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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Republican antitrust bill would block all big tech acquisitions

There are about to be a lot of antitrust bills taking aim at big tech, and here’s one more. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) rolled out a new bill this week that would take some severe measures to rein in big tech’s power, blocking mergers and acquisitions outright.

The “Trust-Busting for the Twenty-First Century Act” would ban any acquisitions by companies with a market cap of more than $100 billion, including vertical mergers. The bill also proposes changes that would dramatically heighten the financial pain for companies caught engaging in anti-competitive behavior, forcing any company that loses an antirust suit to forfeit profits made through those business practices.

At its core, Hawley’s legislation would snip some of the red tape around antitrust enforcement by amending the Sherman Act, which made monopolies illegal, and the Clayton Act, which expanded the scope of illegal anti-competitive behavior. The idea is to make it easier for the FTC and other regulators to deem a company’s behavior anti-competitive — a key criticism of the outdated antitrust rules that haven’t kept pace with the realities of the tech industry.

The bill isn’t likely to get too far in a Democratic Senate, but it’s not insignificant. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who chairs the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee, proposed legislation earlier this year that would also create barriers for dominant companies with a habit of scooping up their competitors. Klobuchar’s own ideas for curtailing big tech’s power similarly focus on reforming the antitrust laws that have shaped U.S. business for more than a century.

Click to access The%20Trust-Busting%20for%20the%20Twenty-First%20Century%20Act.pdf

The Republican bill may have some overlap with Democratic proposals, but it still hits some familiar notes from the Trump era of hyper-partisan big tech criticism. Hawley slams “woke mega-corporations” in Silicon Valley for exercising too much power over the information and products that Americans consume. While Democrats naturally don’t share that critique, Hawley’s bill makes it clear that antitrust reform targeting big tech is one policy era where both political parties could align on the ends, even if they don’t see eye to eye on the why.

Hawley’s bill is the latest, but it won’t be the last. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), who spearheads tech antitrust efforts in the House, previously announce his own plans to introduce a flurry of antitrust reform bills rather than one sweeping piece of legislation. Those bills, which will be more narrowly targeted to make them difficult for tech lobbyists to defeat, are due out in May.

#amy-klobuchar, #antitrust, #big-tech, #competition-law, #federal-trade-commission, #government, #josh-hawley, #senate, #tc, #the-battle-over-big-tech, #trump, #united-states

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Clarence Thomas plays a poor devil’s advocate in floating First Amendment limits for tech companies

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas flaunted a dangerous ignorance regarding matters digital in an opinion published today. In attempting to explain the legal difficulties of social media platforms, particularly those arising from Twitter’s ban of Trump, he makes an ill-informed, bordering on bizarre, argument as to why such companies may need their First Amendment rights curtailed.

There are several points on which Thomas seems to willfully misconstrue or misunderstand the issues.

The first is in his characterization of Trump’s use of Twitter. You may remember that several people sued after being blocked by Trump, alleging that his use of the platform amounted to creating a “public forum” in a legal sense, meaning it was unlawful to exclude anyone from it for political reasons. (The case, as it happens, was rendered moot after its appeal and dismissed by the court except as a Thomas’s temporary soapbox.)

“But Mr. Trump, it turned out, had only limited control of the account; Twitter has permanently removed the account from the platform,” writes Thomas. “[I]t seems rather odd to say something is a government forum when a private company has unrestricted authority to do away with it.”

Does it? Does it seem odd? Because a few paragraphs later, he uses the example of a government agency using a conference room in a hotel to hold a public hearing. They can’t kick people out for voicing their political opinions, certainly, because the room is a de facto public forum. But if someone is loud and disruptive, they can ask hotel security to remove that person, because the room is de jure a privately owned space.

Yet the obvious third example, and the one clearly most relevant to the situation at hand, is skipped. What if it is the government representatives who are being loud and disruptive, to the point where the hotel must make the choice whether to remove them?

It says something that this scenario, so remarkably close a metaphor for what actually happened, is not considered. Perhaps it casts the ostensibly “odd” situation and actors in too clear a light, for Thomas’s other arguments suggest he is not for clarity here but for muddying the waters ahead of a partisan knife fight over free speech.

In his best “I’m not saying, I’m just saying” tone, Thomas presents his reasoning why, if the problem is that these platforms have too much power over free speech, then historically there just happen to be some legal options to limit that power.

Thomas argues first, and worst, that platforms like Facebook and Google may amount to “common carriers,” a term that goes back centuries to actual carriers of cargo, but which is now a common legal concept that refers to services that act as simple distribution – “bound to serve all customers alike, without discrimination.” A telephone company is the most common example, in that it cannot and does not choose what connections it makes, nor what conversations happen over those connections – it moves electric signals from one phone to another.

But as he notes at the outset of his commentary, “applying old doctrines to new digital platforms is rarely straightforward.” And Thomas’s method of doing so is spurious.

“Though digital instead of physical, they are at bottom communications networks, and they ‘carry’ information from one user to another,” he says, and equates telephone companies laying cable with companies like Google laying “information infrastructure that can be controlled in much the same way.”

Now, this is certainly wrong. So wrong in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to start and when to stop.

The idea that companies like Facebook and Google are equivalent to telephone lines is such a reach that it seems almost like a joke. These are companies that have built entire business empires by adding enormous amounts of storage, processing, analysis, and other services on top of the element of pure communication. One might as easily suggest that because computers are just a simple piece of hardware that moves data around, that Apple is a common carrier as well. It’s really not so far a logical leap!

There’s no real need to get into the technical and legal reasons why this opinion is wrong, however, because these grounds have been covered so extensively over the years, particularly by the FCC — which the Supreme Court has deferred to as an expert agency on this matter. If Facebook were a common carrier (or telecommunications service), it would fall under the FCC’s jurisdiction — but it doesn’t, because it isn’t, and really, no one thinks it is. This has been supported over and over, by multiple FCCs and administrations, and the deferral is itself a Supreme Court precedent that has become doctrine.

In fact, and this is really the cherry on top, freshman Justice Kavanaugh in a truly stupefying legal opinion a few years ago argued so far in the other direction that it became wrong in a totally different way! It was Kavanaugh’s considered opinion that the bar for qualifying as a common carrier was actually so high that even broadband providers don’t qualify for it (This was all in service of taking down net neutrality, a saga we are in danger of resuming soon). As his erudite colleague Judge Srinivasan explained to him at the time, this approach too is embarrassingly wrong.

Looking at these two opinions, of two sitting conservative Supreme Court Justices, you may find the arguments strangely at odds, yet they are wrong after a common fashion.

Kavanaugh claims that broadband providers, the plainest form of digital common carrier conceivable, are in fact providing all kinds sophisticated services over and above their functionality as a pipe (they aren’t). Thomas claims that companies actually providing all kinds of sophisticated services are nothing more than pipes.

Simply stated, these men have no regard for the facts but have chosen the definition that best suits their political purposes: for Kavanaugh, thwarting a Democrat-led push for strong net neutrality rules; for Thomas, asserting control over social media companies perceived as having an anti-conservative bias.

The case Thomas uses for his sounding board on these topics was rightly rendered moot — Trump is no longer president and the account no longer exists — but he makes it clear that he regrets this extremely.

“As Twitter made clear, the right to cut off speech lies most powerfully in the hands of private digital platforms,” he concludes. “The extent to which that power matters for purposes of the First Amendment and the extent to which that power could lawfully be modified raise interesting and important questions. This petition, unfortunately, affords us no opportunity to confront them.”

Between the common carrier argument and questioning the form of Section 230 (of which in this article), Thomas’s hypotheticals break the seals on several legal avenues to restrict First Amendment rights of digital platforms, as well as legitimizing those (largely on one side of the political spectrum) who claim a grievance along these lines. (Slate legal commentator Mark Joseph Stern, who spotted the opinion early, goes further, calling Thomas’s argument a “paranoid Marxist delusion” and providing some other interesting context.)

This is not to say that social media and tech do not deserve scrutiny on any number of fronts — they exist in an alarming global vacuum of regulatory powers, and hardly anyone would suggest they have been entirely responsible with this freedom. But the arguments of Thomas and Kavanaugh stink of cynical partisan sophistry. This endorsement by Thomas amounts accomplishes nothing legally, but will provide valuable fuel for the bitter fires of contention — though they hardly needed it.

#clarence-thomas, #donald-trump, #facebook, #first-amendment, #google, #government, #lawsuit, #opinion, #section-230, #social-media, #supreme-court, #tc, #trump

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Former Trump vaccine czar fired over substantiated sexual harassment claim

Two men in suits stand by a podium.

Enlarge / President Donald Trump listens as Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, speaks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020, in Washington, DC. (credit: Drew Angerer | Getty Images)

Moncef Slaoui, the former head scientist for the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, has been fired from his position as chair of a biomedical company’s board of directors after an internal investigation substantiated allegations of sexual harassment against him.

Slaoui was chair of the board directors for Galvani Bioelectronics, a company formed through a partnership between pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and Verily Life Sciences (formerly Google Life Sciences). GSK is the majority shareholder of Galvani.

According to an announcement by GSK, the company received a letter from one of its employees containing allegations of sexual harassment and “inappropriate conduct” by Slaoui, which occurred several years ago while he was working there.

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#gsk, #operation-warp-speed, #science, #sexual-harassment, #slaoui, #trump, #vaccines

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Google suspends Trump 2020 app from Play Store for non-functionality

Google has suspended the Trump 2020 campaign app from the Google Play Store for policy violations, the company confirmed, following a report from Android Police which noted the app was unable to load any content and appeared to have been taken down. Both the Android version of the app and its iOS counterpart have been left online since the November 2020 elections, but hadn’t received recent updates — which likely contributed to the app’s stability issues.

The Play Store version hadn’t been updated since October 30, 2020, for example, according to data from Sensor Tower.

According to Android Police’s report, the app was hanging and couldn’t load content, and it reported connectivity issues. We understand the issue was as they described — when users downloaded the app, it would either hang on the initial loading screen with a spinning “T” logo or it would immediately report a server error at startup. In either case, it would never load the app experience at all.

