Updates on social media platforms and tech giants 2023

August 3, 2023 | 8:05am
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Journalists and fact-checkers at the Google regional headquarters in Singapore
8 hours ago

Users on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, will now be allowed to hide their once-prized blue check marks, the company says.

A coveted status symbol at Twitter before Elon Musk bought the company, the blue checks have been mocked by some as a sign that the user is willing to pay for special treatment.

"As a subscriber, you can choose to hide your checkmark on your account," an X help page says. — AFP

July 13, 2023

Google launches ChatGPT rival Bard in Europian Union and Brazil.

Called AI chatbot Bard, the tech gian unveils new features as it expands access to its answer to Microsoft-backed ChatGPT.

Bard was unveiled in February but delayed its release in the European Union as the bloc plans to regulate artificial intelligence amid concerns about risks associated with the rapidly growing technology.

July 11, 2023

Networks of fake Facebook accounts run from China are "evolving" and adopting new tactics in their quest to sow discord overseas, the social media platform tells Australian lawmakers. 

Fronting a Senate inquiry into foreign interference, officials from parent company Meta said there had been a noticeable "shift in tactics" by China-based networks over the past seven months. 

Meta spokesman Josh Machin said coordinated networks of Chinese Facebook accounts were increasingly trying to influence public opinion by targeting journalists, charities and public relations firms.

"We are seeing a whole new range of tactics evolving," Machin told the inquiry.  — AFP

July 10, 2023

The Threads app launched by Instagram as a rival to Twitter has signed up more than 100 million users in less than five days, data tracking websites say, smashing the record of AI tool ChatGPT for fastest-growing consumer app. — AFP

July 6, 2023

Five million users have signed up to Threads, Meta's newly launched text-based social media platform and rival to Twitter, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday, just hours after the app's launch. 

"Just passed 5 million sign ups in the first four hours..." Zuckerberg said on his official Threads account. — AFP

July 6, 2023

Facebook behemoth Meta launches Threads, a text-based rival to Twitter, creating the biggest threat yet to the embattled platform owned by Elon Musk.

"Let's do this. Welcome to Threads," wrote Meta chief executive and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in his first post on the nascent platform. — AFP

June 30, 2023

Google has become the latest Silicon Valley giant to block Canadian users from seeing local news on its platform after Ottawa passed a bill requiring tech companies to pay for such content. 

The Online News Act became law last week, aiming to support a struggling Canadian news sector that has seen hundreds of publications close in the last decade.

It requires digital giants to make fair commercial deals with Canadian outlets for the news and information that is shared on their platforms, or face binding arbitration.

In a statement, Google said the new law is "unworkable" and that the government has not given it reason to believe "structural issues with the legislation" would be resolved during its implementation.

In a blog post, Google added that it will be "harder for Canadians to find news online" and "for journalists to reach their audiences." — AFP

June 29, 2023

France approves a new law Thursday requiring social media platforms like TikTok to verify users' ages and obtain parental consent for those under 15 years in an effort to protect children online.

The legislation is part of a string of recent moves by the government to reduce children's screen time and protect them from cyberbullying and other crimes. 

The "landmark" law would be "applied as soon as possible", Digital Transition Minister Jean-Noel Barrot told lawmakers. — AFP

June 24, 2023

Elon Musk's company SpaceX is offering to sell insider shares at a price that lifts its valuation to around $150 billion, according to a Bloomberg News report.

The company -- the first private company to send astronauts into orbit, among many other firsts -- is initially seeking a $750 million tender offer, the report adds.

Its valuation has climbed in recent years as it raised billions to finance its work, and according to Bloomberg, SpaceX is offering shares at over $80 apiece. — AFP

June 23, 2023

The EU's top tech enforcer warns Elon Musk that Twitter must have enough resources to moderate dangerous content by August 25 or risk being in violation of the bloc's landmark rules to rein in big tech.

"If the technology is not ready they need to have enough resources to match the gap. I spoke on this specific topic with Elon Musk," EU commissioner Thierry Breton tells reporters following a meeting at Twitter headquarters, which included the platform's new CEO Linda Yaccarino.

Breton says he told the Twitter team, with Musk joining by videoconference from New York, that "there are a few areas that will be critical immediately when the regulation will be enforceable."  — AFP

June 23, 2023

Facebook and Instagram users in Canada will be blocked from viewing Canadian news, parent-company Meta says, after Ottawa passed a bill requiring digital giants to pay for such content.

Google, another critic of the Online News Act, has previously said it is considering a similar move.

The two Silicon Valley giants have pushed back against the bill, which aims to support a struggling Canadian news sector that has seen hundreds of publications closed in the last decade. — AFP

June 22, 2023

Tech titans Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are in a fierce business rivalry that has spilt over into a playground spat, with the two men offering to fight each other in a cage.

Months after Musk took over Twitter, Zuckerberg's Meta hinted it was planning to launch its own text-based social media platform -- essentially a direct rival.

