Facebook addresses political controversy in India, monetization opportunities, startup investments

At the beginning of the previous decade, Facebook had a tiny presence in India. It had just started to slowly expand its team in the country and was inking deals with telecom operators to make access to its service free to users and even offer incentives such as free voice credit.

India’s internet population, now the second largest with more than 500 million connected users, itself was very small. In early 2011, the country had fewer than 100 million internet users.

But Facebook ended up playing a crucial role in the last decade. So much so that by the end of it, the social juggernaut was reaching nearly every internet user in the country. WhatsApp alone reaches more than 400 million internet users in India, more than any other app in the country, according to mobile insight firm App Annie.

This reach of Facebook in India didn’t go unnoticed. Politicians in the country today heavily rely on Facebook services, including WhatsApp, to get their message out. But it has also complicated things.

Rumors have spread on WhatsApp that cost lives, and politicians from both the large political parties in India in recent weeks have accused the company of showing favoritism to the other side.

To address these issues, and the role Facebook wishes to play in India, Ajit Mohan, the head of the company’s business in the country, joined us at Disrupt 2020. Following are some of the highlights.

On controversy

A recent report in WSJ claimed that Ankhi Das, one of Facebook’s top executives in India, decided against taking down a post from a politician from the ruling party. She did so, the report claimed, because she feared it could hurt the company’s business prospects in India.

In Mohan’s first interview since the controversy broke, he refuted the claims that any executive in the country holds power to influence how Facebook enforces its content policy.

“We believe that it’s important for us to be open and neutral and non-partisan,” he said. “We have deep belief and conviction that our enabling role is as a neutral party that allows speech of all kinds, that allows expression of all kinds, including political expression, and a lot of the guidelines that we have developed are to make sure that we really enable our diversity of expression and opinion so long as we’re able to make sure that the safety and security of people are protected.”

Mohan said the internal processes and systems inside Facebook are designed to ensure that any opinion and preference of an employee or a group of employees is “quite separate from the company and the company’s objective enforcement of its own policies.”

He said individuals can offer input on decisions, but nobody — including Ankhi Das — can unilaterally influence the decision Facebook takes on content enforcement.

“We do allow free expression inside the company as well. We don’t have any constraints on people expressing their point of view, but we see that separate from the enforcement of our content policy. […] The content policy itself, in the context of India, is a team that stands separate from the public policy team that is led by Ankhi,” he added.

This photo illustration shows an Indian newspaper vendor reading a newspaper with a full back page advertisement from WhatsApp intended to counter fake information, in New Delhi on July 10, 2018. (Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP)

On India and monetization

Even as Facebook has amassed hundreds of millions of users in India, the world’s second largest market contributes little to its bottom line. So why does Facebook care so much about the country?

“India is in the middle of a very exciting economic and social transformation where digital has a massive role to play. In just the last four years, more than 500 million users have come online. The pace of this transformation probably has no parallel in either human history or even in the digital transformation happening in countries around the world,” he said.

“For a company like ours, if you look at the family of apps across WhatsApp and Instagram, we believe we have a useful role to play in fueling this transformation,” he said.

Even as Facebook does not generate a lot of revenue from India, Mohan said the company has established itself as one of the most trusted platforms for marketers. “They look to us as a material partner in their marketing agenda,” he said.

He said the company is hopeful that advertising as a GDP will go up in India. “Therefore ad-revenue will become substantial over time,” he said.

For Facebook, India is also crucial because it allows the company to build some unique products that solve issues for India but could be replicated in other markets. The company is currently testing an integration of WhatsApp, which currently does not have a business model despite having over 2 billion users, with new Indian e-commerce JioMart, to allow users to easily track their orders.

“We think there is opportunity to build India-first models, experiment at scale, and in a world where we succeed, we see huge opportunity in taking some of these models global,” he said.

Facebook as a VC

Facebook does not usually invest in startups. But in India, the company has invested in social-commerce firm Meesho, online learning platform Unacademy — it even participated in its follow-up round — and it wrote a $5.7 billion check to Jio Platforms earlier this year. So why is Facebook taking this investment route in India?

“We wanted to create a program for taking minority investments in early-stage startups to figure out how we could be helpful to startup founders and the ecosystem as a whole. The starting point was backing teams that were building models that in some ways were unique to India and could go global. Since we made an investment in Meesho, they have made a strong thrust in Indonesia. These are the kind of companies where we feel we can add value as well as we can learn from these startups,” he said.

The partnership with Jio Platforms follows a different rationale. “The transformation we talked about in India in the last few years, Jio triggered it,” he said. Other than that, Facebook is exploring ways to work with Jio, such as with its partnership with Jio’s venture JioMart. “It can really fuel the small and medium business that is good for the Indian economy,” he said.

Mohan said the company continues to explore more opportunities in Indian startups, especially with those where the teams think Facebook can add value, but he said there is no mandate of any kind that Facebook has to invest in, say dozens of startups in three to four years. “It’s not a volume play,” he said.

But would these firms, including Reliance Industries, which operates Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, will receive any special access on Facebook’s services. What if Amazon, BigBasket, Grofers, or Flipkart want to integrate with WhatsApp, too? Mohan said Facebook platform is open for every firm and everyone will receive the same level of access and opportunities.

In the interview, Mohan, who ran the Disney-run Hotstar on-demand streaming service in India, also talked about the growing usage of video in India, the state of WhatsApp Pay’s rollout in the country, what Facebook thinks of India’s ban on Chinese apps, and much more. You can watch the full interview below.

#ajit-mohan, #apps, #asia, #disrupt, #disrupt-2020, #facebook, #facebook-india, #hotstar, #meesho, #social, #techcrunch-disrupt, #unacademy, #venture-capital, #whatsapp, #whatsapp-pay

0

Courier raises $10.1M Series A to help developers integrate multi-channel notifications

Courier is an API platform with a no-code twist that helps developers add multi-channel user notifications to their applications. The company today announced that it has raised a $10.1 million Series A funding round led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Matrix Partners, Twilio and Slack Fund also participated in this round.

Previously, the company raised a $2.3 million seed round led by Matrix Partners, with participation from Y Combinator. That round, which closed in April 2019, was previously unreported. Bessemer Venture Partners’ Byron Deeter and Matrix Partners’ Patrick Malatack, the previous VP of Product at Twilio, will join Courier’s Board of Directors.

“While at Twilio, I saw developers wrestling with integrating multiple channels together into a single experience,” says Malatack in today’s announcement. “Courier’s vision of a single platform for connecting and managing multiple channels really compliments the channel explosion I was seeing customers struggle with.”

Image Credits: Courier

Courier founder and CEO Troy Goode previously led an engineering group at marketing automation firm Eloqua, which was acquired by Oracle in 2012, and as the CTO and Head of Product at logistics software provider Winmore. Eloqua is clearly where he drew his inspiration for Courier from, though, which he built out during his time at Y Combinator.

“And one of the things that I noticed and became very frustrated by was that with Eloqua, Marketo, HubSpot, there were a ton of different tools for marketing teams to use to communicate with prospects and our leads,” Goode told me. “But as soon as somebody became a customer, as soon as somebody became a user, we weren’t using those platforms. All of a sudden, we were manually plugging in infrastructure level systems like SendGrid and Twilio.”

The idea behind Courier is to provide development teams with a one-stop service for all their notification and communication infrastructure needs without having to build it from scratch. As Goode noted, large companies like Airbnb and LinkedIn can afford to build and maintain these systems to send out transactional emails to their users, often with teams that have dozens of engineers on them. Small teams can build less sophisticated solutions, but there’s really no need for every company to reinvent the wheel.

Today, Courier integrates with the likes of Slack, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, SendGrid, Postmark, Mailgun, MessageBird, Twilio and Nexmo, among others.

One thing that makes the service stand out is that it offers both a no-code system for users to build their massaging flows and templates, as well as the APIs for developers to integrate these into their applications. That means anybody within a company can, for example, build rules to route messages through specific channels and providers based on their needs, on top of managing the content and the branding of the messages that are being sent.

Image Credits: Courier

“You’ve got this broad array of potential providers,” Good said. “And what you need to do is figure out, okay, which provider am I going to use? And sometimes, especially at large organizations, the answer is multiple providers. And or email, you might need a backup email service in case your primary goes down, or you need to warm up an IP pool for SMS . You might have different providers per geography for both deliverability and price reasons. That’s really hard stuff to build yourself.”

But in addition, different recipients also have different preferences, too, and while users can build rules around that today, the company is looking at how to automate this process over time so that it can, for example, automatically ping users on the channel where they are most likely to respond (or purchase something) at a given time of the day.

Goode noted that it may be hard to convert big businesses to move to its platform given that they have already invested a lot into their own systems. But like Stripe, which faced a similar problem given that most potential users weren’t waiting to rip out their existing payment infrastructure, he believes that partnering with companies early and having patience will pay off in the long run.

#airbnb, #api, #bessemer-venture-partners, #byron-deeter, #ceo, #computing, #courier, #eloqua, #facebook, #hubspot, #mailgun, #marketo, #matrix-partners, #messenger, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #operating-systems, #oracle, #recent-funding, #sendgrid, #slack, #slack-fund, #sms, #software, #startups, #twilio, #whatsapp

0

WhatsApp reveals six previously undisclosed vulnerabilities on new security site

Facebook-owned WhatsApp has revealed six previously undisclosed vulnerabilities, which the company has now fixed. The vulnerabilities are being reported on a dedicated security advisory website that will serve as the new resource providing a comprehensive list of WhatsApp security updates and associated Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE).

WhatsApp said five of the six vulnerabilities were fixed in the same day, while the remaining bug took a couple of days to remediate. Although some of the bugs could have been remotely triggered, the company said it found no evidence of hackers actively exploiting the vulnerabilities.

Around one-third of the new vulnerabilities were reported through the company’s Bug Bounty Program, while the others were discovered in routine code reviews and by using automated systems, as would be expected.

WhatsApp is one of the world’s most popular apps with more than two billion users around the world. But it’s also a persistent target for hackers, who try to find and exploit vulnerabilities in the platform.

The new website was launched as part of the company’s efforts to be more transparent about vulnerabilities targeting the messaging app, and in response to user feedback. The company says the WhatsApp community has been asking for a centralized location for tracking security vulnerabilities, as WhatsApp isn’t always able to detail its security advisories in an app’s release notes due to app store policies.

The new dashboard will update monthly, or sooner if it has to warn users of an active attack. It will also offer an archive of past CVEs dating back to 2018. While the website’s main focus will be on CVEs in WhatsApp’s code, if the company files a CVE with the public database MITRE for a vulnerability it found in third-party code, it will denote that on the WhatsApp Security Advisory page, as well.

