India sets more stringent rules for social media, streaming services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: WhatsApp

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

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

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

Image Credits: WhatsApp

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

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

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

Image Credits: WhatsApp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0

Jamaica’s immigration website exposed thousands of travelers’ data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What comes next for biometrics?

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

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

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

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

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

0

How emerging markets are approaching crypto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“During the pandemic, it was hard to get things into the country, including remittances,” Odufuwa said. “Now there’s also this need to use cryptocurrency to donate [to activists]…we plan to at least quadruple educational programming this year.”

Depending on the user’s socioeconomic background, people use Bitcoin to earn income from online games like poker, trading cryptocurrencies or offering freelance services to international clients. Odufuwa said thousands of the new users she’s seen during the pandemic want to profit from their developer skills, not just trades. So her company will offer more developer training related to the open-source Binance Smart Chain project. Although it’s impossible to accurately quantify, it seems as though at least hundreds of freelancers around the globe now depend on Bitcoin for income. 

One such LocalBitcoins user in Latin American, Venezuelan journalist José Rafael Peña, has been earning the majority of his income in Bitcoin since late 2016. He estimated that cryptocurrency writing gigs account for 90% of his income. 

“Bitcoin, in some circumstances, is a very helpful tool, especially when you live in a country with a chaotic economy and limited financial tools,” Peña said. “I began using Bitcoin because it let me protect against the bolivar’s devaluation, even without a dollar bank account.”

All things considered, Odufuwa said emerging markets saw “tremendous” growth since the pandemic began. But Peña warned not to confuse that growth with a mainstream “solution” to local government woes. 

“Most people try to survive the crisis in any way,” he said. “Even here, crypto is a niche.”

#bitcoin, #column, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #digital-currencies, #tc, #tether, #whatsapp

0

Decrypted: With more SolarWinds fallout, Biden picks his cybersecurity team

All change in the capital as the Biden administration takes charge, and thankfully without a hitch (or violence) after the attempted insurrection two weeks earlier.

In this week’s Decrypted, we look at the ongoing fallout from the SolarWinds breach and who the incoming president wants to lead the path to recovery. Plus, the news in brief.


THE BIG PICTURE

Google says SolarWinds exposure “limited,” more breaches confirmed

The cyberattack against SolarWinds, an ongoing espionage campaign already blamed on Russia, claimed the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as another federal victim this week. The attack also hit cybersecurity company Malwarebytes, the company’s chief executive confirmed. Marcin Kleczynski said in a blog post that attackers gained access to a “limited” number of internal company emails. It was the same attackers as SolarWinds but using a different intrusion route. It’s now the third security company known to have been targeted by the same Russian hackers after a successful intrusion at FireEye and an unsuccessful attempt at CrowdStrike.

#anne-neuberger, #app-maker, #biden-administration, #china, #computer-security, #computing, #cybersecurity-startup, #european-medical-agency, #federal-trade-commission, #fireeye, #flo, #india, #malwarebytes, #national-security-council, #operating-systems, #russia, #security, #signal, #social-media, #software, #startups, #united-kingdom, #web-application-firewalls, #whatsapp, #white-house

0

Equity Tuesday: Everyone’s raising money, and Wrike exits yet again

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday Tuesday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and make sure to check out last week’s two episodes, covering all the news sans ecommerce, and then all the ecommerce news.

We’re here on a Tuesday due to an American holiday, but that short break did not mean that the world’s news volume slowed down in the slightest. Here’s the rundown:

And that’s that for today, we are back in short order on Thursday afternoon!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#auto1-group, #crypto, #cryptocurrency, #darwinbox, #equity-podcast, #github, #leocare, #personio, #tc, #whatsapp, #wrike

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India asks WhatsApp to withdraw new privacy policy, expresses ‘grave concerns’

India has asked WhatsApp to withdraw the planned change to its privacy policy, posing a new headache to Facebook-owned service that identifies the South Asian nation as its biggest market by users.

In an email to WhatsApp head Will Cathcart, the nation’s IT ministry said WhatsApp’s planned update to its data-sharing policy raised “grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens… Therefore, you are called upon to withdraw the proposed changes.”

The ministry also sought clarification from WhatsApp on its data-sharing agreement with Facebook and other commercial firms and has asked why users in the EU are exempt from the new privacy policy but users in India have no choice but to comply.

“Such a differential treatment is prejudicial to the interests of Indian users and is viewed with serious concern by the government,” the ministry wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by TechCrunch. “The government of India owes a sovereign responsibility to its citizens to ensure that their interests are not compromised and therefore it calls upon WhatsApp to respond to concerns raised in this letter.”

Through an in-app alert earlier this month, WhatsApp had asked users to agree to new terms of conditions that granted the app the consent to share with Facebook some personal data about them, such as their phone number and location. Users were initially provided until February 8 to comply with the new policy if they wished to continue using the service.

“This ‘all-or-nothing’ approach takes away any meaninful choice from Indian users. This approach leverages the social significance of WhatsApp to force users into a bargain, which may infringe on their interests in relation to informational privacy and information security,” the ministry said in the email.

The notification from WhatsApp prompted a lot of confusion — and in some cases, anger and frustration — among its users, many of which have explored alternative messaging apps such as Telegram and Signal in recent weeks. WhatsApp, which Facebook bought for $19 billion in 2014, has been sharing some limited information about its users with the social giant since 2016 — and for a period allowed users to opt-out of this. Last week the Facebook-owned app, which serves more than 2 billion users worldwide, said it was deferring the enforcement of the planned policy to May 15.

New Delhi also said that it was reviewing the Personal Data Protection Bill, a monumental privacy bill that is meant to oversee how data of users are shared with the world. “Since the Parliament is seized of the issue, making such a momentous change for Indian users at this time puts the cart before the horse. Since the Personal Data Protection Bill strongly follows the principle of ‘purpose limitation,’ these changes may lead to significant implementational challenges for WhatsApp should the Bill become an Act,” the letter said.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #india, #policy, #privacy, #signal, #social, #telegram, #whatsapp

0

WhatsApp-Facebook data-sharing transparency under review by EU DPAs after Ireland sends draft decision

A long-running investigation in the European Union focused on the transparency of data-sharing between Facebook and WhatsApp has taken the first major step towards a resolution. Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) confirmed Saturday it sent a draft decision to fellow EU DPAs towards the back end of last year.

This will trigger a review process of the draft by other DPAs. Majority backing for Facebook’s lead EU data supervisor’s proposed settlement is required under the bloc’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) before a decision can be finalized.

The DPC’s draft WhatsApp decision, which it told us was sent to the other supervisors for review on December 24, is only the second such draft the Irish watchdog has issued to-date in cross-border GDPR cases.

The first case to go through the process was an investigation into a Twitter security breach — which led to the company being issued with a $550,000 fine last month.

The WhatsApp case may look very timely, given the recent backlash over an update to its T&Cs, but it actually dates back to 2018, the year GDPR begun being applied — and relates to WhatsApp Ireland’s compliance with Articles 12-14 of the GDPR (which set out how information must be provided to data subjects whose information is being processed in order that they are able to exercise their rights).

In a statement, the DPC said:

“As you are aware, the DPC has been conducting an investigation into WhatsApp Ireland’s compliance with Articles 12-14 of the GDPR in terms of transparency, including in relation to transparency around what information is shared with Facebook, since 2018. The DPC has provisionally concluded this investigation and we sent a draft decision to our fellow EU Data Protection Authorities on December 24, 2020 (in accordance with Article 60 of the GDPR in order to commence the co-decision-making process) and we are waiting to receive their comments on this draft decision.

“When the process is completed and a final decision issues, it will make clear the standard of transparency to which WhatsApp is expected to adhere as articulated by EU Data Protection Authorities,” it added.