Musk has trolled Zuckerberg ever since with messages on Twitter, telling his fans this week: "I'm up for a cage match if he is lol." — AFP

June 22, 2023

Australia's internet safety watchdog on Thursday threatens to fine Twitter for failing to tackle online abuse, saying Elon Musk's takeover had coincided with a spike in "toxicity and hate". 

E-safety commissioner Julie Inman Grant -- a former Twitter employee -- says the platform was now responsible for one-in-three complaints about online hate speech reported in Australia. 

Inman Grant says Twitter had 28 days to show it was serious about tackling the problem or face fines of Aus$700,000 (US$475,000) for every day it missed the deadline. — AFP 

June 15, 2023

Slapped with massive fines in the European Union for violating data protection laws, Meta is fighting on another front in Kenya, where content moderators, responsible for reviewing violent and hateful posts, have sued the social media giant.

Since May last year, three lawsuits have been filed against Meta and California-based Sama, a company contracted by the Silicon Valley behemoth to moderate content on Facebook between 2019 and 2023.

When contacted by AFP, both Sama and Meta — which owns Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram — declined to comment on the specifics of the cases. 

Two of the cases were filed by content moderators employed by Sama — formerly known as Samasource — in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

Their job was to review and remove posts from Facebook that were violent, inciting hatred or spreading misinformation in sub-Saharan Africa. — AFP

June 15, 2023

Major music publishers on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit accusing Twitter of failing to stop "rampant" copyright infringement on the platform.

The National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA) and its members argued in the suit that the social media company should pay as much as $150,000 per work infringed, with the potential tab climbing into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

"Twitter stands alone as the largest social media platform that has completely refused to license the millions of songs on its service," NMPA chief executive David Israelite said in reply to an AFP inquiry.

"Twitter knows full-well that music is leaked, launched, and streamed by billions of people every day on its platform." — AFP

June 9, 2023

Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg tells employees that while Apple's mixed reality gear may be nice, it is not his vision of the future, according to US media reports.

Zuckerberg's comments came during the first all-hands gathering at its Silicon Valley campus since the pandemic, and just days after Apple unveiled Vision Pro mixed reality headsets.

"I mean, that could be the vision of the future of computing, but like, it's not the one that I want," Zuckerberg reportedly says while assessing what he has seen of Apple Vison Pro.

"There's a real philosophical difference in terms of how we’re approaching this." — AFP

June 8, 2023

WhatsApp on Thursday begins letting select organizations try a new feature called "Channels" that lets them broadcast to followers on the popular, Meta-owned messaging service.

The debut comes as an array of agencies and organizations grow disenchanted with Elon Musk-owned Twitter in the face of fees, performance problems, and dramatically scaled-back content moderation.

Meta described Channels as "a simple, reliable, and private way to receive important updates from people and organizations, right within WhatsApp." — AFP

June 6, 2023

Microsoft will pay $20 million to settle government charges that it collected personal information from children without their parents' consent, officials say.

The Federal Trade Commission alleged that from 2015 to 2020 Microsoft collected personal data from children under age 13 who signed up to its Xbox gaming system without their parents' permission and retained this information.

To open an account, users had to provide their first and last names, an email address, and date of birth. — AFP

June 6, 2023

Apple unveils its first-ever mixed reality headset, challenging Facebook-owner Meta in a market that has yet to tempt users beyond videogamers and tech geeks.

The release was the most significant product launch by the iPhone maker since it unveiled the Apple Watch in 2015.

The Vision Pro, which was generally well received on Monday, will cost a hefty $3,499 and be available early next year in the United States only, the company says. — AFP

June 5, 2023

Apple on Monday is expected to show off pricy mixed-reality headgear at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, challenging Facebook-owner Meta in a market that has yet to sizzle.

The iPhone maker has remained mum on reports that it is poised to unveil a headset for augmented or virtual reality experiences at its annual jamboree for developers and app designers.

The release would be the most significant product launch by the iconic iPhone maker since it unveiled the Apple Watch in 2015.

It could also invite more tensions between Apple CEO Tim Cook and Meta's Mark Zuckerberg who have feuded over the handling of their sprawling tech empires, especially over data issues and China ties.

Expectations are high that Apple will use the WWDC stage to spotlight a "Reality Pro" headset priced around $3,000, along with custom-made software for the gear, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in a note to investors. — AFP

June 3, 2023

YouTube will stop removing content that falsely claims the 2020 US presidential election was plagued by "fraud, errors or glitches," the platform says, a decision quickly criticized by anti-misinformation advocates.

The announcement by the Google-owned video website is a marked departure from its policy initiated in December 2020, which attempted to curb false claims -- most importantly pushed by then-president Donald Trump -- that his re-election loss to Joe Biden was due to the vote being "stolen."

"The ability to openly debate political ideas, even those that are controversial or based on disproven assumptions, is core to a functioning democratic society -- especially in the midst of election season," YouTube says in a blog post. — AFP

June 1, 2023

For years, a band of science-loving "troll hunters" hounded climate change deniers off Twitter -- but Elon Musk's takeover has upended their efforts, with many ousted accounts back, pushing fresh disinformation.