Recent user reviews on the Play Store noted these issues, saying things like “will not open,” “the app doesn’t even work,” “absolutely terrible doesn’t even work,” “wouldn’t open keep saying check connections,” and more. One user even asked the developer to respond to the numerous complaints, saying “please reply to people commenting. It’s not loading.” Another implied the issues were Google’s fault, noting “worked great, until Google canceled it.”

Google, though, did not cancel it. The Trump 2020 Android app has actually been experiencing problems for some time before Google took this action.

For example, a tweet from around a month ago described a similar set of issues:

Google told TechCrunch the app has not been banned from the Play Store, only suspended for its non-functionality. It can be reinstated if the problems are addressed. The company also said it attempted to reach out to the app’s developer before taking the app down, but never received a response.

“The Trump 2020 campaign app recently stopped working and we reached out to the developer multiple times in an attempt to get them to address the issue,” a Google spokesperson said. “People expect that apps downloaded from Google Play provide a minimum level of functionality and our policy is to remove non-working apps from the store if they are not fixed.”

Despite the issues on Android, we found the iOS version was still able to load upon first launch, and could send confirmation codes to a phone number at sign-up. But when you visited the app’s main screens, it also now presents an error message. This error doesn’t affect your ability to browse through the past content on iOS, however.

Image Credits: Trump 2020 screenshot on iOS

According to data from Sensor Tower, the Android version hadn’t seen any new installs since February 7, 2021. The firm also noted the Trump 2020 Android app had around 840,000 installs compared with close to 1.5 million on iOS.

This is not the first time the Trump 2020 app’s issues have made headlines.

In the months leading up to last year’s presidential election in the U.S., a number of TikTok users decided to troll the app in its user reviews. (For some reason, Gen Z users believe a lowly rated app will be automatically removed from the app stores. That’s not true.) Their efforts at the time were able to bring the app’s overall star rating down to just 1.2 stars, and eventually forced the Trump 2020 campaign to reset the app’s ratings.

Though the election is long over, users have still been leaving bad reviews on the app along with their 1-star ratings. Sometimes, the trolls even attempt a bit of humor in the process.

“App attempted a coup to overthrow my phone’s operating system,” said one Play Store reviewer. “I’ve suffered enough since 2016,” said another on iOS.

#android, #android-apps, #apps, #google-play, #ios, #play, #play-store, #trump

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Oracle’s TikTok acquisition reportedly “shelved” indefinitely

A casually dressed young woman shrugs while holding the logos of two competing companies.

Enlarge / ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

The weird deal Oracle arranged at the behest of the Trump administration to buy TikTok without actually acquiring it has been permanently back-burnered, according to a new report.

The transaction, which has gone effectively nowhere since it was first announced, is now “shelved,” the ever-popular “people familiar with the situation” told The Wall Street Journal. This move effectively puts an end to a saga that played out over many months and many tweets.

Back in August 2020 (roughly a hundred years ago, it now feels like), former President Donald Trump issued an executive order declaring TikTok and another China-based app, WeChat, to be a “national emergency.” A week later, a second order (PDF) gave TikTok’s parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, 90 days to divest the app to a US owner or cease operations in the States.

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#mergers-and-acquisitions, #oracle, #policy, #privacy, #security, #tiktok, #trump

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Twitter says Trump is banned forever — even if he runs for president again

As the second impeachment trial of his presidency unfolds, there’s another bit of bad news for the former president. In a new interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Twitter Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal gave the decisive word on how the company would handle Trump’s Twitter account long-term.

Responding to a question about what would happen if Trump ran again and was elected to office, Segal didn’t mince words.

“The way our policies work, when you’re removed from the platform, you’re removed from the platform — whether you’re a commentator, you’re a CFO, or you are a former or current public official,” Segal said.

“Remember, our policies are designed to make sure that people are not inciting violence, and if anybody does that, we have to remove them from the service and our policies don’t allow people to come back.”

Twitter banned Trump from its platform one month ago citing concerns about the “risk of further incitement of violence.” Trump’s role in instigating the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol ultimately sealed his fate on his platform of choice, where he’d spent four years rallying his followers, amplifying conspiracies and lambasting his critics.

#social, #tc, #trump, #trump-administration, #twitter

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US drops suit against Calif. net neutrality rule, but ISPs are still fighting it

An Ethernet cable and fiber optic wires.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Rafe Swan)

The Biden administration has abandoned a Trump-era lawsuit that sought to block California’s net neutrality law. In a court filing today, the US Department of Justice said it “hereby gives notice of its voluntary dismissal of this case.” Shortly after, the court announced that the case is “dismissed in its entirety” and “all pending motions in this action are denied as moot.”

The case began when Trump’s DOJ sued California in September 2018 in US District Court for the Eastern District of California, trying to block a state net neutrality law similar to the US net neutrality law repealed by the Ajit Pai-led FCC. Though Pai’s FCC lost an attempt to impose a blanket, nationwide preemption of any state net neutrality law, the US government’s lawsuit against the California law was moving forward in the final months of the Trump administration.

The Biden DOJ’s voluntary dismissal of the case puts an end to that. “I am pleased that the Department of Justice has withdrawn this lawsuit,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said today. “When the FCC, over my objection, rolled back its net neutrality policies, states like California sought to fill the void with their own laws. By taking this step, Washington is listening to the American people, who overwhelmingly support an open Internet, and is charting a course to once again make net neutrality the law of the land.”

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#biden, #california, #net-neutrality, #policy, #trump

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

The Parler logo on a phone screen.

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

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

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

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

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#congress, #parler, #policy, #trump

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“We’re failing”: Ex-Warp Speed leader proud, deflects blame on vaccines

President Donald Trump listens as Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, speaks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / President Donald Trump listens as Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, speaks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. (credit: Drew Angerer | Getty Images)

Moncef Slaoui, the former head scientist for the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed, is proud of his team’s work in helping to develop and distribute vaccine in an unprecedented timeframe amid the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. But when it comes to immunizing the population, “overall, we’re failing,” he says.

The immunologist and former head of vaccines for GlaxoSmithKline resigned from his role on Warp Speed at the request of the Biden Administration nearly two weeks ago. Though the Administration also quickly scrubbed away the “Warp Speed” name—which was repeatedly criticized for giving the impression that vaccines would be hastily developed without proper testing—Slaoui agreed to stay on into February to help with the transition. With his time in the federal position dwindling, he sat down for an interview with Science magazine to review how things have gone.

Overall, Slaoui is proud of his work, his team, and the monumental tasks they accomplished, he said. “Between May [2020] and now, we’ve moved five vaccines into Phase III trials, two have been authorized, two are completing Phase III—and one of those could be approved imminently… By all standards, this is absolutely exceptional,” he said.

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#covid-19, #infectious-disease, #operation-warp-speed, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #slaoui, #trump, #vaccines

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Augmented reality and the next century of the web

Howdy friends, this is the web version of my Week in Review newsletter, it’s here to entice you to sign up and get it in your inbox every week.

Last week, I showcased how Twitter was looking at the future of the web with a decentralized approach so that they wouldn’t be stuck unilaterally de-platforming the next world leader. This week, I scribbled some thoughts on another aspect of the future web, the ongoing battle between Facebook and Apple to own augmented reality. Releasing the hardware will only be the start of a very messy transition from smartphone-first to glasses-first mobile computing.

Again, if you so desire you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny


The Big Thing

If the last few years of new “reality” tech has telegraphed anything, it’s that tech companies won’t be able to skip past augmented reality’s awkward phase, they’re going to have to barrel through it and it’s probably going to take a long-ass time.

The clearest reality is that in 2021 everyday users still don’t seem quite as interested in AR as the next generation of platform owners stand to benefit from a massive transition. There’s some element of skating to where the puck is going among the soothsayers that believe AR is the inevitable platform heir etc. etc., but the battle to reinvent mobile is at its core a battle to kill the smartphone before its time has come.

A war to remake mobile in the winner’s image

It’s fitting that the primary backers of this AR future are Apple and Facebook, ambitious companies that are deeply in touch with the opportunities they could’ve capitalized on if they could do it all over again.

While Apple and Facebook both have thousands of employees toiling quietly in the background building out their AR tech moats, we’ve seen and heard much more on Facebook’s efforts. The company has already served up several iterations of their VR hardware through Oculus and has discussed publicly over the years how they view virtual reality and augmented reality hardware converging. 

Facebook’s hardware and software experiments have been experimentations in plain sight, an advantage afforded to a company that didn’t sell any hardware before they started selling VR headsets. Meanwhile Apple has offered up a developer platform and a few well-timed keynote slots for developers harnessing their tools, but the most ambitious first-party AR project they’ve launched publicly on iOS has been a measuring tape app. Everything else has taken place behind closed doors.

That secrecy tends to make any reporting on Apple’s plans particularly juicy. This week, a story from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman highlights some of Apple’s next steps towards a long-rumored AR glasses product, reporting that Apple plans to release a high-end niche VR device with some AR capabilities as early as next year. It’s not the most surprising but showcases how desperate today’s mobile kingpins are to ease the introduction of a technology that has the potential to turn existing tech stacks and the broader web on their heads.

Both Facebook and Apple have a handful of problems getting AR products out into the world, and they’re not exactly low-key issues:

  1. hardware isn’t ready
  2. platforms aren’t ready
  3. developers aren’t ready
  4. users don’t want it yet

This is a daunting wall, but isn’t uncommon among hardware moonshots. Facebook has already worked its way through this cycle once with virtual reality over several generations of hardware, though there were some key difference and few would call VR a mainstream success quite yet.

Nevertheless, there’s a distinct advantage to tackling VR before AR for both Facebook and Apple, they can invest in hardware that’s adjacent to the technologies their AR products will need to capitalize on, they can entice developers to build for a platform that’s more similar to what’s coming and they can set base line expectations for consumers for a more immersive platform. At least this would all be the case for Apple with a mass market VR device closer to Facebook’s $300 Quest 2, but a pricey niche device as Gurman’s report details doesn’t seem to fit that bill quite so cleanly.

The AR/VR content problem 

The scenario I’d imagine both Facebook and Apple are losing sleep over is that they release serviceable AR hardware into a world where they are wholly responsible for coming up with all the primary use cases.

The AR/VR world already has a hefty backlog of burnt developers who might be long-term bullish on the tech but are also tired of getting whipped around by companies that seem to view the development of content ecosystems simply as a means to ship their next device. If Apple is truly expecting the sales numbers of this device that Bloomberg suggests — similar to Valve’s early Index headset sales — then color me doubtful that there will be much developer interest at all in building for a stopgap device, I’d expect ports of Quest 2 content and a few shining stars from Apple-funded partners.

