Facebook adds Shops to WhatsApp, among other e-commerce updates

Facebook is making it even easier to buy stuff while you scroll past photos of your high school lab partner’s dog. Yes, Instagram Shops and Facebook Marketplace are already displayed prominently on the apps’ bottom navigation tabs. But now, you can shop on WhatsApp too, along with other updates.

Today on a Live Audio Room, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced three e-commerce updates that are coming to Facebook products: Shops on WhatsApp and Marketplace, Shops Ads, and Instagram Visual Search.

“More than 1 billion people use Marketplace each month, so we’re making it easy for businesses to bring their Shops into Marketplace to reach even more people,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. When customers view a shop on WhatsApp, they’ll have the option of chatting with a business before buying something.

At its F8 conference earlier this month, Facebook revealed updates to WhatsApp for Business — previously, it could take weeks to set up a business account, but now, businesses can sign up in just a few minutes. Though WhatsApp has more than 2 billion global users, only about 175 million people message with WhatsApp Business accounts daily for things like customer support. Since Facebook has been pushing e-commerce on platforms like Instagram, it makes sense that this initiative will expand to WhatsApp too.

The rollout for Shops in WhatsApp will start soon, and Shops inventory in Marketplace is available now for Shops in the US with on-site checkout.

The next feature, Shops Ads, aims to provide a more individualized shopping experience based on people’s individual shopping habits. Zuckerberg said, “We’re launching the ability for a business to send shoppers to where you’re going to be most likely to make a purchase based on your shopping behavior.” Starting now, AR Dynamic Ads are available in the United States – companies like Huda Beauty and Laura Mercier are using these ads to let customers test lipstick shades with AR before making a purchase. These AR try-on experiences are made available through API integrations with Modiface and Perfect Corp. Early this year, Pinterest collaborated with ModiFace to launch an AR eyeshadow try-on.

Image Credits: Facebook

Over on Instagram, an AI-based Visual Search feature will roll out for testing in the coming months.

“A lot of shopping discovery begins with visual discovery, right, so you see something that you think is awesome. And then, you know, maybe you want to see other products that are like that, or you want to figure out how to get that product,” Zuckerberg explained. “And this is the type of problem that AI can really help out with.”

Using this AI, people will be able to upload their own photos — even ones they haven’t posted on Instagram — to find similar items. Facebook isn’t the first company to use this technology — see Cadeera, Donde Search, or Stye.ai, for instance. But bringing this technology to major platforms might change the way we shop, which seems to be Facebook’s current goal.

#api, #apps, #arkansas, #artificial-intelligence, #ceo, #chatbot, #computing, #e-commerce, #facebook, #instagram, #mark-zuckerberg, #operating-systems, #perfect-corp, #pinterest, #shopping, #social-media, #social-media-marketing, #software, #tc, #united-states, #whatsapp

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If you love voice messaging, you’ll love Squad

Squad used to be an app that connected people with similar interests for in-person meetups. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. While most social apps thrived under these conditions — people craved digital connection more than ever — Squad couldn’t operate.

Founder Isa Watson didn’t know how long the world would be in shutdown. Instead of waiting for a return to normalcy, she shifted the scope of the app entirely.  

Today, Squad relaunches as an audio-based social app that aims to help users deepen their relationship with their existing circle of close friends. Squad is an audio-only app, but don’t worry — it’s not another Clubhouse wannabe. Instead, it functions as a news feed of voice message updates from your closest friends, which expire after 24 hours.

You can add up to twelve friends to your “squad,” and once you post an update, your squad members can emoji react or send a private voice message in response — these also expire after a day, encouraging users to be more open about what they share. Soon, Squad will support phone calls, but there currently isn’t functionality for group calls or group audio messaging. But, users might be incentivized to talk on the phone via Squad rather than a typical call, since you can add a title to your call. That way, your squad member knows why you’re calling before they pick up. 

Image Credits: Squad

“There’s a big gap in the social landscape, because most of the tools are discovery platforms, broadcast platforms, and personal branding platforms,” Watson said. “There’s a huge opportunity for us to come in and help people maintain stronger connections with the people that they enjoy the most.”

Posting a voice update feels more genuine than a curated Instagram shot or a crafted Facebook status update (and Facebook is decidedly uncool among Gen Z and millennials). As the popularity of apps like Dispo show, young people are responding well to ephemeral, authentic social media experiences. But the audio-only medium could be a hard sell for people who aren’t already sending voice messages on WhatsApp or iMessage. However, while Squad’s initial rollout will be domestic, there’s great potential for an app like this outside of the US, where voice messaging is more popular

“A lot of the conversations that would happen on text message are now happening in an asynchronous audio type of way,” Watson added. “So we expect that to continue to penetrate further into our habits.” 

Watson raised a $3.5 million seed round in 2019, and she was featured on TechCrunch with advice on raising venture capital as a woman of color in Silicon Valley. Despite changing the direction of her app, her investors — which include Michael Dearing (Harrison Metal), Aaron Levie (Box), Katrina Lake (StichFix), Jen Rubio (Away), and Stewart Butterfield (Slack) — remain supportive. Watson secured another million dollars of funding after the seed round, bringing Squad’s funding to a total of $4.5 million to date. 

“One thing [the investors] said to me was, ‘Isa, you’ve been talking about this shift in social for years now, and people told you you were crazy, that social was all figured out and there was nothing that was going to happen,’” Watson said. “Now, people are buying into that change.”

Image Credits: Squad

Even though Squad isn’t a Clubhouse competitor, the rise of audio-only media is a good sign for the app’s ability to crack a saturated social market (so many social apps are trying to compete with Clubhouse, it’s a miracle we don’t yet have audio-only Tinder speed dating). In Squad’s beta test, 87.5% of users completed the onboarding process. Still, Squad falls victim to the same accessibility issues that plague Clubhouse and many of its clones. As of yet, Squad doesn’t support captioning, though Watson says this is something the company has discussed and hopes to implement down the road. Not only could captioning broaden Squad’s audience, but it could also further differentiate the app from messaging giants like iMessage and WhatsApp. 

Still, if you’re someone who loves to send voice messages in your group chats, you might want to get your friends on Squad. Currently, the app is invite-only with a waitlist. Once you’re off the waitlist, you get three invites. If you post for five days straight, you get three more invites, and if someone you invited signs up, you get two more invites as well. This continues until you round out your twelve-member squad.

#aaron-levie, #apps, #computing, #dispo, #facebook, #freeware, #harrison-metal, #imessage, #jen-rubio, #katrina-lake, #michael-dearing, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #social-media, #software, #united-states, #venture-capital, #whatsapp

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On a growth tear, DuckDuckGo reveals it picked up $100M in secondary investment last year

Privacy tech continues cooking on gas. To wit: Non-tracking search engine DuckDuckGo has just revealed that it beefed up its balance sheet at the back end of last year with $100 million+ in “mainly secondary investment” — from a mix of existing and new investors.

Its blog post name-checks Omers Ventures, Thrive, GP Bullhound, Impact America Fund, and also WhatsApp founder Brian Acton; inventor of the world wide web Tim Berners-Lee; VC and diversity activist Freada Kapor Klein; and entrepreneur Mitch Kapor as being among the participating investors. So quite the line up.

DuckDuckGo said the secondary investment allowed some of its early employees and investors to cash out a chunk of their equity while bolstering its financial position.

Although it also says its business — which has been profitable since 2014 — is “thriving”, reporting that revenues are now running at $100M+ a year. Hence it not needing to keep dipping into an external investor pot.

Its last VC raise was in 2018 when it took in $10M after being actively pursued by Omers Ventures — who convinced it to take the money to help support growth objectives (especially internationally).

DDG has a few other metrics to throw around now: Over the last 12 months it said its apps were downloaded over 50M times — more than in all prior years combined.

It’s also revealed that its monthly search traffic increased 55% and says marketshare trackers indicate that it grabbed the #2 spot for search engine on mobile in a number of countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. (StatCounter/Wikipedia).

“We don’t track our users so we can’t say for sure how many we have, but based on market share estimates, download numbers, and national surveys, we believe there are between 70-100 million DuckDuckGo users,” it added.

A looming shift to Google’s Android choice screen in Europe, where regulators have forced the company to present users of mobile devices that run its OS with rival options when they’re setting a default search engine, looks likely to further boost DuckDuckGo’s regional fortunes.

Google will be ditching the current paid auction model — so rivals which have a valuable alternative proposition for users (like privacy) combined with strong brand awareness (and, well, everyone likes ducks… ) have the best chance yet to take slices out of Google’s marketshare.

DuckDuckGo’s blog post confirms it’ll be dialling up its marketing in Europe and other regions.

“Our thriving business also gives us the resources to tell more people there is a simple solution for online privacy they can use right now. Over the last month, we’ve rolled out billboard, radio, and TV ads in 175 metro areas across the U.S., with additional efforts planned for Europe and other countries around the world,” it notes.

So it look like a good chunk of DDG’s secondary funding will be spent on growth marketing — as it seeks to capitalize on rising public attention to online privacy, tracking and creepy ads, itself fuelled by years of data scandals.

Awareness is also now being actively driven by Apple’s recent switch to inform iOS users of third party app tracking and give people a simple way to say no — which includes slick, Cupertino-funded ad campaigns (such as the one below) which are clearly intended to turn and engage mainstream heads…

It’s fair to say it’s probably never been easier to craft a simple and compelling marketing message around privacy — and that’s also a testament to how far privacy tech has come in terms of usability and accessibility.

So, yes, DuckDuckGo’s business sure looks like it’s sitting pretty at this juncture of the web’s evolution. And its blog post talks about “becoming a household name for simple privacy protection”. So the scale of its ambition is clear.

“Privacy skeptics have dominated the discussion about online privacy for too long. “Sure people care about privacy, but they’ll never do anything about it.” It’s time to lay this bad take to rest,” it adds.

More products are also on the slate from the 13-year veteran privacy player.

