Popl tops $2.7M in sales for its technology that replaces business cards

If you’re spent any time on TikTok lately, then you’ve probably seen a number of Popl’s ads. The startup has been successfully leveraging social media to get its modern-day business card alternative in front a wider audience. Packaged as either a phone sticker, keychain or wristband, Popl uses NFC technology to make sharing contact information as easy as using Apple Pay. To date, Popl has sold somewhere over 700,000 units and has generated $2.7 million in sales for its digital business card technology.

Popl co-founder and CEO Jason Alvarez-Cohen, a UCLA grad with a background in computer science, first realized the potential for NFC business cards through a different use case — a device he encountered in someone’s home while attending a party. But it sparked the idea to use NFC technology for sharing information person-to-person, which would be faster than alternatives, like AirDrop or manual entry. And so, Popl was born.

Image Credits: Popl

Though startup history is littered with would-be “business card killers” that eventually died, what makes Popl different from early contenders is that it combines both an app with a physical product — the Popl accessory. This accessory can be purchased in a variety of form factors, including the popular Popl phone sticker that you can apply right to the back of your phone case (or even the top of your Popsocket), and customized with a photo of your choosing.

“I knew that, in the past, people would tap phones and share information like that. But I learned quickly that you can’t do this just phone-to-phone with pure software,” says Alvarez-Cohen. “So I was like, what’s the closest way we can get the phone tapping? And that’s how I came up with this back-of-the-phone product.”

Each Popl accessory is actually an NFC tag which enables the handoff of the user’s contact information. When the phones are close, the recipient will get a notification that alerts them to your shared Popl data.

There are, of course, other ways to quickly exchange contact information. You can easily enter in someone’s digits into your phone’s contacts app directly, for example, which may work better for more casual encounters — like meeting someone at a bar. But Popl lets you share a full business cards’ worth of contact data with just a tap, which makes it better for professional encounters, or any other time you want to share more than just your phone number.

While the Popl tags make for a nice gimmick, the Popl mobile app is what makes the overall service useful. And to be clear, the app is only necessary for the Popl’s owner — the recipient doesn’t need the app installed for Popl to work. They will, however, need to have a phone that can read NFC tags, which can leave out some older devices. Or, as a backup, they’ll need ability to scan the QR code the app provides as a workaround.

Image Credits: Popl

In the Popl app, you can customize which data you want to share with others — including your contact info, social profiles, website links, etc. — all via an easy-to-use interface. Like some business card apps in the past, you can flip in between a personal profile and a business profile in Popl in order to share the appropriate information when out networking. To actually make the exchange of contact information with another person, you simply hold up your phone to theirs and they’ll get a notification directing them to your Popl profile webpage. (The phones don’t have to physically touch or bump together, however. It’s more like Apple Pay, where they have to be near each other.)

From the Popl website that’s shared via the notification that pops up, the recipient can tap on the various options to connect with the sender — for example, adding them on a social network like LinkedIn or Instagram, grabbing their phone number to send a quick text, or even downloading a full contact card to their phone’s address book, among other things.

Image Credits: Popl

The app’s more clever feature, however, is something Popl calls “Direct.”

This patented feature won’t send over the Popl website where the recipient then has to choose how they want to connect. Instead, it opens up the destination app directly. For example, if you have LinkedIn Direct on, the recipient will be taken directly to your profile on LinkedIn when they tap the notification. Or if you put your Contact Card on Direct, it will just pop your address book entry onto the screen so the user can choose to save it to their phone.

For paid users, the app also lets you track your history of Popl connections on a map, so you can recall who you met, where and when, along with other analytics.

Image Credits: Popl

Work on Popl, which is co-founded by Alvarez-Cohen’s UCLA roommate, Nick Eischens, now Popl COO, began in late 2019. The startup then launched in February 2020 — just before the coronavirus lockdowns in the U.S. That could have been a disastrous time for a business designed to help people exchange information during in-person meetings when the world was now shifting to Zoom and remote work. But Alvarez-Cohen says they marketed Popl as a “contactless solution.”

“If I have this, and I have to meet someone for my business, I don’t even have to tap it —  you can just hover, and it will still send that information,” Alvarez-Cohen says. “So I’m able to share my business card with you without handing you a business card, which is kind of safe.”

But what really helped to sell Popl were its video demos. One TikTok ad, which I’m sure you’ve seen if you use TikTok at all, features the co-founders’ friend Arev sharing her TikTok profile with a new friend just as she’s leaving the gym.

In the video, the recipient — clearly dumbfounded by the technology after she taps his phone — responds “what? what? Whoa! What? How’d you do that?!”

It’s now been viewed over 80 million times.

@popl

HOW DID SHE DO THAT!! @endiccii with her new Popl. #poplchallengue #newtech #technology #foryou #fyp #instant

♬ original sound – popl

Today, Popl’s TikTok videos get high tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and sometimes still millions of views per video. The company also has an active presence on other social media. For instance, Popl posts regularly to Instagram where it has over 100K followers. Today, the startup’s growth now is about 60% driven by Facebook and Instagram marketing and 40% organic, Alvarez-Cohen says.

Now, the company is preparing new products for the post-pandemic era when in-person events return. Though it had before sold Popl’s in bulk for this purpose, it’s now readying an “event bracelet” that just slips on your wrist (and is reusable). The bracelet could be used at any big event — like music festivals or business conferences, where you’re meeting a lot of new people. And because Popl uses NFC, phones have to be close to make the contact info exchange — it won’t just randomly share your info with everyone you pass by them.

Popl is also fleshing out the business networking side of its app with integrations for Salesforce, Oracle and Hubspot, and CSV export, that come with its Popl Pro subscription ($4.99 per month). The in-app subscription is already at $320,000 in annual recurring revenue and growing 10% every week, as of early April.

A Y Combinator Winter 2021 participant, Popl is backed by Twitch co-founder Justin Kan (via Goat Capital), YC, Urban Innovation Fund, Cathexis Ventures, and others angels including Wish.com CEO Peter Szulczewski and Plangrid co-founder Ralph Gootee.

The app is available on iOS and Android, and the Popl accessories are sold on its website and on Target.com.

#apps, #business-card, #gadgets, #linkedin, #mobile-applications, #recent-funding, #salesforce, #social-media, #social-network, #software, #startups, #tc, #tiktok, #ucla, #y-combinator

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UK gov’t triggers national security scrutiny of Nvidia-Arm deal

The UK government has intervened to trigger public interest scrutiny of chipmaker’s Nvidia’s planned to buy Arm Holdings.

The secretary of state for digital issues, Oliver Dowden, said today that the government wants to ensure that any national security implications of the semiconductor deal are explored.

Nvidia’s $40BN acquisition of UK-based Arm was announced last September but remains to be cleared by regulators.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) began to solicit views on the proposed deal in January.

Domestic opposition to Nvidia’s plan has been swift, with one of the original Arm co-founders kicking off a campaign to ‘save Arm’ last year. Hermann Hauser warned that Arm’s acquisition by a U.S. entity would end its position as a company independent of U.S. interests — risking the U.K.’s economic sovereignty by surrendering its most powerful trade weapon.

The intervention by Department of Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) — using statutory powers set out in the Enterprise Act 2002 — means the competition regulator has been instructed to begin a phase 1 investigation.

The CMA has a deadline of July 30 to submit its report to the secretary of state.

Commenting in a statement, Dowden said: “Following careful consideration of the proposed takeover of ARM, I have today issued an intervention notice on national security grounds. As a next step and to help me gather the relevant information, the UK’s independent competition authority will now prepare a report on the implications of the transaction, which will help inform any further decisions.”

“We want to support our thriving UK tech industry and welcome foreign investment but it is appropriate that we properly consider the national security implications of a transaction like this,” he added.

At the completion of the CMA’s phase 1 investigation Dowden will have an option to clear the deal, i.e. if no national security or competition concerns have been identified; or to clear it with remedies to address any identified concerns.

He could also refer the transaction for further scrutiny by instructing the CMA to carry out an in-depth phase 2 investigation.

After the phase 1 report has been submitted there is no set period when the secretary of state must make a decision on next steps — but DCMS notes that a decision should be made as soon as “reasonably practicable” to reduce uncertainty.

While Dowden’s intervention has been made on national security grounds, additional concerns have been raised about impact of an Nvidia take-over of Arm — specifically on U.K. jobs and on Arm’s open licensing model.

Nvidia sought to address those concerns last year, claiming it’s committed to Arm’s licensing model and pledging to expand the Cambridge, UK offices of Arm — saying it would create “a new global center of excellence in AI research” at the UK campus.

