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Microsoft, NBA Team Up to Put Virtual Fans in Basketball Arenas




By Reuters | Updated: 25 July 2020

When the National Basketball Association restarts its coronavirus-interrupted season on July 30 in its “bubble” in Orlando, Florida, the stands could have more than 300 fans – none of whom will actually be in the arena.

Microsoft and the NBA said on Friday they have joined forces to put “virtual” fans in the stands of each game using Microsoft’s Teams app and giant screens.

The two will equip each game court with 17-foot-tall (5.2 m) LED screens that wrap three sides of the arena. The virtual stands will be filled with fans who use the Teams app to log in and sit alongside each other using a new feature of the app called “Together mode” meant to simulate a group of people sitting in a room.

The NBA suspended its season in March after a player for the Utah Jazz tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The league plans to restart the season in a so-called bubble at Walt Disney World Resort where players, staff and media will be tested and quarantined in an effort to keep everyone inside safe from contracting the virus.

NBA officials also said on Friday they were revamping their approach to televising the games, with cameras positioned closer to the players to emulate the vantage point of fans sitting in seats near the court. But for player-safety reasons, “the majority of our cameras near the court will be robotic for the first time,” Sara Zuckert, head of next-generation telecasts at the NBA, told a news conference on Friday.

NBA officials said audio from the virtual fans will be played in the arena and televised. Virtual seats will be limited to 320 fans, a number based on the size of the venue and screens. Fans will be selected by the home teams, and each team is working to decide how to handle the selections, Zuckert said.

© Thomson Reuters

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TikTok Launches US Elections Guide to Combat Misinformation




By Reuters | Updated: 30 September 2020

TikTok on Tuesday launched a US election guide as part of an effort to battle misinformation on the wildly popular video-sharing app that the White House has targeted for a ban.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other internet platforms have all ramped up efforts to provide users reliable news and avoid being used to mislead voters during a contentious US election.

TikTok’s in-app guide provides links to voter registration pages and access to election information from sources such as the National Association of Secretaries of State and BallotReady, according to head of US public policy Michael Beckerman.

“Our goal is to keep TikTok a place where authentic content can thrive, and our elections guide reflects our ongoing efforts to protect the integrity of our platform and the US elections,” Beckerman said in a blog post.

The guide can be accessed from a Discover page in the TikTok app and will appear on election-related search results, according to Beckerman.

It will also be linked at the bottom of videos related to the election or on verified political accounts, he said.

“On TikTok we’re seeing how people, especially younger voters, are passionate about important issues and are ready to make their voices heard,” BallotReady chief executive Alex Niemczewski said in the release.

“Younger voters often do not realize everything that will appear on their ballot, and we believe that TikTok can help them vote their entire ballot.”
Voting information

MediaWise at the Poynter Institute will post a series of videos on TikTok aimed at teaching first-time voters how to spot bogus information online, according to program manager Katy Byron.

“We are excited to partner with TikTok to help teach their community how to sort fact from fiction online,” Byron said.

The election guide makes its debut as TikTok battles to stop a ban ordered by US President Donald Trump. The company has challenged the ban in court as being capricious and politically motivated.

A US judge who stopped a ban on TikTok downloads from kicking in on Monday said that Trump likely overstepped the law with the attempted move.

District Judge Carl Nichols issued a temporary injunction at the request of TikTok, which the White House has called a national security threat stemming from its Chinese parent firm’s links to the Beijing government.

The government order sought to ban new downloads of the app from midnight on Sunday. A second phase of the ban aimed at stopping TikTok operations in the US is set to take effect on November 12.

Government lawyers have argued the president has a right to take national security actions, and said the ban was needed because of TikTok’s links to the Chinese government through its parent firm ByteDance.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Google to Enforce Play Store Tax on the 3 Percent of Apps Not Paying




By Reuters | Updated: 29 September 2020

Alphabet’s Google on Monday sought to rebut criticism that it selectively enforces its 30 percent mobile app store tax, demanding that the over 3 percent apps selling digital items without complying follow the rules within a year.

The change follows lawsuits by Fortnite video game maker Epic Games last month accusing Google and Apple of anticompetitive conduct. Apps sold on the tech leaders’ stores are required to use their payment systems so they can collect a portion of sales, which developers describe as a tax. The companies are defending the allegations.

App stores are a fast-growing business as sales of Google’s search ads and Apple’s iPhone flatten out.

Google said under 3 percent of developers with apps on its Play store sold digital goods over the last 12 months, and nearly 97 percent comply with its payment system policy.

Dating apps maker Match is among the companies that have publicly said they do not pay Google’s 30 percent fee, which decreases to 15 percent in subsequent years if it is for a subscription service.

Antitrust regulators in several countries are looking at the issue, including in South Korea, where several media apps anticipating Google’s stricter enforcement preemptively complained to government officials recently.

