possibility, as lawmakers consult on ex ante regulation of so-called ‘gatekeeper’ platforms.

“Europe’s online marketplaces should be vibrant ecosystems, where start-ups have a real chance to blossom – they shouldn’t be closed shops controlled by a handful of gatekeeper platforms,” said EVP and competition chief, Margarthe Vestager, giving a speech in Berlin yesterday. “A list of ‘dos and don’ts’ could prevent conduct that is proven to be harmful to happen in the first place.

“The goal is that all companies, big and small, can compete on their merits on and offline.”

In just one example of the ongoing content moderation challenges faced by platforms, clips of a suicide were reported to be circulating on TikTok this week. Yesterday the company said it was trying to remove the content which it said had been livestreamed on Facebook.

#code-of-conduct-on-countering-illegal-hate-speech, #eu, #europe, #hate-speech, #platform-regulation, #policy, #social, #tiktok

0

Local governments that embrace digital services during challenging times can make real change happen

It has been a hard year. We wake up every morning to new developments in the tragedies of the moment spanning a pandemic, the greatest unexpected loss of life since 9/11, national civil unrest, natural disasters and a looming economic collapse.

In the face of these developments, a completely understandable message from government agencies to the public might be: We can’t serve you right now. Please take a number and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

But as we know now, this is an unacceptable path to successfully, and proactively, addressing the increasing needs of citizens facing public health risk and economic uncertainty. In fact, in the past few months, Americans have exhibited an unquenchable thirst for fast, effective government services and information. Resident demands of local government and community organizations are rising. Their voices are louder than ever before. People are bringing a new civic experience to the forefront of local governments that’s delivered on their terms — and aligned with growing demand for always-on, 24/7 information and services.

A hallmark of 2020 (so far) has been global developments impacting people at a very local level. For instance, a pandemic sparked a massive shift in American civic engagement around issues like public health and racial equality. The past few months have reinforced what the real power of local government is: To efficiently offer services and information that directly impact people’s lives. For cities and municipalities, the question now becomes: How can local leaders embrace this new era of civic engagement in the world of COVID-19 to deliver digital solutions that help everyone meet the moment?

Build a digital public square for the people

In the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic has literally closed city halls and forced government agencies at all levels to rethink modernizing public sector work to digitally and equitably deliver citizen services. Mayors, city council members and local agency officials, in particular, need to embrace this complex moment in time as an opportunity to cultivate a more vibrant, straightforward, inclusive and participatory municipal experience. One way to do that is to invest in digital tools, technologies and talent that can help local governments develop online civic engagement and citizen service outlets. Platforms that not only offer needed government services, but also prioritize input from residents and encourage community dialogue guided by clarity, trust and accountability.

Service has always been at the core of local government. However, a main challenge facing public sector leaders today is how to transfer critical services online. More specifically, developing online services that allow people who no longer have the luxury of waiting in lines for in-person interactions to remotely register to vote, obtain or renew a permit, report downed power lines and more.

A recommended path toward solution(s): At the end of the day, citizens are consumers. They want around-the-clock access to government services and options for ways to interact with service providers that meet their needs while taking their personal comfort into account. For local government agencies in the midst of digital transformation, building convenience into in-house digital government offerings and solution procurements is crucial. Digital government service solutions must be designed — by agencies or contracted vendors — to be platform and device agnostic (or, at least, interchangeable) on the back end; taking an omnichannel approach that addresses the needs of citizens and agencies through web, mobile, social media and offline options on the front end.

Bring the value of local government home

An increased online presence of community members and remote workers during the pandemic offers municipalities a fresh and cost-effective opportunity to advance local government digital service. Until recently, seemingly table stakes actions like producing photos for identification cards, scanning important documents, digitizing forms and streamlining workflows and case management were only plausible if large government teams had the budget to purchase required technologies separately, then stitch them together. Budget and capacity-constrained communities were largely left in the dark.

The good news is that today’s cloud-based solutions are complete, affordable and scalable to communities of all sizes. The market features solutions that are purpose-built for local governments to integrate with legacy IT systems while transitioning traditionally in-person services to digital interactions. And it’s possible to tap these solutions to fuel America’s new, more active brand of civic engagement and service citizens rapidly.