Despite the threat climate change poses to the planet, disinformation about it has gone largely unsanctioned on Twitter. But a secretive global community of about 25 scientists and activists, calling themselves Team Ninja Trollhunters (TNT), found a roundabout way to tackle it.

Since its founding in 2019, TNT claims to have secured the suspension of some 600 accounts of climate change denialists by reporting them for other infringements, including hate speech, that are officially recognized by the platform as valid grounds for termination.

"If they're saying something racist or offensive or misogynist, we can get them kicked off," one Germany-based TNT member, a 45-year-old scientist who asked to be identified as Tom, told AFP in a Zoom interview.


May 27, 2023

Google withdraws a gaming app that allowed players to buy, sell and torture black virtual "slaves" after a racism outcry in Brazil.

Dubbed "Slavery Simulator," the Portuguese-language game saw players trade in slaves and strategize to prevent the abolition of slavery in order to amass virtual riches.

The prosecutor's office said it had opened an investigation for "hate speech" related to the game downloaded by hundreds of people. — AFP

May 26, 2023

Elon Musk's start-up Neuralink says it has gotten approval from US regulators to test its brain implants in people.

Neuralink says clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its first in-human clinical study is "an important first step" for its technology, which is intended to let brains interface directly with computers.

"We are excited to share that we have received the FDA's approval to launch our first-in-human clinical study," Neuralink says in a post on Musk-run Twitter.

"This is the result of incredible work by the Neuralink team in close collaboration with the FDA."

Recruitment for a clinical trial is not yet open, according to Neuralink.

The aim of Neuralink implants is to enable human brain. — AFP

May 25, 2023

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis launches his 2024 presidential campaign, vowing to lead Americans into a new era of success and fight for their freedoms -- though a planned launch event with Elon Musk was marred by glitches.

"I'm Ron DeSantis and I'm running for president to lead our great American comeback," the Republican says in a video posted to Twitter.

He released the footage moments before the scheduled start of a livestreamed Twitter chat with the platform's billionaire owner Musk, during which he was planning to make his formal announcement.

However Twitter appeared to be suffering technical issues as more than 400,000 people tried to listen in on the live discussion, and the system audio crashed repeatedly, before DeSantis eventually came on air.

"We've got just a massive number of people online, so the servers are straining somewhat," Musk could be heard saying. 

"We are reallocating server capacity to handle the load here; it is really going crazy," he continued. 

The Biden campaign was quick to capitalize on the issues, tweeting a link to a fundraising page and stating simply: "This link works." — AFP

May 24, 2023

Ron DeSantis is to announce his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination in a livestreamed Twitter chat with the platform's billionaire owner Elon Musk on Wednesday, touting his ultra-conservative record as governor of Florida as a blueprint for the nation.

DeSantis will be banking on borrowing some of the tech mogul's star power to outshine clear frontrunner Donald Trump, who has swept all before him in the early stages of the contest and is polling in greater numbers than all the other contenders combined.

"I will be interviewing Ron DeSantis and he has quite an announcement to make," Musk confirmed on Tuesday, promising the 6:00 pm (2200 GMT) event would be unscripted, with "real time questions and answers."

"It's going to be live. Let it rip," Musk told the Wall Street Journal CEO Council conference. — AFP

May 24, 2023

The top US health official issues a stark warning to parents, tech companies and regulators, saying the evidence is growing that social media use may seriously harm children.

In a lengthy advisory, US surgeon general Vivek Murthy says that while not without benefits, "there are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents."

Social media use by young people in the United States is nearly universal, with up to 95% of adolescents reporting using a social platform and more than a third saying they do so "almost constantly," according to the Department of Health and Human Services. — AFP

May 22, 2023

Facebook owner Meta has been fined a record 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) for transferring EU user data to the United States in breach of a previous court ruling, Ireland's regulator announced Monday.

The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), which acts on behalf of the European Union, said the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) had ordered it to collect "an administrative fine in the amount of 1.2 billion euros".

The DPC has been investigating Meta Ireland's transfer of personal data from the EU to the United States since 2020.

It found that Meta, which has its European headquarters in Dublin, failed to "address the risks to the fundamental rights and freedoms of data subjects" that were identified in a previous ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). — AFP

May 19, 2023

Twitter accuses Microsoft of breaking the social network's rules for developers who access the platform's data, according to a copy of a letter seen by AFP.

"Microsoft may have been in violation of multiple provisions of the Agreement for an extended period of time," read the letter signed by Musk attorney Alex Spiro and sent to Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella.

Microsoft stopped accessing Twitter data in April, opting not to pay fees Musk demanded developers pay for APIs (application programming interfaces) that engage with the platform, according to the letter. — AFP

May 18, 2023

Montana becomes the first US state to ban TikTok, with the law set to take effect next year as debate escalates over the impact and security of the popular video app.

The prohibition signed into law by Governor Greg Gianforte will serve as a legal test for a national ban of the Chinese-owned platform, something that lawmakers in Washington are increasingly calling for.

