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Facebook to Restore Australia News Pages as Deal Reached on Media Payment Law

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 23 February 2021

Facebook said Tuesday it will lift a contentious ban on Australian news pages, after the government agreed to amend a world-first media law fiercely opposed by the tech giant.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook indicated a compromise had been reached on key aspects of a law that would force global tech companies to pay news companies for content that appears on their platforms.

“As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism, and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days,” said Will Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia.

The social media firm sparked global outrage last week by blacking out news for its Australian users and inadvertently blocking a series of non-news Facebook pages linked to everything from cancer charities to emergency response services.

The compromise means that Facebook and Google – the main targets of the law – are unlikely to be penalised so long as they reach some deals with local media firms to pay for news.

The two companies had objected to legislation that made negotiations with media companies mandatory and gave an independent Australian arbiter the right to impose a settlement.

“We’re pleased that we’ve been able to reach an agreement with the Australian government and appreciate the constructive discussions we’ve had” said Easton.

Despite earlier threats to pull its services from Australia over the legislation, Google had already softened its stance and brokered deals worth millions of dollars with a variety of media companies, including the two largest: Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and Nine Entertainment.

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Facebook, WhatsApp’s Pleas Challenging New IT Rules to Be Heard by Delhi High Court on August 27

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 30 July 2021

The Delhi High Court Friday said it will hear on August 27 the pleas by Facebook and WhatsApp challenging the new IT rules for social media intermediaries, requiring the messaging app to “trace” chats and make provisions to identify the first originator of information, on the ground that they violate the right to privacy and are unconstitutional.

A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh listed the matter for August 27 after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, said he was in some difficulty and urged the court to adjourn the hearing.

The request was not opposed by senior advocates Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for WhatsApp and Facebook respectively.

The new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 were announced by the government on February 25 and requires large social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp to comply with the norms by May 25.

The Facebook owned WhatsApp in its plea said the requirement of intermediaries enabling the identification of the first originator of information in India upon government or court order puts end-to-end encryption and its benefits “at risk”.

WhatsApp has urged the high court to declare Rule 4(2) of the Intermediary Rules as unconstitutional, ultra vires to the IT Act and illegal and sought that no criminal liability be imposed on it for any alleged non-compliance with Rule 4(2) which requires to enable the identification of the first originator of information.

WhatsApp, which has arrayed the Centre through the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology as a party to the petition, said the traceability provision is unconstitutional and against the fundamental right to privacy.

The plea said the traceability requirement forces the company to break end-to-end encryption on its messaging service, as well as the privacy principles underlying it, and infringes upon the fundamental rights to privacy and free speech of the hundreds of millions of citizens using WhatsApp to communicate privately and securely.

It said WhatsApp enables government officials, law enforcement, journalists, members of ethnic or religious groups, scholars, teachers, students, and the like to exercise their right to freedom of speech and expression without fear of retaliation.

“WhatsApp also allows doctors and patients to discuss confidential health information with total privacy, enables clients to confide in their lawyers with the assurance that their communications are protected, and allows financial and government institutions to trust that they can communicate securely without anyone listening to their conversations,” it said.

“There is no way to predict which message will be the subject of such a tracing order. Therefore, the petitioner would be forced to build the ability to identify the first originator for every message sent in India on its platform upon request by the government forever. This breaks end-to-end encryption and the privacy principles underlying it, and impermissibly infringes upon users” fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech,” the petition said.

It claimed that Rule 4(2) infringes upon the fundamental right to privacy without satisfying the three-part test set forth by the Supreme Court in K S Puttaswamy judgement, that is, legality, necessity and proportionality.

It also said that the rule violates the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as it chills even lawful speech and citizens will not speak freely for fear that their private communications will be traced and used against them, which is antithetical to the very purpose of end-to-end encryption.

Rule 4(2) states that a significant social media intermediary which provides services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable the identification of the first originator of the information on its computer resource as may be required by a judicial or government order.

As per data cited by the government, India has 53 crore WhatsApp users, 44.8 crore YouTube users, 41 crore Facebook subscribers, 21 crore Instagram users, while 1.75 crore account holders are on microblogging platform Twitter.
The new rules were introduced to make social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram – which have seen a phenomenal surge in usage over the past few years in India – more accountable and responsible for the content hosted on their platform.

