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TikTok Banned in Pakistan Over “Immoral and Indecent” Content




By Reuters | Updated: 10 October 2020

Pakistan’s telecom regulator blocked TikTok on Friday for failing to filter out “immoral and indecent” content, another blow to the social media app that has come under increasing scrutiny as its popularity has surged across the globe. The ban comes in view of “complaints from different segments of the society against immoral and indecent content on the video sharing application,” said the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

The PTA said it would review its ban subject to a satisfactory mechanism by TikTok to moderate unlawful content. TikTok said it was “committed to following the law in markets where the app is offered”.

“We have been in regular communication with the PTA and continue to work with them. We are hopeful to reach a conclusion that helps us continue to serve the country’s vibrant and creative online community,” it said.

TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, has become hugely popular in a short period of time by encouraging young users to post brief videos. But a number of countries have raised security and privacy concerns over its links to China.

In June, it was blocked in India – then its largest market by users – which cited national security concerns at a time of a border dispute with China. Separately, it faces the threat of being barred in the United States, and scrutiny in other countries including Australia.

TikTok has long denied that its links to China pose a security concern.

According to the PTA spokesman, TikTok reported 20 million monthly active users in Pakistan, while it was the third most downloaded app after WhatsApp and Facebook over the last 12 months, according to analytics firm Sensor Tower.

Three Pakistani officials had told Reuters earlier on Friday that a ban on the app was imminent. TikTok was issued with a final warning in July.

“We have been asking them repeatedly to put in place an effective mechanism for blocking immoral and indecent content,” one of the officials directly involved in the decision told Reuters.

Muslim-majority Pakistan has media regulations that adhere to conservative social customs.

The decision to ban TikTok was taken after Prime Minister Imran Khan took a keen interest in the issue, said a second official, adding that Khan has directed the telecoms authorities to make all efforts to block vulgar content.

Last month, five dating apps, including Tinder and Grindr, were also blocked by the PTA.

Usama Khilji, director of Bolo Bhi, a Pakistani group advocating for the rights of internet users, said the decision undermined the government’s dreams of a digital Pakistan.

“The government blocking an entertainment app that is used by millions of people, and is a source of income for thousands of content creators, especially those coming from smaller towns and villages, is a travesty to democratic norms and fundamental rights as guaranteed by the constitution,” said Khilji.

Global rights watchdog Amnesty International said people in Pakistan were being denied the right to express themselves in the name of a campaign against vulgarity.

“The #TikTokBan comes against a backdrop where voices are muted on television, columns vanish from newspapers, websites are blocked and television ads banned,” Amnesty’s South Asia Regional Office said on Twitter.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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TikTok Countersues Rival Video App Triller in Patent Defence




By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 30 October 2020

TikTok and its parent firm ByteDance have fired back in court against a patent lawsuit by rival video-sharing app Triller, in a move aimed at heading off infringement claims.

The complaint filed in federal court in California seeks to quash the lawsuit filed in July in a Texas federal court alleging the Chinese-owned app infringed on Triller’s software patents.

The litigation comes with both apps seeing robust growth.

Triller claims some 65 million active users worldwide and is weighing a plan to list its shares publicly.

TikTok, which has at least 100 million in the United States and is one of the fastest-growing social platforms, is battling a Trump administration effort to ban the app because of its ties to China or put it in American hands.

The TikTok suit filed Wednesday seeks to move the case from Texas to California, where Triller is based. The company is asking the court to rule that its app does not infringe Triller’s patents.

“A judicial declaration is necessary to resolve the real, immediate and justiciable controversy concerning these issues and to determine the respective rights of the parties regarding the… patent,” TikTok’s lawyers wrote in the complaint.

Triller’s earlier lawsuit alleges that TikTok improperly used a patented system for synchronizing music videos with an audio track.

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Netflix Raises Monthly Subscription Charges for US Customers




By Reuters | Updated: 30 October 2020

Streaming video service Netflix on Thursday raised monthly charges in the United States for its standard and premium subscription plans, a move that sent the company’s shares climbing nearly 5 percent.

Netflix increased the cost of its standard subscription by $1 (roughly Rs. 74) a month to $14 (roughly Rs. 1000), and the price for the premium tier rose by $2 (roughly Rs. 150) per month to $18 (roughly Rs. 1,300). The standard plan, the company’s most popular, enables two streams at the same time, while the premium plan allows for four simultaneous streams.

The price increase was the first for US customers since January 2019.

Shares of Netflix jumped 4.8 percent to $509.53 (roughly Rs. 38,000) in afternoon trading on Nasdaq.