Ireland has additional ongoing GDPR investigations into other aspects of the tech giant’s business, including related to complaints filed back in May 2018 by the EU privacy rights not-for-profit, noyb (over so called ‘forced consent’). In May 2020 the DPC said that separate investigation was at the decision-making phase — but so far it has not confirmed sending a draft decision for review.

It’s also notably that the time between the DPC’s Twitter draft and the final decision being issued — after gaining majority backing from other EU DPAs — was almost seven months.

The Twitter case was relatively straightforward (a data breach) vs the more complex business of assessing ‘transparency’. So a final decision on WhatsApp seems unlikely to come to a swifter resolution. There are clearly substantial differences of opinion between DPAs on how the GDPR should be enforced across the bloc. (In the Twitter case, for example, German DPAs suggested a fine of up to $22M vs Ireland’s initial proposal of a maximum of $300k). Although there is some hope that GDPR enforcement of cross border cases will speed up as DPAs gain experience of the various mechanisms and processes involved in making these co-decisions (even if major ideological gaps remain).

Returning to WhatsApp, the messaging platform has had plenty of problems with transparency in recent weeks — garnering lots of unwelcome attention and concern over the privacy implications of a confusing mandatory update to its T&Cs which has contributed to a major migration of users to alternative chat platforms, such as Signal and Telegram.

The backlash led WhatsApp to announced last week that it was delaying enforcement of the new terms by three months. Last week Italy’s data protection agency also issued a warning over a lack of clarity in the T&Cs — saying it could intervene using an emergency process allowed for by EU law (which would be in addition to the ongoing DPC procedure).

 

On the WhatsApp T&Cs controversy, the DPC’s deputy commissioner Graham Doyle told us the regulator had received “numerous queries” from confused and concerned stakeholders which he said led it to re-engage with the company. The regulator previously obtained a commitment from WhatsApp that there is “no change to data-sharing practices either in the European Region or the rest of the world”. But it subsequently confirmed it would delay enforcement of the new terms.

“The updates made by WhatsApp last week are about providing clearer, more detailed information to users on how and why they use data. WhatsApp have confirmed to us that there is no change to data-sharing practices either in the European Region or the rest of the world arising from these updates. However, the DPC has received numerous queries from stakeholders who are confused and concerned about these updates,” Doyle said.

“We engaged with WhatsApp on the matter and they confirmed to us that they will delay the date by which people will be asked to review and accept the terms from February 8th to May 15th. In the meantime, WhatsApp will launch information campaigns to provide further clarity about how privacy and security works on the platform. We will continue to engage with WhatsApp on these updates.”

While there’s no doubt Europe’s record of enforcement of its much vaunted data protection laws against tech giants remains a major weak point of the regulation, there are signs that increased user awareness of rights and, more broadly, concern for privacy, is causing a shift in the balance of power in favor of users.

Proper privacy enforcement is still sorely lacking but Facebook being forced to put a T&Cs update on ice for three months — as its business is subject to ongoing regulatory scrutiny — suggests the days of platform giants being able to move fast and break things are firmly on the wain.

Similarly, for example, Facebook recently had to delay the launch of a dating feature in Europe while it consulted with the DPC. It also remains limited in the data it can share between WhatsApp and Facebook because of the existence of the GDPR — so still can’t share data for ad targeting and product enhancement purposes, even under the new terms.

Europe, meanwhile, is coming with ex ante rules for platform giants that will place further obligations on how they can operate — with the aim of counteracting abusive/unfair business behaviors and bolstering competition in digital markets.

 

#dpc, #eu-data-protection-law, #facebook, #gdpr, #platform-regulation, #privacy, #tc, #whatsapp

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Tencent-backed Hike, once India’s answer to WhatsApp, has given up on messaging

India’s answer to WhatsApp has completely moved on from messaging.

Hike Messenger, backed by Tencent, Tiger Global and SoftBank and valued at $1.4 billion in 2016, earlier this month announced that it was shutting down Sticker Chat, its messaging app.

The startup, founded by Kavin Bharti Mittal, this month pivoted to two virtual social apps called Vibe and Rush, said Mittal, who is the son of telecom giant Airtel’s chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal.

In a series of tweets earlier this month, Kavin said that India will never have a homegrown messenger that makes inroads in the world’s second largest market unless it chooses to ban Western companies from operating in the nation. “Global network effects are too strong,” he said. WhatsApp has amassed over 450 million users in India, its biggest market by users.

Mittal described opportunities in building virtual worlds as a “much better approach for today’s world that is unconstrained by cheap, fast data and powerful smartphones.”

In recent years, Hike made bets on stickers and emojis to cater to the younger population in India. In a meeting with TechCrunch in late 2019, Mittal said that the startup was overwhelmed with the engagement stickers on its platform and was working to automate development of personalized stickers.

In a different meeting last year, Mittal showcased emojis that replicated human expressions and a virtual hangout place called HikeLand. Vibe is the rebranded version of HikeLand and the emojis Hike developed will continue to be available to users on both the newer apps, Mittal said earlier this month.

Hike, which has raised more than $260 million to date, had enough runway last year, Mittal said, who hinted that the startup may raise more capital a year later.

Hike also attempted to build its own operating system through acquisition of a startup called Creo. In 2018, Hike launched Total OS that aimed to cater to users with low-cost Android smartphones and slow internet data.

The startup later shut down the project. Mittal told TechCrunch that the arrival of Reliance Jio, which prompted Airtel and Vodafone to lower mobile data tariff on their networks, solved the data issues in the country and Total OS was no longer needed in the market.

#apps, #asia, #hike, #signal, #social, #softbank, #telegram, #tencent, #tiger-global, #whatsapp

0

Signal and Telegram are also growing in China – for now

As fears over WhatsApp’s privacy policies send millions of users in the West to Signal and Telegram, the two encrypted apps are also seeing a slight user uptick in China, where WeChat has long dominated and the government has a tight grip on online communication.

Following WhatsApp’s pop-up notification reminding users that it shares their data with its parent Facebook, people began fleeing to alternate encrypted platforms. Telegram added 25 million just between January 10-13, the company said on its official Telegram channel, while Signal surged to the top of the App Store and Google Play Store in dozens of countries, TechCrunch learned earlier.

The migration was accelerated when, on January 7, Elon Musk urged his 40 million Twitter followers to install Signal in a tweet that likely stoked more interest in the end-to-end encryption messenger.

The growth of Telegram and Signal in China isn’t nearly as remarkable as their soaring popularity in regions where WhatsApp has been the mainstream chat app, but the uplift is a reminder that WeChat alternatives still exist in China in various capacities.

Signal amassed 9,000 new downloads from the China App Store between January 8 and 12, up 500% from the period between January 3 and 7, according to data from research firm Sensor Tower. Telegram added 17,000 downloads during January 8-12, up 6% from the January 3-7 duration. WhatsApp’s growth stalled, recording 10,000 downloads in both periods.

Sensor Tower estimates that Telegram has seen about 2.7 million total installs on China’s App Store, compared to 458,000 downloads from Signal and 9.5 million times from WhatsApp.

The fact that Telegram, Signal, and WhatsApp are accessible in China might come as a surprise to some people. But China’s censorship decisions can be arbitrary and inconsistent. As censorship monitoring site Apple Censorship shows, all major Western messengers are still available on the China App Store.

The situation for Android is trickier. Google services are largely blocked in China and Android users revert to Android app stores operated by local companies like Tencent and Baidu. Neither Telegram nor Signal is available on these third-party Android stores, but users with a tool that can bypass China’s Great Firewall, such as a virtual private network (VPN), can access Google Play and install the encrypted messengers.