Social media companies will have to take down posts depicting nudity or morphed photos within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.

Notably, the rules require significant social media intermediaries – providing services primarily in the nature of messaging – to enable identification of the “first originator” of the information that undermines sovereignty of India, security of the state, or public order.

This could have major ramifications for players like Twitter and WhatsApp.

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Pinterest Sees Slower US User Growth as People Step Out Due to Ease in COVID-19 Restrictions

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By Reuters | Updated: 30 July 2021

Pinterest on Thursday said user growth in the United States was decelerating as people who used the platform for crafts and DIY projects during the height of the pandemic are stepping out more as curbs ease.

Shares of the digital pinboard site slumped nearly 20 percent in extended trade, with investors looking past Pinterest beating revenue estimates in the second quarter, as overall monthly active users (MAUs) fell short of expectations.

Social media companies worldwide saw digital advertisement spending and user growth surge as lockdowns accelerated the shift to e-commerce, but analysts are now concerned if those gains are here to stay.

“Pinterest’s use case was very compelling for people staying at home during the pandemic, and with the economy opening up, there is less focus on what Pinterest is best for,” Wedbush analyst Ygal Arounian said.

Overall MAUs, a widely watched metric, rose by only 9 percent to 454 million during the quarter. Analysts had estimated 487.1 million, according to Refinitiv IBES data. It had risen 30 percent in the prior quarter.

“For the past year, we’ve highlighted how people came to Pinterest for inspiration to reinvent their lives during such a difficult time. Now as the world opens up, we’re seeing the similar effect in the opposite direction,” Chief Executive Officer Ben Silbermann said during a call with analysts.

Pinterest’s MAUs in the United States, a major market for the company, was nearly 7 percent lower as of July 27. Its global MAUs grew by about 5 percent.

The shift in user engagement was more visible in Web than mobile app users, Pinterest said, adding that Web users tended to be, on average, less engaged and generated lower revenue.

Total revenue more than doubled to $613 million (roughly Rs. 4,560 crores) in the quarter versus analysts’ average estimates of $562.1 million (roughly Rs. 4,180 crores).

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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WhatsApp Privacy Case Must Be Decided in a Month, EU Watchdog Says

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By Reuters | Updated: 29 July 2021

EU privacy watchdog EDPB on Wednesday gave the Irish data protection agency a month to issue a long-delayed decision on compliance by Facebook’s WhatsApp after its peers objected to its draft finding.

The agency, which leads oversight of Facebook because the company’s European headquarters are based in Ireland, has been investigating WhatsApp to see if it complies with transparency obligations specified by EU privacy rules known as GDPR.

It sought feedback from its peers in December but was unable to find a consensus regarding its draft decision.

The other national watchdogs objected to the type of infringements identified by the Irish, whether the specific data in question was personal data and the appropriateness of the proposed sanctions.

The Irish agency said it would not follow the objections and referred them to the EDPB, which on Wednesday adopted a decision addressing the merits of the disagreements but did not provide details.

“The IE SA shall adopt its final decision, addressed to the controller, on the basis of the EDPB decision, without undue delay and at the latest one month after the EDPB has notified its decision,” the EU watchdog, which acts as a referee in disputes among the national agencies, said.

The other national enforcers have long criticised their Irish peer for taking too long to wrap up its investigations and the size of proposed fines.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook Rides Advertising Surge to Post Over $10-Billion Profit as CEO Mark Zuckerberg Exalts the ‘Metaverse’

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By Associated Press | Updated: 29 July 2021

Concerns about a revenue growth slowdown pushed Facebook’s shares lower in after-hours trading Wednesday, not long after the company reported that its second-quarter profits doubled thanks to a massive increase in advertising revenue.

But CEO Mark Zuckerberg set his sights far beyond the second half of 2021, exalting what he sees as the next phase of how people experience the Internet. What the rest of the world might know as augmented and virtual reality with a dash of science fiction, Zuckerberg and others are calling “the metaverse,” a futuristic and somewhat vague notion that encompasses AR, VR, and new, yet-to-be-imagined ways of connecting to one another via technology.