Netflix, the world’s dominant streaming service, enjoyed a boom in subscriptions at the beginning of the year as viewers around the world were told to stay at home to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. The company expects to end 2020 with more than 200 million streaming subscribers around the world, with 73 million of those from the United States and Canada.

It also is facing a growing list of competitors including Walt Disney’s Disney+, HBO Max from AT&T and Apple’s Apple TV+.

After the company’s earnings report last week, Chief Operating Officer Greg Peters said the company saw an opportunity to increase prices in countries “where we’ve delivered that extra value.”

On Thursday, a Netflix spokesperson said the company was raising prices “so that we can continue to offer more variety of TV shows and films, in addition to our great fall line up.”

Netflix’s basic plan, which allows only one stream at a time, will remain at $8 (roughly Rs. 600) a month in the United States.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Facebook Political Advertisements Ban Creates Confusion Ahead of US Presidential Elections




By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 29 October 2020

Confusion over political ads at Facebook marred the onset of what was supposed to be a cooling period ahead of the US presidential election.

Mistakes implementing a ban on new paid advertisements at Facebook during the week leading up to November 3 had rival parties complaining the leading social network was undermining campaign efforts.

“We’re investigating the issues of some ads being paused incorrectly, and some advertisers having trouble making changes to their campaigns,” Facebook product manager Rob Leathern said in a tweeted message when the ban kicked in on Tuesday.

“We’re working quickly on these fixes.”

California-based Facebook has tightened its rules on political advertising ahead of the 2020 election. In particular, it has prohibited attempts to undermine the electoral process.

The social media network also banned new political advertising in the week before the November 3 election. That ban kicked in on October 27.

Political advertisements could sidestep the ban by getting in position at Facebook prior to the deadline, with those behind them deciding when to activate them.

President Donald Trump’s campaign displayed in a paid posts library at Facebook included what appeared to be a victory advertisement.

The animated advertisement showed a cartoon sunrise along with a smiling Trump head atop a flitting bird and a soundtrack featuring an agonised cry of “No” after the claim Trump was still president.

Megan Clasen, a senior media advisor for Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden, tweeted a screen capture of a Trump ad with a picture of the president and a message that “Election Day Is Today.”

Former vice president Joe Biden’s campaign was told by Facebook they could not launch advertisements saying election day was “today” or even “tomorrow,” Clasen said in the tweet.

To be in position to be used in the days ahead, advertisements in the Facebook library have to have run at least once, if even to a just a very limited audience.

“When Facebook’s latest ad policies were announced, we warned that they contained major loopholes that would likely enable election misinformation,” said Media Matters president Angelo Carusone.

“Now we are seeing those warnings come to life.”

Democratic political strategist Eric Reif put out word on Twitter that he and other were working to have advertisements mistakenly removed by Facebook restored at the social network.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg was grilled on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, with decisions regarding political content a hot button topic.

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Facebook Content Moderators Criticise Policies, Demand Better Treatment




By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 27 October 2020

As Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg prepares to be grilled by a Senate committee about the handling of politically-charged posts, content moderators are insisting that properly valuing their work is key.

Two former content moderators contracted in the US to make judgment calls on posts, and one other currently tackling the same challenge took part in a conference call with reporters on Monday.

The former and current content moderators expressed concerns about posts intended to cause trouble or bedevil the outcome of the forthcoming election.

The worker still on the job spoke under condition of anonymity, since such positions involve non-disclosure agreements restricting what they can say about their work,

“I certainly am not supposed to tell the truth about my work in public,” the Facebook content moderator said.

“The truth is this work is incredibly important but it’s done completely wrong and while the policy is constantly changed the situation seems to get worse.”

The current and former content moderators described stressful hours spent focused on torrents of hateful, disturbing posts with little regard given to their feedback or their well-being.

They called for Facebook to find a way to make them and their colleagues full-time employees, complete with the benefits for which tech companies are renowned, instead of keeping them at arms-length by outsourcing the work.

“Facebook could fix most of its problems if it would move away from outsourcing, value its moderators, and build them into its policy processes,” said former content moderator Allison Trebacz.

“Moderators are the heart of Facebook’s business, that’s how they should be treated.”

Zuckerberg has pushed back against concerns about hateful or violent posts at the social network by saying the social network has invested heavily in artificial intelligence and real humans to take down content violating its policies.

The bulk of that army of content moderators are contracted and their viewpoints, hard-won on the frontlines of the battle, are typically ignored, according to those who took part in the press briefing.

“I became a Facebook content moderator because I believed I could help make Facebook safer for my community and other communities who use it,” said Viana Ferguson, who left the job last year.

“But again and again, when I tried to address content that dripped with racism, or was a clear threat, I got told to get in line, our job was to agree.”

Zuckerberg and Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey are to testify Wednesday before a Senate committee exploring the potential to weaken legal protections given to online platforms when it comes to what users post there.

