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Twitter Workers Brace for More ‘Circus’ After Elon Musk Torpedoes Deal

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By Reuters | Updated: 9 July 2022

Twitter employees expressed disbelief and exhaustion on Friday after billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk said he was terminating a deal to buy the social media company in what could be the start of months of legal wrangling.

Musk said Twitter breached multiple provisions of a $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,49,060 crore) merger agreement struck in April, including by failing to turn over sufficient data on spam accounts and letting go of some executives and recruiters. Twitter’s chairman said the board planned to pursue legal action to enforce the deal.

Engineers, marketing leaders and other staff at the company quickly took to Twitter to publicly post memes, such as of a rollercoaster ride and a baby screaming into a phone, in apparent commentary on the latest development in Musk’s courtship of Twitter since January. Others joked about the impossibility of breaking their own personal commitments.

Employees have expressed widespread concern about Musk taking over Twitter because of his preferences for cutting headcount and other costs, decreasing content moderation and limiting remote work.

But Musk’s now-reneged offer also marks a 36 percent premium for the company’s shares and could mean a big payday for employees and other shareholders.

After months of constant headlines, a Twitter employee told Reuters on Friday that they felt only more weary about the road ahead.

“I just don’t believe it’s actually over,” the employee said on the condition of anonymity.

Amir Shevat, whose Twitter bio says he works on the company’s developer products, posted on the service soon after news of Musk’s termination, “End of season one – what a cliffhanger…”

Jared Manfredi, whose profile says he works on iOS products at Twitter, wrote, “If only this wasn’t the start of a long drawn-out court battle that will just end up lowering the purchase price and continuing the circus for another indefinite amount of time.”

Reuters could not independently verify the information in their profiles, and they did not immediately respond to requests for comment through private messages.

Twitter told employees last month that it was on track to increase the number of users who see ads by 13 million during the just-ended second quarter, the highest such goal it has ever set. Twitter has not yet announced second-quarter results.

Musk, who is the chief executive of automaker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, told Twitter staff later in the month on a video townhall that he wants to grow the company to at least 1 billion users from 229 million. He also told them users should be allowed to post “pretty outrageous things.”

Musk, a prolific user of Twitter, has said in owning a social media service, he could make it more entertaining and maintain it as an essential public forum.

His attorney in a regulatory filing on Friday said Twitter had violated a deal provision to “preserve substantially intact the material components of its current business organisation” by firing two managers, laying off a chunk of its talent acquisition team, instituting a hiring freeze, rescinding job offers. It also cited the resignations of three department leaders.

Twitter had over 7,500 employees as of the end of 2021.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Twitter Set to Introduce New Controls for Ad Placements to Lure Advertisers Back After Elon Musk Takeover

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Twitter is also considering bringing its content moderators in-house, to allow the platform to invest in moderation of non-English languages.
By Reuters |  Updated: 9 December 2022 09:58 IST

Twitter will roll out new controls as soon as next week to let companies prevent their ads from appearing above or below tweets containing certain keywords, the social media platform told advertisers in an email on Thursday.

The new controls are part of Twitter’s effort to reassure and lure back advertisers that have pulled ads off the platform since it was purchased in October by billionaire Elon Musk, amid reports from civil rights groups that hate speech has risen since the acquisition and after several banned or suspended accounts were reinstated.

Twitter earns nearly 90 percent of its revenue from selling digital ads. Musk recently attributed a “massive drop in revenue” to civil rights organisations that have pressured brands to pause their Twitter ads.

In a recent call with an advertising industry group, a Twitter representative said the platform was considering bringing its content moderators, many of whom are contracted through third-party vendors, in-house, according to a source familiar with the remarks.

The Twitter representative said bringing content moderators in-house at Twitter would allow the platform to invest more in moderation for non-English languages, according to the source.

The email to advertisers on Thursday, which was reviewed by Reuters, said a revamped version of Twitter’s subscription service called Twitter Blue would begin rolling out on Friday.