Further, the advent of accessible and affordable (or free) digital engagement platforms now complements an expanding recognition among American society that truly impactful things can come from government sources. The shift in thinking has produced civic engagement defined not by a sprint to profits, as is the case in the private sector, but by the ability for a representative community to actually influence policy and shape citizen services delivery.

A recommended path toward solution(s): In addition to always-on capabilities, digital government platforms need to be able to deliver goods and services to citizens directly and without friction. Whether accessing a government assistance application or applying for a park permit, citizens want their requests fulfilled without complications or inefficiencies plaguing the process — and going all-virtual or mostly remote during COVID-19 has made this more important than ever. In response, agencies should invest in the creation of digital forums for two-way communication to capture feedback that accurately reflects the demands and needs of the local community at the individual household level.

Boost digital forum accountability and representation moving forward

Today’s elevated energy around civic engagement is a direct result of the pandemic, expanding consumer activism and recent protests against systemic injustice. This confluence of factors offers local governments a fleeting opportunity to move beyond simply observing vocal citizen activity across the country. There’s now an opening to build upon, and actively grow, levels of civic engagement and community trust over time.

It’s now possible for local governments to reach more citizens by expanding their networks of interested subscribers and combat misinformation while keeping every resident informed. Agencies can advance on both fronts by providing civic leaders a two-way forum that encourages them to share progress being made in policy and procedures. After all, interacting with governments should be as simple and transparent for everyone as checking a bank account balance or reordering coffee pods from Amazon.

A recommended path toward solution(s): Municipalities should jump at this chance to really listen to diverse community voices pushing for change — especially as some powerful people in government and society seek to quiet or ignore them. They should consider developing long overdue digital solutions that amplify diverse community voices, deliver critical services and help to inform people broadly. Citizens, for their part, should be able to easily provide feedback, share ideas and voice their pressing needs to public sector officials or representatives who can help residents feel secure, listened to and taken care of. Expanded civic engagement impact entails reaching more people through their preferred channels, whether that’s email, text or snail mail, and establishing a dialogue that converts to action.

I’m confident that local governments throughout the country can rise to today’s unprecedented challenges by providing digital civic engagement outlets built to elevate individual perspectives on policy issues and surface life experiences that, in turn, inform inclusive civic action and real change.

#column, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #government, #opinion, #policy, #social, #tc

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Facebook to warn third-party developers of vulnerable code

Facebook has announced a policy change that will see the company notify third-party developers if it finds a security vulnerability in their code.

Facebook said it “may occasionally find” critical bugs and vulnerabilities in third-party code and systems, in a blog post announcing the change. “When that happens, our priority is to see these issues promptly fixed, while making sure that people impacted are informed so that they can protect themselves by deploying a patch or updating their systems.”

Facebook has previously notified third-party developers of vulnerabilities, but the policy shift formally codifies the company’s policy towards disclosing and revealing security vulnerabilities.

Vulnerability disclosure programs, or VDPs, allow companies to set the rules of engagement for finding and disclosing security bugs. VDPs also help guide the disclosure and publication of vulnerabilities once a bug is fixed. Companies often use a bug bounty to pay hackers who follow the company’s reporting and disclosure rules.

The policy change is not entirely altruistic. Facebook, like many other tech companies, rely on a ton of third-party code and open-source libraries. But by putting the change in writing, it also puts third-party developers on notice if they don’t fix vulnerabilities in a timely fashion.

Casey Ellis, founder and chief technology officer at vulnerability disclosure platform Bugcrowd, said the policy shift was becoming increasingly popular for companies with a “large, user-centric, third-party attack surface,” and echoes similar efforts by Atlassian, Google, and Microsoft.

