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Parler Loses Bid to Require Amazon to Restore Service Following US Capital Violence

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 January 2021

A US judge on Thursday rejected Parler’s demand that Amazon restore web hosting services for the social media platform, which Amazon had cut off following the January 6 storming of the US Capitol.

US District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle said Parler was unlikely to prove Amazon breached its contract or violated antitrust law by suspending service on January 10, and that it was “not a close call.”

She also forcefully rejected the suggestion that the public interest would be served by a preliminary injunction requiring Amazon Web Services to “host the kind of abusive, violent content at issue in this case, particularly in light of the recent riots at the US Capitol.”

“That event,” she added, “was a tragic reminder that inflammatory rhetoric can – more swiftly and easily than many of us would have hoped – turn a lawful protest into a violent insurrection.”

Parler was not immediately available for comment.

“We welcome the court’s careful ruling,” an Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement. “This was not a case about free speech. It was about a customer that consistently violated our terms of service.”

Amazon said Parler ignored repeated warnings to effectively moderate the growth on its website of violent content, which included calls to assassinate prominent Democratic politicians, leading business executives and members of the media.

Researchers have said far-right groups at the Capitol had a vigorous online presence on platforms including Parler, where they spread violent rhetoric.

Parler said there was no evidence apart from anecdotes in the press that it had a role in inciting the riots, and that it was unfair to deprive millions of law-abiding Americans a platform for free speech.

It also said Amazon had no right to threaten its “extinction” by pulling the plug, and had been motivated by “political animus” to benefit Twitter, a larger Amazon client that Parler said did not censor violent content targeting conservatives.

Rothstein rejected that argument, saying Parler had merely raised the “specter of preferential treatment” for Twitter.

Many supporters of former US President Donald Trump favor Parler, which has claimed it had more than 12 million users.

Parler remains largely offline after being dropped by Seattle-based Amazon and the app stores of Apple and Alphabet’s Google following the Washington unrest.

Those companies also cited Parler’s record of policing violent content.

Parler Chief Executive Officer John Matze told Reuters on January 13 that Parler may be offline for good, but later pledged it would return stronger.

Matze and his family were forced to “go into hiding” after receiving death threats, his lawyer said on January 15.

A static version of Parler’s website recently returned, including a notice saying Parler was having technical difficulties, and a handful of posts from people like Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.

Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Wernick said on Tuesday that Parler was posting comments on behalf of “friends who reached out.”

The site’s Internet protocol address is owned by DDos-Guard, which is controlled by two Russian men and provides protection from distributed denial-of-service attacks, according to infrastructure expert Ronald Guilmette.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Google Chrome Update Release Cycle to Be Sped Up to Four Weeks

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By ANI | Updated: 6 March 2021

Google is working on speeding up the release cycle of Chrome updates to four weeks from the current six-week period in order to improve the security, speed, and stability of the browser application.

As per the post on Google’s Chromium Blog, starting with Chrome 94 in Q3, 2021, Google will release milestones of its browser every four weeks, instead of every six weeks. This is the first time Google has sped up its Chrome release schedule for more than a decade.

“As we have improved our testing and release processes for Chrome, and deployed bi-weekly security updates to improve our patch gap, it became clear that we could shorten our release cycle and deliver new features more quickly,” explained Alex Mineer, a technical program manager at Chrome.

Additionally, Google will add a new ”Extended Stable” option, with milestone updates every eight weeks. The new option will be available to enterprise administrators and Chromium embedders who need additional time to manage updates.

Important security updates will still arrive every two weeks in this version, but Extended Stable should hopefully avoid the situation where silent Chrome experiments end up angering IT admins.

For users on Chrome OS, the company is also planning to support multiple stable release options.

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Square to Buy Majority Stake in JAY-Z’s Tidal Music Streaming Platform for $297 Million

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 5 March 2021

Digital payments firm Square said Thursday it was buying a controlling stake in the streaming music platform Tidal from a group led by rap star JAY-Z for $297 million (roughly Rs. 2,160 crores) in cash and stock.