I don’t think this will me much of a shortcut for them.

True AR hardware is likely going to have different standards of input, different standards of interaction and a much different approach to use cases compared to a device built for the home or smartphone. Apple has already taken every available chance to entice mobile developers to embrace phone-based AR on iPhones through ARKit, a push they have seemed to back off from at recent developer-centric events. As someone who has kept a close eye on early projects, I’d say that most players in the space have been very underwhelmed by what existing platforms enable and what has been produced widely.

That’s really not great for Apple or Facebook and suggests that both of these companies are going to have to guide users and developers through use cases they design. I think there’s a convincing argument that early AR glasses applications will be dominated by first-party tech and may eschew full third-party native apps in favor of tightly controlled data integrations more similar to how Apple has approached developer integrations inside Siri.

But giving developers a platform built with Apple or Facebook’s own dominance in mind is going to be tough to sell, underscoring the fact that mobile and mobile AR are going to be platforms that will have to live alongside each other for quite a bit. There will be rich opportunities for developers to create experiences that play with 3D and space, but there are also plenty of reasons to expect they’ll be more resistant to move off of a mutually enriching mobile platform onto one where Facebook or Apple will have the pioneer’s pick of platform advantages. What’s in it for them?

Mobile’s OS-level winners captured plenty of value from top-of-funnel apps marketplaces, but the down-stream opportunities found mobile’s true prize, a vastly expanded market for digital ads. With the opportunity of a mobile do-over, expect to find pioneering tech giants pitching proprietary digital ad infrastructure for their devices. Advertising will likely be augmented reality’s greatest opportunity allowing the digital ads market to create an infinite global canvas for geo-targeted customized ad content. A boring future, yes, but a predictable one.

For Facebook, being a platform owner in the 2020s means getting to set their own limitations on use cases, not being confined by App Store regulations and designing hardware with social integrations closer to the silicon. For Apple, reinventing the mobile OS in the 2020s likely means an opportunity to more meaningfully dominate mobile advertising.

It’s a do-over to the tune of trillions in potential revenues.

What comes next

The AR/VR industry has been stuck in a cycle of seeking out saviors. Facebook has been the dearest friend to proponents after startup after startup has failed to find a speedy win. Apple’s long-awaited AR glasses are probably where most die-hards are currently placing their faith.

I don’t think there are any misgivings from Apple or Facebook in terms of what a wild opportunity this to win, it’s why they each have more people working on this than any other future-minded project. AR will probably be massive and change the web in a fundamental way, a true Web 3.0 that’s the biggest shift of the internet to date.

That’s doesn’t sound like something that will happen particularly smoothly.

I’m sure that these early devices will arrive later than we expect, do less than we expect and that things will be more and less different from the smartphone era’s mobile paradigms in ways we don’t anticipate. I’m also sure that it’s going to be tough for these companies to strong-arm themselves into a more seamless transition. This is going to be a very messy for tech platforms and is a transition that won’t happen overnight, not by a long shot.


Other things

The Loon is dead
One of tech’s stranger moonshots is dead, as Google announced this week that Loon, it’s internet balloon project is being shut down. It was an ambitious attempt to bring high-speed internet to remote corners of the world, but the team says it wasn’t sustainable to provide a high-cost service at a low price. More

Facebook Oversight Board tasked with Trump removal
I talked a couple weeks ago — what feels like a lifetime ago — about how Facebook’s temporary ban of Trump was going to be a nightmare for the company. I wasn’t sure how they’d stall for more time of a banned Trump before he made Facebook and Instagram his central platform, but they made a brilliant move, purposefully tying the case up in PR-favorable bureaucracy, tossing the case to their independent Oversight Board for their biggest case to date. More

Jack is Back
Alibaba’s head honcho is back in action. Alibaba shares jumped this week when the Chinese e-commerce giant’s billionaire CEO Jack Ma reappeared in public after more than three months after his last public appearance, something that stoked plenty of conspiracies. Where he was during all this time isn’t clear, but I sort of doubt we’ll be finding out. More

Trump pardons Anthony Levandowski
Trump is no longer President, but in one of his final acts, he surprisingly opted to grant a full pardon to one Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer convicted of stealing trade secrets regarding their self-driving car program. It was a surprising end to one of the more dramatic big tech lawsuits in recent years. More

Xbox raises Live prices
I’m not sure how this stacks in importance relative to what else is listed here, but I’m personally pissed that Microsoft is hiking the price of their streaming subscription Xbox Live Gold. It’s no secret that the gaming industry is embracing a subscription economy, it will be interesting to see what the divide looks like in terms of gamer dollars going towards platform owners versus studios. More

Musk offers up $100M donation to carbon capture tech
Elon Musk, who is currently the world’s richest person, tweeted out this week that he will be donating $100 million towards a contest to build the best technology for carbon capture. TechCrunch learned that this is connected to the Xprize organization. More details


Extra Things

I’m adding a section going forward to highlight some of our Extra Crunch coverage from the week, which dives a bit deeper into the money and minds of the moneymakers.

Hot IPOs hang onto gains as investors keep betting on tech
“After setting a $35 to $39 per-share IPO price range, Poshmark sold shares in its IPO at $42 apiece. Then it opened at $97.50. Such was the exuberance of the stock market regarding the used goods marketplace’s debut.
But today it’s worth a more modest $76.30 — for this piece we’re using all Yahoo Finance data, and all current prices are those from yesterday’s close ahead of the start of today’s trading — which sparked a question: How many recent tech IPOs are also down from their opening price?” More

How VCs invested in Asia and Europe in 2020
“Wrapping our look at how the venture capital asset class invested in 2020, today we’re taking a peek at Europe’s impressive year, and Asia’s slightly less invigorating set of results. (We’re speaking soon with folks who may have data on African VC activity in 2020; if those bear out, we’ll do a final entry in our series concerning the continent.)” More

Hello, Extra Crunch Community!
“We’re going to be trying out some new things around here with the Extra Crunch staff front and center, as well as turning your feedback into action more than ever. We quite literally work for you, the subscriber, and want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth, as it were.” More


Until next week,
Lucas Matney

#alibaba, #anthony-levandowski, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #ar, #arkansas, #asia, #augmented-reality, #ceo, #computing, #engineer, #europe, #facebook, #google, #head, #high-speed-internet, #instagram, #itunes, #jack-ma, #lucas-matney, #microsoft, #mobile-computing, #mobile-developers, #oculus, #oversight-board, #poshmark, #president, #siri, #smartphone, #smartphones, #software, #tc, #technology, #trump, #twitter, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xprize, #yahoo

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A look at all of Biden’s changes to energy and environmental regulations

Image of a man seated at a desk with a woman standing behind him.

Enlarge / US President Joe Biden signs an executive order with US Vice President Kamala Harris, left, looking on. (credit: Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The series of executive orders signed by Joe Biden on his first evening in office included a heavy focus on environmental regulations. Some of the high-profile actions had been signaled in advance—we’re back in the Paris Agreement! The Keystone pipeline’s been put on indefinite hold!

But the suite of executive orders includes a long list that targets plenty of the changes Trump made in energy and environmental policies, many of which will have more subtle but significant effects of how the United States does business. Many of those make major changes, in some cases by eliminating policies adopted during the Trump years, a number of which we covered at the time. So, we’ve attempted to take a comprehensive look at Biden’s actions and their potential impacts.

Laws, rules, and policies

Environmental and energy regulations are set through three main mechanisms. The first is by specific laws, which would require the cooperation of both houses of Congress to change. Next are also more general laws, like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. These enable regulations to be put in place via a formal rule-making process run by the agencies of the executive branch. This process involves soliciting public feedback, incorporating economic considerations, and so on, a process that typically takes anywhere from eight months to over a year. Finally, the executive branch can set policies to cover details not spelled out by the law or the rule, such as how to handle things like deadlines and enforcement details.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biden, #clean-air-act, #clean-water-act, #energy, #environment, #executive-order, #policy, #science, #trump

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Facebook calls in its Oversight Board to rule on Trump ban

Facebook logo on a street sign outside a wooded campus.

Enlarge / Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters as seen in 2017. (credit: Jason Doiy | Getty Images)

Facebook’s Oversight Board is getting its highest-profile case yet, as the company kicks its decision to boot former-President Donald Trump off its platforms to the largely untested “Supreme Court” of social media for review.

Facebook suspended Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts on January 7 in the immediate aftermath of the insurrectionist riots at the US Capitol. “The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden,” company CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the time. “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great. Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”

Although that two-week period is now complete, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg confirmed to Reuters last week that the company expected to continue the bans indefinitely and had “no plans” to let Trump resume posting content to their platforms.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#content-moderation, #donald-trump, #facebook, #facebook-oversight-board, #insurrection, #oversight, #policy, #trump

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The biggest step the Biden administration took on climate yesterday wasn’t rejoining the Paris Agreement

While the Biden Administration is being celebrated for its decision to rejoin the Paris Agreement in one of its first executive orders after President Joe Biden was sworn in, it wasn’t the biggest step the administration took to advance its climate agenda.

Instead it was a move to get to the basics of monitoring and accounting, of metrics and dashboards. While companies track their revenues and expenses and monitor for all sorts of risks, impacts from climate change and emissions aren’t tracked in the same way. Now, in the same way there are general principals for accounting for finance, there will be principals for accounting for the impact of climate through what’s called the social cost of carbon.

Among the flurry of paperwork coming from Biden’s desk were Executive Orders calling for a review of Trump era rule-making around the environment and the reinstitution of strict standards for fuel economy, methane emissions, appliance and building efficiency, and overall emissions. But even these steps are likely to pale in significance to the fifth section of the ninth executive order to be announced by the new White House.

That’s the section addressing the accounting for the benefits of reducing climate pollution. Until now, the U.S. government hasn’t had a framework for accounting for what it calls the “full costs of greenhouse gas emissions” by taking “global damages into account”.

All of this is part of a broad commitment to let data and science inform policymaking across government, according to the Biden Administration.