"TikTok may not operate within the territorial jurisdiction of Montana," says a copy of the freshly-minted law at the state website.  — AFP

May 17, 2023

Elon Musk says a new Twitter chief executive will let him devote more time to Tesla, but that he will continue to tweet his unfiltered thoughts even if it hurts his businesses.

"I don't care," the billionaire said during a CNBC interview when asked what he thought of his controversial tweets potentially hurting Tesla shares or making it harder to sell ads on Twitter.

"I'll say what I want to say and if the consequence of that is losing money, so be it."

Named as Musk's successor as Twitter CEO, Linda Yaccarino is a respected media and advertising executive considered a visionary by some.

"Twitter is very much an advertising business; Linda is obviously incredible at that and she's just a great executive in general," Musk says.

"Linda will operate a company and I will build products." — AFP

May 16, 2023

The US Virgin Islands subpoenaed documents from Elon Musk as part of its lawsuit against JPMorgan over the bank's knowledge of longtime client Jeffrey Epstein's sex trafficking, court documents show.

An unidentified woman and the US Virgin Islands brought separate suits against JPMorgan late last year, accusing the bank of facilitating crimes by the since-deceased Epstein by ignoring warnings and continuing to keep him as a client until 2013.

The bank has denied the allegations, and has filed its own suit against a former executive for his ties to Epstein. — AFP

May 16, 2023

ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, says it would fight allegations that it fired an executive for sounding the alarm over what he called the company's "culture of lawlessness."

Yintao Yu has sued ByteDance in a San Francisco court as political pressure has been growing in the US to ban TikTok. Critics say the popular platform allows Beijing to covertly collect users' data and influence their opinions -- something the company denies. 

"We plan to vigorously oppose what we believe are baseless claims and allegations in this complaint," a ByteDance spokesperson says in an email to AFP.

May 10, 2023

Messaging app Telegram warns that "democracy is under attack in Brazil," the latest salvo by tech companies opposed to a bill seeking to stem disinformation online.

"Brazil is about to pass a law that will end free speech," the company says in a message sent to users on Bill 2630, which has passed the Senate and is awaiting a vote in the lower house of Congress.

It claimed the bill "gives the government censorship powers without prior judicial oversight," calling it "one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation ever considered in Brazil." — AFP

May 10, 2023

Twitter boss Elon Musk put out word that audio and video calls are coming to the platform.

"Coming soon will be voice and video chat from your handle to anyone on this platform," Musk says in a tweet.

"So you can talk to people anywhere in the world without giving them your phone number." — AFP

May 3, 2023

The White House plans to meet with top executives from Google, Microsoft, OpenAI and Anthropic on Thursday to discuss the promise and risks of artificial intelligence.

Vice President Kamala Harris and other US administration officials will discuss ways to ensure consumers benefit from AI while being protected from its harms, according to a copy of an invitation seen by AFP.

US President Joe Biden expects tech companies to make sure products are safe before being released to the public, the invitation said.

US regulators last month took a step towards drawing up rules on AI that could see the White House put the brakes on new technologies such as ChatGPT. — AFP

April 27, 2023

Shares in Facebook-parent Meta surge after the internet titan reported it made a profit of $5.7 billion dollars in the first quarter of this year, beating forecasts after a massive wave of cost-cutting and layoffs.

The profit came on revenue of $28.6 billion and as the number of people using Facebook every month grew to just shy of three billion, an earnings report showed.

"We had a good quarter and our community continues to grow," said Mark Zuckerberg, Meta founder and CEO.

"We're also becoming more efficient so we can build better products faster and put ourselves in a stronger position to deliver our long term vision."  — AFP

April 26, 2023

Google parent company Alphabet beat market expectations in the first quarter of 2023 with a net profit of $15 billion, the company says, in a sign that the search engine behemoth is regaining its footing.

The tech titan has found itself under pressure due to a general slowdown in advertising spending, over-hiring during a Covid-era boom and a major challenge by Microsoft on artificial intelligence.

Its quarterly revenue came in at nearly $70 billion, a billion better than expected by analysts, and in the same three-month period that the company said it would lay off 12,000 staff, or six percent of its workforce.

Microsoft's results for the first three months of the year also pleased investors on Tuesday, lifted by its industry-leading business cloud products. — AFP

April 25, 2023

Music streaming giant Spotify on Tuesday reports that it had 515 million monthly active users as of the end of March, beating expectations, as its losses deepened.

The Swedish company also saw the number of paying subscribers grow to 210 million as it posted a first quarter operating loss of 156 million euros ($172 million), compared to an operating loss of six million euros a year earlier. — AFP

April 14, 2023

The US state of Montana is on the verge of implementing a total ban on TikTok, after a proposal passed a key hurdle in the state's legislature.

Montana's Republican-dominated lower house overwhelmingly voted for a complete ban on the popular Chinese owned app, with a final vote set for Friday before it goes to the state's governor to become law.

If signed, the law would be unprecedented and test the legal waters for a national ban of the Chinese owned app, a fate that is increasingly being called for in Washington. — AFP

April 13, 2023

Japanese tech investment titan SoftBank has decided to sell nearly all of its stake in Alibaba to limit exposure to China, the Financial Times reported Thursday.