“The acquisition extends Square’s purpose of economic empowerment to a new vertical: musicians,” said a statement from the finance tech firm led by Jack Dorsey, who is also the chief executive of Twitter.

“It comes down to one simple idea: finding new ways for artists to support their work,” said Dorsey.

“New ideas are found at intersections, and we believe there’s a compelling one between music and the economy.”

JAY-Z bought Tidal from Europe-based Aspiro in 2015 in a deal valued at slightly more than $56 million (roughly Rs. 407 crores), and sought to use the platform to give artists more control over their work.

Owners include several other high-profile artists, including Madonna, Rihanna, and JAY-Z’s wife, Beyonce. Tidal has listeners in more than 56 countries and relationships with more than 100 labels and distributors.

But Tidal has struggled to compete against much larger streaming services such as Spotify and Apple. The privately-held company had three million paying subscriptions in 2016, when it last disclosed figures.

JAY-Z surprised fans in December 2019 by moving his music catalogue back to Spotify after a two-year hiatus.

Operating independently
The deal with Square establishes a new joint venture that gives the payments firm “a significant majority ownership stake” along with the existing artist shareholders, the statement said.

Tidal will operate “independently within Square,” according to the statement.

“I said from the beginning that Tidal was about more than just streaming music, and six years later, it has remained a platform that supports artists at every point in their careers,” said JAY-Z, whose full name is Shawn Carter.

“Artists deserve better tools to assist them in their creative journey. Jack and I have had many discussions about Tidal’s endless possibilities that have made me even more inspired about its future.”

As part of the deal JAY-Z will join the board of Square.

Dorsey said as part of a series of tweets: “I’m grateful for Jay’s vision, wisdom, and leadership. I knew Tidal was something special as soon as I experienced it, and I’m inspired to work with him. He’ll now help lead our entire company, including Seller and the Cash App, as soon as the deal closes.”

The Twitter chief added that the tie-up makes sense because “Square created (an) ecosystems of tools for sellers & individuals, and we’ll do the same for artists. We’ll work on entirely new listening experiences to bring fans closer together, simple integrations for merch sales, modern collaboration tools, and new complementary revenue streams.”

Jesse Dorogusker, a Square executive, will serve as interim lead of Tidal when the deal closes.

“Tidal sets a high standard for supporting artists, capturing music culture, and delivering the best audio quality to fans,” Dorogusker said. “Together, Tidal and Square will be music-obsessed and artist-focused while we explore new artist tools, listener experiences, and access to financial systems that help artists be successful.”

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WhatsApp-Facebook Data-Sharing Policy Update Opposed by South Africa

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 5 March 2021

South Africa’s information regulator has protested WhatsApp’s plans to share user data with Facebook, vowing to engage directly with the popular messaging app to ensure its compliance to national privacy laws.

In January, WhatsApp asked all its users to accept new terms allowing it to share more private information with its parent company Facebook for advertising and e-commerce purposes.

The proposition sparked global outrage, forcing the company to delay its plans and clarify its privacy and security terms.

Widespread confusion about WhatsApp’s future plans was compounded when it announced that European Union (EU) users would not be forced to agree to share personal information with Facebook.

Non-EU users, meanwhile, have been told they will be partially cut off from the messaging app if they do not accept its revised terms by May 15.

South Africa’s Information Regulator (IR) on Wednesday said the new privacy policy violated the country’s Protection of Personal Information Act.

“WhatsApp cannot without obtaining prior authorisation from the IR… process any contact information of its users for a purpose other than the one for which the number was specifically intended at collection,” the IR said in a statement.

The regulator added that it was “very concerned” about EU users gaining higher privacy protection than their counterparts in Africa.

“Our legislation is very similar to that of the EU,” noted IR Chair Pansy Tlakula.

“We do not understand why Facebook has adopted this differentiation between Europe and Africa.”

The IR said it had invited Facebook to “a round-table discussion regarding the issues raised” to ensure full compliance of the new terms with South African law.

Under the new terms, merchants using WhatsApp to chat with customers will be able to share data with Facebook, allowing the social networking platform to better target its advertisements.