Biden writes:

“It is, therefore, the policy of my Administration to listen to the science; to improve public health and protect our environment; to ensure access to clean air and water; to limit exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides; to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change; to restore and expand our national treasures and monuments; and to prioritize both environmental justice and the creation of the well-paying union jobs necessary to deliver on these goals.”

The specific section of the order addressing accounting and accountability calls for a working group to come up with three metrics: the social cost of carbon (SCC), the social cost of nitrous oxide (SCN) and the social cost of methane (SCM) that will be used to estimate the monetized damages associated with increases in greenhouse gas emissions.

As the executive order notes, “[an] accurate social cost is essential for agencies to accurately determine the social benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions when conducting cost-benefit analyses of regulatory and other actions.” What the Administration is doing is attempting to provide a financial figure for the damages wrought by greenhouse gas emissions in terms of rising interest rates, and the destroyed farmland and infrastructure caused by natural disasters linked to global climate change.

These kinds of benchmarks aren’t flashy, but they are concrete ways to determine accountability. That accountability will become critical as the country takes steps to meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement. It also gives companies looking to address their emissions footprints an economic framework to point to as they talk to their investors and the public.

The initiative will include top leadership like the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (a position that Biden elevated to a cabinet level post).

Representatives from each of the major federal agencies overseeing the economy, national health, and the environment will be members of the working group along with the representatives or the National Climate Advisor and the Director of the National Economic Council.

While the rule-making is proceeding at the federal level, some startups are already developing services to help businesses monitor their emissions output.

These are companies like CarbonChainPersefoni, and SINAI Technologies. And their work compliments non-profits like CDP, which works with companies to assess carbon emissions.

Biden’s plan will have the various agencies and departments working quickly. The administration expects an interim SCC, SCN, and SCM within the next 30 days, which agencies will use when monetizing the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations and agency actions. The President wants final metrics will be published by January of next year.

The executive order also restored protections to national parks and lands that had been opened to oil and gas exploration and commercial activity under the Trump Administration and blocked the development of the Keystone Pipeline, which would have brought oil from Canadian tar sands into and through the U.S.

“The Keystone XL pipeline disserves the U.S. national interest. The United States and the world face a climate crisis. That crisis must be met with action on a scale and at a speed commensurate with the need to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory. At home, we will combat the crisis with an ambitious plan to build back better, designed to both reduce harmful emissions and create good clean-energy jobs,” according to the text of the Executive Order. “The United States must be in a position to exercise vigorous climate leadership in order to achieve a significant increase in global climate action and put the world on a sustainable climate pathway. Leaving the Key`12stone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my Administration’s economic and climate imperatives.”

#articles, #biden-administration, #carbonchain, #chair, #director, #executive, #greenhouse-gas, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #joe-biden, #office-of-management-and-budget, #oil, #persefoni, #president, #sinai-technologies, #tc, #trump, #trump-administration, #u-s-government, #united-states, #white-house

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What motivates the motivated reasoning of pro-Trump conspiracists?

A white pickup truck is decorated in pro-Trump paraphernalia.

Enlarge / January 7, 2021 – St. Paul, Minn. — Trump supporters gather at the Minnesota Governor’s Residence after a “Storm The Capitol” event at the Minnesota State Capitol. (credit: Chad Davis / Flickr)

Motivated reasoning is the idea that our mental processes often cause us to filter the evidence we accept based on whether it’s consistent with what we want to believe. During these past few weeks, it has been on display in the United States on a truly grand scale. People are accepting context-free videos shared on social media over investigations performed by election officials. They’re rejecting obvious evidence of President Donald Trump’s historic unpopularity, while buying in to evidence-free conspiracies involving deceased Latin American dictators.

If the evidence for motivated reasoning is obvious, however, it’s a lot harder to figure out what’s providing the motivation. It’s not simply Republican identity, given that Trump adopted many policies that went against previous Republican orthodoxy. The frequent appearance of Confederate flags confirms some racism is involved, but that doesn’t seem to explain it all. There’s a long enough list of potential motivations to raise doubts as to whether a single one could possibly suffice.

A recent paper in PNAS, however, provides a single explanation that incorporates a lot of the potential motivations. Called “hegemonic masculinity,” it involves a world view that places males from the dominant cultural group as the focus of societal power. And survey data seems to back up the idea.

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#behavioral-science, #human-behavior, #science, #trump

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Twitter’s vision of decentralization could also be the far-right’s internet endgame

This week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey finally responded publicly to the company’s decision to ban President Trump from its platform, writing that Twitter had “faced an extraordinary and untenable circumstance” and that he did not “feel pride” about the decision. In the same thread, he took time to call out a nascent Twitter-sponsored initiative called “bluesky,” which is aiming to build up an “open decentralized standard for social media” that Twitter is just one part of.

Researchers involved with bluesky reveal to TechCrunch an initiative still in its earliest stages that could fundamentally shift the power dynamics of the social web.

Bluesky is aiming to build a “durable” web standard that will ultimately ensure that platforms like Twitter have less centralized responsibility in deciding which users and communities have a voice on the internet. While this could protect speech from marginalized groups, it may also upend modern moderation techniques and efforts to prevent online radicalization.

Jack Dorsey, co-founder and chief executive officer of Twitter Inc., arrives after a break during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. Republicans pressed Dorsey for what they said may be the “shadow-banning” of conservatives during the hearing. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

What is bluesky?

Just as Bitcoin lacks a central bank to control it, a decentralized social network protocol operates without central governance, meaning Twitter would only control its own app built on bluesky, not other applications on the protocol. The open and independent system would allow applications to see, search and interact with content across the entire standard. Twitter hopes that the project can go far beyond what the existing Twitter API offers, enabling developers to create applications with different interfaces or methods of algorithmic curation, potentially paying entities across the protocol like Twitter for plug-and-play access to different moderation tools or identity networks.

A widely adopted, decentralized protocol is an opportunity for social networks to “pass the buck” on moderation responsibilities to a broader network, one person involved with the early stages of bluesky suggests, allowing individual applications on the protocol to decide which accounts and networks its users are blocked from accessing.

Social platforms like Parler or Gab could theoretically rebuild their networks on bluesky, benefitting from its stability and the network effects of an open protocol. Researchers involved are also clear that such a system would also provide a meaningful measure against government censorship and protect the speech of marginalized groups across the globe.

Bluesky’s current scope is firmly in the research phase, people involved tell TechCrunch, with about 40-50 active members from different factions of the decentralized tech community surveying the software landscape and putting together proposals for what the protocol should ultimately look like. Twitter has told early members that it hopes to hire a project manager in the coming weeks to build out an independent team that will start crafting the protocol itself.

Bluesky’s initial members were invited by Twitter CTO Parag Agrawal early last year. It was later determined that the group should open the conversation up to folks representing some of the more recognizable decentralized network projects, including Mastodon and ActivityPub who joined the working group hosted on the secure chat platform Element.

Jay Graber, founder of decentralized social platform Happening, was paid by Twitter to write up a technical review of the decentralized social ecosystem, an effort to “help Twitter evaluate the existing options in the space,” she tells TechCrunch.

“If [Twitter] wanted to design this thing, they could have just assigned a group of guys to do it, but there’s only one thing that this little tiny group of people could do better than Twitter, and that’s not be Twitter,” said Golda Velez, another member of the group who works as a senior software engineer at Postmates and co-founded civ.works, a privacy-centric social network for civic engagement.

The group has had some back and forth with Twitter executives on the scope of the project, eventually forming a Twitter-approved list of goals for the initiative. They define the challenges that the bluesky protocol should seek to address while also laying out what responsibilities are best left to the application creators building on the standard.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.

Parrot.VC Twitter account

Image: TechCrunch

Who is involved

The pain points enumerated in the document, viewed by TechCrunch, encapsulate some of Twitter’s biggest shortcomings. They include “how to keep controversy and outrage from hijacking virality mechanisms,” as well as a desire to develop “customizable mechanisms” for moderation, though the document notes that the applications, not the overall protocol, are “ultimately liable for compliance, censorship, takedowns etc..”

“I think the solution to the problem of algorithms isn’t getting rid of algorithms — because sorting posts chronologically is an algorithm — the solution is to make it an open pluggable system by which you can go in and try different algorithms and see which one suits you or use the one that your friends like,” says Evan Henshaw-Plath, another member of the working group. He was one of Twitter’s earliest employees and has been building out his own decentralized social platform called Planetary.

His platform is based on the secure scuttlebutt protocol, which allows user to browse networks offline in an encrypted fashion. Early on, Planetary had been in talks with Twitter for a corporate investment as well as a personal investment from CEO Jack Dorsey, Henshaw-Plath says, but the competitive nature of the platform prompted some concern among Twitter’s lawyers and Planetary ended up receiving an investment from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s venture fund Future Positive. Stone did not respond to interview requests.

After agreeing on goals, Twitter had initially hoped for the broader team to arrive at some shared consensus but starkly different viewpoints within the group prompted Twitter to accept individual proposals from members. Some pushed Twitter to outright adopt or evolve an existing standard while others pushed for bluesky to pursue interoperability of standards early on and see what users naturally flock to.

One of the developers in the group hoping to bring bluesky onto their standard was Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko who tells TechCrunch he sees the need for a major shift in how social media platforms operate globally.

“Banning Trump was the right decision though it came a little bit too late. But at the same time, the nuance of the situation is that maybe it shouldn’t be a single American company that decides these things,” Rochko tells us.

Like several of the other members in the group, Rochko has been skeptical at times about Twitter’s motivation with the bluesky protocol. Shortly after Dorsey’s initial announcement in 2019, Mastodon’s official Twitter account tweeted out a biting critique, writing, “This is not an announcement of reinventing the wheel. This is announcing the building of a protocol that Twitter gets to control, like Google controls Android.”

Today, Mastodon is arguably one of the most mature decentralized social platforms. Rochko claims that the network of decentralized nodes has more than 2.3 million users spread across thousands of servers. In early 2017, the platform had its viral moment on Twitter, prompting an influx of “hundreds of thousands” of new users alongside some inquisitive potential investors whom Rochko has rebuffed in favor of a donation-based model.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Inherent risks

Not all of the attention Rochko has garnered has been welcome. In 2019, Gab, a social network favored by right-wing extremists, brought its entire platform onto the Mastodon network after integrating the platform’s open source code, bringing Mastodon its single biggest web of users and its most undesirable liability all at once.