Last year, WhatsApp went public after fixing a vulnerability allegedly used by Israeli spyware maker NSO Group. WhatsApp sued the spyware maker, alleging the company used the vulnerability to covertly deliver its Pegasus spyware to some 1,400 devices — including more than 100 human rights defenders and journalists.

NSO denied the allegations.

John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, whose work has included investigating NSO Group, welcomed the news.

“This is good, and we know that bad actors make use of extensive resources to acquire and weaponize vulnerabilities,” he told TechCrunch. “WhatsApp sending the signal that it’s going to move regularly to identify and patch in this way seems like yet another way to raise the cost for bad actors.”

In a blog post, WhatsApp said: “We are very committed to transparency and this resource is intended to help the broader technology community benefit from the latest advances in our security efforts. We strongly encourage all users to ensure they keep their WhatsApp up-to-date from their respective app stores and update their mobile operating systems whenever updates are available.”

Facebook also said Thursday that it has codified its vulnerability disclosure policy, allowing the company to warn developers of security vulnerabilities in third-party code that Facebook and WhatsApp rely on.

#apps, #computer-security, #nso-group, #security, #social-media, #vulnerability, #whatsapp

0

Facebook changes name of its annual VR event and its overall AR/VR organization

Facebook is moving further away from the Oculus brand.

The company says it is changing the name of their augmented reality and virtual reality division to “Facebook Reality Labs,” a division which will encompass the company’s AR/VR products under the Oculus, Spark and Portal brands.

The company’s AR/VR research division had its title changed from Oculus Research to Facebook Reality Labs back in 2018. That division will now be known as FRL Research.

Facebook has also announced that Oculus Connect, its annual virtual reality developer conference, will be renamed Facebook Connect and will be occurring entirely virtually on September 16.

Oculus has held a very different existence inside Facebook than other high-profile acquisitions like Instagram or WhatsApp . The org has been folded deeper into the core of the company, both in terms of leadership and organizational structure. The entire AR/VR org is run by Andrew Bosworth, a long-time executive at the company who is a close confidant of CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Bosworth

In some sense, the name change is just an indication that the product ambitions of Facebook in the AR/VR world have grown larger since its 2014 Oculus acquisition.

Facebook is now no longer just building headsets, they’re also building augmented reality glasses, they’re adding AR software integrations into their core app and Instagram through Spark AR and, yes, they’re still doing some stuff with Facebook Portal.

In another sense, adding the term “Labs” to the end of a division that’s several years old with several products you’ve spent billions of dollars to realize, seems to be Facebook doubling down on the idea that everything contained therein is (1) pretty experimental and (2) not contributing all that much to the Facebook bottom line. This seems like the likely home for future Facebook moonshots.

The change will likely upset some Oculus users. Facebook’s reputation problems anecdotally seem to have a particularly strong hold among PC gamers leaving some Oculus fans generally unhappy with any news that showcases the Oculus brand coming further beneath the core Facebook org. Last week, the company shared that new Oculus headset users will need to sign into the platform with their Facebook account and that they would be phasing out Oculus accounts over time, a change that was met with hostility from insiders who believed that Facebook would keep more distance between the core social app and its virtual reality platform.

At this point, Oculus is still the brand name of the VR headsets Facebook sells and the company maintains that the brand isn’t going anywhere, but directionally it seems that Facebook is aiming to bring the brand closer beneath its wing.

#andrew-bosworth, #augmented-reality, #ceo, #computing, #digital-media, #executive, #facebook, #instagram, #mark-zuckerberg, #oculus, #oculus-rift, #oculus-vr, #tc, #virtual-reality, #wearable-devices, #whatsapp

0

Further delay to GDPR enforcement of 2018 Twitter breach

Twitter users have to wait to longer to find out what penalties, if any, the platform faces under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for a data breach that dates back around two years.

In the meanwhile the platform has continued to suffer security failures — including, just last month, when hackers gained control of scores of verified accounts and tweeted out a crypto scam.

The tech firm’s lead regulator in the region, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), began investigating an earlier Twitter breach in November 2018 — completing the probe earlier this year and submitting a draft decision to other EU DPAs for review in May, just ahead of the second anniversary of the GDPR’s application.

In a statement on the development, Graham Doyle, the DPC’s deputy commissioner, told TechCrunch: “The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) issued a draft decision to other Concerned Supervisory Authorities (CSAs) on 22 May 2020, in relation to this inquiry into Twitter. A number of objections were raised by CSAs and the DPC engaged in a consultation process with them. However, following consultation a number of objections were maintained and the DPC has now referred the matter to the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) under Article 65 of the GDPR.”

Under the regulation’s one-stop-shop mechanism, cross-border cases are handled by a lead regulator — typically where the business has established its regional base. For many tech companies that means Ireland, so the DPC has an oversized role in the regulation of Silicon Valley’s handling of people’s data.

This means it now has a huge backlog of highly anticipated complaints relating to tech giants including Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and indeed Twitter. The regulator also continues to face criticism for not yet ‘getting it over the line’ in any of these complaints and investigations pertaining to big tech. So the Twitter breach case is being especially closely watched as it looks set to be the Irish DPC’s first enforcement decision in a cross-border GDPR case.

Last year commissioner Helen Dixon said the first of these decisions would be coming “early” in 2020. In the event, we’re past the halfway mark of the year with still no enforcement to show for it. Though the DPC emphasizes the need to follow due process to ensure final decisions stand up to any challenge.

The latest delay in the Twitter case is a consequence of disagreements between the DPC and other regional watchdogs which, under the rules of GDPR, have a right to raise objections on a draft decision where users in their countries are also affected.

It’s not clear what specific objections have been raised to the DPC’s draft Twitter decision, or indeed what Ireland’s regulator has decided in what should be a relatively straightforward case, given it’s a breach — not a complaint about a core element of a data-mining business model.

Far more complex complaints are still sitting on the DPC’s desk. Doyle confirmed that a complaint pertaining to WhatsApp’s legal basis for sharing user data with Facebook remains the next most progressed in the stack, for example.

So, given the DPC’s Twitter breach draft decision hasn’t been universally accepted by Europe’s data watchdogs it’s all but inevitable Facebook -WhatsApp will go through the same objections process. Ergo, expect more delays.

Article 65 of the GDPR sets out a process for handling objections on draft decisions. It allows for one month for DPAs to reach a two-thirds majority, with the possibility for a further extension of another month — which would push a decision on the Twitter case into late October.

If there’s still not enough votes in favor at that point, a further two weeks are allowed for EDPB members to reach a simple majority. If DPAs are still split the Board chair, currently Andrea Jelinek, has the deciding vote. So the body’s role in major decisions over big tech looks set to be very key.

We’ve reached out to the EDPB with questions related to the Twitter objections and will update this report with any response.

The Article 65 process exists to try to find consensus across a patchwork of national and regional data supervisors. But it won’t silence critics who argue the GDPR is not able to be applied fast enough to uphold EU citizens’ rights in the face of fast-iterating data-mining giants.

To wit: Given the latest developments, a final decision on the Twitter breach could be delayed until November — a full two years after the investigation began.

Earlier this summer a two-year review of GDPR by the European Commission, meanwhile, highlighted a lack of uniformly vigorous enforcement. Though commissioners signalled a willingness to wait and see how the one-stop-shop mechanism runs its course on cross-border cases, while admitting there’s a need to reinforce cooperation and co-ordination on cross border issues.

“We need to be sure that it’s possible for all the national authorities to work together. And in the network of national authorities it’s the case — and with the Board [EDPB] it’s possible to organize that. So we’ll continue to work on it,” justice commissioner, Didier Reynders, said in June.

“The best answer will be a decision from the Irish data protection authority about important cases,” he added then.

#andrea-jelinek, #data-protection, #europe, #european-commission, #european-data-protection-board, #european-union, #facebook, #gdpr, #general-data-protection-regulation, #helen-dixon, #ireland, #linkedin, #privacy, #social, #twitter, #whatsapp

0

More Chinese phones could lose US apps under Trump’s Clean Network

Over a third of the world’s smartphone sales come from Chinese vendors Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo. These manufacturers have thrived not only because they offer value-for-money handsets thanks to China’s supply chains, but they also enjoy a relatively open mobile ecosystem, in which consumers in most countries can freely access the likes of Google, Instagram and WhatsApp.

That openness is under attack as the great U.S.-China tech divide inches closer to reality, which can cause harm on both sides.

The Trump Administration’s five-pronged Clean Network initiative aims to strip away Chinese phone makers’ ability to pre-install and download U.S. apps. Under U.S. sanctions, Huawei already lost access to key Google services, which has dealt a blow to its overseas phone sales. Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, and other Chinese phone makers could suffer the same setback as Huawei, should the Clean Network applies to them.

For years, China has maintained a closed-up internet with the Great Firewall restricting a bevy of Western services, often without explicitly presenting the reasons for censorship. Now the U.S. has a plan that could potentially keep Chinese apps off the American internet.

The Clean Network program was first announced in April as part of the Trump Administration’s efforts in “guarding our citizens’ privacy and our companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party.”

Beijing said Thursday it’s firmly opposed to U.S. restrictions on Chinese tech firms and blasted that the U.S. uses such actions to preserve its technology hegemony.

Many on Chinese social media compare Trump’s Clean Network proposal to routine cyberspace crackdowns in China, which regulators say are to purge pornography, violence, gambling, and other ‘illegal’ activities. Others that espouse a free internet lament its looming demise.

It’s unclear when the rules would be implemented and how they would be enforced. The program also aims to remove ‘untrusted’ Chinese apps from US app stores. A TikTok ban is looking less likely as Microsoft nears a buyout, but other Chinese apps also have a big presence in the U.S. Many, like WeChat and Weibo, target the diaspora community, while players like Likee and Zynn, owned by Chinese firms, are making waves among local users.

Chinese firms are already hedging. Some like TikTok have set up overseas data centers. Others register their entities abroad and maintain U.S. offices, while still resorting to China for cheaper engineering talents. It’s simply impractical to investigate — and hard to determine — every app’s Chinese origin.

Under the program, carriers like China Mobile are not allowed to connect with U.S. telecoms networks, which could prevent these services from offering U.S. roaming to Chinese travelers.

The initiative also tells U.S. companies not to store information on Chinese cloud services like Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu. Chinese cloud providers don’t find many clients in the U.S., perhaps except when they are hosting data for their own services, such as Tencent games serving American users.