WhatsApp has defended the policy, claiming it is simply building new ways to chat or shop with businesses “that are entirely optional”.

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Microsoft Emergency Patch for Exchange Server Being Closely Tracked by White House

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By Reuters | Updated: 5 March 2021

The White House is closely tracking an emergency patch Microsoft Corp has released, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday, after an unknown hacking group recently broke into organizations using a flaw in the company’s mail server software.

“We are closely tracking Microsoft’s emergency patch for previously unknown vulnerabilities in Exchange Server software and reports of potential compromises of US think tanks and defense industrial base entities,” Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, said on Twitter.

“We encourage network owners to patch ASAP,” he said. His tweet included a link to a notice by Microsoft of the security update.

Microsoft’s near-ubiquitous suite of products has been under scrutiny since the hack of SolarWinds, a Texas-based software firm that served as a springboard for several intrusions across government and the private sector.

In other cases, hackers took advantage of the way customers had set up their Microsoft services to compromise their targets or dive further into affected networks.

Hackers who went after SolarWinds also breached Microsoft itself, accessing and downloading source code – including elements of Exchange, the company’s email and calendaring product.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apple Investigation by Dutch Competition Regulators Nears Draft Decision

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By Reuters | Updated: 27 February 2021

Dutch competition authorities are nearing a draft decision in a years-long investigation into Apple over rules requiring software developers to use its in-app payment system, according to a letter sent this month to developers involved in the case.

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets, or ACM, said in 2019 that it was investigating Apple’s requirement that developers use its payment system, which charges commissions of between 15 percent and 30 percent.

If it issues a decision soon, the ACM could become the first antitrust authority to rule on Apple’s app-store payment policies, which have long drawn complaints from app developers. The European Commission last year opened a formal investigation into the iPhone maker over some of the same practices.

In letters to developers involved in the investigation sent earlier this month, which were described to Reuters by two people who received them, the regulator said it was nearing a draft decision in the case.

It gave no indication of how it would rule.

An ACM spokesman confirmed that the Apple investigation remains open but said the regulator could not comment on its progress.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the confidential letter to developers, the regulator is also scrutinising Apple rules that bar developers from telling users about cheaper payment alternatives outside of the app.

“It’s not just that Apple is inflicting economic harm,” said David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of software firm Basecamp and one of those who received the letter, said of those rules. “Apple is essentially giving us a gag order.”

Basecamp and another developer, Match Group, filed enforcement requests with the Dutch regulator after the investigation was underway.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apple Users May Spend More on Non-Gaming Mobile Apps by 2024: Sensor Tower

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By Reuters | Updated: 23 February 2021 11:35 IST

Apple’s customers may end up spending more on non-gaming mobile apps by 2024, data analytics firm SensorTower said on Monday, as lockdown lifestyles result in users looking beyond games to apps that help with more essential services.

Downloads of business, education, health, and fitness apps have seen a sharp spike due to the stay-at-home measures during the health crisis.

During the initial days of the pandemic, users spent more on mobile games in the App Store. But as lockdowns got extended, upending work life as well as the ways of communication, their attention shifted to photo and video-sharing, dating, video-conferencing, and instant messaging apps.

Shares of companies such as Zoom Video Communications and Match Group and other stay-at-home companies soared last year.

SensorTower said consumer spending on mobile apps will reach $270 billion (roughly Rs. 19,53,790 crores) in the next five years globally, a more than three-fold increase when compared with 2020.

Apple customers will outspend their Android counterparts with the App Store expected to generate $185 billion (roughly Rs. 13,39,370 crores) in global revenue, the data analytics firm said.

Games revenue will continue to take a relatively higher share on Google Play store than the App Store, with a projected 71 percent share from games in 2025 compared to 42 percent on the App Store, data showed.

The data analytics firm expects Europe to become a key market over the next five years, with revenue growth in the continent likely to outpace that in Asia and North America.

Downloads in Europe are expected to grow to 36.9 billion by 2025, compared with 28.4 billion in 2020, while revenue growth is expected to more than double to $42 billion (roughly Rs. 3,04,070 crores) in the next five years.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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