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FCC Commissioner Calls for TikTok to be Removed From US App Stores

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TikTok Expands Test of Downvotes for Video Replies, Adds New Prompts to Highlight its Safety Tools

Could TikTok be in for another legal challenge in order to remain in operation in the US?

It seems that the heat could be rising for the app once again, with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr publishing an open letter that calls upon both Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores due to TikTok’s ‘pattern of surreptitious data practices’, which specifically relates to how it shares data with its Chinese parent company.

As per Carr:

“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It’s not just an app for sharing funny videos or memes. That’s the sheep’s clothing. At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”

Care notes that TikTok tracks a range of data inputs, including search and browsing histories, keystroke patterns, biometric identifiers, draft messages and other metadata, while it can also access text, images, and videos that are stored on a device’s clipboard.

Or it could. Back in 2020, with the introduction of iOS 14, TikTok users noted that the app was tracking their Clipboard content, with the new iOS notifiers showing that TikTok was accessing the Clipboard every few seconds. Amid various questions around why it would need to do so, TikTok then said that it would remove from this element from the app – but still, the fact that TikTok was disingenuously sucking in more user data underlined concerns that it is indeed being used to glean maximum insight on its users. And with parent company ByteDance beholden to the CCP, under China’s controversial cybersecurity policies, the concern remains that TikTok could inadvertently be used as a surveillance tool in every market that it operates.

Carr further notes that bipartisan leaders in both the Senate and House have flagged concerns about the app at different times, and says that the case against the app is compelling enough to remove it from the US entirely, either via policy ruling or by Apple and Google cutting it off from their platforms.

The policy route has already been tested, with former President Donald Trump issuing an Executive Order in 2020 that would have forced the sale of the app into US ownership, to alleviate data sharing concerns. Though the legal grounding for that push was never established, and shortly after the 2020 election, incoming President Joe Biden advised his staff to step back from the long-running TikTok challenge – though even then, Biden noted that he held concerns about the app and its systems.

Could those issues be reignited as a result of Carr’s letter?

It definitely seems like the key concerns remain, though TikTok would no doubt have hoped that it had side-stepped this issue by moving its US user data to Oracle servers, which it advised had been completed earlier this month.

Will that be enough to fend off another challenge?

As Trump’s original EO outlined, the key concern is TikTok’s Chinese-ownership, and so long as it remains in its current state, it also remains a security threat, at least to some degree.

This latest push may be just noise, as Carr is calling on others to take action. But it reawakens the looming specter of Chinese spying, which Meta and many others have been pushing as a key reason to rid the US of the app.

I suspect that, with China-US relations remaining tenuous, the Biden administration will be hesitant to take action. But maybe that, in itself, will lead to louder calls to pull the plug on the app.



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These Guys Are Stupid, And I'm Being Charitable

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These Guys Are Stupid, And I'm Being Charitable

Why do some organizations still solicit funds the way they did in the 1960s? You need to take a smarter marketing approach, or you’ll waste money like they do. I’m still getting about two bucks a month in cash from stupid, misguided charities that insist on sending me actual money in the mail. I get …

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Internal Documents Reveal That the New Twitter Blue Has Fewer Than 300k Subscribers at Present

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Internal Documents Reveal That the New Twitter Blue Has Fewer Than 300k Subscribers at Present

Look, I know people have strong opinions about Elon Musk, and I realize that any criticism is going to be viewed as political commentary, even if it’s not (because I’m not American, I can’t vote, I don’t care about Hunter Biden, etc.). But Elon’s paid verification program is dumb, the dumbest move that he’s made at Twitter to date.

And I understand the logic – Elon says that when he came on, the company was losing $4 million per day, which lead to mass lay-offs, and a scramble for revenue generation options.

Paid verification, then, makes sense, while Elon also extrapolated the need for immediate cash into a pathway to combat bots, by using verification as a means to ‘verify all the real humans’ – i.e. bots won’t pay, and bot peddlers won’t be able to afford such at scale.

I get all the moving parts, and optimistically, they may sense.

But realistically, which is the more important ‘ally’ of the two, it just doesn’t.

Because most people won’t pay, especially when you’re offering nothing much in return, other than a graphic of a tick next to their username, while the very act of selling verification ticks erases their only perceptual value, that being exclusivity.

Now, everyone can buy one, so the tick is meaningless, at least as a status marker of some form.

My perspective on this been vindicated, at this early stage at least, by a new report from The Information, which says that, according to internal documents:

Around 180,000 people in the US were paying for subscriptions to Twitter, including Twitter Blue, as of mid-January, or less than 0.2% of monthly active users […] The U.S. number is about 62% of Twitter’s global subscriber total, the document says, which implies Twitter has 290,000 global subscribers.”

That’s consistent with the findings of researcher Travis Brown, who’s been posting regular updates on Twitter Blue subscriber numbers, based on searches of users that show up as ‘blue_verified’ in the back-end.

At present, based on Brown’s figures, the new Twitter Blue program looks to have around 300,000 subscribers, very close to the data The Information has seen.

That would mean that Twitter’s currently bringing in an extra $2.4 million per month via the program, or $7.2 million per quarter. Which is pretty good, that’s extra income at a time when Twitter desperately needs it. But it’s still way, way off from where Twitter wants its subscription revenue intake to be.