It already bolted on tracker-blocking back in 2018 but is looking to go further — saying that it will be rolling out additional privacy features to what it bills as its “all-in-one privacy bundle”, including an email protection tool that will be launched in beta “in a few weeks” and which it says will “give users more privacy without having to get a new inbox”.

“Later this summer, app tracker blocking will be available in beta for Android devices, allowing users to block app trackers and providing more transparency on what’s happening behind the scenes on their device. And Before the end of the year, we also plan to release a brand-new desktop version of our existing mobile app which people can use as a primary browser,” it goes on, adding: “By continuing to expand our simple and seamless privacy bundle, we continue to make our product vision, ‘Privacy, simplified.’ a reality.”

That’s another trend we’re seeing in privacy tech: Innovators who have carefully and credibly built up a solid reputation around one type of tech tool (such as search or email) find themselves — as usage grows — perfectly positioned to branch out into offering a whole bundle or suite of apps they can wrap in the same protective promise.

Another player, ProtonMail, for example, has morphed into Proton, a privacy-centric company which offers freemium tools for not just end-to-end encrypted email but also cloud storage, calendar and a VPN — all neatly positioned under its pro-privacy umbrella.

Expect more development momentum as privacy tech continues to accelerate into the mainstream.

 

#android, #brian-acton, #duckduckgo, #europe, #freada-kapor-klein, #fundings-exits, #google, #gp-bullhound, #impact-america-fund, #mitch-kapor, #omers-ventures, #online-privacy, #privacy, #search-engine, #tim-berners-lee, #whatsapp

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Android announces six new features, emphasizing safety and accessibility

Android shared information today about six features that will roll out this summer. Some of these are just quality of life upgrades, like starring text messages to easily find them later, or getting contextual Emoji Kitchen suggestions depending on what you’re typing. But other aspects of this update emphasize security, safety, and accessibility.

Last summer, Google added a feature on Android that basically uses your phone as a seismometer to create “the world’s largest earthquake detection network.” The system is free, and since testing in California, it’s also launched in New Zealand and Greece. Now, Google will introduce this feature in Turkey, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The company says that they’ll continue expanding the feature this year, prioritizing countries with the highest earthquake risk.

Image Credits: Google

Google is also expanding on another feature released last year, which made Google Assistant compatible with Android apps. In the initial update, apps were supported like Spotify, Snapchat, Twitter, Walmart, Discord, Etsy, MyFitnessPal, Mint, Nike Adapt, Nike Run Club, eBay, Kroger, Postmates, and Wayfair. Today’s update mentioned apps like eBay, Yahoo! Finance, Strava, and Capital One. These features are comparable to Apple’s support of Siri with iOS apps, which includes the ability to open apps, perform tasks, and record a custom command.

When it comes to accessibility, Google is ramping up its gaze detection feature, which is now in beta. Gaze detection allows people to ask Voice Access to only respond when they’re looking at their screen, allowing people to naturally move between talking with friends and using their phone. Now, Voice Access will also have enhanced password input — when it detects a password field, it will allow you to input letters, numbers, and symbols by saying “capital P” or “dollar sign,” for example, making it easier for users to more quickly enter this sensitive information. In October, Google Assistant became available on gaze-powered accessible devices, and in the same month, Google researchers debuted a demo that made it so people using sign language could be identified as the “active speaker” in video calls. Apple doesn’t have a comparable gaze detection feature yet that’s widely available, though they acquired SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI), an eye-tracking firm, in 2017. So, hopefully similar accessibility features will be in the works at Apple, especially as Google continues to build out theirs.

Today’s Android update also lets Android Auto users customize more of their experience. Now, you can set your launcher screen from your phone, set dark mode manually, and more easily browse content on media apps with an A-Z scroll bar and “back to top” button. Messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messages will now be compatible on the launch screen – proceed with caution and don’t drive distracted – and EV charging, parking, and navigation apps will now be available for use.

#android, #apps, #assistant, #california, #computing, #ebay, #etsy, #google, #google-assistant, #google-now, #google-play, #greece, #kazakhstan, #kroger, #mobile-linux, #myfitnesspal, #new-zealand, #nike, #operating-systems, #philippines, #postmates, #siri, #smartphones, #snapchat, #software, #spotify, #turkey, #walmart, #wayfair, #whatsapp, #yahoo

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Zuckerberg says WhatsApp will add multi-device support, introduce ‘view once’ disappearing feature

WhatsApp will soon let you use the popular instant messaging app simultaneously on multiple devices, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said. The instant messaging app, used by over 2 billion users, also plans to add more options to its disappearing messages feature, top executives said.

Zuckerberg confirmed to news outlet WaBetaInfo that multi-device support will be arriving on the instant messaging service “soon.” WhatsApp head Will Cathcart said users will be able to connect up to four devices to one account. The messaging firm is also working to introduce a dedicated WhatsApp app for the iPad, he said.

“It’s been a big technical challenge to get all your messages and content to sync properly across devices even when your phone battery dies, but we’ve solved this and we’re looking forward to getting it out soon!” Zuckerberg said.

The instant messaging service, which last year introduced the ability to set a seven-day timer on messages (disappearing mode), is now planning to expand this feature to let users share pictures and videos that can only be viewed once. “We’re also about to start rolling out ‘view once,’ so you can send content and have it disappear after the person sees it,” Zuckerberg said.

WhatsApp users will also get an option to enforce disappearing mode across the app for all new chats.

Zuckerberg and Cathcart told the news outlet — and it’s indeed the two of them talking — that these features will be available to users in public beta “in the next month or two.”

#apps, #facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #social, #whatsapp, #will-cathcart

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Facebook doubles down on business tools with WhatsApp API updates, Login Connect for Messenger and more

WhatsApp now has more than 2 billion users globally, and by comparison its efforts to cultivate more business usage have been quite modest: just over 175 million people message with WhatsApp Business accounts daily for things like customer support or to discuss products. Today, as part of its F8 event, Facebook is unveiling some updates to the WhatsApp API to expand that experience.

The news comes on the heels of Facebook unveiling the general availability of Messenger API for Instagram earlier today, and forms part of a bigger series of announcements aimed at doing business more easily on the platform.

More generally, Facebook and its many apps are at their heart very consumer services — they are used by billions of people to keep in touch with each other, for diversion, and to stay informed about whatever matters to them.

But Facebook the business has been gradually building out a very extensive and lucrative commercial infrastructure around that engaged audience, one that started with advertising but has extended deeper into marketing, customer service, workplace productivity, and shopping.

The F8 conference, hatched originally as a hackathon, had grown into a very big event. This year’s installment is a significantly more toned down affair than in recent years — no big crowds (it’s all virtual), no big product and hardware announcements (it doesn’t appear that there are any… so far), and it feels more like a Zoom conference — and today’s news about business-oriented developer tools not only resets the event back around its original developer focus, but it also bolsters that commercial strategy.

With WhatsApp for Business it appears that one of the sticking points has been time — from setting up WhatsApp for Business in the first place to responding to different kinds of messages. This is what Facebook is now addressing.

First, it’s speeding up the time it takes to set up a WhatsApp business account to five minutes (versus what it described as weeks in the past).

Then, Facebook is making it easier to use the Business account once it is set up. For starters, businesses will be able to respond faster to inbound messages (which previously were “difficult to follow up with customers outside of a 24-hour window”), and they can now send out messages to those who have opted in, for example around stock availability.

Businesses using the tool for customer care, meanwhile, will be given the option to create up to 10 pre-written messages to speed up their responses, and they can also set up reply buttons to provide pre-populated, popular replies from customers.

In addition to the WhatsApp news, Facebook is also adding another tool to Messenger to expand its: Facebook Login Connect.

Essentially, if a business has integrated Facebook Login, it will allow users to log into their app or website using their Facebook credentials, and then carry on a conversation with the company over Messenger.

This is useful not just because it also means that a user can keep track of any conversations from one place, but it gives the company access to the tools that it has built to carry out conversations in Messenger already, whether those are chatbots or links through to other CRM databases. Facebook said that tests of the service indicate that 70% of users opt in to use the Login Connect tool, indicating that they’re willing to use their Facebook credentials in this way.

This is a closed beta now but will be more widely available in coming months, Facebook said.

Finally, Facebook is launching a new feature in its Business Suite — a platform that can be used by businesses to manage activity across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger — that will let developers build “Business Apps.”

These are not apps in the app store sense, but tools made by third parties (developers) to work alongside the Facebook-built Business Suite, further integrating Facebook tools into businesses’ sites and apps, and also bringing more of a businesses’ content — for example items from a catalog — into their Facebook Page, or Instagram account, and so on. The platform already has some 90 developers working on it and it integrates with e-commerce platforms like Bigcommerce, Facebook said.

#f8, #facebook, #messenger, #tc, #whatsapp, #whatsapp-business

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Facebook, WhatsApp, Google and other internet giants comply with India’s IT rules

Google, Facebook, Telegram, LinkedIn and Tiger Global-backed Indian startups ShareChat and Koo have either fully or partially complied with the South Asian nation’s new IT rules, according to two people familiar with the matter and a government note obtained by TechCrunch.

India’s new IT rules, unveiled in February this year, required firms to appoint and share contact details of representatives tasked with compliance, nodal point of reference, and grievance redressals to address on-ground concerns. 

The aforementioned firms have complied with this requirement, the government note and a person familiar with the matter said. The firms were required to comply with the new IT rules by this week.

Twitter has yet to comply with the rules. “Twitter sent a communication late last night, sharing details of a lawyer working in a law firm in India as their Nodal Contact Person and Grievance Officer,” a note prepared by New Delhi said, adding that the rules require for the aforementioned officials to be direct employees.

Tension has been brewing between Twitter and the government of India of late. This week, police in Delhi visited Twitter offices to “serve a notice” about an investigation into its intel on classifying politicians’ tweets as misleading. Twitter called the move a form of intimidation, and requested the government to respect citizens’ rights to free speech.

