TikTok calls in outside help with content moderation in Europe

TikTok is bringing in external experts in Europe in fields such as child safety, young people’s mental health and extremism to form a Safety Advisory Council to help it with content moderation in the region.

The move, announced today, follows an emergency intervention by Italy’s data protection authority in January — which ordered TikTok to block users it cannot age verify after the death of a girl who was reported by local media to have died of asphyxiation as a result of participating in a black out challenge on the video sharing platform.

The social media platform has also been targeted by a series of coordinated complaints by EU consumer protection agencies, which put out two reports last month detailing a number of alleged breaches of the bloc’s consumer protection and privacy rules — including child safety-specific concerns.

“We are always reviewing our existing features and policies, and innovating to take bold new measures to prioritise safety,” TikTok writes today, putting a positive spin on needing to improve safety on its platform in the region.

“The Council will bring together leaders from academia and civil society from all around Europe. Each member brings a different, fresh perspective on the challenges we face and members will provide subject matter expertise as they advise on our content moderation policies and practices. Not only will they support us in developing forward-looking policies that address the challenges we face today, they will also help us to identify emerging issues that affect TikTok and our community in the future.”

It’s not the first such advisory body TikTok has launched. A year ago it announced a US Safety Advisory Council, after coming under scrutiny from US lawmakers concerned about the spread of election disinformation and wider data security issues, including accusations the Chinese-owned app was engaging in censorship at the behest of the Chinese government.

But the initial appointees to TikTok’s European content moderation advisory body suggest its regional focus is more firmly on child safety/young people’s mental health and extremism and hate speech, reflecting some of the main areas where it’s come under the most scrutiny from European lawmakers, regulators and civil society so far.

TikTok has appointed nine individuals to its European Council (listed here) — initially bringing in external expertise in anti-bullying, youth mental health and digital parenting; online child sexual exploitation/abuse; extremism and deradicalization; anti-bias/discrimination and hate crimes — a cohort it says it will expand as it adds more members to the body (“from more countries and different areas of expertise to support us in the future”).

TikTok is also likely to have an eye on new pan-EU regulation that’s coming down the pipe for platforms operating in the region.

EU lawmakers recently put forward a legislative proposal that aims to dial up accountability for digital service providers over the content they push and monetize. The Digital Services Act, which is currently in draft, going through the bloc’s co-legislative process, will regulate how a wide range of platforms must act to remove explicitly illegal content (such as hate speech and child sexual exploitation).

The Commission’s DSA proposal avoided setting specific rules for platforms to tackle a broader array of harms — such as issues like youth mental health — which, by contrast, the UK is proposing to address in its plan to regulate social media (aka the Online Safety bill). However the planned legislation is intended to drive accountability around digital services in a variety of ways.

For example, it contains provisions that would require larger platforms — a category TikTok would most likely fall into — to provide data to external researchers so they can study the societal impacts of services. It’s not hard to imagine that provision leading to some head-turning (independent) research into the mental health impacts of attention-grabbing services. So the prospect is platforms’ own data could end up translating into negative PR for their services — i.e. if they’re shown to be failing to create a safe environment for users.

Ahead of that oversight regime coming in, platforms have increased incentive to up their outreach to civil society in Europe so they’re in a better position to skate to where the puck is headed.

 

#child-safety, #content-moderation, #europe, #online-safety, #platform-regulation, #social, #tiktok

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Twitter rolls out vaccine misinformation warning labels and a strike-based system for violations

Twitter announced Monday that it would begin injecting new labels into users’ timelines to push back against misinformation that could disrupt the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. The labels, which will also appear as pop-up messages in the retweet window, are the company’s latest product experiment designed to shape behavior on the platform for the better.

The company will attach notices to tweeted misinformation warning users that the content “may be misleading” and linking out to vetted public health information. These initial vaccine misinformation sweeps, which begin today, will be conducted by human moderators at Twitter and not automated moderation systems.

Twitter says the goal is to use these initial determinations to train its AI systems so that down the road a blend of human and automated efforts will scan the site for vaccine misinformation. The latest misinformation measure will target tweets in English before expanding.

Twitter also introduced a new strike system for violations of its pandemic-related rules. The new system is modeled after a set of consequences it implemented for voter suppression and voting-related misinformation. Within that framework, a user with two or three “strikes” faces a 12-hour account lockout. With four violations, they lose account access for one week, with permanent suspension looming after five strikes.

Twitter introduced its first pandemic-specific policies a year ago, banning tweets promoting false treatment or prevention claims along with any content that could put people at higher risk of spreading COVID-19. In December, Twitter added new rules focused on popular vaccine conspiracy theories and announced that warning labels were on the way.

#covid-19, #misinformation, #public-health, #social, #tc, #twitter

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Instagram launches ‘Live Rooms’ for live broadcasts with up to four creators

Instagram today announced it’s adding a much-requested feature to its app with the launch of “Live Rooms,” which allow up to four people to broadcast live together at the same time. Previously, the app only allowed users to live stream with one other person, similar to Facebook Live. The company says it hopes Live Rooms will open up more creative opportunities in terms of live broadcast formats to allow for things like live talk shows, expanded Q&A’s or interviews, jam sessions for musicians, live shopping experiences, and more.

In addition to the ability to live stream with more people, Instagram also touts how the new feature can help creators to make more money. Last year, in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, Instagram introduced badges as a way for fans to support their favorite creators during a live video. Once purchased, the badges appear next to a fan’s name throughout the live video, helping them to stand out in the comments and unlock other special features, like placement on the creator’s list of badge holders and access to a special heart.

Badges became more broadly available last fall, at three price points: $0.99, $1.99, or $4.99.

With Live Rooms, fans can buy badges to support the hosts (one badge per person) as well as use other interactive features like Shopping and Live Fundraisers. The company says it’s also now developing other tools, like moderator controls and audio features that will roll out in the months to come.

To start a Live Room, you’ll swipe left and select the Live camera option, then title the Room and tap the Room icon to add guests. Here, you’ll see a list of people who’ve already requested to go live with you and you’ll be able to search for other guests to add.

Image Credits: Instagram

When you start the Live Room, you’ll remain at the top of the screen while guests are added. The guests can be added all at once or individually, depending on your preference. This allows for opportunities to add “surprise guests” to live streams to keep fans engaged.

The ability to add more guests to a live stream can also help a creator grow their follower base, as all the guests’ followers are notified about the Live Room, in addition to your own.

For safety reasons, any person that’s been blocked by any of the Live Room participants will not have access to join the live stream. Plus, any guests who have previously had their live access revoked due to violations of Instagram’s Community Guidelines won’t be able to join any Live Rooms.

During live broadcasts, the hosts can also report and block comments and use comment filters to maintain a safer experience for all viewers.

Live broadcasts became an increasingly important way for creators, business owners and brands to stay connected with followers during the pandemic, which shut down in-person live events, including concerts, shows, classes, conferences, meetups, and more. Instagram reported a 70% increase in Live views from February to March, for instance, as creators and businesses shifted their work online.

Image Credits: Instagram

As the pandemic wore on throughout 2020 and into 2021, the lack of in-person connection has allowed for other opportunities and even new social networks to grow. Live audio platform Clubhouse, for example, has seen rapid adoption, particularly by the tech and creative crowds, who today use the app to tune into live shows, chat sessions, and even big-name interviews. Twitter is now building a rival, and reportedly, so is Facebook.

But while Clubhouse offers a very different experience, it still operates in the same broader space of allowing fans to connect with high-profile individuals of some sort — entrepreneurs and founders, celebrities, market experts, thought leaders, influencers, and so on. And because users’ time is limited, seeing this type of activity shift to non-Facebook owned platforms is likely of concern to Instagram and its parent.

Meanwhile, in the live video broadcasting space, Instagram today faces a number of competitors, from those focused on a particular niche — like game streaming site Twitch, live shopping apps, and more— as well as general purpose live platforms offered by YouTube and TikTok. (The latter was spotted offering a four-up live stream format just last month, in fact.)

Instagram says Live Rooms are rolling out now to both iOS and Android to all global markets. The company expects the rollout to reach 100% of its user base within the week.

 

#apps, #clubhouse, #facebook, #instagram, #instagram-live, #livestreaming, #mobile, #social, #social-media, #social-networks, #streaming, #tiktok, #video-hosting

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Daily Crunch: Facebook launches rap app

Facebook unveils another experimental app, Atlassian acquires a data visualization startup and Newsela becomes a unicorn. This is your Daily Crunch for February 26, 2021.

The big story: Facebook launches rap app

The new BARS app was created by NPE Team (Facebook’s internal R&D group), allowing rappers to select from professionally created beats, and then create and share their own raps and videos. It includes autotune and will even suggest rhymes as you’re writing the lyrics.

This marks NPE Team’s second musical effort — the first was the music video app Collab. (It could also be seen as another attempt by Facebook to launch a TikTok competitor.) BARS is available in the iOS App Store in the U.S., with Facebook gradually admitting users off a waitlist.

The tech giants

Atlassian is acquiring Chartio to bring data visualization to the platform — Atlassian sees Chartio as a way to really take advantage of the data locked inside its products.

Yelp puts trust and safety in the spotlight — Yelp released its very first trust and safety report this week, with the goal of explaining the work that it does to crack down on fraudulent and otherwise inaccurate or unhelpful content.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Newsela, the replacement for textbooks, raises $100M and becomes a unicorn —  If Newsela is doing its job right, its third-party content can replace textbooks within a classroom altogether, while helping teachers provide fresh, personalized material.

Tim Hortons marks two years in China with Tencent investment — The Canadian coffee and doughnut giant has raised a new round of funding for its Chinese venture.

Sources: Lightspeed is close to hiring a new London-based partner to put down further roots in Europe — According to multiple sources, Paul Murphy is being hired away from Northzone.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

In freemium marketing, product analytics are the difference between conversion and confusion — Considering that most freemium providers see fewer than 5% of free users move to paid plans, even a slight improvement in conversion can translate to significant revenue gains.

As BNPL startups raise, a look at Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay earnings — With buy-now-pay-later options, consumers turn a one-time purchase into a limited string of regular payments.

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

Everything else

Jamaica’s JamCOVID pulled offline after third security lapse exposed travelers’ data — JamCOVID was set up last year to help the government process travelers arriving on the island.

AT&T is turning DirecTV into a standalone company — AT&T says it will own 70% of the new company, while private equity firm TPG will own 30%.

How to ace the 1-hour, and ever-elusive, pitch presentation at TC Early Stage — Norwest’s Lisa Wu has a message for founders: Think like a VC during your pitch presentation.

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, #daily-crunch, #facebook, #mobile, #social

0

Facebook launches BARS, a TikTok-like app for creating and sharing raps

Facebook’s internal R&D group, NPE Team, is today launching its next experimental app, called BARS. The app makes it possible for rappers to create and share their raps using professionally created beats, and is the NPE Team’s second launch in the music space following its recent public debut of music video app Collab.

While Collab focuses on making music with others online, BARS is instead aimed at would-be rappers looking to create and share their own videos. In the app, users will select from any of the hundreds of professionally created beats, then write their own lyrics and record a video. BARS can also automatically suggest rhymes as you’re writing out lyrics, and offers different audio and visual filters to accompany videos as well as an autotune feature.