However it’s hard to see what commercial concessions could be offered to assuage concern over the ramifications of an Nvidia-owed Arm on the UK’s economic sovereignty. That’s because it’s a political risk, which would require a political solution to allay, such as at a treaty level — something which isn’t in Nvidia’s gift (alone) to give.

National security concerns are a rising operational risk for tech companies involved in the supply of cutting edge infrastructure, such as semiconductor design and next-gen networks — where a relative paucity of competitors not only limits market choice but amps up the political calculations.

Proposed mergers are one key flash point as market consolidation takes on an acute politico-economic dimension.

However tech companies’ operations are being more widely squeezed in the name of national security — such as, in recent years, the U.S. government’s attacks on China-based 5G infrastructure suppliers like Huawei, with former president Trump seeking to have the company barred from supplying next-gen networks not only within the U.S. but to national networks of Western allies.

Nor has (geo)political pressure been applied purely over key infrastructure companies in recent years; with Trump claiming a national security justification to try and shake down the Chinese-owned social networking company, TikTok — in another example that speaks to how tech tools are being coopted into wider geopolitical power-plays, fuelled by countries’ economic and political self-interest.

#arm-holdings, #artificial-intelligence, #cambridge, #cma, #competition-and-markets-authority, #computer-security, #europe, #huawei, #ma, #national-security, #nvidia, #oliver-dowden, #security, #semiconductor, #tiktok, #trump, #u-s-government, #uk-government, #united-kingdom, #united-states

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The Chainsmokers, Alexis Ohanian, Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, Mark Cuban, Marshmello, and Snoop Dogg back Pearpop

Pearpop, the marketplace for social collaborations between the teeming hordes of musicians, craftspeople, chefs, clowns, diarists, dancers, artists, actors, acrobats, aspiring celebrities and actual celebrities, has raised $16 million in funding that includes what seems like half of Hollywood, along with Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six venture firm and Bessemer Venture Partners.

The funding was actually split between a $6 million seed funding round co-led by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary’s Sound Ventures and Slow Ventures, with participation from Atelier Ventures and Chapter One Ventures and a $10 million additional investment led by Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six with participation from Bessemer.

TechCrunch first covered pearpop last year and there’s no denying that the startup is on to something. It basically takes Cameo’s celebrity marketplace for private shout-outs and makes it public. Allowing social media personalities to boost their followers by paying more popular personalities to shout out, duet, or comment on their posts.

“I’ve invested in pearpop because it’s been on my mind for a while that the creator economy has resulted in a lot of not equitable outcomes for creators. Where i talked about the missing middle class of the creator economy,” said Li Jin, the founder of Atelier Ventures and author of a critical piece on creator economics, “The creator economy needs a middle class“. 

“When I saw pearpop I felt like there was a really big potential for pearpop to be the one of the creators of the creative middle class. They’ve introduced this mechanism by which larger creators can help smaller creators and everyone has something of value to offer something to everyone else in the ecosystem.”

Jin discovered pearpop through the TechCrunch piece, she said. “You wrote that article and then i reached out to the team,” said Jin.

The idea was so appealing, it brought in a slew of musicians, athletes, actors and entertainers, including: Abel Makkonen (The Weeknd), Amy Schumer, The Chainsmokers, Diddy, Gary Vaynerchuk, Griffin Johnson, Josh Richards, Kevin Durant (Thirty 5 Ventures), Kevin Hart (HartBeat Ventures), Mark Cuban, Marshmello, Moe Shalizi, Michael Gruen (Animal Capital), MrBeast (Night Media Ventures), Rich Miner (Android co-founder) and Snoop Dogg.

“Pearpop has the potential to benefit all social media platforms by delivering new users and engagement, while simultaneously leveling the playing field of opportunity for creators,” said Alexis Ohanian, Founder, Seven Seven Six, in a statement. “The company has created a revolutionary new marketplace model that is set to completely reimagine how we think of social media monetization. As both a social media founder and an investor, I’m excited for what’s to come with pearpop.”

Already Heidi Klum, Loren Gray, Snoop Dogg, and Tony Hawk have gotten paid to appear in social media posts from aspiring auteurs on the social media platform TikTok.

Using the platform is relatively simple. A social media user (for now, that means just TikTok) sends a post that exists on their social feed and requests that another social media user interacts with it in some way — either commenting, posting a video in response, or adding a sound. If the request seems okay, or “on brand”, then the person who accepts the request performs the prescribed action.

Pearpop takes a 25% cut of all transactions with the social media user who’s performing the task getting the other 75%.

The company wouldn’t comment on revenue numbers, except to say that it’s on track to bring in seven figures this year.

Users on the platform set their prices and determine which kinds of services they’re willing to provide to boost the social media posts of their contractors.

Prices range anywhere from $5 to $10,000 depending on the size of a user’s following and the type of request that’s being made. Right now, the most requested personality on the marketplace is the TikTok star, Anna Banana.

These kinds of transactions do have impacts. The company said that personalities on the platform were able to increase their follower count with the service. For instance, Leah Svoboda went from 20K to 141K followers, after a pearpop duet with Anna Shumate.

If this all makes you feel like you’ve tripped and fallen through a Black Mirror into a dystopian hellscape where everything and every interaction is a commodity to be mined for money, well… that’s life.

“What I appreciate most about pearpop is the control it gives me as a creator,” said Anna Shumate, TikTok influencer @annabananaxdddd. “The platform allows me to post what I want and when I want. My followers still love my content because it’s authentic and true to me, which is what sets pearpop apart from all of the other opportunities on social media.”

Talent agencies, too, see the draw. Early adopters include Talent X, Get Engaged, and Next Step Talent and The Fuel Injector, which has added its entire roster of talent to pearpop, which includes Kody Antle, Brooke Monk and Harry Raftus, the company said.

“The initial concept came out of an obvious gap within the space: no marketplace existed for creators of all sizes to monetize through simple, authentic collaborations that are mutually beneficial,” said Cole Mason, co-founder & CEO, pearpop.  “It soon became clear that this was a product that people had been waiting for, as thousands of people rely on our platform today to gain full control of their social capital for the first time starting with TikTok.”

#alexis-ohanian, #amy-schumer, #android, #anna-shumate, #ashton-kutcher, #atelier-ventures, #author, #bessemer-venture-partners, #bytedance, #cole-mason, #founder, #gary-vaynerchuk, #instagram, #kevin-durant, #kevin-hart, #li-jin, #mark-cuban, #pearpop, #slow-ventures, #snoop-dogg, #social-media, #social-media-monetization, #social-media-platforms, #software, #tc, #techcrunch, #tiktok, #tony-hawk, #video-hosting

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TikTok funds first episodic public health series ‘VIRAL’ from NowThis

TikTok is taking another step towards directly funding publishers’ content with today’s announcement that it’s financially backing the production of media publisher NowThis’ new series, “VIRAL,” which will feature interviews with public health experts and a live Q&A session focused on answering questions about the pandemic. The partnership represents TikTok’s first-ever funding of an episodic series from a publisher, though TikTok has previously funded creator content.

Through TikTok’s Instructive Accelerator Program, which was formerly known as the Creative Learning Fund, other TikTok publishers have received grants and hands-on support from TikTok so they could produce quality instructive content for TikTok’s #LearnOnTikTok initiative. The program today is structured as four, eight-week cycles during which time publishers post videos four times per week.

NowThis had also participated in the Creative Learning Fund last year and was selected for the latest cycle of the Instructive Accelerator Program. But its “VIRAL” series is separate from these efforts.

NowThis says it brought the concept for the show to TikTok earlier this year outside of the accelerator program, and TikTok greenlit it. TikTok then co-produced the series and provided some funding. Neither NowThis nor TikTok would comment on the extent of the financial backing involved, however.

The “VIRAL” series itself is hosted by infectious disease clinical researcher Laurel Bristow, who spent the last year working on COVID treatments and research. Every Thursday, Bristow will break down COVID facts in easy-to-understand language, NowThis says, including things like vaccine efficacy, transmission timelines, and treatment. The show will also bust COVID myths, provide information about ongoing public health risks, and feature interviews with a cross-section of experts.

Each episode of the will be 45 minutes in length and will also include an interactive segment where the TikTok viewing audience will be able to engage in a real-time Q&A session about the show’s content. In total, five episodes are being produced, and will air starting on Thursday April 15 at 6 PM ET and will run through Thursday May 13 on the @NowThis main TikTok page.

@nowthisTune in to our new TikTok live show VIRAL on Thursdays at 6pm ET with host @kinggutterbaby

♬ original sound – nowthis

NowThis has become one of the most-followed news media accounts on TikTok, with 4.6 million followers across its news and politics channels, since launching a little over a year ago. Because of its focus on video, it’s been a good fit for the TikTok’s platform.

