The decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit leaves the three-decade-old ban in place while litigation continues.
Both creators were suspended following ASMR streams that pushed the bounds of Twitch’s community guidelines forbidding content that isn’t quite sexual in nature but is still too risqué for a platform deeply self-conscious about its advertising business. The Amazon-owned company declined to comment on the length of the bans or what provoked them, but pointed TechCrunch toward its rules on sexual content.
It’s possible that both Amouranth (Kaitlyn Siragusa) and Indiefoxx (Jenelle Dagres) will be reinstated Monday, 72 hours after their Friday ban, but both channels remained unavailable at the time of writing. Siragusa confirmed to Polygon that she was suspended after a stream in which she did yoga poses while making ear-licking sounds into a microphone.
The so-called “ASMR-meta” on Twitch, where streamers boost their views by whispering into their microphones or producing licking sounds, sometimes while holding yoga poses, follows the controversy around hot tubs on Twitch that exploded last month. In both instances, some Twitch creators believe that the platform’s rules are selectively enforced.
“With ASMR meta and crazy yoga poses, believe it or not I watched two other girls doing it to the tune of 2-5k views without any bans for months before I folded the activity into ASMR creating the infamous ‘ASMR’ meta,” Siragusa wrote on Twitter. “Those other streamers are still unbanned and continue to do it. My sin was taking inaction as a sign of tacit acceptance, and then blowing the top off the secret and hitting 30k viewers.”
Because both the ASMR meta and the hot tub meta were dominated by female streamers, the whole situation has attracted even more misogyny within the Twitch community, where female streamers are still regularly harassed off the platform.
In a blog addressing the proliferation of women streaming from pools and hot tubs at the time, Twitch wrote that “being found to be sexy by others is not against our rules, and Twitch will not take enforcement action against women, or anyone on our service, for their perceived attractiveness.” The company clarified that while a bathing suit in a bedroom might break the rules, “contextually appropriate” swimwear is allowed.
Twitch also acknowledged the complexity of its own difficult to parse rules:
“Our intention with the Sexually Suggestive policy was to draw a line on content that is overtly or explicitly sexually suggestive, not to ban all content that could be viewed as sexually suggestive – but we acknowledge that our rules are not as clear as they could be.
Prohibiting every form of content that could be interpreted as suggestive would also result in far more restrictions on the video games and premium content that we currently allow, especially considering the ways that female characters are sometimes objectified or presented in a sexualized manner.”
Its solution at the time was to create a “Pools, Hot Tubs, and Beaches” category where that content could live. Most of Twitch’s categories are dedicated to specific games, with most of the platform’s non-gaming streams listed in the popular catch-all category “Just Chatting.”
ASMR has its own category with 2.4 million followers, encompassing ear-tingling ASMR streams that don’t push the boundaries of Twitch’s rules with the more recent crop of those that do. So far, instead of building out a more thoughtful way to corral sexually suggestive content, the company is opting to punish anybody who it decides crosses the line. But it’s possible that could all change: Last month, Twitch said it was working on new policies to further clarify the rules on sexually suggestive content.
Unfortunately for Twitch — and for the female creators disproportionately affected by its uneven policies — the abundance of ear-licking streams suggests that until then, the company will be making these same determinations over and over as it tries to draw a line within a gray area of its own making.
His quiet life in England brought fame. He wasn’t asking for it.
A man who finished last in his fantasy football league had to spend 24 hours at a Waffle House restaurant. For every waffle he ate, his sentence was reduced by an hour.
Even after the new government took over on Sunday, the outgoing prime minister vowed to be back in office soon and hosted at least one former dignitary as if he were still running the show.
The novelist’s remarks went viral after she criticized former students as well as “social-media-savvy people who are choking on sanctimony and lacking in compassion.”
New York-based IAB Tech Labs, a standards body for the digital advertising industry, is being taken to court in Germany by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) in a piece of privacy litigation that’s targeted at the high speed online ad auction process known as real-time bidding (RTB).
While that may sound pretty obscure the case essentially loops in the entire ‘data industrial complex’ of adtech players, large and small, which make money by profiling Internet users and selling access to their attention — from giants like Google and Facebook to other household names (the ICCL’s PR also name-checks Amazon, AT&T, Twitter and Verizon, the latter being the parent company of TechCrunch — presumably because all participate in online ad auctions that can use RTB); as well as the smaller (typically non-household name) adtech entities and data brokers which also also involved in handling people’s data to run high velocity background auctions that target behavioral ads at web users.
The driving force behind the lawsuit is Dr Johnny Ryan, a former adtech insider turned whistleblower who’s now a senior fellow a the ICCL — and who has dubbed RTB the biggest data breach of all time.
He points to the IAB Tech Lab’s audience taxonomy documents which provide codes for what can be extremely sensitive information that’s being gathered about Internet users, based on their browsing activity, such as political affiliation, medical conditions, household income, or even whether they may be a parent to a special needs child.
The lawsuit contends that other industry documents vis-a-vis the ad auction system confirm there are no technical measures to limit what companies can do with people’s data, nor who they might pass it on to.
The lack of security inherent to the RTB process also means other entities not directly involved in the adtech bidding chain could potentially intercept people’s information — when it should, on the contrary, be being protected from unauthorized access, per EU law…
Ryan and others have been filing formal complaints against RTB security issue for years, arguing the system breaches a core principle of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — which requires that personal data be “processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security… including protection against unauthorised or unlawful processing and against accidental loss” — and which, they contend, simply isn’t possible given how RTB functions.
The problem is that Europe’s data protection agencies have failed to act. Which is why Ryan, via the ICCL, has decided to take the more direct route of filing a lawsuit.
“There aren’t many DPAs around the union that haven’t received evidence of what I think is the biggest data breach of all time but it started with the UK and Ireland — neither of which took, I think it’s fair to say, any action. They both said they were doing things but nothing has changed,” he tells TechCrunch, explaining why he’s decided to take the step of litigating.
“I want to take the most efficient route to protection people’s rights around data,” he adds.
Per Ryan, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) has still not sent a statement of issues relating to the RTB complaint he lodged with them back in 2018 — so years later. In May 2019 the DPC did announce it was opening a formal investigation into Google’s adtech, following the RTB complaints, but the case remains open and unresolved. (We’ve contacted the DPC with questions about its progress on the investigation and will update with any response.)
Since the GDPR came into application in Europe in May 2018 there has been growth in privacy lawsuits — including class action style suits — so litigation funders may be spying an opportunity to cash in on the growing enforcement gap left by resource-strapped and, well, risk-averse data protection regulators.