WhatsApp has complied with the aforementioned rules, but not with the requirement about traceability, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. WhatsApp sued the Indian government earlier this week over the requirement about bringing a way to trace the originator of messages.

It is unclear at this point whether Apple, which operates iMessage, and Signal have complied with the rules.

India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on Wednesday had asked the social media firms for an update on their compliant status, TechCrunch first reported.

India is a key overseas market for several technology giants including Facebook and Google, both of which identify the nation as its biggest market by users. Pakistan, which had proposed similar rules as India last year, had to withdraw them after tech giants united and threatened to leave the nation.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #google, #government, #india, #koo, #sharechat, #twitter, #whatsapp

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Twitter says concerned with India intimidation, requests 3 more months to comply with new IT rules

Twitter called the recent visit by police to its Indian offices a form of intimidation and said it was concerned by some of the requirements in New Delhi’s new IT rules.

Speaking for the first time since a special squad of Delhi police made a surprise visit to two of its offices on Monday, Twitter said it is “concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve.”

The company also said that it joins many organizations in India and around the world that have “concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules.”

A Twitter spokesperson added: “We plan to advocate for changes to elements of these regulations that inhibit free, open public conversation. We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian Government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach. It is the collective responsibility of elected officials, industry, and civil society to safeguard the interests of the public.”

Tension between American tech giants Twitter and Facebook and the Indian government has been brewing for months. Twitter faced heat from politicians after it refused to block accounts that criticised New Delhi’s reforms and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India is one of the largest markets for American tech firms that poured billions of dollars in the South Asian nation in the past decade to get more people connected to the web. According to Indian government estimates, Twitter has 175 million users in India, while WhatsApp has amassed over 530 million users.

Their tension escalated Wednesday after WhatsApp sued the Indian government in a court in Delhi over the new IT rules that it said would compromise users’ privacy and give New Delhi the power to conduct mass surveillance.

India announced the new IT rules in February and gave firms three months to comply. The deadline expired this week, and on Wednesday the Ministry of Electronics and IT asked social media firms for an update on their compliant status, TechCrunch first reported.

Twitter said Thursday that the new IT rules’ requirements to make a compliance officer criminally liable for content on the platform, proactive monitoring, and blanket authority to seek information about users represented a dangerous overreach that was inconsistent with open and democratic principles.

The microblogging platform also requested New Delhi to consider granting a minimum of 3 months extension to comply with the new IT rules and publish Standard Operating Protocols on aspects of compliance of public consultation.

Twitter said it was recently served with another non-compliance notice in India and withheld a portion of the content identified in the notice under. The content identified in the notice, Twitter said, was originally reported in the blocking orders since February 2021.

It said in recent months it has been compelled to withhold content in response to a non-compliance notice. Not doing so, it said, poses penal consequences with many risks for Twitter employees.

#asia, #facebook, #government, #india, #twitter, #whatsapp

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India says WhatsApp’s lawsuit over new regulations a clear act of defiance

India said on Wednesday WhatsApp’s lawsuit challenging the new local IT rules is an “unfortunate last moment” attempt to prevent new regulations from going into effect in a clear act of defiance, and said the Facebook-owned firm didn’t raise any specific objection in writing to the traceability requirement after October 2018.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s Electronics and IT Minister, said WhatsApp’s refusal to comply with the guidelines, the deadline of which expired Wednesday, is a “clear act of defiance of a measure whose intent can certainly not be doubted.”

WhatsApp sued the Indian government earlier on Wednesday in a Delhi High Court, saying the world’s second largest internet market’s new IT rules could allow authorities to make people’s private messages “traceable,” and conduct mass surveillance.

India is the largest market by users for the Facebook-owned popular instant messaging service. According to government estimates, WhatsApp has amassed over 530 million users in India.

Prasad said any company’s operations in India is “subject to the law of the land.”

One one hand, “WhatsApp seeks to mandate a privacy policy wherein it will share the data of all its user with its parent company, Facebook, for marketing and advertising purposes,” he added. “On the other hand, WhatsApp makes every effort to refuse the enactment of the Intermediary Guidelines which are necessary to uphold law and order and curb the menace of fake news.”

The Ministry of Electronics and IT said New Delhi needs to trace the first originator of a message for the “purposes of prevention, investigation, punishment etc. of inter alia an offence relating to sovereignty, integrity and security of India, public order incitement to an offence relating to rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for not less than five years.”

“It is in public interest that who started the mischief leading to such crime must be detected and punished. We cannot deny as to how in cases of mob lynching and riots etc. repeated WhatsApp messages are circulated and recirculated whose content are already in public domain. Hence the role of who originated is very important.”

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #government, #india, #whatsapp

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India asks social media firms if they have complied with the new regulations

India has asked social media firms to provide specific details about whether they have complied with its new IT rules “as soon as possible” and “preferably today” even as the new regulations are being challenged by WhatsApp.

In a letter to “significant social media intermediaries” — which New Delhi defines as social media firms with over 5 million registered users in India — on Wednesday, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked the firms to share the names of their apps, websites, or services that will come under the scope of the new IT rules and the status of their compliance.

The letter, obtained by TechCrunch, also asks the firms to provide names and contact details of chief compliance officer, nodal contact person, and resident grievance officer that they have appointed in India as part of the compliance, and also asked for the physical address of the local office. The new rules mandate that firms have several officials in India to address on-ground concerns.

The letter also implies that India doesn’t plan to give social media firms any extension on the deadline to comply with the new regulations. “The additional due diligence required from SSMI have come into effect today, at the conclusion of three additional months given to SSMIs,” it said.

“If you are not considered as SSMI, please provide the reasons for the same including the registered users on each of the services provided by you,” the letter adds. “The government reserves the right to seek any additional information, as may be permitted within these Rules and the IT Act.”

Earlier on Wednesday, WhatsApp sued the Indian government challenging the second largest internet market’s new regulations that it said could allow authorities to make people’s private messages “traceable,” and conduct mass surveillance.

#asia, #facebook, #government, #india, #twitter, #whatsapp

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WhatsApp sues India government over new regulations

WhatsApp is suing the Indian government over new regulations in India that could allow authorities to make people’s private messages “traceable,” and conduct mass surveillance.

The Facebook-owned instant messaging service, which identifies India as its biggest market, said it filed the lawsuit in the High Court of Delhi on Wednesday. It said New Delhi’s “traceability” requirement, unveiled in February this year, violated citizens’ constitutional right to privacy.

“Civil society and technical experts around the world have consistently argued that a requirement to ‘trace’ private messages would break end-to-end encryption and lead to real abuse. WhatsApp is committed to protecting the privacy of people’s personal messages and we will continue to do all we can within the laws of India to do so,” WhatsApp said.

India first proposed WhatsApp to make software changes to make the originator of a message traceable in 2018. But its suggestion didn’t become the law until this year. Wednesday is the deadline for firms, including Facebook, to comply with India’s new IT rules.

WhatsApp’s move on Wednesday has come as a surprise and is highly unusual. Facebook has engaged closely with New Delhi over the years — to a point where allegations were made that it didn’t take action on some politicians’ objectionable posts because it feared it would hurt its business in India, the world’s second largest internet market.

WhatsApp itself is fighting a legal case in India currently, in the same aforementioned court, over its new privacy policy as New Delhi tries to get the Facebook-owned firm to withdraw the new terms.

Last year India banned over 200 Chinese apps, including TikTok, which at the time of blocking identified India as its biggest overseas market. India said it was banning the apps because they posed threat to national security and defence of India.

None of the Chinese firms sued the Indian government, with at least two telling TechCrunch on the condition of anonymity that it’s nearly impossible to win a court case in India when the national security issue has been raised. “So much so, that you are going to have a hard time even finding a lawyer who represents you,” an Indian official had told TechCrunch earlier.

India’s IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad cited similar national concerns as he unveiled the revised IT rules in February this year.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #government, #india, #whatsapp

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Malware caught using a macOS zero-day to secretly take screenshots

Almost exactly a month ago, researchers revealed a notorious malware family was exploiting a never-before-seen vulnerability that let it bypass macOS security defenses and run unimpeded. Now, some of the same researchers say another malware can sneak onto macOS systems, thanks to another vulnerability.

Jamf says it found evidence that the XCSSET malware was exploiting a vulnerability that allowed it access to parts of macOS that require permission — such as accessing the microphone, webcam, or recording the screen — without ever getting consent.

XCSSET was first discovered by Trend Micro in 2020 targeting Apple developers, specifically their Xcode projects that they use to code and build apps. By infecting those app development projects, developers unwittingly distribute the malware to their users, in what Trend Micro researchers described as a “supply-chain-like attack.” The malware is under continued development, with more recent variants of the malware also targeting Macs running the newer M1 chip.

Once the malware is running on a victim’s computer, it uses two zero-days — one to steal cookies from the Safari browser to get access to a victim’s online accounts, and another to quietly install a development version of Safari, allowing the attackers to modify and snoop on virtually any website.

But Jamf says the malware was exploiting a previously undiscovered third-zero day in order to secretly take screenshots of the victim’s screen.

macOS is supposed to ask the user for permission before it allows any app — malicious or otherwise — to record the screen, access the microphone or webcam, or open the user’s storage. But the malware bypassed that permissions prompt by sneaking in under the radar by injecting malicious code into legitimate apps.

Jamf researchers Jaron Bradley, Ferdous Saljooki, and Stuart Ashenbrenner explained in a blog post, shared with TechCrunch, that the malware searches for other apps on the victim’s computer that are frequently granted screen sharing permissions, like Zoom, WhatsApp, and Slack, and injects malicious screen recording code into those apps. This allows the malicious code to “piggyback” the legitimate app and inherit its permissions across macOS. Then, the malware signs the new app bundle with a new certificate to avoid getting flagged by macOS’ in-built security defenses.