Lastly, the framework wants to ensure U.S. undersea cables connecting to the world “are not subverted for intelligence gathering by the PRC at hyper-scale.”

Such sweeping restrictions, if carried out, will almost certainly trigger retaliation from China. But what bargaining chips are left for Beijing? Apple and Tesla are the few American tech behemoths with significant business interest in China.

#alibaba, #apple, #asia, #beijing, #china, #china-mobile, #chinese-communist-party, #firewall, #government, #great-firewall, #huawei, #oppo, #tencent, #tesla, #tiktok, #trump-administration, #vivo, #wechat, #weibo, #whatsapp, #xiaomi

0

Google-Fitbit deal to be scrutinized in Europe over data competition concerns

In a set-back for Google’s plan to acquire health wearable company Fitbit, the European Commission has announced it’s opening an investigation to dig into a range of competition concerns being attached to the proposal from multiple quarters.

This means the deal is on ice for a period of time that could last until early December.

The Commission said it has 90 working days to take a decision on the acquisition — so until December 9, 2020.

Commenting on opening an “in-depth investigation” in a statement, Commission EVP Margrethe Vestager — who heads up both competition policy and digital strategy for the bloc — said: “The use of wearable devices by European consumers is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. This will go hand in hand with an exponential growth of data generated through these devices. This data provides key insights about the life and the health situation of the users of these devices.Our investigation aims to ensure that control by Google over data collected through wearable devices as a result of the transaction does not distort competition.”

Google has responded to the EU brake on its ambitions with a blog post in which its devices & services chief seeks to defend the deal, arguing it will spur innovation and lead to increased competition.

“This deal is about devices, not data,” Google VP Rick Osterloh further claims.

The tech giant announced its desire to slip into Fitbit’s data-sets back in November, when it announced a plan to shell out $2.1BN in an all-cash deal to pick up the wearable maker.

Fast forward a few months and CEO Sundar Pichai is being taken to task by lawmakers on home turf for stuff like ‘helping destroy anonymity on the Internet‘. Last year’s already rowdy antitrust drum beat around big tech has become a full on rock festival so the mood music around tech acquisitions might finally be shifting.

Since news of Google’s plan to grab Fitbit dropped concerns about the deal have been raised all over Europe — with consumer groups, privacy regulators and competition and tech policy wonks all sounding the alarm at the prospect of letting the adtech giant gobble a device maker and help itself to a bunch of sensitive consumer health data in the process.

Digital privacy rights group, Privacy International — one of the not-for-profits that’s been urging regulators not to rubberstamp the deal — argues the acquisition would not only squeeze competition in the nascent digital health market, and also for wearables, but also reduce “what little pressure there currently is on Google to compete in relation to privacy options available to consumers (both existing and future Fitbit users), leading to even less competition on privacy standards and thereby enabling the further degradation of consumers’ privacy protections”, as it puts it.

So much noise is being made that Google has already played the ‘we promise not to…’ card that’s a favorite of data-mining tech giants. (Typically followed, a few years later, with a ‘we got ya sucker’ joker — as they go ahead and do the thing they totally said they wouldn’t.)

To wit: From the get-go Fitbit has claimed users’ “health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads”. Just like WhatsApp said nothing would change when Facebook bought them. (Er.)

Last month Reuters revisited the concession, in an “exclusive” report that cited “people familiar with the matter” who apparently told it the deal could be waved through if Google pledged not to use Fitbit data for ads.

It’s not clear where the leak underpinning its news report came from but Reuters also ran with a quote from a Google spokeswoman — who further claimed: “Throughout this process we have been clear about our commitment not to use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads and our responsibility to provide people with choice and control with their data.”

In the event, Google’s headline-grabbing promises to behave itself with Fitbit data have not prevented EU regulators from wading in for a closer look at competition concerns — which is exactly as it should be.

In truth, given the level of concern now being raised about tech giants’ market power and adtech giant Google specifically grabbing a treasure trove of consumer health data, a comprehensive probe is the very least regulators should be doing.

If digital policy history has shown anything over the past decade+ (and where data is concerned) it’s that the devil is always in the fine print detail. Moreover the fast pace of digital markets can mean a competitive threat may only be a micro pivot away from materializing. Theories of harm clearly need updating to take account of data-mining technosocial platform giants. And the Commission knows that — which is why it’s consulting on giving itself more powers to tackling tipping in digital markets. But it also needs to flex and exercise the powers it currently has. Such as opening a proper investigation — rather than gaily waving tech giant deals through.

Antitrust may now be flavor of the month where tech giants are concerned — with US lawmakers all but declaring war on digital ‘robber barons’ at last month’s big subcommittee showdown in Congress. But it’s also worth noting that EU competition regulators — for all their heavily publicized talk of properly regulating the digital sphere — have yet to block a single digital tech merger.

It remains to be seen whether that record will change come December.

“The Commission is concerned that the proposed transaction would further entrench Google’s market position in the online advertising markets by increasing the already vast amount of data that Google could use for personalisation of the ads it serves and displays,” it writes in a press release today.

Following a preliminary assessment process of the deal, EU regulators said they have concerns about [emphasis theirs]:

  • “the impact of the transaction on the supply of online search and display advertising services (the sale of advertising space on, respectively, the result page of an internet search engine or other internet pages)”
  • and on “the supply of ‘ad tech’ services (analytics and digital tools used to facilitate the programmatic sale and purchase of digital advertising)”

“By acquiring Fitbit, Google would acquire (i) the database maintained by Fitbit about its users’ health and fitness; and (ii) the technology to develop a database similar to Fitbit’s one,” the Commission further notes.

“The data collected via wrist-worn wearable devices appears, at this stage of the Commission’s review of the transaction, to be an important advantage in the online advertising markets. By increasing the data advantage of Google in the personalisation of the ads it serves via its search engine and displays on other internet pages, it would be more difficult for rivals to match Google’s online advertising services. Thus, the transaction would raise barriers to entry and expansion for Google’s competitors for these services, to the ultimate detriment of advertisers and publishers that would face higher prices and have less choice.”

The Commission views Google as dominant in the supply of online search advertising services in almost all EEA (European Economic Area) countries; as well as holding “a strong market position” in the supply of online advertising display services in a large number of EEA countries (especially off-social network display ads), and “a strong market position” in the supply of adtech services in the EEA.

All of which will inform its considerations as it looks at whether Google will gain an unfair competitive advantage by assimilating Fitbit data. (Vestager has also issued a number of antitrust enforcements against the tech giant in recent years, against Android, AdSense and Google Shopping.)

The regulator has also said it will further look at:

  • the “effects of the combination of Fitbit’s and Google’s databases and capabilities in the digital healthcare sector, which is still at a nascent stage in Europe”
  • “whether Google would have the ability and incentive to degrade the interoperability of rivals’ wearables with Google’s Android operating system for smartphones once it owns Fitbit”

The tech giant has already offered EU regulators one specific concession in the hopes of getting the Fitbit buy green lit — with the Commission noting that it submitted commitments aimed at addressing concerns last month.

Google suggested creating a data silo to hold data collected via Fitbit’s wearable devices — and where it said it would be kept separate from any other dataset within Google (including claiming it would be restricted for ad purposes). However the Commission expresses scepticism about Google’s offer, writing that it “considers that the data silo commitment proposed by Google is insufficient to clearly dismiss the serious doubts identified at this stage as to the effects of the transaction”.

“Among others, this is because the data silo remedy did not cover all the data that Google would access as a result of the transaction and would be valuable for advertising purposes,” it added.

Google makes reference to this data silo in its blog post, claiming: “We’ve been clear from the beginning that we will not use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads. We recently offered to make a legally binding commitment to the European Commission regarding our use of Fitbit data. As we do with all our products, we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move or delete their data. And we’ll continue to support wide connectivity and interoperability across our and other companies’ products.”

“We appreciate the opportunity to work with the European Commission on an approach that addresses consumers’ expectations of their wearable devices. We’re confident that by working closely with Fitbit’s team of experts, and bringing together our experience in AI, software and hardware, we can build compelling devices for people around the world,” it adds.

#ambient-intelligence, #android, #antitrust, #competition, #digital-advertising, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #facebook, #fitbit, #gadgets, #google, #internet-of-things, #margrethe-vestager, #online-search, #operating-system, #policy, #privacy, #privacy-international, #rick-osterloh, #search-engine, #smartphones, #sundar-pichai, #united-states, #wearable-devices, #wearable-technology, #wearables, #whatsapp

0

WhatsApp pilots new feature to fight misinformation: Search the web

WhatsApp, one of the most popular instant messaging platforms on the planet, has rolled out a new feature in select markets that makes it easier for users to verify whether the assertions made in messages they have received on the app are true.

The Facebook -owned service has enabled users in Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, UK, and US to click on a magnifying glass-shaped icon next to frequently forwarded messages — those that have been forwarded at least five times — to search the web for their contents and verify them.

WhatsApp said the new feature, called ‘search the web’, works by allowing users to upload the message — it could be text or an image — via their browser. This means that WhatsApp itself never sees the content of any message, it said in a blog post.

The feature, available across WhatsApp’s Android, iOS, and Web apps, is in pilot stage, the messaging platform said. It remains unclear how soon WhatsApp intends to roll out this feature, which it began testing several months ago, to users across the globe.

But regardless, the new feature comes at a time when WhatsApp and other messaging platforms are being used more often than ever before as people stay in touch with their friends, families, and colleagues at the height of a global pandemic.

WhatsApp, which has been forced to confront with the spread of misinformation challenge on its platform in recent years, has introduced several features and imposed restrictions to better control the flow in the past year.

In April, WhatsApp put in place additional restriction on how frequently a message could be shared on its platform. WhatsApp said that any message that has been forwarded five or more times will now face a new limit that will prevent a user from forwarding it to more than one chat (contact) at a time. Weeks later, volume of “highly forwarded” messages had already dropped by 70% globally, it claimed.

Though WhatsApp has visibly rushed to take timely actions in recent quarters, misinformation has not vanished from the app. Ill-informed explanations about Indian government’s moves, and “cures” of Covid-19 were still doing rounds on the platform a few months ago in India, its biggest market, for intance. And to be fair, there’s only so much a tech firm can do to fight human stupidity.

#apps, #coronavirus, #covid, #covid19, #facebook, #social, #whatsapp

0

WhatsApp to pilot projects to deliver credit, insurance and pension to users in India; wants to help expand UPI to more markets

WhatsApp plans to offer credit, insurance and pension products to lower income individuals and those in rural areas in India and help digitize local small and medium-sized businesses as the Facebook -service looks to make a digital payments push in its biggest market by users.

