Microsoft acquires video creation and editing software maker Clipchamp

Video editing software may become the next big addition to Microsoft’s suite of productivity tools. On Tuesday, Microsoft announced it’s acquiring Clipchamp, a company offering web-based video creation and editing software that allows anyone to put together video presentations, promos or videos meant for social media destinations like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. According to Microsoft, Clipchamp is a “natural fit” to extend its exiting productivity experiences in Microsoft 365 for families, schools, and businesses.

The acquisition appealed to Microsoft for a few reasons. Today, more people are creating and using video, thanks to a growing set of new tools that allow anyone — even non-professionals — to quickly and easily perform advanced edits and produce quality video content. This, explains Microsoft, has allowed video to establish itself as a new type of “document” for businesses to do things like pitch an idea, explain a process, or communicate with team members.

The company also saw Clipchamp as an interesting acquisition target due to how it combined “the simplicity of a web app with the full computing power of a PC with graphics processing unit (GPU) acceleration,” it said. That makes the software a good fit for the Microsoft Windows customer base, as well.

Clipchamp itself had built a number of online tools in the video creation and editing space, including its video maker Clipchamp Create, which offers features for trimming, cutting, cropping, rotating, speed control, and adding text, audio, images, colors, and filters. It also provides other tools that make video creation easier, like templates, free stock video and audio libraries, screen recorders, text-to-speech tools, and others for simplifying a brand’s fonts, colors and logos for use in video. A discontinued set of utilities called Clipchamp Utilities had once included a video compressor and converters, as well as an in-browser webcam recorder. Some of this functionality was migrated over to the new Clipchamp app, however.

After producing the videos with Clipchamp, creators can choose between different output styles and aspect ratios for popular social media networks, making it a popular tool for online marketers.

Image Credits: Clipchamp

Since its founding in 2013, Clipchamp grew to attract over 17 million registered users and has served over 390,000 companies, growing at a rate of 54% year-over-year. As the pandemic forced more organizations towards remote work, the use of video has grown as companies adopted the medium for training, communication, reports, and more. During the first half of 2021, Clipchamp saw a 186% increase in video exports. Videos using the 16:9 aspect ratio grew by 189% while the 9:16 aspect ratio for sharing to places like Instagram Stories and TikTok grew by 140% and the 1:1 aspect ratio for Instagram grew 72%. Screen recording also grew 57% and webcam recording grew 65%.

In July, Clipchamp CEO Alexander Dreiling commented on this growth, noting the company had nearly tripled its team over the past year.

“We are acquiring two times more users on average than we did at the same time a year ago while also doubling the usage rate, meaning more users are creating video content than ever before. While social media videos have always been at the forefront of business needs, during the past year we’ve also witnessed the rapid adoption of internal communication use cases where there is a lot of screen and webcam recording taking place in our platform,” he said.

Microsoft didn’t disclose the acquisition price, but Clipchamp had raised over $15 million in funding according to Crunchbase.

This is not Microsoft’s first attempt at entering the video market.

The company was recently one of the suitors pursuing TikTok when the Trump administration was working to force a sale of the China-owned video social network which Trump had dubbed a national security threat. (In order to keep TikTok running in the U.S., ByteDance would have needed to have divested TikTok’s U.S. operations. But that sale never came to be as the Biden administration paused the effort.) Several years ago, Microsoft also launched a business video service called Stream, that aimed to allow enterprises to use video as easily as consumers use YouTube. In 2018, it acquired social learning platform Flipgrid, which used short video clips for collaboration. And as remote work became the norm, Microsoft has been adding more video capabilities to its team collaboration software, Microsoft Teams, too.

Microsoft’s deal follows Adobe’s recent $1.28 acquisition of the video review and collaboration platform Frame.io, which has been used by over a million people since its founding in 2014. However, unlike Clipchamp, whose tools are meant for anyone to use at work, school, or home, Frame.io is aimed more directly at creative professionals.

Dreiling said Clipchamp will continue to grow at Microsoft, with a focus on making video editing accessible to more people.

“Few companies in tech have the legacy and reach that Microsoft has. We all grew up with iconic Microsoft products and have been using them ever since,” he explained. “Becoming part of Microsoft allows us to become part of a future legacy. Under no other scenario could our future look more exciting than what’s ahead of us now. At Clipchamp we have always said that we’re not suffering from a lack of opportunity, there absolutely is an abundance of opportunity in video. We just need to figure out how to seize it. Inside Microsoft we can approach seizing our opportunity in entirely new ways,” Dreiling added.

Microsoft did not say when it expected to integrate Clipchamp into its existing software suite, saying it would share more at a later date.

 

#biden-administration, #bytedance, #ceo, #collaboration-software, #computing, #exit, #facebook, #instagram, #ma, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #microsoft-windows, #mobile-software, #online-tools, #productivity-tools, #software, #technology, #tiktok, #trump, #trump-administration, #united-states, #video, #web-app, #webcam

US settles with Trump admin whistleblower who exposed botched COVID response

Rick Bright walks out of a hearing room, wearing a face mask and gloves.