The next challenge is actually using these apps. The major chat apps all get slightly different treatment from Beijing’s censorship apparatus. Some, like Signal, work perfectly without the need for a VPN. Users have reported that WhatsApp occasionally works in China without a VPN, though it loads very slowly. And Facebook doesn’t work at all without a VPN.

“Some websites and apps can remain untouched until they reach a certain threshold of users at which point the authorities will try to block or disrupt the website or app,” said Charlie Smith, the pseudonymous head of Great Fire, an organization monitoring the Chinese internet that also runs Apple Censorship.

“Perhaps before this mass migration from WhatsApp, Signal did not have that many users in China. That might have changed over the last week in which case the authorities could be pondering restrictions for Signal,” Smith added.

To legally operate in China, companies must store their data within China and submit information to the authorities for security spot-checks, according to a cybersecurity law enacted in 2017. Apple, for instance, partners with a local cloud provider to store the data of its Chinese users.

The requirement raises questions about the type of interaction that Signal, Telegram, and other foreign apps have with the Chinese authorities. Signal said it never turned over data to the Hong Kong police and had no data to turn over when concerns grew over Beijing’s heightened controls over the former British colony.

The biggest challenges for apps like Signal in China, according to Smith, will come from Apple, which is constantly under fire by investors and activists for submitting to the Chinese authorities.

In recent years, the American giant has stepped up app crackdown in China, zeroing in on services that grant Chinese users access to unfiltered information, such as VPN providers, RSS feed readers and podcast apps. Apple has also purged tens of thousands of unlicensed games in recent quarters after a years-long delay.

“Apple has a history of pre-emptively censoring apps that they believe the authorities would want censored,” Smith observed. “If Apple decides to remove Signal in China, either on its own initiative or in direct response to a request from the authorities, then Apple customers in China will be left with no secure messaging options.”

#apple, #asia, #beijing, #china, #encryption, #facebook, #firewall, #google-play-store, #government, #great-fire, #messenger, #tc, #telegram, #tencent, #vpn, #wechat, #whatsapp

0

Daily Crunch: WhatsApp responds to privacy backlash

WhatsApp delays enforcement of a controversial privacy change, Apple may get rid of the Touch Bar in future MacBooks and Bumble files to go public. This is your Daily Crunch for January 15, 2021.

The big story: WhatsApp responds to privacy backlash

Earlier this month, WhatsApp sent users a notification asking them to consent to sharing some of their personal data — such as phone number and location — with Facebook (which owns WhatsApp). The alert also said users would have to agree to the terms by February 8 if they wanted to continue using the app.

This change prompted legal threats and an investigation from the Turkish government. Now the company is pushing the enforcement date back three months.

“No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp,” the company said in a post. “We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15.”

The tech giants

Uber planning to spin out Postmates’ delivery robot arm — Postmates X is seeking investors in its bid to become a separate company.

Apple said to be planning new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros with MagSafe and Apple processors — This could be the end for the Touch Bar.

Amazon’s newest product lets companies build their own Alexa assistant for cars, apps and video games — Yes, that means your next car could have two Alexas.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Bumble files to go public — The company plans to list on the Nasdaq stock exchange, using the ticker symbol “BMBL.”

Tracy Chou launches Block Party to combat online harassment and abuse — Currently available for Twitter, Block Party helps people filter out the content they don’t want to see.

Everlywell raises $75M from HealthQuest Capital following its recent $175M Series D round — Everlywell develops at-home testing kits for a range of health concerns, and it added a COVID-19 home collection test kit last year.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Fifteen steps to fundraising a new VC or private equity fund — Launching is easy; fundraising is harder.

Lessons from Top Hat’s acquisition spree — The acquisition of Fountainhead Press marks Top Hat’s third purchase of a publishing company in the past 12 months.

Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson says wisdom lies with your developers — Takeaways from Lawson’s new book “Ask Your Developer.”

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Video game spending increased 27% in 2020 — According to the latest figures from NPD, spending on gaming hardware, software and accessories was up 25% in December and 27% for the full year.

DOT evaluated 11 GPS replacements and found only one that worked across use cases —  The government wants to create additional redundancy and resiliency in the sector.

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 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#daily-crunch, #facebook, #mobile, #policy, #social, #whatsapp

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Confusion over WhatsApp’s new T&Cs triggers privacy warning from Italy

Confusion over an update to Facebook-owned chat platform WhatsApp’s terms and conditions has triggered an intervention by Italy’s data protection agency.

The Italian GPDP said today it has contacted the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) to raise concerns about a lack of clear information over what’s changing under the incoming T&Cs.

In recent weeks WhatsApp has been alerting users they must accept new T&Cs in order to keep using the service after February 8.

A similar alert over updated terms has also triggered concerns in India — where a petition was filed today in the Delhi High Court alleging the new terms are a violation of users’ fundamental rights to privacy and pose a threat to national security.

In a notification on its website the Italian agency writes that it believes it is not possible for WhatsApp users to understand the changes that are being introduced under the new terms, nor to “clearly understand which data processing will actually be carried out by the messaging service after February 8”.

Screengrab of the T&Cs alert being shown to WhatsApp users in Europe (Image credit: TechCrunch)

For consent to be a valid legal basis for processing personal data under EU law the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires that users are properly informed of each specific use and given a free choice over whether their data is processed for each purpose.

The Italian agency adds that it reserves the right to intervene “as a matter of urgency” in order to protect users and enforce EU laws on the protection of personal data.

We’ve reached out to the EDPB with questions about the GPDP’s intervention. The steering body’s role is typically to act as a liaison between EU DPAs. But it also issues guidance on the interpretation of EU law and can step in to cast the deciding vote in cases where there is disagreement on cross-border EU investigations.

Earlier this week Turkish antitrust authorities also announced they are investigating WhatsApp’s updated T&Cs — objecting to what they claimed are differences in how much data will be shared with Facebook under the new terms in Europe and outside.

While, on Monday, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission — which is WhatsApp’s lead data regulator in the EU — told us the messaging app has given it a commitment EU users are not affected by any broader change to data-sharing practices. So Facebook’s lead regulator in the EU has not raised any objections to the new WhatsApp T&Cs.

WhatsApp itself has also claimed there are no changes at all to its data sharing practices anywhere in the world under this update.

Clearly there’s been a communications failure somewhere along the chain — which makes the Italian objection to a lack of clarity in the wording of the new T&Cs seem reasonable.

Reached for comment on the GDPD’s intervention, a WhatsApp spokesperson told us:

We are reviewing the Garante’s announcement regarding WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy update. We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way or require Italian users to agree to new data-sharing practices with Facebook. Instead, this update provides further transparency about how we collect and use data, as well as clarifying changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional. We remain committed to providing everyone in Italy with private end-to-end encrypted messaging.

How exactly the Italian agency could intervene over the WhatsApp T&Cs is an interesting question. (And, indeed, we’ve reached out to the GPDP with questions.)

The GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism means cross-border complaints get funnelled through a lead data supervisor where a company has its main regional base (Ireland in WhatsApp’s case). But as noted above, Ireland has — thus far — said it doesn’t have a problem with WhatsApp’s updated T&Cs.

However under the GDPR, other DPAs do have powers to act off their own bat when they believe there is a pressing risk to users’ data.

Such as, in 2019, when the Hamburg DPA ordered Google to stop manual reviews of snippets of Google Assistant users’ audio (which it had been reviewing as part of a grading program).

In that case Hamburg informed Google of its intention to use the GDPR’s Article 66 powers — which allows a national agency to order data processing to stop if it believes there is “an urgent need to act in order to protect the rights and freedoms of data subjects” — which immediately led to Google suspending human reviews across Europe.