The approach TikTok is taking with “VIRAL’s” production, it’s worth noting, stands in contrast to how other social media platforms are handling the pandemic and COVID-19 information. While most, including TikTok, have pledged to fact check COVID-19 information, remove misinformation and conspiracies, point users to official sources for health information, and provide other resources, TikTok is directly funding public health content featuring scientists and researchers, and then promoting it on its network.

The company explained to TechCrunch its thinking on the matter.

“As the pandemic continues to evolve, we think it’s important to provide our community an outlet to dispel misinformation and communicate with public health experts in real-time,” said Robbie Levin, Manager of Media Partnerships at TikTok. “NowThis has consistently been a great partner that produces engaging and informative content, so we felt this series would be an impactful and important avenue for our users to receive credible information on our platform,” Levin noted.

While the pandemic has driven the topic of choice here, paying creators for content is not new. And TikTok isn’t the only one to do so. Instagram and Snapchat are both funding creator content for their TikTok clones, Reels and Spotlight, respectively. And new social platforms like Clubhouse are funding creators’ shows, as well.

TikTok says it’s not currently talking to other publishers to produce more series like “VIRAL,” but it isn’t ruling out the idea of expanding its creator funding and producing efforts. In addition to its accelerator program, which is continuing, TikTok says if “VIRAL” proves successful and the community responds positively, it will pursue similar opportunities in the future.

#apps, #interactive, #media, #mobile, #nowthis-news, #public-health, #real-time, #social, #social-media, #tiktok, #video, #viral

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Deep fake video app Avatarify, which process on-phone, plans digital watermark for videos

Making deep fake videos used to be hard. Now all you need is a smartphone. Avatarify, a startup that allows people to make deep-fake videos directly on their phone rather than in the Cloud, is soaring up the app charts after being used by celebrities such as Victoria Beckham.

However, the problem with many deep fake videos is that there is no digital watermark to determine that the video has been tampered with. So Avatarify says it will soon launch a digital watermark to prevent this from happening.

Run out of Moscow but with a US HQ, Avatarify launched in July 2020 and since then has been downloaded millions of times. The founders say that 140 million deepfake videos were created with Avatarify this year alone. There are now 125 million views of videos with the hashtag #avatarify on TikTok. While its competitors include the well-funded Reface, Snapchat, Wombo.ai, Mug Life, Xpression, Avatarify has yet to raise any money beyond an Angel round.

Despite taking only $120,000 in angel funding, the company has yet to accept any venture capital and says it has bootstrapped its way from zero to almost 10 million downloads and claims to have a $10 million annual run-rate with a team of less than 10 people.

It’s not hard to see why. Avatarify has a freemium subscription model. They offer a 7-day free trial and a 12-month subscription for $34.99 or a weekly plan for $2.49. Without a subscription, they offer the core features of the App for free, but videos then carry a visible watermark.

The founders also say the app protects privacy, because the videos are processed directly on the phone, rather than in the cloud where they could be hacked.

Avatarify processes user’s photos and turns them into short videos by animating faces, using machine learning algorithms, and adding sounds. The user chooses a picture she wants to animate, chooses the effects and music, and then taps to animate the picture. This short video can then be posted on Instagram or TikTok.

The Avatarify videos are taking off on TikTok because teens no longer need to learn a dance or be much more creative than finding a photo of a celebrity to animate to.

Avartify says you can’t use their app to impersonate someone, but there is of course no way to police this.

Founders Ali Aliev and Karim Iskakov wrote the app during the COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020. Ali spent 2 hours writing a program in Python to transfer his facial expressions to the other person’s face and use a filter in Zoom. The result was a real-time video, which could be streamed to Zoom. He joined a call with Elon Mask’s face and everyone on the call was shocked. The team posted the video, which then went viral.

The code on Github and immediately saw the number of downloads grow. The repository was published on 6 April 2020, and as of 19 March 2021 had been downloaded 50,000 times.

Ali left his job at Samsung AI Centre and devoted himself to the app. After Avatarify’s iOS app was released on 28 June 2020, viral videos on TikTok, created with the app, led it to App Store’s top charts without paid acquisition. In February 2021, Avatarify was ranked first among Top Free Apps worldwide. Between February and March, the app 2021 generated more than $1M in revenue (Source: AppMagic).

However, despite Avartify’s success, the ongoing problems with deep-fake videos remain, such as using these apps to make non-consensual porn, using the faces of innocent people.

#apps, #artificial-intelligence, #europe, #github, #instagram, #mobile-applications, #mobile-software, #moscow, #python, #reface, #samsung, #smartphone, #snapchat, #software, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #venture-capital, #video-hosting

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Triller owner gets a new CEO with acquisition of Amplify.AI; also acquires live streaming service FITE TV

Would be TikTok competitor Triller, operated by parent company TrillerNet, is gaining a new CEO, the company announced today. The short-form video app said it’s acquiring an A.I.-based customer engagement platform, Amplify.AI, whose co-founder Mahi de Silva will now become TrillerNet’s CEO. Existing CEO Mike Lu will transition to President of TrillerNet and will focus on investor relations. The company separately announced the acquisition of FITE TV, a live event and pay-per-view combat sports streaming platform.

New CEO Mahi de Silva had been closely involved with Triller before today. The company’s press release today says he’s been serving as non-executive chairman since 2016, but his LinkedIn notes the year was 2019 (which would be following Triller’s 2019 funding by Proxima Media, when the press release at the time noted he was assuming the role of “chairman.”)  These are both wrong, the company discovered when we reached out for clarity. The correct year is 2018.

Ahead of the acquisition, de Silva had been serving as CEO and co-founder to Amplify.AI since 2017, and before that was CEO of Opera Mediaworks, the marketing and advertising arm of Opera Software, and co-founder and CEO of Botworx.

Amplify.AI, which works with brands in CPG, financial services, automotive, telecom, politics, and digital media, among others, will continue to operate as a subsidiary of TrillerNet following the deal. Other team members include former RSA and Verisign executive Ram Moskowitz who helped design and develop the digital certificates for SSL and code signing; and Amplify.ai co-founder and CTO Manoj Malhotra, a pioneer in B2C SMS messaging, the company notes.

TrillerNet also today announced it’s acquiring another strategic property to help shift its business further into the direction of live events: FITE TV. This deal gives Triller more of a foothold in the live events and pay-per-view streaming market, it says. As a result, FITE, which touts 10 million users, will become the exclusive digital distributor of all Triller Fight Club boxing events going forward.

“Acquiring FITE is part of the larger Triller strategy to bring together content, creators and commerce for the first time and the only place where they truly interact,” said Triller’s Ryan Kavanaugh, the former head of movie studio Relativity Media (and controversial figure) whose Proxima Media became Triller’s majority investor in 2019. “We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars and believe we have created a better more efficient e-commerce content platform,” he added.

The acquisition follows several others TrillerNet has made to expand into live events, now that becoming a TikTok replacement in the U.S. is no longer a viable option, as the Trump ban was put on hold by the Biden administration. Triller also in March acquired live music streaming platform Verzuz, founded by Swizz Beats and Timbaland. And it operates Triller Flight Club in partnership with Snoop Dogg, as well as a streaming platform Triller TV.

While specific deal terms were not revealed, Triller told TechCrunch it’s spent $250 million in the aggregate on its acquisitions, including Halogen, Mashtraxx, Verzuz, FITE and Amplify today.

#amplify, #apps, #biden-administration, #ceo, #chairman, #co-founder, #computing, #digital-media, #executive, #financial-services, #fundings-exits, #internet-culture, #mike-lu, #opera-mediaworks, #opera-software, #president, #sms, #snoop, #software, #ssl, #tiktok, #triller, #trump, #united-states, #verisign, #video-hosting

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As competition heats up, TikTok announces six new interactive music effects for creators

TikTok today is doubling down on its roots as a music-backed creation app with the launch of a half dozen new music effects for creators. The effects, which offer interactivity, visualizations, animations and more, will roll out over the next few weeks, starting with the launch of Music Visualizer. This effect is now available to TikTok’s global user base and runs real-time beat tracking to animate a retro greenscreen landscape, the company says.

The effect was added to TikTok’s Creative Effects tray yesterday and there are already over 28,000 videos created using the new feature. The effect results in videos featuring a purple sky with multiple moons (or planets?) in the background, where the grid on the ground pulses up and down with the music.