There’s also a “Challenge mode” available, where you can freestyle with auto-suggested word cues, which has more of a game-like element to it. The experience is designed to be accommodating to people who just want to have fun with rap, similar to something like Smule’s AutoRap, perhaps, which also offers beats for users’ own recordings.

Image Credits: Facebook

The videos themselves can be up to 60 seconds in length and can then be saved to your Camera Roll or shared out on other social media platforms.

Like NPE’s Collab, the pandemic played a role in BARS’ creation. The pandemic shut down access to live music and places where rappers could experiment, explains NPE Team member DJ Iyler, who also ghostwrites hip-hop songs under the alias “D-Lucks.”

“I know access to high-priced recording studios and production equipment can be limited for aspiring rappers. On top of that, the global pandemic shut down live performances where we often create and share our work,” he says.

BARS was built with a team of aspiring rappers, and today launched into a closed beta.

Image Credits: Facebook

Despite the focus on music, and rap in particular, the new app in a way can be seen as yet another attempt by Facebook to develop a TikTok competitor — at least in this content category.

TikTok has already become a launchpad for up-and-coming musicians, including rappers; it has helped rappers test their verses, is favored by many beatmakers and is even influencing what sort of music is being made. Diss tracks have also become a hugely popular format on TikTok, mainly as a way for influencers to stir up drama and chase views. In other words, there’s already a large social community around rap on TikTok, and Facebook wants to shift some of that attention back its way.

The app also resembles TikTok in terms of its user interface. It’s a two-tabbed vertical video interface — in its case, it has  “Featured” and “New” feeds instead of TikTok’s “Following” and “For You.” And BARS places the engagement buttons on the lower-right corner of the screen with the creator name on the lower-left, just like TikTok.

However, in place of hearts for favoriting videos, your taps on a video give it “Fire” — a fire emoji keeps track. You can tap “Fire” as many times as you want, too. But because there’s (annoyingly) no tap-to-pause feature, you may accidentally “fire” a video when you were looking for a way to stop its playback. To advance in BARS, you swipe vertically, but the interface is lacking an obvious “Follow” button to track your favorite creators. It’s hidden under the top-right three-dot menu.

The app is seeded with content from NPE Team members, which includes other aspiring rappers, former music producers and publishers.

Currently, the BARS beta is live on the iOS App Store in the U.S., and is opening its waitlist. Facebook says it will open access to BARS invites in batches, starting in the U.S. Updates and news about invites, meanwhile, will be announced on Instagram.

Facebook’s recent launches from its experimental apps division include Collab and collage maker E.gg, among others. Not all apps stick around. If they fail to gain traction, Facebook shuts them down — as it did last year with the Pinterest-like video app Hobbi.

#apps, #facebook, #mobile, #music, #rap, #social, #tc, #video

0

Daily Crunch: Twitter announces ‘Super Follow’ subscriptions

Twitter reveals its move into paid subscriptions, Australia passes its media bargaining law and Coinbase files its S-1. This is your Daily Crunch for February 25, 2021.

The big story: Twitter announces ‘Super Follow’ subscriptions

Twitter announced its first paid product at an investor event today, showing off screenshots of a feature that will allow users to subscribe to their favorite creators in exchange for things like exclusive content, subscriber-only newsletters and a supporter badge.

The company also announced a feature called Communities, which could compete with Facebook Groups and enable Super Follow networks to interact, plus a Safety Mode for auto-blocking and muting abusive accounts. On top of all that, Twitter said it plans to double revenue by 2023.

Not announced: launch dates for any of these features.

The tech giants

After Facebook’s news flex, Australia passes bargaining code for platforms and publishers — This requires platform giants like Facebook and Google to negotiate to remunerate local news publishers for their content.

New Facebook ad campaign extols the benefits of personalized ads — The sentiments are similar to a campaign that Facebook launched last year in opposition to Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Sergey Brin’s airship aims to use world’s biggest mobile hydrogen fuel cell — The Google co-founder’s secretive airship company LTA Research and Exploration is planning to power a huge disaster relief airship with an equally record-breaking hydrogen fuel cell.

Coinbase files to go public in a key listing for the cryptocurrency category — Coinbase’s financials show a company that grew rapidly from 2019 to 2020 while also crossing the threshold into unadjusted profitability.

Boosted by the pandemic, meeting transcription service Otter.ai raises $50M — With convenient timing, Otter.ai added Zoom integration back in April 2020.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

DigitalOcean’s IPO filing shows a two-class cloud market — The company intends to list on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “DOCN.”

Pilot CEO Waseem Daher tears down his company’s $60M Series C pitch deck — For founders aiming to entice investors, the pitch deck remains the best way to communicate their startup’s progress and potential.

Five takeaways from Coinbase’s S-1 — We dig into Coinbase’s user numbers, its asset mix, its growing subscription incomes, its competitive landscape and who owns what in the company.

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

Everything else

Paramount+ will cost $4.99 per month with ads — The new streaming service launches on March 4.

Register for TC Sessions: Justice for a conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion in the startup world — This is just one week away!

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, #social, #twitter

0

Twitter plans to double revenue by 2023, reach 315M daily users

Just ahead of its 2021 virtual investor day on Thursday, Twitter this morning announced its three long-term goals focused on user base and revenue growth, and a faster pace of shipping new features across its platform. The company said it aims to “at least” double its total annual revenue from $3.7 billion in 2020 to $7.5 billion or more in 2023. It also expects to reach at least 315 million mDAUs — that’s Twitter’s self-invented metric for “monetizable” daily active users — by the fourth quarter of 2023.

That would represent a roughly 20% compound annual growth rate from Twitter’s base of 152 million mDAUs reported in the fourth quarter of 2019, the company noted in a new SEC filing.

Active user growth has been difficult for Twitter — the growth tends to be slow or even flat, at times. Per Twitter’s most recent earnings, mDAUs in the fourth quarter 2020 had reached 192 million instead of the 193.5 million expected, for instance. Investors are used to Twitter under-delivering on this metric — or even inventing its own user base metric to hide that its monthly user growth sometimes declines.

In any event, Twitter’s longer-term plans indicate it believes it will finally be able to deliver on user growth — perhaps aided by its investment in new features.

In its filing, Twitter said it would “double development velocity by the end of 2023,” which means doubling the number of features shipped per employee that “directly drive either mDAU or revenue,” it said.

On this front, Twitter has been fairly active in recent months. Late last year, it launched its “stories” feature called Fleets to its global audience. It’s also now testing new features including a Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces, and a community-led misinformation debunking effort known as Birdwatch. And it acquired newsletter platform Revue, which is already now integrated on the Twitter website. The company has made smaller acquisitions, as well, to build out product teams, including with social app Squad, stories template maker Chroma Labs, and podcasting app Breaker.

New features may help to attract increased Twitter usage, but revenue growth will also come from diversification beyond advertising. Twitter has spoken several times about its plans to build out a subscription product, which the company said would begin in 2021 but wouldn’t impact Twitter revenue in the near-term. The company has also said it may investigate other areas of monetization, like tipping and various paid consumer-facing features.

Today, Twitter said publicly it plans to reach the $7.5 billion or more target by “growing our audience and gaining advertising market share in both brand and direct response.” But the company did not speak to its plans for subscriptions.

Investors are already responding favorably to Twitter’s announcements this morning. Twitter stock is up by nearly 7% as of the time of writing.

#social

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New Facebook ad campaign extols the benefits of personalized ads

Online advertising can be a “pretty dry topic,” as Facebook’s head of brand marketing Andrew Stirk acknowledged, but with a new campaign of its own, the social networking giant is looking to “bring to life how personalized ads level the playing field” for small businesses.

The Good Ideas Deserve To Be Found campaign will include TV, radio and digital advertising. Individual businesses will also be able to promote it using a new Instagram sticker and the #DeserveToBeFound hashtag on Facebook.

The campaign will highlight specific small businesses on Facebook, including bag and luggage company House of Takura, whose founder Annette Njau spoke about the benefits of digital advertising at a press event yesterday.

“What those platforms allow us to do is, they allow us to tell stories,” Njau said. “I can’t tell this story on TV, I can’t tell this story in a huge magazine because it costs money and I don’t know who will see it.”

These sentiments are similar to a campaign that Facebook launched last year in opposition to Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature, where apps will have to ask for permission before sharing user data for third-party ad targeting. In response, Facebook claimed that it was “standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere,” though the social network also pointed to these changes as one of the “more significant advertising headwinds” that it expects to face this year. (Apple’s Tim Cook, in contrast, has said that these changes provide consumers with the control that they’ve been asking for.)

When asked how this fits into the broader dispute with Apple, Stirk said that while Facebook has been publicly opposed to Apple’s changes, this campaign is part the company’s longer-term support for small business.

“There is a degree of urgency in the fact that … small businesses are hurting right now,” he said.

Head of Facebook Business Products Helen Ma added that this is “very much an extension of the work that we did on the product side at the very start of the COVID period,” which included the launch of the Businesses Nearby section and a #SupportSmallBusiness hashtag.

In addition to launching the campaign today, Facebook is announcing several product changes, including a simplified Ads Manager dashboard, new options for restaurants to provide more information about their dining experiences and more information about personalized ads in Facebook’s Business Resource hub and Instagram’s Professional Dashboard.

The company also said it will continue to waive fees on transactions through Checkouts on Shops through June 2021, and will do the same for fees collected on paid online events until August 2021 at the earliest.

#advertising-tech, #policy, #social

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After Facebook’s news flex, Australia passes bargaining code for platforms and publishers

A week after Facebook grabbed eyeballs globally by blocking news publishers and turning off news-sharing on its platform in Australia, the country’s parliament has approved legislation that makes it mandatory for platform giants like Facebook and Google to negotiate to remunerate local news publishers for their content, to take account of how journalism is shared on their platforms.

The News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code was developed in conjunction with Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) with the aim of addressing the power imbalance that exists between digital platforms and news businesses.

Facebook and Google had both lobbied aggressively against the legislation, with Google initially threatening to close down its search engine in Australia — before changing tack and hurrying to strike deals with local publishers in a bid to undercut the law by showing an alternative model.

But none of the tech giants’ moves derailed the legislative effort entirely.

“The Code will ensure that news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content they generate, helping to sustain public interest journalism in Australia,” said treasury minister Josh Frydenberg and communications minister Paul Fletcher in a joint statement today.

“The Code provides a framework for good faith negotiations between the parties and a fair and balanced arbitration process to resolve outstanding disputes,” they added.

The operation of the code will be reviewed by the government within a year “to ensure it is delivering outcomes that are consistent with the Government’s policy intent”, they added.

On Tuesday Facebook reversed course on its intentionally over-broad news ban after the government agreed to make amendments to the draft legislation — including adding a two-month mediation period to allow digital platforms and publishers to agree deals before being forced to enter into arbitration.

The government also agreed to take platforms’ existing deals with publishers into account before deciding whether the code applies to them and provide them with one month’s notice before taking a final decision.

Facebook said it was satisfied with the tweaks, having been concerned commercial deals it struck off its own bat would not be taken into account.

In a blog post which the tech giant entitled “the real story” (yes, really), Facebook’s chief spin doctor, Nick Clegg — aka the former deputy prime minister of the UK — wrote that the law as originally drafted would have forced it to pay “potentially unlimited amounts of money to multi-national media conglomerates under an arbitration system that deliberately misdescribes the relationship between publishers and Facebook”.