Facebook said when it finds a vulnerability, it will give third-party developers 21 days to respond to report and 90 days to fix the issues, a widely accepted timeframe to report and remediate security issues. The company says it will make a reasonable effort to find the right contact for reporting a vulnerability including, but not limited to, emailing security reporting emails, filing bugs without confidential details in bug trackers, or filing support tickets. But the company said it reserves the right to disclose sooner if the vulnerability is actively being exploited by hackers, or delay its disclosure if it’s agreed that more time is needed to fix an issue.

Facebook said it will generally sign an non-disclosure agreement (NDA) specific to the security issues it reports.

Katie Moussouris, founder of Luta Security, told TechCrunch that the “devil will be in the details.”

“The test will be the first time they have to pull the trigger and drop a zero-day — with mitigation guidance — on a competitor,” she said, referring to unpatched vulnerabilities where companies have zero days to patch them.

The new policy is focused specifically on how Facebook handles disclosure of issues in third-party code. If researchers find a security vulnerability on Facebook, or within its family of apps, they will continue to report it through the existing Bug Bounty Program.

As part of the policy change, Facebook said it would also disclose vulnerabilities once they are fixed. In a separate blog post, Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, disclosed six vulnerabilities in the messaging app — since fixed.

#bugs, #code, #developers, #facebook, #security, #social

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Twitter and Facebook wrestle with Trump telling Americans to vote twice

President Trump’s recent suggestion that North Carolina voters should cast multiple ballots has run afoul of Twitter’s election integrity rules. In a series of tweets Thursday morning, the president elaborated on previous statements in which he encouraged Americans to vote twice to “check” vote-by-mail systems.

Trump made the initial comments in a local television interview Wednesday. “They will vote and then they are going to have to check their vote by going to the poll and voting that way because if it tabulates then they won’t be able to do that,” Trump said.

“So let them send it in, and let them go vote. And if the system is as good as they say it is, then they obviously won’t be able to vote.”

Twitter added a “public interest notice” to two tweets related to those comments Thursday, citing its rules around civic and election integrity. The tweets violated the rules “specifically for encouraging people to engage in a behavior that could undermine the integrity of their individual vote,” according to Twitter spokesperson Nick Pacilio. Twitter has limited the reach of those tweets and restricted its likes, replies and retweets without comment.

Trump’s latest attack on vote-by-mail also crossed a line for Facebook . The company will remove any video of Trump’s recent voting comments that are shared without context or those that support the president’s statements, though it has yet to identify any so far.

“This video violates our policies prohibiting voter fraud and we will remove it unless it is shared to correct the record,” Facebook Policy Communications Director Andy Stone said.

Facebook added its own fact-checking notice to the same statement that Twitter deemed in violation of that platform’s rules. Now, a label at the bottom of Trump’s Facebook post contradicts the president’s suggestion that Americans try to vote twice to make sure “the mail in system worked properly.”

The fact-checking label, which reads “Voting by mail has a long history of trustworthiness in the US and the same is predicted this year,” is more specific than the generic voting info label the platform attaches to other election-related content.

The president’s comments were his latest attempt to cast doubt on the vote-by-mail systems that the U.S. will rely on in November’s election. In recent months, Trump has made many unfounded or outright false claims criticizing the safety of mail-in voting, a system that the U.S. already relies on for absentee voting. As November gets closer, those claims have voting rights organizations concerned.

“While this is a step in the right direction, the fact remains that Facebook refuses to enforce its own Terms of Use where Donald Trump is concerned,” VoteAmerica founder Debra Cleaver said.

“Yesterday, Trump outright urged voters in North Carolina to commit voter fraud. This is part of a larger and dangerous pattern of Trump using social media and other platforms to distribute disinformation, with what appears to be the goal of undermining faith in US elections.”

While the COVID-19 crisis means that more Americans than ever will be using mail-in voting to cast a ballot, the voting method is widely regarded as safe and reliable by experts.

In response to Trump’s remarks, North Carolina’s Board of Elections issued a statement clarifying that voting twice is a Class I felony in the state.

“It is illegal to vote twice in an election,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

“… Attempting to vote twice in an election or soliciting someone to do so also is a violation of North Carolina law.”

#2020-election, #facebook, #misinformation, #president-donald-trump, #social, #tc, #twitter, #vote-by-mail

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