Apps have said 30 percent is excessive compared with the 2 percent fees of typical credit card payments processors, while Apple and Google say the amount covers the security and marketing benefits their app stores provide.

New apps must use Google’s payments tool for sales by January 20, while existing apps have until September 30, 2021.

Apps that shifted to selling digital items from physical goods and services because of the coronavirus pandemic may get additional time to comply, Google said. Apple said last week that a similar temporary reprieve extends through December 31.

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TikTok US Ban: Federal Judge Postpones Trump Administration Order Against App Downloads




By Associated Press | Updated: 28 September 2020

A federal judge on Sunday postponed a Trump administration order that would have banned the popular video sharing app TikTok from US smartphone app stores around midnight.

A more comprehensive ban remains scheduled for November, about a week after the presidential election. The judge, Carl Nichols of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, did not agree to postpone the later ban.

The ruling followed an emergency hearing Sunday morning in which lawyers for TikTok argued that the administration’s app-store ban would infringe on First Amendment rights and do irreparable harm to the business.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump declared that TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, was a threat to national security and that it must either sell its US operations to American companies or be barred from the country.

TikTok is still scrambling to firm up a deal tentatively struck a week ago in which it would partner with Oracle, a huge database-software company, and Walmart in an effort to win the blessing of both the Chinese and American governments. In the meantime, it is fighting to keep the app available in the US.

TikTok said in a statement that it was pleased with the court ruling and continues to work to turn its deal proposal into an actual agreement. The Commerce Department, which is responsible for the specific orders banning TikTok, said it will comply with the judge’s order but intends to vigorously defend the administration’s efforts against the app.

Judge Nichols did not explain his reasoning publicly, and instead filed his judicial opinion under seal. Initially both the US government’s brief in the case and the entire Sunday morning hearing were also due to be sealed from the public, although the court later relented.

In arguments to Judge Nichols, TikTok lawyer John Hall said that TikTok is more than an app, since it functions as a “modern day version of a town square.”

“If that prohibition goes into effect at midnight, the consequences immediately are grave,'” Hall said. “It would be no different than the government locking the doors to a public forum, roping off that town square” at a time when a free exchange of ideas is necessary heading into a polarized election.

TikTok lawyers also argued that a ban on the app would affect the ability of tens of thousands of potential viewers and content creators to express themselves every month and would also hurt its ability to hire new talent. In addition, Hall argued that a ban would prevent existing users from automatically receiving security updates, eroding national security.

Justice Department lawyer Daniel Schwei said that Chinese companies are not purely private and are subject to intrusive laws compelling their cooperation with intelligence agencies. The Justice Department has also argued that economic regulations of this nature generally are not subject to First Amendment scrutiny.

“This is the most immediate national security threat,” argued Schwei. “It is a threat today. It is a risk today and therefore it deserves to be addressed today even while other things are ongoing and playing out.”

Schwei also argued that TikTok lawyers failed to prove the company would suffer irreparable business harm.

The Justice Department laid out its objections to TikTok’s motion for a temporary injunction in a brief under seal, but it was unsealed in redacted form to protect confidential business information.

Trump set the process in motion with executive orders in August that declared TikTok and another Chinese app, WeChat, threats to national security. The White House says the video service is a security risk because the personal information of its millions of US users could be handed over to Chinese authorities.

Trump has given tentative approval to a proposed deal in which Oracle and Walmart could initially own a combined 20 percent of a new US entity, TikTok Global. But Trump also said he could retract his approval if Oracle doesn’t have “total control” of the company; the president did not explain what he meant by that.

The deal remains unfinalised, and the two sides have also appeared at odds over the corporate structure of TikTok Global. ByteDance said last week that it will still own 80 percent of the US entity after a financing round. Oracle, meanwhile, put out a statement saying that Americans “will be the majority and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.”

Government-owned media in China have criticised the deal as bullying and extortion. ByteDance said Thursday it has applied for a Chinese technology export license after Beijing tightened control over exports last month in an effort to gain leverage over Washington’s attempt to force an outright sale of TikTok to US owners.

China’s foreign ministry has said the government will “take necessary measures” to safeguard its companies but gave no indication what steps it can take to affect TikTok’s fate in the United States.

TikTok is also asking a federal court to declare Trump’s August 6 executive order unlawful.

The Chinese firm said the president doesn’t have the authority to take these actions under the national-security law he cited; that the ban violates TikTok’s First Amendment speech rights and Fifth Amendment due-process rights; and that there’s no authority for the restrictions because they are not based on a national emergency.

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Facebook Events Service Gets Temporary Exemption From Apple App Store Fees




By Reuters | Updated: 26 September 2020

Facebook said on Friday that businesses running paid online events on its iOS app would not need to pay a 30 percent fee to Apple for the remainder of 2020, temporarily defusing a standoff between the two tech giants.

The social media company said in a blog post that all businesses except gaming creators would be eligible for Apple’s fee exemption and can process payments for the online events they run through Facebook Pay.