Music Visualizer works with any sounds in TikTok’s music library and has also been adopted by the electronic dance music duo AREA21 who used Music Visualizer to tease their new track “La La La.” Unfortunately, their use of the effect hides the animation behind one of their own. But several other creators showcase the effect better.

Other effects on the way include:

  • Music Machine, which offers an interactive set of tools that will allow users to control the real-time rendering of MIDI loops for different music layers. There will also be a BPM slider for real-time adjustments; five, one-shot sound effects; and dynamic visual responses for the video of your recorded music.
  • Delayed Beats, which recreates the freeze-frame effect that’s already popular on TikTok while aligning transitions to the beat of the music
  • Text Beats, which allows creators to add animated text overlays to their video that transition in sync with the beat of any sound from TikTok’s library.
  • Solid Beats, which add visual effects that sync to the beat of any song.
  • Mirror Beats, which align display transitions with the beat of any song from TikTok’s library.

The launch of the new features follow arrival of several new TikTok competitors from major social networks, including Instagram (Reels), Snapchat (Spotlight), and YouTube (Shorts). The additions of the features help to demonstrate how far behind these rivals are in terms of competing on on the product experience. While the newcomers to the short-form video space may have launched their own set of basic creation tools, they’re lacking the larger libraries of creative effects that make TikTok fun to use, as well as appealing to those who are more specifically interested in its music features.

All the new effects will be rolled out to the dedicated “Music” tab within TikTok’s Creative Effects tray, as they become globally available.

#animation, #apps, #bpm, #bytedance, #social, #social-networks, #special-effects, #tc, #tiktok, #visual-effects

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Bilibili ups the ante in games with $123 million investment in TapTap

Competition in China’s gaming industry is getting stiffer in recent times as tech giants sniff out potential buyouts and investments to beef up their gaming alliance, whether it pertains to content or distribution.

Bilibili, the go-to video streaming platform for young Chinese, is the latest to make a major gaming deal. It has agreed to invest HK$960 million (about $123 million) into X.D. Network, which runs the popular game distribution platform TapTap in China, the company announced on Thursday.

Dual-listed in Hong Kong and New York, Bilibili will purchase 22,660,000 shares of X.D.’s common stock at HK$42.38 apiece, which will grant it a 4.72% stake.

The partners will initiate a series of “deep collaborations” around X.D.’s own games and TapTap, without offering more detail.

Though known for its trove of video content produced by amateur and professional creators, Bilibili derives a big chunk of its income from mobile games, which accounted for 40% of its revenues in 2020. The ratio had declined from 71% and 53% in 2018 and 2019, a sign that it’s trying to diversify revenue streams beyond distributing games.

Tencent has similarly leaned on games to drive revenues for years. The WeChat operator dominates China’s gaming market through original titles and a sprawling investment portfolio whose content it helps operate and promote.

X.D. makes games, too, but in recent years it has also emerged as a rebel against traditional game distributors, which are Android app stores operated by smartphone makers. The vision is to skip the high commission fees charged by the likes of Huawei and Xiaomi and monetize through ads. X.D.’s proposition has helped it attract a swathe of gaming companies to be its investors, including fast-growing studios Lilith Games and miHoYo, as well as ByteDance, which built up a 3,000-people strong gaming team within six years.

Bilibili’s investment further strengthens X.D.’s matrix of top-tier gaming investors. Tencent is conspicuously absent, but it’s no secret that ByteDance is its new nemesis. The TikTok parent recently outbid Tencent to acquire Moonton, a gaming studio that has gained ground in Southeast Asia, according to Reuters. Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, is also vying for user attention away from content published on WeChat.

#android, #asia, #bilibili, #bytedance, #china, #entertainment, #gaming, #smartphone-makers, #tencent, #tiktok, #video-hosting, #wechat, #xiaomi

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Instagram officially launches Remix on Reels, a TikTok Duets-like feature

Instagram today is officially launching a new feature called Remix, which offers a way to record your Reels video alongside a video from another user. The option is similar to TikTok’s existing Duets feature, which also lets users to react to or interact with another person’s video content while creating their own. Instagram’s new feature has been in public testing before today, so some Instagram users may have already gained access.

We recently reported on Instagram’s plans with Remix, when noting that Snapchat was developing a Remix feature of its own. In fact, Snapchat is also using the name “Remix” for its TikTok Duets rival that’s currently in development.

On TikTok, Duets are a key part to making the app feel more like a social network and less of just a passive video-watching experience. Users take advantage of Duets to sing, dance, joke or act alongside another user’s video. They will do things like cook someone else’s recipe, record a reaction video, or even just watch a video from a smaller creator to give them a boost.

Meanwhile, TikTok competitors — like Instagram Reels, Snapchat’s Spotlight or YouTube’s Shorts, for example — have launched their short-form video experiences without a full set of engagement or editing features like TikTok has, making their apps feel like pale knock-offs of the original. Remix on Reels is a first step towards changing that perception, by giving users at least one important option to engage and collaborate with their fellow creatives.

To use the new Remix feature, you’ll first tap on the three-dot menu on a Reel and select the new “Remix this Reel” option. The screen will then split into the original Reel and your own new one, where you can begin to record side-by-side with the original. When you’ve finished, you can tweak other aspects of the recording like the volume of the original video or your audio and you can optionally add a voiceover. After applying these or any other edits, you can publish the Remix.

The feature will only be available on newly uploaded Reels — so unfortunately, if you want your older Reels to be duetted, you’ll need to reupload them, it seems.

Image Credits: Instagram

Your Remixes will appear alongside any other Reels you’ve recorded on the Reels tab on your Instagram profile, and you’ll be able to track who has remixed your content through Instagram’s Activity tab.

The feature is rolling out, starting today, says Instagram.

#apps, #duets, #facebook, #instagram, #mobile-applications, #reel, #reels, #social, #social-media, #social-network, #tiktok, #video

0

Consumers spent $32B on apps in Q1 2021, the biggest quarter on record

The pandemic’s remarkable impact on the app industry has not slowed down in 2021. In fact, consumer spending in apps has hit a new record in the first quarter of this year, a new report from App Annie indicates. The firm says consumers in Q1 2021 spent $32 billion on apps across both iOS and Google Play, up 40% year-over-year from Q1 2020. It’s the largest-ever quarter on record, App Annie also notes.

Last year saw both app downloads and consumer spend increase, as people rapidly adopted apps under coronavirus lockdowns — including apps for work, school, shopping, fitness, entertainment, gaming and more. App Annie previously reported a record 218 billion in global downloads and record consumer spend of $143 billion for the year.

Image Credits: App Annie

These trends have continued into 2021, it seems, with mobile consumers spending roughly $9 billion more in Q1 2021 compared with Q1 2020. Although iOS saw larger consumer spend than Android in the quarter — $21 billion vs. $11 billion, respectively — both stores grew by the same percentage, 40%.

But the types of apps driving spending were slightly different from store to store.

On Google Play, Games, Social and Entertainment apps saw the strongest quarter-over-quarter growth in terms of consumer spending, while Games, Photo & Video, and Entertainment apps accounted for the strongest growth on iOS.

By downloads, the categories were different between the stores, as well.

On Google Play, Social, Tools, and Fiance saw the biggest download growth in Q1, while Games, Finance and Social Networking drove download growth for iOS. Also on Google Play, other top categories included Weather (40%) and Dating (35%), while iOS saw Health and Fitness app downloads grow by a notable 25% — likely a perfect storm as New Year’s Resolutions combined with continued stay-at-measures that encouraged users to find new ways to stay fit without going to a gym.

Image Credits: App Annie

The top apps in the quarter remained fairly consistent, however. TikTok beat Facebook, in terms of downloads, and was followed by Instagram, Telegram, WhatsApp and Zoom. But the short-form video app only made it to No. 2 in terms of consumer spend, with YouTube snagging the top spot. Tinder, Disney+, Tencent Video, and others followed. (Netflix has dropped off this chart as it now directs new users to sign up directly, rather than through in-app purchases).

Image Credits: App Annie

Though Facebook’s apps have fallen behind TikTok by downloads, its apps — including Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram — still led the market in terms monthly active users (MAUs) in the quarter. TikTok, meanwhile, ranked No. 8 by this metric.

Up-and-comers in the quarter included privacy-focused messaging app Signal, which saw the strongest growth in the quarter by both downloads and MAUs — a calculation that App Annie calls “breakout apps.”  Telegram closely followed, as users bailed from mainstream social after the Capitol riot. Another “breakout” app was MX TakaTak, which is filling the hole in the market for short-form video that resulted from India’s ban  of TikTok.

