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US Activists Allege TikTok Violated The Agreement On Child Protection

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WASHINGTON, United States (AFP)— A coalition of consumer groups filed a complaint Thursday with US regulators claiming the popular video app TikTok has failed to live up to an agreement last year limiting data collection from children.

The 20 organisations said in a Federal Trade Commission complaint that TikTok continues to collect data on children under 13 without parental consent despite a February 2019 US court settlement.

The complaint called for the FTC to reopen its investigation, saying the matter is urgent now as more children flock to social media apps during the coronavirus lockdowns.

According to the complaint, TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, makes it easy for under-13 users to avoid obtaining parental consent and makes no attempt to notify parents.

As a result, TikTok is able to collect detailed information about how these children use the app and applies artificial intelligence to determine what to show next, to keep them engaged online as long as possible.

“Even after being caught red-handed by the FTC, TikTok continues to flout the law,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, one of the groups in the complaint.

“We urge the Commission to take swift action and sanction TikTok again — this time with a fine and injunctive relief commensurate with the seriousness of TikTok’s serial violations.”

TikTok last year paid a US$5.7 million penalty under a court settlement and agreed to implement policy changes including deleting any information collected from children under 13.

But the complaint said that TikTok destroyed “only the personal information of users who identified as under 13 at the time of the decree or at the time their personal information was collected,” which allowed it to keep some of this data.

“We easily found that many accounts featuring children were still present on TikTok,” said Michael Rosenbloom of the Georgetown University Institute for Public Representation, which represents the groups.

“Many of these accounts have tens of thousands to millions of followers, and have been around since before the order.”

Asked about the latest complaint, TikTok said it had implemented detailed policies on accounts for young children.

“We take privacy seriously and are committed to helping ensure that TikTok continues to be a safe and entertaining community for our users,” it said in a statement.

The tracking firm Sensor Tower reported last month that TikTok had topped two billion downloads amid strong growth during the virus pandemic.

Research firm eMarketer estimated that TikTok had more than 52 million US users in March.

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Instagram Pauses Recent Search Listings in US to Stop Fake Election News

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By Reuters | Updated: 30 October 2020

Facebook’s Instagram said on Thursday it was making changes to its image sharing platform for US users to prevent the spread of misinformation around the November 3 presidential election.

For users in the United States, Instagram will temporarily remove the Recent tab from hashtag pages starting Thursday, it said in a statement on Twitter.

“We’re doing this to reduce the real-time spread of potentially harmful content that could pop up around the election,” the statement added.

Instagram’s Recent tab arranges hashtags in chronological order and amplifies content. Researchers have cautioned that automated amplification can lead to the rapid spread of misinformation on the platform.

The development comes as social media companies face increasing pressure to combat election-related misinformation and prepare for the possibility of violence or poll place intimidation around the November 3 vote.

Earlier this month, Twitter said it will remove tweets calling for people to interfere with the US election process or implementation of election results, including through violence.

Twitter has recently announced several temporary steps to slow amplification of content: for example, from October 20 to at least the end of the US election week, global users pressing “retweet” will be directed first to the “quote tweet” button to encourage people to add their own commentary.

Twitter said it will also stop surfacing trending topics without added context. Its decision to hit the brakes on automated recommendations contrasts with the approach at Facebook, which has previously boosted promotion of its groups product.

Separately on Thursday, Facebook acknowledged that a technical error in its systems caused a number of ads from the Republican and Democratic parties to be improperly paused.

It was the result of a policy change Facebook announced last month to block new political advertisements in the week prior to the elections. Facebook said it has made updates to enable the affected advertisements to run.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Apple Tax Case: EU Appeals Bloc Court’s Rejection of Case

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 25 September 2020

The EU on Friday appealed a major setback at a European court that annulled a Brussels order that Apple repay Ireland EUR 13 billion (roughly Rs. 1,11,435 crores) in back taxes.

The commission “respectfully considers that in its judgment the General Court has made a number of errors of law,” Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, said in a statement.

The decision by the EU’s lower court now goes to the top European Court of Justice, with a decision expected no earlier than 2021.

The commission’s historic order that Ireland recoup taxes from Apple was delivered in August 2016 by Vestager in a shock decision that put Europe on the map as a scourge of Silicon Valley.

The iPhone-maker and Ireland challenged the order, which Apple CEO Tim Cook slammed at the time.

In a statement, Apple said it will “review the Commission’s appeal when we receive it.”

“However, it will not alter the factual conclusions of the General Court, which prove that we have always abided by the law in Ireland, as we do everywhere we operate,” it said.

The EU in 2016 accused Ireland of allowing Apple to park revenue earned in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and India and sparing it almost any taxation.

Brussels said this gave Apple an advantage over other companies, allowing it to avoid Irish taxes between 2003 and 2014 of around EUR 13 billion.

EU officials argued that constituted illegal “state aid” by Ireland.

“If member states give certain multinational companies tax advantages not available to their rivals, this harms fair competition in the European Union in breach of State aid rules,” Vestager said.

“There’s more work ahead, including to make sure that all businesses, including digital ones, pay their fair share of tax where it is rightfully due.”

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Facebook, Microsoft Voice Concerns Over Their Games Appearing on Apple’s App Store Amidst Antitrust Probes

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By Reuters | Updated: 11 August 2020

Facebook and Microsoft’s grievances over how their gaming apps appear on Apple’s App Store may feed into an EU investigation into the iPhone maker’s business as EU antitrust regulators said such concerns are on their radar.