“Thankfully, after further discussion, the Australian government has agreed to changes that mean fair negotiations are encouraged without the looming threat of heavy-handed and unpredictable arbitration,” Clegg added.

Who exactly has come out on top in this stand off between a sovereign government and two of the biggest tech giants in the world remains to be seen. But if Facebook and Google were hoping to block the law they certainly failed.

Claims by the Australian government that public interest journalism has won are, however, being tempered by critical suggestions that the law will merely end up favoring big media over small publishers — after all, it’s the larger publishers Google has rushed to strike deals with, for example.

How much of the adtech duopoly’s money ends up trickling down to support smaller publishers and grow media pluralism in Australia isn’t yet clear. But the suspicion among some is that the whole episode amounts to a shake down of big tech by big media via their friends in government — and that ugly oligarchy won.

There is also the risk that by directly linking the funding of public interest journalism — and therefore, by implication, the vitality of a country’s democracy — to tech giants like Facebook and Google it will further entrench the monopoly positions of those selfsame giants.

Suddenly calls to break up Google et al can be conflated with ‘harming democracy’ by taking money away from ‘public interest journalism’. Even just the claim of support suggests rich PR pickings for Facebook and co.

Yet these are platform giants that already have massive and unprecedented power over the public information sphere — as Facebook just demonstrated, via its flex against legislators (showing it can flip a switch to crater traffic to all sorts of publicly valuable information if it so chooses, leaving all its users in an entire country vulnerable to disinformation).

Their dominance has also long been implicated in harming democracy around the world — as their ad-funded business models profile people and amplify content for profit, without any kind of public service mission (quite unlike traditional media).

So if the tech giants were looking for a cheap way to reduce their antitrust risk then paying over a couple of billion every few years to regional publishers (who they may hope will also dial down their techlash rhetoric as a result) probably doesn’t sound so bad.

Facebook said this week that it plans to spend at least $1BN on ‘supporting’ the news media over the next three years. Google also recently outted a $1BN fund for news licensing fees.

Neither company can claim it just discovered the existence of journalism; it’s crystal clear these suddenly pledged billions are only on the table because lawmakers have made platforms paying for news mandatory. (Australia is not alone here; EU lawmakers also legislated in recent years to extend copyright to cover snippets of news — which is starting to result in Google striking licensing deals with publishers in Europe.)

So news publishers are certainly winning by gaining revenue that wasn’t being made available to them before. Though at what wider cost — if the mechanism being used to support them helps entrench anti-democratic monopolists?

The lack of transparency around the commercial deals being struck between platforms and publishers is certainly unhelpful. Without clarity on such arrangements the risk, again, is that the law will favor the big publishers while the smaller ones (who may have more of a public interest mission) will be at a disadvantage — needing to work even harder to compete with tabloid giants further fattened up with fresh adtech profits.

Australia has for certain won something, though. It’s bagged the world’s attention for taking on tech giants through a legislative code.

Its direct thrust at Facebook and Google — coming up with a framework tailor made to take on their market power — has caught the eye of other policymakers and competition regulators.

The chief of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, Andrea Coscelli, said this week that he’s watching the media code with interest as the UK government moves at a clip to set up a pro-competition regulator with the aim of reining in big tech, calling Australia’s approach of having a backstop of mandatory arbitration if commercial negotiations fail “a sensible one”.

“We are definitely following what’s happening in Australia,” he told the BBC. “We think they are dealing with problems we have in the UK as well and they are coming up with possible solutions to that. There are many variants to it but certainly I think it’s a very important data point for what we could in the UK.”

Asked if the UK should follow Australia’s example, Coscelli gave a cautious thumbs up to something along those lines, saying: “We have said we should also think about fair trading between publishers and the platforms for news content. So I know both government and parliament is certainly interested in what’s happening in Australia — and potentially thinking about something similar.”

#australia, #facebook, #google, #media, #news-media, #platform-regulation, #policy, #social

0

India sets more stringent rules for social media, streaming services

India announced sweeping changes to its guidelines for social media, on-demand video streaming services, and digital news outlets on Thursday, joining several other nations in posing new challenges for giants such as Facebook and Google that count the nation as its biggest market by users.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s IT, Law, and Justice minister, said in a press conference that social media companies will be required to acknowledge takedown requests of unlawful content within 24 hours and deliver a complete redressal in within 15 days. In sensitive cases that surround rape or other similar criminal cases, firms will be required to take down the objectionable content within 24 hours.

These firms will also be required to appoint a chief compliance officer, a nodal contact officer, who shall be reachable round the clock, and a resident grievance officer. They will also have to set up a local office in India.

Prasad said social media firms will have to disclose the originator of objectionable content. “We don’t want to know the content, but firms need to be able to tell who was the first person who began spreading misinformation and other objectionable content,” he said. WhatsApp has previously said that it can’t comply with such traceability requests without compromising end-to-end encryption security for every user.

Firms will also be required to publish a monthly compliance report to disclose the number of requests they received and what actions they took. They will also be required to offer a voluntary option to users who wish to verify their accounts.

The guidelines, which replace the law from 2011, go into effect for small firms effective immediately, but bigger services will be provided three months to comply, said Prasad.

New Delhi has put together these guidelines because citizens in India have long requested a “mechanism to address grievances,” said Prasad. India has been working on a law aimed at intermediaries since 2018. You can read the final version of the draft here, courtesy of New Delhi-based advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation.

“India is the world’s largest open Internet society and the Government welcomes social media companies to operate in India, do business and also earn profits. However, they will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of India,” he said, adding that WhatsApp had amassed 530 million users, YouTube, 448 million users, Facebook’s marquee service 410 million users, Instagram 210 million users, and Twitter, 175 million users in the country.

Full guidelines for social media firms and other intermediaries. (Source: Indian government.)

For streaming platforms, the rules have outlined a three-tier structure for “observance and adherence to the code.” Until now, on-demand services such as Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, and MX Player have operated in India with little to no censorship.

New Delhi last year said India’s broadcasting ministry, which regulates content on TV, will also be overseeing digital streaming platforms. 17 popular streaming firms including international giants had banded together to devise a self-regulation code. Prakash Javedkar, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, said in the conference that the proposed solution from the industry wasn’t adequate and there will be an oversight mechanism from the government to ensure full compliance with the code.

Streaming services will also have to attach a content ratings to their titles. “The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”,” the Indian government said.

“The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.”

The new rules will also force digital news outlets to disclose the size of their reach and structure of their ownership.

Industry executives have expressed concerns over the new proposed regulation, saying New Delhi hasn’t consulted them for these changes. IAMAI, a powerful industry body that represents nearly all on-demand streaming services, said it was “dismayed” by the guidelines, and hoped to have a dialogue with the government.

Javedkar and Prasad were asked if there will be any consultation with the industry before these guidelines become law. The ministers said that they had already received enough inputs from the industry.

This is a developing story. Check back for more information…

#apps, #asia, #disney, #facebook, #google, #government, #hotstar, #iamai, #india, #instagram, #mx-player, #netflix, #social, #twitter, #whatsapp

0

YouTube to launch parental control features for families with tweens and teens

YouTube announced this morning it will soon introduce a new experience designed for teens and tweens who are now too old for the schoolager-focused YouTube Kids app, but who may not be ready to explore all of YouTube. The company says it’s preparing to launch a beta test of new features that will give parents the ability to grant kids more limited access to YouTube through a “supervised” Google Account. This setup will restrict what tweens and teens can watch on the platform, as well as what they can do — like create videos or leave comments, for example.

Many parents may have already set up a supervised Google Account for their child through Google’s Family Link parental control app. This app allows parents to restrict access across a range of products and services, control screen time, filter websites and more. Other parents may have created a supervised Google Account for their child when they first set up the child’s account on a new Android device or Chromebook.

If not, parents can take a few minutes to create the child’s supervised account when they’re ready to begin testing the new features. (Unfortunately, Google Edu accounts — like those kids now use for online school — aren’t supported at launch.)

The new features will allow parents to select between three different levels of YouTube access for their tween or teen. Initially, YouTube will test the features with parents with children under the age of consent for online services — age 13 in the U.S., but different in other countries — before expanding to older groups.

Image Credits: YouTube

For tweens who have more recently graduated out of the YouTube Kids app, an “Explore” mode will allow them to view a broad range of videos generally suited for viewers age 9 and up — including vlogs, tutorials, gaming videos, music clips, news, and educational content. This would allow the kids to watch things like their favorite gaming streamer with kid-friendly content, but would prevent them (in theory) from finding their way over to more sensitive content.

The next step up is an “Explore More” mode, where videos are generally suitable for kids 13 and up — like a PG-13 version of YouTube. This expands the set of videos kids can access and allows them access to live streams in the same categories as “Explore.”

For older teens, there is the “Most of YouTube” mode, which includes almost all YouTube videos except those that include age-restricted content that isn’t appropriate for viewers under 18.

Image Credits: YouTube

YouTube says it will use a combination of user input, machine learning, and human review to curate which videos are included in each of the three different content settings.

Of course, much like YouTube Kids, that means this will not be a perfect system — it’s a heavily machine-automated attempt at curation where users will still have to flag videos that were improperly filtered. In other words, helicopter parents who closely supervise their child’s access to internet content will probably still want to use some other system — like a third-party parental control solution, perhaps — to lock down YouTube further.

The supervised access to YouTube comes with other restrictions, as well, the company says.

Parents will be able to manage the child’s watch and search history from within the child’s account settings. And certain features on YouTube will be disabled, depending on the level of access the child has.

For example, YouTube will disable in-app purchases, video creation, and commenting features at launch. The company says that, over time, it wants to work with parents to add some of these features back through some sort of parent-controlled approach.

Also key is that personalized ads won’t be served on supervised experiences, even if that content isn’t designated as “made for kids” — which would normally allow for personalized ads to run. Instead, all ads will be contextual, as they are on YouTube Kids. In addition, all ads will have to comply with kids advertising policies, YouTube’s general ad policies, and will be subject to the same category and ad content restrictions as on Made for Kids content.

That said, when parents establish the supervised account for their child, they’ll be providing consent for COPPA compliance — the U.S. children’s privacy law that requires parents to be notified and agree to the collection and use personal data from the kids’ account. So there’s a trade-off here.

However, the new experience may still make sense for families where kids have outgrown apps designed for younger children — or even in some cases, for younger kids who covet their big brother or sister’s version of “real YouTube.” Plus, at some point, forcing an older child to use the “Kids” app makes them feel like they’re behind their peers, too. And since not all parents use the YouTube Kids app or parental controls, there’s always the complaint that “everyone else has it, so why can’t I?” (It never ends.)

Image Credits: YouTube Kids app

This slightly more locked down experience lets parents give the child access to “real YouTube” with restrictions on what that actually means, in terms of content and features.

YouTube, in an announcement, shared several endorsements for the new product from a few individual youth experts, including Leslie Boggs, president of National PTA; Dr. Yalda Uhls, Center for Scholars & Storytellers, UCLA – Author of Media Moms & Digital Dads; Thiago Tavares, Founder and President of SaferNet Brazil; and Professor Sun Sun Lim, Singapore University of Technology & Design – Author of Transcendent Parenting.