The tech giant later amended how the program operates. The Hamburg DPA didn’t even need to use Article 66 — just the mere threat of the order to stop processing was enough.

Some 1.5 years later and there are signs many EU data protection agencies — outside a couple of key jurisdictions which oversee the lion’s share of big tech — are becoming frustrated by perceived regulatory inaction against big tech.

So there may be an increased willingness among these agencies to resort to creative procedures of their own to protect citizens’ data. (And it’s certainly interesting to note that France’s CNIL recently slapped Amazon and Google with big fines over cookie consents — acting under the ePrivacy Directive, which does not include a GDPR-style one-stop-shop mechanism.)

In related news this week, an opinion by an advisor to the EU’s top court also appears to be responding to concern at GDPR enforcement bottlenecks.

In the opinion Advocate General Bobek takes the view that the law allows national DPAs to bring their own proceedings in certain situations — including in order to adopt “urgent measures” or to intervene “following the lead data protection authority having decided not to handle a case”.

The CJEU ruling on that case is still pending but the court tends to align with the position of its advisors so it seems likely we’ll see data protection enforcement activity increasing across the board from EU DPAs in the coming years, rather than being stuck waiting for a few DPAs to issue all the major decisions.

#eu-data-protection-law, #facebook, #gdpr, #italy, #privacy, #tc, #tcs, #whatsapp

0

WhatsApp faces legal challenge over privacy in its biggest market

WhatsApp is facing a legal challenge in India, its biggest market, after a petition was filed Thursday before Delhi High Court over the upcoming change in the Facebook-owned app’s data sharing policy.

The petition alleges the new terms that WhatsApp requires its roughly 450 million users in the country to accept is a violation of their fundamental rights to privacy and poses a threat to national security.

Through an in-app alert, WhatsApp has asked users in recent days to agree to new terms of conditions that grants the app the consent to share some personal data about them such as their phone number and location with Facebook.

Users will have to agree to these terms by February 8 if they wish to continue using the app, the alert said. The change has been mischaracterized by many as their personal communication being compromised, which WhatsApp clarified this week was not the case.

The Facebook-owned service, which serves over 2 billion users worldwide, said private conversations between people remain just as private as before. Facebook has also bought front-page newspaper ads in several leading Indian dailies this week to explain the change, which it first outlined last year.

The petitioner said the new terms grant WhatsApp a “360-degree profile into a person’s online activity” without any “government oversight.”

“WhatsApp has made a mockery out of our fundamental right to privacy while discharging a public function in India, besides jeopardizing the National Security of the country by sharing, transmitting and storing the users data in some [other] country and that data, in turn, will be governed by the laws of that foreign country,” the petition, which is expected to be heard Friday, reads.

Several high-profile startup founders and executives in India have also criticized WhatsApp’s new data sharing policy. Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and chief executive of India’s most valuable startup Paytm, accused WhatsApp of operating with double standards, pointing to how the new change was not affecting the app’s users in Europe.

The outrage over the new change has resulted in tens of millions of users exploring other communication apps such as Signal and Telegram in recent days. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this week, Signal co-founder and chairman executive Brian Acton said “the smallest of events helped trigger the largest of outcomes. We’re also excited that we are having conversations about online privacy and digital safety and people are turning to Signal as the answer to those questions.”

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #india, #paytm, #privacy, #signal, #social, #telegram, #whatsapp

0

E2E encrypted email providers also see sign-ups surge as chat app users flock to Signal and Telegram in search of privacy

Privacy concerns that have been driving app users to alternative chat apps like Signal and Telegram in recent weeks, since Facebook-owned WhatsApp announced a T&Cs change, appear to also be generating some uplift for end-to-end encrypted email providers.

Two Europe-based Protonmail and Tutanota have reported an uptick in sign ups in recent weeks.

Protonmail founder Andy Yen told TechCrunch it’s seen a 3x rise in sign ups for its end-to-end encrypted webmail service “in recent weeks”. While Germany’s Tutanota said usage has doubled since privacy concerns about WhatsApp’s new T&Cs sharing data with Facebook started circulating online.

“We are thrilled to see so many new users coming in. We already said in 2017 that the privacy-era has started, and we have been proven right ever since. People around the world are increasingly understanding that privacy matters and are no longer okay with fuelling the surveillance capitalism and the exploitation of their data by big tech such as Facebook. That’s why alternatives like Signal and Tutanota are constantly growing,” said Tutanota co-founder Matthias Pfau in a statement.

The fully e2e encrypted chat app Signal hasn’t disclosed how many new users it’s racked up in recent weeks but WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton — who joined forces with Signal after he left Facebook in 2018told us earlier this week that usage has “exploded”.

Anecdotal reports of newbies to the app — whose tagline is “say ‘hello’ to privacy” — abound.

In my case, among the UK contacts joining what had previously been a tight clique of privacy nerds, I can report a couple of ex London neighbours, an old university acquaintance, an antique Tinder date and two former colleagues — while my India-based TC colleague, Manish Singh, showed me three full screenshots of sign-ups his Signal app had alerted him to in just “the last few days”.

Telegram, another long-standing WhatsApp chat app alternative, has also reported a huge influx of new users in recent weeks.

The platform offers end-to-end encryption as an option for one-to-one chats (via its ‘Secret Chats’ feature), although unlike Signal e2e encryption is not the default rule. Nonetheless its founder, Pavel Durov, has been a very vocal critic of how Facebook treats users and their data. And that reputation baiting looks to be paying off.

“I hear Facebook has an entire department devoted to figuring out why Telegram is so popular,” Durov wrote in his Telegram Channel on January 8, seeking to capitalize on concerns about the looming WhatsApp’s T&Cs change. “Imagine dozens of employees working on just that full-time.

“I am happy to save Facebook tens of millions of dollars and give away our secret for free: respect your users,” he added.

A few days later Durov posted again to report Telegram’s user-base had surpassed 500M monthly actives in the first week of this year — adding 25M new users “in the last 72 hours alone”.

“These new users came from across the globe — 38% from Asia, 27% from Europe, 21% from Latin America and 8% from MENA,” he went on, implying around 6% of the new sign-ups came from North America (where there have also been reports of Trump supporters turning to Telegram as an alternative channel to organize protests as mainstream social networks have closed down accounts and pages linked to threats of violence and insurrection).

“This is a significant increase compared to last year, when 1.5M new users signed up every day,” he also said, adding: “We’ve had surges of downloads before, throughout our 7-year history of protecting user privacy. But this time is different. People no longer want to exchange their privacy for free services. They no longer want to be held hostage by tech monopolies that seem to think they can get away with anything as long as their apps have a critical mass of users.”

Durov has posted another update today — saying sign ups have “only accelerated” (and welcoming a couple more heads of state to the platform).

The privacy-flavored mass migration of users to WhatsApp alternatives has pushed the Facebook-owned company to attempt a public firefight this week — over what it couches as “rumours” about the looming T&Cs changes.

A Facebook spokesperson told us there are no changes to WhatsApp’s data sharing practices anywhere in the world with this update — which they said is about providing clearer, more detailed information to users on how and why the company uses their data, and also provides information about how businesses can use WhatsApp to connect with their customers.

But Facebook’s problem is it’s spent 15+ years torching user trust around privacy. And all those broken promises are coming home to roost as users fly elsewhere — searching for a platform whose business model isn’t predicated on exploiting their attention.

Whatever the specific detail of the latest WhatsApp T&Cs change, there’s no escaping the ugly truth that Facebook is an adtech giant. And it did already screw over WhatsApp users’ privacy — when it U-turned on data-sharing with Facebook just a few short years after it shelled out $19BN to line up all those extra eyeballs for its surveillance business.