The researchers said that the malware used the permissions prompt bypass “specifically for the purpose of taking screenshots of the user’s desktop,” but warned that it was not limited to screen recording. In other words, the bug could have been used to access the victim’s microphone, webcam, or capture their keystrokes, such as passwords or credit card numbers.

It’s not clear how many Macs that the malware was able to infect using this technique. But Apple confirmed to TechCrunch that it fixed the bug in macOS 11.4, which was made available as an update today.

#apple, #apps, #computer-security, #computing, #cybercrime, #jamf, #macos-big-sur, #malware, #privacy, #safari, #security, #security-breaches, #software, #technology, #trend-micro, #whatsapp, #zero-day

0

India tells WhatsApp to withdraw its new policy terms

The Indian government is not pleased with WhatsApp’s new privacy policy. The nation’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has once again directed the Facebook-owned company to withdraw the planned update.

In a letter to WhatsApp on Tuesday — which was read to TechCrunch — MeitY has given the popular instant messaging provider seven days to offer a “satisfactory” response. Failure to do so, the ministry warned, will prompt lawful measures.

“In fulfilment of its sovereign responsibility to protect the rights and interests of Indian citizens, the government of India will consider various options available to it under laws in India,” the letter reads.

The letter comes at a time when the ministry is also pursuing a legal case on this matter in the Delhi High Court — and  the second largest internet market is also conducting an antitrust probe on the subject.

This is not the first time New Delhi has issued a notice to WhatsApp about the new privacy terms. Earlier this year, in a similar letter,” the Indian government had expressed “grave concerns” about the planned update.

Following backlash from several governments and users, WhatsApp earlier this year delayed enforcement of the privacy update by three months — to May 15. Last week, it somewhat relaxed the deadline, though users need to still need to comply to access some basic features.

A spokesperson at the time told TechCrunch that the vast majority of users who had seen the new privacy terms on the app had accepted it.

With over 450 million users, India is WhatsApp’s biggest market by users.

The ministry in its notice this week has asked WhatsApp why it needs to enforce the new changes to its terms of service — the first major update in years — to users in India when those in the EU have been exempted from it.

The updated privacy terms grant WhatsApp the consent to share some personal information — such as their phone number and location — with parent firm Facebook. WhatsApp has clarified that communication between two individuals remains just as private as before.

“It is not just problematic, but also irresponsible, for WhatsApp to leverage this position to impose unfair terms and conditions on Indian users, particularly those that discriminate against Indian users vis-à-vis users in Europe,” the ministry wrote in the letter.

In response to a petition filed in the Delhi High Court earlier this month, WhatsApp argued that many Indian firms maintain similar policies and share more data. In the petition, WhatsApp had identified food delivery startup Zomato, ride-hailing giant Ola, online grocer BigBasket, as well as Swedish giant Truecaller, which counts India as its largest market by users, as some examples.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #government, #india, #whatsapp

0

Facebook ordered not to apply controversial WhatsApp T&Cs in Germany

The Hamburg data protection agency has banned Facebook from processing the additional WhatsApp user data that the tech giant is granting itself access to under a mandatory update to WhatsApp’s terms of service.

The controversial WhatsApp privacy policy update has caused widespread confusion around the world since being announced — and already been delayed by Facebook for several months after a major user backlash saw rivals messaging apps benefitting from an influx of angry users.

The Indian government has also sought to block the changes to WhatApp’s T&Cs in court — and the country’s antitrust authority is investigating.

Globally, WhatsApp users have until May 15 to accept the new terms (after which the requirement to accept the T&Cs update will become persistent, per a WhatsApp FAQ).

The majority of users who have had the terms pushed on them have already accepted them, according to Facebook, although it hasn’t disclosed what proportion of users that is.

But the intervention by Hamburg’s DPA could further delay Facebook’s rollout of the T&Cs — at least in Germany — as the agency has used an urgency procedure, allowed for under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), to order the tech giant not to share the data for three months.

A WhatsApp spokesperson disputed the legal validity of Hamburg’s order — calling it “a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and effect of WhatsApp’s update” and arguing that it “therefore has no legitimate basis”.

“Our recent update explains the options people have to message a business on WhatsApp and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data. As the Hamburg DPA’s claims are wrong, the order will not impact the continued roll-out of the update. We remain fully committed to delivering secure and private communications for everyone,” the spokesperson added, suggesting that Facebook-owned WhatsApp may be intending to ignore the order.

We understand that Facebook is considering its options to appeal Hamburg’s procedure.

The emergency powers Hamburg is using can’t extend beyond three months but the agency is also applying pressure to the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) to step in and make what it calls “a binding decision” for the 27 Member State bloc.

We’ve reached out to the EDPB to ask what action, if any, it could take in response to the Hamburg DPA’s call.

The body is not usually involved in making binding GDPR decisions related to specific complaints — unless EU DPAs cannot agree over a draft GDPR decision brought to them for review by a lead supervisory authority under the one-stop-shop mechanism for handling cross-border cases.

In such a scenario the EDPB can cast a deciding vote — but it’s not clear that an urgency procedure would qualify.

In taking the emergency action, the German DPA is not only attacking Facebook for continuing to thumb its nose at EU data protection rules, but throwing shade at its lead data supervisor in the region, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) — accusing the latter of failing to investigate the very widespread concerns attached to the incoming WhatsApp T&Cs.

(“Our request to the lead supervisory authority for an investigation into the actual practice of data sharing was not honoured so far,” is the polite framing of this shade in Hamburg’s press release).

We’ve reached out to the DPC for a response and will update this report if we get one.

Ireland’s data watchdog is no stranger to criticism that it indulges in creative regulatory inaction when it comes to enforcing the GDPR — with critics charging commissioner Helen Dixon and her team of failing to investigate scores of complaints and, in the instances when it has opened probes, taking years to investigate — and opting for weak enforcements at the last.

The only GDPR decision the DPC has issued to date against a tech giant (against Twitter, in relation to a data breach) was disputed by other EU DPAs — which wanted a far tougher penalty than the $550k fine eventually handed down by Ireland.

GDPR investigations into Facebook and WhatsApp remain on the DPC’s desk. Although a draft decision in one WhatsApp data-sharing transparency case was sent to other EU DPAs in January for review — but a resolution has still yet to see the light of day almost three years after the regulation begun being applied.

In short, frustrations about the lack of GDPR enforcement against the biggest tech giants are riding high among other EU DPAs — some of whom are now resorting to creative regulatory actions to try to sidestep the bottleneck created by the one-stop-shop (OSS) mechanism which funnels so many complaints through Ireland.

The Italian DPA also issued a warning over the WhatsApp T&Cs change, back in January — saying it had contacted the EDPB to raise concerns about a lack of clear information over what’s changing.

At that point the EDPB emphasized that its role is to promote cooperation between supervisory authorities. It added that it will continue to facilitate exchanges between DPAs “in order to ensure a consistent application of data protection law across the EU in accordance with its mandate”. But the always fragile consensus between EU DPAs is becoming increasingly fraught over enforcement bottlenecks and the perception that the regulation is failing to be upheld because of OSS forum shopping.

That will increase pressure on the EDPB to find some way to resolve the impasse and avoid a wider break down of the regulation — i.e. if more and more Member State agencies resort to unilateral ’emergency’ action.

The Hamburg DPA writes that the update to WhatsApp’s terms grant the messaging platform “far-reaching powers to share data with Facebook” for the company’s own purposes (including for advertising and marketing) — such as by passing WhatApp users’ location data to Facebook and allowing for the communication data of WhatsApp users to be transferred to third-parties if businesses make use of Facebook’s hosting services.

Its assessment is that Facebook cannot rely on legitimate interests as a legal base for the expanded data sharing under EU law.

And if the tech giant is intending to rely on user consent it’s not meeting the bar either because the changes are not clearly explained nor are users offered a free choice to consent or not (which is the required standard under GDPR).

“The investigation of the new provisions has shown that they aim to further expand the close connection between the two companies in order for Facebook to be able to use the data of WhatsApp users for their own purposes at any time,” Hamburg goes on. “For the areas of product improvement and advertising, WhatsApp reserves the right to pass on data to Facebook companies without requiring any further consent from data subjects. In other areas, use for the company’s own purposes in accordance to the privacy policy can already be assumed at present.

“The privacy policy submitted by WhatsApp and the FAQ describe, for example, that WhatsApp users’ data, such as phone numbers and device identifiers, are already being exchanged between the companies for joint purposes such as network security and to prevent spam from being sent.”

DPAs like Hamburg may be feeling buoyed to take matters into their own hands on GDPR enforcement by a recent opinion by an advisor to the EU’s top court, as we suggested in our coverage at the time. Advocate General Bobek took the view that EU law allows agencies to bring their own proceedings in certain situations, including in order to adopt “urgent measures” or to intervene “following the lead data protection authority having decided not to handle a case.”

The CJEU ruling on that case is still pending — but the court tends to align with the position of its advisors.

 

#data-protection, #data-protection-commission, #data-protection-law, #europe, #european-data-protection-board, #european-union, #facebook, #gdpr, #general-data-protection-regulation, #germany, #hamburg, #helen-dixon, #ireland, #privacy, #privacy-policy, #social, #social-media, #terms-of-service, #whatsapp

0

WhatsApp is doing fine despite months-long backlash over policy update

It’s safe to say WhatsApp didn’t have the ideal start to 2021. Less than a week into the new year, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app had already annoyed hundreds of thousands of users with its scary-worded notification about a planned policy update. The backlash grew fast and millions of people, including several high-profile figures, started to explore rival apps Signal and Telegram.

Even governments, including India’s — WhatsApp’s biggest market by users — expressed concerns. (In case of India, also an antitrust probe.) The backlash prompted WhatsApp to offer a series of clarifications and assurances to users, and it also postponed the deadline for enforcing the planned update by three months. Now with the May 15 deadline just a week away, we are able to quantify the real-world impact the aforementioned backlash had on WhatsApp’s user base: Nada.

