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Social Platforms Could Face Legal Action for Addictive Algorithms Under Proposed California Law

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Social Platforms Could Face Legal Action for Addictive Algorithms Under Proposed California Law

In what could be a significant step towards protecting children from potential harms online, the California legislature is currently debating an amended bill that would enable parents, as well as the state Attorney General, to sue social platforms for algorithms and systems that addict children to their apps.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal:

Social-media companies such as Facebook parent Meta Platforms could be sued by government attorneys in California for features that allegedly harm children through addiction under a first-in-the-nation bill that faces an important vote in the state Senate here Tuesday. The measure would permit the state attorney general, local district attorneys and the city attorneys of California’s four largest cities to sue social-media companies including Meta – which also owns Instagram – as well as TikTok, and Snapchat, under the state’s law governing unfair business practices.

If passed, that could add a range of new complications for social media platforms operating within the state, and could restrict the way that algorithmic amplification is applied for users under a certain age.

The ‘Social Media Platform Duty to Children Act’ was initially proposed early last month, but has since been amended to improve its chances of securing passage through the legislative process. The bill includes a range of ‘safe harbor’ clauses that would exempt social media companies from liability if said company makes changes to remove addictive features of their platform within a specified time frame.

What, exactly, those ‘addictive’ features are isn’t specified, but the bill essentially takes aims at social platform algorithms, which are focused on keeping users active in each app for as long as possible, by responding to each person’s individual usage behaviors and hooking them in through the presentation of more of what they react to in their ever-refreshing content feeds.

Which, of course, can have negative impacts. As we’ve repeatedly seen play out through social media engagement, the problem with algorithmic amplification is that it’s based on a binary process, which makes no judgment about the actual content of the material it seeks to amplify. The system simply responds to what gets people to click and comment – and what gets people to click and comment more than anything else? Emotionally charged content, posts that take a divisive, partisan viewpoint, with updates that spark anger and laughter being among the most likely to trigger the strongest response.

That’s part of the reason for increased societal division overall, because online systems are built to maximize engagement, which essentially incentivizes more divisive takes and stances in order to maximize shares and reach.

Which is a major concern of algorithmic amplification, while another, as noted in this bill, is that social platforms are getting increasingly good at understanding what will keep you scrolling, with TikTok’s ‘For You’ feed, in particular, almost perfecting the art of drawing users in, and keeping them in the app for hours at a time.

Indeed, TikTok’s own data shows that users spend around 90 minutes per day in the app, on average, with younger users being particularly compelled by its never-ending stream of short clips. That’s great for TikTok, and underlines its nous in building systems that align with user interests. But the question essentially being posed by this bill is ‘is this actually good for youngsters online?’

Already, some nations have sought to implement curbs on young people’s internet usage behaviors, with China implementing restrictions on gaming and live-streaming, including the recent introduction of a ban on people under the age of 16 from watching live-streams after 10pm.

The Italian Parliament has implemented laws to better protect minors from cyberbullying, while evolving EU privacy regulations have seen the implementation of a range of new protections for young people, and the use of their data online, which has changed the way that digital platforms operate.

Even in the US, a bill proposed in Minnesota earlier this year would have banned the use of algorithms entirely in recommending content to anyone under age 18. 

And given the range of investigations which show how social platform usage can be harmful for young users, it makes sense for more legislators to seek more regulatory action on such – though the actual, technical complexities of such may be difficult to litigate, in terms of proving definitive connection between algorithmic amplification and addiction.

But it’s an important step, which would undoubtedly make the platforms re-consider their systems in this regard, and could lead to better outcomes for all users.

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Twitter’s Cancelling Free Access to its API, Which Will Shut Down Hundreds of Apps

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Twitter’s Cancelling Free Access to its API, Which Will Shut Down Hundreds of Apps

Well, this is certainly problematic.

Twitter has announced that, as of February 9th, it’s cutting off free access to its API, which is the access point that many, many apps, bot accounts, and other tools use to function.

That means that a heap of Twitter analytics apps, management tools, schedulers, automated updates – a range of key info and insight options will soon cease to function. Which seems like the sort of thing that, if you were Twitter, you’d want to keep on your app.

But that’s not really how Twitter 2.0 is looking to operate – in a bid to rake in as much revenue as absolutely possible, in any way that it can, Twitter will now look to charge all of these apps and tools. But most, I’d hazard a guess, will simply cease to function.

The bigger business apps already pay for full API access – your Hootsuite’s and your Sprout Social’s – so they’ll likely be unaffected. But it could stop them from offering free plans, which would have a big impact on their business models.

The announcement follows Twitter’s recent API change which cut off a heap of Twitter posting tools, in order, seemingly, to stop users accessing the platform through a third-party UI. 

Now, even more Twitter tools will go extinct, a broad spread of apps and functions that contribute to the real-time ecosystem that Twitter has become. Their loss, if that’s what happens, will have big impacts on overall Twitter activity.

On the other hand, some will see this as another element in Twitter’s crackdown on bots, which Twitter chief Elon Musk has made a personal mission to eradicate. Musk has taken some drastic measures to kill off bots, some of which are having an impact, but Musk himself has also admitted that such efforts are reducing overall platform engagement

This, too, could be a killer in this respect

It’ll also open the door to Twitter competitors, as many automated update apps will switch to other platforms. This relates to things like updates on downtime from video games, weather apps, and more. There are also tools like GIF generators and auto responders – there’s a range of tools that could now look for a new home on Mastodon, or some other Twitter replicant. 

In this respect, it seems like a flawed move, which is also largely ignorant of how the developer community has facilitated Twitter’s growth. 