Zuckerberg expects the metaverse to be the next big thing after the mobile Internet, although he’s had a spotty track record when it comes to predicting major trends of the near future. At Facebook’s f8 conference four years ago, for instance, Zuckerberg predicted a future where you will sit in your bedroom wearing a headset and take a virtual vacation with faraway friends and family, or use your smartphone’s camera to virtually spruce up your dinky apartment.

So far, this has not materialised. Then there’s Libra — now known as Diem — a cryptocurrency project Facebook launched in 2019 amid great fanfare. At the time, Facebook envisioned Libra as an emerging global digital currency; its ambitions have since been scaled back considerably amid regulatory and commercial backlash.

In a conference call with analysts, Zuckerberg called the metaverse the “next generation of the Internet and next chapter for us as a company,” one that he said will create “entirely new experiences and economic opportunities.”

For now, though, Facebook still has to contend with more mundane matters such as antitrust crackdowns in the US and elsewhere as well as concerns about how it handles vaccine-related and political misinformation on its platform. The company said, as it has before, that it expects challenges in its ability to target ads this year — including regulatory pressure and Apple’s privacy changes that make it harder for companies like Facebook to track people who can opt out of that form of surveillance.

Although the social network doubled its profit in the second quarter, in part because of higher average prices it charged for the ads it delivers to its nearly 3 billion users. But the company said it doesn’t expect revenue to continue to grow at such a breakneck pace in the second half of the year.

“This quarter’s results are extremely strong and show little sign of impact from Apple’s iOS update as of yet,” said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson, noting that in the year-ago quarter Facebook saw its slowest revenue growth since going public, so it was an easy comparison. “But it’s also due to the fact that there is enormous demand for Facebook and Instagram advertising, and more competition leads to higher advertisement prices.”

Separately, Facebook said on Wednesday that it will make vaccines mandatory for employees in the US who work in offices. Exceptions will be made for medical and other reasons. Google announced a similar policy earlier in the day.

The Menlo Park, California-based company earned $10.39 billion (roughly Rs. 77,170 crores), or $3.61 (roughly Rs. 270) per share, in the April-June period. That’s up from $5.18 billion (roughly Rs. 38,460 crores), or $1.80 (roughly Rs. 130) per share, a year earlier. Revenue jumped 56 percent to $28.58 billion (roughly Rs. 2,12,170 crores) from $18.32 billion (roughly Rs. 1,36,030 crores). Analysts, on average, were expecting earnings of $3.04 (roughly Rs. 230) per share and revenue of $24.85 billion (roughly Rs. 1,84,510 crores), according to a poll by FactSet.

Advertising revenue growth was driven by a 47 percent year-over-year increase in the average price per ad and a 6 percent increase in the number of ads shown to people. Facebook said it expects ad prices, not the amount of ads it delivers, to continue to drive growth.

The company predicted uncertainty for 2021 back in January, saying its revenue in the latter half of the year could face significant pressure. Because revenue grew so quickly in the second half of 2020, Facebook said at the time that it could have trouble keeping up that pace.

Williamson said the third quarter will be an important one for the company, “as the full effects of the Apple update take hold.”

“We will have a much better sense of how well Facebook has been able to adjust its core ad targeting products to manage the reduced amount of information it can tap into,” she said.

Facebook had 2.9 billion monthly users as of June, up 7 percent from a year earlier.

Shares fell $11.77 (roughly Rs. 870), or 3.2 percent, to $373.28 (roughly Rs. 27,710) in after-hours trading. Earlier in the day, the stock hit an all-time high of $377. 55 (roughly Rs. 28,030) in anticipation of the results, so the decline wasn’t unexpected.

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Twitter Closes Re-Opened US Offices, Big Tech Firms Make COVID-19 Vaccination Mandatory as Delta Cases Surge

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By Reuters | Updated: 29 July 2021

Twitter is shutting its reopened offices in United States, while other big tech companies are making vaccination mandatory for on-campus employees, as the highly infectious Delta COVID-19 variant drives a resurgence in cases.

Alphabet’s Google and Facebook said on Wednesday all US employees must get vaccinated to step into offices. Google is also planning to expand its vaccination drive to other regions in the coming months.

Twitter, which on Wednesday also paused future office reopenings, had started allowing employees back to its campuses in San Francisco and New York at 50 percent capacity about a fortnight ago after more than 16 months.