To reiterate, when initially outlining his Twitter 2.0 reformation plans, Elon said that he wants to make subscription revenue around 50% of Twitter’s overall intake. That would align somewhat with the aforementioned revenue and bot-battling potential – but in order to do this, Twitter needs to increase Twitter Blue take-up 81x its current state.

300k sign-ups is also only 0.12% of Twitter’s active user base – so to reiterate, revenue-wise, it’s not close to meeting goals, and as a bot disincentive, it’s nowhere near meeting its aims. And while Twitter has just this weekend rolled out Twitter Blue to more regions, there’s just no way that it’s ever going to reach the levels required to make it a viable consideration in either respect.

Which means that all the mucking around, all the impersonation issues, all the gold checks and gray ticks and square profile images and brand logos. All of this has, on balance, been a waste of time.

It’s not nothing – again, Twitter needs all the extra money it can get right now, and a $29 million annual boost in intake will help. But functionally, it’s been a series of blunders and missteps, one after the other.

And now, Twitter wants brands to pay $1,000 a month for a gold tick?

Yeah, safe to say that’s not going to be a roaring success either. And while Twitter will likely get a few more Twitter Blue sign-ups when it removes legacy blue checks sometime in future, that’s still only 420k extra subscribers, max.

The churn rate will also be high – because again, a blue tick isn’t valuable anymore if everyone can buy one – and unless Elon and Co. have some magic updates to build into Twitter Blue in future, beyond Blue-only polls or paying to qualify for monetization, I don’t see how this becomes a significant element of Twitter’s overall intake or process.

But maybe I’m missing something. Maybe, because it’s Elon Musk, we’ve missed the point, or the process, and there is actually another pathway to winning on this front that’s not been revealed as yet.

I don’t see it, but I can’t imagine the logistics of flying to Mars either, so maybe there’s more to come.

But I doubt it.



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Housebound Jordanian football fan a social media star

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Amer Abu Nawas was born with osteogenesis, or brittle bone disease, a genetic condition hindering normal bone growth that has meant he rarely leaves his home

Amer Abu Nawas was born with osteogenesis, or brittle bone disease, a genetic condition hindering normal bone growth that has meant he rarely leaves his home – Copyright AFP Khalil MAZRAAWI

Kamal Taha

Having spent most of his life housebound due to a medical condition, Jordanian Amer Abu Nawas’s love of football has propelled him to social media stardom.

Offering analysis of matches from the leading European football leagues to almost a quarter of a million followers, his Facebook page — “HouseAnalyzer” in Arabic — has grown into what he describes as a “big family”.

The 27-year-old was born with osteogenesis, or brittle bone disease, a genetic condition hindering normal bone growth that has meant he rarely leaves his home in Zarqa, 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Jordan’s capital Amman.

“It is true that I have never played football in my life, and have never attended any match, but for me football is everything,” Abu Nawas told AFP.

With no schools in the country catering to his needs, Abu Nawas grew up spending much of his time watching football matches, analysing the teams and playing football video games.

“This always made me feel like it is taking me from this world to a different one,” he said.

His relatives noticed his passion and encouraged him to publish his match analyses online.

In 2017, he launched his Facebook account, which now counts more than 243,000 followers.

– ‘Reach people’ –

Filmed on a phone in his bedroom, Abu Nawas’s videos usually feature him wearing a football jersey, excitedly commenting on matches and news from the world of football.

Discussing leagues from England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, he sometimes uses a football pitch-shaped board to explain tactical nuances.

One of Abu Nawas’s latest videos reached more than 1.4 million viewers and he has started posting on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter.

He said he was grateful for modern technology allowing him to connect with so many people.

“From this room, from this small place isolated from the world, I was able to cross these walls, reach people, communicate with them, create content, and become what I am today,” he said.

He expressed sadness at sometimes seeing people attack each other in comments to his posts, and said his relationship with his followers was “like a family”.

“This family is growing day by day, and I hope it will reach as many followers as possible,” he added.

Abu Nawas’s own family do their best to provide him with a comfortable life.

He is the youngest of three brothers and his father is a doctor and his mother a pharmacist.

Inside his room are shelves with a PlayStation, a computer and plastic baskets keeping items he might need.

On his bed are phones, remote controls, headphones and a long stick used to reach distant items.

– ‘Not an obstacle’ –

“He has his own world, in a room with a temperature of 27 degrees to avoid cold and pneumonia. He can operate anything using the remote control,” his father Yussef told AFP.

He said his son has friends who occasionally visit.

“When he feels bad, they take him out for a tour in a minibus,” he said.

Abu Nawas lamented that in Jordan “nobody cares” about people with diseases like his, and said he wished he had had the opportunity to attend school.

“The conditions for people with special needs are catastrophic,” he said.

“I could not learn because there are no special schools for people like me.”

Last year, the organisers of the football World Cup invited him to attend the tournament in Qatar.

But due to travel difficulties linked to his condition, he arrived late and missed the matches he was scheduled to attend.

Even so, Abu Nawas said it was “the best 10 days of my life”.

“I know my condition, I learned to be content, and I will remain so,” he said.

“Disability need not be an obstacle to success.”

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