The vast majority of users that WhatsApp has notified about the planned update in recent months have accepted the update, a WhatsApp spokesperson told TechCrunch. And the app continues to grow, added the spokesperson without sharing the exact figures. The company also didn’t share how many users it has notified about the planned update.

Facebook’s recent earnings call gives us some idea: The company’s family of apps had 3.45 billion monthly active users as of March 31, 2021, up from 3.3 billion on December 31, and 3.21 billion on September 30.

Users who don’t agree to the new terms, as TechCrunch has previously reported, won’t lose access to their accounts or any feature on May 15, WhatsApp said. But after an unspecified number of weeks, such users will lose several core functionalities — though not at the same time.

“We’ll continue to provide reminders to those users within WhatsApp in the weeks to come,” the spokesperson added.

Since 2016, WhatsApp’s privacy policies have granted the service permission to share with Facebook certain metadata such as user phone numbers and device information.

The new terms allow Facebook and WhatsApp to share payment and transaction data in order to help them better target ads as the social juggernaut broadens its e-commerce offerings and looks to merge its messaging platforms.

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

0

Pakistan temporarily blocks social media

Pakistan has temporarily blocked several social media services in the South Asian nation, according to users and a government-issued notice reviewed by TechCrunch.

In an order titled “Complete Blocking of Social Media Platforms,” the Pakistani government ordered Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Telegram from 11am to 3pm local time (06.00am to 10.00am GMT) Friday.

The move comes as Pakistan looks to crackdown against a violent terrorist group and prevent troublemakers from disrupting Friday prayers congregations following days of violent protests.

Earlier this week Pakistan banned the Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan after arresting its leader, which prompted protests, according to local media reports.

An entrepreneur based in Pakistan told TechCrunch that even though the order is supposed to expire at 3pm local time, similar past moves by the government suggests that the disruption will likely last for longer.

Though Pakistan, like its neighbor India, has temporarily cut phone calls access in the nation in the past, this is the first time Islamabad has issued a blanket ban on social media in the country.

Pakistan has explored ways to assume more control over content on digital services operating in the country in recent years. Some activists said the country was taking extreme measures without much explanations.

#asia, #facebook, #pakistan, #social, #telegram, #twitter, #whatsapp, #youtube

0

Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp are super broken right now

Are Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp down for you right now? Us too! And lots and lots of other people too, it seems.

We’re getting reports of outages left and right across the three Facebook properties, with no indication so far as to the cause. It’s all down so hard that Facebook’s status page won’t even load to explain what’s up. Some of the respective apps appear to load, but are just loading cached data; refresh or try to pull in a new page, and things probably won’t load correctly.

When Facebook does load, it’s largely throwing the following error message:

 

This outage comes just a few weeks after one that took out Instagram and Whatsup in March.

Story developing…

 

#facebook, #instagram, #tc, #whatsapp

0

Charles raises €6.4M seed to bring ‘conversational commerce’ to WhatsApp

Charles, a Berlin-based startup that offers a “conversational-commerce” SaaS for businesses that want to sell on WhatsApp and other chat apps, has raised €6.4 million in funding.

Led by Accel and HV Capital, the seed funding will be used by the company to scale and meet existing demand for its conversational commerce platform.

Launched in 2020 by Artjem Weissbeck and Andreas Tussing after the pair had run a year-long experiment running a store in WhatsApp, Charles enables businesses to sell products and services via WhatsApp and other chat apps in order to “increase conversion rate, customer loyalty and ultimately revenue”.

The SaaS connects chat app APIs, such as WhatsApp and Messenger, with shop and CRM systems, like Shopify, SAP and HubSpot, all delivered through a user-friendly interface. The idea is to make it easier for businesses to meet their customers on the channels they already use and to bridge the gap between sales enquiries and support, and actual conversions.

” ‘Traffic’ and with it ‘conversion’ will exponentially move from the streets (retail) and the browser/native apps into chat apps,” says Weissbeck. “Thereby, conversational commerce will be the third big pillar of commerce, gluing together all channels and unlocking the full potential of personalization via the unique identification of customers via their phone number”.

This transition, argues the Charles founder, creates “tremendous challenges and opportunities” for companies in terms of customer journey design and the tech stack, which to date — Asia, aside — has been predominantly tailored around webshops and e-mail.

“Ultimately our technology provides the operating system for companies to master this challenge,” adds Tussing. “The core of our software integrates chat apps with shop/CRM backends in an intuitive interface that puts the human chat sales agent in the center, supported by chatbots and AI”.

Luca Bocchio, partner at Accel, says that conversational commerce is emerging as a “critical channel for brands,” and is a trend that will reshape the way brands interact with customers. [This is] paving the way for potential new category-defining tools to emerge,” he says, noting that Charles has the potential to be one of those tools.

“When we talk to potential clients it’s mostly existing customer service tools like Zendesk who are starting to add chat apps as an additional channel,” says Weissbeck, when asked to cite direct competitors. “These tools are usually built upon a ‘ticketing’ logic, optimized to solve customer inquiries as quickly as possible and with a clear focus on service cases, not sales”.

In contrast, Weissbeck says Charles is built upon a “feed” logic, showing customer interaction as an ongoing conversation and end-to-end relationship — in the same way as the customer sees it.

“Further we deeply integrate into shop/CRM-backends to make it easy for agents to sell product and create carts or contracts — all in a very design-driven and intuitive interface, that is fun to use for the agent and puts her/him in the center,” says Tussing. “Supported by chatbots, not replaced”.

Meanwhile, the revenue model is simple enough: Businesses pay a monthly base fee to cover Charles’ fixed costs and on top of this the startup earns money on conversions. “We take a small share of the net sales, ensuring we are co-incentivised,” explains Weissbeck.

#accel, #charles, #europe, #fundings-exits, #hv-capital, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #whatsapp

0

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

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

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

Image Credits: App Annie

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: App Annie

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

Image Credits: App Annie

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

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

Image Credits: App Annie

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

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

Image Credits: App Annie

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

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

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

0

India antitrust body orders investigation into WhatsApp’s privacy policy changes

WhatsApp’s planned policy changes aren’t sailing smoothly in India, the instant messaging service’s biggest market by users. Indian antitrust body, Competition Commission of India, on Wednesday ordered (PDF) an investigation into WhatsApp’s privacy policy changes, saying that Facebook-owned service breached local antitrust laws in the guise of a policy update.

WhatsApp didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Indian watchdog said it has ordered nation’s Director General (DG) to investigate WhatsApp’s new policy to “ascertain the full extent, scope and impact of data sharing through involuntary consent of users.” The Director General has been ordered to complete the investigation and submit the report within 60 days.

“Given the pronounced network effects it enjoys, and the absence of any credible competitor in the instant messaging market in India, WhatsApp appears to be in a position to compromise quality in terms of protection of individualised data and can deem it unnecessary to even retain the user-friendly alternatives such as ‘opt-out’ choices, without the fear of erosion of its user base,” the order reads.

“As per the 2021 update to the privacy policy, a business may give third-party service provider such as Facebook access to its communications to send, store, read, manage, or otherwise process them for the business. It may be possible that Facebook will condition provision of such services to businesses with a requirement for using the data collected by them. The DG may also investigate these aspects during its investigation.”

The move on Wednesday follows months long legal battle WhatsApp has been fighting in India over its new policy update, which goes into effect in May this year. Last week, the Indian government alleged that WhatsApp’s planned privacy update violates local laws on several counts. In a filing to the Delhi High Court, the federal government also asked the court to prevent the Facebook-owned messaging app from rolling out the update in India.

Earlier this year, India’s IT ministry had written to Will Cathcart, the head of WhatsApp, to express its “grave concerns” about the update and its implications and had “called upon to withdraw the proposed changes.”

Used by over 2 billion users, WhatsApp has been sharing some information with parent firm Facebook since 2016. The company, which hasn’t substantially updated its terms of service since, said last year that it will be making some changes to share a set of personal data of users — such as their phone number and location — with Facebook.

Through an in-app alert earlier this year, WhatsApp asked users to share their consent for the new terms in January, which prompted an immediate backlash from some users. Following the backlash — which saw tens of millions of users explore competing services such as Signal and Telegram — WhatsApp said it will give users three additional months to review its new policy.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #government, #india, #whatsapp

0

Instagram and WhatsApp hit by outage

Instagram and WhatsApp experienced an apparent outage on Friday. It began around 1:40 p.m. ET and lasted for more than half an hour.

WhatsApp was unable to connect to the server, and messages were not being delivered. It’s not clear if the issue also affected Facebook Messenger, which last year rolled out new functionality to allow cross-platform messaging between Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.

Instagram was showing a 500 message, suggesting a back-end server error.

Instagram's error page

Instagram’s error page. (Image: TechCrunch)

WhatsApp unable to connect to the server. (Image: TechCrunch)

WhatsApp has more than two billion users, and Instagram has about one billion users. Facebook’s developer status page did not show any immediate outages.

We’ve reached out to Facebook, which owns the two units, but did not immediately hear back. We’ll update when we know more.

More on TechCrunch:

#apps, #instagram, #social, #tc, #whatsapp

0

India tells court to block WhatsApp’s policy update, says new change violates laws

As WhatsApp spends months to address users’ concerns and confusion about its planned policy update, there is evidently one entity it hasn’t had much luck making inroads with: The Government of India.

The Indian government alleged on Friday that WhatsApp’s planned privacy update, which goes into effect in two months, violates local laws on several counts.

In a filing to the Delhi High Court, the federal government also asked the court to prevent Facebook-owned messaging app from rolling out the update in India, WhatsApp’s biggest market by users.

“Social media in recent years has been used by billions of people around the world and millions of Indians today are dependent on WhatsApp. Therefore, information that is generally personal is shared at an enormous level. This information is susceptible to being misused if the social media giant decides to either sell or exploit the information, sensitive to the users, to any third party,” the government wrote in the filing.

The filing suggests that WhatsApp hasn’t been able to assuage concerns of New Delhi, which first raised issue about the planned policy update in January.