Rochko quickly disavowed the network and aimed to sever its ties to other nodes on the Mastodon platform and convince application creators to do the same. But a central fear of decentralization advocates was quickly realized, as the platform type’s first “success story” was a home for right-wing extremists.

This fear has been echoed in decentralized communities this week as app store owners and networks have taken another right-wing social network, Parler, off the web after violent content surfaced on the site in the lead-up and aftermath of riots at the U.S. Capitol, leaving some developers fearful that the social network may set up home on their decentralized standard.

“Fascists are 100% going to use peer-to-peer technologies, they already are and they’re going to start using it more… If they get pushed off of mainstream infrastructure or people are surveilling them really closely, they’re going to have added motivation,” said Emmi Bevensee, a researcher studying extremist presences on decentralized networks. “Maybe the far-right gets stronger footholds on peer-to-peer before the people who think the far-right is bad do because they were effectively pushed off.”

A central concern is that commoditizing decentralized platforms through efforts like bluesky will provide a more accessible route for extremists kicked off current platforms to maintain an audience and provide casual internet users a less janky path towards radicalization.

“Peer-to-peer technology is generally not that seamless right now. Some of it is; you can buy Bitcoin in Cash App now, which, if anything, is proof that this technology is going to become much more mainstream and adoption is going to become much more seamless,” Bevensee told TechCrunch. “In the current era of this mass exodus from Parler, they’re obviously going to lose a huge amount of audience that isn’t dedicated enough to get on IPFS. Scuttlebutt is a really cool technology but it’s not as seamless as Twitter.”

Extremists adopting technologies that promote privacy and strong encryption is far from a new phenomenon, encrypted chat apps like Signal and Telegram have been at the center of such controversies in recent years. Bevensee notes the tendency of right-wing extremist networks to adopt decentralized network tech has been “extremely demoralizing” to those early developer communities — though she notes that the same technologies can and do benefit “marginalized people all around the world.”

Though people connected to bluesky’s early moves see a long road ahead for the protocol’s development and adoption, they also see an evolving landscape with Parler and President Trump’s recent deplatforming that they hope will drive other stakeholders to eventually commit to integrating with the standard.

“Right at this moment I think that there’s going to be a lot of incentive to adopt, and I don’t just mean by end users, I mean by platforms, because Twitter is not the only one having these really thorny moderation problems,” Velez says. “I think people understand that this is a critical moment.”

#android, #biz-stone, #ceo, #co-founder, #computing, #encryption, #free-software, #gab, #google, #house-energy-and-commerce-committee, #jack-dorsey, #peer-to-peer, #photographer, #president, #social, #social-media, #social-media-platforms, #social-network, #social-networks, #tc, #technology, #text-messaging, #trump, #twitter, #united-states, #washington-d-c, #web-applications

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With Trump’s vaccine rollout in chaos, Biden unveils five-point plan

US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks on his plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines in Wilmington, Delaware on January 15, 2021.

Enlarge / US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks on his plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines in Wilmington, Delaware on January 15, 2021. (credit: Getty | Angela Weiss)

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday unveiled a five-point plan to try to rescue the country’s beleaguered COVID-19 vaccination campaign and achieve his stated goal of reaching 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office.

The five steps include, in brief:

  • Working with states to open and clarify eligibility for vaccination
  • Help set up additional vaccination sites
  • “Fully activate” pharmacies to act as vaccination sites
  • Ramp up manufacturing of vaccine and supplies
  • Commit to transparency and rollout a massive public information campaign to combat disinformation

“The vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far,” Biden said in speech. These five things are an attempt to turn things around, to “turn frustration into motivation.”

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#biden, #covid-19, #fema, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #trump, #vaccination

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FDA blindsided as Trump Admin cripples agency on its way out

Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration.

Enlarge / Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

The US Food and Drug Administration is under siege from the Trump Administration, which is forcing through a steady stream of changes in its final days that threaten the remaining independence of the regulatory agency.

Perhaps the most dramatic meddling came on Monday, when FDA officials were blindsided as the agency cycled through three different top lawyers. FDA’s Chief Counsel, Stacy Cline Amin—a Trump appointee—resigned Monday, which FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn announced in an email. Hahn’s email also included the news that career civil servant Mark Raza, the FDA’s principal deputy chief counsel, would serve as Cline Amin’s replacement on an acting basis. But that decision was abruptly overturned Monday night when the Department of Health and Human services tweeted that James Lawrence, deputy general counsel for the HHS, would serve as the FDA’s new chief counsel until January 20.

“We were all very surprised,” a senior FDA official told Politico. “But it’s consistent with all the fire bombs that keep getting thrown over the fence.”

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#azar, #fda, #hahn, #hhs, #science, #trump

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There is no COVID vaccine reserve. Trump admin already shipped it

Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), who allegedly deceived states on the vaccine supply, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during an event at the NIH Clinical Center on Tuesday, December 22, 2020.

Enlarge / Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), who allegedly deceived states on the vaccine supply, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during an event at the NIH Clinical Center on Tuesday, December 22, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

The Trump administration announced Tuesday, January 12, that it would begin shipping reserved vaccine supplies, raising hopes that states may see their vaccine supply potentially double as they work to accelerate the sluggish immunization campaign. But according to a report by The Washington Post, that promised vaccine stockpile doesn’t actually exist—it was already shipped out—and the limited vaccine supply available to states will remain as it is for now.

The news has not only left state health officials angry and confused by the false promises, they’re also left scrambling to sort out distribution changes. In addition to claiming they would release the (non-existent) stockpile, Trump administration officials told states to expand access to vaccines—now allowing anyone over age 65 to get vaccinated and people under 65 who have a documented underlying health condition that makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

The expanded eligibility covers around 152 million people in the US. But administration officials had previously estimated that it wouldn’t be until the end of March before they would have 200 million doses—enough to vaccinate only 100 million people—as STAT noted earlier.

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#azar, #covid-19, #hhs, #science, #trump, #vaccine

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Trump tries to claw back billions from COVID vaccine distributor

A picture taken on January 15, 2021, shows a pharmacist holding with gloved hands a vial of the undiluted Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19.

Enlarge / A picture taken on January 15, 2021, shows a pharmacist holding with gloved hands a vial of the undiluted Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19. (credit: Getty | JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER)

With mere days left in office, President Donald Trump has proposed $27.4 billion in brutal budget cuts—including clawing back 5.1 billion from global public health amid a raging pandemic. Of the proposed health cuts, $4 billion would be slashed from a vaccine alliance playing a central role in helping to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries.

The proposed cuts are part of a recession request, which has no chance of being enacted by Congress, as Politico reports. However, the proposed cuts—particularly to the vaccine alliance—are likely to add insult to injury to the global public health community, which continues to battle the out-of-control pandemic.

Worldwide, the total number of COVID-19 cases is over 93 million, and deaths are approaching 2 million. In the US alone, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases is over 235,000, with 129,000 people currently hospitalized. Around 4,000 people have died each day for the past three days, bringing the US death toll to around 380,000.

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#covid-19, #gavi, #global-public-health, #infectious-vaccine, #public-health, #science, #trump, #vaccines, #who

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How Twitter is handling the 2021 US presidential transition

Twitter has set out its plans for US Inauguration Day 2021, next Wednesday, January 20, when president-elect Joe Biden will be sworn into office as the 46th US president and vice president-elect Kamala Harris will become VP.

“This year, multiple challenging circumstances will require that most people experience this historic ceremony virtually,” the social media firm writes in a blog post detailing how it will handle the transition of power on its platform as the Trump administration departs office.

“As Twitter will serve as both a venue for people to watch and talk about this political event, and play a key role in facilitating the transfer of official government communication channels, we want to be transparent and clear about what people should expect to see on the platform.”

The inauguration will of course be livestreamed via Twitter by multiple accounts (such as news outlets), as well as the official inauguration accounts, @JCCIC and @BidenInaugural.

Twitter will also be streaming the ceremony via its US Elections Hub, where it says it will share curated Moments, Lists and accounts to follow as well.

Once sworn into office, Biden and Harris will gain control of the @POTUS and @VP Twitter accounts. Other accounts that will transition to the new administration on the day include @WhiteHouse, @FLOTUS and @PressSec.

Twitter has also confirmed that Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff, will use a new official account — called @SecondGentleman. (It’s not clear why not ‘SGOTUS’; aside from, well, the unloveliness of the acronym.) 

As it did when president Obama left office, Twitter will transfer the current institutional accounts of the Trump administration to the National Archives and Records Administration (Nara) — meaning the outgoing administration’s tweets and account history will remain publicly available (with account usernames updated to reflect their archived status, e.g. @POTUS will be archived as @POTUS45).

However Trump’s personal account, which he frequently used as a political cudgel, yelling in ALL CAPS and/or spewing his customary self-pitying tweets, has already been wiped from public view after Twitter took the decision to permanently ban him last week for repeat violations of its rules of conduct. So there’s likely to be a major gap in Nara’s Trump archive.

Since late last year we’ve known the transitioning @POTUS and institutional accounts will not automatically retain followers from the prior administration. But Twitter still hasn’t confirmed why.

Today it just reiterated that the current (33.3M) followers of @POTUS and the other official accounts will receive a notification about the archival process which will include the “option” to follow the new holders of the accounts.

That’s another notable change from 2017 when Trump inherited the ~14M followers of president Obama’s @POTUS. Biden will instead have to start his presidential tweeting from scratch.

Given the chaotic events in the US capital last week, when supporters of the outgoing president broke through police lines to cause mayhem on the hill and in the House, there’s every reason for tech platforms to approach the 2021 transition with trepidation, lest their tools get used to livestream another historic insurrection (or worse).

Since then Trump has also continued to maintain his false claim that the election was stolen through voter fraud.

Although he avoided any new direct reference to this big lie when he circumvented Twitter’s ban on his personal account earlier this week, by posting a new video of himself speaking on the official @WhiteHouse account.

In the video he decried the “incursion at the US capital”, as he put it; claimed that he “unequivocally condemns the violence that we saw last week”; and called for unity. But Twitter has put tight limits on what Trump can say on its platform without having his posts removed (as well limiting him to the official @POTUS channel). So he remains on a very tight speech leash.