SoftBank was an early investor in the Chinese internet giant founded by Jack Ma but began to offload its shares last year.

According to the report, SoftBank, which once owned 34% of Alibaba, has sold more than $7 billion of its shares since the start of the year through prepaid forward contracts.

Last year, it sold a record $29 billion of shares in the Chinese company, reported the FT. — AFP

April 12, 2023

Elon Musk is advancing an artificial intelligence project at Twitter despite recently calling for an overall pause in developing such technology, US media reports said Tuesday.

Musk has bought thousands of powerful, costly computing processors and hired AI engineering talent, Insider reported, while another tech-focused outlet, the Information, said the entrepreneur has floated the idea of starting a rival to ChatGPT.

Meanwhile, Musk has slashed staff at Twitter as part of dramatic cost cutting since his $44 billion takeover of the San Francisco firm late last year.

The Insider report came less than two weeks after Musk joined experts in signing a letter calling for a hiatus in the development of AI.

The open letter, published on the website of the Musk-funded Future of Life Institute, urged a six-month pause in development of powerful AI systems.

The billionaire Tesla boss and other luminaries wrote that "AI systems with human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity." — AFP

April 6, 2023

Twitter draws the anger of venerable US radio broadcaster NPR after the social media platform owned by Elon Musk tagged the news giant as a state-backed entity.

The designation of "state-affiliated media" for Washington-based National Public Radio -- a label also applied to government-owned Chinese and Russian outlets -- comes just days after Twitter stripped The New York Times of its verified status on the platform, the first sign of Musk's updated policies for news media.

Both US news organizations are often considered by conservatives as bastions of a left-leaning media establishment, a position often echoed by Musk in tweets. — AFP

April 5, 2023

Italy's competition watchdog says Wednesday it had opened an investigation against Meta, the parent company of Facebook, for allegedly abusing its dominant position during copyright negotiations with Italian music artists.

The Italian Competition Authority says it was probing Meta's "alleged abuse of economic dependence" of the Italian Society of Authors and Publishers (SIAE), the public authority charged with protecting artists' copyright in Italy. 

The SIAE had a contract with Meta that expired in December 2022. Unsuccessful renewal talks led Meta to cut off negotiations and remove SIAE's artists from all its platforms. — AFP 

April 4, 2023

Australia says it will ban TikTok on government devices, joining a growing list of Western nations cracking down on the Chinese-owned app due to national security fears.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the decision followed advice from the country's intelligence agencies and would begin "as soon as practicable". 

Australia is the last member of the secretive Five Eyes security alliance to pursue a government TikTok ban, joining its allies the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

France, the Netherlands and the European Commission have made similar moves. — AFP

March 25, 2023

Apple enjoys a "symbiotic" relationship with China, CEO Tim Cook says on Saturday, as the iPhone giant looks to move production out of the country.

Cook, who is in China to attend the high-profile China Development Forum, says "Apple and China grew together," during an interview on the role of technology in education.

"This has been a symbiotic kind of relationship that I think we both enjoyed," he says at the state-run event attended by top government officials and corporate leaders. — AFP

March 22, 2023

Search giant Baidu's lacklustre unveiling of its chatbot exposed gaps in China's race to rival ChatGPT, as censorship and a US squeeze on chip imports have hamstrung the country's artificial intelligence ambitions.

The highly anticipated preview of "Ernie Bot" last week was limited to a pre-recorded demonstration with simple questions to summarise the plot of a sci-fi novel and solving a straightforward algebra equation -- to avoid politically and factually incorrect answers. 

From cloud computing to autonomous driving, none of the array of services Baidu had earlier promised its Ernie Bot could do were on display.

The firm's shares plunged as much as 10 percent during the unveiling, although they rallied the following day on positive reviews from brokerages including Citigroup, whose analysts were among a small group of people invited to test the bot. — AFP

March 22, 2023

A shareholder lawsuit filed late Monday accuses board members of Instagram and Facebook parent Meta of shirking their duties by ignoring human and sex trafficking on the tech giant's social platforms.

The suit filed in the Court of Chancery in the US state of Delaware calls for Mark Zuckerberg, along with other executives and board members, to be ordered to institute reforms and pay damages.

Meta board members and senior executives named in the suit "turned a blind eye to sex/human trafficking, child sexual exploitation, and other predatory conduct occurring on Meta's online platforms," the suit charged.

Meta chief and controlling shareholder Zuckerberg is a primary target of the lawsuit. — AFP


March 18, 2023

The founder of Chinese technology giant Huawei says it has replaced thousands of product components banned by the United States with homegrown versions, according to a transcript of a recent speech released by a Shanghai university.

A leading supplier of telecom gear, smartphones and other advanced equipment, Huawei has been repeatedly targeted by Washington in recent years over cybersecurity and espionage concerns.

The administration of former president Donald Trump effectively barred American companies from doing business with the firm, and his successor Joe Biden has imposed further sanctions including a ban on sales of new Huawei equipment in the United States. — AFP

March 18, 2023

Twitter owner Elon Musk says that he will make public the long-secret algorithm for recommending tweets.