Enlarge / Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, steps out of the hearing room before testifying about the government response to the novel coronavirus pandemic to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill May 14, 2020, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla )

The US government has reached a financial settlement with whistleblower Rick Bright, a former health official who detailed the Trump administration’s botched response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bright is an immunology expert who led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) until he says he was forced out of his position in April 2020. We wrote a detailed summary of the whistleblower complaint he filed shortly after.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced its settlement with Bright today. “The agency would like to thank Dr. Bright for his dedicated public service and for the contributions he made to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic while he served as BARDA Director. We wish him well in his new endeavors,” the HHS statement said.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#pandemic, #policy, #rick-bright, #science, #trump, #whistleblower

Senators press Facebook for answers about why it cut off misinformation researchers

Facebook’s decision to close accounts connected to a misinformation research project last week prompted a broad outcry from the company’s critics — and now Congress is getting involved.

A handful of lawmakers criticized the decision at the time, slamming Facebook for being hostile toward efforts to make the platform’s opaque algorithms and ad targeting methods more transparent. Researchers believe that studying those hidden systems is crucial work for gaining insight on the flow of political misinformation.

The company specifically punished two researchers with NYU’s Cybersecurity for Democracy project who work on Ad Observer, an opt-in browser tool that allows researchers to study how Facebook targets ads to different people based on their interests and demographics.

In a new letter, embedded below, a trio of Democratic senators are pressing Facebook for more answers. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE) and Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking for a full explanation on why the company terminated the researcher accounts and how they violated the platform’s terms of service and compromised user privacy. The lawmakers sent the letter on Friday.

“While we agree that Facebook must safeguard user privacy, it is similarly imperative that Facebook allow credible academic researchers and journalists like those involved in the Ad Observatory project to conduct independent research that will help illuminate how the company can better tackle misinformation, disinformation, and other harmful activity that is proliferating on its platforms,” the senators wrote.

Lawmakers have long urged the company to be more transparent about political advertising and misinformation, particularly after Facebook was found to have distributed election disinformation in 2016. Those concerns were only heightened by the platform’s substantial role in spreading election misinformation leading up to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, where Trump supporters attempted to overturn the vote.

In a blog post defending its decision, Facebook cited compliance with FTC as one of the reason the company severed the accounts. But the FTC called Facebook’s bluff last week in a letter to Zuckerberg, noting that nothing about the agency’s guidance for the company would preclude it from encouraging research in the public interest.

“Indeed, the FTC supports efforts to shed light on opaque business practices, especially around surveillance-based advertising,” Samuel Levine, the FTC’s acting director for the Bureau of Consumer Protection, wrote.

#amy-klobuchar, #computing, #congress, #facebook, #federal-trade-commission, #mark-zuckerberg, #misinformation, #nyu, #political-advertising, #privacy, #social, #social-media, #software, #tc, #technology, #trump

Trump sues Twitter and Facebook for banning him, claims “trillions” in damages

Trump supporters scaling the wall of the US Capitol building during the riot on January 6, 2021.

Enlarge / A mob of Trump supporters stormed and breached the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Trump’s incitement of the mob led to his bans from major social networks. (credit: Getty Images | The Washington Post)

Former President Donald Trump today sued Twitter, Facebook, Google subsidiary YouTube, and their CEOs, claiming that all three companies are guilty of “impermissible censorship” that violates “the First Amendment right to free speech.”

Trump’s lawsuits are almost certainly doomed. The First Amendment does not require private companies to host speech—the Constitutional amendment only imposes limits on how the government can restrict speech. In addition to the First Amendment, US law gives online platforms immunity from lawsuits over how they moderate user-submitted content. The law does so via Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Despite those two titanic legal barriers, Trump’s lawsuits seek reinstatement of his social media accounts along with financial damages from the companies and from their chief executives, namely Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Trump’s lawsuits seek class-action status with him as the lead plaintiff, and they claim the CEOs are liable for damages because they are “personally responsible” for their companies’ “unconstitutional censorship” of Trump and other users.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#facebook, #policy, #section-230, #trump, #twitter, #youtube

Twitter is eyeing new anti-abuse tools to give users more control over mentions

Twitter is looking at adding new features that could help users who are facing abusive situations on its platform as a result of unwanted attention pile-ons, such as when a tweet goes viral for a reason they didn’t expect and a full firehose of counter tweets get blasted their way.

Racist abuse also remains a major problem on Twitter’s platform.

The social media giant says it’s toying with providing users with more controls over the @mention feature to help people “control unwanted attention” as privacy engineer, Dominic Camozzi, puts it.

The issue is that Twitter’s notification system will alert a user when they’ve been directly tagged in a tweet — drawing their attention to the contents. That’s great if the tweet is nice or interesting. But if the contents is abusive it’s a shortcut to scale hateful cyberbullying.

Twitter is badged these latest anti-abuse ideas as “early concepts” — and encouraging users to submit feedback as it considers what changes it might make.

Potential features it’s considering include letting users ‘unmention’ themselves — i.e. remove their name from another’s tweet so they’re no longer tagged in it (and any ongoing chatter around it won’t keep appearing in their mentions feed).