Earlier this year, India’s IT ministry had written to Will Cathcart, the head of WhatsApp, to express its “grave concerns” about the update and its implications and had “called upon to withdraw the proposed changes.”

A WhatsApp spokesperson declined to comment.

The Indian government’s unchanging stand — and ongoing legal case — on WhatsApp’s forthcoming terms and conditions change is the latest headache for the popular instant messaging firm, which is also grappling with a forthcoming guideline from New Delhi that could require WhatsApp to compromise end-to-end encryption it offers on its service.

Used by over 2 billion users, WhatsApp has been sharing some information with parent firm Facebook since 2016. The company, which hasn’t substantially updated its terms of service since, said last year that it will be making some changes to share a set of personal data about users such as their phone number and location with Facebook.

Through an in-app alert earlier this year, WhatsApp asked users to share their consent for the new terms in January, which prompted an immediate backlash from some users. Following the backlash — which saw tens of millions of users explore competing services such as Signal and Telegram — WhatsApp said it will give users three additional months to review its new policy. (On a side note, Signal mobile apps had crossed 100 million monthly active users in February, according to a popular mobile insight firm.)

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #government, #india, #social, #whatsapp

0

Facebook to label all COVID-19 vaccine posts with pointer to official info

Facebook will soon label all posts discussing the coronavirus vaccination with a pointer to official information about COVID-19, it said today.

It also revealed it has implemented some new “temporary” measures aimed at limiting the spread of vaccine misinformation/combating vaccine hesitancy — saying it’s reducing the distribution of content from users that have violated its policies on COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation; or “that have repeatedly shared content debunked as False or Altered by our third-party fact-checking partners”.

It’s also reducing distribution of any COVID-19 or vaccine content that fact-checking partners have rated as “Missing Context”, per the blog post.

While admins for groups with admins or members who have violated its COVID-19 policies will also be required to temporarily approve all posts within their group, it said. (It’s not clear what happens if a group only has one admin and they have violated its policies.)

Facebook will also “further elevate information from authoritative sources when people seek information about COVID-19 or vaccines”, it added.

It’s not clear why users who repeatedly violate Facebook’s COVID-19 policies do not face at least a period of suspension. (We’ve asked the company for clarity on its policies.)

“We’re continuing to expand our efforts to address COVID-19 vaccine misinformation by adding labels to Facebook and Instagram posts that discuss the vaccines,” Facebook said in the Newsroom post today.

“These labels contain credible information about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines from the World Health Organization. For example, we’re adding a label on posts that discuss the safety of COVID-19 vaccines that notes COVID-19 vaccines go through tests for safety and effectiveness before they’re approved.”

The incoming COVID-19 information labels are rolling out globally in English, Spanish, Indonesian, Portuguese, Arabic and French (with additional languages touted “in the coming weeks”), per Facebook.

As well as soon rolling out labels “on all posts generally about COVID-19 vaccines” — pointing users to its COVID-19 Information Center — Facebook said it would add additional “targeted” labels about “COVID-19 vaccine subtopics”. So it sounds like it may respond directly to specific anti-vaxxer misinformation it’s seeing spreading on its platform.

“We will also add an additional screen when someone goes to share a post on Facebook and Instagram with an informational COVID-19 vaccine label. It will provide more information so people have the context they need to make informed decisions about what to share,” Facebook added.

The moves follow revelations that an internal Facebook study of vaccine hesitancy — which was reported on by the Washington Post yesterday after it obtained documents on the large-scale internal research effort — found a small number of US users are responsible for driving most of the content that’s hesitant about getting vaccinated.

“Just 10 out of the 638 population segments [Facebook’s study divided US users into] contained 50 percent of all vaccine hesitancy content on the platform,” the Post reported. “And in the population segment with the most vaccine hesitancy, just 111 users contributed half of all vaccine hesitant content.”

Last week the MIT Technology Review also published a deep-dive article probing Facebook’s approach to interrogating, via an internal ‘Responsible AI’ team, the impacts of AI-fuelled content distribution — which accused the company of prioritizing growth and engagement and neglecting the issue of toxic misinformation (and the individual and societal harms that can flow from algorithmic content choices which amplify lies and hate speech).

In the case of COVID-19, lies being spread about vaccination safety or efficacy present a clear and present danger to public health. And Facebook’s PR machine does appear to have, tardily, recognized the extent of the reputational risk it’s facing if it’s platform is associated with driving vaccine hesitancy.

To wit: Also today it’s announced the launch of a global COVID-19 education drive that it says it hopes will bring 50M people “closer to getting vaccinated”.

“By working closely with national and global health authorities and using our scale to reach people quickly, we’re doing our part to help people get credible information, get vaccinated and come back together safely,” Facebook writes in the Newsroom post that links directly to a Facebook post by founder Mark Zuckerberg also trailing the new measures, including the launch of a tool that will show U.S. Facebook users where they can get vaccinated and provide them with a link to make an appointment.

Facebook said it plans to expand the tool to other countries as global vaccine availability steps up.

Facebook’s vaccine appointment finder tool (Image credits: Facebook)

Facebook has further announced that the COVID-19 information portal it launched in the Facebook app in March last year which points users to “the latest information about the virus from local health ministries and the World Health Organization” is finally being brought to Instagram.

It’s not clear why Facebook hadn’t already launched the portal on Instagram. But it’s decided to double down on fighting bad speech (related to vaccines) with better speech — saying Instagram users will get new stickers they can add to their Instagram Stories “so people can inspire others to get vaccinated when it becomes available to them”.

In other moves being trailed in Facebook’s crisis PR blitz today it has touted “new data and insights” on vaccine attitudes being made available to public officials via COVID-19 dashboards and maps it was already offering (the data is collected by Facebook’s Data for Good partners for the effort at Carnegie Mellon University and University of Maryland as part of the COVID-19 Symptom Survey).

Albeit, it doesn’t specify what new information is being added there (or why now).

Also today it said it’s “making it easy to track how COVID-19 vaccine information is being spread on social media through CrowdTangle’s COVID-19 Live Displays“.

“Publishers, global aid organizations, journalists and others can access real-time, global streams of vaccine-related posts on Facebook, Instagram and Reddit in 34 languages. CrowdTangle also offers Live Displays for 104 countries and all 50 states in the US to help aid organizations and journalists track posts and trends at a regional level as well,” Facebook added, again without offering any context on why it hadn’t made it easier to use this tool to track vaccine information spread before.

Its blog post also touts “new” partnerships with health authorities and governments on vaccine registration — while trumpeting the ~3BN messages it says have already been sent “by governments, nonprofits and international organizations to citizens through official WhatsApp chatbots on COVID-19”. (As WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted there is no simple way to quantify how many vaccine misinformation messages have been sent via the same platform.)

Per Facebook, it’s now “working directly with health authorities and governments to get people registered for vaccinations” (such as in the city and province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is using WhatsApp as the official channel to send notifications to citizens when it’s their turn to receive the vaccine).

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have partnered with ministries of health and health-focused organizations in more than 170 countries by providing free ads, enabling partners to share their own public health guidance on COVID-19 and information about the COVID-19 vaccine,” Facebook’s PR adds in a section of the post which it’s titled “amplifying credible health information and resources from experts”.

#artificial-intelligence, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #facebook, #health, #instagram, #misinformation, #social, #vaccine, #whatsapp

0

Snapcommerce raises $85M to make over your mobile shopping experience

People are not only shopping digitally more than ever. They’re also shopping using their mobile phones more than ever.

And for mobile-first companies like Snapcommerce, this is good news.

Snapcommerce, formerly known as SnapTravel, has raised $85 million in what the company is describing as a “Pre-IPO” growth round to help further its mission of “changing the way people shop on their phones.”

The Toronto, Ontario-based startup has built out an AI-driven, vertical-agnostic platform that uses messaging in an effort to personalize the mobile shopping experience and “deliver the best promotional prices.” While it was initially focused on the travel industry, the company is now branching out into other consumer verticals – hence its name change.

Inovia Capital and Lion Capital co-led the new growth round, which included participation from Acrew DCF, Thayer Ventures, Full In Partners as well as existing backers Telstra Ventures and Bee Partners. The financing brings Snapcommerce’s total raised since its 2016 inception to over $100 million. Its last raise — a $7.2 million round from Telstra and NBA star Steph Curry — took place in 2019.

The startup was founded by tech entrepreneurs Hussein Fazal, whose prior company AdParlor grew to $100+ million in revenue, then sold to AdKnowledge back in 2011; and Henry Shi, who previously built uMentioned and worked at Google, where he helped launch YouTube Music Insights, according to previous TechCrunch reporting.

Snapcommerce co-founders Henry Shi and Hussein Fazal, Image courtesy of Snapcommerce

Snapcommerce launched its first, travel-focused product in 2017. It works by using chatbots to interact with customers via messaging apps such as SMS, Facebook and Whatsapp. But the company also has human agents ready to help if people need more assistance, in the past essentially serving as on-demand travel agents.

Its service is not just for hotels and flights, but also to help people book restaurants and activities too.

“Our focus has been on building that personal relationship,” Fazal said. “Many people end up coming back to us when they travel again.” In fact, over 40% of its sales in 2020 came from repeat customers.

Over the years, the company claims to have helped more than 10 million users globally save over $75 million. It expects to cross over $1 billion in total mobile sales this year.

And now it’s ready to branch out into helping consumers save money on goods.

“When shopping, it’s hard to find the right product and even if you do, it’s hard to find a good deal,” he said. “On a desktop, there’s ways around it. But on mobile, it’s virtually impossible.”

The company turned the corner to profitability three months into the pandemic in 2020, seeing a 60% spike in sales in the second half of the year compared to H2 2019, according to CEO Fazal.

It then decided to re-invest its profits to continue growing the business.

“The profitability during the pandemic gave us confidence that we could turn to profitability whenever we needed to and gave us control of our own destiny, which enabled this fundraise,” Fazal told TechCrunch. “The third quarter of 2020 ended up being our greatest quarter ever.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, naturally, only accelerated its growth as more consumers turned to mobile.