The code used for recommending the posts suggested to users will become "open source" at the end of March, Musk says in a tweet of his own.

"People will discover many silly things, but we'll patch issues as soon as they're found!" Musk tweets. — AFP

March 17, 2023

New Zealand will ban Chinese-owned social media app TikTok from devices issued to members of parliament, officials told AFP Friday, becoming the latest Western nation to express security fears about the platform. 

TikTok will be banned on all devices with access to the parliamentary network, Parliamentary Service chief executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero said. The ban will start from March 31.  -- AFP

March 17, 2023

Canadian private equity firm Ethical Capital Partners announced Thursday its purchase of beleaguered MindGeek which operates Pornhub, the world's biggest pornography site.

The terms of the transaction were not disclosed. 

MindGeek, which is headquartered in Luxembourg but has large offices in Montreal, has been the target of several lawsuits alleging it profited from the distribution of child pornography and nonconsensual sex videos — which it has denied.

"We are engaged with the team at MindGeek and with stakeholders, including content creators, advocates, law enforcement, civil society partners and policy makers to inform our efforts and strengthen MindGeek's secure platforms, going beyond legal and regulatory obligations," Solomon Friedman, a founding partner of Ottawa-based ECP, said in a statement.

Founded in 2004, MindGeek operates a large portfolio of adult entertainment sites, including Pornhub, YouPorn, Redtube and Men.com. — AFP

March 16, 2023

TikTok is to be banned from UK government phones, British media reports on Thursday, before an expected statement to parliament.

Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden is to address MPs later on "security of government devices", according to the parliamentary schedule.

There was no immediate confirmation but the BBC and Sky News reported that a ban of the Chinese-owned video sharing app was imminent. — AFP

March 16, 2023

TikTok confirms that US officials have recommended the popular video-sharing app part ways with its Chinese parent ByteDance to avoid a national ban.

Western powers, including the European Union and the United States, have been taking an increasingly tough approach to the app, citing fears that user data could be used or abused by Chinese officials.

"If protecting national security is the objective, calls for a ban or divestment are unnecessary, as neither option solves the broader industry issues of data access and transfer," a TikTok spokesperson tells AFP.

March 16, 2023

The US government has told China-based ByteDance to sell its shares in the blockbuster TikTok app or face a national ban, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

Western powers, including the European Union and the United States, have been taking an increasingly tough approach to the app, citing fears user data could be used or abused by Chinese officials.

Concern here ramped up earlier this year after a Chinese spy balloon was shot down in US airspace.

The White House last week welcomed a bill that would allow President Joe Biden to ban TikTok, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

A bipartisan bill "would empower the United States government to prevent certain foreign governments from exploiting technology services... in a way that poses risks to Americans' sensitive data and our national security," Sullivan said.

The Senate bill and the backing of the White House accelerated the political momentum against TikTok, which is also the target of a separate piece of legislation in the US House of Representatives. — AFP

March 4, 2023

Meta says it will modify the company's criticized special handling of posts by celebrities, politicians and other big audience Instagram or Facebook users, taking steps to avoid business interests swaying decisions.

The tech giant promises to implement in full or in part most of the 32 changes to its "cross-check" program recommended by an independent review board that it funds as a sort of top court for content or policy decisions.

"This will result in substantial changes to how we operate this system," Meta global affairs president Nick Clegg says in a blog post. — AFP

March 3, 2023

TikTok is closing in on streaming giant Netflix when it comes to the amount of time US adults spend on the platforms, according to a report released  by Insider Intelligence.

TikTok use eclipsed that of YouTube two years ago and has continued to grow faster than the Google-owned video sharing platform, particularly among US adults in their prime earning years, the report indicated.

"The amount of time US adult TikTok users spend on the app is rising quickly," the market tracker says in the report.  — AFP

March 1, 2023

The European Parliament has told staff to purge TikTok from devices used for work because of data protection concerns, after similar moves by the EU's main governing bodies last week.

The parliament's president, Roberta Metsola, and the secretary-general, Alessandro Chiocchetti, decided TikTok must not be used or installed on staff devices such as mobile phones, tablets or laptops from March 20, according to a note issued Tuesday.

"As of this date, web access to TikTok through our corporate network... will also be blocked," the parliament's directorate-general for innovation and technological support said in the note to around 8,000 of the institution's employees.

It also "strongly recommended" MEPs and their staff remove TikTok from their personal devices. — AFP

March 1, 2023

The White House says it is open to further action on curbing TikTok, as legislation to ban the Chinese-owned app in the United States began making its way through Congress.

The video-sharing service has more than a billion users worldwide including over 100 million in the US, where it has become a cultural force, especially for young people, raising alarm bells among lawmakers and in the government.

President Joe Biden's administration is out to thwart China and other countries from "seeking to leverage digital technologies and Americans' data in ways that present unacceptable national security risks," says White House principal deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton.