It’s also considering making an unmention action more powerful in instances where an account that a user doesn’t follow mentions them — by providing a special notification to “highlight potential unwanted situations”.

If the user then goes ahead and unmentions themselves Twitter envisages removing the ability of the tweet-composer to tag them again in future — which looks like it could be a strong tool against strangers who abuse @mentions. 

Twitter is also considering adding settings that would let users restrict certain accounts from mentioning them entirely. Which sounds like it would have come in pretty handy when president Trump was on the platform (assuming the setting could be deployed against public figures).

Twitter also says it’s looking at adding a switch that can be flipped to prevent anyone on the platform from @-ing you — for a period of one day; three days; or seven days. So basically a ‘total peace and quiet’ mode.

It says it wants to make changes in this area that can work together to help users by stopping “the situation from escalating further” — such as by providing users with notifications when they’re getting lots of mentions, combined with the ability to easily review the tweets in question and change their settings to shield themselves (e.g. by blocking all mentions for a day or longer).

The known problem of online troll armies coordinating targeted attacks against Twitter users means it can take disproportionate effort for the object of a hate pile-on to shield themselves from the abuse of so many strangers.

Individually blocking abusive accounts or muting specific tweets does not scale in instances when there may be hundreds — or even thousands — of accounts and tweets involved in the targeted abuse.

For now, it remains to be seen whether or not Twitter will move forward and implement the exact features it’s showing off via Camozzi’s thread.

A Twitter spokeswoman confirmed the concepts are “a design mock” and “still in the early stages of design and research”. But she added: “We’re excited about community feedback even at this early stage.”

The company will need to consider whether the proposed features might introduce wider complications on the service. (Such as, for example, what would happen to automatically scheduled tweets that include the Twitter handle of someone who subsequently flips the ‘block all mentions’ setting; does that prevent the tweet from going out entirely or just have it tweet out but without the person’s handle, potentially lacking core context?)

Nonetheless, those are small details and it’s very welcome that Twitter is looking at ways to expand the utility of the tools users can use to protect themselves from abuse — i.e. beyond the existing, still fairly blunt, anti-abuse features (like block, mute and report tweet).

Co-ordinated trolling attacks have, for years, been an unwanted ‘feature’ of Twitter’s platform and the company has frequently been criticized for not doing enough to prevent harassment and abuse.

The simple fact that Twitter is still looking for ways to provide users with better tools to prevent hate pile-ons — here in mid 2021 — is a tacit acknowledgment of its wider failure to clear abusers off its platform. Despite repeated calls for it to act.

A Google search for “* leaves Twitter after abuse” returns numerous examples of high profile Twitter users quitting the platform after feeling unable to deal with waves of abuse — several from this year alone (including a number of footballers targeted with racist tweets).

Other examples date back as long ago as 2013, underlining how Twitter has repeatedly failed to get a handle on its abuse problem, leaving users to suffer at the hands of trolls for well over a decade (or, well, just quit the service entirely).

One recent high profile exit was the model Chrissy Teigen — who had been a long time Twitter user, spending ten years on the platform — but who pulled the plug on her account in March, writing in her final tweets that she was “deeply bruised” and that the platform “no longer serves me positively as it serves me negatively”.

A number of soccer players in the UK have also been campaigning against racism on social media this year — organizing a boycott of services to amp up pressure on companies like Twitter to deal with racist abusers.

While public figures who use social media may be more likely to face higher levels of abusive online trolling than other types of users, it’s a problem that isn’t limited to users with a public profile. Racist abuse, for example, remains a general problem on Twitter. And the examples of celebrity users quitting over abuse that are visible via Google are certainly just the tip of the iceberg.

It goes without saying that it’s terrible for Twitter’s business if highly engaged users feel forced to abandon the service in despair.

The company knows it has a problem. As far back as 2018 it said it was looking for ways to improve “conversational health” on its platform — as well as, more recently, expanding its policies and enforcement around hateful and abusive tweets.

It has also added some strategic friction to try to nudge users to be more thoughtful and take some of the heat out of outrage cycles — such as encouraging users to read an article before directly retweeting it.

Perhaps most notably it has banned some high profile abusers of its service — including, at long last, president troll Trump himself earlier this year.

A number of other notorious trolls have also been booted over the years, although typically only after Twitter had allowed them to carry on coordinating abuse of others via its service, failing to promptly and vigorously enforce its policies against hateful conduct — letting the trolls get away with seeing how far they could push their luck — until the last.

By failing to get a proper handle on abusive use of its platform for so long, Twitter has created a toxic legacy out of its own mismanagement — one that continues to land it unwanted attention from high profile users who might otherwise be key ambassadors for its service.

#abuse, #chrissy-teigen, #hate-speech, #internet-troll, #social, #social-media, #trolling, #trump, #twitter

In search of a new crypto deity

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, I wrote about tech taking on Disney. This week, I’m talking about the search for a new crypto messiah.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The Big Thing

Elon has worn out his welcome among the crypto illuminati, and the acolytes of Bitcoin are searching out a new emperor god king.