The subscription will allow accounts to receive a verified check mark. Accounts for individuals will get a blue check, while gold and gray check marks will denote business and government accounts, according to the email.

The subscription price will be $7 (roughly Rs. 500) per month on the web and $11 (roughly Rs. 800) per month on Apple devices, the email said.

Twitter, which has lost many members of its communications team, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Biden Administration Tells US Supreme Court Section 230 of Communications Decency Act Has Limits

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Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act holds that social media firms can't be treated as the publisher of information posted by users.
By Reuters | Updated: 8 December 2022

The Biden administration argued to the US Supreme Court on Wednesday that social media giants like Google could in some instances have responsibility for user content, adopting a stance that could potentially undermine a federal law shielding companies from liability.

Lawyers for the US Department of Justice made their argument in the high-profile lawsuit filed by the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old American citizen killed in 2015 when Islamist militants opened fire on the Paris bistro where she was eating.

The family argued that Google was in part liable for Gonzalez’ death because YouTube, which is owned by the tech giant, essentially recommended videos by the Islamic State group to some users through its algorithms. Google and YouTube are part of Alphabet (GOOGL.O).

The case reached the Supreme Court after the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Google, saying they were protected from such claims because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Section 230 holds that social media companies cannot be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by other users.

The law has been sharply criticised across the political spectrum. Democrats claim it gives social media companies a pass for spreading hate speech and misinformation.

The case reached the Supreme Court after the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Google, saying they were protected from such claims because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Section 230 holds that social media companies cannot be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by other users.

The law has been sharply criticised across the political spectrum. Democrats claim it gives social media companies a pass for spreading hate speech and misinformation.

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Meta in Big Tech Club but Dwarfed by ‘Giant Tech’ Company Apple, Nick Clegg Says

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Apple's tracking protection for iPhone introduced last year has contributed to a halving of Meta's third-quarter profits this year.
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 8 December 2022

Facebook parent Meta may be in the Big Tech club but it sees itself as being dwarfed by “Giant Tech” company — and corporate foe — Apple, a top executive, Nick Clegg, said Wednesday.

“There’s Big Tech and there’s Giant Tech,” Clegg told an audience in Brussels, where Meta was courting policymakers with its latest virtual reality (VR) gear.

“I mean Apple is now, what, eight times the size of Meta” in terms of stock market capitalisation, he said.

“I mean, it’s just there is very, very, very, very big” in the Big Tech sector and Apple is it, added Clegg.

The comparison underlines Meta’s steep market slide over the past 16 months — and the bad blood with Apple, which has eviscerated Meta’s data collection strategy.

Apple last year introduced a data privacy option on its hugely popular iPhones that prevents Meta and other online data collectors from getting user tracking information they previously relied upon to target advertising.

That has contributed to a halving of Meta’s third-quarter profits this year.

The US company’s costly focus on the metaverse, a virtual world where users appearing as digital avatars can interact, has also played a role.

Meta — re-branded to reflect its focus — has spent a staggering $100 billion (roughly Rs. 8.2 lakh crore) to date on building that technology, whose widespread adoption is forecast to be many years away.

Meta last month announced it was axing 11,000 employees — 13 percent of its workforce — in a general tech belt-tightening that has also seen jobs shed at Twitter, Amazon, and Hewlett-Packard (HP).

Challenge from China

Meta’s stock market capitalisation has slid from an all-time high of $1.07 trillion (roughly Rs. 88 lakh crore) in August 2021 to just over $300 billion (roughly Rs. 25 lakh crore) today — a 72 percent drop.

Apple’s over the same period has stayed steadily above $2 trillion (roughly Rs. 165 lakh crore) since late 2020, and is currently around $2.3 trillion (roughly Rs. 190 lakh crore).

Meta has long complained that Apple is building a “walled garden”, with its users locked into its devices, operating system and app store, at the expense of Meta and other online players.