"We'll continue to look at other actions that we can take and that includes how to work with Congress on this issue," Dalton tells reporters aboard Air Force One. — AFP

February 28, 2023

The White House gives federal agencies 30 days to purge Chinese-owned video-snippet sharing app TikTok from all government-issued devices, setting a deadline to comply with a ban ordered by the US Congress.

Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young in a memorandum called on government agencies within 30 days to "remove and disallow installations" of the application on agency-owned or operated IT devices, and to "prohibit internet traffic" from such devices to the app. — AFP

February 28, 2023

The Canadian government has banned TikTok from all of its phones and other devices, citing concerns about data protection.

TikTok, whose parent company ByteDance is Chinese, has faced increasing Western scrutiny in recent months over fears about how much access Beijing has to user data.

Effective Tuesday, "the TikTok application will be removed from government-issued mobile devices. Users of these devices will also be blocked from downloading the application in the future," the government says in a statement.

It adds that Canada's chief information officer had "determined that it presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security." — AFP

February 24, 2023

Facebook and Instagram began a week-long rollout of their first paid verification service on Friday, testing users' willingness to pay for social media features that until now have been free.

Facing a drop in advertising revenues, parent company Meta is piloting a subscription in Australia and New Zealand before it appears in larger markets. The service will cost US$11.99 on the web and US$14.99 on the iOS and Android mobile platforms.

From Friday, subscribers Down Under who provide government-issued IDs can start applying for a verified badge, offering protection against impersonation, direct access to customer support and more visibility, according to the company. 

"We'll be gradually rolling out access to Meta Verified on Facebook and Instagram and expect to reach 100 percent availability within the first 7 days of the rollout," a Meta spokesperson told AFP. — AFP

February 21, 2023

The US Supreme Court on Tuesday will consider a law that since 1996 has protected tech companies from lawsuits related to content posted on their platforms. 

The nine justices will examine a case related to the November 2015 attacks in Paris and their ruling, expected by June 30, could have huge repercussions for the future of the internet.

The case stems from a complaint against Google filed by the relatives of Nohemi Gonzalez, one of the 130 victims of the attacks in the French capital. 

The US citizen was studying in France and was murdered at the Belle Equipe bar by attackers from the Islamic State group. — AFP

February 19, 2023

The US Supreme Court this week examines a quarter-century-old law that has protected tech companies from lawsuits and prosecution for content posted by their users, with a chance that the rules governing the internet will no longer stand.

Enacted when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was just 11 years old and Google’s creation still two years off, Section 230 is seen as a fundamental law of the internet and considered inviolable by its staunch defenders.

Section 230 was part of the Communication Decency Act, an anti-pornography law signed in 1996, that helped set the rules of the road for the internet, which was still in its infancy as an online playground for all.

The idea was to protect the then embryonic internet sector from cascading lawsuits and to allow it to flourish, while encouraging tech companies to moderate their content.

At the time most of the attention went on limits put on sexual content, a part of the bill that was backed by then president Bill Clinton and that was later struck down by the Supreme Court in a landmark case. — AFP

February 19, 2023

ChatGPT, Silicon Valley's latest app sensation, has investors rushing to find the next big thing in generative AI, the technology that some hail as the beginning of a new era in big tech.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been increasingly present in everyday life for decades, but the November launch of the conversational robot from start-up OpenAI marked a turning point in its perception by the general public and investors.

"Every so often we have platforms that come along and result in an explosion of new companies. We saw this with the internet and mobile, and AI could be the next platform," says Shernaz Daver of California-based Khosla Ventures.

Generative AI, of which ChatGPT is an example, wades through oceans of data to conjure up original content - an image, a poem, a thousand-word essay - in seconds and upon a simple request.

Since its discrete release in late November, ChatGPT has become one of the fastest-growing apps ever and pushed Microsoft and Google to rush out projects that had until now stayed carefully guarded over fears that the technology wasn't yet ready for the public. — AFP

February 17, 2023

Social media platform TikTok, famed for bite-size videos of pranks and dances, says it was working hard to comply with EU rules after the bloc's leaders demanded greater efforts from the firm.

TikTok, whose parent company ByteDance is Chinese, is already facing calls for a ban in the US over its links with Beijing, and is now under fierce scrutiny in the European Union.

The bloc's top officials recently accused the platform of failing to deal with problems related to data, copyright and access to harmful content.

TikTok says in a statement that it had bolstered its staff working on compliance, and promised to host the data of European users in Ireland. — AFP

February 16, 2023

Dancing to Iraqi pop made TikTok personality Om Fahad a hit among tens of thousands of followers, but now she is in prison, caught up in a state campaign targeting "decadent content".

The young Iraqi woman using that pseudonym was sentenced early this month to half a year behind bars for the light-hearted video clips that show her in tight-fitting clothes.

A new government campaign aims to cleanse social media platforms of content that breaches Iraqi "mores and traditions", the interior ministry announced in January.

A specialised committee now scours TikTok, YouTube and other popular platforms for clips deemed offensive by many in the largely conservative and patriarchal society.

"This type of content is no less dangerous than organised crime," the ministry declared in a promotional video that asked the public to help by reporting such content.