This weekend, thousands of crypto acolytes and investors have descended on a Bitcoin-themed conference in Miami, a very real, very heavily-produced conference sporting crypto celebrities and actual celebrities all on a mission to make waves.

Even though I am not at the conference in person (panels from its main stage were live-streamed online), I have plenty of invites in my email for afterparties featuring celebrities, open bars and endless conversations on the perils of fiat. The cryptocurrency community has never been larger or richer thanks to its most fervent bull run yet, and despite a pretty noteworthy correction in the past few weeks, people believe the best is yet to come.

Despite having so much, what they still seem to be lacking is a patron saint.

For the longest bout, that was SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk who bolstered the currency by pushing Tesla to invest cash on its balance sheet into bitcoin, while also pushing for Tesla to accept bitcoin payments for its vehicles. As I’ve noted in this newsletter in the past, Musk had a tough time reconciling the sheer energy use of bitcoin’s global network with his eco warrior bravado which has seemed to lead to his mild and uneven excommunication (though I’m sure he’s welcome back at any time).

There are plenty of celebrities looking to fill his shoes — a recent endorsement gone wrong by Soulja Boy was one of the more comical instances.

Crypto has been no stranger to grift — of that even the most hardcore crypto grifters can likely agree — and I think there’s been some agreement that the only leader who can truly preach the gospel is someone who is already so rich they don’t even need more money. It’s one reason the community has offered up so much respect for Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin who truly doesn’t seem to care too much about getting any wealthier — he donated about $1 billion worth of crypto to Covid relief efforts in India. A Musk-like cheerleader serves a different purpose though, and so the community is in search of a Good Billionaire.

The best runner-up at the moment appears to be one Jack Dorsey, and while — like Musk — he is also another double-CEO, he is quite a bit different from him in demeanor and desire for the spotlight. He was, however, a headline speaker at Miami’s Bitcoin conference.

Dorsey gathers the most headlines for his work at Twitter but it’s Square where he is pushing most of his crypto enthusiasm. Users can already use Square’s Cash App to buy Bitcoin. Minutes before going onstage Friday, Dorsey tweeted out a thread detailing that Square was interested in building its own hardware wallet that users could store cryptocurrency like bitcoin on outside of the confines of an exchange.

“Bitcoin changes absolutely everything,” Dorsey said onstage. “I don’t think there is anything more important in my lifetime to work on.”

And while the billionaire Dorsey seems like a good choice on paper — he tweets about bitcoin often, but only good tweets. He defends its environmental effects. He shows up to House misinformation hearings with a bitcoin tracker clearly visible in the background. He is also unfortunately the CEO of Twitter, a company that’s desire to reign in its more troublesome users — including one very troublesome user — has caused a rift between him and the crypto community’s very vocal libertarian sect.

Dorsey didn’t make it very far into his speech before a heckler made a scene calling him a hypocrite because of all this with a few others piping in, but like any good potential crypto king would know to do, he just waited quietly for the noise to die down.


(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things 

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

Facebook’s Trump ban will last at least 2 years
In response to the Facebook Oversight Board’s recommendations that the company offer more specificity around its ban of former President Trump, the company announced Friday that it will be banning Trump from its platforms through January 2023 at least, though the company has basically given itself the ability to extend that deadline if it so desires…

Nigeria suspends Twitter
Nigeria is shutting down access to Twitter inside the country with a government official citing the “use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” Twitter called the shutdown “deeply concerning.”

Stack Overflow gets acquired for $1.8 billion
Stack Overflow, one of the most-visited sites of developers across the technology industry, was acquired by Prosus. The heavy hitter investment firm is best known for owning a huge chunk of Tencent. Stack Overflow’s founders say the site will continue to operate independently under the new management.

Spotify ups its personalization
Music service Spotify launched a dedicated section this week called Only You which aims to capture some of the personalization it has been serving up in its annual Spotify Wrapped review. Highlights of the new feature include blended playlists with friends and mid-year reviews.

Supreme Court limits US hacking law in landmark case
Justices from the conservative and liberal wings joined together in a landmark ruling that put limits on what kind of conduct can be prosecuted under the controversial Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

This one email explains Apple
Here’s a fun one, the email exchange that birthed the App Store between the late Steve Jobs and SVP of Software Engineering, Bertrand Serlet as annotated by my boss Matthew Panzarino.


illustration of money raining down

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

For SaaS startups, differentiation is an iterative process
“The more you know about your target customers’ pain points with current solutions, the easier it will be to stand out. Take every opportunity to learn about the people you are aiming to serve, and which problems they want to solve the most. Analyst reports about specific sectors may be useful, but there is no better source of information than the people who, hopefully, will pay to use your solution..”

3 lessons we learned after raising $6 million from 50 investors
“…being pre-product at the time, we had to lean on our experience and our vision to drive conviction and urgency among investors. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. Investors either felt that our experience was a bad fit for the space we were entering (productivity/scheduling) or that our vision wasn’t compelling enough to merit investment on the terms we wanted.

The existential cost of decelerated growth
“Just because a technology startup has a hot start, that doesn’t mean it will grow quickly forever. Most will wind up somewhere in the middle — or worse. Put simply, there is a larger number of tech companies that do fine or a little bit worse after they reach scale.”