The instant messaging app maker has been working with banks — including ICICI, Kotak Mahindra, and HDFC– in India for the past one year to explore ways to bring financial services to individuals who are yet to become part of the banking population, said Abhijit Bose, WhatsApp’s head in India at Global Fintech Fest conference via video chat on Wednesday.

This work over the past year has already proven that banks can leverage WhatsApp’s reach — with ICICI Bank and Kotak Mahindra reaching more than 3 million new users, said Bose, who announced that Facebook-owned app is now planning to work with additional partners to bring insurance, micro-pension and credit to lower wage workers and the informal economy over the next one and a half year.

WhatsApp will pilot several programs with partners to test solutions to bring these services to people, he said.

“Based on the results, we will co-invest and scale. Even a small conversion of the demand will translate into an infusion of significant savings into the financial system,” he said. “Over the next two years, we are committing to opening in entrepreneurial ways we never have before. We will launch many experiments.”

Banks today face a number of roadblocks such as the level of presence they have in a small city or town and their heavy reliance on middlemen to sell financial services that have limited the number of people they can reach, said Bose.

With a reach of over 400 million users in India — more than any other app in the country — WhatsApp is uniquely positioned to bring more people into the financial ecosystem.

Abhijit Bose, WhatsApp’s head in India, delivering a speech on Wednesday.

Facebook made clear of its plan to enter India’s digital payments market in 2018 when it launched WhatsApp Pay to a small number of users in the country. But the company has been stuck in a regulatory maze since then that has prevent it from rolling out WhatsApp Pay to all its users.

The company says it has complied with all the requirements mandated by New Delhi’s central bank, signalling that it could receive the final approval for a wide rollout of WhatsApp Pay any day now.

WhatsApp also plans to digitize businesses and help them secure working capital, said Bose. Facebook invested $5.7 billion in India’s top telecom operator Reliance Jio Platforms in April this year and said the two companies had agreed to explore ways to serve small businesses such as mom and pop shops.

“These small businesses are critical to the Indian economy. If you look at Facebook as a company, there has always been a focus on helping these businesses,” Facebook India head Ajit Mohan told TechCrunch in an earlier interview. “These small businesses, first-time entrepreneurs and new ventures leverage the Facebook platform to find new customers and expand to additional markets.”

Bose said Wednesday that he is hopeful that some of its financial services bets will work in India and it will be able to replicate those models in other markets.

One platform from India that Facebook wishes to help bring to other markets is UPI, a payments infrastructure built by a coalition of banks in the country and backed by the local government, said Bose.

UPI has amassed over 100 million users on its platform in less than four years, and the infrastructure — which allows users to exchange money with one another across any bank in India as easy and fast as sending a text message — is being used to facilitate more than 1.3 billion transactions a month.

At stake is India’s mobile payments market that Credit Suisse estimates could reach $1 trillion by 2023. Dozens of heavily backed local startups and international giants are competing to claim a slice of this opportunity. Google Pay and Walmart’s PhonePe currently dominate the market, TechCrunch reported last month.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #finance, #india, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms, #whatsapp

0

Federal court rules WhatsApp and Facebook’s malware exploit case against NSO Group can proceed

A U.S. federal court judge ruled on Thursday that WhatsApp and parent company Facebook’s lawsuit against Israeli mobile surveillance software company NSO Group can go forward. Phyllis Hamilton, Chief Judge of the United Stated District Court of the Northern District of California, denied most of the arguments NSO Group made when it filed a motion to dismiss the suit in April (a copy of her decision is embedded below).

Last October, WhatsApp and Facebook filed a complaint alleging that NSO Group exploited an audio-calling vulnerability in the messaging app to send malware to about 1,400 mobile devices, including ones that belonged to journalists, human rights activists, political dissidents, diplomats and senior government officials.

WhatsApp and Facebook also claim that NSO Group developed a data program called Pegasus that extracted data, including messages, browser history and contacts, from phones, and sold support services to customers including the Kingdom of Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Mexico.

In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, one of NSO Group’s arguments was that its business dealings with foreign governments, which it said use its technology to fight terrorism and other serious crimes, granted it immunity from lawsuits filed in U.S. courts under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA). In her decision, Judge Hamilton wrote that NSO Group failed to qualify because it was not incorporated or formed in the U.S.

In an email to TechCrunch, a WhatsApp spokesperson said “We are pleased with the Court’s decision permitting us to move ahead with our claims that NSO engaged in unlawful conduct. The decision also confirms that WhatsApp will be able to obtain relevant documents and other information about NSO’s practices.”

TechCrunch has also contacted NSO Group for comment. When the lawsuit was filed in October, the company stated, “In the strong possible terms, we dispute today’s allegations and will vigorously fight them.”

WhatsApp vs NSO Group, cour… by TechCrunch on Scribd

#facebook, #lawsuit, #nso-group, #startups, #tc, #whatsapp

0

WhatsApp hit by outage, leaving users unable to send or receive messages

Facebook -owned WhatsApp is currently down, with users unable to send or receive messages on the end-to-end encrypted messaging app.

Affected users might see that WhatsApp is “connecting” to the service when trying to send a message. The outage started at about 4pm ET. We don’t know much more at this stage.

WhatsApp failing to connect to its servers. (Image: TechCrunch)

A spokesperson for Facebook did not immediately comment on the outage. We’ll update when we know more.

WhatsApp hit the 2 billion user mark earlier this year. Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014 in what became one of the social media giant’s biggest purchases.

#apps, #facebook, #instant-messaging, #messaging-apps, #operating-systems, #security, #social-media, #software, #spokesperson, #whatsapp, #world-wide-web

0

Alphabet’s Loon launches its balloon-powered Kenyan internet service

Alphabet’s Loon has officially begun operating its commercial internet service in Kenya . This is the first large-scale commercial offering that makes use of Loon’s high-altitude balloons, which essentially work as cell service towers that drift on currents in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Loon’s Kenyan service is offered in partnership with local telecom provider Telkom Kenya, and provides cellular service through their network to an area covering roughly 50,000 square kilometres (31,000 square miles) that normally hasn’t had reliable service due to the difficulty of setting up ground infrastructure in the mountainous terrain.

Loon has been working towards deploying its first commercial service deployment in Kenya since it announced the signed deal in 2019, but the company says that the mission has taken on even greater significance and importance since the onset of COVID-19, which has meant that reliable connectivity, especially in light of the restrictions upon travel that the epidemic has placed, making the ability to remotely contact doctors, family members and others all the more important.

Some of the technical details of how Loon’s stratospheric balloons will offer this continuous service, and what kind of network quality people can expect include that the fleet includes around 35 balloons acting together which are moving constantly to maintain the target area coverage. Average speeds look to be around 18.9Mbps down, and 4.74 Mbps up, with 19 second latency, and real-world testing has shown that this has served well for use across voice and video calls, as well as YouTube streaming, WhatsApp use and more, according to Loon.

The path followed by Alphabet’s balloons as they provide service to the target area in Kenya.

The company actually began testing its service earlier this year, with many customers connecting to the network without even realizing it during those tests, and Loon says it has served over 35,000 customers and provided the services listed during those tests.

Prior to today’s commercial service launch, Loon has also employed its balloons to provide emergency service to areas affected by disaster, including Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017. It’s now working with a number of commercial telecom partners to deploy non-emergency service in a number of underserved regions globally.

#aerospace, #balloon, #internet-service, #internet-service-providers, #kenya, #loon, #mbps, #puerto-rico, #tc, #whatsapp, #x

0

Facebook and WhatsApp halts reviews of Hong Kong demands for user data

Facebook has confirmed it has suspended processing demands for user data from Hong Kong authorities following the introduction of a new Beijing-imposed national security law.

A spokesperson for the social networking giant told TechCrunch it will “pause” the processing of data demands until it can better understand the new national security law, “including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts.” The spokesperson added: “We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions.”

Facebook said its suspension will also apply to WhatsApp, which it owns.

News of the suspension was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Tech giants have long seen Hong Kong as a friendly outpost in Asia as a semi-independent city nation state, albeit under the control of Beijing under its “one country, two systems” principles. Hong Kong has far greater freedoms from mainland China, where government surveillance and censorship is widespread.

But the new national security law, imposed unilaterally by the Chinese government on June 30, effectively undermines any protections Hong Kong nationals had. The law removes provisions for authorities to require a court order before it can demand data from internet companies, like Facebook.

One industry leader, who chairs the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association, said internet providers would have little choice but to comply with the new law.

The move is likely to put Facebook — and other tech giants that follow in its footsteps — on notice with Beijing, which already has sweeping bans against some Western tech giants, like Facebook and Twitter, on the mainland. WhatsApp is highly popular in Hong Kong, alongside Telegram and WeChat.

Facebook’s transparency report shows the social media giant received 384 demands for user data from Hong Kong authorities last year, the latter half of the year saw Facebook comply with fewer than half of all demands.

Messaging app Telegram also reportedly said Monday that it will no longer process data requests from Hong Kong authorities.

#asia, #beijing, #china, #facebook, #hong-kong, #operating-systems, #privacy, #security, #software, #spokesperson, #wall-street-journal, #whatsapp

0

Facebook makes education push in India

Facebook, which reaches more users than any other international firm in India, has identified a new area of opportunity to further spread its tentacles in the world’s second largest internet market.

On Sunday, the social juggernaut announced it had partnered with the Central Board of Secondary Education, a government body that oversees education in private and public schools in India, to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and online well-being, and augmented reality for students and educators.

Through these subjects, Facebook and CBSE aim to prepare secondary school students for current and emerging jobs, and help them develop skills to safely browse the internet, make “well informed choices,” and think about their mental health, they said.

Facebook said that it will provide these training in various phases. In the first phase, more than 10,000 teachers will be trained; in the second, they will coach 30,000 students. The three-week training on AR will cover fundamentals of the nascent technology, and ways to make use of Facebook’s Spark AR Studio to create augmented reality experiences.

“I encourage the teachers and students to apply for the programs commencing on July 6, 2020,” said Ramesh Pokhriyal, Union Minister of Human Resources Development, in a statement.

Instagram’s Guide for Building Healthy Digital Habits, which has been developed in collaboration with the Jed Foundation (JED) and YLAC (Young Leaders for Active Citizenship), aims to help youngsters better understand the “socio-emotional space” they operate in and engage in health conversations.