YouTube’s news, notably, follows several product updates from fast-growing social video app and YouTube rival TikTok, which has rolled out a number of features aimed at better protecting its younger users.

The company in April 2020 launched a “family pairing” mode that lets a parent link their child’s account to their own in order to also lock down what the child can do and what content they can see. (TikTok offers a curated experience for the under-13 crowd called Restricted Mode, which can be switched on here, too.) And in January of this year, TikTok changed the privacy setting defaults for users under 18 to more proactively restrict what they do on the app.

YouTube says its new product will launch in beta in the “coming months” in over 80 countries worldwide. It also notes that it will continue to invest in YouTube Kids for parents with younger children.

#apps, #families, #family, #google, #kids, #machine-learning, #media, #parental-controls, #parents, #social, #video, #video-hosting, #youtube, #youtube-kids

0

Daily Crunch: Facebook brings news sharing back to Australia

The Facebook-Australia news battle seems to have reached an end, Android gets an update and Lucid Motors is going public via SPAC. This is your Daily Crunch for February 23, 2021.

The big story: Facebook brings news sharing back to Australia

Last week, Facebook responded to the Australian government’s proposed law requiring internet platforms to strike revenue-sharing agreements with news publishers by blocking news sharing and viewing for users in the country. But with the government amending the law, Facebook said it will restore news sharing in the “coming days.”

Among other things, the amendments call for a two-month mediation period before Facebook is forced into arbitration with publishers, and it also says the government will consider commercial agreements that the platforms have made with local publishers before deciding whether the law applies to them.

William Easton, Facebook’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement that the amendments address “core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them.”

The tech giants

Android’s latest update will let you schedule texts, secure your passwords and more — This update will integrate a feature called Password Checkup to alert you to passwords you’re using that have been previously exposed.

Twitter relaunches test that asks users to revise harmful replies — Twitter is running a new test that will ask users to pause and think before they tweet.

Area 120 is beginning to use Google’s massive reach to scale HTML5 GameSnacks platform — GameSnacks is an HTML5 gaming platform where titles are bite-sized and load much faster.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Lucid Motors strikes SPAC deal to go public with $24B valuation — This will be the largest deal yet between a blank-check company and an electric vehicle startup.

Shippo raises $45M more at $495M valuation as e-commerce booms — The startup provides shipping-related services to e-commerce companies.

Reddit ups Series E round by another $116M — Reddit had already announced a $250 million Series E earlier this month.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

How to overcome the challenges of switching to usage-based pricing — The usage-based pricing model almost feels like a cheat code, according to OpenView’s Kyle Poyar.

Oscar Health’s initial IPO price is so high, it makes me want to swear — Alex Wilhelm doesn’t mince words: “Public investors have lost their damn minds.”

RIBS: The messaging framework for every company and product — The test is designed to tell you if your story is memorable, so you can turn it into a compelling message.

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

Everything else

Announcing the complete agenda for TC Sessions: Justice — Our second-ever dedicated event to diversity, equity, inclusion and labor in tech is coming up on March 3.

Six Miami-based investors share their views on the region’s startup scene — Investors see a huge opportunity for the region to become a major startup hub by utilizing its diverse workforce and wonderful quality of life.

SolarWinds hackers targeted NASA, Federal Aviation Administration networks — Hackers are said to have broken into the networks of U.S. space agency NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration as part of a wider espionage campaign.

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, #media, #policy, #social

0

Quill, the messaging app backed by Index, quietly comes out of stealth to take on Slack

Slack took the workplace communications landscape by storm after it launched its integration-friendly, GIF-tastic chat platform in 2013. Within the space of a decade it entered into the pantheon of big tech: first with massive growth and usage, then a series of giant VC rounds and valuations, spawning controversial competition from incumbents, followed by a public listing and ultimately a $27.7 billion acquisition by Salesforce. Now that the cycle is complete, the decks are clear for a Slack disruptor!

Today, a new app quietly launched out of stealth called Quill, available by way of apps for the web, MacOS, Windows, Linux, Android and iOS.

Like Slack, Quill is a messaging app for co-workers to update each other on what they are doing, have conversations about projects and more.

Unlike Slack — the implication seems to be — the difference is that Quill is about delivering messaging in a non-distracting way that doesn’t take up too much of your time, your concentration, and your energy. Quill bills itself as “messaging for people that focus.”

So while you get a lot of the same features you have in Slack for chatting with workers, creating channels, integrating other apps, and having video and voice conversations — one of my colleagues quipped, “It looks like Slack, but more colorful!” — it also includes a bunch of features that put the focus on, well, focus.

“We grew exhausted having to skim thousands of messages every day to keep up, so we built a way to chat that’s even better than how we already communicate in person,” Quill notes on its website. “A more deliberate way to chat. That’s what Quill is all about.”

For example, “structured channels” let you enforce threads in a channel for different conversations rather than view chatter in a waterfall. Automatic sorting in the app moves up active conversations you’re in above others. Limitations on notifications mean you can have more nuance in what ultimately might end up distracting you, and senders for example can alter a setting (with a !!) to notify you if something is critical and needs to ping you. Video chats come automatically with a sidebar to continue texting, too.

Then, you get separate channels for social and non-work chat; and a series of features that let you manipulate conversations after they’ve already started: you can recast conversations into threads after they’ve already started and you have a fast way to reply to messages. There is an easier and more obvious way to pin important things to the tops of channels; and in addition to creating new threads after a conversation starts, you can also move messages from one channel or thread to another.

You can also interact with Quill chats using SMS and email, and like Slack, it offers the ability to integrate other app notifications into the process.

It’s also working on adding a Clubhouse-like feature for voice channels, end-to-end encryption, context-based search (it already has keyword search), and user profiles.

Managing “high load”

The app has been in stealth mode for nearly three years, and while some projects might never go noticed in that time, this one is a little different because of the pedigree and the context.

For starters, Quill was founded by the former creative director of Stripe, Ludwig Pettersson, who was given a lot of the credit for the simplicity and focus of the payment company’s flagship product and platform (simplicity that became the hallmark of the service and helped it balloon into a commerce behemoth).

His involvement signaled that the effort might get at least a little attention. In a landscape that seemed to be all but dominated by Slack and a few huge, well-funded rivals in the form of Microsoft and Facebook, it’s notable that when Quill was just an idea, it had already picked up $2 million in seed funding, from Sam Altman (at the time the head of Y Combinator) and General Catalyst.

Following that it raised a Series A of $12.5 million led by Sarah Cannon of Index Ventures, totaling some $14.5 million in funding in all. The Series A valued the company at $62.5 million, as we reported at the time.

Added to this is the story behind Quill and what brought Pettersson and others on his team to the idea of building it. From what we understand, the idea in its earliest inception was to capture something of the magic of communication that you get from messaging apps, and specifically from workplace communication tools like Slack, but without the distraction and resulting frustration that often come along with them.

By 2018, Slack was already a big product, valued at over $7 billion and attracting millions of users. But there was also a growing number of people criticizing it for being the opposite of productive. “It’s hard to track everything that’s going on in Slack, it can be distracting. Given the network effect, Slack has become powerful, but it was not designed as a high-load system,” Sam Altman, the investor and former head of both Y-Combinator and OpenAI, said to me back in 2018 when I asked him what he knew about Quill after I first got wind of it.

He said he was “super impressed” by Ludwig’s work at Stripe, and then OpenAI (where he stayed for a year after leaving Stripe), so much so that when Ludwig suggested building “a better version of Slack,” it seemed like a “credible idea” and one worth backing even without a product yet to be built.

It’s quite fitting that for an app focused on focus, Quill launched today quietly and without much fanfare: why worry about PR distraction when you can just get something out there?

In any case, we’re hoping to hear more and see what kind of momentum it picks up. We’ve asked Index if we can talk to Sarah Cannon about the investment, and we are still waiting to hear back. We are also trying to see if we can talk to Pettersson. But I should mention we have been trying to talk to him since first getting wind of this app back in August of 2018, so we’re not holding our breath (nor this story).

#enterprise, #social

0

Reddit ups Series E round by another $116 million

Reddit, which announced a $250 million Series E earlier this month, has added over $116 million to the financing event, upping the round’s most recent total to $367 million, according to a new SEC filing. The document shows that Reddit is aiming to raise up to $500 million in this capital raise.

A Reddit spokesperson confirmed the news, saying that the new capital is from ”new and existing investors.” They offered no specifics on names. The spokesperson did confirm that the new capital did not come with a new valuation, keeping the platform at its previously-announced valuation of $6 billion pre-money.

Reddit is a 16-year-old company with over $800 million in known venture funding. It has been in the spotlight for the past few months, with co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigning over moderation concerns, to, more recently, its role in the Election and the meteoric rise of GameStop’s stock due to the subreddit r/WallStreetBets.

#media, #reddit, #social, #tc

0

Twitter relaunches test that asks users to revise harmful replies

Twitter is running a new test that will ask users to pause and think before they tweet. According to the company’s announcement, when Twitter detects what appears to be a potentially harmful or offensive reply to someone else’s tweet, it will prompt you to consider revising your text instead of tweeting.

Users whose tweets are flagged in this way will see a pop-up message appear on their screen, which asks, “Want to review this before Tweeting?” There are three buttons to then choose from: one to tweet the reply anyway, an Edit button (this is as close as we’ll get, apparently), and a delete button to discard the tweet entirely. There is also a small link to report if the system got things wrong.

This is not the first time Twitter has run a test like this.

In May 2020 and again in August 2020, Twitter ran variations on this same experiment. In those cases, the text on the pop-up screen was largely the same, but the layout of the three buttons looked different and were less colorful.

The earlier tests ran on Android, iOS and web, but this current iteration is only on iOS, for the time being.

At the time of the initial test, Twitter explained its systems were able to detect harmful language based on the kind of language that had been used in other tweets that had been reported in the past.

It’s been shown that these sorts of built-in small nudges can have an impact.

For example, when Twitter began prompting users to read the article linked in a tweet before retweeting it, the company found that users would open the articles 40% more often than without the nudge. Twitter has also built similar experiments to try to slow down the pace of online conversation on its platform, by doing things like discouraging retweets without commentary or slow down “Likes” on tweets containing misinformation.

Other social networks use small nudges like this, too, to influence their users’ behavior. Instagram back in 2019 launched a feature that would flag potentially offensive comments before they were posted, and later expanded this to captions. TikTok more recently launched a banner that would ask users if they were sure they wanted to share a video that contains “unverified content.”

It’s unclear why Twitter hasn’t simply rolled out the pop-up to combat online abuse — still a serious issue on its platform — and then iterated on the design and style of the message box, as needed.

Compared with the much larger engineering and design efforts the company has had underway — including its newer Stories feature known as Fleets and a Clubhouse rival called Spaces — a box asking users to pause and think seems like something that could have graduated to a full product by now.

#abuse, #bullying, #social, #social-media, #tweet, #twitter

0

Maple launches with $3.5 million in funding to become the SaaS backoffice for the family

Much of our daily lives have been transformed in one way or another by technology – and often through intentional efforts to innovate thanks to the advent of new technology. Now more than ever, we rely on shared collaboration platforms and digital workspaces in our professional lives, and yet most of the changes wrought by tech on our home and family lives seem like the accidental effects of broader trends, rather than intentional shifts. Maple, a new startup launching today, aims to change that.