But Elon and Co. are going to do things their own way, whether outside commentators agree or not – and maybe this is actually a path to gaining new Twitter data customers, and boosting the company’s income. 

But I doubt it.

If there are any third-party Twitter apps that you use, it’ll be worth checking in to see if they’re impacted before next week.



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Meta ‘Year of Efficiency’ call from Zuckerberg was what Street needed

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Meta 'Year of Efficiency' call from Zuckerberg was what Street needed

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Meta Platforms Inc., center, departs from federal court in San Jose, Calif., on Dec. 20, 2022.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

With one simple slogan, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg temporarily quelled investor discontent with his company’s multibillion-dollar investment into the futuristic metaverse.

“Our management theme for 2023 is the ‘Year of Efficiency’ and we’re focused on becoming a stronger and more nimble organization,” Zuckerberg said as part of the release of Meta’s fourth-quarter earnings report.

Following a 64% plunge in Meta’s share price in 2022, Wall Street cheered the report, sending the stock up almost 20%, extending a rally that began late last year. Based on after-hours pricing, Meta is trading at its highest since July.

Growth is not what’s getting investors excited. Meta reported better-than-expected revenue in the fourth quarter, but sales still sank 4% from a year earlier, marking the third straight quarterly decline. And the forecast range for the first quarter suggests that year-over-year revenue could increase, but it could also fall again.

Rather, Zuckerberg’s commitment to cost cuts and efficiency is a sign that increasing profitability is important to Meta, which was known as a growth machine prior to last year’s slump.

“The first 18 years I think we grew it 20%, 30% compound or a lot more every year,” Zuckerberg said on the earnings call. “And then obviously that changed very dramatically in 2022, where our revenue was negative for growth, for the first time in the company’s history.”

In looking to the future, Zuckerberg struck a realistic tone.

“We don’t anticipate that that’s going to continue,” he said, regarding the recent drop in revenue. “But I also don’t think it’s going to go back to the way it was before.”

Meta lowered its estimates for total expenses in 2023 to be in the range of $89 billion to $95 billion, down from its prior outlook of $94 billion to $100 billion. In November, the company announced it would lay off over 11,000 workers, or 13% of its staff.

Zuckerberg said Meta will be more “proactive on cutting projects that aren’t performing or may no longer be crucial” and that it will emphasize “removing layers of middle management to make decisions faster.”

Meta is also reducing spending as it builds new data centers that are intended to be more efficient while still able to power the company’s various artificial intelligence technologies. Capital expenditures are now expected to be in the range of $30 billion to $33 billion for 2023 instead of $34 billion to $37 billion.

Zuckerberg is selling investors on a story they want to hear, acknowledging that the company got bloated and needed more financial discipline. One of Zuckerberg’s top deputies, technology chief Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, wrote a personal essay just a few days ago echoing that sentiment.

Still, Meta has plenty of challenges ahead, in terms of both costs and reviving its core ad business.

Meta’s Reality Labs unit, which is responsible for developing the nascent metaverse, lost $13.7 billion in 2022. Finance chief Susan Li told analysts that the company isn’t planning for any reduction in that unit anytime soon. Zuckerberg still sees it as the company’s future.

Digital advertising, meanwhile, is suffering from a struggling economy, and Li gave no indication that companies are planning to dramatically increase their spending in 2023.

Meta has also yet to recover from Apple’s 2021 iOS privacy update that made it harder to target users with ads. Li said the company has been improving its online advertising system, but Apple’s update is “still certainly an absolute headwind to our revenue number.”

During the question and answer part of the call, Zuckerberg was asked about Meta’s progress in generative artificial intelligence, which has become the latest hot thing in Silicon Valley. His answer indicated that Meta is pursuing opportunities there, but will be cautious in how quickly it proceeds. Running these programs is expensive, and Meta needs to ensure it can develop them affordably, he said.

Zuckerberg said that while Meta is researching how best to incorporate the new technology, he wants “to be careful not to get too ahead of the development of it.”

Correction: Meta’s earnings report and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comments occurred after the market close on Wednesday. An earlier version misstated the day.

WATCH: Meta grows in daily active users, shares pop on revenue beat

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Pinterest Focuses on Travel Inspiration and Education for Black History Month

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Pinterest Focuses on Travel Inspiration and Education for Black History Month

Pinterest is taking a unique approach to Black History Month, with a new ‘Find Your Routes’ Black Travel Hub initiative, which aims to highlight places that have strong connections to Black history, while also showcasing Black-owned businesses.

As explained by Pinterest:

“Find Your Routes” is inspired by The Negro Motorist Green Book aka “The Green Book”. The Green Book was a guidebook for Black travelers during the Jim Crow era that provided a list of accessible hotels, boarding houses, taverns, restaurants, service stations and other establishments throughout the country that served Black Americans patrons.”

The Black Travel Hub, which you can find here, will present a range of travel options, along with their history, with creators from the US, Colombia, Jamaica, Brazil and more, all taking part in presenting their city.

It could be a good way to provide education alongside inspiration in the app, while also helping people to connect, and support highlighted communities.

Pinterest will also be showcasing Black-owned businesses on Pinterest TV, while internally, it’s also hosting a company-wide event ‘to help employees gain knowledge about the history, present, and future of Black travel through the lens of Black Pinployees’.

As noted, it could be a good way to both spark important conversations, and inspire new travel journeys, which include an extra level of cultural understanding and education, along with a leisure break.

It’s an interesting take on the celebration either way, and it’ll be worth noting what sort of reaction the initiative gets, and whether it inspires more travel as a result.

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