A similar complaint about RTB lodged with the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) also led to a lawsuit being filed last year — albeit in that case it was against the watchdog itself for failing to take any action. (The ICO’s last missive to the adtech industry told it to — uhhhh — expect audits.)
“The GDPR was supposed to create a situation where the average person does not need to wear a tin-foil hat, they do not need to be paranoid or take action to become well informed. Instead, supervisory authorities protect them. And these supervisory authorities — paid for by the tax payer — have very strong powers. They can gain admission to any documents and any premises. It’s not about fines I don’t think, just. They can tell the biggest most powerful companies in the world to stop doing what they’re doing with our data. That’s the ultimate power,” says Ryan. “So GDPR sets up these guardians — these potentially very empowered guardians — but they’ve not used those powers… That’s why we’re acting.”
“I do wish that I’d litigated years ago,” he adds. “There’s lots of reasons why I didn’t do that — I do wish, though, that this litigation was unnecessary because supervisory authorities protected me and you. But they didn’t. So now, as Irish politics like to say in the middle of a crisis, we are where we are. But this is — hopefully — several nails in the coffin [of RTB’s use of personal data].”
The lawsuit has been filed in Germany as Ryan says they’ve been able to establish that IAB Tech Labs — which is NY-based and has no official establishment in Europe — has representation (a consultancy it hired) that’s based in the country. Hence they believe there is a clear route to litigate the case at the Landgerichte, Hamburg.
While Ryan has been indefatigably sounding the alarm about RTB for years he’s prepared to clock up more mileage going direct through the courts to see the natter through.
And to keep hammering home his message to the adtech industry that it must clean up its act and that recent attempts to maintain the privacy-hostile status quo — by trying to rebrand and repackage the same old data shuffle under shiny new claims of ‘privacy’ and ‘responsibility’ — simply won’t wash. So the message is really: Reform or die.
“This may very well end up at the ECJ [European Court of Justice]. And that would take a few years but long before this ends up at the ECJ I think it’ll be clear to the industry now that it’s time to reform,” he adds.
IAB Tech Labs has been contacted for comment on the ICCL’s lawsuit.
Ryan is by no means the only person sounding the alarm over adtech. Last year the European Parliament called for tighter controls on behavioral ads to be baked into reforms of the region’s digital rules — calling for regulation to favor less intrusive, contextual forms of advertising which do not rely on mass surveillance of Internet users.
While even Google has said it wants to depreciate support for tracking cookies in favor of a new stack of technology proposals that it dubs ‘Privacy Sandbox’ (although its proposed alternative — targeting groups of Internet users based on interests derived from tracking their browsing habits — has been criticized as potentially amplifying problems of predatory and exploitative ad targeting, so may not represent a truly clean break with the rights-hostile adtech status quo).
The IAB is also facing another major privacy law challenge in Europe — where complaints against a widely used framework it designed for websites to obtain Internet users’ consent to being tracked for ads online led to scrutiny by Belgium’s data protection agency.
Last year its investigatory division found that the IAB Europe’s Transparency and Consent Framework (TCF) fails to meet the required standards of data protection under the GDPR.
The case went in front of the litigation chamber last week. A verdict — and any enforcement action by the Belgian DPA over the IAB Europe’s TCF — remains pending.
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.
The Supreme Court has given LinkedIn another chance to stop a rival company from scraping personal information from users’ public profiles, a practice LinkedIn says should be illegal but one that could have broad ramifications for internet researchers and archivists.
LinkedIn lost its case against Hiq Labs in 2019 after the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the CFAA does not prohibit a company from scraping data that is publicly accessible on the internet.
The Microsoft-owned social network argued that the mass scraping of its users’ profiles was in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA, which prohibits accessing a computer without authorization.
Hiq Labs, which uses public data to analyze employee attrition, argued at the time that a ruling in LinkedIn’s favor “could profoundly impact open access to the Internet, a result that Congress could not have intended when it enacted the CFAA over three decades ago.” (Hiq Labs has also been sued by Facebook, which it claims scraped public data across Facebook and Instagram, but also Amazon Twitter, and YouTube.)
The Supreme Court said it would not take on the case, but instead ordered the appeal’s court to hear the case again in light of its recent ruling, which found that a person cannot violate the CFAA if they improperly access data on a computer they have permission to use.
The CFAA was once dubbed the “worst law” in the technology law books by critics who have long argued that its outdated and vague language failed to keep up with the pace of the modern internet.
Journalists and archivists have long scraped public data as a way to save and archive copies of old or defunct websites before they shut down. But other cases of web scraping have sparked anger and concerns over privacy and civil liberties. In 2019, a security researcher scraped millions of Venmo transactions, which the company does not make private by default. Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition startup, claimed it scraped over 3 billion profile photos from social networks without their permission.
Ms. Omar appeared to equate American and Israeli “atrocities” with those of Hamas and the Taliban, prompting outrage from Jewish House Democrats.
Twitter disclosed on Monday that it blocked four accounts in India to comply with a new legal request from the Indian government.
The American social network disclosed on Lumen Database, a Harvard University project, that it took action on four accounts — including those of hip-hop artist L-Fresh the Lion and singer and song-writer Jazzy B — to comply with a legal request from the Indian government it received over the weekend. The accounts are geo-restricted within India but accessible from outside of the South Asian nation. (As part of their transparency efforts, some companies including Twitter and Google make requests and orders they receive from governments and other entities public on Lumen Database.)
All four accounts, like several others that the Indian government ordered to be blocked in the country earlier this year, had protested New Delhi’s agriculture reforms and some had posted other tweets that criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s seven years of governance in India, an analysis by TechCrunch found.
A Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch that when the company receives a valid legal request, it reviews it under both its own rules and local laws.
“If the content violates Twitter’s Rules, the content will be removed from the service. If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only. In all cases, we notify the account holder directly so they’re aware that we’ve received a legal order pertaining to the account,” the spokesperson added.
The new legal request, which hasn’t been previously reported, comes at a time when Twitter is making efforts to comply with the Indian government’s new IT rules, new guidelines that several of its peers including Facebook and Google have already complied with.
On Saturday, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had given a “final notice” to Twitter to comply with its new rules, which it unveiled in February this year. The new rules require significant social media firms to appoint and share contact details of representatives tasked with compliance, nodal point of reference and grievance redressals to address on-ground concerns.