In the video Trump limits his verbal attacks to a few remarks — about what he describes as “the unprecedented assault on free speech we have seen in recent days” — dubbing tech platforms’ censorship “wrong” and “dangerous”, and adding that “what is needed now is for us to listen to one another, not to silence one another”.

There’s a lot going on here but it should not escape notice that Trump’s seeming contrition and quasi-concession and his very-last-minute calls for unity have only come when he actively feels power draining away from him.

Most notably, his call for unity has only come after powerful tech platforms acted to shut off his hate-megaphone — ending the years of special dispensation they granted Trump to ride roughshod over democratic convention and tear up the civic rulebook.

It’s very interesting to speculate how different the 2021 US inauguration might look and feel if platforms like Twitter had consistently enforced their rules against Trump from the get-go.

Instead we’re stuck in all sorts of lockdown, counting the days til Biden takes office — and above all hoping for a smooth transition of power.

So Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is quite right when he said this week that Twitter has failed in its mission to “promote healthy conversation”. His company ignored warnings about online toxicity for years. Trump is, in no small part, the divisive product of that. 

In a brief section of Twitter’s transition handling blog post, entitled “protecting the public conversation”, the company refers back to a post from earlier this week where it set out steps it’s taking to try to prevent its platform from being used to “incite violence, organize attacks, and share deliberately misleading information about the election outcome” in the coming days.

These measures include permanently suspending ~70,000 accounts it said were primarily dedicated to sharing content related to the QAnon conspiracy theory; aggressively beefing up its civic integrity policy; and applying interaction limits on labeled tweets plus blocking violative keywords from appearing in Trends and search.

“These efforts, including our open lines of communication with law enforcement, will continue through the inauguration and will adapt as needed if circumstances change in real-time,” it adds, preparing for the possibility of more unrest.

#biden, #election-integrity, #social, #social-media, #tc, #trump, #twitter

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Snapchat permanently bans President Trump’s account

Quite a bit has happened since Snap announced last week that it was indefinitely locking President Trump’s Snapchat account. But after temporary bans from his Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts as well as a permanent ban from Twitter, Snap has decided that it will also be making its ban of the President’s Snapchat account permanent.

Though Trump’s social media preferences as a user are clear, Snapchat gave the Trump campaign a particularly effective platform to target young users who are active on the service. A permanent ban will undoubtedly complicate his future business and political ambitions as he finds himself removed from most mainstream social platforms.

Snap says it made the decision in light of repeated attempted violations of the company’s community guidelines that had been made over the past several months by the President’s account.

“Last week we announced an indefinite suspension of President Trump’s Snapchat account, and have been assessing what long term action is in the best interest of our Snapchat community. In the interest of public safety, and based on his attempts to spread misinformation, hate speech, and incite violence, which are clear violations of our guidelines, we have made the decision to permanently terminate his account,” a Snap spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Snap’s decision to permanently ban the President was first reported by Axios.

#computing, #donald-trump, #facebook, #instagram, #instant-messaging, #operating-systems, #president, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #spokesperson, #tc, #trump, #twitter, #vertical-video

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YouTube suspends Trump’s account, disables comments “indefinitely”

An illustration of YouTube's logo behind barbed wire.

Enlarge (credit: YouTube / Getty / Aurich Lawson)

YouTube, following in the path of very nearly every other social media platform, is suspending President Donald Trump’s channel due to concerns that he will use it to foment additional violence in the coming days.

“After review, and in light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence, we removed new content uploaded to Donald J. Trump’s channel for violating our policies,” the company said late Tuesday. “It now has its first strike and is temporarily prevented from uploading new content for a *minimum* of 7 days.”

While it is possible Trump may have his account reinstated after that period, comments to his videos are shut down “indefinitely,” due to “safety concerns found in the comments section,” YouTube added.

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#alphabet, #donald-trump, #google, #insurrection, #policy, #sedition, #trump, #youtube

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Facebook and Twitter could be sued for “censorship” under proposed state law

A computer keyboard with the word

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Peter Dazeley)

Republican state lawmakers in North Dakota want Facebook and Twitter to face lawsuits from users who have been “censored.”

A bill submitted by the six legislators last week is titled, “an Act to permit civil actions against social media sites for censoring speech.” It says that social media websites with over 1 million users would be “liable in a civil action for damages to the person whose speech is restricted, censored, or suppressed, and to any person who reasonably otherwise would have received the writing, speech, or publication.” Payouts for “censored” users would include “treble damages for compensatory, consequential, and incidental damages.”

Even if passed by the North Dakota legislature, the bill would likely have no effect due to a conflict with federal law. The proposed law “would immediately be deemed void as preempted by Section 230 [of the Communications Decency Act],” because “federal law is supreme over state law where they conflict, and this would create an express conflict,” attorney Akiva Cohen wrote in a Twitter thread about the bill.

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#north-dakota, #policy, #section-230, #trump

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Big ISPs pause donations to 147 Republicans who tried to reverse Biden’s win

Illustration of the Republican Party's elephant logo on one side of a see-saw, with a pile of gold coins on the other side.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | SilverV)

Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon say they have suspended political donations to the 147 Republican members of Congress who voted against certifying Electoral College results, but the companies left the door open for resuming campaign contributions to those lawmakers in the future.

“We will be suspending contributions in 2021 to any member of Congress who voted in favor of objecting to the election results,” a Verizon spokesperson said, according to Light Reading. We asked Verizon if the suspension of donations will last throughout 2021 and will update this article if we get a response.

“The peaceful transition of power is a foundation of America’s democracy,” Comcast said in a statement yesterday. After “the appalling violence” at the US Capitol last week, “our focus needs to be on working together for the good of the entire nation. Consistent with this view, we will suspend all of our political contributions to those elected officials who voted against certification of the Electoral College votes, which will give us the opportunity to review our political giving policies and practices.”

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#att, #biden, #charter, #comcast, #policy, #republicans, #t-mobile, #trump, #verizon

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The Capitol riot and its aftermath makes the case for tech regulation more urgent, but no simpler

Last week and throughout the weekend, technology companies took the historic step of deplatforming the president of the United States in the wake of a riot in which the US Capitol was stormed by a collection of white nationalists, QAnon supporters, and right wing activists.

The decision to remove Donald Trump, his fundraising and moneymaking apparatus, and a large portion of his supporters from their digital homes because of their incitements to violence in the nation’s Capitol on January 6th and beyond, has led a chorus of voices to call for the regulation of the giant tech platforms.

They argue that private companies shouldn’t have the sole power to erase the digital footprint of a sitting president.

But there’s a reason why the legislative hearings in Congress, and the pressure from the president, have not created any new regulations. And there’s also a reason why — despite all of the protestations from the president and his supporters — no lawsuits have effectively been brought against the platforms for their decisions.

The law, for now, is on their side.

The First Amendment and freedom of speech (for platforms)

Let’s start with the First Amendment. The protections of speech afforded to American citizens under the First Amendment only apply to government efforts to limit speech. While the protection of all speech is assumed as something enshrined in the foundations of American democracy, the founders appear to have only wanted to shield speech from government intrusions.

That position makes sense if you’re a band of patriots trying to ensure that a monarch or dictator can’t abuse government power to silence its citizens or put its thumb on the lever in the marketplace of ideas.

The thing is, that marketplace of ideas is always open, but publishers and platforms have the freedom to decide what they want to sell into it. Ben Franklin would never have published pro-monarchist sentiments on his printing presses, but he would probably have let Thomas Paine have free rein.

So, the First Amendment doesn’t protect an individuals’ rights to access any platform and say whatever the hell they want. In fact, it protects businesses in many cases from having their freedom of speech violated by having the government force them to publish something they don’t want to on their platforms.

Section 230 and platform liability 

BuT WhAt AbOUt SeCTiOn 230, one might ask (and if you do, you’re not alone)?

Unfortunately, for Abbott and others who believe that repealing Section 230 would open the door for less suppression of speech by online platforms, they’re wrong.

First, the cancellation of speech by businesses isn’t actually hostile to the foundation America was built on. If a group doesn’t like the way it’s being treated in one outlet, it can try and find another. Essentially, no one can force a newspaper to print their letter to the editor.

Second, users’ speech isn’t what is protected under Section 230; it protects platforms from liability for that speech, which indirectly makes it safe for users to speak freely.

Where things get complicated is in the difference between the letter to an editor in a newspaper and a tweet on Twitter, post on Facebook, or blog on Medium (or WordPress). And this is where U.S. Code Section 230 comes into play.

Right now, Section 230 protects all of these social media companies from legal liability for the stuff that people publish on their platforms (unlike publishers). The gist of the law is that since these companies don’t actively edit what people post on the platforms, but merely provide a distribution channel for that content, then they can’t be held accountable for what’s in the posts.

The companies argue that they’re exercising their own rights to freedom of speech through the algorithms they’ve developed to highlight certain pieces of information or entertainment, or in removing certain pieces of content. And their broad terms of service agreements also provide legal shields that allow them to act with a large degree of impunity.

Repealing Section 230 would make platforms more restrictive rather than less restrictive about who gets to sell their ideas in the marketplace, because it would open up the tech companies to lawsuits over what they distribute across their platforms.

One of the authors of the legislation, Senator Ron Wyden, thinks repeal is an existential threat to social media companies. “Were Twitter to lose the protections I wrote into law, within 24 hours its potential liabilities would be many multiples of its assets and its stock would be worthless,” Senator Wyden wrote back in 2018. “The same for Facebook and any other social media site. Boards of directors should have taken action long before now against CEOs who refuse to recognize this threat to their business.”

Others believe that increased liability for content would actually be a powerful weapon to bring decorum to online discussions. As Joe Nocera argues in Bloomberg BusinessWeek today:

“… I have come around to an idea that the right has been clamoring for — and which Trump tried unsuccessfully to get Congress to approve just weeks ago. Eliminate Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. That is the provision that shields social media companies from legal liability for the content they publish — or, for that matter, block.

The right seems to believe that repealing Section 230 is some kind of deserved punishment for Twitter and Facebook for censoring conservative views. (This accusation doesn’t hold up upon scrutiny, but let’s leave that aside.) In fact, once the social media companies have to assume legal liability — not just for libel, but for inciting violence and so on — they will quickly change their algorithms to block anything remotely problematic. People would still be able to discuss politics, but they wouldn’t be able to hurl anti-Semitic slurs. Presidents and other officials could announce policies, but they wouldn’t be able to spin wild conspiracies.”