Founded by former Shopify product director and Kit (which was acquired by Shopify in 2016) co-founder Michael Perry, Maple is billed as “the family tech platform,” and hopes to ease the burden of parenting, freeing up parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and kids to spend more quality time together. The startup, which is launching its app on iPhone and Android for all and onboarding new users from its waitlist over the next few weeks, has raised $3.5 million in seed funding – an impressive round for a company just about seven months into its existence. The round was led by Inspired Capital, and includes participation by Box Group, but is also supported by a number of angels who were Perry’s former colleagues at Shopify, including Shopify President Harley Finkelstein.

Perry and his co-founder Mike Taylor, who also co-founded Kit, decided to leave Shopify in order to pursue Perry’s vision of a platform that can help parents better manage their family lives – a platform made up of a social layer, a task-focused list of shared responsibilities, and a bourgeoning service marketplace that looks and feels a lot like the ecosystem Shopify has built for empowering e-commerce entrepreneurs. That’s by design, Perry says.

“I think you’re gonna see a lot of Shopify inspiration in this product – we think we’re the back office of every family,” Perry told me in an interview. “And we think we’re building the app ecosystem of apps, services, all kinds of things that are going to live on this platform that’s going to revolutionize parenting.”

In its current early incarnation, Maple’s primary interface for parents is a list of various tasks they need to take care of during the day. During onboarding, Maple asks parents what they’re typically responsible for in the household, and then uses some basic machine learning behind the scenes to build a customized schedule for getting those things done. Maple has signed on three initial partners to assist with accomplishing some of these tasks, including Evelyn Rusli’s Yumi food and nutrition brand for infants; Lalo, a DTC baby and toddler furniture and gear brand; and Haus, which will be providing date night packages for parents to enjoy for some getaway time.

Maple co-founder Micheal Perry with his son.

The platform will offer users the ability to tap others for help with tasks – these could be other family members added to the household, or the partners mentioned above (the plan is to bring on more, but to gate admittance initially while developing API endpoints that any company can potentially tap into). When interacting with family members, Maple also encourages smalls social interactions, like thanking someone for their help on a particular task or just showing general appreciation. Perry says this is a key ingredient he prioritized in product design.

“We have this cool thing that every day at eight o’clock, we give you an end of the day recap with your family,” Perry said. “So you click on it, and it will show me that, for example, Alex [Perry’s wife] completed three responsibilities for our family today, and how many I did for my family today, and how much help I received from other people today. And directly in app, you can send these cool little ‘Thank you ‘messages and say, you know, I love you, I appreciate you – we’re a great team. And Alex will get those messages. We believe in a world where this can be incredibly dynamic, in many different ways kto kind of bring some love and appreciation and make parenting feel more rewarding and easier.”

Perry is quick to note that what Maple offers today is only the beginning, and it’s clear he has bold ambitions for the platform. He talked about building “the family graph,” or a trove of data that can be used to not only build intelligent recommendations and develop ever more advanced machine learning to optimize family management, but also to provide partners with the tools they need to build products to best serve families. I asked Perry what that means for privacy, given that people are likely to be far more reluctant to share info around their families than they are about their work lives. He said the they team plans to go slow in terms of what it exposes to partners, when, and how, and that they’ll have user privacy in mind at each step – since, after all, Perry himself is a father and a husband and is wary of any incursions on his own private life.

For now, partners like Yumi only receive what users share with them through their own account creation and login mechanism, and they only pass back a basic attribution token – essentially letting Maple know the task was completed so it can mark it off in a user’s list.

Image Credits: Maple

Maple’s partners today are representative of the kind of businesses that might make use of the platform in future, but Perry has a much broader vision. He hopes that Maple can ultimately help parents handle their responsibilities across a wide range of needs and income levels. Right now, Perry points out, a lot of what’s available to parents in terms of support is only available to higher income brackets – ie., nannies and dedicated caregivers. Perry says that his experience growing up relatively poor with a single mother supporting the entire family led him to want to provide something better.

“You have 125 million households in America, you have 3 million children being born every year, you have 30% of the households in America being single parent-run households,” Perry said. “It’s hard. Some people are working one two jobs, most couples are working couples. Every industry that’s changed has been about making things more accessible. In the case of Shopify, at one point building, an online store required hundreds of thousands of dollars and a bunch of skilled people. Now you can start a store for $20 in five minutes – 20 years ago, that was unfathomable.”

For Perry, Maple represents a path to that kind of shift in the economics of parenting and a network of family services, including goods, care, leisure and more. The startup has plans to eventually enlist other parents to provide services, which Perry says will unlock part-time income generation for full-time parents, allowing parents to help each other at the same time.

I asked him if he thought people would be reluctant to treat their family lives with the same kind of optimization approach favored by enterprise and commercial platform tools, but he suggested that in fact, not taking advantage of those same technologies in our personal lives is a missed opportunity.

“We believe that, uniquely, we’re living through a generation where we can start creating more time for people,” Perry said. “I think what makes Maple so unique is that no company has approached this by asking ‘How do we create more time for you so that you can spend more time with your kids?’ in the consolidated way that we have.”

Disclosure: I worked at Shopify from 2018 to 2019 while Perry was employed there, but we did not work together directly.

#america, #android, #api, #business, #co-founder, #companies, #evelyn-rusli, #family, #food, #inspired-capital, #iphone, #machine-learning, #platform, #president, #publishing, #recent-funding, #shopify, #social, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #yumi

0

Snack, where TikTok meets dating, gets $3.5 million in funding

After online dating’s tremendous 2020 growth that culminated in last week’s epic Bumble IPO, a new entrant has tossed its hat into the dating app ring.

Snack, founded by Kimberly Kaplan, looks to merge the popularity and format of TikTok with the dating world. Kaplan hails from Plenty of Fish, where she was one of the earliest employees at the dating site. She led product, marketing and revenue and was on the executive team that eventually sold PoF to Match Group for $575 million in 2015.

Kaplan said that she noticed a specific user behavior among folks using dating apps, particularly the coveted Gen Z demographic. Essentially, folks would match on Bumble or Tinder and immediately move the connection over to apps like Snap and Instagram, where they would watch each others’ stories and more casually flirt, rather than carrying on in a more high-pressure DM conversation on the dating apps.

Around the same time, TikTok surged in popularity, showing a shift in the average consumer’s attitude toward creating short-form video on the web.

Snack is a video-first dating app that asks users to create a video and post it to a feed. Other users can scroll through a feed (a la Instagram) rather than swipe right or left on individual profiles, and when someone likes a video, it opens up the ability to comment. Once two users have liked each others’ videos, DMs are open.

The app is still in its early days, so there is no location filtering yet to ensure that everyone who joins the app has a full feed of videos to browse through. Kaplan said that Snack is also working on video editing features similar to that of TikTok to let people get super creative with their profiles.

Thus far, Snack has received $3.5 million in funding, led by Kindred Ventures and Coelius Capital, with participation by Golden Ventures, Garage Capital, Panache Ventures and N49P.

Though we’re still a ways away from monetization, Kaplan says her experience in the dating space should be beneficial when looking to generate revenue at Snack, and that the startup will likely follow the same playbook as other dating apps, employing premium subscriptions and potentially ads.

There are 10 people on the Snack team, and Kaplan says that the team is 60 percent diverse with 40 percent of employees being visible minorities.

“The biggest challenge is going up against big players that have a lot of capital,” said Kaplan. “Starting out is hard and getting that initial foothold is hard. I fundamentally believe in our product and I see this open opportunity in the market. I very much believe someone will come in and usurp Tinder, and it’s going to be around video.”

#apps, #snack, #social, #tc

0

Twitter explored buying India’s ShareChat and turning Moj into a global TikTok rival

Twitter recently held talks to acquire Indian social media startup ShareChat as the company explored ways to expand its presence in the world’s second largest internet market and build a global rival to TikTok, three sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The American firm, which is already an investor in Bangalore-based ShareChat, offered to buy the Indian startup for $1.1 billion and had committed an additional investment of $900 million, two of the sources said.

The talks are no longer ongoing, two sources said, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. TechCrunch could not determine why the talks did not materialize into a deal.

Two sources said Twitter had expressed intention to take Moj, a short-form video app that ShareChat owns, to international markets and position it as a rival to Chinese app TikTok.

Twitter declined to comment and ShareChat did not respond to a request for comment.

India’s ban on TikTok last year prompted scores of local startups and international giants to try their hands at short-form video format.

Moj, with over 80 million users already, has emerged as one of the largest players in the category. Earlier this month, Snap inked a deal with ShareChat to integrate its Camera Kit into the Indian short video app. This is the first time Snap had formed a partnership of this kind with a firm in India.

With the buyout offer no longer being entertained, ShareChat has resumed talks with other investors for its new financing round. These investors include Google, Snap, as well as Tinder-parent firm Match Group, the sources said. TechCrunch reported in January that the Indian startup was talking to Google and Snap as well as some existing investors including Twitter to raise over $200 million. A potential acquisition by Twitter prolonged the investment talks.

ShareChat, which claims to have over 160 million users, offers its social network app in 15 Indian languages and has a large following in small Indian cities and towns, or what venture capitalist Sajith Pai of Blume Ventures refer as “India 2.” Very few players in the Indian startup ecosystem have a reach to this segment of this population, which thanks to users from even smaller towns and villages — called “India 3” — getting online has expanded in recent years.

In an interview with TechCrunch last year, Ankush Sachdeva, co-founder and chief executive of ShareChat, said the startup’s marquee app was growing “exponentially” and that users were spending, on an average, more than 30 minutes a day on the service.

Twitter, itself, has struggled to make inroads outside of bigger cities and towns in India. Its app reached about 75 million users in the country in the month of January, according to mobile insight firm AppAnnie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. It inked a deal with news and social app Dailyhunt to bring Moments — curated tweets pertaining to news and other local events — to the Google-backed Indian app.

The American social network has broadened its product offering in the past year amid pressure from activist investors to accelerate growth.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #google, #india, #instagram, #match, #moj, #sharechat, #snap, #social, #tinder, #twitter

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South Korea’s prime minister has joined Clubhouse

After garnering an estimated 8 million downloads since its launch, Clubhouse’s popularity continues across the world and even outside of its original tech-focused seed community.

The latest news comes from East Asia, where Korean media reported this morning that the country’s current prime minister, Chung Sye-kyun, has officially joined the social audio app under the username @gyunvely, making him among the most senior political leaders worldwide to join the burgeoning app. His account was created on Valentine’s Day (February 14th) and was “nominated” by a user using the name of TJ Park (Clubhouse does not have verified profiles).

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Clubhouse this weekend. Screenshot by Danny Crichton.

So far, the prime minister has garnered slightly fewer than 500 followers and is following a bit fewer than 200 accounts, perhaps indicating the app’s current reach in one of the world’s most mobile and connected digital economies. His Clubhouse bio reads “노란잠바 그 아저씨” or “That Yellow Jacket Guy,” a reference to the Korean civil defense uniform worn by politicians in times of crisis (such as throughout the COVID-19 pandemic) and which currently serves — in cartoon form — as Chung’s profile picture.