Tension has been brewing between Twitter and the government of India of late. Last month, police in Delhi visited Twitter offices to “serve a notice” about an investigation into its intel on classifying Indian politicians’ tweets as misleading. Twitter called the move a form of intimidation, and expressed concerns for its employees and requested the government to respect citizens’ rights to free speech. Late last month, Twitter had requested New Delhi to extend the deadline for compliance with the new rules by at least three months.
The Jack Dorsey-led company has grappled with several tough situations in India this year. After briefly complying with a New Delhi order early this year, the company faced heat from the government for restoring accounts that had posted tweets critical of the Indian government’s policy or the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The two faced off again publicly in April after New Delhi ordered Twitter and Facebook to take down posts that were critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.
It’s WWDC week, so expect a deluge of Apple news to overtake your Twitter feed here and there over the next few days. But there’s a lot more going on, so let’s dig in:
- The Weekend: A supercharged, supercharged Model S Tesla car is not coming out. Instead, a merely supercharged version will come out. It’s still stupid fast and expensive. And Nigeria’s war with Twitter continued, with new efforts from the African nation to limit access to the social media service within its borders.
- This Morning: Flipkart is raising $3 billion at a roughly $40 billion valuation The deal underscores not just how big the Indian tech scene is, but also how much investor interest there is in ecommerce bets more generally. And Jeff Bezos is going to space. Soon!
- Funding Rounds: Trulioo raised a $394 million Series D. The Canadian startup is now worth far more than $1 billion. And Chinese company Kanzhun is going public in the United States, which raised an eyebrow here amongst the Equity Morning Crew.
- Take The Damn Equity Survey: Take it! All the cools kids are taking it!
And that’s your start to the week. More to come from your friends here on Wednesday, and Friday. Chat soon!
Ellen Pao, the former C.E.O. of Reddit, talks Big Tech boys clubs, content moderation and workplace culture.
It was the largest Bitcoin event in the world and the first major in-person crypto conference since the pandemic started. The jargon, the liquor and the millionaire talk flowed.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.
And in our downloads section, we have a treat for readers: a time-sensitive and exclusive invite code to get into one of the hottest new apps for sneakerheads: Sole Retriever.
Get the This Week in Apps newsletter! Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters
WWDC 21 Prep
WWDC’s big keynote is kicking off next week on June 7 at 1 PM ET. The livestream page is here. While we may see new MacBook Pros, what software developers will care about are the forthcoming details about Apple’s latest OS releases and other new technologies. As to what they may include? Bloomberg reported that iOS 15 will introduce a way for users to set different notification preferences and automatic replies, based on their current status (driving, working, sleeping, etc.) and an updated Lock Screen where this menu of choices would be accessible. iMessage may be upgraded to be more social, to better compete with Messenger and WhatsApp. Meanwhile, iPadOS could be getting the App Library and an upgraded Home Screen with support for widgets. (And you can fill the screen with just widgets, if you choose.) Or who knows! Until it’s official, it’s all a maybe!
But one potentially interesting rumor to watch for would be a new privacy feature that would show users which apps were collecting data about them. This builds on Apple’s investments in App Tracking Transparency and could make it more difficult for shady SDKs to stay in business.
There will likely be some updates coming to other Apple’s own apps, Siri, watchOS and more. It’s going to be a packed week — stay tuned!
Ahead of WWDC, Apple also updated its report (conducted on its behalf via the Analysis Group) on App Store commerce. The company says the App Store facilitated $643 billion in billings and sales in 2020, up 24% from the $519 billion seen the year prior. It also noted that about 90% of the billings and sales facilitated by the App Store actually took place outside its walls, meaning Apple took no commission on those purchases. This is up from the 85% figure reported last year. The full report delves into other trends related to the pandemic’s impact, small and large businesses, and more. Apple initially commissioned the report to demonstrate how little business on the App Store is actually subject to App Store fees, but now it’s updated the report a year later. It’s interesting how much understanding Apple has about its App Store, especially when Tim Cook claimed to know so little about several crucial figures.
Apple also this week unveiled its 2021 Apple Design finalists. The awards honor apps and games that offer a combination of innovation, ingenuity and technical achievement — the latter which often means making great use of Apple technologies. The finalists span six categories: Inclusivity, Delight and Fun, Interaction, Social Impact, Visuals and Graphics, and Innovation.
Among the prospective winners are apps including snarky weather app Carrot Weather as well as the unique (Not Boring) Weather, short-form news service Brief, mental wellness app and Google Play award winner Loona, Editor’s Choice Genshin Impact, Snowman’s new kids app Pok Pok Playroom and summertime fun music app Poolside FM, and many others.
Google this week opened submissions for two of its annual developer programs: the Indie Games Accelerator and the Indie Games Festival. The programs are designed to help small games studios grow on Google Play. This year, the programs will include more eligible markets and will be fully digital experiences.
Google will restrict third-party apps from customizing the native Android Sharesheet in Android 12. Currently, the UI of the Sharesheet can differ from app to app, but XDA Developers reports it will become more iOS-like, by offering a consistent menu across apps.
Google is taking a cue from Apple by allowing users to opt out of personalization using the advertising ID in the Android Settings. Once users opt out, the advertising ID is disabled. The ID is a unique, user-resettable identifier provided by Google Play services. As part of a coming Google Play services update in late 2021, the advertising identifier will be removed when the user opts out of tracking, and any attempt to access the identifier will only return a string of zeros. Google says ad and analytics service partners will receive notifications about a user’s preferences to help them with compliance. The change will roll out in late 2021 and will impact apps running on Android 12 devices initially, with an expansion to devices that support Google Play in early 2022.
Platforms: Huawei (!!)
Two years after Huawei was put on a list of Chinese companies banned from doing business with U.S. organizations, it launched its proprietary operating system, HarmonyOS, for smartphones. The OS is designed to power phones, tablets and smart devices. Smartphone maker Meizu has already hinted it may adopt the new OS.
Facebook’s flagship AR creation software, Spark AR, has already been used by more than 600,000 creators from over 190 countries to publish over 2 million AR effects. At Facebook’s F8 event this week, the company announced Multipeer API for video calls on Messenger, Instagram and Portal. The API will allow developers to create “shared AR” effects that apply to all the call participants — like a party hat that shows up on everyone’s heads for a birthday call, for instance.
Convenience store-style on-demand delivery startup JOKR launched in New York City to provide 15-minute or less delivery of items you might otherwise find in small stores and local delis. Except instead of dealing with stores, JOKR has its own strategically placed micro-hubs. The startup was founded by Ralf Wenzel, who previously founded Foodpanda, which later merged with Delivery Hero.