 

Again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

#analyst, #app-store, #bertrand-serlet, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #bryce-durbin, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #digital-currencies, #elon-musk, #extra-crunch, #facebook, #india, #jack-dorsey, #king, #matthew-panzarino, #miami, #nigeria, #president, #prosus, #soulja-boy, #spacex, #spotify, #stack-overflow, #steve-jobs, #supreme-court, #svp, #tc, #technology, #tencent, #tesla, #trump, #twitter, #united-states, #vitalik-buterin, #week-in-review

Facebook will reconsider Trump’s ban in two years

The clock is ticking on former President Donald Trump’s ban from Facebook, formerly indefinite and now for a period of two years, the maximum penalty under a newly revealed set of rules for suspending public figures. But when the time comes, the company will reevaluate the ban and make a decision then whether to end or extend it, rendering it indefinitely definite.

The ban of Trump in January was controversial in different ways to different groups, but the issue on which Facebook’s Oversight Board stuck as it chewed over the decision was that there was nothing in the company’s rules that supported an indefinite ban. Either remove him permanently, they said, or else put a definite limit to the suspension.

Facebook has chosen… neither, really. The two year limit on the ban is largely decorative, since the option to extend it is entirely Facebook’s prerogative, as VP of public affairs Nick Clegg writes:

At the end of this period, we will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded. We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest. If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded.

When the suspension is eventually lifted, there will be a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations in future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts.

It sort of fulfills the recommendation of the Oversight Board, but truthfully Trump’s position is no less precarious than before. A ban that can be rescinded or extended whenever the company chooses is certainly “indefinite.”

That said the Facebook decision here does reach beyond the Trump situation. Essentially the Oversight Board suggested they need a rule that defines how they act in situations like Trump’s, so they’ve created a standard… of sorts.

Diagram showing different lengths of bans for worse violations by public figures.

Image Credits: Facebook

This highly specific “enforcement protocol” is sort of like a visual representation of Facebook saying “we take this very seriously.” While it gives the impression of some kind of sentencing guidelines by which public figures will systematically be given an appropriate ban length, every aspect of the process is arbitrarily decided by Facebook.

What circumstances justify the use of these “heightened penalties”? What kind of violations qualify for bans? How is the severity decided? Who picks the duration of the ban? When that duration expires, can it simply be extended if “there is still a serious risk to public safety”? What are the “rapidly escalating sanctions” these public figures will face post-suspension? Are there time limits on making decisions? Will they be deliberated publicly?

It’s not that we must assume Facebook will be inconsistent or self-deal or make bad decisions on any of these questions and the many more that come to mind, exactly (though that is a real risk), but that this neither adds nor exposes any machinery of the Facebook moderation process during moments of crisis when we most need to see it working.

Despite the new official-looking punishment gradient and re-re-reiterated promise to be transparent, everything involved in what Facebook proposes seems just as obscure and arbitrary as the decision that led to Trump’s ban.

“We know that any penalty we apply — or choose not to apply — will be controversial,” writes Clegg. True, but while some people will be happy with some decisions and others angry, all are united in their desire to have the processes that lead to said penalties elucidated and adhered to. Today’s policy changes do not appear to accomplish that, regarding Trump or anyone else.

#facebook, #social, #trump

Indivisible is training an army of volunteers to neutralize political misinformation

The grassroots Democratic organization Indivisible is launching its own team of stealth fact-checkers to push back against misinformation — an experiment in what it might look like to train up a political messaging infantry and send them out into the information trenches.

Called the “Truth Brigade,” the corps of volunteers will learn best practices for countering popular misleading narratives on the right. They’ll coordinate with the organization on a biweekly basis to unleash a wave of progressive messaging that aims to drown out political misinformation and boost Biden’s legislative agenda in the process.

Considering the scope of the misinformation that remains even after social media’s big January 6 cleanup, the project will certainly have its work cut out for it.

“This is an effort to empower volunteers to step into a gap that is being created by very irresponsible behavior by the social media platforms,” Indivisible co-founder and co-executive director Leah Greenberg told TechCrunch. “It is absolutely frustrating that we’re in this position of trying to combat something that they ultimately have a responsibility to address.”

Greenberg co-founded Indivisible with her husband following the 2016 election. The organization grew out of the viral success the pair had when they and two other former House staffers published a handbook to Congressional activism. The guide took off in the flurry of “resist”-era activism on the left calling on Americans to push back on Trump and his agenda.

Indivisible’s Truth Brigade project blossomed out of a pilot program in Colorado spearheaded by Jody Rein, a senior organizer concerned about what she was seeing in her state. Since that pilot began last fall, the program has grown into 2,500 volunteers across 45 states.

The messaging will largely center around Biden’s ambitious legislative packages: the American Rescue plan, the voting rights bill HR1 and the forthcoming infrastructure package. Rather than debunking political misinformation about those bills directly, the volunteer team will push back with personalized messages promoting the legislation and dispelling false claims within their existing social spheres on Facebook and Twitter.