“I am proud to share that CBSE is the only Board that has introduced the modules of Digital Safety and Online Well-being, Instagram Toolkit for Teens and Augmented Reality. Incorporating technology and digital safety into school curriculum will ensure students are not only gaining knowledge to succeed in the digital economy but also learning and collaborating in a safe online environment,” said Manoj Ahuja, Chairperson of CBSE, in a statement.

The announcement today caps a remarkable week in India that started with New Delhi blocking nearly 60 services developed by Chinese firms over cybersecurity concerns. TikTok, one of the services that has been hit by India’s order, identified Asia’s third-largest economy as its biggest market outside of China.

The service, run by Chinese giant ByteDance, reaches more than 200 million users in India, most of whom live in small towns and cities. TikTok began working with scores of content creators and firms in India last year to populate its short-form video service with educational videos.

Facebook last year partnered with telecom giant Reliance Jio Platforms — in which it would eventually invest $5.7 billion — to launch “Digital Udaan,” the “largest ever digital literacy program” for first-time internet users in the country. The social juggernaut has in recent years ramped up its efforts to create awareness about the ill side of technology as its platform confronted misuse of its own services in the country. India is the biggest market for Facebook by users count.

#asia, #augmented-reality, #education, #facebook, #india, #instagram, #social, #tiktok, #virtual-reality, #whatsapp

0

India approves Facebook’s $5.7 billion deal with Reliance Jio Platforms

India’s antitrust watchdog has given its blessing to Facebook and Reliance Jio Platforms for their $5.7 billion deal.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Competition Commission of India said it had approved Facebook’s proposed multi-billion-dollar investment in Jio Platforms for a 9.99% stake in the top Indian telecom network.

Jaadhu Holdings LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Facebook, is acquiring the stake in Jio Platforms. Facebook created this subsidiary earlier this year.

The announcement comes a week after the watchdog said it was accessing the deal for potential misuse of users’ data and pondering if it should consider amending the current rules for some mergers and acquisitions in the country.

At the time, Facebook had argued that its investment in the Indian firm is “pro-competitive, benefits consumers, kirana stores (neighborhood stores) and other small and micro local Indian businesses, and take forward the vision of digital India.”

Analysts have said that Facebook’s investment in billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Platforms, its biggest investment in recent years, could help the social media giant expand its reach in India, which is already its biggest market by user count.

Facebook’s eponymous service reaches about 350 million users in India, while its messaging service WhatsApp has amassed over 400 million users. WhatsApp is by far the most popular service in the world’s second largest market.

In April, Facebook said it planned to work with Reliance Jio Platforms to empower 60 million small businesses, including mom-and-pop stores in India. Early signs of this collaboration was apparent a week later when JioMart, a joint venture between Reliance Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail (India’s largest retail chain), started to allow customers to track shipment through WhatsApp.

Some analysts said that the deal with Ambani, India’s richest man and an ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, could also help Facebook stay on the good side of the Indian government. In India, where Facebook’s Free Basics program was blocked in early 2016, the firm has been stuck in a regulatory maze to get clearance for a nationwide rollout of WhatsApp Pay.

Facebook launched WhatsApp Pay in beta mode to a million users in the country in 2018, only months after Google launched its payments service in India. While WhatsApp Pay remains stuck at a million users, Google and Walmart’s PhonePe have established clear dominance in India’s mobile payments market.

More to follow…

#asia, #facebook, #india, #reliance, #reliance-jio-platforms, #social, #whatsapp

0

Brazil suspends WhatsApp’s payments service

Brazil, the second largest market for WhatsApp, has suspended the instant messaging app’s mobile payments service in the country a week after its rollout in what is the latest setback for Facebook.

In a statement, Brazil’s central bank said it was taking the decision to “preserve an adequate competitive environment” in the mobile payments space and to ensure “functioning of a payment system that’s interchangeable, fast, secure, transparent, open and cheap.”

Banks in the nation have asked Mastercard and Visa, who are among the payments partners for WhatsApp in Brazil, to suspend money transfer on WhatsApp app. Failure to comply with the order would subject the payments companies to fines and administrative sanctions.

In its statement, Brazil’s central bank suggested it hadn’t had the opportunity to analyze WhatsApp’s payment service prior to its rollout.

Tuesday’s announcement is the latest setback for Facebook, which began testing WhatsApp Pay in India two years ago and has yet to receive the regulatory approval to expand the payments service nationwide.

Other than India, which is WhatsApp’s largest market, WhatsApp has also been testing Pay in Mexico.

A WhatsApp spokesperson told TechCrunch that the service’s goal is to use an “open model” and it is continuing to engage with “local partners and the Central Bank to make this possible.”

“In addition, we support the Central Bank’s PIX project on digital payments and together with our partners are committed to work with the Central Bank to integrate our systems when PIX becomes available,” the spokesperson added.

PIX is the central bank’s own payments service, for which it has secured partnerships with nearly 1,000 industry players. The central bank has said previously that it plans to launch PIX in  November this year.

WhatsApp rolled out its mobile payments service in Brazil last week. It was the first time WhatsApp had been able to conduct a nation-wide rollout of its payments service in any market.

The service enables users to exchange money with one another and also pay businesses. The Facebook-owned service said at the time that it was not levying any fee to users for sending or receiving money but businesses were parting with a 3.99% processing fee to receive payments.

“The over 10 million small and micro businesses are the heartbeat of Brazil’s communities. It’s become second nature to send a zap to a business to get questions answered. Now in addition to viewing a store’s catalog, customers will be able to send payments for products as well,” the company wrote in a blog post published last week.

It’s unclear whether WhatsApp, Mastercard, and Visa have already complied with the central bank’s notice.

#apps, #asia, #brazil, #facebook, #facebook-pay, #payments, #whatsapp, #whatsapp-pay

0

TikTok joins the EU’s Code of Practice on disinformation

TikTok is the latest platform to sign up the European Union’s Code of Practice on disinformation, agreeing to a set of voluntary steps aimed at combating the spread of damaging fakes and falsehoods online.

The short video sharing platform, which is developed by Beijing based ByteDance and topped 2BN downloads earlier this year, is hugely popular with teens — so you’re a lot more likely to see dancing and lipsyncing videos circulating than AI-generated high tech ‘deepfakes’. Though, of course, online disinformation has no single medium: The crux of the problem is something false passing off as true, with potentially very damaging impacts (such as when it’s targeted at elections; or bogus health information spreading during a pandemic).

The EDiMA trade association, which counts TikTok as one of a number of tech giant members — and acts as a spokesperson for those signed up to the EU’s Code — announced today that the popular video sharing platform had formally signed up.

“TikTok signing up to the Code of Practice on Disinformation is great news as it widens the breadth of online platforms stepping up the fight against disinformation online. It shows that the Code of Practice on Disinformation is an effective means to ensure that companies do more to effectively fight disinformation online,” said Siada El Ramly, EDiMA’s director general, in a statement.

She further claimed the announcement “shows once again that internet companies take their responsibility seriously and are ready to play their part”.

In another statement, TikTok’s Theo Bertram, director of its government relations & public policy team in Europe, added: “To prevent the spread of disinformation online, industry co-operation and transparency are vital, and we’re proud to sign up to the Code of Practice on Disinformation to play our part.”

That’s the top-line PR from the platforms’ side.

However earlier this month the Commission warned that a coronavirus ‘infodemic’ had led to a flood of false and/or misleading information related to the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months — telling tech giants they must do more.

Platforms signed up to the Code of Practice must now provide monthly reports with greater detail about the counter measures they’re taking to tackle coronavirus fakes, it added — warning they need to back up their claims of action with more robust evidence that the steps they’re taking are actually working. 

The Commission said then that TikTok was on the point of signing up. It also said negotiations remain ongoing with Facebook-owned WhatsApp to join the code.  We’ve reached out to the Commission for any update.

In the almost two years since the code came into existence EU lawmakers have made repeat warnings that tech giants are not doing enough to tackle disinformation being spread on their platforms.

Commissioners are now consulting on major reforms to foundational ecommerce rules which wrap digital services, including looking at the hot button issue of content liability and asking — more broadly — how much responsibility platforms should have for the content they amplify and monetize? A draft proposal of the Digital Services Act is slated for the end of the year.

All of which incentivizes platforms to show willingness to work with the EU’s current (voluntary) anti-disinformation program — or risk more stringent and legally binding rules coming down the pipe in future. (TikTok has the additional risk of being a China-based platform, and earlier this month the Commission went so far as to name China as one of the state entities it has identified spreading disinformation in the region.)

Although the chance of hard and fast regulations to tackle fuzzy falsehoods seems unlikely.

Earlier this month the Commission’s VP for values and transparency, Věra Jourová, suggested illegal content will be the focus for the Digital Services Act. On the altogether harder-to-define problem of ‘disinformation’ she said: “I do not foresee that we will come with hard regulation on that.” Instead, she suggested lawmakers will look for an “efficient” way of decreasing the harmful impacts associated with the problem — saying they could, for example, focus on pre-election periods; suggesting there may be temporary controls on platform content ahead of major votes.

Facebook, Google, Twitter and Mozilla were among the first clutch of tech platforms and online advertisers to sign up to the Commission’s code back in 2018 — when signatories committed to take actions aimed at disrupting ad revenues for entities which spread fakes and actively support research into disinformation.

They also agreed to do more to tackle fake accounts and bots; and said they’d make political and issue ads more transparent. Empowering consumers to report disinformation and access different news sources, and improving the visibility of authoritative content were other commitments.

Since then a few more platforms and trade associations have signed up to the EU code — with TikTok the latest.

Reviews of the EU’s initiative remain mixed — including the Commission’s own regular ‘must do better’ report card for platforms. Clearly, online disinformation remains hugely problematic. Nor is there ever going to be a simply fix for such a complex human phenomenon. Although there is far less excuse for platforms’ ongoing transparency failures.

Which may in turn offer the best route forward for regulators to tackle such a thorny issue: Via enforced transparency and access to platform data.

#artificial-intelligence, #bytedance, #code-of-practice, #deception, #disinformation, #europe, #european-union, #facebook, #google, #internet, #online-disinformation, #online-platforms, #propaganda, #social, #tiktok, #twitter, #vera-jourova, #whatsapp

0

Daily Crunch: WhatsApp launches payments

WhatsApp is adding support for in-app payments, Apple is upgrading the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro desktop and we argue about the future of startup hubs.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for June 15, 2020.

1. WhatsApp finally launches payments, starting in Brazil

After months of talks and trials, WhatsApp has finally pulled the trigger on payments. Users in Brazil will be the first to be able to send and receive money through the messaging app, using Facebook Pay.