Walmart is handing out over 740,000 new Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro smartphones (retail $499) to its employees, saying that “constant communication” is essential to its business. The phones will run Walmart’s proprietary Me@Walmart app, where employees clock in, adjust schedules, use the voice assistant “Ask Sam,” and communicate with others via push-to-talk. Employees will be allowed to use the phone for personal use after work hours, and Walmart will not have access to their personal data, the retailer says.
Coinbase rival Kraken launched a mobile app in the U.S. that allows users to buy and sell more than 50 crypto tokens from their mobile phone. Kraken is the world’s fourth-largest digital currency exchange, in terms of trading volume.
Venmo now lets users hide their friend list for additional privacy. The change to the app came after BuzzFeed News found President Biden’s Venmo account using public friend lists. Digital rights groups had called the design a “security nightmare.”
Japan-based Line Corp. is launching its digital banking platform in Indonesia, which means it will now offering banking services in three of its biggest overseas markets: Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan.
Coinbase Card, which allows users to spend their crypto while on the go, now works with Apple Pay and Google Pay. The card will offer up to 4% in crypto rewards for everyday purchases.
Chime has established itself as the No. 1 neobank in the U.S., according to eMarketer. The banking app will have 13.1 million U.S. accounts this year, up 30.7% from 2020. Current will have 4 million, double from the 2.1 million it had last year. Aspiration is in third place, with 3 million, followed by Varo, at 2.7 million.
Scoop: Tinder tested a group video chat feature ahead of parent company Match’s move into social discovery with its $1.73 billion acquisition of Seoul-based Hyperconnect. The feature was only tested briefly in New Zealand and then shut down, but may have served as a way to gain valuable data about younger users’ interest in social discovery apps and services as Match moves into that market which it says is double the size of the dating market.
Twitter Blue officially launched. Will you pay for better Twitter? Twitter’s new premium subscription brings tools to organize your bookmarks, read threads in a clutter-free format and take advantage of an “Undo Tweet” feature — which is the closest thing Twitter will have to the long-requested “Edit” button. It also offers a few other perks, like custom app icons, colorful themes and subscription customer support. Unfortunately, the service is only live in Canada and Australia for the time being.
Twitter redesigned its mobile app to put its Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces, in the middle of its navigation bar. Initially, only around 500 people from the original Spaces beta test will first see the new Spaces discovery tab, but it will expand to more people over time. The tab will help people keep track of Spaces they want to listen to and manage notifications, among other things.
Twitter began rolling out Birdwatch fact checks inside tweets. Birdwatch is Twitter’s pilot program that aims to crowdsource fact-checking of tweets, as an alternative to relying on fact-checkers. The program’s goal will be to append more info to misinformation online in real time.
TikTok reamined the top non-game app worldwide in May 2021 by downloads. According to Sensor Tower, TikTok was No. 1 on both the App Store and Google Play with 80 million combined installs. Brazil accounted for 16% of those, and China 12%.
Facebook at its developer conference F8 also introduced Facebook Login Connect with Messenger. For businesses that have already integrated with Facebook Login, this allow users to log in to their app using their Facebook credentials and opt in to chat with businesses over Messenger, all in the Facebook Login flow. The tool is in closed beta.
Facebook also updated its Business Suite with a new feature that will allow developers to build “business apps,” which are tools made by third-party developers that work alongside the Business Suite. These “apps” could do things like bring in content from a catalog to their Facebook page or Instagram account. The platform already has 30 developers working on it and integrates with e-commerce platforms, like BigCommerce.
As part of its F8-related announcements, WhatsApp said it would update its Business API to make it quicker for business to get started with its service. WhatsApp will make it faster to set up a business account (5 minutes instead of weeks), and will allow businesses to respond faster to inbound messages, as well as send messages to users who opted in. The business tool for customer care will allow up to 10 pre-written messages, among other updates.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told popular news outlet/leaker WaBetaInfo that WhatsApp will add multi-device support for connecting up to four devices to one account. He also said WhatsApp will introduce a “view once” disappearing feature for photos and videos, and is working on an iPad app. The method of delivering this news is worth noting — WaBetaInfo is not a traditional news outlet, but more of an independent news portal of sorts. Zuckerberg has been taking Facebook news to non-traditional (and often far friendlier) channels as of late, including popping up in Clubhouse rooms and other independent outlets. Facebook clearly feels mainstream press has turned on it when they…[checks notes]…held Facebook accountable for its actions.
Facebook also announced the general availability of the Messenger API for Instagram. First announced last fall and rolling out in phases, the API offers a more efficient way for larger brands to handle a high volume of messages by allowing them to integrate Instagram messaging into the tools and applications they’re already using in-house to manage their Facebook conversations.
Community social network Nextdoor launched a new feature called Free Finds that helps its users unload their unwanted stuff on others in their neighborhood. Notably, the feature doesn’t require you to be a Nextdoor member to access the listings, but eventually, those users may convert.
Streaming & Entertainment
Spotify rolled out a sort of mid-year version of Wrapped with the launch of the new personalized experience, Only You. The feature offers insights about your music history in a sharable format, like your musical dinner party or audio birth chart, and other fun finds. Why now? Perhaps Spotify is heading off Apple Music news to come with a feature that reminds users it does personalization best?
Spotify also added Blend, a way to create a playlist with any other Spotify user. The company offers a similar feature for users on its Family and Duo plans, but this new tool doesn’t require users to be in the same household.
Apple tried to acquire livestreaming music platform Verzuz, which later sold to video social network Triller, Bloomberg reported. Apple didn’t engage in a bidding war and offered a lower price than what Triller paid, it said.
The Apple TV app launched on Android devices. Like Apple Music, Apple TV is a service that needs to work across platforms in order to compete with rivals. The Android app’s arrival followed the Apple TV app’s debut on Nvidia’s Shield TV, which means it’s now available across all major Android TV-based devices.
Health & Fitness
Amazon updated its Halo health app with a new feature called Movement Health, which will use computer vision and machine learning to asses users’ posture, mobility and stability and then suggest exercises to improve them.
Peloton slashed the pricing for its fitness app, normally $12.99/mo, for students, teachers, healthcare workers and military. Students can pay $6.99/mo while the others can pay $9.99/mo. Military members and their families can lock in that rate for life. The company is facing a PR crisis after recalling treadmills that injured 70 and led to one infant death.
A TikTok trend where users prank people by spamming them on text has driven the app that makes that possible, Paste Keyboard, to the top of the App Store. Mashable noted the app’s rise, but couldn’t figure out why. Nor could App Annie. It’s kids, y’all. Honestly, the App Store needs a new “viral” chart at this point.
