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Apple Updates App Store Payment Rules to Allow Developers Contact Customers Directly

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 23 October 2021

Apple has updated its App Store rules to allow developers to contact users directly about payments, a concession in a legal settlement with companies challenging its tightly controlled marketplace.

According to the App Store rules updated Friday, developers can now contact consumers directly about alternative payment methods, bypassing Apple’s commission of 15 or 30 percent.

They will be able to ask users for basic information, such as names and e-mail addresses, “as long as this request remains optional”, said the iPhone maker.

Apple proposed the changes in August in a legal settlement with small app developers.

But the concession is unlikely to satisfy firms like Fortnite developer Epic Games, with which the tech giant has been grappling in a drawn-out dispute over its payments policy.

Epic launched a case aiming to break Apple’s grip on the App Store, accusing the iPhone maker of operating a monopoly in its shop for digital goods or services.

In September, a judge ordered Apple to loosen control of its App Store payment options, but said Epic had failed to prove that antitrust violations had taken place.

For Epic and others, the ability to redirect users to an out-of-app payment method is not enough: it wants players to be able to pay directly without leaving the game.

Both sides have appealed.

Apple is also facing investigations from US and European authorities that accuse it of abusing its dominant position.

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WhatsApp Said to Win Approval to Double Payments Offering to 40 Million Users in India

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By Reuters | Updated: 27 November 2021.

WhatsApp has won regulatory approval to double the number of users on its payments service in India to 40 million, a source with direct knowledge told Reuters on Friday. The company had requested that there should be no cap on users of its payment service in India.

Instead, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) this week told the company it could double the user base to which it can offer its payment service – currently restricted to 20 million – the source said.

WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, which recently changed its name to Meta.

The source said the new cap would still hinder the company’s growth prospects given that WhatsApp’s messenger service has more than 500 million users in India, the company’s biggest market.

It was not clear when the new cap would come into effect.

WhatsApp did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while the NPCI declined to comment.

WhatsApp competes with Alphabet’s Google Pay, SoftBank- and Ant Group-backed Paytm, and Walmart’s PhonePe in India’s crowded digital market.

The NPCI gave WhatsApp approval to start its payments service last year after the company spent years trying to comply with Indian regulations, including data storage norms that require all payments-related data to be stored locally.

WhatsApp has almost reached its user base of 20 million for payment services, said the source, who declined to be identified as the details are private.

Online transactions, lending and e-wallet services have been growing rapidly in India, led by a government push to make the country’s cash-loving merchants and consumers adopt digital payments.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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China Demands Tencent Submit New Apps, Updates to Inspection Before Being Uploaded: Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 25 November 2021

China has required Tencent Holdings submit any new apps or updates for inspections before they can be uploaded after a number of its apps were found to have committed violations, Chinese financial media outlet Yicai reported on Wednesday.

Yicai, citing unnamed sources, said the Chinese social media and gaming giant had been required to do so by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) after some of its apps were found to have infringed users’ rights and interests.

It also said that MIIT had recently issued a notice to say that between November 24 to December 31, all mobile apps and their updates will need to undergo a roughly seven-day-long review before they can be uploaded to app stores.

Tencent said its apps remained functional and available for download in response to Yicai’s and other local media reports.

“We are continuously working to enhance user protection features within our apps, and also have regular cooperation with relevant government agencies to ensure regulatory compliance. Our apps remain functional and available for download,” the company said.

Chinese regulators have in over the past year mounted a wide-ranging crackdown on its tech giants, seeking to dismantle some of the industry’s long-held practices after accusing them of monopolistic behaviour and infringing user rights.

This has included a step up in checks on mobile apps by regulators. On November 3, MIIT ordered 38 apps from companies, including those of Tencent, to rectify the excessive collection of personal information.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Reddit to Shut Down TikTok-Like Dubsmash App, Integrate Video Tools With Platform

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By Reuters | Updated: 24 November 2021

Reddit is pulling the plug on its TikTok-like platform, Dubsmash, the social network said on Tuesday, just a year after buying it for an undisclosed sum to bolster its video creation tools.

The standalone Dubsmash app will not be available for download after February 22, Reddit said, as it rolled out new camera and editing features as part of its video tools.

TikTok’s massive success with short-form videos has driven other social networks to incorporate the format on their platforms, with Snap rolling out Spotlight; Facebook, now Meta Platforms, launching Instagram Reels; and Alphabet’s YouTube launching Shorts.