South Korean politicians often wear yellow civil defense uniforms in times of national crisis. Photo by South Korean Presidential Blue House via Getty Images

According to local media reports, Chung spoke in a Clubhouse room for over an hour with fellow Democratic Party of Korea member Jung Cheong-rae. In a public Facebook post yesterday, the prime minister said that “I heard this [app] is ‘hot’ these days so I tried it as a nighttime walk.”

He further said “I was a little startled by the unexpected questions and reactions but the new experience was enjoyable. I think I’ll participate from time to time in the future.” Elaborating, he said “the fact that it’s audio-only and everyone can have a conversation without reserve made me think that it’s a better communication tool than any other social media platforms, especially since currently we’re living in the age of non-face-to-face communication.”

Discussions in the Clubhouse room included questions asking whether it was really him, to more bread-and-butter policy issues like the high price of real estate and physical abuse in the sports world, which has dominated headlines in recent weeks in local media.

While Clubhouse has become something of a fixture for techies and every form of hustle culture connoisseur imaginable, the app has increasingly made forays into politics that are hardly unknown to other social networks.

Miami’s mayor Francis Suarez has been on Clubhouse to sell his city’s potential for the tech industry. San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin joined a “debate” on the platform about the future of SF, while NYC mayoral aspirant and all around UBI nerd Andrew Yang joined a discussion about … himself. Meanwhile, Bitcoin aficionado and itinerant Tesla leader Elon Musk has even proposed bringing Vladimir Putin onto Clubhouse for a live fireside chat.

Yet, as the platform expands globally, the challenges to its open and free-wheeling if somewhat moderated conversations are coming under closer scrutiny. China has now blocked Clubhouse within its borders after a brief period of uncensored conversation.

As Clubhouse continues to garner mainstream legitimacy and interest, questions continue to percolate on the future of the app’s success, such as how it will fund creators and continue to thrive once the world opens up after COVID-19.

#asia, #clubhouse, #government, #media, #social, #south-korea, #tc

0

WhatsApp details what will happen to users who don’t agree to privacy changes

WhatsApp said earlier this week that it will allow users to review its planned privacy update at “their own pace” and will display a banner to better explain the changes in its terms. But what happens to its users who do not accept the terms by the May 15 deadline?

In an email to one of its merchant partners, reviewed by TechCrunch, Facebook-owned WhatsApp said it will “slowly ask” such users to comply with the new terms “in order to have full functionality of WhatsApp” starting May 15.

If they still don’t accept the terms, “for a short time, these users will be able to receive calls and notifications, but will not be able to read or send messages from the app,” the company added in the note. The company confirmed to TechCrunch that the note accurately characterizes its plan.

The “short time” will span a few weeks. In the note, WhatsApp linked to a newly created FAQ page that says its policy related to inactive users will apply after May 15.

WhatsApp’s policy for inactive users states that accounts are “generally deleted after 120 days of inactivity.”

The instant messaging service received backlash from some of its users — including those in India, its biggest market — last month after an in-app alert said they had until February 8 to agree to the planned privacy terms, which are being made to reflect its recent push into e-commerce, if they wished to continue using the service.

Following backlash, WhatsApp said its planned privacy update had created confusion among some of its users. “We’ve heard from so many people how much confusion there is around our recent update. There’s been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts,” it wrote in a blog post last month.

Since 2016, WhatsApp’s privacy policies have granted the service permission to share with Facebook certain metadata such as user phone numbers and device information. The new terms will allow Facebook and WhatsApp to share payment and transaction data in order to help them better target ads as the social juggernaut broadens its e-commerce offerings and looks to merge its messaging platforms.

WhatsApp, used by over 2 billion users, last month delayed enforcing the new policy by three months and has been explaining its terms to users ever since — though its explanations hadn’t explicitly addressed what it planned to do with users who didn’t accept the terms.

#apps, #facebook, #signal, #social, #telegram, #whatsapp

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3 strategies for elevating brand authority in 2021

A lot of clients come to us saying they want to be more respected in their space. They know their competitors are trusted and they want the same recognition, if not more.

This feels even more important now after the absolute disaster that was 2020. Consumers and clients alike just want to be able to count on brands and not stress over whether they’re making the right decision.

Marketers seem to know this. When we teamed up with Semrush to explore keyword search data in 2020 related to marketing goals, brand awareness and authority showed steady upward trends.

If you’re one of these marketers, I have some strategies you can use to improve your brand’s authority this year. It can’t happen overnight, but you can start implementing these strategies now to see results over time.

I have some strategies you can use to improve your brand’s authority this year.

Strategy #1: Get media coverage

Media coverage can build the authority of your brand in a few ways.

For one, it’s hard for people to trust you if they don’t know you exist. Of course, you can pay for ads or kill it on social to get your name out there, but media coverage has other benefits, as well.

When reputable publications and websites reference your brand and link to your site, they’re sending a signal that they trust what you have to say. It’s third-party confirmation that you know what you’re talking about and/or have something to offer.

For example, for our client Stoneside, we surveyed folks to see how many purchased and cared for houseplants in 2020.

The report got coverage on TreeHugger and Simplemost, but it also served as great context for other articles, like HelloGiggles and The Weather Network.

hello giggles article headere

Image Credits: Fractl

having a houseplant article screenshot

Image Credits: Fractl

weather network screen shoit

Image Credits: Fractl

Of course, getting media coverage isn’t easy. You need newsworthy content or an expert opinion to contribute, and you need to know how to pitch it to writers.

Small budget options

Are there industry blogs you can write a guest post for? Are there peers in your industry who are looking for quotes for their content? Start building connections with other industry experts. Cite their work in your content and build a rapport.

For example, I sometimes work with marketing tool brands like Semrush and BuzzSumo because those brands align well with Fractl, as we all work in the same industry.

You can also sign up for HARO, in which journalists post requests to speak to particular types of experts. However, it’s not often you’ll see relevant requests, and even then it’s a toss up whether they’ll reach out to you specifically.

Larger budget options

If you can afford it, a combination of content marketing and digital PR is the way to go. If you have resources internally — marketing folks who are savvy with data analysis and content creation — you can start by seeing if you have any internal data that would be interesting to a wider audience.

#column, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #growth-marketing, #social, #startups

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Daily Crunch: Facebook’s Australian news ban is pretty broad

We explore the fallout of Facebook’s news ban, WhatsApp addresses privacy concerns and Perseverance lands on Mars. This is your Daily Crunch for February 18, 2021.

The big story: Facebook’s Australian news ban is pretty broad

Yes, this was the lead story in yesterday’s newsletter, but 24 hours later, we have a better sense of how things are playing out.

A quick refresher: As the Australian government is debating a law that would require tech platforms to pay media companies for linked content, Facebook has gone ahead and started blocking the sharing or viewing of news. The move has been criticized as censorship and even “an assault on a sovereign nation,” but also praised as a reasonable stand against a “link tax.” (Google made a similar threat but has instead been striking deals with Australian publishers.)

Regardless of how you feel about the decision in theory, the initial implementation has left something to be desired, with the Facebook Pages of hospitals, universities, unions, government departments and the bureau of meteorology all wiped clean. When reached for comment, Facebook confirmed that it applied an intentionally broad definition of news, designed to reflect the law “as drafted.”

The tech giants

Following backlash, WhatsApp to roll out in-app banner to better explain its privacy update — If users choose to review the changes, they’ll be shown a deeper summary, including added details about how WhatsApp works with Facebook.

Apple TV+ arrives on Google TV devices, starting with Chromecast — It will also become available on Google TVs from both Sony and TCL, with expansions to other Android TV-powered devices in the months to come.

Microsoft announces the next perpetual release of Office — If you use Office, Microsoft would really, really, really like you to buy a cloud-enabled subscription to Microsoft 365, but it will continue to make a standalone, perpetual license for Office available, too.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Robinhood goes to Congress — Alex Wilhelm did not enjoy watching.

Math learning app Photomath raises $23M as it reaches 220 million downloads — Chances are, you might already know about the app if you have a teenager in your household.

Wholesale marketplace Abound raises $22.9M — The marketplace helps independent retailers stock their shelves with new products from up-and-coming brands.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Why do SaaS companies with usage-based pricing grow faster? — Public SaaS companies that have adopted usage-based pricing grow faster because they’re better at landing new customers, growing with them and keeping them as customers.

Creating a prediction machine for the financial markets — Data is the backbone of any prediction machine.

Check out the incredible speakers joining us on Extra Crunch Live in March — Our March slate starts with Sarah Kunst of Cleo Capital and Julia Collins of Planet FWD.

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

Everything else

Perseverance lands safely on Mars and sends back its first images of the surface — Perseverance landed after a white-knuckle descent that involved picking a landing spot just moments before making a rocket-powered sky-crane landing.

Tired of ‘Zoom University’? So is edtech — A wave of startups is trying to disrupt the virtual school day.

California DMV warns of data breach after a contractor was hit by ransomware — Automatic Funds Transfer Services, which the DMV said it has used for verifying changes of address, was hit by an unspecified strain of ransomware earlier this month.

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, #media, #policy, #social

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Report: social audio app Clubhouse has topped 8 million global downloads

Social audio app Clubhouse has now topped 8 million global downloads, despite still being in a prelaunch, invite-only mode, according to new data released today by mobile data and analytics firm App Annie. Per its estimates, Clubhouse grew from over 3.5 million global downloads as of Feb. 1, 2021, to reach 8.1 million by Feb. 16, 2021. This sharp growth is attributed to several high-profile guest appearances, including those from Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example.

App Annie also estimates that 2.6 million-plus of the total global installs took place in the U.S. — a figure that highlights the app’s global appeal.

Image Credits: App Annie

Clubhouse, meanwhile, hasn’t officially shared its total number of downloads or registered users, but CEO Paul Davison revealed in January the app had grown to 2 million weekly active users — which means the app’s monthly active user figure and total registered user count would be much higher. Other estimates have put the app’s registered user base in between 6 million and 10 million (the latter citing unnamed sources.)

Reached for comment on App Annie’s report, Clubhouse said it doesn’t publish user numbers.

It’s worth noting that app install figures aren’t typically a valid proxy for registered users as many people often download an app but then never open it or sign up. But in Clubhouse’s case, the two figures could be more closely aligned as people who are installing the app are motivated to join. The app is not open to the public, so the users installing the app are likely either in possession of a Clubhouse invite or are aiming to get one from a friend or trusted contact who’s already joined.

Also in the new report, App Annie noted how Clubhouse phenomenon is having an impact on the larger app ecosystem. Local rivals to Clubhouse offering their own social audio experience have also gained downloads in recent days, including Dizhua, Tiya and Yalla, which have attracted users in China, the U.S., Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. 

Dizhua, for example, has 174,000 downloads; Tiya has 6 million; and Yalla has 34.5 million, the report says. Yalla, notably, has been live since 2016, but Clubhouse’s popularity is giving it a boost. 

Beyond this small handful, there’s been an explosion of social audio experiences, including those in  from startups like Sonar, Locker Room, Quilt, Yoni Circle, Roadtrip, Space, Capiche.fm, Yac, Cappuccino, and others. Twitter, meanwhile, is building its own Clubhouse rival with Spaces, which it said yesterday will expand to Android by March. Facebook, too, is reportedly planning a Clubhouse competitor.