WhatsApp says that the payments service — which currently is free for consumers to use, but comes with a 3.99% processing fee for businesses receiving payments — will work by way of a six-digit PIN or fingerprint to complete transactions.

2. Apple adds new MacBook Pro graphics option and Mac Pro SSD upgrade kit

A week before kicking off WWDC, Apple introduced a pair of upgrades to its pro-level hardware lines. Both the 16-inch MacBook Pro and the Mac Pro desktop are getting select internal upgrades, starting today.

3. 3 perspectives on the future of SF and NYC as startup hubs

Three TechCrunch writers address one of the big questions about the future: Will tech continue to centralize in hubs like San Francisco and New York City, or will remote work and all the other second-order effects lead to a more decentralized startup ecosystem? (Extra Crunch membership required.)

4. Interstellar Technologies’ privately developed MOMO-5 rocket falls short of reaching space

The company first launched a vehicle in 2017, but the launch didn’t go exactly as planned and failed to reach space. In 2019, its MOMO-3 sounding rocket did break the Karman line, though just barely, and unfortunately its MOMO-5 sounding rocket launched over the weekend did not make space, as planned.

5. Introducing The Exchange, your daily dive into the private markets

The Exchange is Alex Wilhelm’s regular dive into the financial side of the startup world, and how the public markets exert gravity (or lift) on private companies. These themes might sound familiar to Daily Crunch readers, since we’ve linked to plenty of Alex’s pieces, but now it’s an official column with an official name.

6. Tesla’s US-made Model 3 vehicles now come equipped with wireless charging and USB-C ports

Tesla Model 3 vehicles produced at its Fremont, Calif. factory will reportedly come standard with a wireless charging pad and USB-C ports, upgrades that were first spotted by Drive Tesla Canada.

7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts

The latest full-length episode of Equity discusses Facebook’s new startup venture fund, while the Monday news roundup covers the latest problems at Quibi. Over at Original Content, we review the latest season of “Queer Eye.”

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#apps, #daily-crunch, #mobile, #payments, #social, #whatsapp

0

WhatsApp finally launches payments, starting in Brazil

After months of talks and trials, WhatsApp has finally pulled the trigger on payments in its app. Today the Facebook-owned messaging service announced that users in Brazil would be the first to be able to send and receive money by way of its messaging app, using Facebook Pay.

The news comes a little bit as a surprise: the company has been testing this payments service among users in India for months, so many assumed that the world’s second largest internet market would be the debut region for the service. But Facebook remains stuck in a regulatory maze in India that has prevented it from expanding the payments service in its biggest market.

WhatsApp has been used informally for commercial purposes almost from the very start: small business owners have used the platform to exchange messages with users around the sale of goods, what is in stock and so on. But under the wing of Facebook — which acquired the company in 2014 for $19 billion — the company started the big task of bringing in a more formal set of business services.

That’s included the launch of WhatsApp Business, which lets SMBs post catalogues and stock links within the app, and advertisers on Facebook can create links through to their WhatsApp accounts. Now with payments, WhatsApp, which has amassed over 2 billion users, is finally taking a more comprehensive commercial plunge.

“Payments on WhatsApp are beginning to roll out to people across Brazil beginning today and we look forward to bringing it to everyone as we go forward,” the company said.

Users in Brazil will be able to use the payments service on WhatsApp to make purchases from local businesses without leaving their chat, the Facebook-owned service said.

“The over 10 million small and micro businesses are the heartbeat of Brazil’s communities. It’s become second nature to send a zap to a business to get questions answered. Now in addition to viewing a store’s catalog, customers will be able to send payments for products as well,” the company wrote in a blog post.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #brazil, #facebook, #facebook-pay, #payments, #social, #whatsapp, #whatsapp-pay

0

Sinch to buy India’s ACL Mobile for $70 million

Sinch said on Monday it has agreed to buy Indian firm ACL Mobile for £56 million (roughly $70 million) in what is the third acquisition deal the Swedish mobile voice and messaging firm has entered into at the height of a global pandemic.

The Swedish firm said acquiring ACL Mobile will enable it to leverage the Indian firm’s connections with local mobile operators in the world’s second largest internet market as well as in Malaysia, and UAE to expand its end-to-end connectivity without working with a third-party firm.

20-year-old ACL Mobile, which has headquarters in Delhi, Dubai, and Kuala Lumpur, enables businesses to interact with their customers through SMS, email, WhatsApp and other channels. In a press statement, the Indian firm said it serves more than 500 enterprise customers including Flipkart, OLX, MakeMyTrip, HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank.

“With ACL we gain critical scale in the world’s second-largest mobile market. We gain customers, expertise and technology and we further strengthen our global messaging product for discerning businesses with global needs,” said Sinch chief executive Oscar Werner.

The Indian firm, which employs 288 people, reported gross profits of $14.2 million on sales of about $65 million in the financial year that ended in March. During the same period, ACL Mobile claims it delivered 47 billion messages on behalf of its enterprise customers.

“Although the long-term growth outlook is favorable, lower commercial activity in India due to the Covid-19 pandemic means that the near-term growth outlook is less predictable,” Sinch said of ACL Mobile’s future outlook.

ACL Mobile is the third acquisition Sinch has unveiled since March this year. Last month the company said it was buying SAP’s Digital Interconnect for $250 million. In March, it announced a deal to buy Wavy.

Sinch, founded in 2008, employs more than 70 people in over 40 locations worldwide and is increasingly expanding to more markets. Last month it said acquiring SAP’s Digital Interconnect will help it expand in the US market. The company says it is profitable.

“Together with Sinch we are scaling up to become one of the leading global players in our industry. I’m excited about this next chapter and the many new opportunities that we can pursue together,” said Sanjay K Goyal, founder and chief executive of ACL Mobile.

#apps, #asia, #deutsche-telekom, #flipkart, #funding, #fundings-exits, #makemytrip, #olx, #sinch, #t-mobile, #wavy, #whatsapp

0

WhatsApp resolves issue that exposed some users’ phone numbers in Google search results

WhatsApp has resolved an issue that caused phone numbers of some of its users to appear in Google search results.

The fix comes days after a researcher revealed that the phone number of WhatsApp users who created a simplified link to allow others to chat with them or join a group appeared in search results.

In a statement, a WhatsApp spokesperson said that this feature, called Click to Chat, is designed to help users, especially small and microbusinesses around the world connect with their customers.

“While we appreciate this researcher’s report and value the time that he took to share it with us, it did not qualify for a bounty since it merely contained a search engine index of URLs that WhatsApp users chose to make public. All WhatsApp users, including businesses, can block unwanted messages with the tap of a button,” the spokesperson added.

The Click to Chat feature allows users to create a short URL — wa.me/<phoneNumber> — that they can share with their friends or customers to facilitate quick conversation without having to first save their phone number to their contacts list.

India-based researcher Athul Jayaram, who revealed this issue, called it a privacy lapse. He claimed that as many as 300,000 phone numbers appeared in Google search results if someone looked up for “site:wa.me”.

Jayaram said the phone numbers appeared in search results because WhatsApp did not direct Google and other search engines to ignore indexing these links — a feature that search engines provide to any web administrator.

He confirmed on Tuesday that WhatsApp had made some change to inform web crawlers to not index certain links.

But Jayaram isn’t the first person to report that WhatsApp phone numbers were visible in Google search results. WaBetaInfo, a website that tracks changes in WhatsApp, reported this behaviour in February this year.

And as Jayaram points out, many WhatsApp users he contacted whose numbers appeared in Google search results were surprised to learn that this sensitive information was accessible on the public internet.

#apps, #asia, #google, #privacy, #whatsapp

0

Google and Walmart’s PhonePe establish dominance in India’s mobile payments market as WhatsApp Pay struggles to launch

In India, it’s Google and Walmart-owned PhonePe that are racing neck-and-neck to be the top player in the mobile payments market, while Facebook remains mired in a regulatory maze for WhatsApp Pay’s rollout.

In May, more than 75 million users transacted on Google Pay app, ahead of PhonePe’s 60 million users, and SoftBank -backed Paytm’s 30 million users, people familiar with the companies’ figures told TechCrunch.

Google still lags Paytm’s reach with merchants, but the Android -maker has maintained its overall lead in recent months despite every player losing momentum due to one of the most stringent lockdowns globally in place in India. Google declined to comment.

Paytm, once the dominant player in India, has been struggling to sustain its user base for nearly two years. The company had about 60 million transacting users in January last year, said people familiar with the matter.

Data sets consider transacting users to be those who have made at least one payment through the app in a month. It’s a coveted metric and is different from the much more popular monthly active users, or MAU, that various firms use to share their performance. A portion of those labeled as monthly active users do not make any transaction on the app.

India’s homegrown payment firm, Paytm, has struggled to grow in recent years in part because of a mandate by India’s central bank to mobile wallet firms — the middlemen between users and banks — to perform know-your-client (KYC) verification of users, which created confusion among many, some of the people said. These woes come despite the firm’s fundraising success, which amounts to more than $3 billion.

In a statement, a Paytm spokesperson said, “When it comes to mobile wallets one has to remember the fact that Paytm was the company that set up the infrastructure to do KYC and has been able to complete over 100 million KYCs by physically meeting customers.”

Paytm has long benefited from integration with popular services such as Uber, and food delivery startups Swiggy and Zomato, but fewer than 10 million of Paytm’s monthly transacting users have relied on this feature in recent months.

Two executives, who like everyone else spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution, also said that Paytm resisted the idea of adopting Unified Payments Interface. That’s the nearly two-year-old payments infrastructure built and backed by a collation of banks in India that enables money to be sent directly between accounts at different banks and eliminates the need for a separate mobile wallet.

Paytm’s delays in adopting the standard left room for Google and PhonePe, another early adopter of UPI, to seize the opportunity.

Paytm, which adopted UPI a year after Google and PhonePe, refuted the characterization that it resisted joining UPI ecosystem.

“We are the company that cherishes innovation and technology that can transform the lives of millions. We understand the importance of financial technology and for this very reason, we have always been the champion and supporter of UPI. We, however, launched it on Paytm later than our peers because it took a little longer for us to get the approval to start UPI based services,“ a spokesperson said.

A sign for Paytm online payment method, operated by One97 Communications Ltd., is displayed at a street stall selling accessories in Bengaluru, India, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Missing from the fray is Facebook, which counts India as its biggest market by user count. The company began talks with banks to enter India’s mobile payments market, estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2023 (according to Credit Suisse), through WhatsApp as early as 2017. WhatsApp is the most popular smartphone app in India with over 400 million users in the country.