The European Commission in June opened four probes into Apple, three of which are into its App Store and its restrictive rules, including requirements that app developers use its own in-app purchasing system.

US social media giant Facebook and Microsoft are the latest companies to voice concerns about the rules, which have drawn criticism from app developers who say they create an uneven playing field to compete with the iPhone maker.

Asked about Facebook and Microsoft’s issues with Apple, Commission spokeswoman Arianna Podesta said in a statement: “The Commission is aware of these concerns regarding Apple’s App Store rules.”

She did not provide details.

Apple dismissed criticism of its App Store rules, saying that all apps are reviewed against the same set of guidelines whose aim is to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field for developers.

Facebook last week said its gaming app was only available on Apple’s App Store as a streaming service and that users will not be able to play games.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said the company had to remove gameplay functionality entirely to secure Apple’s approval of its Facebook Gaming app.

Microsoft, which has a game-streaming service called Project xCloud said: “Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass.”

“It consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content,” it added in an emailed statement.


© Thomson Reuters 2020

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China Will Not Accept US ‘Theft’ of TikTok, Says State Media

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By Reuters | Updated: 4 August 2020

China will not accept the “theft” of a Chinese technology company and is able to respond to Washington’s move to push ByteDance to sell short-video app TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft, the China Daily newspaper said on Tuesday.

The United States’ “bullying” of Chinese tech companies was a consequence of Washington’s zero-sum vision of “American first” and left China no choice but “submission or mortal combat in the tech realm”, the state-backed paper said in an editorial.

China had “plenty of ways to respond if the administration carries out its planned smash and grab”, it added.

Microsoft said on Monday it was in talks with ByteDance to buy parts of TikTok after US President Donald Trump reversed course on a plan to ban the app on national security grounds and gave the firms 45 days to strike a deal.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said over the weekend that Trump would take action shortly against Chinese software companies that shared user data with the Chinese government.

The Global Times newspaper, which is also government-backed, said US treatment of ByteDance and Huawei Technologies, now on a US trade blacklist, was indicative of US efforts to separate its economy from China’s.

China had “limited ability” to provide protection to these Chinese companies by retaliating against US companies because the United States had technological superiority and influence with its allies, it added.

“China’s opening-up to the outside world and disintegrating the US decoupling strategy should be priorities,” it said in an editorial.

The Global Times is published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party.


© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Apple Expands News Offerings With Audio, Local Newspaper Stories

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By Reuters | Updated: 16 July 2020

Apple on Wednesday expanded its news offerings with audio versions of stories narrated by voice actors for subscribers, a morning newscast hosted by two journalists and more access to local newspaper stories.

Apple says it has 125 million monthly active users of its Apple News product, but it does not disclose revenues or the number of subscribers to the paid version, Apple News+, which costs $9.99 a month (roughly Rs. 750) for US users. The iPhone maker maintains a staff of editors that curate the stories in both the paid and free versions of its app.

Apple said Wednesday that paying subscribers will gain access to audio versions of longer stories from magazines such as such as Esquire and Vanity Fair, along with newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.

The audio effort intensifies competition with Amazon and Alphabet’s Google, both of whom offer audio news options on their smart home speakers, as well as Spotify, which has been expanding its podcast business with news content.

Apple is also launching a weekday morning audio news program called Apple News Today, which will be hosted by New York-based journalists Shumita Basu and Duarte Geraldino and highlight stories from the publishers that work with Apple. The show will be available to both free and paying users, and both it and the audio stories will also be adapted for Apple’s CarPlay, the system that connects iPhones to many newer vehicles.

Apple also said it would offer expanded access to local news in its app, starting with five metro areas in the United States: San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York. Apple will maintain editors in each area to curate local stories, and paying News+ subscribers will get access to premium content from the local newspapers that take part in the program.

Last month, the New York Times left Apple News, saying publishers should be fairly compensated for their content and that the program is not align with its strategy of building direct relationships with paying readers.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Apple-EU Tax Case Appeal Ruling Due on July 15, Irish Government Says

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 July 2020

The European Union’s second highest court will next week rule in an appeal by Apple and Ireland against an EU ruling for the US company to pay EUR 13 billion (roughly Rs. 1.10 lakh crores) in back taxes, the Irish government said on Wednesday.

The European Commission ordered Apple in 2016 to pay the taxes it said were owed to Ireland. But Apple and Ireland, whose economy benefits from hosting a number of multinational firms, began an appeal against the decision in September.

“The State has been formally notified that the General Court of the European Union (GCEU) will deliver its judgment in the Apple State Aid case on July 15,” the Department of Finance said in a statement.

Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the judgment was likely to be appealed by one of the parties.

“I think that no matter what the judgment is, this case will almost certainly be appealed by one party or another to the European Court of Justice,” Varadkar told journalists.

With the legal challenge expected to run for years, Ireland’s debt agency has invested the disputed taxes in low-risk, highly rated euro-dominated bonds, mainly short- to medium-term sovereign securities.

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said Apple’s commitment to Ireland, which became its first European operation in 1980 and where it employs 6,000 workers, was “unshakable”.


© Thomson Reuters 2020

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