Conservatives and liberals crowing for the removal of Section 230 protections may find that it would reinstitute a level of comity online, but the fringes will be even further marginalized. If you’re a free speech absolutist, that may or may not be the best course of action.

What mechanisms can legislators use beyond repealing Section 230? 

Beyond the blunt instrument that is repealing Section 230, legislators could take other steps to mandate that platforms carry speech and continue to do business with certain kinds of people and platforms, however odious their views or users might be.

Many of these steps are outlined in this piece from Daphne Keller on “Who do you sue?” from the Hoover Institution.

Most of them hinge on some reinterpretation of older laws relating to commerce and the provision of services by utilities, or on the “must-carry” requirements put in place in the early days of 20th century broadcasting when radio and television were distributed over airways provided by the federal government.

These older laws involve either designating internet platforms as “essential, unavoidable, and monopolistic services to which customers should be guaranteed access”; or treating the companies like the railroad industry and mandating compulsory access, requiring tech companies to accept all users and not modify any of their online speech.

Other avenues could see lawmakers use variations on the laws designed to limit the power of channel owners to edit the content they carried — including things like the fairness doctrine from the broadcast days or net neutrality laws that are already set to be revisited under the Biden Administration.

Keller notes that the existing body of laws “does not currently support must-carry claims against user-facing platforms like Facebook or YouTube, because Congress emphatically declined to extend it to them in the 1996 Telecommunications Act.”

These protections are distinct from Section 230, but their removal would have similar, dramatic consequences on how social media companies, and tech platforms more broadly, operate.

“[The] massive body of past and current federal communications law would be highly relevant,” Keller wrote. “For one thing, these laws provide the dominant and familiar model for US regulation of speech and communication intermediaries. Any serious proposal to legislate must-carry obligations would draw on this history. For another, and importantly for plaintiffs in today’s cases, these laws have been heavily litigated and are still being litigated today. They provide important precedent for weighing the speech rights of individual users against those of platforms.”

The establishment of some of these “must-carry” mandates for platforms would go a long way toward circumventing or refuting platforms’ First Amendment claims, because some cases have already been decided against cable carriers in cases that could correspond to claims against platforms.

This is really happening already so what could legislation look like

At this point the hypothetical scenario that Keller sketched out in her essay, where private actors throughout the technical stack have excluded speech (although the legality of the speech is contested), has, in fact, happened.

The question is whether the deplatforming of the president and services that were spreading potential calls to violence and sedition, is a one-off; or a new normal where tech companies will act increasingly to silence voices that they — or a significant portion of their user base — disagree with.

Lawmakers in Europe, seeing the actions from U.S. companies over the last week, aren’t wasting any time in drafting their own responses and increasing their calls for more regulation.

In Europe, that regulation is coming in the form of the Digital Services Act, which we wrote about at the end of last year.

On the content side, the Commission has chosen to limit the DSA’s regulation to speech that’s illegal (e.g., hate speech, terrorism propaganda, child sexual exploitation, etc.) — rather than trying to directly tackle fuzzier “legal but harmful” content (e.g., disinformation), as it seeks to avoid inflaming concerns about impacts on freedom of expression.

Although a beefed up self-regulatory code on disinformation is coming next year, as part of a wider European Democracy Action Plan. And that (voluntary) code sounds like it will be heavily pushed by the Commission as a mitigation measure platforms can put toward fulfilling the DSA’s risk-related compliance requirements.

EU lawmakers do also plan on regulating online political ads in time for the next pan-EU elections, under a separate instrument (to be proposed next year) and are continuing to push the Council and European parliament to adopt a 2018 terrorism content takedown proposal (which will bring specific requirements in that specific area).

Europe has also put in place rules for very large online platforms that have more stringent requirements around how they approach and disseminate content, but regulators on the continent are having a hard time enforcing htem.

Keller believes that some of those European regulations could align with thinking about competition and First Amendment rights in the context of access to the “scarce” communication channels — those platforms whose size and scope mean that there are few competitive alternatives.

Two approaches that Keller thinks would perhaps require the least regulatory lift and are perhaps the most tenable for platforms to pursue involve solutions that either push platforms to make room for “disfavored” speech, but tell them that they don’t have to promote it or give it any ranking.

Under this solution, the platforms would be forced to carry the content, but could limit it. For instance, Facebook would be required to host any posts that don’t break the law, but it doesn’t have to promote them in any way — letting them sink below the stream of constantly updating content that moves across the platform.

“On this model, a platform could maintain editorial control and enforce its Community Guidelines in its curated version, which most users would presumably prefer. But disfavored speakers would not be banished enitrely and could be found by other users who prefer an uncurated experience,” Keller writes. “Platforms could rank legal content but not remove it.”

Perhaps the regulation that Keller is most bullish on is one that she calls the “magic APIs” scenario. Similar to the “unbundling” requirements from telecommunications companies, this regulation would force big tech companies to license their hard-to-duplicate resources to new market entrants. In the Facebook or Google context, this would mean requiring the companies open up access to their user generated content, and other companies could launch competing services with new user interfaces and content ranking and removal policies, Keller wrote.

“Letting users choose among competing ‘flavors’ of today’s mega-platforms would solve some First Amendment problems by leaving platforms own editorial decisions undisturbed,” Keller writes.

Imperfect solutions are better than none 

It’s clear to speech advocates on both the left and the right that having technology companies control what is and is not permissible on the world’s largest communications platforms is untenable and that better regulation is needed.

When the venture capitalists who have funded these services — and whose politics lean toward the mercenarily libertarian — are calling for some sort of regulatory constraints on the power of the technology platforms they’ve created, it’s clear things have gone too far. Even if the actions of the platforms are entirely justified.

However, in these instances, much of the speech that’s been taken down is clearly illegal. To the point that even free speech services like Parler have deleted posts from their service for inciting violence.

The deplatforming of the president brings up the same points that were raised back in 2017 when Cloudflare, the service that stands out for being more tolerant of despicable speech than nearly any other platform, basically erased the Daily Stormer.

“I know that Nazis are bad, the content [on The Daily Stormer] was so incredibly repulsive, it’s stomach turning how bad it is,” Prince said at the time. “But I do believe that the best way to battle bad speech is with good speech, I’m skeptical that censorship is the right scheme.

“I’m worried the decision we made with respect to this one particular site is not particularly principled but neither was the decision that most tech companies made with respect to this site or other sites. It’s important that we know there is convention about how we create principles and how contraptions are regulated in the internet tech stack,” Prince continued.

“We didn’t just wake up and make some capricious decision, but we could have and that’s terrifying. The internet is a really important resource for everyone, but there’s a very limited set of companies that control it and there’s such little accountability to us that it really is quite a dangerous thing.”

#capitol-riot, #first-amendment, #tc, #trump

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Republican lawmaker resigns after arrest for storming US Capitol

Derrick Evans sitting in the West Virginia House of Delegates, with a small American flag propped up in front of him.

Enlarge / Derrick Evans in the West Virginia House of Delegates. (credit: Derrick Evans)

The Republican lawmaker who was arrested for storming the US Capitol has resigned from the West Virginia State Legislature. “I hereby resign as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, effective immediately,” Derrick Evans wrote in a one-sentence letter to West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Saturday.

Evans also released a statement saying, “I take full responsibility for my actions, and deeply regret any hurt, pain or embarrassment I may have caused my family, friends, constituents and fellow West Virginians. I hope this action I take today can remove any cloud of distraction from the state Legislature, so my colleagues can get to work in earnest building a brighter future for our state.” Evans also wrote that he hopes his resignation will help “begin the healing process” for the United States.

Evans, who served in the state legislature for just one month before his resignation, was part of the Trump-incited insurrectionist mob that broke into the US Capitol on Wednesday last week in an attempt to stop certification of Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. Evans livestreamed himself on Facebook while chanting Trump’s name and yelling, “We’re in! We’re in! Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!” In another video he posted earlier in the day, he said that “people who are tired of liberals running this country and stealing elections” should “get off the couch and show up today in force and send a message.” The Trump-incited mob violence led to the death of a US Capitol police officer.

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#derrick-evans, #policy, #trump, #west-virginia

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Scraped Parler data is a metadata goldmine

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

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

A lone hacker scraped millions of posts, videos and photos published to the site after the riot but before the site went offline on Monday, preserving a huge trove of potential evidence for law enforcement investigating the attempted insurrection, many of which allegedly used the platform to plan and coordinate the breach of the Capitol.

The hacker and internet archivist, who goes by the online handle @donk_enby, scraped the social network and uploaded copies to the Internet Archive, which hosts old and historical versions of web pages.

In a tweet, @donk_enby said she scraped data from Parler that included deleted and private posts, and the videos contained “all associated metadata.”

Metadata is information about a file — such as when it was made and on what device. This information is usually embedded in the file itself. The scraped videos from Parler appear to also include the precise location data of where the videos were taken. That metadata could be a goldmine of evidence for authorities investigating the Capitol riot, which may tie some rioters to their Parler accounts or help police to unmask rioters based on their location data.

Most web services remove metadata when you upload your photos and videos, but Parler apparently wasn’t.

Parler quickly became the social network of choice after President Trump was deplatformed from Twitter and Facebook for inciting the riot on January 6. But the tech giants said Parler violated their rules by not having a content moderation policy – which is what drew many users to the site.

Many of the posts made calls to “burn down [Washington] D.C.,” while others called for violence and the execution of Vice President Mike Pence.

Already several rioters have been arrested and charged with breaking into the Capitol building. Many of the rioters weren’t wearing masks (the pandemic notwithstanding), making it easier for them to be identified. But thanks to Parler’s own security blunder, many more could soon face an unwelcome knock at the door.

#amazon, #computing, #internet-archive, #law-enforcement, #microblogging, #operating-systems, #parler, #president, #real-time-web, #security, #social-network, #software, #trump, #vice-president, #washington, #web-services

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Parler is officially offline after AWS suspension

True to its word, Amazon Web Services (AWS) suspended services to Parler, the right-wing-focused social network that proved a welcoming home for pro-Trump users whose calls for violence at the nation’s Capitol and beyond. The service suspension went into effect overnight after a 24-hour warning from AWS, which means that if you now go to Parler’s web address you’re greeted with a message saying the requested domain can’t be reached.