Image Credits: App Annie

Gaming, meanwhile, drove a majority of the quarter’s spending, as usual, accounting for $22 billion of the spend — $13 billion on iOS (up 30% year-over-year) and $9 billion on Android (up 35%). Gamers downloaded about a billion titles per week, up 15% year-over-year from 2020.

Among Us! dropped to No. 2 in the quarter by downloads, replaced by Join Clash 3D, while DOP 2: Delete One Part jumped 308 places to reach No. 3.

Image Credits: App Annie

Roblox led by consumer spend, followed by Genshin Impact, Coin Master, Pokemon Go and others. And although Among Us! dropped on the charts by downloads, it remained No. 1 by monthly active users in the quarter, followed by PUBG Mobile, Candy Crush Saga, Roblox and others.

App Annie notes that the pandemic also accelerated the mobile gaming market, with game downloads outpacing overall downloads by 2.5x in 2020. It predicts that mobile gaming will reach  $120 billion in consumer spending this year, or 1.5x all other gaming formats combined.

#android, #app-annie, #apps, #computing, #disney, #facebook, #google-play, #india, #messenger, #mobile-applications, #netflix, #roblox, #tiktok, #whatsapp

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Snapchat is developing its own take on TikTok Duets with a new ‘Remix’ feature

One of the challenges that some would-be TikTok rivals have faced is that they often lack the same robust set of content creation tools, like filters, effects, and tools for repurposing others’ content — like TikTok’s Stitch and Duet, for example. It now appears that Snapchat is working to correct that latter problem, however, as it’s been spotted working on a TikTok Duets-like feature called “Remix,” designed for replying to Snaps. This feature will allow users to create new content using their friends’ Snaps — a “remix,” that is.

Initially, the feature will allow users to reply a friend’s story with a remixed Snap. To do so, you can record your own Snap alongside the original as it plays — much like a TikTok Duet.

The feature, which Snap confirms has launched into external testing, follows Instagram’s public test of a similarly named “Remix” feature focused on Reels content. (It had also tested a version for Stories as a first step.)

In Instagram’s case, the company explains that Remix lets anyone create an Instagram Reel where your video and theirs play side-by-side. This is, essentially, Instagram’s own version of TikTok Duets, a tool that’s often used to interact with other TikTok users’ content. In Duets, TikTok users can sing, dance, joke or act alongside another user’s video; cook someone else’s recipe; record reaction videos; boost videos from lesser-known creators; and more. It’s a core part of what makes TikTok feel like a social network, rather than just a platform for more passive video viewing.

Last fall, TikTok announced it was introducing several new layout options for Duets in addition to the left-right layout, including a new top-bottom layout, a special “react” layout, and a three-screen layout.

Some of those same Duet formats and others now appear to be under consideration by Snap, as well.

In its Remix feature, Snapchat users are presented with a screen where they can choose from a variety of options for combining Snaps — including the side-by-side and top-and-bottom formats, as well as others like where content is overlaid or where you could react to a Snap.

Image Credits: Photo of Snapchat’s Remix feature via @alex193a on Twitter

According to reverse engineer Alessandro Paluzzi, who first spotted the addition, Remix also offers a way for users to tag friends or other people they want to have permission to either remix or share their Snap via a new toggle switch.

It appears that users will be able to access the “Remix” feature from the same menu where you can today either report” a Snap or send it to others.

This menu, of course, is also available from within Snapchat’s new TikTok competitor, known as Spotlight, launched last year.

Though initially, Remix is being tested among friends, we understand that it’s expected to make its way to other parts of the Snapchat app in time. And likely, this would include Spotlight. Much like TikTok, Spotlight offers a video feed filled with short-form, entertaining videos that you can scroll through with up and down swipes, often set to popular music — thanks to Snap’s music industry deals. This would be a natural fit for Remixes, as it’s a common way for users to interact with each others’ content to create a dialog.

Image Credits: Photo of Snapchat’s Remix feature via @alex193a on Twitter (opens in a new window)

Snap confirmed with TechCrunch it’s beginning to test Remix on its app.

“I can confirm that externally we are testing the ability to reply to a friend’s story with a remixed Snap,” a spokesperson said. “It lets you build on your friend’s Snap while recording your own alongside the original as it plays for contextual conversations on Snapchat,” they noted.

The company didn’t offer an ETA for a broader rollout at this time.

#apps, #creators, #remix, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #social, #social-media, #social-network, #spotlight, #tiktok, #video

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YouTube’s TikTok rival, YouTube Shorts, arrives in the US

YouTube Shorts, the company’s short-form video experience and TikTok rival, is launching today in the U.S. The feature allows creators to record, edit and share short-form video content that’s 60 seconds or less in length, optionally set to popular music. At launch, YouTube has deals with Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and Warner Chappell Music, Believe, Merlin, 300 Entertainment, Kobalt, Beggars, CD Baby, Empire, Peer, Reservoir, OneRPM and others.

Globally, YouTube has agreements with over 250 publishers and labels for use in the Shorts product, it says.

The YouTube Shorts product itself was first introduced in September and has been beta testing in India over the past several months, where it has since seen adoption triple.

Though you may have already encountered the YouTube Shorts “shelf” on the YouTube homepage, the ability to create YouTube Shorts videos was not live in the U.S. until today.

The experience of filming content for YouTube Shorts is very much like TikTok.

Creators have access to tools stop and start recording short video segments with a tap, much like the leading short-form app. They can also select the video’s backing music or sound and utilize a small handful of in-app editing features. At launch, these include speed controls to slow or speed the audio, a countdown timer, text timing capabilities to make text appear on the screen at certain times and, soon after launch, color adjustment filters.

Image Credits: YouTube

But while YouTube Shorts has a clever tool that lets you select the part of the song you want to use in your video, it’s lacking the more intelligent automatic sound-syncing feature that makes TikTok so accessible for beginners. YouTube’s product also at launch lacks a large catalog of special effects — like the AR features or green-screen options found on TikTok. Instead, like Instagram Reels, the initial goal with Shorts is to simply lower the barrier to entry for users who want to create and publish short-form video content on an existing social platform.

On the viewer’s side, the TikTok comparisons are even more obvious.

Currently, the experience can be launched via the YouTube Shorts shelf on the YouTube homepage, which has already been live in some markets, and, soon, from a dedicated Shorts tab in the YouTube mobile app.

Image Credits: YouTube

Once launched, you’ll be taken to a familiar full-screen vertical video experience where you can double-tap to like a video, tap into the comments or share the video with others. You can also subscribe to the creators’ YouTube channel from Shorts, if you find their content interesting.

You can also tap on hashtags in YouTube Shorts that will take you to a page with other videos using the same hashtag. (This, to be clear, is separate from the other YouTube hashtag pages announced recently, which will host both longer-form and short-form content.)

Image Credits: YouTube

Also like TikTok, you can tap on the music icon — in YouTube Shorts, a square icon, not a spinning record as on TikTok — to be taken to a page featuring that same sound. Here, you’ll find all the other Shorts using that sound and have the option to do the same.

Image Credits: YouTube

This “sound” could be a clip from a popular song, original audio or what YouTube calls “remixed” content. The latter refers to how Shorts creators can sample from other Shorts videos to make their own sounds. And, in the months to come, the company will expand this remixing capability across YouTube’s billions of longer-form videos. YouTube creators can choose to opt out of having their original audio remixed for Shorts’ clips, but by doing so they may limit themselves from finding a new audience.

YouTube suggests creators could remix videos to show themselves reacting to their favorite jokes, trying a YouTuber’s recipe or re-enacting a comedic skit, among other things.

Image Credits: YouTube

Since its launch in India, the YouTube Shorts player has passed 6.5 billion daily views globally. However, YouTube wouldn’t say how many creators had adopted the product, nor how many Shorts videos have been produced. But the Indian market is not representative of how Shorts may fare in the U.S. because the country banned TikTok last year, helping to boost other short-form video apps as a result.

YouTube, of course, isn’t the first social platform to copy TikTok. Instagram and Snapchat have done the same with Reels and Spotlight, respectively. But in YouTube’s case, it’s even more critical to offer support for short-form video to stay relevant in a market where TikTok has become one of the most downloaded mobile apps and a preferred tool for watching video content on mobile devices.

“I think Shorts and short-form video has come to feel like a natural progression for YouTube,” noted YouTube’s Todd Sherman, the product lead for YouTube Shorts. “We’re the original user generated video platform. And that was really based around video that’s created on the desktop — digital cameras, desktop computers and video editing software. Now, we’re really keen to take a step forward into this new world of video that’s really native to the phone,” he says. “And it’s really important that we build this in partnership with the creator community…and for that matter, even more broadly, the same goes for viewers and our partners in the music industry,” Sherman adds.