The coordinated networks at Indivisible will cross-promote those pieces of semi-organic content using tactics parallel to what a lot of disinformation campaigns do to send their own content soaring (In the case of groups that make overt efforts to conceal their origins, Facebook calls this “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”) Since the posts are part of a volunteer push and not targeted advertising, they won’t be labeled, though some might contain hashtags that connect them back to the Truth Brigade campaign.

Volunteers are trained to serve up progressive narratives in a “truth sandwich” that’s careful to not amplify the misinformation it’s meant to push back against. For Indivisible, training volunteers to avoid giving political misinformation even more oxygen is a big part of the effort.

“What we know is that actually spreads disinformation and does the work of some of these bad actors for them,” Greenberg said. “We are trying to get folks to respond not by engaging in that fight — that’s really doing their work for them — but by trying to advance the kind of narrative that we actually want people to buy into.”

She cites the social media outrage cycle perpetuated by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene as a harbinger of what Democrats will again be up against in 2022. Taylor Greene is best known for endorsing QAnon, getting yanked off of her Congressional committee assignments and comparing mask requirements to the Holocaust — comments that inspired some Republicans to call for her ouster from the party.

Political figures like Greene regularly rile up the left with outlandish claims and easily debunked conspiracies. Greenberg believes that political figures like Greene who regularly rile up the online left suck up a lot of energy that could be better spent resisting the urge to rage-retweet and spreading progressive political messages.

“It’s not enough to just fact check [and] it’s not enough to just respond, because then fundamentally we’re operating from a defensive place,” Greenberg said.

“We want to be proactively spreading positive messages that people can really believe in and grab onto and that will inoculate them from some of this.”

For Indivisible, the project is a long-term experiment that could pave the way for a new kind of online grassroots political campaign beyond targeted advertising — one that hopes to boost the signal in a sea of noise.

#articles, #biden, #disinformation, #energy, #government, #misinformation, #operating-systems, #policy, #president, #social-media, #social-media-platforms, #tc, #trump, #twitter

Facebook’s Oversight Board throws the company a Trump-shaped curveball

Facebook’s controversial policy-setting supergroup issued its verdict on Trump’s fate Wednesday, and it wasn’t quite what most of us were expecting.

We’ll dig into the decision to tease out what it really means, not just for Trump, but also for Facebook’s broader experiment in outsourcing difficult content moderation decisions and for just how independent the board really is.

What did the Facebook Oversight Board decide?

The Oversight Board backed Facebook’s determination that Trump violated its policies on “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations,” which prohibits anything that praises or otherwise supports violence. The the full decision and accompanying policy recommendations are online for anyone to read.

Specifically, the Oversight Board ruled that two Trump posts, one telling Capitol rioters “We love you. You’re very special” and another calling them “great patriots” and telling them to “remember this day forever” broke Facebook’s rules. In fact, the board went as far as saying the pair of posts “severely” violated the rules in question, making it clear that the risk of real-world harm in Trump’s words was was crystal clear:

The Board found that, in maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr. Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible. At the time of Mr. Trump’s posts, there was a clear, immediate risk of harm and his words of support for those involved in the riots legitimized their violent actions. As president, Mr. Trump had a high level of influence. The reach of his posts was large, with 35 million followers on Facebook and 24 million on Instagram.”

While the Oversight Board praised Facebook’s decision to suspend Trump, it disagreed with the way the platform implemented the suspension. The group argued that Facebook’s decision to issue an “indefinite” suspension was an arbitrary punishment that wasn’t really supported by the company’s stated policies:

It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored.

In applying this penalty, Facebook did not follow a clear, published procedure. ‘Indefinite’ suspensions are not described in the company’s content policies. Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.”

The Oversight Board didn’t mince words on this point, going on to say that by putting a “vague, standardless” punishment in place and then kicking the ultimate decision to the Oversight Board, “Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities.” Turning things around, the board asserted that it’s actually Facebook’s responsibility to come up with an appropriate penalty for Trump that fits its set of content moderation rules.

 

Is this a surprise outcome?

If you’d asked me yesterday, I would have said that the Oversight Board was more likely to overturn Facebook’s Trump decision. I also called Wednesday’s big decision a win-win for Facebook, because whatever the outcome, it wouldn’t ultimately be criticized a second time for either letting Trump back onto the platform or kicking him off for good. So much for that!

A lot of us didn’t see the “straight up toss the ball back into Facebook’s court” option as a possible outcome. It’s ironic and surprising that the Oversight Board’s decision to give Facebook the final say actually makes the board look more independent, not less.

Facebook likely saw a more clear-cut decision on the Trump situation in the cards. This is a challenging outcome for a company that’s probably ready to move on from its (many, many) missteps during the Trump era. But there’s definitely an argument that if the board declared that Facebook made the wrong call and reinstated Trump that would have been a much bigger headache.

What does it mean that the Oversight Board sent the decision back to Facebook?

Ultimately the Oversight Board is asking Facebook to either a) give Trump’s suspension and end date or b) delete his account. In a less severe case, the normal course of action would be for Facebook to remove whatever broke the rules, but given the ramifications here and the fact that Trump is a repeat Facebook rule-breaker, this is obviously all well past that option.