“We believe the next wave of power purchasers will be via mobile,” Fazal said. “Some of the new generation don’t even have desktops or laptops, and they spend all their time on their mobile phone and messaging. So we’re able to be at the forefront.” 

Snapcommerce has an IPO in its sights although no specific timeline. The company did not reveal its current valuation or hard revenue figures. The company makes money by either marking up prices provided by a merchant or charging the merchant a commission.

Chris Arsenault, partner at Inovia and Snapcommerce lead investor, said his firm “tripled up” on its investment in the startup after witnessing its success in the travel space.

“Other companies out there only care about the transaction, and force consumers to look through several services to see if they got the best price, all the while telling them ‘there’s only 2 seats left,’ ” he told TechCrunch. “We believe that consumers aren’t going to accept that type of pressure-selling in the future. And Snapcommerce’s ability to build trust with its customers and service providers has attracted us to them as they are defining what the future of commerce is going to be like.”

Ultimately, the company plans to use its fresh capital to continue to scale with the goal of streamlining the entire mobile search, purchase and fulfillment process and make finding “the right item at the right price as sending a message to a trusted friend.”

#bee-partners, #ceo, #computing, #inovia-capital, #mobile-phones, #mobile-search, #operating-systems, #partner, #sms, #steph-curry, #tc, #telstra, #telstra-ventures, #thayer-ventures, #toronto, #travel-industry, #whatsapp

0

WhatsApp rolls out voice and video calls to desktop app

WhatsApp is rolling out support for voice and video calling to its desktop app, the Facebook-owned messaging service said Thursday, providing relief to countless people sitting in front of computers who have had to reach for their phone every time their WhatsApp rang.

For now, WhatsApp said its nearly five-year-old desktop app for Mac and Windows will only support one-to-one calls for now, but that it will be expanding this feature to include group voice and video calls “in the future.”

Video calls work “seamlessly” for both portrait and landscape orientation, and the desktop client is “set to be always on top so you never lose your video chats in a browser tab or stack of open windows,” it said.

Speaking of which, support for voice and video calls is not being extended to WhatsApp Web, the browser version of the service, at the moment, a spokesperson told TechCrunch. (Facebook launched dedicated desktop app for its Messenger service last year, which supports group video calls.)

The new feature support should come in handy to millions of people who use WhatsApp’s desktop client everyday and have had to use Zoom or Google Meet for one-to-one video calls on desktop partly because of convenience.

WhatsApp, used by over 2 billion people, hasn’t shared how popular video and voice calls are on its platform, but said it processed over 1.4 billion calls on New Year’s Eve — the day usage tends to peak on the Facebook-owned platform.

Like the 100 billion messages WhatsApp processes on its platform each day, voice and video calls are also end-to-end encrypted, it said.

Once known for taking quarters to push a feature improvement to its app, WhatsApp has visibly grown more aggressive with adding new features in the past year. In late January, Facebook added opt-in biometric fingerprint, face, or iris scan authentication for WhatsApp on desktop and the web, an additional protection layer that makes more sense after today’s update.

It rolled out ephemeral messages, photos, and videos that disappear after seven days late last year, and also rolled out its payments service in India, its biggest market by users.

The new feature additions come as WhatsApp is attempting to convince users to agree to its planned changes to privacy policy — which has received some heat on Tech Twitter. Whether those concerns raised by a handful of people on Twitter extend to the larger population remain to be seen.

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

0

India sets more stringent rules for social media, streaming services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0

Following backlash, WhatsApp to roll out in-app banner to better explain its privacy update

Last month, Facebook-owned WhatsApp announced it would delay enforcement of its new privacy terms, following a backlash from confused users which later led to a legal challenge in India and various regulatory investigations. WhatsApp users had misinterpreted the privacy updates as an indication that the app would begin sharing more data — including their private messages — with Facebook. Today, the company is sharing the next steps it’s taking to try to rectify the issue and clarify that’s not the case.

The mishandling of the privacy update on WhatsApp’s part led to widespread confusion and misinformation. In reality, WhatsApp had been sharing some information about its users with Facebook since 2016, following its acquisition by Facebook.

But the backlash is a solid indication of much user trust Facebook has since squandered. People immediately suspected the worst, and millions fled to alternative messaging apps, like Signal and Telegram, as a result.

Following the outcry, WhatsApp attempted to explain that the privacy update was actually focused on optional business features on the app, which allow business to see the content of messages between it and the end user, and give the businesses permission to use that information for its own marketing purposes, including advertising on Facebook. WhatsApp also said it labels conversations with businesses that are using hosting services from Facebook to manage their chats with customers, so users were aware.

Image Credits: WhatsApp

In the weeks since the debacle, WhatsApp says it spent time gathering user feedback and listening to concerns from people in various countries. The company found that users wanted assurance that WhatsApp was not reading their private messages or listening to their conversations, and that their communications were end-to-end encrypted. Users also said they wanted to know that WhatsApp wasn’t keeping logs of who they were messaging or sharing contact lists with Facebook.

These latter concerns seem valid, given that Facebook recently made its messaging systems across Facebook, Messenger and Instagram interoperable. One has to wonder when similar integrations will make their way to WhatsApp.

Today, WhatsApp says it will roll out new communications to users about the privacy update, which follows the Status update it offered back in January aimed at clarifying points of confusion. (See below).

Image Credits: WhatsApp

In a few weeks, WhatsApp will begin to roll out a small, in-app banner that will ask users to re-review the privacy policies — a change the company said users have shown to prefer over the pop-up, full-screen alert it displayed before.

When users click on “to review,” they’ll be shown a deeper summary of the changes, including added details about how WhatsApp works with Facebook. The changes stress that WhatsApp’s update don’t impact the privacy of users’ conversations, and reiterate the information about the optional business features.

Eventually, WhatsApp will begin to remind users to review and accept its updates to keep using WhatsApp. According to its prior announcement, it won’t be enforcing the new policy until May 15.

Image Credits: WhatsApp

Users will still need to be aware that their communications with businesses are not as secure as their private messages. This impacts a growing number of WhatsApp users, 175 million of which now communicate with businesses on the app, WhatsApp said in October.

In today’s blog post about the changes, WhatsApp also took a big swipe at rival messaging apps that used the confusion over the privacy update to draw in WhatsApp’s fleeing users by touting their own app’s privacy.

“We’ve seen some of our competitors try to get away with claiming they can’t see people’s messages – if an app doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption by default that means they can read your messages,” WhatsApp’s blog post read.

This seems to be a comment directed specifically towards Telegram, which often touts its “heavily encrypted” messaging app as more private alternative. But Telegram doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption by default, as apps like WhatsApp and Signal do. It uses “transport layer” encryption that protects the connection from the user to the server, a Wired article citing cybersecurity professionals explained in January. When users want an end-to-end encrypted experience for their one-on-one chats, they can enable the “secret chats” feature instead. (And this feature isn’t even available for group chats.)

In addition, WhatsApp fought back against the characterization that it’s somehow less safe because it has some limited data on users.

“Other apps say they’re better because they know even less information than WhatsApp. We believe people are looking for apps to be both reliable and safe, even if that requires WhatsApp having some limited data,” the post read. “We strive to be thoughtful on the decisions we make and we’ll continue to develop new ways of meeting these responsibilities with less information, not more,” it noted.

#apps, #encryption, #facebook, #messaging-apps, #policy, #privacy, #security, #signal, #social-media, #tc, #telegram, #whatsapp

0

Jamaica’s immigration website exposed thousands of travelers’ data

A security lapse by a Jamaican government contractor has exposed immigration records and COVID-19 test results for hundreds of thousands of travelers who visited the island over the past year.

The Jamaican government contracted Amber Group to build the JamCOVID19 website and app, which the government uses to publish daily coronavirus figures and allows residents to self-report their symptoms. The contractor also built the website to pre-approve travel applications to visit the island during the pandemic, a process that requires travelers to upload a negative COVID-19 test result before they board their flight if they come from high-risk countries, including the United States.

But a cloud storage server storing those uploaded documents was left unprotected and without a password, and was publicly spilling out files onto the open web.

Many of the victims whose information was found on the exposed server are Americans.

The data is now secure after TechCrunch contacted Amber Group’s chief executive Dushyant Savadia, who did not comment when reached prior to publication.

The storage server, hosted on Amazon Web Services, was set to public. It’s not known for how long the data was unprotected, but contained more than 70,000 negative COVID-19 lab results, over 425,000 immigration documents authorizing travel to the island — which included the traveler’s name, date of birth and passport numbers — and over 250,000 quarantine orders dating back to June 2020, when Jamaica reopened its borders to visitors after the pandemic’s first wave. The server also contained more than 440,000 images of travelers’ signatures.

Two U.S. travelers whose lab results were among the exposed data told TechCrunch that they uploaded their COVID-19 results through the Visit Jamaica website before their travel. Once lab results are processed, travelers receive a travel authorization that they must present before boarding their flight.

Both of these documents, as well as quarantine orders that require visitors to shelter in place and several passports, were on the exposed storage server.

Travelers who are staying outside Jamaica’s so-called “resilient corridor,” a zone that covers a large portion of the island’s population, are told to install the app built by Amber Group that tracks their location and is tracked by the Ministry of Health to ensure visitors stay within the corridor. The app also requires that travelers record short “check-in” videos with a daily code sent by the government, along with their name and any symptoms.

The server exposed more than 1.1 million of those daily updating check-in videos.

An airport information flyer given to travelers arriving in Jamaica. Travelers may be required to install the JamCOVID19 app to allow the government to monitor their location and to require video check-ins. (Image: Jamaican government)

The server also contained dozens of daily timestamped spreadsheets named “PICA,” likely for the Jamaican passport, immigration and citizenship agency, but these were restricted by access permissions. But the permissions on the storage server were set so that anyone had full control of the files inside, such as allowing them to be downloaded or deleted altogether. (TechCrunch did neither, as doing so would be unlawful.)