The YouTube Shorts product is still considered a beta, as YouTube expects to iterate on the Shorts experience over time, and respond to user feedback as it develops new features.

Longer-term, YouTube believes Shorts will differentiate itself from others on the market by way of its connection to the larger YouTube platform.

“There’s a two-way door here where we’re building a short-form video ecosystem,” explains Sherman. “You can take a step forward into YouTube or even YouTube Music in the foreseeable future. And then from YouTube, you could also initiate creation into Shorts. That bridging of ecosystems, I think is an important part of this,” he adds.

So far, however, TikTok rivals have often seen creators simply repurposing their TikTok videos for use on other platforms — not developing original content for each of the three: TikTok, Reels and Spotlight.

YouTube Shorts’ video creation tools will begin to roll out to U.S. users starting today, and will expand to all of the U.S. over the next several weeks, the company says.

 

 

#entertainment, #short-form-video, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #video, #video-hosting, #youtube, #youtube-music, #youtube-shorts

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TikTok wants to keep tracking iPhone users with state-backed workaround

TikTok wants to keep tracking iPhone users with state-backed workaround

Enlarge (credit: Ivan Abreu | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

Some of China’s biggest technology companies, including ByteDance and Tencent, are testing a tool to bypass Apple’s new privacy rules and continue tracking iPhone users without their consent to serve them targeted mobile advertisements.

Apple is expected in the coming weeks to roll out changes it announced last June to iPhones that it says will give users more privacy. Until now, apps have been able to rely on Apple’s IDFA system to see who clicks on ads and which apps are downloaded.

In the future, they will have to ask permission to gather tracking data, a change that is expected to deal a multibillion-dollar bombshell to the online advertising industry and has been fought by Facebook, since most users are expected to decline to be tracked.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#apple, #china, #idfa, #ios, #policy, #privacy, #tech, #tiktok

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Instagram adds new teen safety tools as competition with TikTok heats up

Earlier this year, TikTok made an update to its privacy settings and defaults to further lock down the app for its teenage users. This morning, Instagram followed suit with teen-focused privacy updates of its own. But the Facebook-owned social app didn’t choose to add more privacy to teen accounts by default, as TikTok did — it largely made it more difficult for adults to interact with the app’s teen users.

The company said it’s rolling out new safety features that would restrict adult users from being able to contact teens who didn’t already follow them. The exception to this rule would still allow the teen to interact with adult family members and other trusted adults on the platform, like family friends. In the case that an adult tried to DM a teen who didn’t follow them, they’d receive a notification informing them this wasn’t possible.

And if the teen has already connected with an adult and is DM’ing with them, they’ll be notified if that adult is exhibiting suspicious behavior — like sending a large amount of friend requests or messages to users under 18. This tool will also then allow the teen to end the conversation, block, report or restrict the adult from further contact.

Image Credits: Instagram

In addition, Instagram said it will make it more difficult for adults to find and follow teens in other places within the Instagram app, including Explore, Reels, and more. This will include restricting adults from seeing teen accounts in the “Suggested Users” section of the app, as well as hiding their comments on public posts.

The company also noted it’s developing new A.I. and machine learning-based technology that would make it possible to find teens lying about their age on the app. This could result in these features being applied, even if the teen in question had lied about their birth date when signing up for the app, but the technology isn’t fully live yet.

Other additions rolling out as part of today’s updates include new safety resources for parents in the app’s Parents Guide and educational material for teens that will better explain what it means to have a public account on the app, and encourage them to choose private options.

Image Credits: Instagram

The launch timing here is notable, as TikTok has recently focused on making its platform safer for teens — not only with the changes to its default settings, but also with the addition of parental controls last year. The company last year took the unusual step of bundling a parental control mechanism directly into its app that lets a parent link to a child’s TikTok account to control their profile’s privacy, what they’re allowed to do on the app, and even which feed they can view. The company has continued to expand these controls following their launch, indicating that it considers these core features. By making privacy and parental controls a key part of the experience, the app is more likely to be blessed by parents who would otherwise restrict their teens’ social media access — and that helps TikTok grow its user base and teens’ time spent in the app, sometimes at Instagram’s expense.

#a-i, #apps, #facebook, #family, #instagram, #mobile-applications, #parents, #privacy, #safety, #social, #social-media, #teens, #tiktok

0

How ByteDance plans to crack the gaming industry

For the last few years, ByteDance, the parent company of short video app TikTok, has been working to diversify its revenue streams beyond advertisement and find more ways to monetize its hundreds of millions of users. One area it is targeting is gaming, which has historically been a lucrative business in China’s internet economy.

China is the world’s largest gaming market, generating revenues of $40.85 billion in 2020, according to market research firm Newzoo. The United States trailed behind at $36.92 billion.

But competition is also intense. Giants Tencent and NetEase have long dominated and smaller players like Mihoyo and Lilith are making breakthroughs. According to market research firm Analysys, Tencent occupied over half of the Chinese gaming market in 2019, while NetEase and 37 Interactive respectively commanded around 16% and 10%, leaving little breathing room for smaller rivals.

Regardless, ByteDance is forging ahead, giving a brand name, Nuversegame, and a website to its gaming business for the first time last month. Its strategy consists of a genre-spanning portfolio, a hiring spree, a proven monetization scheme, and a focus on both the domestic and overseas markets. During his short-lived stint with ByteDance, Kevin Meyer was put in charge of multiple overseas businesses, including gaming.

ByteDance, the David when it comes to games, seems undeterred by the Goliaths. As one of the company’s gaming executives Yan Shou wrote in a social media post a year ago: “Gaming is a content business. A monopoly is difficult to maintain [in this industry] as long as there is patience.”

Battle for talent

In recent years, ByteDance has hired a large number of ex-employees from the BAT, the acronym for three of the most prominent tech firms in China: Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. Yan himself worked on strategy at Tencent for over two years before joining ByteDance in 2015. While poaching and job-hopping are common in China’s fast-changing tech industry, ByteDance is known for doling out generous paychecks and many tech workers are lured by the prospects of receiving employee options before the firm goes public someday.

Ambitious staff may also feel stagnant after a long period at Alibaba and Tencent, which are both over 20 years old and where room for career advancement is limited. ByteDance, in comparison, is merely nine years old and is still in a fast-growth phase, a Beijing-based headhunter for technology firms tells TechCrunch.

“The current stage of ByteDance and the new businesses it is incubating provide the right platform for these people to achieve their ambitions,” the headhunter says.

In gaming, too, ByteDance has gone on a recruiting spree. The company’s gaming headcount numbers nearly 3,000 today, up from only 1,000 last year, according to a person with knowledge. These employees are scattered across China’s major tech hubs, from Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou to Shenzhen, working in various gaming studios under ByteDance.

How big is a 3,000-person team? 37 Interactive, the third-largest gaming firm in China, had around 4,000 gaming staff as of January, according to a company executive. It took the company 10 years to reach this scale. ByteDance began exploring games only around five years ago.

ByteDance declined to comment on the story.

Factory of games

Being late to the game could bring advantages. Having seen how Tencent and other predecessors tackle the gaming market allows ByteDance to learn. For one, ByteDance is working on a diverse range of genres simultaneously, from disposable mobile games to indie titles with unorthodox design or topics. This makes ByteDance different from Tencent, says Daniel Ahmad, a gaming analyst at Niko Partners. Tencent, the world’s largest gaming firm, cut its teeth on board and card games in the 2000s before gradually expanding into other genres.

Of course, only a deep-pocketed upstart like ByteDance could strive for a diverse portfolio from day one. With a well-oiled advertising business built upon its short video app Douyin and news aggregator Toutiao, as well as over $7 billion raised from equity funding over the years, ByteDance has been able to fund its horizontal expansions in not just games but also education and SaaS.

Aside from hunting down talent from other tech giants, ByteDance also relies on swallowing smaller companies to boost its workforce. Since 2018, ByteDance has invested in at least 11 gaming companies, six of which were full acquisitions, according to public disclosures. The acquired assets and talent were subsequently incorporated into ByteDance’s gaming studios. Acqui-hiring is an old and proven formula at ByteDance. Kelly Zhang, the product manager credited for taking Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, off the ground, also joined after her photo-sharing startup was bought by ByteDance.

Like many gaming firms, ByteDance’s monetization scheme is two-pronged: distribution of third-party titles and original creation. Quality games don’t come overnight, so the strategy allows its gaming unit to have some revenue as it bets on one of its own works to be a cash cow. Casual games are great for ads, which are normally placed between levels. More complex games rely on user loyalty and the natural way to make money is through in-app purchases.