What will Facebook do?

We’re in for a wait. The board called for Facebook to evaluate the Trump situation and reach a final decision within six months, calling for a “proportionate” response that is justified by its platform rules. Since Facebook and other social media companies are re-writing their rules all the time and making big calls on the fly, that gives the company a bit of time to build out policies that align with the actions it plans to take. See you again on November 5.

In the months following the violence at the U.S. Capitol, Facebook repeatedly defended its Trump call as “necessary and right.” It’s hard to imagine the company deciding that Trump will get reinstated six months from now, but in theory Facebook could decide that length of time was an appropriate punishment and write that into its rules. The fact that Twitter permanently banned Trump means that Facebook could comfortably follow suit at this point.

If Trump had won reelection, this whole thing probably would have gone down very differently. As much as Facebook likes to say its decisions are aligned with lofty ideals — absolute free speech, connecting people — the company is ultimately very attuned to its regulatory and political environment. Trump’s actions were on January 6 were dangerous and flagrant, but Biden’s looming inauguration two weeks later probably influenced the company’s decision just as much.

In direct response to the decision, Facebook’s Nick Clegg wrote only: “We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate.” Clegg says Trump will stay suspended until then but didn’t offer further hints at what comes next.

Did the board actually change anything?

Potentially. In its decision, the Oversight Board said that Facebook asked for “observations or recommendations from the Board about suspensions when the user is a political leader.” The board’s policy recommendations aren’t binding like its decisions are, but since Facebook asked, it’s likely to listen.

If it does, the Oversight Board’s recommendations could reshape how Facebook handles high profile accounts in the future:

The Board stated that it is not always useful to draw a firm distinction between political leaders and other influential users, recognizing that other users with large audiences can also contribute to serious risks of harm.

While the same rules should apply to all users, context matters when assessing the probability and imminence of harm. When posts by influential users pose a high probability of imminent harm, Facebook should act quickly to enforce its rules. Although Facebook explained that it did not apply its ‘newsworthiness’ allowance in this case, the Board called on Facebook to address widespread confusion about how decisions relating to influential users are made. The Board stressed that considerations of newsworthiness should not take priority when urgent action is needed to prevent significant harm.

Facebook and other social networks have hidden behind newsworthiness exemptions for years instead of making difficult policy calls that would upset half their users. Here, the board not only says that political leaders don’t really deserve special consideration while enforcing the rules, but that it’s much more important to take down content that could cause harm than it is to keep it online because it’s newsworthy.

So… we’re back to square one?

Yes and no. Trump’s suspension may still be up in the air, but the Oversight Board is modeled after a legal body and its real power is in setting precedents. The board kicked this case back to Facebook because the company picked a punishment for Trump that wasn’t even on the menu, not because it thought anything about his behavior fell in a gray area.

The Oversight Board clearly believed that Trump’s words of praise for rioters at the Capitol created a high stakes, dangerous threat on the platform. It’s easy to imagine the board reaching the same conclusion on Trump’s infamous “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” statement during the George Floyd protests, even though Facebook did nothing at the time. Still, the board stops short of saying that behavior like Trump’s merits a perma-ban — that much is up to Facebook.

#donald-trump, #facebook, #nick-clegg, #oversight-board, #social, #social-media, #social-networks, #the-battle-over-big-tech, #trump, #twitter

For Trump and Facebook, judgment day is around the corner

Facebook unceremoniously confiscated Trump’s biggest social media megaphone months ago, but the former president might be poised to snatch it back.

Facebook’s Oversight Board, an external Supreme Court-like policy decision making group, will either restore Trump’s Facebook privileges or banish him forever on Wednesday. Whatever happens, it’s a huge moment for Facebook’s nascent experiment in outsourcing hard content moderation calls to an elite group of global thinkers, academics and political figures and allowing them to set precedents that could shape the world’s biggest social networks for years to come.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Trump’s suspension from Facebook in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol attack. It was initially a temporary suspension, but two weeks later Facebook said that the decision would be sent to the Oversight Board. “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in January.

Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, a former British politician, expressed hope that the board would back the company’s own conclusions, calling Trump’s suspension an “unprecedented set of events which called for unprecedented action.”

Trump inflamed tensions and incited violence on January 6, but that incident wasn’t without precedent. In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by Minneapolis police, President Trump ominously declared on social media “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a threat of imminent violence with racist roots that Facebook declined to take action against, prompting internal protests at the company.

The former president skirted or crossed the line with Facebook any number of times over his four years in office, but the platform stood steadfastly behind a maxim that all speech was good speech, even as other social networks grew more squeamish.

In a dramatic address in late 2019, Zuckerberg evoked Martin Luther King Jr. as he defended Facebook’s anything goes approach. “In times of social turmoil, our impulse is often to pull back on free expression,” Zuckerberg said. “We want the progress that comes from free expression, but not the tension.” King’s daughter strenuously objected.

A little over a year later, with all of Facebook’s peers doing the same and Trump leaving office, Zuckerberg would shrink back from his grand free speech declarations.