That’s why e2e encryption in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg’s advertising empire simply can’t protect users’ privacy in the same way that a not-for-profit app like Signal can. And all those ‘personalized’ Facebook features — be they stickers, filters, lens or whatever — are just a distraction from the underlying truth that Facebook makes money by removing users privacy through an interconnected mesh of apps and tools that are dedicated to tracking Internet users and linking digital activity to eyeballs.

The techie obscurity that cloaked Facebook’s surveillance for years is now steadily being unpicked. And it’s clear that plenty of people don’t at all like what they see. 

 

#e2e-encryption, #europe, #facebook, #privacy, #protonmail, #security, #signal, #social, #telegram, #tutanota, #whatsapp

0

Signal’s Brian Acton talks about exploding growth, monetization and WhatsApp data-sharing outrage

Brian Acton is crossing paths again with Facebook. Over more than a decade of building and operating WhatsApp, the company’s co-founder first competed against and then sold his instant messaging app to the social juggernaut. Only a few years ago he parted ways with the company that made him a billionaire in a bitter split over messaging and privacy.

Now Acton says the ongoing outrage over what Facebook has done to the messaging service he helped build is driving people to his latest project — Signal. Acton, who serves as the executive chairman of the privacy-conscious messaging app’s holding company, told TechCrunch in an interview that the user base of Signal has “exploded” in recent weeks.

“The smallest of events helped trigger the largest of outcomes,” said Acton on a video call. “We’re also excited that we are having conversations about online privacy and digital safety and people are turning to Signal as the answer to those questions.”

“It’s a great opportunity for Signal to shine and to give people a choice and alternative. It was a slow burn for three years and then a huge explosion. Now the rocket is going,” he said.

The event Acton is referring to is the recent change in data-sharing policy disclosed by WhatsApp, an app that serves more than 2 billion users worldwide.

Through an in-app alert, WhatsApp has asked users in recent days to agree to new terms of conditions that grants the app the consent to share their personal data with Facebook. Users will have to agree to these terms by February 8 if they wish to continue using the app, the alert said.

Acton said WhatsApp is grappling with incorporating monetization features while still protecting people’s privacy. And its new “complicated policy” has forced WhatsApp and the media to scramble for explanations and “everyone is confused.”

Acton did not disclose how many users Signal has amassed in recent weeks, but he said the app currently ranks at the top on App Store in 40 countries and on Google Play Store in 18 countries. (Signal is not the only app that users have explored in recent days as their new home. Telegram said on Tuesday noon that more than 25 million users had joined the platform in the last 72 hours. The app now has over 525 million monthly active users.)

According to mobile insight firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch, Signal had about 20 million monthly active users globally at the end of December 2020. According to Sensor Tower, the app was downloaded more than 7.5 million times between January 6 and January 10.

Since its inception in 2018, Signal has promised that it won’t sell its users’ data and that it won’t show its users ads. In 2018, Acton invested $50 million in Signal Foundation, a check that he said helped get the ball rolling. But how does the messaging app plan to stay afloat in the future?

Signal today also relies on donations to bankroll the business — and more users mean more donors, he said. “If Signal gets to a billion users, that’s a billion donors. All we have to do is get you so excited about Signal that you want to give us a dollar or 50 rupees. The idea is that we want to earn that donation. The only way to earn that donation is building an innovative and delightful product. That’s a better relationship in my opinion,” he said.

Acton said this model has worked for the business, which keeps a small staff of below 50. Between its frugal spending and the foundation’s largesse, Signal still has some money in the bank.

Signal Foundation has also previously said that messenger is its first product, and like Mozilla and Wikimedia Foundation, it intends to expand to more categories. Acton said in the coming years, the team will take a call on whether they want to work on email and storage products, but he said the current focus remains on the messaging app.

Even as Acton has publicly urged users to get off Facebook, in our conversation he did not suggest that people should stop using WhatsApp. On the contrary, Acton said he envisions people relying on Signal for conversations with their family and close friends, and using WhatsApp for other chats. “I have no desire to do all the things that WhatsApp does. My desire is to give people a choice,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re locked into something where you have no choice. It’s not strictly a winner take-all scenario.”

One of the criticisms that WhatsApp often receives is that it does not do enough to curb the spread of false information on its platform, which has resulted in real-life casualties. I asked Acton what Signal, which also protects its users’ conversations with end-to-end encryption, would do if people started to use his app for a similar purpose. Acton said it’s a difficult challenge and while technology and platform have their own share of responsibilities, they can only do so much especially when you can’t look at the content of the conversation.

“You should be teaching your children good digital responsibility. Don’t just immediately take the information that you get. Understand its source. Understand who are trusted sources. As a society, teach every member how it works,” he said, pointing to earlier days of the internet when email scams were rampant and with time and education people learned how to identify them.

#apps, #brian-acton, #signal, #social, #telegram, #whatsapp

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YouTube and WhatsApp inch closer to half a billion users in India

WhatsApp has enjoyed unrivaled reach in India for years. By mid-2019, the Facebook-owned app had amassed over 400 million users in the country. Its closest app rival at the time was YouTube, which, according to the company’s own statement and data from mobile insight firm App Annie, had about 260 million users in India then.

Things have changed dramatically since.

In the month of December, YouTube had 425 million monthly active users on Android phones and tablets in India, according to App Annie, the data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. In comparison, WhatsApp had 422 million monthly active users on Android in India last month.

Factoring in the traction both these apps have garnered on iOS devices, WhatsApp still assumes a lead in India with 459 million active users1, but YouTube is not too far behind with 452 million users.

With China keeping its doors closed to U.S. tech giants, India emerged as the top market for Silicon Valley and Chinese companies looking to continue their growth in the last decade. India had about 50 million internet users in 2010, but it ended the decade with more than 600 million. Google and Facebook played their part to make this happen.

In the last four years, both Google and Facebook have invested in ways to bring the internet to people who are offline in India, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people. Google kickstarted a project to bring Wi-Fi to 400 railway stations in the country and planned to extend this program to other public places. Facebook launched Free Basics in India, and then — after the program was banned in the country — it launched Express Wi-Fi.

Both Google and Facebook, which identify India as their biggest market by users, have scaled down on their connectivity efforts in recent years after India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, took it upon himself to bring the country online. After he succeeded, both the companies bought multibillion-dollar stakes in his firm, Jio Platforms, which has amassed over 400 million subscribers.

Jio Platforms’ cut-rate mobile data tariff has allowed hundreds of millions of people in India, where much of the online user base was previously too conscious about how much data they spent on the internet, to consume, worry-free, hours of content on YouTube and other video platforms in recent years. This growth might explain why Google is doubling down on short-video apps.

The new figures shared with TechCrunch illustrate a number of other findings about the Indian market. Even as WhatsApp’s growth has slowed2 in India, it continues to enjoy an unprecedented loyalty among its users.

More than 95% of WhatsApp’s monthly active users in India use the app each day, and nearly its entire user base checks the app at least once a week. In comparison, three-fourths of YouTube’s monthly active users in India are also its daily active users.

The data also showed that Google’s eponymous app as well as Chrome — both of which, like YouTube, ship pre-installed3 on most Android smartphones — has also surpassed over 400 million monthly active users in India in recent months. Facebook’s app, in comparison, had about 325 million monthly active users in India last month.

When asked for comment, a Google spokesperson pointed TechCrunch to a report from Comscore last year, which estimated that YouTube had about 325 million monthly unique users in India in May 2020.

A separate report by research firm Media Partners Asia on Monday estimated that YouTube commanded 43% of the revenue generated in the online video market in India last year (about $1.4 billion). Disney+ Hotstar assumed 16% of the market, while Netflix had 14%.