AirTag support is coming to Android. Apple announced some changes to AirTag, including the period of time they’ll make a sound when moved. The time will change from three times per day to a random time between 8-24 hours. Apple believes the shortening of the window will serve as a better deterrent against bad actors using AirTag to track someone. Alongside this announcement, Apple said it will later this year launch an Android application that will allow users to detect AirTag or other Find My network-enabled accessories that are separated from its owner and may be traveling with a user.
Firefox revamped its Mac and iOS app this week with a what it claims is a more distraction-free design, featuring streamlined toolbar and menus, expanded privacy protections, a new look for tabs, updated notifications and alerts, easier muting, and more.
Ring added “Request for Assistance posts” on its Neighbors app, claiming this will allow public safety agencies (e.g. police) to ask communities for help in investigations. The Request for Assistance posts can only be issued from verified public safety agency profiles, Ring says. Of course, this isn’t the only way police can acquire Ring videos, as the company has many police partnerships across the U.S. that let them acquire footage without a warrant.
Toyota added a data privacy portal to its apps. The feature is available in the Account Settings of the Toyota and Lexus apps and works with vehicles offering connected services that were built in the 2013 model year or later. It also allows consumers who own multiple Toyota or Lexus vehicles to customize privacy and data-sharing settings for each.
Gokada is launching its ride-hailing service in two more Nigerian cities as part of its super app plans. The company is merging its ride-hailing service with food delivery platform GShop. In the past year, Gokada crossed $100 million in annualized transaction value, and helped onboard 30,000 merchants.
The top reading and writing apps grew their IAP revenue 50% YoY in May 2021, Apptopia reported. This group includes apps for writing novels or comic books, or reading the works from others, like Webtoon, Wattpad, Dreame, GoodNovel, Webnovel, Tapas and Radish. As a grouping, these apps have also grown IAP revenue 15% over the past six months. Since January 2020, Webtoon and Dreame combined accounted for 56.3% of the grouping’s total IAP revenue.
Government & Policy
Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, LinkedIn and startups ShareChat and Koo have now either fully or partially complied with India’s IT rules that require them to appoint and share contact details of representatives tasked with compliance, nodal point of reference and grievance redressals to address on-ground concerns. Twitter, whose offices were raided by police in Delhi, has not yet complied.
EU will review TikTok’s Terms of Service following child safety complaints. Areas of concern include hidden marketing, aggressive advertising techniques targeted at children and contractual terms in the company’s policies that could be misleading or confusing for consumers.
Security & Privacy
The biometric data collection details were introduced in the newly added section, “Image and Audio Information,” found under the heading of “Information we collect automatically” in the policy.
Alibaba’s UC Browser app has been found to be harvesting the private web activity of users across Android or iOS when incognito mode is turned on. The browser is the fourth largest in the world, with 500 million Android downloads alone. Before being banned in India over security concerns related to Chinese apps, it was also one of the most popular in India, as well.
Funding and M&A
Miami-based NUE Life Health raised $3.3 million for its telemedicine platform and app in the U.S., where it combines mental wellness solutions that employ psychedelic-assisted therapies with a graph database-driven app. The app was backed by investors who recently left SV for Miami, including Jack Abraham, Shervin Pishevar, Martin Varsavsky, Jon Oringer, James Bailey and Christina Getty.
Etsy acquired secondhand e-commerce startup Depop for more than $1.6 billion. Depop, which caters to a Gen Z crowd, saw 2020 gross merchandise sales and revenue of approximately $650 million and $70 million, respectively.
Social network platform Venn raised $60 million in Series B funding led by Group 11. The startup provides technology that allows building owners and other real estate partners and communities to provide social networking services to their tenants, with tools for organizing buy/sell groups, organizing community activities, connecting with neighbors and more.
Digital health management company Hello Heart raised $45 million Series C led by IVP. The company’s app is marketed by employers as part of their benefit programs and helps patients manage heart health and blood pressure, medications and more.
Personal finance app Truebill raised $17 million in Series C funding led by Accel, valuing the business at $500 million. The app helps consumers get better control over their finances by helping them cancel subscriptions, negotiate bills, view credit reports, budget, and access spending insights, among other things.
Newly launched stock trading app Lightyear disclosed it raised $1.5 million pre-seed funding in a round co-led by the new unnamed fund formed by Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus and Teleport co-founder Sten Tamkivi. The app was the fund’s first investment.
Istanbul-based grocery delivery app Getir raised $550 million in new funding, tripling its valuation to $7.5 billion. New investors include DisruptAD and Mubadala Funding Firm (both being arms of Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds) as well as Silicon Valley-based Silver Lake.
Sole Retriever is a newly launched app that aims to be a sneakerhead’s dream.
The app offers a one-stop shop for all things sneaker — including sneaker news, sneaker releases, sneaker raffles, a calendar of upcoming drops and more. The company says its goal is to democratize access to sneaker drops by making this info more accessible and convenient for consumers. Before its mobile launch, Sole Retriever had offered its service via the web only. Now it’s live on both iOS and Android.
Unique to the mobile experience is the ability to customize your alerts so you only hear about the raffles you want to know about — like those in the U.S., or only those that are in-store or online, for example. It also makes entering raffles easier with autofill features. Custom profiles that let you save the info for others who have agreed to let you enter their name and address to increase your chances of winning. And the app can save your logins for different retailers to make shopping easier.
Sole Retriever is currently only available as a waitlist, but TechCrunch readers can bypass the waitlist! Here’s how!
After downloading the app and logging in, when you reach the waitlist screen, you can redeem a special code — “TWIA” (in all caps!), which lets you bypass the entire waitlist and gain instant access to start your seven-day free trial for the app. The code is only valid for 24 hours after this post goes live so hit it quickly!
Apple Developer app
The Apple Developer app is not new. But it is the must-have download for the week ahead, as it will provide mobile developers with access to everything needed to navigate WWDC 21’s all-digital event. The app was updated this week with details about the agenda, sessions, pavilions, labs, coding and design challenges, and more. Developers can also sign up for labs inside the app and get notifications about their appointments. There are also new WWDC 21 iMessage stickers for some added fun.
- Marco.org: Developer Relations. Marco Arment has some harsh words for Apple ahead of WWDC. He accuses the iPhone maker of undervaluing what apps mean for iOS beyond their IAP revenue. And he points out that developers themselves bring in a good number of customers through their own marketing efforts, not because of their App Store listing.
- Pew Research: Mobile Technology and Home Broadband 2021. Pew takes a look at U.S. trends, including smartphone ownership adoption. Eighty-five percent of U.S. adults now own a smartphone, which is more than have broadband (77%) at home.