Facebook launched WhatsApp Pay to a million users in the following year, but has been locked in a regulatory battle since to expand the payments service to the rest of its users. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said WhatsApp Pay would roll out nationwide by end of last year, but the firm is yet to secure all approvals — and new challenges keep cropping up. WhatsApp declined to comment.

PhonePe, which was conceived only a year before WhatsApp set eyes to India’s mobile payments, has consistently grown as it added several third-party services. These include leading food and grocery delivery services Swiggy and Grofers, ride-hailing giant Ola, ticketing and staying players Ixigo and Oyo Hotels, in a so-called super app strategy. In November, about 63 million users were active on PhonePe, 45 million of whom transacted through the app.

Karthik Raghupathy, the head of business at PhonePe, confirmed the company’s transacting users to TechCrunch.

Three factors contributed to the growth of PhonePe, he said in an interview. “The rise of smartphones and mobile data adoption in recent years; early adoption to UPI at a time when most mobile payments firms in India were betting on virtual mobile-wallet model; and taking an open-ecosystem approach,” he said.

“We opened our consumer base to all our merchant partners very early on. Our philosophy was that we would not enter categories such as online ticketing for movies and travel, and instead work with market leaders on those fronts,” he explained.

“We also went to the market with a completely open, interoperable QR code that enabled merchants and businesses to use just one QR code to accept payments from any app — not just ours. Prior to this, you would see a neighborhood store maintain several QR codes to support a number of payment apps. Over the years, our approach has become the industry norm,” he said, adding that PhonePe has been similarly open to other wallets and payments options as well.

But despite the growth and its open approach, PhonePe has still struggled to win the confidence of investors in recent quarters. Stoking investors’ fears is the lack of a clear business model for mobile payments firms in India.

PhonePe executives held talks to raise capital last year that would have valued it at $8 billion, but the negotiations fell apart. Similar talks early this year, which would have valued PhonePe at $3 billion, which hasn’t been previously reported, also fell apart, three people familiar with the matter said. Raghupathy and a PhonePe spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s fundraising plans.

For now, Walmart has agreed to continue to bankroll the payments app, which became part of the retail group with Flipkart acquisition in 2018.

As UPI gained inroads in the market, banks have done away with any promotional incentives to mobile payments players, one of their only revenue sources.

At an event in Bangalore late last year, Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head of Google Pay and Next Billion User Initiatives, said current local rules have forced Google Pay to operate without a clear business model in India.

Coronavirus takes its toll on payments companies

The coronavirus pandemic that prompted New Delhi to order a nationwide lockdown in late March preceded a significant, but predictable, drop in mobile payments usage in the following weeks. But while Paytm continues to struggle in bouncing back, PhonePe and Google Pay have fully recovered as India eased some restrictions.

About 120 million UPI transactions occurred on Paytm in the month of May, down from 127 million in April and 186 million in March, according to data compiled by NPCI, the body that oversees UPI, and obtained by TechCrunch. (Paytm maintains a mobile wallet business, which contributes to its overall transacting users.)

Google Pay, which only supports UPI payments, facilitated 540 million transactions in May, up from 434 million in April and 515 million in March. PhonePe’s 454 million March figure slid to 368 million in April, but it turned the corner, with 460 million transactions last month. An NPCI spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

PhonePe and Google Pay together accounted for about 83% of all UPI transactions in India last month.

Industry executives working at rival firms said it would be a mistake to dismiss Paytm, the one-time leader of the mobile payments market in India.

Paytm has cut its marketing expenses and aggressively chased merchants in recent quarters. Earlier this year, it unveiled a range of gadgets, including a device that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and USB charger, a jukebox that provides voice confirmations of transactions and services to streamline inventory management for merchants.

Merchants who use these devices pay a recurring fee to Paytm, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of the firm told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year. Paytm has also entered several businesses, such as movie and travel ticketing, lending, games and e-commerce, and set up a digital payments bank over the years.

“Everyone knows Paytm. Paytm is synonymous with digital payments in India. And outside, there’s a perceived notion that it’s truly the Alipay of India,” an executive at a rival firm said.

#alipay, #android, #apps, #asia, #facebook, #flipkart, #google, #india, #mark-zuckerberg, #payments, #paytm, #phonepe, #softbank, #uber, #vijay-shekhar-sharma, #walmart, #whatsapp, #zomato

0

Facebook and PayPal invest in Southeast Asian ride-hailing giant GoJek

Facebook and PayPal have made investments in GoJek, joining Google and Tencent among other high-profile technology firms that have backed the five-year-old Southeast Asian ride-hailing firm that also offers food delivery and mobile payments.

Facebook, for which it is the first investment in an Indonesia-based firm, and PayPal did not disclose the size of their checks. GoJek told TechCrunch that Facebook and PayPal were participating in its ongoing financing round, which brings it total raise-to-date to over $3 billion.

For Facebook, which in April invested in India’s top telecom operator Reliance Jio Platforms, backing GoJek unlocks a similar opportunity: Helping millions of small businesses.

Matt Idema, chief operating officer at WhatsApp, said the company will work with “indispensable” service GoJek to “bring millions of small businesses and the customers they serve into the largest digital economy in Southeast Asia.”

“The majority of small businesses in Indonesia rely on cash to operate due to the country’s large unbanked population. Digital payments are safer than cash, both for businesses and customers. And digital payments help more people participate in the economy and give businesses access to credit which is crucial for business growth,” he wrote in a blog post.

PayPal, which last year invested in money lender Tala ahead of the startup’s launch in India, said the commercial partnership will enable the global payments giant to “significantly grow” its scope and scale in Southeast Asia.

“This new relationship is another positive step in our journey towards becoming the worldwide payments partner of choice, and helping to fuel global commerce by connecting the world’s leading marketplaces and payment networks,” PayPal said in a statement.

GoJek, which disclosed it had raised $1.2 billion in March to employees and was valued at about $10 billion, said it has amassed over 170 million users in Southeast Asia. In March, the company, which competes with Singapore-headquartered Grab, said it had raised nearly $3 billion over the years.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #funding, #gojek, #google, #payments, #paypal, #software, #southeast-asia, #tencent, #whatsapp

0

JioMart, the e-commerce venture from India’s richest man, launches in additional cities

The rationale behind the deluge of dollars flooding into billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms is beginning to become more clear as his e-commerce venture JioMart starts rolling out to more people across India.

An e-commerce venture between the nation’s top telecom operator Jio Platforms and top retail chain Jio Retail, JioMart just launched its new website and started accepting orders in dozens of metro, tier 1 and tier 2 cities including Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Bokaro, Bathinda, Ahmedabad, Gurgaon, and Dehradun.

Before the expansion on Saturday, the service was available in three suburbs of Mumbai. The service now includes perishables such as fruits and vegetables, and dairy items in addition to staples and other grocery products as it makes its pitch to Indian households across the country.

Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms, which has raised more than $10 billion in the last month by selling a roughly 17% stake, has amassed over 388 million subscribers, more than any other telecom operator in the country.

The money comes as Ambani’s various companies begin entering a market already teeming with fierce competitors like Amazon, Walmart’s Flipkart, BigBasket, MilkBasket, and Grofers.

Earlier this week the American e-commerce giant entered India’s food delivery market to challenge the duopoly of Prosus Ventures-backed Swiggy and Ant Financial-backed Zomato. Amazon is making a massive hiring push in India, and is looking to hire close to 50,000 seasonal workers to keep up with the growing demand on its platform.

Meanwhile, Ambani’s Reliance Retail, founded in 2006, remains the largest retailer in India by revenue. It serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns.

JioMart may have Amazon and Flipkart in its sights, but in its current form, however, the company is going to be more of a headache for Grofers and BigBasket, the top grocery delivery startups in India.

Reliance Industries, the most valued firm in India and parent entity of Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, plans to expand JioMart to more than a thousand districts in a year and also widen its catalog to include electronics and office supplies among a variety of other categories, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. A Reliance Jio spokesperson declined to comment.

The expansion to more cities comes a month after JioMart launched its WhatsApp business account, enabling people to easily track their order and invoice on Facebook -owned service.

Facebook announced it would invest $5.7 billion in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms last month and pledged to work with the Indian firm to help small businesses across the country. JioMart’s WhatsApp account currently does not support the expanded regions.

Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man and the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, first unveiled his plan to launch an e-commerce platform last year. In a speech then, Ambani invoked Mahatma Gandhi’s work and said India needed to fight another fresh battle.

A handful of firms have attempted — and failed — to launch their e-commerce websites over the years in India, where more than 95% of sales still occur through brick and mortar stores. But Ambani is uniquely positioned to fight the duopoly of Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart — thanks in part to the more than $10 billion in investment dollars the company recently raised from KKR, FacebookSilver LakeVista Equity Partners, and General Atlantic. In addition to scaling JioMart, the fresh capital should also help Ambani repay some of Reliance Industries’ $21 billion debt.

“We have to collectively launch a new movement against data colonization. For India to succeed in this data-driven revolution, we will have to migrate the control and ownership of Indian data back to India — in other words, Indian wealth back to every Indian,” Ambani said at an event attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi .

#amazon, #ant-financial, #asia, #bigbasket, #ecommerce, #facebook, #flipkart, #grofers, #mukesh-ambani, #narendra-modi, #prosus-ventures, #reliance, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #walmart, #whatsapp, #zomato

0

First major GDPR decisions looming on Twitter and Facebook

The lead data regulator for much of big tech in Europe is moving inexorably towards issuing its first major cross-border GDPR decision — saying today it’s submitted a draft decision related to Twitter’s business to its fellow EU watchdogs for review.

“The draft decision focusses on whether Twitter International Company has complied with Articles 33(1) and 33(5) of the GDPR,” said the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) in a statement.

Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation came into application two years ago, as an update to the European Union’s long-standing data protection framework which bakes in supersized fines for compliance violations. More interestingly, regulators have the power to order that violating data processing cease. While, in many EU countries, third parties such as consumer rights groups can file complaints on behalf of individuals.

Since GDPR begun being applied, there have been thousands of complaints filed across the bloc, targeting companies large and small — alongside a rising clamour around a lack of enforcement in major cross-border cases pertaining to big tech.

So the timing of the DPC’s announcement on reaching a draft decision in its Twitter probe is likely no accident. (GDPR’s actual anniversary of application is May 25.)

The draft decision relates to an inquiry the regulator instigated itself, in November 2018, after the social network had reported a data breach — as data controllers are required to do promptly under GDPR, risking penalties should they fail to do so.