1 For simplicity, I have not factored in the traction WhatsApp Business and YouTube Kids apps have received in India. WhatsApp and YouTube also maintain apps on KaiOS, which powers JioPhone feature handsets in India. At last count — which was a long time ago — more than 40 million JioPhone handsets had shipped in India. TechCrunch could not determine the inroads any app has made on this platform. Additionally, the figures of YouTube on Android (phones and tablets) and iOS (iPhone and iPad) will likely have an overlap. The same is not true of WhatsApp, which restricts one phone number to one account. So if I have WhatsApp installed on an iPhone with my primary phone number, I can’t use WhatsApp with the same number on an Android phone — at least not concurrently.
2 WhatsApp Business appears to be growing fine, having amassed over 50 million users in India. And some caveats from No. 1 also apply here.
3 Users still have to engage with the app for App Annie and other mobile insight firms to count them as active. So while pre-installing the app provides Google an unprecedented distribution, their apps still have to win over users.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #google-chrome, #india, #media, #mobile, #whatsapp, #youtube

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Elon Musk dunks on Facebook and recommends Signal in wake of U.S. Capitol insurrection attempt

Elon Musk, the tech billionaire set to likely soon become the world’s richest man, and one of the most influential voices in the world of tech entrepreneurship, continued his recent trend of criticizing Facebook with a Twitter post late Wednesday night, following the attempted insurrection by pro-Trump rioters at the U.S. Capitol building. Musk shared a meme suggesting the founding of Facebook ultimately led to the day’s disastrous and shameful events.

Musk, who has himself used his massive reach (he has around 42.5 million followers on Twitter) to spread misinformation to his many followers, specifically around COVID-19 and its severity, also followed that up on Thursday morning with a reply expressing a lack of surprise at WhatsApp’s new Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which will make sharing data from WhatsApp users back to Facebook mandatory for all on the platform.

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO also recommended that people instead use Signal, an encrypted messaging client which uses encryption by default and which is based on open-source standards. Side-note: If you do end up following Musk’s advice, you should also enable the app’s “disappearing messages” feature for an added layer of protection on both ends of the conversation.

Musk has a long history of opposing the use of Facebook, including the deletion of not just his own personal page, but also those of both Tesla and SpaceX, in 2018 during the original #deletefacebook campaign following the revelation of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

#elon-musk, #encryption, #facebook, #hyperloop, #musk, #social, #social-media, #software, #spacex, #tc, #technology, #whatsapp

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WhatsApp users must share their data with Facebook or stop using the app

In this photo illustration a Whatsapp logo seen displayed on

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messenger that claims to have privacy coded into its DNA, is giving its 2 billion plus users an ultimatum: agree to share their personal data with the social network or delete their accounts.

The requirement is being delivered through an in-app alert directing users to agree to sweeping changes in the WhatsApp terms of service. Those who don’t accept the revamped privacy policy by February 8 will no longer be able to use the app.

Share and share alike

Shortly after Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014, its developers built state-of-the-art end-to-end encryption into the messaging app. The move was seen as a victory for privacy advocates because it used the Signal Protocol, an open source encryption scheme whose source code has been reviewed and audited by scores of independent security experts.

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#encryption, #facebook, #policy, #privacy, #signal, #tech, #whatsapp

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Google, Cisco, and VMware join Microsoft to oppose NSO Group in WhatsApp spyware case

A coalition of companies have filed an amicus brief in support of a legal case brought by WhatsApp against Israeli intelligence firm NSO Group, accusing the company of using an undisclosed vulnerability in the messaging app to hack into at least 1,400 devices, some of which were owned by journalists and human rights activists.

NSO develops and sells governments access to its Pegasus spyware, allowing its nation state customers to target and stealthily hack into the devices of its targets. Spyware like Pegasus can track a victim’s location, read their messages and listen to their calls, steal their photos and files, and siphon off private information from their device. The spyware is often installed by tricking a target into opening a malicious link, or sometimes by exploiting never-before-seen vulnerabilities in apps or phones to silently infect the victims with the spyware. The company has drawn ire for selling to authoritarian regimes, like Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Last year, WhatsApp found and patched a vulnerability that it said was being abused to deliver the government-grade spyware, in some cases without the victim knowing. Months later, WhatsApp sued NSO to understand more about the incident, including which of its government customers was behind the attack.

NSO has repeatedly disputed the allegations, but was unable to convince a U.S. court to drop the case earlier this year. NSO’s main legal defense is that it is afforded legal immunities because it acts on behalf of governments.

But a coalition of tech companies has sided with WhatsApp, and are now asking the court to not allow NSO to claim or be subject to immunity.

Microsoft (including its subsidiaries LinkedIn and GitHub), Google, Cisco, VMware, and the Internet Association, which represents dozens of tech giants including Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter, warned that the development of spyware and espionage tools — including hoarding the vulnerabilities used to deliver them — make ordinary people less safe and secure, and also runs the risk of these tools falling into the wrong hands.

In a blog post, Microsoft’s customer security and trust chief Tom Burt said NSO should be accountable for the tools it builds and the vulnerabilities it exploits.

“Private companies should remain subject to liability when they use their cyber-surveillance tools to break the law, or knowingly permit their use for such purposes, regardless of who their customers are or what they’re trying to achieve,” said Burt. “We hope that standing together with our competitors today through this amicus brief will help protect our collective customers and global digital ecosystem from more indiscriminate attacks.”

A spokesperson for NSO did not immediately comment.

#computer-security, #computing, #espionage, #ethiopia, #government, #internet-association, #nso-group, #privacy, #saudi-arabia, #security, #social-media, #software, #spokesperson, #spyware, #united-arab-emirates, #vulnerability, #whatsapp

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From India’s richest man to Amazon and 100s of startups: The great rush to win neighborhood stores

After spending more than a decade disrupting the neighborhood stores in the U.S. and several other markets, Amazon and Walmart are employing an unusual strategy in India to face off this competitor: Friending them.

Walmart and Amazon, both of which face restrictions from New Delhi on what all they could do in India, have partnered with tens of thousands of neighborhood stores in the world’s second-largest internet market this year to leverage the vast presence of these mom and pop stores.

In June this year, at the height of the pandemic, Amazon announced “Smart Stores.” Through this India-specific program, for instance, Amazon is providing physical stores with software to maintain a digital log of the inventory they have in the shop and supplying them with a QR code.

When consumers walk to the store and scan this QR code with the Amazon app, they see everything the shop has to offer, in addition to any discounts and past reviews from customers. They can select the items and pay for it using Amazon Pay. Amazon Pay in India supports a range of payments services, including the popular UPI, and debit and credit cards.

The world’s largest e-commerce giant also maintains partnerships that allow it to turn tens of thousands of neighborhood stores as its delivery point for customers — and sometimes even rely on them for inventory.

India has over 60 million small businesses that dot the thousands of cities, towns and villages across the country. These mom and pop stores offer all kinds of items, are family run, and pay low wages and little to no rent.

This has enabled them to operate at an economics that is better than most — if not all — of their digital counterparts, and their scale allows them to offer unmatched fast delivery.

Krishna Shah, a New Delhi-based doctor, on paper is one of the perfect customers of e-commerce services. She lives in an urban city, uses digital payments apps and her earnings put her in the top 5% income level in the country. Yet, when she needed to buy food for her cats and needed it as soon as possible, she realized the major giants would take hours, if not longer. She ended up placing a call to a neighborhood store, which delivered the item within 10 minutes.

That neighborhood store, which employs fewer than half a dozen people, was competing with over a dozen giants and heavily funded startups including Grofers and BigBasket — and it won.

At stake is India’s retail market, which is estimated to be worth $1.3 trillion by 2025, from about $700 billion last year, according to Boston Consulting Group and the Retailers’ Association India. E-commerce, by several estimates, accounts for just 3% of the retail market in the country.