- Donny Wals: The iOS Developer’s Guide to WWDC 2021. Wals reminds developers to not get caught up in the WWDC chaos, pace themselves and focus on what matters to their business. He also makes suggestions about what to not overlook during WWDC week.
The popular social media site had removed a post by President Muhammadu Buhari threatening secessionists in the southeast of the country.
The CEO — and the rest of us — are paying the price.
Twitter is updating its app to make its audio chat room feature, Twitter Spaces, a central part of the user experience. Today, the company will begin to roll out a dedicated tab for Twitter Spaces in the main navigation bar of its mobile app, initially on iOS to select users. The feature will see Twitter Spaces gain the middle spot in this bar, in between the Search magnifying glass icon and the bell icon for Notifications. As Spaces is not replacing any other tab, that means the navigation bar will now have to accommodate five icons instead of only four.
Not everyone will see the update immediately. Instead, only around 500 people from the original Spaces beta test will first see the new Spaces discovery tab, as it’s called, when it rolls out today.
Twitter says the tab will showcase the Spaces being hosted by people you follow, but these won’t appear like they do on the Fleet line today at the top of the Timeline. Instead, the discovery tab will present Spaces in a more visual format, similar to the promotion cards that appear when you tweet about upcoming Spaces.
The company told TechCrunch that, even though Spaces can be fun, it understands the live events have been hard to find and keep track of, given there’s been no dedicated place where Spaces can be discovered. The new tab aims to change that.
Within the tab, users will be able to see active Spaces with more details, including Space names, hosts, and people you know who are participating. The tab will also allow users to manage reminders for scheduled Spaces so you’re be notified when they’re about to begin, and give Twitter feedback about which Spaces you’d like to see more of.
App researcher Jane Manchun Wong had uncovered Twitter’s plans to revamp its app to include Spaces on the nav bar last month.
Currently, only Twitter users with at least 600 followers have been granted the ability to host Spaces, and Twitter told us that figure has not changed with the launch of the tab. However, the company still has grand plans for the Spaces product, including not only scheduled Spaces which are now becoming easier to find with this discovery feature, but also things like ticketed events, co-hosted events, accessibility improvements and more.
Putting Spaces directly in navigation bar represents a big push for Twitter’s audio chat rooms, which have otherwise been fairly easy to ignore by those who aren’t that interested in Twitter’s Clubhouse competitor. It also arrives at a time when Clubhouse is expanding access to its own social audio app. Following its debut on Android, Clubhouse said 2 million Android users have already joined its platform.
Twitter, meanwhile, hasn’t yet publicized how many users have tested out Spaces at this point, either as a host or an end user.
Alongside today’s launch, Twitter will also begin to roll out another Spaces feature that was previously being tested: displaying the purple ring around someone’s profile pictures from the Home Timeline.
Currently, profile pics can be highlighted with a blue ring that takes you to the user’s Fleets when tapped, but the new purple ring will indicate they’re actively using Spaces at that time. You can then tap their profile pic to join them. The feature makes it easier to find Spaces while you’re just scrolling your Twitter Timeline as usual.
After the new Spaces tab is tried out with the original beta test group, it will begin rolling out more people, Twitter says.
Twitter today is officially launching its first-ever subscription service, Twitter Blue, initially in Australia and Canada. The subscription will allow Twitter users to access premium features, including tools to organize your bookmarks, read threads in a clutter-free format and take advantage of an “Undo Tweet” feature — which is the closest thing Twitter will have to the long-requested “Edit” button.
The company’s plans for the subscription service had been previously scooped by app researcher Jane Manchun Wong, who uncovered the service’s name, pricing and feature set by digging around inside the mobile app’s code. Twitter Blue also recently showed up as an in-app purchase, further confirming some of Wong’s findings.
The only questions that seemingly remained, then, were when Twitter Blue would finally launch and when it would reach all global users.
Twitter tells TechCrunch it’s starting Twitter Blue with the select markets of Canada and Australia to help it determine whether its existing feature set will meet the needs of those who are looking for more customization over their Twitter experience, as well as to encourage discussion around other features that Twitter should prioritize for future iterations of Twitter Blue.
“We are going to continue to iterate on different tier and pricing opportunities as we continue to learn more about what is — and isn’t — working,” a Twitter spokesperson told us.
In Canada and Australia, the subscription will cost $3.49 CAD or $4.49 AUD, respectively.
There are also a few things to know about Twitter Blue’s current feature set, beyond the basics.
The new Bookmark Folders option is designed to help Twitter users organize their saved content, collected through Twitter’s Bookmarks feature. Introduced in early 2018, Twitter’s Bookmarks gives users a private way to save tweets for later reference. This is useful for those who want to read long-form content at a later time, or for those who want to save tweets without alerting others to that fact. For example, if the tweets being saved aren’t those they would normally “Favorite” (the heart icon), perhaps because the user disagrees with the sentiment being expressed, the bookmarks button lets them save the tweet more privately.
The Folders feature will let users create subfolders for their bookmarks, which are also color-coded for easy at-a-glance access. And there’s an “Add Bookmark” button on this screen, so you can add a tweet to the collection from the Bookmarks section directly.
The new Reader Mode feature, meanwhile, may not be exactly what some Twitter users were expecting.
Ahead of Twitter Blue’s launch, Twitter acquired Scroll, a distraction-free reading service that cleans up news articles by removing ads and other clutter for a better reading experience. Scroll CEO Tony Haile then tweeted that the product’s features would be integrated into Twitter’s subscription “later in the year.”
But Twitter tells us that Reader Mode isn’t correlated to any of the company’s recent acquisitions, including Scroll, and instead was built separately for the Twitter Blue offering. For the time being at least, Reader Mode is focused on making it easier to read through longer Twitter threads — basically, an alternative to something like the third-party app, Thread Reader App.
When you go into the tweet detail view where it shows you the full Twitter thread, Twitter Blue subscribers will see a button which lets you change the screen to show you long-form text. You can exit Reader Mode to see the thread as usual.
As for Scroll, Twitter says the better reading experiences it brings to the platform will be incorporated into Twitter Blue later on.
Finally, there’s Twitter Blue’s flagship feature, Undo Tweet. While not the Edit button users really want, it will allow you to quickly “unsend” a tweet when you spot a typo or make some other kind of mistake — like forgetting to tag someone, for instance.
Smaller subscriber perks include customizable app icons for your device’s home screen, color themes for the Twitter app, and access to dedicated subscription customer support.