A number of ByteDance’s licensed casual games have so far made it into the Top 10 iOS free games in China, including car racing game Drift Race, music game Yinyue Qiuqiu, and puzzle game Brain Out. While these collaborations don’t make big bucks yet, the initial traction proves the viability of ByteDance’s traffic strategy.

ByteDance said in 2019 it had 1.5 billion monthly users across its app family (there can be user overlap between apps). One way ByteDance is marketing games is by inserting native ads into users’ content feeds. Videos, says Niko Partners’ Ahmad, are “interactive, easy to use, easy to click through and can get much higher conversion than traditional ads.”

In some cases, the ad may prompt users to download a standalone gaming app. But like WeChat and most of China’s popular apps,  Douyin and Toutiao support third-party “mini apps” within their own platforms. Users can, for instance, play a lite game on Douyin just as they can on WeChat.

With hundreds of millions of monthly users, ByteDance already has a good grasp of people’s tastes and behavior, so it knows what games to recommend. In theory, the more people see and react, the more accurate its predictions become.

“Through targeted ‘recommendations’, our ‘algorithms’ will automatically show users mini games presented in various forms,” explains ByteDance’s gaming developer handbook. “All games have a fair and equal chance of getting initial exposure.”

#asia, #bytedance, #china, #games, #gaming, #tc, #tencent, #tiktok

0

Pakistan bans TikTok again over ‘immoral and objectionable’ videos

Pakistan has banned TikTok again in the country after reviewing a complaint that said the popular video app hosted immoral and objectionable content.

A high court in the city of Peshawar on Thursday ordered the nation’s telecom authority — Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) — to ban TikTok.

In a statement Thursday evening, Pakistan Telecom Authority said it was complying with the order and had “issued directions to the service providers to immediately block access to the TikTok app.”

TikTok had about 33 million users in Pakistan last month, according to mobile insight firm App Annie (data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch). There are about 100 million internet users in the South Asian nation.

The Peshawar High Court’s Chief Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan described some videos on TikTok as “unacceptable for Pakistaini society,” and said these videos were “peddling vulgarity,” according to local media reports.

TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This isn’t the first time ByteDance’s app has been banned by Pakistan. PTA had briefly banned TikTok in the country last year, saying at the time that the Chinese social app hadn’t addressed concerns about the nature of some videos on its platform despite warnings spanning several months.

Pakistan’s move follows its neighboring nation, India, also banning TikTok last year. New Delhi banned TikTok — and eventually 200 additional apps with links to China — over cybersecurity concerns. Prior to the ban, India was the biggest international market for TikTok, which had amassed over 200 million users in the world’s second largest internet market.

Like India, the government in Pakistan has also sought to assume more control over content on digital services operating in the country in recent years.

While global tech giants, most of which count India as a key overseas market, haven’t made much fuss about New Delhi’s new rules for social media, they banded together in Pakistan late last year and threatened to leave the country over rules proposed by Islamabad.

Through a group called the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), the tech firms said in November that they were “alarmed” by the scope of Pakistan’s new law targeting internet firms.” In addition to Facebook, Google and Twitter, AIC represents Apple, Amazon, LinkedIn, SAP, Expedia Group, Yahoo, Airbnb, Grab, Rakuten, Booking.com, Line and Cloudflare.

#apps, #asia, #government, #pakistan, #social, #tiktok

0

Walmart to host a new live stream shopping event on TikTok, following successful pilot

In December, Walmart partnered with TikTok on the first pilot test of a new livestreamed shopping experience in the U.S. on the video platform. That test seemingly performed well, as today Walmart announced it will return to TikTok to host another livestream shopping event, the “Spring Shop-Along: Beauty Edition,” which will feature TikTok creators and influencers in an hour-long livestream.

The retailer didn’t disclose to what extent its first TikTok live shopping event drove sales, but noted that it netted 7x more views that it had anticipated, and was able to grow its TikTok follower base by 25%. These metrics were encouraging enough to send Walmart back to the platform for another go — this time, to promote beauty products instead of apparel, which had been the focus of the holiday livestream.

The new Spring Shop-Along will run this Thursday, March 11 at 9 PM EST on the Walmart TikTok channel. Like the prior holiday event, the new livestream shopping event will see various TikTok creators joining to talk about and demonstrate their favorite items. One participating creator has already been announced: Gabby Morrison (@GabbyMorr) who has over 3.5 million TikTok followers.

Image Credits: Walmart

Gabby and others will demo their skincare, makeup and hair routines and reveal the Walmart beauty products they’re using during the 60-minute live event. Featured beauty brands will include NYX, Maybelline, The Lip Bar, Bliss, Kim Kimble, and Marc Jacobs fragrances.

Viewers watching the event will be able to get beauty tips as well as shop the products featured directly in the TikTok app by tapping on product “pins.” This will allow them to add items to their cart that they can then check out either during or after the event.

“Brands have found a unique home on TikTok to create content that speaks to the community and inspires engagement, whether it’s participating in trends or discovering new products,” said Blake Chandlee, President of TikTok Global Business Solutions, in a statement about Walmart’s plans.

“With the shoppable livestream experience, it’s exciting to see how the TikTok community loves engaging with their favorite creators and discovering new products. We look forward to continue building innovative ways to power the path from discovery to purchase, and seeing brands like Walmart bring their creativity to users,” Chandlee added.

Walmart had already signaled its interest in leveraging TikTok for e-commerce ahead of the holiday livestream. Notably, it had planned to invest in TikTok when the video app was threatened with a ban under the Trump administration, unless it sold its U.S. operations to an American company. That forced sale, which would have spun out TikTok’s U.S. business to new owners Oracle and Walmart, is shelved for the time being as the Biden administration reviews the agency action under Trump.

Image Credits: Screenshot of Walmart’s TikTok channel during the 2020 holidays

Livestreamed shopping is an area of increasing interest and investment in the U.S. The trend has seen a number of startups enter the market, including NTWRK and recently funded Bambuser and Popshop Live, among others. Larger tech companies are also taking part — including across mobile video and live video shopping.

Google’s R&D project for mobile video shopping Shoploop was integrated into search. Facebook acquired a video shopping startup Packagd to build out live shopping, and heavily invested in video shopping across Facebook and Instagram. Amazon runs live shopping through its QVC-like Amazon Live. Alibaba (AliExpress) JD.com, Pinduoduo, WeChat and TikTok’s Chinese sister app, Douyin, all support mobile video shopping, too.

Walmart had said its plan to partner with TikTok on livestream shopping wasn’t a result of its deal talks, however — it’s been an active brand on TikTok’s platform for well over a year. The retailer even tasked its employees to make TikTok videos, in addition to running its own TikTok channel.

Reached for comment, the retailer declined to provide further metrics about its first livestream on TikTok, but felt the pilot test delivered above expectations.

“We were happy with getting 7X more views than anticipated and the 25% increase in TikTok follower growth after the first event. We were also pleased with the smooth checkout experience,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We aren’t able to share sales numbers, but can share that we hit the projections we set ahead of the event.”

Following this week’s live shopping event, Walmart says it plans to bring more shopping experiences to TikTok in the months to come, by continuing to partner with creators to highlight different products via different formats.

#ecommerce, #live-e-commerce, #live-mobile-shopping, #live-shopping, #livestream, #livestreaming, #mobile-video, #shopping, #social, #tc, #tiktok, #video, #video-shopping, #walmart

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TikTok launches ‘TikTok Q&A,’ a new feature for creators to engage with viewers’ questions

Earlier this year, TikTok was spotted testing a new Q&A feature that would allow creators to more directly respond to their audience’s questions using either text or video. Today, the company has announced the feature is now available to all users globally. With the release of TikTok Q&A, as the feature is officially called, creators will be able to designate their comments as Q&A questions, respond to questions with either text comments or video replies, and add a Q&A profile link to their bios, among other things. The feature also works with live videos.

TikTok Q&A grew out of a way that creators were already using the video platform to interact with viewers. Often, after posting a video, viewers would have follow-up questions about the content. Creators would then either respond to those questions in the comments section or, if the response was more involved, they might post a second video instead.

The Q&A feature essentially formalizes this process by making it easier for creators — particularly those with a lot of fans — to identify and answer the most interesting questions.

Image Credits: TikTok

To use Q&A, viewers will first designate their comment as a Q&A question using a new commenting option. To do so, they’ll tap the Q&A icon to the right side of the text entry field in comments. This will also label their comment with the icon and text that says “Asked by” followed by the username of the person asking the question. This makes it easier for creators to see when scanning through a long list of comments on their video.