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Quibi Streaming Service Shutting Down Just Months After Launch




By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 22 October 2020

Short-form streaming service Quibi announced Wednesday it is pulling the plug on the platform aimed at smartphone users hungry for entertainment on the go.

The brainchild of Hollywood powerhouse Jeffrey Katzenberg, Quibi launched in April with content tailored for busy people just as the pandemic compelled them to slow down and stay in.

“Quibi was founded to create the next generation of storytelling,” Katzenberg said in a release.

“The world has changed dramatically since Quibi launched and our standalone business model is no longer viable.”

Katzenberg reportedly tried to sell the startup’s catalogue of programmes to companies including NBCUniversal and Facebook without success.

The streaming service has more than 100 original series spanning a range of genres with episodes specifically designed for viewing on smartphones and lasting no more than 10 minutes each, according to the startup.

“We have assembled a world-class creative and engineering team that has created an original platform fueled by groundbreaking technology and IP, enabling consumers to view premium content in a whole new way,” Katzenberg said.

Quibi now plans to wind down operations and sell off its assets.

The fledgling platform scored 10 Emmy nominations including for cop spoof revival Reno 911! and dystopian thriller Most Dangerous Game including two Emmy wins for actors in “#FreeRayshawn.”

The multi-billion-dollar streaming platform had bet it could transform entertainment with short, Hollywood-quality clips.
‘Big idea’ gone bust

Industry legends and stars from Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro to Jennifer Lopez and Reese Witherspoon were among those who lined up to make movies and shows for the youth-focused, smartphone-only service.

Hollywood stars committed to work with Quibi thanks to Katzenberg, a towering figure in Tinseltown who ran Disney Studios for a decade and co-founded DreamWorks.

Quibi had also hoped to keep users coming back with daily news, sports and entertainment shows.

“Quibi was a big idea and there was no one who wanted to make a success of it more than we did,” Katzenberg and Quibi chief executive Meg Whitman said in a letter to its employees posted on Medium.

“Our failure was not for lack of trying; we’ve considered and exhausted every option available to us.”
Taking on titans

While Quibi specialised in short-form shows to watch during spare minutes of the day, say waiting for transit or taking a break at work, people who hunkered down at home due to the coronavirus pandemic found time for big-screen options in an increasingly competitive streaming television market.

Disney+ launched by The Walt Disney Company late last year reported having 57.5 million paid subscribers as of the end of June.

It leverages a huge catalogue of Disney animated classics along with its Pixar, Marvel and National Geographic movies, not to mention its wildly successful “Star Wars” franchise.

Meanwhile Netflix has added 28.1 million paying subscribers so far this year, reporting this week that it now has slightly more than 195 million total subscribers.

Netflix and rival Amazon Prime invest billions of dollars in original content to win fans and keep them loyal.

Apple TV launched late last year with a limited catalogue but a low-priced subscription service, while NBCUniversal Peacock and HBO Max streaming television launched earlier this year.

Quibi also had to compete for younger viewers’ time with millions of free, often user-generated, videos hosted by YouTube, TikTok, Facebook and Instagram.

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Facebook Under Scrutiny Over Handling of Children’s Data on Instagram




By Reuters | Updated: 19 October 2020

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) has launched two inquiries into Facebook after concerns were raised about the social network giant’s handling of children’s personal data on Instagram.

The DPC, the main data privacy regulator in the European Union, received complaints from individuals and had identified “potential concerns” in relation to the processing of children’s personal data on Instagram, Deputy Commissioner Graham Doyle told Reuters in an emailed statement.

Both inquiries were launched last month, Doyle said in the statement.

Facebook did not immediately respond when contacted by Reuters on Sunday.

The Telegraph, which first reported the inquiry, said Instagram made the email addresses and phone numbers of users under 18 public.

The Irish regulator launched its probe following a complaint by David Stier, a US data scientist, the Telegraph added.

The first inquiry looks to establish if Facebook has the legal basis to process the data and whether it employs adequate protections and/or restrictions on Instagram.

“This inquiry will also consider whether Facebook meets its obligations as a data controller with regard to transparency requirements in its provision of Instagram to children,” Doyle said.

Instagram’s profile and account settings will be the focus of the second inquiry, examining whether the social media company is adhering to the regulator’s data protection requirements.

Ireland hosts the European headquarters of a number of US technology firms, making the DPC the EU’s lead regulator under the bloc’s General Data Protection Regulation’s “One Stop Shop” regime introduced in 2018.

The new rules give regulators the power to impose fines for violations of up to 4 percent of a company’s global revenue or EUR 20 million (roughly Rs. 171 crores), whichever is higher.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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