US coronavirus cases have been rising due to the Delta variant, which emerged in India but has quickly spread and now accounts for more than 80 percent of US coronavirus cases.

Health authorities on Tuesday said Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should go back to wearing masks in indoor public places in regions where the coronavirus is spreading rapidly.

San Francisco-based ride-hailing company Lyft, which had already made vaccinations mandatory for employees returning to the office, postponed its reopening to February from September.

“We anticipate the COVID situation will remain fluid for the upcoming months, making it difficult for us to land a clear return date without a possibility of moving it again,” Lyft CEO Logan Green said in a memo to staff.

According to a Deadline report, streaming giant Netflix has also implemented a policy mandating vaccinations for the cast and crew on all its US productions.

Apple plans to restore its mask requirement policy at most of its US retail stores, both for customers and staff, even if they are vaccinated, Bloomberg News reported.

Apple and Netflix did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

Many tech companies including Microsoft and Uber have said they expect employees to return to offices, months after pandemic-induced lockdowns forced them to shift to working from home.

Google also said on Wednesday it would extend its work-from-home policy through October 18 due to a recent rise in cases caused by the Delta variant across different regions.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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In Spats With Twitter, India’s Government Begins Messaging Shift to Rival Koo

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By Reuters | Updated: 28 July 2021

Twitter is fast losing its sheen as a favoured communications tool for many Indian government departments and ministers keen to promote home-grown rival Koo while the US firm comes under fire for non-compliance with India’s laws.

The most high-profile example has been India’s new IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. Taking office this month, he opened a new Koo account and soon after announced a review of social media firms’ compliance with strict new rules — information not posted to his 258,000 Twitter followers.

“The idea is to create an alternative to Twitter,” said one government official in media relations, declining to be identified as he was not authorised to speak on the matter.

That sentiment is shared by other ministers and members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who are irked by what they see as a defiant Twitter, a senior person in the party’s IT department told Reuters.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist administration first took umbrage with the US firm in February when it refused to fully comply with an order to take down accounts and posts accused of spreading misinformation about farmers protests that have been the biggest display of dissent faced by the government. Twitter argued some requests were not in line with Indian law.

That dispute saw some ministers promote Koo, which unlike Twitter also accommodates content in eight Indian languages, and its downloads surged 10-fold in two days to more than 3 million. Subscriber numbers for the 16-month old platform have since grown to 7 million.

Twitter, which has about 17.5 million users in India, has only seen friction with the government escalate, including over its failure to meet a May 25 deadline for installing compliance and grievance officers mandated under the new social media rules. It has since filled two of the three positions.

It is also now the subject of five police investigations in different parts of India that allege the US company has abused its platform.

Twitter declined to comment on the Indian government’s use of Koo but said it works directly with various ministries and authorities, playing a critical role in disaster management amid the pandemic.

“These institutions and their members seek our strategic counsel to use the power of Twitter by way of training, mobilising resources, and driving public engagement initiatives,” a spokesperson said.

Underlining Twitter’s reach, Modi, who has 69.8 million Twitter followers, has not yet joined Koo while many government ministers and departments continue to use both platforms even if news on Koo is disseminated first.

India’s IT ministry, the prime minister’s office and the government’s media wing did not respond to requests for comment. The head of the BJP’s IT department, Amit Malviya, declined to comment.

Staging a Koo

Koo’s growing traction can be seen with the trade ministry’s account which now has 1.2 million followers on Koo compared with 1.3 million on Twitter.

State governments are getting in on the act. The disaster management arm of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has pinned a tweet telling its 21,900 followers to join Koo – where it has just 992 followers – for “exclusive and latest updates”.

The cold shoulder that many authorities are now giving Twitter contrasts sharply with the past. Modi and the BJP have used it extensively to connect with the public, particularly ahead of the 2014 election, as well as in diplomacy. And in 2018, Modi and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were all smiles when they met in New Delhi, with the Indian premier tweeting he had made “great friends” on the platform.

Koo says while it has no specific government outreach plan, Modi’s campaign of promoting local businesses has worked in its favour.

“I think it’s a matter of a few more months and you’ll see pretty much everyone is on Koo,” co-founder Mayank Bidawatka said in an interview.

Tech-sector experts don’t see Koo becoming that big that fast but say Koo’s greater local language reach will stand the company in good stead as it pursues long-term growth

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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