Users can set their own customizable time of up to 30 seconds to “undo” the tweet or reply from being posted to their Timeline, Twitter says. Before Twitter Blue’s launch, the company had hinted that this “undo” option was the way it would likely address user demand for an Edit button. Twitter had feared actually allowing users to correct their tweets at any time, as it could lead to malicious activity — like changing the text of the tweet to later have a different meaning, for example.
Undo Tweet will address many scenarios, however, where users have quickly posted only to belatedly spot a typo. That alone may be worth a few dollars per month for Twitter power users who tweet frequently.
Twitter stressed today that the launch of Twitter Blue won’t mean anything about the free version of Twitter is changing. The subscription will remain focused on adding enhancements and other complementary features to Twitter’s free tier. And it may grow to include more options over time.
One thing Twitter wouldn’t say, maddeningly, is when Twitter Blue could arrive in the U.S. or other markets. For some context, though, Twitter launched Fleets first in spring 2020 but didn’t roll out the feature to all global users until that November. Asked if Twitter Blue would follow a similar path, Twitter declined to comment.
The subscription service isn’t just a way to better serve Twitter’s power users, it’s part of the company’s broader plan to reduce its reliance on advertising revenue as its only source of profit. As Twitter has struggled to grow its user base over the years, it’s more recently begun looking to generate more money from the dedicated users it does have. These plans will include offering tools to creators, including the upcoming Super Follow subscription, as well as Twitter Blue.
Twitter told investors earlier this year it plans to at least double its total annual revenue, from $3.7 billion in 2020 to $7.5 billion or more, in 2023, in part thanks to its new initiatives, including subscriptions.
Twitter Blue will initially be available in its supported markets on iOS only. Early adopters are asked to tweet their product feedback to @TwitterBlue.
European Union lawmakers have asked tech giants to continue reporting on efforts to combat the spread of vaccine disinformation on their platforms for a further six months.
“The continuation of the monitoring programme is necessary as the vaccination campaigns throughout the EU is proceeding with a steady and increasing pace, and the upcoming months will be decisive to reach a high level of vaccination in Member States. It is key that in this important period vaccine hesitancy is not fuelled by harmful disinformation,” the Commission writes today.
Facebook, Google, Microsoft, TikTok and Twitter are signed up to make monthly reports as a result of being participants in the bloc’s (non-legally binding) Code of Practice on Disinformation — although, going forward, they’ll be switching to bi-monthly reporting.
Publishing the latest batch of platform reports for April, the Commission said the tech giants have shown they’re unable to police “dangerous lies” by themselves — while continuing to express dissatisfaction at the quality and granularity of the data that is being (voluntarily) provided by platforms vis-a-via how they’re combating online disinformation generally.
“These reports show how important it is to be able to effectively monitor the measures put in place by the platforms to reduce disinformation,” said Věra Jourová, the EU’s VP for values and transparency, in a statement. “We decided to extend this programme, because the amount of dangerous lies continues to flood our information space and because it will inform the creation of the new generation Code against disinformation. We need a robust monitoring programme, and clearer indicators to measure impact of actions taken by platforms. They simply cannot police themselves alone.”
Last month the Commission announced a plan to beef up the voluntary Code, saying also that it wants more players — especially from the adtech ecosystem — to sign up to help de-monitize harmful nonsense.
The Code of Practice initiative pre-dates the pandemic, kicking off in 2018 when concerns about the impact of ‘fake news’ on democratic processes and public debate were riding high in the wake of major political disinformation scandals. But the COVID-19 public health crisis accelerated concern over the issue of dangerous nonsense being amplified online, bringing it into sharper focus for lawmakers.
In the EU, lawmakers are still not planning to put regional regulation of online disinformation on a legal footing, preferring to continue with a voluntary — and what the Commission refers to as ‘co-regulatory’ — approach which encourages action and engagement from platforms vis-a-vis potentially harmful (but not illegal) content, such as offering tools for users to report problems and appeal takedowns, but without the threat of direct legal sanctions if they fail to live up to their promises.
It will have a new lever to ratchet up pressure on platforms too, though, in the form of the Digital Services Act (DSA). The regulation — which was proposed at the end of last year — will set rules for how platforms must handle illegal content. But commissioners have suggested that those platforms which engage positively with the EU’s disinformation Code are likely to be looked upon more favorably by the regulators that will be overseeing DSA compliance.
In another statement today, Thierry Breton, the commissioner for the EU’s Internal Market, suggested the combination of the DSA and the beefed up Code will open up “a new chapter in countering disinformation in the EU”.
“At this crucial phase of the vaccination campaign, I expect platforms to step up their efforts and deliver the strengthened Code of Practice as soon possible, in line with our Guidance,” he added.
Disinformation remains a tricky topic for regulators, given that the value of online content can be highly subjective and any centralized order to remove information — no matter how stupid or ridiculous the content in question might be — risks a charge of censorship.
Removal of COVID-19-related disinformation is certainly less controversial, given clear risks to public health (such as from anti-vaccination messaging or the sale of defective PPE). But even here the Commission seems most keen to promote pro-speech measures being taken by platforms — such as to promote vaccine positive messaging and surface authoritative sources of information — noting in its press release how Facebook, for example, launched vaccine profile picture frames to encourage people to get vaccinated, and that Twitter introduced prompts appearing on users’ home timeline during World Immunisation Week in 16 countries, and held conversations on vaccines that received 5 million impressions.
In the April reports by the two companies there is more detail on actual removals carried out too.
Facebook, for example, says it removed 47,000 pieces of content in the EU for violating COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation policies, which the Commission notes is a slight decrease from the previous month.
While Twitter reported challenging 2,779 accounts, suspending 260 and removing 5,091 pieces of content globally on the COVID-19 disinformation topic in the month of April.
Google, meanwhile, reported taking action against 10,549 URLs on AdSense, which the Commission notes as a “significant increase” vs March (+1378).
But is that increase good news or bad? Increased removals of dodgy COVID-19 ads might signify better enforcement by Google — or major growth of the COVID-19 disinformation problem on its ad network.
The ongoing problem for the regulators who are trying to tread a fuzzy line on online disinformation is how to quantify any of these tech giants’ actions — and truly understand their efficacy or impact — without having standardized reporting requirements and full access to platform data.
For that, regulation would be needed, not selective self-reporting.
Twitter is looking to crowdsource its way out of misinformation woes with its new product Birdwatch which taps a network of engaged tweeters to add notes to misleading tweets. Today, Twitter announced that they are starting to roll out the Birdwatch notes to pilot participants across iOS, Android and desktop.