The question on everyone’s minds now is how much of this growth is sustainable. Skeptics say Clubhouse lends itself to those who tend to dominate conversations by talking at length; that many of its conversations are just kind of boring; that the app favors the “hustle culture”-obsessed; and so on. Some also wonder to how well social audio apps will fare when the world reopens post-COVID and there’s more to do — including the return traditional networking events.

But these concerns don’t take into account that social audio has the potential to carve out space for itself by supplanting users’ other mobile spoken-word audio activities, like podcast listening or audiobooks. Of course, questions about Clubhouse’s future can’t really be answered now, as the pandemic continues, and with an app that’s not fully open to the public.

#app-annie, #apps, #audio, #clubhouse, #mobile-applications, #social, #social-audio, #social-media

0

Facebook applies overly broad content block in flex against Australia’s planned news reuse law

Outrage fast-followed Facebook’s announcement yesterday that it was making good on its threat to block Australian users’ ability to share news on its platform.

The tech giant’s intentionally broad-brush — call it antisocial — implementation of content restrictions took down a swathe of non-news publishers’ Facebook pages, as well as silencing news outlets’, illustrating its planned dodge of the (future) law.

Facebook took the step to censor a bunch of pages as parliamentarians in Australia are debating a legislative proposal to force Facebook (and Google) to pay publishers for linking to their news content. In recent years the media industry in the country has successfully lobbied for a law to extract payment from the tech giants for monetizing news content when it’s reshared on their platforms — though the legislation is still being drafted.

Last month Google also threatened to close its search engine in Australia if the law isn’t amended. But it’s Facebook that screwed its courage to the sticking place and flipped the chaos switch first.

Last night Internet users in Australia took to Twitter to report local scores of Facebook pages being wiped clean of content — including hospitals, universities, unions, government departments and the bureau of meteorology, to name a few.

 

In the wake of Facebook’s unilateral censorship of all sorts of Facebook pages, parliamentarians in the country accused the tech giant of “an assault on a sovereign nation”.

The prime minister of Australia also said today that his government “would not be intimidated”.

Reached for comment, Facebook confirmed it has applied an intentionally broad definition of news to restrict — saying it has done so to reflect the lack of clear guidance in the law “as drafted”.

So it looks like the collateral damage of Facebook silencing scores of public information pages is at least partly a PR tactic to illustrate potential ‘consequences’ of lawmakers forcing it to pay to display certain types of content — i.e. to ‘encourage’ a rethink while there’s still time.

The tech giant did also say it would reverse pages that are “inadvertently impacted”.

But it did not indicate whether it would be doing the leg work of checking its own homework there, or whether silenced pages must (somehow) petition it to be reinstated.

“The actions we’re taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content. As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted. However, we will reverse any Pages that are inadvertently impacted,” a Facebook company spokesperson said in the statement.

It’s also not clear how many non-news pages have been affected by Facebook’s self-imposed content restrictions.

If the tech giant was hoping to kick off a wider debate about the merits of Australia’s (controversial) plan to make tech pay for news (including in its current guise, for links to news — not just snippets of content, as under the EU’s recent copyright reform expansion of neighbouring rights for news) — Facebook has certainly succeeded in grabbing global eyeballs by blocking regional access to vast swathes of useful, factual information.

However Facebook’s blunt action has also attracted criticism that it’s putting business interests before human rights — given it’s shuttering users’ ability to find what might be vital information, such as from hospitals and government departments, in the middle of a pandemic. (Albeit, being accused of ignoring human rights is hardly a new look for Facebook.)

The Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff’s academic critique of surveillance capitalism — including that it engages in propagating “epistemic chaos” for profit — has perhaps never felt quite so on the nose. (“We turned to Facebook in search of information. Instead we found lethal strategies of epistemic chaos for profit,” she wrote only last month.)

Facebook’s intentional over-flex has also underscored the vast power of its social monopoly — which will likely only strengthen calls for policymakers and antitrust regulators everywhere to grasp the nettle and rein in big tech. So its local lobbying effort may backfire on the global stage if it further sours public opinion against the scandal-hit company.

Facebook’s rush to censor may even encourage a proportion of its users to remember/discover that there’s a whole open Internet outside its walled garden — where they can freely access public information without having to log into Facebook’s ad-targeting platform (and be stripped of their privacy) first.

As others have noted, it’s also interesting to note how quickly Facebook can pull the content moderation trigger when it believes its bottom line is threatened. And a law to extract payment for sharing news content presents a clear threat.

Compare and contrast Facebook’s rush to silence information pages in Australia with its laid back approach to tackling outrage-inducing hate speech or violent conspiracy nonsense and it’s hard not to conclude that content moderation on (and by) Facebook is always viewed through the prism of Facebook’s global revenue growth goals. (Much like how the tech giant can here be seen in a court filing chainlinking revenue to its self-reported ad metric tools.)

#australia, #censorship, #facebook, #media, #news, #platform-regulation, #policy, #social

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Daily Crunch: Facebook cuts off news-sharing in Australia

Facebook plays hardball in Australia, Epic Games expands its fight against Apple and New York’s attorney general sues Amazon. This is your Daily Crunch for February 17, 2021.

The big story: Facebook cuts off news-sharing in Australia

In response to a proposed law forcing internet platforms to pay news publishers directly, Facebook announced today that Australian users will not be able to share or view news links.

In its post, Facebook drew a direct contrast with the other big company targeted by the law, with managing director for Facebook Australia and New Zealand William Easton writing, “Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content. On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue.”

The tech giants

Epic Games takes its Apple App Store fight to Europe — The Fortnite-maker has lodged a complaint with the bloc’s antitrust regulators.

NY AG sues Amazon over treatment of warehouse workers — The suit alleges that Amazon failed to provide adequate health and safety measures in two New York facilities, and that it unlawfully disciplined and fired employees who complained.

Google Maps users can now pay for parking or their transit fare right from the app — This is part of an expanded partnership with transportation software companies Passport and ParkMobile.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Locus Robotics has raised a $150M Series E — The round values the robotics company at $1 billion.

SpaceX reportedly raises $850M in new funding — This is a massive round by most standards, but not by SpaceX’s.

Jet co-founder Nate Faust is building a more sustainable e-commerce experience with Olive — Faust said it’s “crazy” that 25 years after the e-commerce industry began, it’s still relying on “single-use, one-way packaging.”

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Dear Sophie: Tips for filing for a green card for my soon-to-be spouse — The latest edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

With software markets getting bigger, will more VCs bet on competing startups? — Back in the days when inside rounds were bad, SPACs were jokes and crypto a fever dream, there was lots of noise about investors who declined to place competing bets in any particular startup market.

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

Everything else

Jamaica’s immigration website exposed thousands of travelers’ data — Immigration documents and COVID-19 lab results were left unprotected.

Reducing the spread of misinformation on social media: What would a do-over look like? — Ideas from the team at Irrational Labs.

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, #media, #policy, #social

0

Reducing the spread of misinformation on social media: What would a do-over look like?

The news is awash with stories of platforms clamping down on misinformation and the angst involved in banning prominent members. But these are Band-Aids over a deeper issue — namely, that the problem of misinformation is one of our own design. Some of the core elements of how we’ve built social media platforms may inadvertently increase polarization and spread misinformation.

If we could teleport back in time to relaunch social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and TikTok with the goal of minimizing the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories from the outset … what would they look like?

This is not an academic exercise. Understanding these root causes can help us develop better prevention measures for current and future platforms.

Some of the core elements of how we’ve built social media platforms may inadvertently increase polarization and spread misinformation.

As one of the Valley’s leading behavioral science firms, we’ve helped brands like Google, Lyft and others understand human decision-making as it relates to product design. We recently collaborated with TikTok to design a new series of prompts (launched this week) to help stop the spread of potential misinformation on its platform.

The intervention successfully reduces shares of flagged content by 24%. While TikTok is unique amongst platforms, the lessons we learned there have helped shape ideas on what a social media redux could look like.

Create opt-outs

We can take much bigger swings at reducing the views of unsubstantiated content than labels or prompts.

In the experiment we launched together with TikTok, people saw an average of 1.5 flagged videos over a two-week period. Yet in our qualitative research, many users said they were on TikTok for fun; they didn’t want to see any flagged videos whatsoever. In a recent earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg also spoke of Facebook users’ tiring of hyperpartisan content.

We suggest giving people an “opt-out of flagged content” option — remove this content from their feeds entirely. To make this a true choice, this opt-out needs to be prominent, not buried somewhere users must seek it out. We suggest putting it directly in the sign-up flow for new users and adding an in-app prompt for existing users.

Shift the business model

There’s a reason false news spreads six times faster on social media than real news: Information that’s controversial, dramatic or polarizing is far more likely to grab our attention. And when algorithms are designed to maximize engagement and time spent on an app, this kind of content is heavily favored over more thoughtful, deliberative content.

The ad-based business model is at the core the problem; it’s why making progress on misinformation and polarization is so hard. One internal Facebook team tasked with looking into the issue found that, “our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness.” But the project and proposed work to address the issues was nixed by senior executives.

Essentially, this is a classic incentives problem. If business metrics that define “success” are no longer dependent on maximizing engagement/time on site, everything will change. Polarizing content will no longer need to be favored and more thoughtful discourse will be able to rise to the surface.

Design for connection

A primary part of the spread of misinformation is feeling marginalized and alone. Humans are fundamentally social creatures who look to be part of an in-group, and partisan groups frequently provide that sense of acceptance and validation.

We must therefore make it easier for people to find their authentic tribes and communities in other ways (versus those that bond over conspiracy theories).

Mark Zuckerberg says his ultimate goal with Facebook was to connect people. To be fair, in many ways Facebook has done that, at least on a surface level. But we should go deeper. Here are some ways:

We can design for more active one-on-one communication, which has been shown to increase well-being. We can also nudge offline connection. Imagine two friends are chatting on Facebook messenger or via comments on a post. How about a prompt to meet in person, when they live in the same city (post-COVID, of course)? Or if they’re not in the same city, a nudge to hop on a call or video.

In the scenario where they’re not friends and the interaction is more contentious, platforms can play a role in highlighting not only the humanity of the other person, but things one shares in common with the other. Imagine a prompt that showed, as you’re “shouting” online with someone, everything you have in common with that person.

Platforms should also disallow anonymous accounts, or at minimum encourage the use of real names. Clubhouse has good norm-setting on this: In the onboarding flow they say, “We use real names here.” Connection is based on the idea that we’re interacting with a real human. Anonymity obfuscates that.

Finally, help people reset

We should make it easy for people to get out of an algorithmic rabbit hole. YouTube has been under fire for its rabbit holes, but all social media platforms have this challenge. Once you click a video, you’re shown videos like it. This may help sometimes (getting to that perfect “how to” video sometimes requires a search), but for misinformation, this is a death march. One video on flat earth leads to another, as well as other conspiracy theories. We need to help people eject from their algorithmic destiny.

With great power comes great responsibility

More and more people now get their news from social media, and those who do are less likely to be correctly informed about important issues. It’s likely that this trend of relying on social media as an information source will continue.

Social media companies are thus in a unique position of power and have a responsibility to think deeply about the role they play in reducing the spread of misinformation. They should absolutely continue to experiment and run tests with research-informed solutions, as we did together with the TikTok team.

