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Walmart Still Wants in on TikTok Deal Despite Oracle Taking Lead

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By Reuters | Updated: 15 September 2020

Walmart said it is pressing ahead with its goal to invest in TikTok as Oracle takes the lead in a partnership with the Chinese video-sharing app.

On Sunday, Oracle beat Microsoft in the battle for the US arm of TikTok with a deal structured as a partnership rather than an outright sale to try to navigate geopolitical tensions between Beijing and Washington.

Walmart had teamed up with Microsoft on the unsuccessful bid.

ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese owner, had been in talks to divest the US business of its hugely popular short-video app to Oracle or a consortium led by Microsoft after US President Donald Trump ordered the sale last month and said he might otherwise shut it down.

After Microsoft said it had been informed by ByteDance that the Chinese firm would not be selling it TikTok’s US operations, Walmart said it would talk further with ByteDance and “other interested parties.”

Asked on Monday whether the other parties include Oracle, a Walmart spokesman declined to comment.

For Walmart, a relationship with TikTok could supercharge the world’s largest retailer’s battle against Amazon in e-commerce and online advertising.

But transforming TikTok from a platform where some 50 million US daily users share short-form videos of people dancing and lip-synching into a shopping powerhouse will be a challenge for the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company, analysts say.

In the United States, TikTok advertisers currently place video ads for merchandise such as headphones or fast foods in-between user-uploaded videos. They can also pay for promoted “hashtag challenges,” where users post videos about the brands’ products.

In June, TikTok courted advertisers with a new program called “TikTok For Business,” which lets brands buy ads that appear when users first open the app. “Don’t make ads, make TikToks,” the company told advertisers, which now include Nike, eBay and Colgate-Palmolive among others.

While TikTok is already on its way to building a robust advertising business, it has yet to articulate a comprehensive plan to sell goods on the app.

Rivals are far ahead. Facebook has prioritised building out shopping and payments products in recent years across its suite of apps, which include fast-growing Instagram and WhatsApp as well as its namesake “blue” app, suggesting ambitions to emulate do-it-all Chinese super apps like WeChat.


Social commerce

If Walmart seeks inspiration on how to narrow the gap between TikTok and other big digital platforms and also catch up to Amazon, it need look no further than TikTok’s Chinese counterpart.

Douyin, the ByteDance-owned app that resembles TikTok but is available only in China, started selling merchandise in 2017 and now operates a growing e-commerce operation where more than 400 million daily users shop.

Users can watch short videos and livestreams and make purchases directly through the store on the app or click on links to other e-commerce platforms from the videos. Creators are also encouraged to create shops within Douyin.

While Douyin has relied on and brought new business to China’s big e-commerce platforms such as Alibaba, TikTok’s e-commerce ambitions could be underpinned by Walmart.

The retailer has already accelerated e-commerce plans since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Walmart has explored new ways to court shoppers who make fewer trips to their stores. It has invested in curbside pickup and next-day and two-day deliveries.

But it could do much more, say analysts. Walmart could expand into so-called social commerce by hosting TikTok influencers’ online storefronts, and enable shopping directly from the videos and livestreams, said Scott Smigler, president of e-commerce marketing agency Exclusive Concepts.

A partnership with TikTok, Smigler said, “would give Walmart a compelling edge over both Amazon and Google, who struggle to help consumers discover new products they didn’t know they needed. That’s the true power of social commerce.”

All this could go a long way toward attracting a broader and younger audience. The average age of Walmart shoppers is 47, according to data provider Kantar.

“TikTok is valuable because it’s used every day by kids … so as long as they (Walmart) gear their ads towards the audience on TikTok, it will be a success and they could be a real leader in advertising and e-commerce,” said Randy Hare, portfolio manager at Huntington Private Bank. “If they start advertising yard tools and things like that, I don’t think they’ll get much traction.”

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Facebook Said to Be Questioned on WhatsApp’s Privacy Terms by Parliamentary Panel

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By Reuters | Updated: 21 January 2021

Facebook executives will field questions from a parliamentary panel on Thursday about the changes to WhatsApp’s privacy, a source said, days after the messaging platform was asked by the country’s technology ministry to withdraw them.

The panel will ask why Facebook needed to change WhatsApp’s privacy policy and how it will impact users, the source said. WhatsApp did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.