If that figure wasn’t small enough already, consider this: Some of the biggest customers of Flipkart and Amazon are these small retail stores. An executive with direct knowledge of the matter told TechCrunch that during some sales, as high as 40% of all smartphone units are bought by physical stores. The idea is, the executive said, to buy the devices at a discounted price, sit on them for a few days and when Amazon and Flipkart are done with their sales, sell the same phones at their standard prices.

Sujeet Kumar, co-founder of Udaan, a Bangalore-based startup that works with merchants, said that even as smartphones and the internet have reached all corners of India, e-commerce hasn’t been able to disrupt the retail market.

“The problem is that it is very difficult for e-commerce companies to build a supply chain and distribution network that is more efficient than those established by neighborhood stores. These mom and pop stores operate on an insanely different kind of cost economics. E-commerce companies are not able to match it,” he said.

#amazon, #apps, #asia, #bigbasket, #ecommerce, #facebook, #finance, #flipkart, #food, #google, #grofers, #india, #instamojo, #khatabook, #mobile, #online-lending, #payments, #paytm, #phonepe, #udaan, #walmart, #whatsapp

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Facebook launches revamped Instagram Lite app in India

Facebook is working to bring back the Instagram Lite app, months after it shut down the light version offering worldwide.

The social conglomerate said on Wednesday that it is testing the revamped Instagram Lite app in India, where it hopes to “gain valuable insights” about the new offering before “a global rollout” of the app later.

The revamped Instagram Lite app weighs less than 2MB and delivers a “fast, reliable, and responsive” experience of the social service. The Android app supports Bangla, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu, but currently lacks a several core features of Instagram including Reels, Shopping and IGTV.

Facebook quietly discontinued the previous iteration of Instagram Lite earlier this year. In July, Vishal Shah, VP of Product at Instagram, told TechCrunch that the company had identified some issues in the app and was working to resolve those. In September, a new Lite app was spotted in the wild, though Facebook did not acknowledge it.

Lite apps are especially popular in emerging markets where most users don’t have access to high-end smartphones or fast and cheap mobile internet data. Facebook Lite app, for instance, had about 40 million monthly active users in India last month, while Messenger Lite app had about 13 million, according to mobile insight firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch.

Shah made the announcement about the revamped Instagram Lite app at Facebook Fuel for India event on Wednesday, where scores of Facebook executives including Mark Zuckerberg and Ajit Mohan outlined a number of other programs they were working on for the world’s second largest internet market.

Instagram also announced the second version of ‘Born on Instagram,’ a one-year-old program it has built for content creators to better understand and leverage ways to collaborate with one another and explore monetization opportunities.

“With the test of Instagram Lite, and the next edition of Born on Instagram, we’re aiming to democratize expression and creativity for a greater number of people in India,” said Shah.

At the event, WhatsApp India head Abhijit Bose said that the company was working to launch sachet-sized health insurance offering to users in India this month. In July, WhatsApp had unveiled that it was working to pilot credit, insurance, and pension services in India, the instant messaging app’s biggest market by users, over the next year and a half.

“WhatsApp has proactively been working on several pilots to help ensure that every adult has access to the most basic critical financial and livelihood services through their mobile device. By the end of this year, we expect that people will be able to buy affordable sachet sized health insurance through WhatsApp,” Bose said today.

Facebook, which identifies India as its biggest market by users, is also working with telecom giant Jio Platforms to help tens of millions of small businesses establish online presence and sell digitally. The American giant, which invested $5.7 billion in Jio Platforms this year, are collaborating to make Jio Platforms’ JioMart e-commerce service available through WhatsApp. Some new features are coming to JioMart’s WhatsApp channel in the “coming days,” Facebook and Reliance executives teased today.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #india, #instagram, #instagram-lite, #jio-platforms, #social, #whatsapp

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FTC kicks off sweeping privacy probe of nine major social media firms

A scalpel labeled FTC is surrounded by the logos of social media giants.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Ars Technica)

The Federal Trade Commission is stepping up its digital privacy work and has asked just about every major social media platform you can think of to explain what personal data it collects from users and why.

The requests for information went out today to nine platforms (or their parent companies, where applicable), including Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube, according to the press release. The companies that receive the orders have 45 days to explain to the FTC:

  • How social media and video streaming services collect, use, track, estimate, or derive personal and demographic information
  • How they determine which ads and other content are shown to consumers
  • Whether they apply algorithms or data analytics to personal information
  • How they measure, promote, and research user engagement
  • How their practices affect children and teens

A sample order (PDF) shows the depth and specificity of the information the FTC is requesting from each firm, including extremely granular data about monthly and daily active users, business and advertising strategies, and potential plans for acquisitions or divestments. Interestingly, each firm is also required to say how many users it has inaccurate demographic information for and how it accounts for targeted advertising, including inaccurately targeted advertising. In other words, among other things the FTC wants to know: do you give advertisers their money back if you don’t actually target the groups they’re trying to reach?

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#alphabet, #amazon, #consumer-privacy, #data-privacy, #discord, #facebook, #federal-trade-commission, #ftc, #policy, #privacy, #reddit, #snapchat, #tiktok, #twitch, #twitter, #whatsapp, #youtube

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Facebook adds carts to WhatsApp to make shopping easier

WhatsApp said on Tuesday it is adding a new shopping feature to its app as the Facebook -owned instant messaging service looks to court more merchants and invite a larger portion of its 2 billion userbase to shop.

The instant messaging platform, where business accounts already process messages from more than 175 million people, said it is adding carts to WhatsApp around the world ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Carts are aimed at making it easier for consumers to buy multiple items from a business, and for merchants to keep better track of order inquiries and manage requests. WhatsApp said it is adding the new feature after early positive response from some businesses who tested it recently.

On WhatsApp, users will now see the option to add items to the cart. When done, users will be able to send the order request as a message to the business. WhatsApp said carts are going live for users across the globe today. (You can read the complete how-to flow here.)

In recent months, WhatsApp has added a number of features to supercharge the commerce experience on its app. It has added QR codes and the ability to share catalog links in chats. The platform is also offering free storage to merchants to host their business’s messages.

For WhatsApp, success with commerce is crucial. Despite its gigantic reach, it currently makes little to no money. The messaging app is available to users at no charge and also remains free of ads. But it stands to become a viable challenger to giants like Amazon and Walmart in at least emerging markets like India where e-commerce is still at a nascent phase.

In India, which happens to be WhatsApp’s biggest market by users, several businesses have kickstarted their journey on the Facebook-owned app. On Tuesday, DealShare, an Indian e-commerce startup, said it had raised $21 million in a new financing round. DealShare began its life on WhatsApp.

But one element that remains missing from WhatsApp’s shopping experience is support for payments. As of today, when a user places an order with a business on WhatsApp, both parties are left on their own to figure out how money will exchange hands.

WhatsApp hasn’t had much luck with adding payments to its app so far. It was only recently that India permitted WhatsApp to roll out payments on its app to a larger subset of users. Brazil is the other market where WhatsApp rolled out payments this year, though the South American nation took no time in suspending the new service. Perhaps, Libra is the answer?

#amazon, #apps, #asia, #facebook, #walmart, #whatsapp

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DealShare raises $21 million to expand its e-commerce platform to 100 Indian cities and towns

DealShare, a startup in India that has built an e-commerce platform for middle and lower income groups of consumers in the world’s second largest market, said on Tuesday it has raised $21 million in a new financing round.

WestBridge Capital led the Series C round of the three-year-old Bangalore-headquartered startup. Alpha Wave Incubation, a venture fund managed by Falcon Edge Capital, Z3Partners and existing investors Matrix Partners India and Omidyar Network India also participated in the round, which brings DealShare’s to-date raise to $34 million.