“Apple has agreed to provide a brief, three-month respite after which struggling businesses will have to, yet again, pay Apple the full 30 percent App Store tax,” Facebook company spokesman Joe Osborne said in a statement.

Facebook said it will not charge fees of its own for online events while businesses remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, through at least August 2021.

Apple said Friday that such online events have always been subject to its in-app payment rules, which charge commissions between 15 percent and 30 percent of the purchase price of paid online events.

Apple said it has given businesses affected by the pandemic more time to implement the system and that Facebook is getting the same exemption until year’s end it has given ClassPass and Airbnb.

Gaming creators will not receive the exemption because the service was launched in early 2018 and it is not a physical business affected by the pandemic, Apple said.

“Apple maintains a clear, consistent set of guidelines that apply equally to everyone,” Apple said in a statement.

Facebook challenged Apple’s rules last month, attempting to tell users in an app update that the iPhone maker would take a cut of sales for a new online events feature, but later removed the message after Apple rejected the update.

The world’s biggest social media company cast the move as a defence of small businesses and app developers, joining other developers such as Fortnite creator Epic Games, which is suing Apple on antitrust allegations over the fees.

Facebook is also wrangling with Apple over new privacy rules for iPhones that will require more notifications before tracking users across apps.

The social media giant said Apple’s decision to lift the fees came with a catch excluding game creators from being able to use Facebook Pay in paid online events on iOS.

“We unfortunately had to make this concession to get the temporary reprieve for other businesses,” said Vivek Sharma, vice president of Facebook Gaming.

Apple is defending an antitrust lawsuit brought by Fortnite creator Epic Games over its in-app payment rules.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Google Removes Street View Virtual Tour of Australia’s Uluru




By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 25 September 2020

Google has removed images from its Street View that allowed users to virtually walk on Australia’s Uluru, a sacred Aboriginal site closed to tourists since last year, the company said Friday.

Parks Australia had asked that the user-contributed images be taken down in line with the wishes of the Anangu people who are the traditional owners of the World Heritage site.

The giant red monolith in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in central Australia was closed to tourists in October 2019 at the request of the Anangu, who hold the site sacred.

“We understand Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is deeply sacred to the Anangu people,” a Google spokesperson said.

“As soon as Parks Australia raised their concerns about this user contribution, we removed the imagery,” they said.

The company said the images had been taken by users of Google Maps prior to the closure of Uluru, previously known as Ayers Rock.

The Street View function allows users to take virtual walking tours of locations around the planet.

Thousands of tourists climbed to the top of Uluru each year in defiance of the wishes of its traditional owners.

The climb was permanently closed on October 26, 2019, the anniversary of ownership being handed back to the Anangu people.

Uluru has great spiritual and cultural significance to indigenous Australians, with their connection to the site dating back tens of thousands of years.

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BlackBerry Says It Saw Higher Software, Licensing Demand Last Quarter




By Reuters | Updated: 25 September 2020

Canada’s BlackBerry posted a surprise 6 percent rise in quarterly revenue on Thursday, as sales of its security software product rose and its patent licensing business strengthened.

US-listed shares of BlackBerry, which sells security software to companies and governments as well as infotainment software to carmakers, rose 6 percent in early morning trade.

BlackBerry’s QNX car software sales, which had been under pressure due to a pandemic-related weakness in the US auto industry, also improved in the quarter. Demand for new vehicles has been recovering after hitting a bottom in April, as lockdown restrictions ease and buyers return.

“Some signs of recovery in auto production point to sequential revenue growth and a return to a normal run rate for QNX by early next year,” Chief Executive John Chen said in a statement.

The quarter benefited from higher sales of the company’s core security software, Spark, as businesses continue to strengthen their IT security to support remote working trends.

In a post-earnings call with analysts, the company said its patent licensing business also performed strongly, contributing $108 million (roughly Rs. 795 crores) to total revenue.

Morningstar analyst Mark Cash said BlackBerry Spark provides the company with future demand as enterprises and government entities work to protect and manage devices.

The company reiterated its full year revenue forecast of about $950 million (roughly Rs. 6,997 crores). Analysts expect revenue to be $956 million (roughly Rs. 7,041 crores).

Total revenue for the second quarter ended August 31 was $259 million (roughly Rs. 1,907 crores), while analysts were expecting it to drop to $237.03 million (roughly Rs. 1,746 crores) from $244 million (roughly Rs. 1,797 crores) a year earlier, according IBES data from Refinitiv.

Excluding items, the company reported a profit 11 cents (roughly Rs. 8) per share, compared with analysts’ estimates of 2 cents (roughly Rs. 2) per share.

Net loss narrowed to $23 million (roughly Rs. 169 crores), or 4 cents (roughly Rs. 3) per share, from $44 million (roughly Rs. 324 crores), or 10 cents (roughly Rs. 7) per share, a year earlier.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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