This work isn’t easy. We knew that going in, but we have an even deeper appreciation for this fact after working with the TikTok team. There are many smart, well-intentioned people who want to solve for the greater good. We’re deeply hopeful about our collective opportunity here to think bigger and more creatively about how to reduce misinformation, inspire connection and strengthen our collective humanity all at the same time.

#column, #facebook, #internet-culture, #mark-zuckerberg, #misinformation, #opinion, #qanon, #social, #software, #tiktok

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Reddit’s transparency report shows a big spam problem and relatively few government requests

Reddit has published its transparency report for 2020, showing various numbers relating to removed content, government requests and other administrative actions. The largest problem by far — in terms of volume, anyway — is spam, which made up nearly all content taken down. Legal requests for content takedown and user information were far fewer, but not trivial, in number.

The full report is quite readable, but a bit long; the main points to understand are summarized below.

Of nearly 3.4 billion pieces of content created on Reddit (which is to say posts, comments, hosted images, etc.), 233 million were removed. These numbers are both up by 20%-30% from 2019. Of those 233 million, 131 million were “proactive” removals by the AutoMod system and 13.6 million were removed after user reports by subreddit moderators.

The remaining 85 million were taken down by Reddit admins; 99.76% of these were spam or “content manipulation” like brigading and astroturfing, with around 50,000 each of harassment, hate and sexualization of minors, smaller amounts of violent speech, doxing and so on.

Chart showing that content removal on reddit was largely spam.

Image Credits: Reddit

82,858 subreddits were removed, nearly four times more than 2019. The majority of these were for lack of moderation, followed by hate, harassment and ban evasion (e.g., r/bannedsub starts r/bannedsub2).

When it came to removing comments, hate, violence and harassment were much more prevalent. And 92% of private messages removed (of about 25,000 total) were for harassment.

Outside of spam and content manipulation, hate speech resulted in far more bans than any other infraction; more accounts were permanently banned for hate in 2020 than for all causes combined in 2019. (But far fewer for content violations than for spam and ban evasion.)

Government requests to remove content were relatively few. Overall Reddit received a couple hundred requests covering about 5,000 pieces of content or subreddits. For example, 753 subreddits had their access restricted to Pakistani users due to anti-obscenity laws there.

Requests from individuals or companies to remove things numbered in the hundreds, and copyright takedown notices asked for about half a million pieces of content to be removed (375,774 were), more than twice 2019’s. Only a handful of DMCA counter-notices were received.

Law enforcement came to Reddit 611 times for user information, up 50% from last year, and the company granted 424 of those requests. These are mostly subpoenas, court orders and search warrants. Since Reddit isn’t really a social network and accounts can be essentially anonymous or throwaway, it’s hard to say what level of disclosure this actually represents. Emergency disclosure requests numbered about 300 and were mostly complied with — these are supposedly life-or-death situations in which a Reddit account is concerned.

Lastly Reddit received somewhere between 0 and 249 secret requests for data, targeting somewhere between 0 and 249 users, same as last year. Sadly, federal law prohibits them from saying any more than this regarding FISA orders and National Security Letters.

Overall the picture painted of Reddit in 2020 is of a growing community plagued by spam and inauthentic activity, plus a significant and growing contingent of hate, harassment and other prohibited content (though last year was surely an exceptional one for this). Lacking much fundamental access to or use of personally identifiable data, Reddit isn’t much of a target for three-letter agencies and law enforcement. And with “free speech”-focused alternatives to Reddit and other platforms popping up, it’s likely that the hate and harassment that were deplatformed will roost elsewhere in 2021.

#reddit, #social, #transparency-report

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TikTok hit with consumer, child safety and privacy complaints in Europe

TikTok is facing a fresh round of regulatory complaints in Europe where consumer protection groups have filed a series of coordinated complaints alleging multiple breaches of EU law.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) has lodged a complaint against the video sharing site with the European Commission and the bloc’s network of consumer protection authorities, while consumer organisations in 15 countries have alerted their national authorities and urged them to investigate the social media giant’s conduct, BEUC said today.

The complaints include claims of unfair terms, including in relation to copyright and TikTok’s virtual currency; concerns around the type of content children are being exposed to on the platform; and accusations of misleading data processing and privacy practices.

Details of the alleged breaches are set out in two reports associated with the complaints: One covering issues with TikTok’s approach to consumer protection, and another focused on data protection and privacy.

Child safety

On child safety, the report accuses TikTok of failing to protect children and teenagers from hidden advertising and “potentially harmful” content on its platform.

“TikTok’s marketing offers to companies who want to advertise on the app contributes to the proliferation of hidden marketing. Users are for instance triggered to participate in branded hashtag challenges where they are encouraged to create content of specific products. As popular influencers are often the starting point of such challenges the commercial intent is usually masked for users. TikTok is also potentially failing to conduct due diligence when it comes to protecting children from inappropriate content such as videos showing suggestive content which are just a few scrolls away,” the BEUC writes in a press release.

TikTok has already faced a regulatory intervention in Italy this year in response to child safety concerns — in that instance after the death of a ten year old girl in the country. Local media had reported that the child died of asphyxiation after participating in a ‘black out’ challenge on TikTok — triggering the emergency intervention by the DPA.

Soon afterwards TikTok agreed to reissue an age gate to verify the age of every user in Italy, although the check merely asks the user to input a date to confirm their age so seems trivially easy to circumvent.

In the BEUC’s report, the consumer rights group draws attention to TikTok’s flimsy age gate, writing that: “In practice, it is very easy for underage users to register on the platform as the age verification process is very loose and only self-declaratory.”

And while it notes TikTok’s privacy policy claims the service is “not directed at children under the age of 13” the report cites a number of studies that found heavy use of TikTok by children under 13 — with BEUC suggesting that children in fact make up “a very big part” of TikTok’s user base.

From the report:

In France, 45% of children below 13 have indicated using the app. In the United Kingdom, a 2020 study from the Office for Telecommunications (OFCOM) revealed that 50% of children between eight and 15 upload videos on TikTok at least weekly. In Czech Republic, a 2019 study found out that TikTok is very popular among children aged 11-12. In Norway, a news article reported that 32% of children aged 10-11 used TikTok in 2019. In the United States, The New York Times revealed that more than one-third of daily TikTok users are 14 or younger, and many videos seem to come from children who are below 13. The fact that many underage users are active on the platform does not come as a surprise as recent studies have shown that, on average, a majority of children owns mobile phones earlier and earlier (for example, by the age of seven in the UK).

A recent EU-backed study also found that age checks on popular social media platforms are “basically ineffective” as they can be circumvented by children of all ages simply by lying about their age.

Terms of use

Another issue raised by the complaints centers on a claim of unfair terms of use — including in relation to copyright, with BEUC noting that TikTok’s T&Cs give it an “irrevocable right to use, distribute and reproduce the videos published by users, without remuneration”.

A virtual currency feature it offers is also highlighted as problematic in consumer rights terms.

TikTok lets users purchase digital coins which they can use to buy virtual gifts for other users (which can in turn be converted by the user back to fiat). But BEUC says its ‘Virtual Item Policy’ contains “unfair terms and misleading practices” — pointing to how it claims an “absolute right” to modify the exchange rate between the coins and the gifts, thereby “potentially skewing the financial transaction in its own favour”.

While TikTok displays the price to buy packs of its virtual coins there is no clarity over the process it applies for the conversion of these gifts into in-app diamonds (which the gift-receiving user can choose to redeem for actual money, remitted to them via PayPal or another third party payment processing tool).

“The amount of the final monetary compensation that is ultimately earned by the content provider remains obscure,” BEUC writes in the report, adding: “According to TikTok, the compensation is calculated ‘based on various factors including the number of diamonds that the user has accrued’… TikTok does not indicate how much the app retains when content providers decide to convert their diamonds into cash.”

“Playful at a first glance, TikTok’s Virtual Item Policy is highly problematic from the point of view of consumer rights,” it adds.

Privacy

On data protection and privacy, the social media platform is also accused of a whole litany of “misleading” practices — including (again) in relation to children. Here the complaint accuses TikTok of failing to clearly inform users about what personal data is collected, for what purpose, and for what legal reason — as is required under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Other issues flagged in the report include the lack of any opt-out from personal data being processed for advertising (aka ‘forced consent’ — something tech giants like Facebook and Google have also been accused); the lack of explicit consent for processing sensitive personal data (which has special protections under GDPR); and an absence of security and data protection by design, among other issues.

We’ve reached out to the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), which is TikTok’s lead supervisor for data protection issues in the EU, about the complaint and will update this report with any response.

France’s data watchdog, the CNIL, already opened an investigation into TikTok last year — prior to the company shifting its regional legal base to Ireland (meaning data protection complaints must now be funnelled through the Irish DPC as a result of via the GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism — adding to the regulatory backlog).

Jef Ausloos, a postdoc researcher who worked on the legal analysis of TikTok’s privacy policy for the data protection complaints, told TechCrunch researchers had been ready to file data protection complaints a year ago — at a time when the platform had no age check at all — but it suddenly made major changes to how it operates.

Ausloos suggests such sudden massive shifts are a deliberate tactic to evade regulatory scrutiny of data-exploiting practices — as “constant flux” can have the effect of derailing and/or resetting research work being undertaken to build a case for enforcement — also pointing out that resource-strapped regulators may be reluctant to bring cases against companies ‘after the fact’ (i.e. if they’ve since changed a practice).

The upshot of breaches that iterate is that repeat violations of the law may never be enforced.

It’s also true that a frequent refrain of platforms at the point of being called out (or called up) on specific business practices is to claim they’ve since changed how they operate — seeking to use that a defence to limit the impact of regulatory enforcement or indeed a legal ruling. (Aka: ‘Move fast and break regulatory accountability’.)

Nonetheless, Ausloos says the complainants’ hope now is that the two years of documentation undertaken on the TikTok case will help DPAs build cases.

Commenting on the complaints in a statement, Monique Goyens, DG of BEUC, said: “In just a few years, TikTok has become one of the most popular social media apps with millions of users across Europe. But TikTok is letting its users down by breaching their rights on a massive scale. We have discovered a whole series of consumer rights infringements and therefore filed a complaint against TikTok.

“Children love TikTok but the company fails to keep them protected. We do not want our youngest ones to be exposed to pervasive hidden advertising and unknowingly turned into billboards when they are just trying to have fun.

“Together with our members — consumer groups from across Europe — we urge authorities to take swift action. They must act now to make sure TikTok is a place where consumers, especially children, can enjoy themselves without being deprived of their rights.”

Reached for comment on the complaints, a TikTok spokesperson told us:

Keeping our community safe, especially our younger users, and complying with the laws where we operate are responsibilities we take incredibly seriously. Every day we work hard to protect our community which is why we have taken a range of major steps, including making all accounts belonging to users under 16 private by default. We’ve also developed an in-app summary of our Privacy Policy with vocabulary and a tone of voice that makes it easier for teens to understand our approach to privacy. We’re always open to hearing how we can improve, and we have contacted BEUC as we would welcome a meeting to listen to their concerns.

#beuc, #child-safety, #consumer-protection, #data-protection, #europe, #lawsuit, #privacy, #social, #tiktok

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