The messaging platform earlier this month kicked off a storm when it informed users it was preparing a new privacy policy, under which it could share limited user data, including phone number and location, with Facebook and its group firms.

Demand for rival applications such as Signal and Telegram surged on privacy concerns and WhatsApp last week decided to delay the new policy launch to May from February.

With 400 million users, India is WhatsApp’s biggest market, and the messaging service has big plans for the country’s growing digital payments space, including selling health insurance via partners.

Facebook last year invested $5.7 billion (roughly Rs. 41,600 crores) in the digital unit of Mukesh Ambani-led conglomerate Reliance Industries, with a big part of that aimed at drawing in ten of millions of traditional shop owners to use digital payments via WhatsApp.

Earlier this week, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in an email to WhatsApp boss that the new privacy policy terms take away choice from Indian users.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Twitter to Reset @POTUS Account Today Following Joe Biden’s Inauguration

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By Associated Press | Updated: 20 January 2021

It’s a Twitter user’s worst nightmare: Wake up to find most of your followers gone. But that’s exactly what will happen on Wednesday to the official presidential accounts on Twitter. No, not @realDonaldTrump — he’s already been banned for life. This is the fate awaiting lesser-known accounts such as @POTUS, @WhiteHouse, @FLOTUS and @VP. (POTUS is the official acronym for President of the United States; FLOTUS refers to the First Lady.)

These institutional accounts don’t belong any particular individual — they’re reserved for official government use by those in the current administration. Twitter will transfer them to President-elect Joe Biden once he is officially inaugurated on Wednesday. Minus, that is, most of their followers.

That’s unlike the previous Twitter transition, when then-President Barack Obama’s official accounts were transferred to President Donald Trump with followers intact. This time, these accounts stand to lose tens of millions of followers at Twitter’s dictate. People dropped by these accounts, in addition to those who follow “relevant Biden and Harris accounts” such as @KamalaHarris, will receive notifications that they can follow them.

Biden’s current account — @PresElectBiden — will transform into @POTUS once Biden himself becomes POTUS.

Biden’s team does not appear happy about this. The President-elect’s digital director, Rob Flaherty, tweeted last week that the follower reset is “Absolutely, profoundly insufficient.”

In Twitter’s view, the reset gives users the choice on whether or not to follow the new accounts.

The company says it has not made a decision on whether it will now take this approach during transfers of power. But spokesman Nick Pacilio said it is the policy in other countries.

As for Trump’s @POTUS account? It will be archived as @POTUS45, just as the Obama administration’s account was archived as @POTUS44.

That’s not the case for @realdonaldtrump, though. While it’s been extensively archived by other platforms and researchers, it has vanished from Twitter itself. That alone has raised criticisms from academics and others who believe it should also be part of the public record, easily searchable and accessible to anyone.

Facebook, meanwhile, is sticking to its previous policy of “duplicating” all 11 million followers of the official White House Facebook and Instagram accounts to the new administration. Trump’s POTUS and related accounts, meanwhile, will be archived and Biden will get a new one.

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WhatsApp Asked to Withdraw Changes to Privacy Policy by MeitY

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 19 January 2021

The Indian government has asked WhatsApp to withdraw the recent changes in the privacy policy of the messaging app, saying unilateral changes are not fair and acceptable.

In a strongly worded letter to WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) said India is home to the largest user base of WhatsApp globally and is one the biggest markets for its services.

The proposed changes to the WhatsApp Terms of Service and Privacy Policy “raise grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens,” it wrote.

The ministry asked WhatsApp to withdraw the proposed changes and reconsider its approach to information privacy, freedom of choice and data security.

Stating that Indians should be properly respected, it said, “any unilateral changes to the WhatsApp Terms of Service and Privacy would not be fair and acceptable.”

The MeitY letter comes a day after the Delhi High court said that accepting the new privacy policy of instant messaging app WhatsApp was a “voluntary” thing and one can choose to not join the platform if one did not agree with its terms and conditions.

“Even Google Maps captures all your data and stores it,” the court said.

“It is a private app. Don’t join it. It is a voluntary thing, don’t accept it. Use some other app,” Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva said to the petitioner, a lawyer, who has challenged WhatsApp’s new privacy policy, which was earlier slated to come into effect in February but has now been deferred till May.