The company launched a pilot version of the program back in January, describing the effort as a way to add context to misinformation in real time.
“We believe this approach has the potential to respond quickly when misleading information spreads, adding context that people trust and find valuable” Product VP Keith Coleman wrote in a blog post at the time. “Eventually we aim to make notes visible directly on Tweets for the global Twitter audience, when there is consensus from a broad and diverse set of contributors.”
That time is apparently now for an early set of Birdwatch pilot participants.
Twitter says that once Birdwatch notes are added to a tweet, users will have the opportunity to rate whether the feedback is helpful or not. If none of the replies are deemed helpful, the Birdwatch card itself will disappear, but if any notes are deemed helpful they’ll pop up directly inside the tweet.
There have been an awful lot of questions about how and whether Birdwatch will work inside the current social media framework. Using community feedback differs from more centralized efforts used by platforms like Facebook that have tapped independent fact-checking organizations. Twitter is clearly aiming to decentralize this effort as much as it can and put power in the hands of Birdwatch contributors, but with audiences of individual tweeters currently responsible for deeming the helpfulness and visibility of fact checks, it’s clear this is going to be a pretty messy solution at times.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is having a hard time reining in Elon Musk’s social media use, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.
The regulator sent Tesla three sternly worded letters between August 2019 and June 2020, asking Tesla’s attorney’s to enforce a 2018 settlement that demanded greater oversight of Musk’s social media posts. “Tesla has abdicated the duties required of it by the court’s order,” said the SEC in a letter from May of last year.
The three letters, including the SEC’s records of its correspondence with Tesla’s attorneys, were obtained by the Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request. They show a regulator struggling to enforce a settlement that, from the outset, seemed challenging to implement.
The last few months have been interesting for Twitter.
After years of no innovation at all, Twitter is making big product changes. It has acquired Breaker and Revue, and presumably has more M&A coming. It’s coming out with Spaces. The only thing it clearly isn’t working on is an edit button.
The core idea is that Twitter is doubling down on multichannel engagement for creators so that they never have to leave for anywhere else.
Strategically, though, what is a microblogging service doing buying a social podcasting company and a newsletter tool while also building a live broadcasting sub-app? Is there even a strategy at all?
I humbly propose this: There is a strategy. Twitter is trying to revitalize itself by adding more contexts for discourse to its repertoire. The result, if everything goes right, will be an influence superapp that hasn’t existed anywhere before. The alternative is nothing less than the destruction of Twitter into a link-forwarding service.
Let’s talk about how Twitter is trying to eat the public conversation.
Twitter’s problem is pretty simple. It’s this.
Another way of putting it is: Twitter is not generating as much money from ads as it used to. Ad revenue has failed to grow because Twitter is generally considered to have a poorly performing product for marketers. As a result, its stock price has been flat for years.
The irony, though, is that Twitter became more socially important during this period of financial stagnation to the point that the president of the United States nearly launched several wars on the platform!
The core reason is that since becoming a public company, Twitter has been considered by most to be one of the most boring tech companies productwise. Yes, people joke about the lack of an edit button, but the platform really has been slow to innovate in any real way.
Twitter was one of the most dynamic companies around, going from the fail whale company to being the company that invented the hashtag and acquiring some of the hottest companies, from Periscope to Vine.
But it all failed. Twitter rarely used acquisitions successfully. It stopped putting out new features and barely even managed simple improvements. Despite describing itself as “what’s happening now,” it missed every boat. Until this year.
- Twitter started to face its first real competition in years due to the social media renaissance. Twitter’s strength has always come from being where the news happens. Podcasts, Clubhouse, newsletters and other new channels are true competitive threats.
Trade groups representing Facebook, Twitter, and other major websites have sued Florida to block a state law that makes it illegal for social media companies to ban politicians. The industry groups say the law violates the First Amendment—and legal experts have said the same, as we’ve previously written.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law on May 24, slamming what he called the “censorship” of conservatives on social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook. The law, scheduled to take effect on July 1, gives Floridians the right to sue Big Tech companies over content-moderation decisions and prohibits the companies from “deplatforming” political candidates and journalistic enterprises. The law imposes fines of up to $250,000 per day on social media companies that ban candidates for elected office.
Ads are coming to Twitter’s version of Stories, known as Fleets. The company announced today it will began pilot testing Fleet ads in the U.S., which will bring full-screen, vertical format ads to Twitter for the first time, allowing it to better compete with the vertical ads offered across social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, among others.
The new Fleet ads will appear in between Fleets from people you follow and will support both images and video in 9:16 format. The video ads support up to 30-seconds of content, and brands can also include a “swipe up” call-to-action within their ads.
Twitter didn’t say how often you’ll see a Fleet ad as you swipe, saying only that it will “innovate, test and continue to adapt” in this area, as it learns how people engage.
Advertisers, meanwhile, will receive standard Twitter ad metrics for their Fleet ads, including impressions, profile visits, clicks, website visits, and more. And for video ads, Twitter will report video views, 6s video views, starts, completes, quartile reporting and other metrics.
The company is launching the pilot program in the U.S. with just 10 advertisers, including those in tech, retail, dining and CPG verticals.
Twitter says the pilot will help the company to understand how well these types of ads perform on Twitter, which will inform the company not only how to better optimize Fleet ads going forward, but also other areas where it may launch full-screen ads further down the road. In addition, it wants to learn how people feel about and engage with full-screen ads, as the test continues.
Twitter had first begun experimenting with Fleets in spring 2020 as a way to offer a Stories-like product experience where users could post ephemeral content. At the time, the company hoped Fleets would encourage more hesitant users to share content to the platform, as Fleets disappeared after 24 hours, reducing the pressure to perform that comes with posting directly. They also don’t circulate Twitter like retweets and quote tweets do, nor do they show up in Search or Moments.
The feature rolled out to global users in November 2020. They were initially criticized by some who felt that Fleets were yet another example of how all social apps were starting to look the same. Nevertheless, Fleets have now become a core part of the Twitter experience.
Today, people use Fleets to point to other tweets they’ve posted, or to share personal updates, photos, and commentary. However, unlike Stories on other platforms, like Snapchat or Instagram, Fleets still offer a fairly bare bones experience in terms of creator tools. You can change the background color, add stickers and text, but that’s about it.
Twitter declined to say how many or what percentage of Twitter’s active user base has now adopted Fleets, noting instead that 73% of those who post Fleets say they also browse what others are sharing. The company says it plans to roll out new updates and features to Fleets in the future, as it continues to invest in the product.
Fleet ads will launch today in the U.S. across both iOS and Android.
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.