In 2019 and well into 2020, Facebook was still a roiling hotbed of misinformation, conspiracies and extremism. The social network hosted thousands of armed militias organizing for violence and a sea of content amplifying QAnon, which moved from a fringe belief on the margins to a mainstream political phenomenon through Facebook.

Those same forces would converge at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 for a day of violence that Facebook executives characterized as spontaneous, even though it had been festering openly on the platform for months.

 

How the Oversight Board works

Facebook’s Oversight Board began reviewing its first cases last October. Facebook can refer cases to the board, like it did with Trump, but users can also appeal to the board to overturn policy decisions that affect them after they exhaust the normal Facebook or Instagram appeals process. A five member subset of its 20 total members evaluate whether content should be allowed to remain on the platform and then reach a decision, which the full board must approve by a majority vote. Initially, the Oversight Board was only empowered to reinstate content removed on Facebook and Instagram, but in mid-April began accepting requests to review controversial content that stayed up.

Last month, the Oversight Board replaced departing member Pamela Karlan, a Stanford professor and voting rights scholar critical of Trump, who left to join the Biden administration. Karlan’s replacement, PEN America CEO Susan Nossel, wrote an op-ed in the LA Times in late January arguing that extending a permanent ban on Trump “may feel good” but that decision would ultimately set a dangerous precedent. Nossel joined the board too late to participate in the Trump decision.

The Oversight Board’s earliest batch of decisions leaned in the direction of restoring content that’s been taken down — not upholding its removal. While the board’s other decisions are likely to touch on the full spectrum of frustration people have with Facebook’s content moderation preferences, they come with far less baggage than the Trump decision. In one instance, the Oversight Board voted to restore an image of a woman’s nipples used in the context of a breast cancer post. In another, the board decided that a quote from a famous Nazi didn’t merit removal because it wasn’t an endorsement of Nazi ideology. In all cases, the Oversight Board can issue policy recommendations, but Facebook isn’t obligated to implement them — just the decisions.

Befitting its DNA of global activists, political figures and academics, the Oversight Board’s might have ambitions well beyond one social network. Earlier this year, Oversight Board co-chair and former Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt declared that other social media companies would be “welcome to join” the project, which is branded in a conspicuously Facebook-less way. (The group calls itself the “Oversight Board” though everyone calls it the “Facebook Oversight Board.”)

“For the first time in history, we actually have content moderation being done outside one of the big social media platforms,” Thorning-Schmidt declared, grandly. “That in itself… I don’t hesitate to call it historic.”

Facebook’s decision to outsource some major policy decisions is indeed an experimental one, but that experiment is just getting started. The Trump case will give Facebook’s miniaturized Supreme Court an opportunity to send a message, though whether the takeaway is that it’s powerful enough to keep a world leader muzzled or independent enough to strike out from its parent and reverse the biggest social media policy decision ever made remains to be seen.

If Trump comes back, the company can shrug its shoulders and shirk another PR firestorm, content that its experiment in external content moderation is legitimized. If the board doubles down on banishing Trump, Facebook will rest easy knowing that someone else can take the blowback this round in its most controversial content call to date. For Facebook, for once, it’s a win-win situation.

 

#biden-administration, #ceo, #computing, #donald-trump, #elite, #facebook, #george-floyd, #king, #mark-zuckerberg, #nick-clegg, #oversight-board, #president, #schmidt, #social, #social-media, #social-media-platforms, #social-network, #social-networks, #software, #stanford, #supreme-court, #tc, #trump, #world-wide-web

Foxconn’s Wisconsin factory plans scaled back dramatically

It was “the eighth wonder of the world,” Donald Trump said, driving a golden shovel into the ground. The then-president touted Foxconn’s planned Wisconsin factory as a major win for his economic goals.

A year and a half later, the future of the manufacturing deal is far less certain. Earlier this week, the state announced a dramatic scaling back of a plan it had hoped would return blue-collar jobs back to the hard hit state. The Taiwanese manufacturing giant is scaling back its investment from $10 billion to $672 million.

The new plans also call for a massive cut to potential headcount — to 1,454, down from 13,000. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers framed the reduction as a tax-saving deal in a press release issued this week.

“When I ran to be governor, I made a promise to work with Foxconn to cut a better deal for our state—the last deal didn’t work for Wisconsin, and that doesn’t work for me,” Evers said. “Today I’m delivering on that promise with an agreement that treats Foxconn like any other business and will save taxpayers $2.77 billion, protect the hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure investments the state and local communities have already made, and ensure there’s accountability for creating the jobs promised.”

Evers stepped into the role of Governor in 2019, following Scott Walker, who played a key role in negotiating the deal under Trump. The package included in the neighborhood of $4 billion in incentives for Foxconn, a record-breaking deal for the firm.

Plans for the TV factory shifted considerably since it was announced nearly four years ago, and in early 2019, it appeared that Foxconn had abandoned it altogether, before a phone call from Trump apparently put plans back on track.

As Reuters notes, the state has already spent in excess of $200 million on infrastructure, training and other aspects ahead of the planned factory opening.

 

#foxconn, #labor, #manufacturing, #policy, #trump, #wisconsin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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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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.”

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