The court further said it could not understand what data would be leaked according to the petitioner and since the issue requires consideration, it will be listed on January 25 due to paucity of time on Monday.

The central government also agreed with the court that the issue needs to be analysed.

WhatsApp and Facebook, represented by senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Mukul Rohatgi, told the court that the plea was not maintainable and many of the issues raised in it were without any foundation. They further told the court that private chat messages between family and friends would remain encrypted and cannot be stored by WhatsApp and this position would not change under the new policy.

The change in policy would only affect the business chats on WhatsApp, they said.

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Twitter, Periscope, Pinterest Face Advertising Ban in Turkey

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By Reuters | Updated: 19 January 2021

Turkey’s Information and Communication Technologies Authority has imposed advertising bans on Twitter, Periscope and Pinterest under a new social media law, according to decisions published in the country’s Official Gazette on Tuesday.

The law, which critics say will muzzle dissent, requires social media companies to appoint local representatives in Turkey. On Monday, Facebook joined other companies in saying it would be appointing such a representative.

YouTube, owned by Alphabet’s Google, said a month ago it had decided to appoint a representative.

The decisions in the Official Gazette said the advertising bans went into effect from Tuesday. Twitter, its live-streaming app Periscope, and image sharing app Pinterest were not immediately available to comment.

The law allows authorities to remove content from platforms, rather than blocking access as they did in the past. The move has caused concern as people turn more to online platforms after Ankara tightened its grip on mainstream media.

In previous months Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter had faced fines in Turkey for not complying with the law. Companies that do not follow the law will ultimately have their bandwidth slashed by 90 percent, essentially blocking access.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook to Use AI in Predicting if COVID-19 Patients Need Better Healthcare

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By ANI | Updated: 19 January 2021

American social media giant Facebook is publishing a research conducted by its artificial intelligence (AI) unit in an effort to help healthcare providers predict in advance if a COVID-19 patient may need more intensive care solutions and adjust resources accordingly.

Facebook in a recent detailed blog post said that it had developed two AI models, one based on a single chest X-ray, and another from a series of X-rays that could help forecast if a patient infected by COVID-19 is likely to get worse. A third model predicts the amount of extra oxygen a COVID-19 patient might need.

The research, which can help produce predictions based on chest X-rays, has been done in collaboration with NYU Langone Health’s Predictive Analytics Unit and Department of Radiology.

Facebook’s AI models in general did a better job than a human when it came to forecasting a patient’s need for more intensive care resources up to four days in advance.

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Facebook to Appoint Turkey Envoy to Comply With Media Law

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 19 January 2021

Facebook said on Monday it will appoint a representative in Turkey to comply with a new social media law aimed at forcing platforms to quickly remove contentious posts.

The US social media giant’s announcement came a day before it and other non-complying platforms were due to face advertising bans in Turkey.

Media freedom advocates view the law as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s effort to limit political discourse and stifle dissent – a drive that gained added momentum after he survived a failed coup in 2016.

But Facebook said its decision did not mean it was changing the way it handles government requests to take down content.

It said its representative would be withdrawn if Facebook felt it was being forced to compromise on its principles and community standards.

“We would like to underline the importance of our platform as a place where users can exercise their right to freedom of expression,” Facebook said in a statement.

Turkey’s new social media regulations entered into force in October after being rammed through parliament by Erdogan’s ruling party.

They require platforms with more than one million unique daily users to appoint representatives who can handle court orders to take down offending content within 48 hours.

Facebook’s continued refusal to appoint an envoy threatened to see its bandwidth cut by 90 percent in May.

Turkey’s deputy minister for infrastructure Omer Fatih Sayan tweeted that Monday’s decision also covers Facebook-owned Instagram.

Access to websites and content had already been partially restricted in the nation of 83 million people before the latest regulations entered into force.

Twitter last year listed Turkey – along with Russia and Japan – among the top three countries responsible for 86 percent of all requests to take down posts.

Social media firms have diverged in their approach to Turkey’s new law.

Facebook’s Russian equivalent VK opened a local office in November but Twitter and YouTube along with Facebook all got fined that same month for failing to comply.

The Chinese short videos app TikTok said it would open a Turkish office earlier this month.

Twitter has not yet announced a decision to name a Turkish envoy.

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