“The Dubsmash team has been accelerating Reddit’s video, so parts of Reddit will feel familiar to Dubsmashers,” the company said in a blog post.

Since Dubsmash’s acquisition, Reddit said it had seen 70 percent growth in overall hours watched, while the number of daily active video viewers rose by over a third.

Viewership for short videos, which the company defines as two seconds or less, has also risen by 50 percent quarter-over-quarter.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Spotify Launches ‘Netflix Hub’ on Its App to Lure Fans With Podcasts, Soundtracks From Popular Shows

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By Reuters | Updated: 24 November 2021

Music streaming platform Spotify Technology said on Tuesday it has introduced a new hub where fans can listen to all the official soundtracks, playlists and podcasts related to Netflix’s shows.

The Netflix Hub, as the companies are calling the new feature, will contain playlists from hit shows such as Money Heist and Bridgerton, as well as the official soundtrack from shows such as Squid Game. It can be accessed by both free and premium listeners.

The hub would also contain Netflix-tied podcasts including Okay, Netflix Is A Daily Joke, and The Crown: The Official Podcast, the Swedish company said in a blog post.

Spotify, which saw a rise in premium subscribers in the third quarter, has benefited from the pandemic as people turned to its music platform to stay entertained. But with growing competition from Apple Music and Amazon Music, Spotify is looking at introducing new features to attract more subscribers.

Earlier in 2019, it had also collaborated with Disney to create the Disney Hub.

Spotify said subscribers across the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and India will have access to the hub.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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DuckDuckGo Introduces App Tracking Protection to Stop Apps From Tracking Android Users

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By ANI | Updated: 22 November 2021

Privacy-focused browser maker DuckDuckGo’s new tool aims to prevent apps from tracking Android users.

According to The Verge, DuckDuckGo’s tool hasn’t been rolled out as part of an update to all Android phones, nor is it available as a separate download.

It’s built into DuckDuckGo”s privacy-focused browser app, but works across your device. In a post on its blog, the company said that the tool will block “trackers it identifies in other apps from third-party companies.”

Once App Tracking Protection is enabled, it will run in the background as you use your phone. The tool recognises when an app is about to send data to a third-party tracker, and will then prevent the app from taking your information.

DuckDuckGo said that it’s “continually working to identify and protect against new trackers,” which means that your data should be kept away from any new trackers that crop up.

From the DuckDuckGo app, you should also be able to see a real-time view of trackers that the tool has blocked, along with where your data would’ve been going.

The company says that although its App Tracking Protection tool isn’t a virtual private network (VPN), your device will behave as if it is one.

“This is because App Tracking Protection uses a local ”VPN connection” which means that it works its magic right on your smartphone. However, App Tracking Protection is different from VPNs because it never routes app data through an external server,” DuckDuckGo explained in its post.

While conducting its own test, DuckDuckGo found that more than 96 percent of some of the most popular free Android apps have third-party trackers that most users are unaware of.

As per The Verge, the company also discovered that 87 percent of these apps send user data to Google, while 68 per cent send data to Facebook.

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Amazon India Executives Charged by Police in Alleged Marijuana Smuggling Case

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 November 2021

Indian police said on Saturday they had charged senior executives of Amazon’s local unit under narcotics laws in a case of alleged marijuana smuggling via the online retailer.

Police in the central Madhya Pradesh state arrested two men with 20kg of marijuana on November 14 and found they were using the Amazon India website to order and further smuggle the substance in the guise of stevia leaves, a natural sweetener, to other Indian states.

State police said in a statement that executive directors of Amazon India were being named as accused under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act due to differences in answers in documents provided by the company in response to police questions and facts unearthed by discussion.

Police did not disclose how many executives were charged.

The police, who had previously summoned and spoken to Amazon executives in the case, estimate that about 1,000kg of marijuana, worth roughly $148,000 (roughly Rs. 1.1 crore), was sold via Amazon.

Amazon said in a statement that it does not allow the listing and sale of legally prohibited products, adding that it takes strict action against sellers in case of any contravention.

“The issue was notified to us and we are currently investigating it,” Amazon said of the alleged marijuana smuggling.

Indian authorities have in recent years intensified their efforts to crack down on illicit drugs. Many high-profile Indian actors and TV personalities have been under scrutiny from narcotics officials since last year.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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