Other interested EU watchdogs (all of them in this case) will now have one month to consider the decision — and lodge “reasoned and relevant objections” should they disagree with the DPC’s reasoning, per the GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism which enables EU regulators to liaise on cross-border inquiries.

In instances where there is disagreement between DPAs on a decision the regulation contains a dispute resolution mechanism (Article 65) — which loops in the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) to make a final decision on a majority basis.

On the Twitter decision, the DPC told us it’s hopeful this can be finalized in July.

Commissioner Helen Dixon has previously said the first cross border decisions would be coming “early” in 2020. However the complexity of working through new processes — such as the one-stop-shop — appear to have taken EU regulators longer than hoped.

The DPC is also dealing with a massive case load at this point, with more than 20 cross border investigations related to complaints and/or inquiries still pending decisions — with active probes into the data processing habits of a large number of tech giants; including Apple, Facebook, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tinder, Verizon (TechCrunch’s parent company) and WhatsApp — in addition to its domestic caseload (operating with a budget that’s considerably less than it requested from the Irish government).

The scope of some of these major cross-border inquiries may also have bogged Ireland’s regulator down.

But — two years in — there are signs of momentum picking up, with the DPC’s deputy commissioner, Graham Doyle, pointing today to developments on four additional investigations from the cross-border pile — all of which concern Facebook owned platforms.

The furthest along of these is a probe into the level of transparency the tech giant provides about how user data is shared between its WhatsApp and Facebook services.

“We have this week sent a preliminary draft decision to WhatsApp Ireland Limited for their submissions which will be taken in to account by the DPC before preparing a draft decision in that matter also for Article 60 purposes,” said Doyle in a statement on that. “The inquiry into WhatsApp Ireland examines its compliance with Articles 12 to 14 of the GDPR in terms of transparency including in relation to transparency around what information is shared with Facebook.”

The other three cases the DPC said it’s making progress on relate to GDPR consent complaints filed back in May 2018 by the EU privacy rights not-for-profit, noyb.

noyb argues that Facebook uses a strategy of “forced consent” to continue processing individuals’ personal data — when the standard required by EU law is for users to be given a free choice unless consent is strictly necessary for provision of the service. (And noyb argues that microtargeted ads are not core to the provision of a social networking service; contextual ads could instead be served, for example.)

Back in January 2019, Google was fined $57M by France’s data watchdog, CNIL, over a similar complaint.

Per its statement today, the DPC said it has now completed the investigation phase of this complaint-based inquiry which it said is focused on “Facebook Ireland’s obligations to establish a lawful basis for personal data processing”.

“This inquiry is now in the decision-making phase at the DPC,” it added.

In further related developments it said it’s sent draft inquiry reports to the complainants and companies concerned for the same set of complaints for (Facebook owned) Instagram and WhatsApp. 

Doyle declined to give any firm timeline for when any of these additional inquiries might yield final decisions. But a summer date would, presumably, be the very earliest timeframe possible.

The regulator’s hope looks to be that once the first cross-border decision has made it through the GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism — and yielded something all DPAs can sign up to — it will grease the tracks for the next tranche of decisions.

That said, not all inquiries and decisions are equal clearly. And what exactly the DPC decides in such high profile probes will be key to whether or not there’s disagreement from other data protection agencies. Different EU DPAs can take a harder or softer line on applying the bloc’s rules, with some considerably more ‘business friendly‘ than others. Albeit, the GDPR was intended to try to shrink differences of application.

If there is disagreement among regulators on major cross border cases, such as the Facebook ones, the GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism will require more time to work through to find consensus. So critics of the regulation are likely to have plenty of attack area still.

Some of the inquiries the DPC is leading are also likely to set standards which could have major implications for many platforms and digital businesses so there will be vested interests seeking to influence outcomes on all sides. But with GDPR hitting its second birthday — and still hardly any decision-shaped lumps taken out of big tech — the regional pressure for enforcements to get flowing is massive.

Given the blistering pace of tech developments — and the market muscle of big tech being applied to steamroller individual rights — EU regulators have to be able to close the gap between investigation and enforcement or watch their flagship framework derided as a paper tiger…

Schrems II

Summer is also shaping up to be an interesting time for privacy watchers for another reason, with a landmark decision due from Europe’s top court on July 16 on the so called ‘Schrems II’ case (named for the Austrian lawyer, privacy rights campaigner and noyb founder, Max Schrems, who lodged the original complaint) — which relates to the legality of Standard Contractual Clauses (SCC) as a mechanism for personal data transfers out of the EU.

The DPC’s statement today makes a point of flagging this looming decision, with the regulator writing: “The case concerns proceedings initiated and pursued in the Irish High Court by the DPC which raised a number of significant questions about the regulation of international data transfers under EU data protection law. The judgement from the CJEU on foot of the reference made arising from these proceedings is anticipated to bring much needed clarity to aspects of the law and to represent a milestone in the law on international transfers.”

A legal opinion issued at the end of last year by an influential advisor to the court emphasized that EU data protection authorities have an obligation to step in and suspend data transfers by SCC if they are being used to send citizens’ data to a place where their information cannot be adequately protected.

Should the court hold to that view, all EU DPAs will have an obligation to consider the legality of SCC transfers to the US “on a case-by-case basis”, per Doyle.

“It will be in every single case you’d have to go and look at the set of circumstances in every single case to make a judgement whether to instruct them to cease doing it. There won’t be just a one size fits all,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s an extremely significant ruling.”

(If you’re curious about ‘Schrems I’, read this from 2015.)

#apple, #data-protection, #data-protection-law, #dpc, #europe, #european-data-protection-board, #european-union, #facebook, #france, #gdpr, #general-data-protection-regulation, #google, #helen-dixon, #instagram, #linkedin, #privacy, #schrems, #social-media, #social-network, #tc, #tinder, #united-states, #verizon, #whatsapp

0

Facebook to acquire Giphy in a deal reportedly worth $400 million

Facebook will acquire Giphy, the web-based animated gif search engine and platform provider, Facebook confirmed today, in a deal worth around $400 million, according to a report by Axios. Facebook said it isn’t disclosing terms of the deal. Giphy has grown to be a central source for shareable, high-engagement content, and its animated response gifs are available across Facebook’s platforms, as well as through other social apps and services on the web.

Most notably, Giphy provides built-in search and sticker functions for Facebook’s Instagram, and it will continue to operate in that capacity,  as well as be available to its other apps through existing and additional integrations. People will still be able to upload their own GIFs, and Facebook intends to continue to operate Giphy under its own branding and offer integration to outside developers.

Facebook says it will invest in additional tech development for Giphy, as well as build out new relationships for it on both the content side, as well as the endpoint developer side. The company says that fully 50% of traffic that Giphy receives actually already comes from Facebook’s apps, including Instagram, Messenger, the FB app itself and WhatsApp .

Giphy was founded in 2013, and was originally simply a search engine for GIFs. The website’s first major product expansion was an extension that allowed sharing via Facebook, introduced later in its founding year, and it quickly added Twitter as a second integration. According to the most recent data from Crunchbase, Giphy had raised $150.9 million across five rounds, backed by funders including DFJ Growth, Lightspeed, Betaworks, GV, Lerer Hippeau and more.

#axios, #betaworks, #dfj-growth, #facebook, #gif, #giphy, #lerer-hippeau, #lightspeed, #ma, #operating-systems, #photo-sharing, #search-engine, #social-media, #software, #tc, #twitter, #whatsapp, #world-wide-web

0

Locatee raises $4M Series A for its workplace analytics platform

Locatee, a Swiss startup that uses existing sensors and IT infrastructures to provide employers and commercial real estate owners with detailed data about how their spaces are utilized, today announced that it has raised a $4 million Series A funding round led by San Francisco-based FYRFLY Venture Partners and Zurich-based Tomahawk VC.

“We started the company based on the experience we had with the big banks,” Locatee CEO and co-founder Thomas Kessler told me. “As users, we were introduced to this new world of working. You can work from any place. You can work from Starbucks. You can work from any area. And in the office, I did not have my own desk anymore. I could choose between meeting rooms, focus areas and so on. But that also has some challenges for managing the space.”

Corporate real estate managers often don’t understand how their buildings are utilized these days because they simply don’t have the tools to gather this data. As a result, they overprovision their office spaces and large chunks of it remain empty — which organizations then unnecessarily pay for.

What makes Locatee stand out from similar players in this space is that it integrates with existing motion sensors inside a building and other data sources, like Wi-Fi networks. For Swiss Re’s Munich office, for example, Locatee was able to work with NetCloud and integrate with the existing Cisco network infrastructure. Thanks to the data it gathered, Swiss Re was able to reduce its local office space by 10%, which Locatee says allowed the company to save about €290,000 per year.

On top of the core data analytics, Locatee also offers a number of other tools, ranging from smart signage for meeting rooms and workstations, for example, to desk finders for workers who now (or at least once they return to their offices) are often not working from a single, pre-assigned cubicle every day but who roam around a building and work from a different spot every day.

As Keller stressed, Locatee approached its first customers by trying to understand their use cases, not by trying to sell them technology. One of Locatee’s first customers was Biogen, but today, it also calls Swiss Re, Johnson & Johnson and Zurich (the financial services company, not the city) among its users.

Locatee’s data is anonymized and Kessler argues that employees don’t tend to worry about being tracked. “[Employees] have a benefit,” he said. “They have an app, for instance, where they can see available meeting rooms and desks. And they can see where colleagues are — on an opt-in basis. So it’s more like a ‘share your location’ feature like in iOS Messenger or in WhatsApp .”

With that kind of momentum, Kessler told me, finding investors was relatively easy — though it surely helped that the company closed this raise before the coronavirus pandemic hit Europe.

“Locatee’s vision to transform how space is used will ultimately elevate the quality of life for employees and can also contribute significantly to sustainable development goals,” said Philipp Stauffer, co-founder and managing director at FYRFLY Venture Partners. “Office space is only one component and increasingly all ‘work points’ matter for productivity optimization. A quantitative approach to space optimization and productivity holds both significant top- and bottom-line potential for large global organizations. Furthermore, aggregated data can help predict larger market trends, which is exciting to us.”

The company says it wants to use the new funding to become the “Google Analytics of office buildings.” And while its technology could also be used in other environments, Kessler says he wants to focus on office space for now. “There is still a lot of wasted real estate that needs to be optimized,” he said.

#analytics, #economy, #europe, #fyrfly-venture-partners, #google, #johnson, #johnson-johnson, #locatee, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #social-media, #startups, #swiss-re, #tc, #telecommuting, #tomahawk-vc, #whatsapp, #working-conditions, #zurich

0