Stephen Davidson, a spokesperson for the Jamaican Ministry of Health, did not comment when reached, or say if the government planned to inform travelers of the security lapse.

Savadia founded Amber Group in 2015 and soon launched its vehicle-tracking system, Amber Connect.

According to one report, Amber’s Savadia said the company developed JamCOVID19 “within three days” and made it available to the Jamaican government in large part for free. The contractor is billing other countries, including Grenada and the British Virgin Islands, for similar implementations, and is said to be looking for other government customers outside the Caribbean.

Savadia would not say what measures his company put in place to protect the data of paying governments.

Jamaica has recorded at least 19,300 coronavirus cases on the island to date, and more than 370 deaths.


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#amazon-web-services, #caribbean, #government, #health, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #prevention, #privacy, #quarantine, #second-life, #securedrop, #security, #united-states, #web-services, #whatsapp

0

WhatsApp is adding opt-in biometrics to its web and desktop versions

WhatsApp, the popular messaging app with more than 2 billion users, has been getting a lot of heat (and losing users) in recent weeks after announcing changes to how it shares data with its owner Facebook. Now, it’s adding a new biometric feature to the service that will be helping make those using its web and desktop versions a little more secure.

The company said that from today, it will roll out a new look for its web and desktop apps, which will let people create an additional authentication layer using biometrics when they want to use WhatsApp on desktop or web.

You will now have the option (not requirement) to add in a biometric login, which uses either a fingerprint, face ID, or iris ID — depending on the device — on Android or iPhone handsets, to add in a second layer of authentication. When implemented, it will appear for users before a desktop or web version can be linked up with a mobile app account, which today relies just on using a QR code.

WhatsApp says that on iPhone, it will work with all devices operating iOS 14 and above with Touch ID or Face ID, while on Android, it will work on any device compatible with Biometric Authentication (Face Unlock, Fingerprint Unlock or Iris Unlock).

The service is another step forward in WhatsApp creating more feature parity between its flagship mobile apps, and how you interact with the service when you use it elsewhere.

While WhatsApp started as a mobile messaging app, it has over the years been building out other ways of using it, for adding desktop support in 2015 to the iOS version.

Mobile still accounts for the majority of WhatsApp’s users, but events like global health pandemics, which are keeping more of us inside, are likely leading to a surge of users of its Web and native desktop apps, and so it makes sense for it to be adding more features there.

WhatsApp told TechCrunch that it is going to be adding in more features this year to bring the functionality of the two closer together. There are still big gaps: for example, you can’t make calls on the WhatsApp web version.

To be clear, the biometric service, which is being turned on globally, will be opt-in: users will need to go to their settings to turn on the feature, in the same way that today they need to go into their settings to turn on biometric authentication for their mobile apps.

What comes next for biometrics?

WhatsApp’s recent announcements about data-sharing changes between it and Facebook have put a lot of people on edge about the company’s intentions — a particularly sensitive issue since messaging has become a very personal and sometimes private space. Originally thought as separate from what people do on more open social networking platforms, that position has been eroded over the years through data leaks, group messaging abuses, and (yes) changes in privacy terms.

That means there will likely be a lot of people who will doubt what Facebook’s intentions are here, too.

WhatsApp is pretty clear in outlining that it’s not able to access the biometric information that you will be storing in your device, and that it is using the same standard biometric authentication APIs that other secure apps, like banking apps, use.

The banking app parallel is notable here: consider how the company has been adding a lot more features and functionality into WhatsApp, including the ability to pay for goods and services, and in markets like India, tests to offer insurance and pension products. It will be interesting to see if this new biometric feature, used now to authenticate people to link up apps across devices, might appear as those other features get rolled out beyond mobile, too.

#biometrics, #messaging, #messaging-apps, #privacy, #security, #social, #whatsapp

0

How emerging markets are approaching crypto

From Brazil to Nigeria, people turn to Bitcoin for different reasons than most of their speculating counterparts in North America. Namely, because it’s the most advantageous way for them to conduct international transactions. 

Such is the case with a 28-year-old poker player in Brazil who simply goes by Felipe, for safety. Poker is a legal form of gambling in Brazil, so Felipe can use Brazilian banks and regulated exchanges to earn income from home. He dropped out of law school because playing poker against foreigners with Bitcoin to spend was more profitable than becoming a partner at a local law firm. Felipe said he now outearns his brother, a middle-tier executive at one of Brazil’s top corporations. 

“Bitcoin is the best medium of money exchange in the poker community,” Felipe said. “I withdraw earnings as Bitcoin, or as Tether, to a Brazilian crypto exchange and sell it there.”

Felipe said he is wary of his government because he believes the Brazilian economy will experience a catastrophic shock in the next few years. Back in 1992, President Fernando Collor de Mello was impeached after confiscating millions of civilian savings accounts to offset national debts. Felipe doesn’t want his bank account forcibly emptied when the next crisis hits. This inspires him to accumulate Bitcoin, avoiding more traditional options stocks. 

“The pension funds system is completely broken,” Felipe added. “The thing with Bitcoin is, you don’t need it until you do.” 

Manuel Folgueiras is one of many Cuban users who joined the Bitcoin ecosystem over the past year. This 33-year-old economist, who lost his tourism industry job in 2020, now supports himself using various cryptocurrency projects.

“It’s very difficult to get Bitcoin, because we don’t have access to any exchanges and there are a lot of scams. Cuban banks don’t have relationships with crypto exchanges,” Folgueiras said. “Now I use Bitcoin for both savings and income, through trading arbitrage. We have to use a VPN and it’s very risky. If the exchange detects that you’re from Cuba, your account will get blocked.”

Global demand for Bitcoin has been surging since the pandemic began in 2020, pushing dollar-denominated prices briefly past $34,000 during the first week of January, 2021. For residents in many emerging markets, demand for Bitcoin is driven by concerns about the overall health of their national economies, not pure speculation. Some of these countries where Bitcoin markets are spiking, especially in Latin America and the Middle East, are seeing their domestic economies tailspin and are worried political controls could further threaten economic stability.

For example, since Western Union stopped operating in Cuba, more Cubans are using Bitcoin than ever before. For people in a variety of countries, pandemic policy changes reduced access to the dollar-centric financial system.

Folgueiras estimated he is one of roughly 80,000 people on the island involved in an unofficial brokerage business called Trust Investing, often called a Ponzi scheme by local technologists. In short, the business promises to trade cryptocurrency on behalf of “investors,” to whom they deposit lucrative returns. The project promises 200% returns, which seems impossible, and references questionable “partners” on the Trust Investing website. 

Those partner companies are registered to people associated with a variety of court cases across Latin America and, in June 2020, Panama’s National Securities Market Commission (CNMV) published a warning not to trust the Trust Investing company itself. Even Folgueiras acknowledged that many people call this business a scam. But he said returns from the Trust Investing program are helping him survive the abysmal job market. It’s a gamble whether the company will give him returns or run away with his money, a risk he’s willing to take. 

Plus, Folgueiras added, any form of Bitcoin business in Cuba is already “very risky.” There aren’t many regulated, trustworthy exchanges openly serving Cubans today, due to U.S. sanctions. Aside from the remittance startup, BitRemesas, the last compliance-oriented startup that tried serving this market shut down in 2019. As such, many Cubans turn to questionable schemes, or WhatsApp, instead. 

“Cubans get Bitcoin via WhatsApp groups, peer-to-peer trading. The most popular mobile wallets are Coinomi, Enjin Wallet and Trust Wallet, because most people in Cuba only use a cell phone. It’s a mobile-only market,” Folgueiras said. “Bitcoin changed my life in a positive way and became an important source of income. Cryptocurrencies are also an interesting way for Cubans to shop online and send international payments or remittances.” 

This grassroots, mobile-only environment is common across many small countries with underdeveloped economics. Likewise, Fodé Diop, founder of the Dakar Bitcoin Developers meetup in Senegal, told CoinDesk last year that Senegal was not just a mobile-first market; it’s a mobile-only Bitcoin scene. Unlike North America and Europe, many emerging-market crypto communities only use cell phones for everything from research and trading to storage. 

On the other hand, it would be a mistake to assume most emerging-market Bitcoin users are marginalized by the global banking system. To the contrary, in countries like Nigeria and Brazil, many upper-middle-class entrepreneurs and gamers use Bitcoin to conduct perfectly legal business. According to data from the global peer-to-peer (P2P) markets LocalBitcoins and Paxful, there were more than $25.3 million worth of P2P Bitcoin trades last year in Brazil alone. 

Meanwhile, in Africa, Nigerian P2P Bitcoin volumes dwarf those numbers with a cool $357 million. Likewise, BuyCoins co-founder Tomiwa Lasebikan said his Nigerian cryptocurrency exchange ballooned from an average of $5 million in monthly volume in December 2019 to $21 million by December 2020. 

He said several factors spurred local growth, including anti-police brutality activists like the Nigerian Feminist Coalition, which collected bitcoin donations after being denied banking access, and stricter banking limitations on Nigerians paying for international services.

A lot of people in Nigeria are running into a problem that they couldn’t renew subscriptions, like Spotify or Amazon, with their Nigerian accounts,” Lasebikan said. “Then, in October, there was a whole lot of interest in cryptocurrency, not just Bitcoin, for aggregating donations for people protesting police brutality. A lot of activists had their bank accounts shut down. Continued fundraising like this, both inside and outside the country, would not have been possible two decades ago.” 

He added his exchange startup now serves roughly 12,000 active users a month. Nearby, Binance communications lead in Nigeria, Damilola Odufuwa, said her global exchange company facilitated hundreds of virtual events for 17,000 Nigerian crypto beginners in 2020. These educational programs covered basic terminology, trading strategies and guides to opening exchange accounts. 

“During the pandemic, it was hard to get things into the country, including remittances,” Odufuwa said