The feature will also feed the question into the creator’s new Q&A page where all questions and answers are aggregated. Users can browse this page to see all the earlier questions and answers that have already been posted or add a new question of their own.

Creators will respond to a Q&A question with either text or video replies, just as they did before — so there isn’t much new to learn here, in terms of process.

They can also add Q&A comments as stickers in their responses where the new video will link back to the original, where the question was first asked, similar to how they’re using comment stickers today.

The feature will also be available in TikTok LIVE, making it easier for creators to see the incoming questions in the stream’s chat from a separate panel.

Image Credits: TikTok

As a part of this launch, a Q&A profile link can be added to creators’ Profile bios, which directs users to the Q&A page where everything is organized.

During tests, the feature was only made available to creators with public accounts that had more than 10,000 followers and who opted in. Today, TikTok says its available to all users with Creator Accounts.

To enable the feature on your own profile, you’ll go to the privacy page under Settings, then select “Creator,” tap “Q&A” and then “Turn on Q&A.” (If users don’t already have a Creator account, they can enable it for themselves under settings.)

The feature is rolling out to users worldwide in the latest version of the TikTok app now, the company says.

@tiktokYou can now ask and answer any questions on LIVE with the new Q&A feature. Check it out now!

♬ original sound – TikTok

#apps, #media, #mobile, #qa, #social, #social-media, #tiktok, #videos

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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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How China’s synthetic media startup Surreal nabs funding in 3 months

What if we no longer needed cameras to make videos and can instead generate them through a few lines of coding?

Advances in machine learning are turning the idea into a reality. We’ve seen how deepfakes swap faces in family photos and turn one’s selfies into famous video clips. Now entrepreneurs with AI research background are devising tools to let people generate highly realistic photos, voices, and videos using algorithms.

One of the startups building this technology is China-based Surreal. The company is merely three months old but has already secured a seed round of $2-3 million from two prominent investors, Sequoia China and ZhenFund. Surreal received nearly ten investment offers in this round, founder and CEO Xu Zhuo told TechCrunch, as investors jostled to bet on a future shaped by AI-generated content.

Prior to founding Surreal, Xu spent six years at Snap, building its ad recommendation system, machine learning platform, and AI camera technology. The experience convinced Xu that synthetic media would become mainstream because the tool could significantly “lower the cost of content production,” Xu said in an interview from Surreal’s a-dozen-person office in Shenzhen.

Surreal has no intention, however, to replace human creators or artists. In fact, Xu doesn’t think machines can surpass human creativity in the next few decades. This belief is embodied in the company’s Chinese name, Shi Yun, or The Poetry Cloud. It is taken from the title of a novel by science fiction writer Liu Cixin, who tells the story of how technology fails to outdo the ancient Chinese poet Li Bai.

“We have an internal formula: visual storytelling equals creativity plus making,” Xu said, his eyes lit up. “We focus on the making part.”

In a way, machine video generation is like a souped-up video tool, a step up from the video filters we see today and make Douyin (TikTok’s Chinese version) and Kuaishou popular. Short video apps significantly lower the barrier to making a professional-looking video, but they still require a camera.

“The heart of short videos is definitely not the short video form itself. It lies in having better camera technology, which lowers the cost of video creation,” said Xu, who founded Surreal with Wang Liang, a veteran of TikTok parent ByteDance.

Commercializing deepfakery

Some of the world’s biggest tech firms, such as Google, Facebook, Tencent and ByteDance, also have research teams working on GAN. Xu’s strategy is not to directly confront the heavyweights, which are drawn to big-sized contracts. Rather, Surreal is going after small and medium-sized customers.

Surreal’s face swapping software for e-commerce sellers

Surreal’s software is currently only for enterprise customers, who can use it to either change faces in uploaded content or generate an entirely new image or video. Xu calls Surreal a “Google Translate for videos,” for the software can not only swap people’s faces but also translate the languages they speak accordingly and match their lips with voices.

Users are charged per video or picture. In the future, Surreal aims to not just animate faces but also people’s clothes and motions. While Surreal declined to disclose its financial performance, Xu said the company has accumulated around 10 million photo and video orders.

Much of the demand now is from Chinese e-commerce exporters who use Surreal to create Western models for their marketing material. Hiring real foreign models can be costly, and employing Asian models doesn’t prove as effective. By using Surreal “models”, some customers have been able to achieve 100% return on investment (ROI), Xu said. With the multi-million seed financing in its pocket, Surreal plans to find more use cases like online education so it can collect large volumes of data to improve its algorithm.

Uncharted territory

The technology powering Surreal, called generative adversarial networks, is relatively new. Introduced by machine learning researcher Ian Goodfellow in 2014, GANs consist of a “generator” that produces images and a “discriminator” that detects whether the image is fake or real. The pair enters a period of training with adversarial roles, hence the nomenclature, until the generator delivers a satisfactory result.

In the wrong hands, GANs can be exploited for fraud, pornography and other illegal purposes. That’s in part why Surreal starts with enterprise use rather than making it available to individual users.

Companies like Surreal are also posing new legal challenges. Who owns the machine-generated images and videos? To avoid violating copyright, Surreal requires that the client has the right to the content they upload for moderation. To track and prevent misuse, Surreal adds an encrypted and invisible watermark to each piece of the content it generates, to which it claims ownership. There’s an odd chance that the “person” Surreal produces would match someone in real life, so the company runs an algorithm that crosschecks all the faces it creates with photos it finds online.

“I don’t think ethics is something that Surreal itself can address, but we are willing to explore the issue,” said Xu. “Fundamentally, I think [synthetic media] provides a disruptive infrastructure. It increases productivity, and on a macro level, it’s inexorable, because productivity is the key determinant of issues like this.”

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #bytedance, #camera-technology, #computer-graphics, #funding, #idg-capital, #machine-learning, #sequoia-china, #shenzhen, #snap, #surreal, #synthetic-media, #tc, #tiktok

0

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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TikTok agrees to proposed $92 million settlement in privacy class action

TikTok agrees to proposed $92 million settlement in privacy class action

Enlarge (credit: Mateusz Slodkowski | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images)

TikTok parent company ByteDance has agreed to a $92 million deal to settle class-action lawsuits alleging that the company illegally collected and used underage TikTok users’ personal data.

The proposed settlement (PDF) would require TikTok to pay out up to $92 million to members of the class and to change some of its data-collection processes and disclosures going forward.

The suit, which rolled up more than 20 related lawsuits, mostly filed on behalf of minors, alleged that TikTok violated both state and federal privacy laws, including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Video Privacy and Protection Act, through its use of data.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biometric-information-privacy-act, #bipa, #data-privacy, #lawsuits, #policy, #privacy, #settlements, #tiktok

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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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YouTube to expand Shorts to the U.S., add 4K and DVR to YouTube TV, launch in-video shopping and more in 2021

YouTube has a host of big product updates coming this year, and it just detailed a lot of them in a blog post from Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan. Google’s streaming video site plans to expand its TikTok-esque Shorts mobile video creation and consumption tool to the U.S. (it’s currently in beta in India), make YouTube TV a more full-featured in-home cable alternative, add customization and control options to YouTube Kids and more.

Many of the product updates detailed by Mohan are expansions of existing tests and beta features, but there are also entirely new developments that could significantly change how YouTube works for both creators and audiences. YouTube’s focus on monetization and new formats also indicates a desire to keep creators happy, which makes a lot of sense in the context of the platform’s popular new mobile-first competitor TikTok.

Here’s a TL;DR of everything YouTube announced today for its 2021 roadmap:

  • Expansion of its in-video e-commerce shopping experience beyond the current limited beta
  • Expansion of Applause tipping feature
  • YouTube Shorts launching in the U.S.
  • Adding the ability for parents to specify individual channels and videos for their kids to be able to watch on YouTube Kids
  • New features for user playlists on YouTube Music, and making those playlists more discoverable to others
  • A new paid add-on coming to YouTube TV that offers 4K streaming, DVR for off-line playback, and unlimited simultaneous in-home streams
  • Automatic video chaptering for some videos that don’t have creator-defined ones
  • A redesigned YouTube VR experience focused on accessibility, search and better navigation

YouTube has a big year planned, and some of these changes could significantly alter the dynamics of the platform. Making it possible for every creator to turn their channel in a mini shopping channel has a lot of potential to alter what it looks like to build a business on the platform, while YouTube TV’s transformation narrows the gap even further between that service and traditional cable and satellite provider offerings.

#ecommerce, #google, #india, #neal-mohan, #social-media, #software, #streaming-video, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #video, #video-hosting, #virtual-reality, #world-wide-web, #youtube, #youtube-music

0

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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