DealShare kickstarted its journey the day Walmart acquired Flipkart, the startup’s founder and chief executive Vineet Rao said at a recent virtual conference. Rao said that even as Amazon and Flipkart had been able to create a market for themselves in the urban Indian cities, much of the nation was still underserved. There was an opportunity for someone to jump in, he said.

The startup began as an e-commerce platform on WhatsApp, where it offered hundreds of products to consumers. But in the early days itself, it became clear that people were only interested in buying items that were selling at discounted rates, said Rao.

Over time, that idea has become part of DealShare’s core offering. Today it incentivizes consumers to share deals on products with their friends. The startup, which has since launched its own app and website, now operates in over two dozen cities in India.

Consumers wanted products that were relevant to them and they wanted to buy these items at a price that instilled the most value for their bucks, said Rao. “We focused on locally produced items instead of national brands. “Even today, 80% to 90% of items we sell are locally produced,” he said.

“We started building a network of these suppliers. It was very tough because none of these guys fancied joining modern retail like e-commerce. Some of them had tried to work with e-commerce firms before but the experience left a lot to be desired,” he said.

Sandeep Singhal, Co-founder and Managing Director of WestBridge, said in a statement, “Majority of Indian population is currently residing in the non-metros and there is a huge business opportunity in these regions. The buying pattern of low and middle-income group is different especially in smaller markets and DealShare seems to have understood the nuances very well. We are very impressed with how the team has scaled up in the last 2 years, while retaining a sharp focus on low cost, high impact model,” said

The startup says it spent the last 18 months to improve its finances and is nearing profitability. Now it plans to invest in its technology stack and expand its platform to 100 cities and towns in five states of India in the next one year.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #dealshare, #ecommerce, #falcon-edge, #flipkart, #funding, #india, #matrix-partners, #omidyar-network, #walmart, #westbridge-capital, #whatsapp, #z3partners

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WhatsApp is upping its wallpapers and stickers game

WhatsApp is finally upping its wallpapers and stickers game.

The instant messaging service said on Tuesday that it will now allow users to set custom wallpapers for different chats in a bid to make it easier for users to easily distinguish the dozens or hundreds of chats they are simultaneously engaging with. There’s no limit on how many custom wallpapers a user could choose to assign to different chats, it said.

“Make your chats personal and distinguishable by using a custom wallpaper for your most important chats and favorite people, and you never need worry about sending the wrong message in the wrong chat ever again,” the Facebook -owned service said.

WhatsApp, used by over 2 billion users, is also rolling out doodle wallpaper — the default wallpaper currently — in more colors, and is bulking up the selection of wallpapers with more images of nature and architecture from around the world, it said. Additionally, users can now also set a separate wallpaper which activates when their phone switches from light to dark mode.

Moving on from wallpapers, the messaging app said it is also making it easier for users to quickly search and find stickers with text or emoji, or browse through common categories.

The firm urged sticker creators to tag their stickers with emojis and text moving forward so that their stickers become more easily searchable for WhatsApp users. A company spokesperson declined to share the kind of traction stickers have received on WhatsApp, or how many sticker creators have contributed.

But if stickers are something you enjoy, there are some additional ones you will spot today. The World’s Health Organization’s “Together at Home” sticker pack is now available as animated stickers. (The two began collaborating earlier this year to raise more awareness about the coronavirus pandemic.)

“Together at Home has been one of the most popular sticker packs across WhatsApp, and will now be even more expressive and useful in its animated form. The ‘Together at Home’ sticker pack is available within WhatsApp, including with text localized for 9 languages – Arabic, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Turkish,” WhatsApp said.

#apps, #facebook, #whatsapp

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Cases against Facebook are reportedly coming… when FTC decides how

Giant monitors displaying the Facebook logo hang from the ceiling of an empty convention center.

Enlarge / All Facebook, no matter which way you look. (credit: Michael Short | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

After well over a year spent investigating Facebook, state and federal regulators are more than ready to start launching a slate of cases against Facebook, new reports say—that is, as soon as the agencies can agree on how they actually want to do it.

New suits against Facebook should come before the end of January, The Wall Street Journal writes. Both the Federal Trade Commission and a coalition of attorneys general for 47 states and territories are expected to take some kind of action.

The state and the federal probes are basically looking into two overall buckets of potentially anticompetitive behavior. The first has to do with Facebook’s effects on other businesses that could or do compete with it. That’s the investigation that delves into mergers and acquisitions, both large and small, as well as Facebook’s behavior toward companies that refuse a buyout.

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#antitrust, #competition, #department-of-justice, #doj, #facebook, #federal-trade-commission, #ftc, #google, #instagram, #justice-department, #lawsuits, #policy, #whatsapp

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WhatsApp receives approval to expand its payments service in India

WhatsApp, which began testing its payments service in India with 1 million users in early 2018, can finally start to expand the feature to more users in the world’s second largest internet market.

National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), the body that operates the widely popular UPI payments infrastructure, said on Thursday evening that it has granted approval to WhatsApp to roll out UPI-powered payments in India.

Like Google, Samsung, and a number of other firms, WhatsApp has built its payments service atop UPI, a payments infrastructure built by a coalition of large banks in India. NPCI said WhatsApp, which has amassed over 400 million users in India, can expand payments to its users in a “graded manner” and to start with, it can only roll out the payments service to 20 million users and has to work with multiple banking partners.

A WhatsApp spokesperson in India did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Google and Walmart currently dominate the mobile payments market in India with roughly 40% of the UPI market share. UPI has emerged as the most popular digital payments method in India, thanks in part to New Delhi’s abrupt move to invalidate more than 85% of the paper cash circulation in the nation in late 2016.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #google-pay, #india, #payments, #phonepe, #whatsapp

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WhatsApp now lets you post disappearing messages, which go away after 7 days

Facebook recently announced that WhatsApp passed the whopping milestone of 100 billion messages sent per day, but not everyone wants those chats to stick around forever. Now, Facebook’s wildly popular messaging app with 2 billion users is adding a feature to give people more control on how their words and pictures live within the app. From today, messages — including photos and videos — can now be marked to disappear after 7 days.

The feature is being rolled out globally across Android and iOS starting today, WhatsApp said. While it’s starting with a 7 day lifespan, it is already looking at playing around with the time limits.

“We will keep an eye on feedback about how people are using it and liking it and see if it needs adjusting in the future,” a spokesperson said. “For now we are starting with seven days, because it feels like a nice balance between the utility you need for global text based conversations and the feeling of things not sticking around forever.”

And just to be clear, the 7-day limit will exist regardless of whether the message gets read or not. (The clock starts counting when the message is sent, as it does on other apps like Telegram.)

“The way it’s currently designed is to give the sender confidence that after 7 days their message is gone. The messages have no concept of being seen, for them to disappear, so they will disappear regardless of read status,” said the spokesperson.

Users can turn on the feature for direct messages, but in groups it’s the admin that has to enable disappearing messages for it to work.

Although today is the “official” announcement, eagle eyed WhatsApp watchers had spotted the company posting FAQs on the feature some days ago. And tests of the feature actually first started to appear — and,  fittingly, disappear — as early as March of this year.

This isn’t WhatsApp’s first rodeo with disappearing content. In 2017, the company first dabbled in the idea with the launch of Status — an encrypted clone of Snapchat’s Stories feature, which let people set up short updates on themselves — in the form of some text and/or a GIF — as essentially a “profile” for all of their contacts to see for a set period of 24 hours, with the Statuses existing in their own tab in the app separate from your chats.

It’s not clear how popular the Status feature is: we’ve reached out to ask. Anecdotally, I’ve seen younger