Parler’s community had been surging after the permanent suspension of Trump’s official accounts from Twitter and Facebook last week, which also saw a number of accounts tweeting similar invective and encouragement of violence aligned with Trump’s sentiments removed from those platforms. Apple and Google then removed Parler from their respective app stores for violations of their own terms of service, and AWS follows suit with its own suspension notice.

The company has suggested that it will rebuild its own infrastructure from scratch in order to contend with the various suspensions, but meanwhile other alternative social media sites that continue to exist, and that have typically catered to a more right-wing audience, like Gab, are seeing the benefits of Parler’s deplatforming. Gab has previously seen its hosting revoked, and been removed from Google Play for issues around hate speech dissemination.

#amazon-web-services, #computing, #gab, #google, #parler, #social, #social-media, #social-network, #tc, #technology, #trump, #web-services, #world-wide-web

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Europe seizes on social media’s purging of Trump to bang the drum for regulation

Big tech’s decision to pull the plug on president Donald Trump’s presence on their platforms, following his supporters’ attack on the US capital last week, has been seized on in Europe as proof — if proof were needed — that laws have not kept pace with tech market power and platform giants must face consequences over the content they amplify and monetize.

Writing in Politico, the European Commission’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, dubs the 6/1 strike at the heart of the US political establishment as social media’s ‘9/11’ moment — aka, the day the whole world woke up to the real-world impact of unchecked online hate and lies.

Since then Trump has been booted from a number of digital services, and the conservative social media app Parler has also been ejected from the App Store and Google Play over a failure to moderate violent threats, after Trump supporters flocked to the app in the wake of Facebook’s and Twitter’s crackdown.

At the time of writing, Parler is also poised to be booted by its hosting provider AWS, while Stripe has reportedly pulled the plug on Trump’s ability to use its payment tools to fleece supporters. (Although when this reporter asked in November whether Trump was breaching its TOC by using its payment tools for his ‘election defense fund’ Stripe ignored TechCrunch’s emails…)

“If there was anyone out there who still doubted that online platforms have become systemic actors in our societies and democracies, last week’s events on Capitol Hill is their answer. What happens online doesn’t just stay online: It has — and even exacerbates — consequences ‘in real life’ too,” Breton writes.

“Last week’s insurrection marked the culminating point of years of hate speech, incitement to violence, disinformation and destabilization strategies that were allowed to spread without restraint over well-known social networks. The unrest in Washington is proof that a powerful yet unregulated digital space — reminiscent of the Wild West — has a profound impact on the very foundations of our modern democracies.”

The Europe Commission proposed a major update to the rules for digital services and platform giants in December, when it laid out the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act — saying it’s time to level the regulatory playing field by ensuing content and activity that’s illegal offline is similarly sanctioned online.

The Commission’s proposal also seeks to address the market power of tech giants with proposals for additional oversight and extra rules for the largest platforms that have the potential to cause the greatest societal harm.

Unsurprisingly, then, Breton has seized on the chaotic scenes in Washington to push this already-formed tech policy plan — with his eye on a domestic audience of European governments and elected members of the European Parliament whose support is needed to pass the legislation and reboot the region’s digital rules.

“The fact that a CEO can pull the plug on POTUS’s loudspeaker without any checks and balances is perplexing. It is not only confirmation of the power of these platforms, but it also displays deep weaknesses in the way our society is organized in the digital space,” he warns.

“These last few days have made it more obvious than ever that we cannot just stand by idly and rely on these platforms’ good will or artful interpretation of the law. We need to set the rules of the game and organize the digital space with clear rights, obligations and safeguards. We need to restore trust in the digital space. It is a matter of survival for our democracies in the 21st century.”

The DSA will force social media to clean up its act on content and avoid the risk of arbitrary decision-making by giving platforms “clear obligations and responsibilities to comply with these laws, granting public authorities more enforcement powers and ensuring that all users’ fundamental rights are safeguarded”, Breton goes on to argue.

The commissioner also addresses US lawmakers directly — calling for Europe and the US to join forces on Internet regulation and engage in talks aimed at establishing what he describes as “globally coherent principles”, suggesting the DSA as a starting point for discussions. So he’s not wasting the opportunity of #MAGA-induced chaos to push a geopolitical agenda for EU tech policy too.

Last month the Commission signalled a desire to work with the incoming Biden administration on a common approach to tech governance, saying it hoped US counterparts would work with to shape global standards for technologies like AI and to force big tech to be more responsible, among other areas. And recent events in Washington do seem to be playing into that hand — although it remains to be seen how the incoming Biden administration will approach regulating big tech.

“The DSA, which has been carefully designed to answer all of the above considerations at the level of our Continent, can help pave the way for a new global approach to online platforms — one that serves the general interest of our societies. By setting a standard and clarifying the rules, it has the potential to become a paramount democratic reform serving generations to come,” Breton concludes.

Twitter’s decision to (finally) pull the plug on Trump also caught the eye of UK minister Matt Hancock, the former  secretary of state for the digital brief (now the health secretary). Speaking to the BBC this weekend, he suggested the unilateral decision “raises questions” about how big tech is regulated that would result in “consequences”.

“The scenes, clearly encouraged by President Trump — the scenes at the Capitol — were terrible — and I was very sad to see that because American democracy is such a proud thing. But there’s something else that has changed, which is that social media platforms are making editorial decisions now. That’s clear because they’re choosing who should and shouldn’t have a voice on their platform,” he told the Andrew Marr program.

The BBC reports that Hancock also told Sky News Twitter’s ban on Trump means social media platforms are taking editorial decisions — which he said “raises questions about their editorial judgements and the way that they’re regulated”.

Hancock’s remarks are noteworthy because back in 2018, during his time as digital minister, he said the government would legislate to introduce a statutory code of conduct on social media platforms forcing them to act against online abuse.

More than two years’ later, the UK’s safety-focused plan to regulate the Internet is still yet to be put before parliament — but late last year ministers committed to introducing an Online Safety Bill this year. 

Under the plan, the UK’s media regulator, Ofcom, will gain new powers to oversee tech platforms — including the ability to levy fines for non-compliance with a safety-focused duty of care of up to 10% of a company’s annual turnover.

The proposal covers a wide range of digital services, not just social media. Larger platforms are also slated to have the greatest responsibility for moderating content and activity. And — at least in its current form — the proposed law is intended to apply not just to content that’s illegal under UK law but also the fuzzier category of ‘harmful’ content.

That’s something the European Commission proposal has steered clear of — with more subjective issues like disinformation set to be tackled via a beefed-up (but still voluntary) code of practice, instead of being baked into digital services legislation. So online speech looks set to be one area of looming regulatory divergence in Europe, with the UK now outside the bloc.

Last year, the government said larger social media platforms — such as Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter — are likely to “need to assess the risk of legal content or activity on their services with ‘a reasonably foreseeable risk of causing significant physical or psychological harm to adults’” under the forthcoming Online Safety Bill.

“They will then need to make clear what type of ‘legal but harmful’ content is acceptable on their platforms in their terms and conditions and enforce this transparently and consistently,” it added, suggesting the UK will in fact legislate to force platforms to make ‘editorial’ decisions.

The consequences Hancock thus suggests are coming for tech platforms look rather akin to the ‘editorial’ decisions they have been making in recent days.

Albeit, the uncomfortable difference he seems to have been articulating is between tech platforms that have massive unilateral power to silence the US president at a stroke and at a point of their own choosing vs tech platforms being made to comply with a pre-defined rules-based order set by legislators and regulators.

#digital-services-act, #europe, #matt-hancock, #online-safety-bill, #platform-regulation, #policy, #social, #tc, #thierry-breton, #trump

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Parler reportedly removed posts by Trump affiliate Lin Wood calling for execution of VP Mike Pence

It seems that even the “free speech” social network Parler has its limits.

The social network that has attracted scores of conservative commentators because of its commitment to free speech has taken down several posts from Trump affiliate Lin Wood, according to a report in Mediaite.

In one of the posts removed from the social media platform, Wood called for the execution of Vice President Mike Pence .

In a statement to Mediaite, Parler chief executive John Matze confirmed that the service had taken action against Wood’s posts to the platform.

“Yes, some of his parleys that violated our rules were taken down,” Matze told Mediaite. “Including the ones you are talking about.”

The move from Parler is significant because it would mark one of the first instances of a high profile conservative figure having their content removed from the service.

Parler, despite its reputation as a social platform dedicated to free speech, does have some rules governing content.

And, as Mediaite flagged, the posts from Wood likely ran afoul of a rule in the company’s terms of service that states “reported parleys, comments, or messages sent using our service will be deemed a violation of these Guidelines if they contain: an explicit or implicit encouragement to use violence, or to commit a lawless action, such that: (a) the Parleyer intends his or her speech to result in the use of violence or lawless action, and (b) the imminent use of violence or lawless action is the likely result of the parley, comment, or message.”

Wood, whose account remains active on Parler, had his Twitter account suspended on Thursday, as Forbes reported at the time.

Meanwhile, the incitements to execute Pence seem to have been animating factor for at least some of the rioters who stormed the Capitol building on Wednesday. Reuters Photo News Editor Jim Bourg tweeted about hearing at least three different rioters hoping to “find Vice President Mike Pence and execute him by hanging him from a Capitol Hill tree as a traitor.”

#mediaite, #mike-pence, #parler, #social-network, #tc, #trump, #twitter, #vice-president

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President Trump responds to Twitter account ban in tweet storm from @POTUS account

After Twitter took the major step Friday of permanently banning President Trump’s @realdonaldtrump Twitter account, the President aimed to get the last word in through his government account @POTUS which has a fraction of the Twitter followers but still offered the President a megaphone on the service to send out a few last tweets.

The tweets were deleted within minutes by Twitter which does not allow banned individuals to circumvent a full ban by tweeting under alternate accounts.

In screenshots captured by TechCrunch, Trump responds to the account ban by accusing Twitter employees of conspiring with his political opponents. “As I have been saying for a long time, Twitter has gone further and further in banning free speech, and tonight, Twitter employees have coordinated with the Democrats and Radical Left in removing my account from their platform, to silence me — and YOU, the 75,000,000 great patriots who voted for me.”