Both Meta and Apple, as well as other Big Tech ones, have repeatedly come under the regulatory microscope in the European Union and the United States as commercial strategies butt up against anti-trust and data privacy concerns.

But Clegg said China was increasingly challenging the US domination of the online world.

“You’ve got US and Chinese big tech now really kind of looming over the whole scene,” he said.

“And don’t, by the way, underestimate how aggressively Chinese big tech is investing in the metaverse,” he added, pointing to the Pico VR headsets being marketed by ByteDance, the Chinese owner of the popular social app TikTok.

Meta’s own investment into VR and Augmented Reality — collectively known as XR, or extended reality — showed its belief that “the biggest bets are the bets which are furthest away… and they’re also the ones where the technology is most expensive,” Clegg said.

Investor criticism of that focus, and a “narrative of pessimism” about Meta’s focus on it, “profoundly underestimates the very, very strong health of the underlying business” of the company, he said.

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Twitter Blue Pricing to Be Lowered for Web Users to $7, App Store Subscribers to Pay $11: Report

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Twitter Blue is yet to be relaunched by the microblogging platform, weeks after it was halted by Elon Musk.
By Reuters |  Updated: 8 December 2022

Twitter plans to change the pricing of its Twitter Blue subscription product to $7 (roughly Rs. 600) from $7.99 (roughly Rs. 700) if users pay for it through the website, and $11 (roughly Rs. 900) if they do so through its iPhone app, the Information reported on Wednesday, citing a person briefed on the plans.

The move was likely a pushback against the 30 percent cut that Apple takes on revenues from apps on its operating system, the report said, with lower pricing for the website likely to drive more users to that platform as opposed to signing up on their iPhones.

It did not mention whether pricing would change for the Android platform as well.

Last week, Musk accused Apple of threatening to block Twitter from its App Store without saying why in a series of tweets that also said it had stopped advertising on the social media platform.

In the first quarter of 2022, Apple was the top advertiser on Twitter, spending $48 million (roughly Rs. 390 crore) and accounting for more than 4 percent of total revenue for the period, the Washington Post reported, citing an internal Twitter document.

Among the list of grievances tweeted by Musk was the up to 30 percent fee Apple charges software developers for in-app purchases.

He also posted a meme suggesting he was willing to “go to war” with Apple rather than paying the commission.

The fee has drawn criticism and lawsuits from companies such as Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, while attracting the scrutiny of regulators globally.

The commission could weigh on Musk’s attempts to boost subscription revenue at Twitter, in part to make up for the exodus of advertisers over content moderation concerns.

Musk later met Apple chief executive Tim Cook at the company’s headquarters and later tweeted that the misunderstanding about Twitter being removed from Apple’s App Store was resolved.

Twitter and Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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EU Said to Prepare to Bar Meta From Running Ads Based on Personal Data: All Details

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Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems filed a complaint against Meta with Ireland's data protection agency in 2018.
By Reuters | Updated: 7 December 2022

Meta will only be able to run advertising based on personal data with users’ consent, according to a confidential EU privacy watchdog decision, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday, in a blow to the US social network.

The Irish data protection agency, which oversees Meta because its European headquarters is located in Dublin, has been given a month to issue a ruling based on the European Data Protection Board’s (EDPB) binding decision.

The EDPB will likely require the Irish body to hand out fines, the person said, asking not to be named because of the senstivity of the issue.

Big Tech’s targeted ad model and how data is collected and used has drawn regulatory scrutiny around the world.

Shares of the company were down 6.2 percent in mid-session trade. Google, Snap and Pinterest which are reliant on digital advertising, fell 2.2 percent, 8 percent and 4 percent respectively.

The Irish case against Meta was triggered by a complaint by Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems in 2018.

“Instead of having a yes/no option for personalised ads, they just moved the consent clause in the terms and conditions. This is not just unfair but clearly illegal. We are not aware of any other company that has tried to ignore the GDPR in such an arrogant way,” Schrems said in a statement.

He said the EDPB’s ruling means that Meta must allow users to have a version of all apps that do not use personal data for ads while the company would still be allowed to use non-personal data to personalise ads or simply ask users for consent.

The 27-country bloc’s landmark privacy rules known as the General Data Protection Regulation went into effect in 2018.

Meta is engaging with the Irish body, a Meta spokesperson said.

“GDPR allows for a range of legal bases under which data can be processed, beyond consent or performance of a contract. Under the GDPR there is no hierarchy between these legal bases, and none should be considered better than any other,” the spokesperson said.

Apple’s new privacy rules, which limit digital advertisers from tracking iPhone users, have also been a blow to the Facebook parent.

An EDPB spokeswoman declined to provide details of the decisions made. The agency said it stepped in after other national watchdogs disagreed with the Irish agency’s draft decision.

Its draft decisions on Meta’s parent Facebook and Instagram focus on the lawfulness and transparency of processing for behavioural advertising, while its decision on WhatsApp concerns the lawfulness of processing for the purpose of the improvement of services.

“The DPC cannot comment on the contents of the decisions at this point. We have one month to adopt the EDPB’s binding decisions and will publish details then,” the Irish Data Protection Commission said.

Meta may have to change its business model, said Helena Brown, head of data & privacy at London-based law firm Addleshaw Goddard.

“The direction of travel seems to be that the European regulators will not allow Meta to hide behind “provision of services” as its basis for using personal data for behavioural advertising,” she said.

“Instead, Meta may need to change its approach to seeking clear, explicit consent instead. It will be a challenge for Meta to be able to explain its practices in a way that such consent can be lawful and well-informed,” Brown said.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the EDPB ruling.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Twitter Fired Deputy General Counsel Over Concerns About Role in Information Suppression, Elon Musk Says

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Journalist Matt Taibbi in collaboration with Elon Musk last week published the "Twitter Files" alleging suppression of information on Twitter.
By ANI | Updated: 7 December 2022

Twitter CEO Elon Musk has said that he had fired the microblogging website’s deputy general counsel James Baker over concerns about his role in information suppression under the previous management.

“In light of concerns about (James) Baker’s possible role in suppression of information important to the public dialogue, he was exited from Twitter today,” Musk tweeted on Tuesday.

In light of concerns about Baker’s possible role in suppression of information important to the public dialogue, he was exited from Twitter today— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 6, 2022

Last week, journalist Matt Taibbi in collaboration with Musk published “Twitter Files”.

These set of documents were mainly Twitter’s internal communications to disclose links with political actors and with a focus on how the social network blocked stories related to Hunter Biden’s laptop in the lead-up to the 2020 US Presidential election.

The published files alleged that the previous Twitter management took steps to suppress reporting regarding Hunter Biden’s laptop ahead of the 2020 US Presidential Election.

According to the Twitter Files published by Taibbi, Twitter deputy general counsel Baker played a role in the discussion about whether the laptop story fell under Twitter’s “hacked materials” policy.

“I support the conclusion that we need more facts to assess whether the materials were hacked,” the documents published by Taibbi cited Baker as saying in one of the emails. “At this stage, however, it’s reasonable for us to assume that they may have been and that caution is warranted.”

Hunter Biden reportedly abandoned his laptop at Isaac’s repair shop in 2019, while his father, Joe Biden, was running to become US president. The contents of the laptop were later made public. Emails obtained by Western media from the laptop proved Russia’s claims that the US president’s son helped fund bioweapon research in Ukraine.

The Bidens have faced scrutiny and criticism from Republicans and others for their alleged misconduct in Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings, which came into the public spotlight following the release of the emails.

On Monday, the White House dismissed the Twitter Files as “full of old news”.

“By Twitter on — okay. So, look, we see this as a — an interesting or a coincidence, if I may, that he would so haphazardly — Twitter would so haphazardly push this distraction that is a — that is full of old news, if you think about it,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a press briefing.

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