"It is one of the causes of the destruction of the Iraqi family and society."

Days after Om Fahad's sentencing, another TikTok influencer who goes by the online name of Assal Hossam received an even harsher sentence of two years in prison. — AFP

February 16, 2023

Microsoft's fledgling Bing chatbot can go off the rails at times, denying obvious facts and chiding users, according to exchanges being shared online by developers testing the AI creation.

A forum at Reddit devoted to the artificial intelligence-enhanced version of the Bing search engine was rife on Wednesday with tales of being scolded, lied to, or blatantly confused in conversation-style exchanges with the bot.

The Bing chatbot was designed by Microsoft and the start-up OpenAI, which has been causing a sensation since the November launch of ChatGPT, the headline-grabbing app capable of generating all sorts of texts in seconds upon a simple request. — AFP

February 15, 2023

For the first time ever, US adults will spend more time this year watching digital video on platforms such as Netflix, TikTok and YouTube than viewing traditional television, Insider Intelligence forecast on Wednesday.

In the historic first, the market tracker expects "linear TV" to account for less than half of daily viewing, dropping to under three hours while average daily digital video watching climbs to 52.3 percent with 3 hours and 11 minutes.

"This milestone is driven by people spending more and more time watching video on their biggest and smallest screens, whether it's an immersive drama on a connected TV or a viral clip on a smartphone," Insider Intelligence principal analyst Paul Verna said in a release.

"Given teens' preferences for social and streaming video over TV, we can expect these trends to continue to shift in favor of digital."

Netflix and YouTube are "neck and neck" leaders when it comes to digital video audience attention, with US adults tuning in for about 33 minutes daily on average at each platform, according to Insider Intelligence.

-- AFP

February 12, 2023

Users of the Replika "virtual companion" just wanted company. Some of them wanted romantic relationships, sex chat, or even racy pictures of their chatbot.

But late last year users started to complain that the bot was coming on too strong with explicit texts and images -- sexual harassment, some alleged. 

Regulators in Italy did not like what they saw and last week barred the firm from gathering data after finding breaches of Europe's massive data protection law, the GDPR.

The company behind Replika has not publicly commented and did not reply to AFP's messages.

The General Data Protection Regulation is the bane of big tech firms, whose repeated rule breaches have landed them with billions of dollars in fines, and the Italian decision suggests it could still be a potent foe for the latest generation of chatbots. -- AFP

February 9, 2023

Thousands of Twitter users report problems using the platform as the Elon Musk-owned social network began letting paying users post tweets as long as 4,000 characters.

"Twitter may not be working as expected for some of you," the company says in a tweet.

"Sorry for the trouble. We're aware and working to get this fixed." — AFP

February 9, 2023

Google announces a slew of features powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), but a mistake in an ad caused its share price to tank.

The search engine giant is rushing into the space after the bot ChatGPT caught the imagination of web users around the world with its ability to generate essays, speeches and even exam papers in seconds.

Microsoft has announced a multibillion-dollar partnership with ChatGPT maker OpenAI and unveiled new products on Tuesday, while Google tried to steal the march a day earlier by announcing its "Bard" alternative.

The bots are quickly being integrated into search engines and Google is battling to preserve its two-decade dominance of the web search industry.

But astronomers on Twitter quickly noticed that Google's Bard had given out an error in an ad on Twitter touting its new technology. — AFP

February 7, 2023

Google says it will release a conversational chatbot named Bard, setting up an artificial intelligence showdown with Microsoft which has invested billions in the creators of ChatGPT, the hugely popular language app that convincingly mimics human writing.

ChatGPT, created by San Francisco company OpenAI, has caused a sensation for its ability to write essays, poems or programming code on demand within seconds, sparking widespread fears of cheating or of entire professions becoming obsolete.

Microsoft announced last month that it was backing OpenAI and has begun to integrate ChatGPT features into its Teams platform, with expectations that it will adapt the app to its Office suite and Bing search engine.

The potential inclusion in Bing turned the focus on Google and speculation that the company's world-dominating search engine could face unprecedented competition from an AI-powered rival.

Media reports said the overnight success of ChatGPT was designated a "code red" threat at Google with founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page -- who left several years ago -- brought back to brainstorm ideas and fast-track a response. — AFP

February 3, 2023

Google and Apple report downbeat results for the last quarter of 2022 as Amazon beat expectations, but warn that the coming months would be uncertain in a difficult moment for Big Tech.

The world's biggest tech companies posted their earnings as shares in Meta skyrocketed a day after it reported better results than expected and signaled spending and job cuts.

The results follow several weeks of unprecedented layoff rounds in the usually unassailable tech sector amid pessimism about the economic outlook. — AFP

February 2, 2023

Facebook and Instagram owner Meta reports its first annual sales drop since the company went public in 2012, but the fall was less brutal than expected, sending its share price soaring.

The social media giant says sales dropped one percent to $116.6 billion in 2022, while it also announces that the number of daily users on Facebook hit two billion for the first time.

CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg points to the success of improved algorithms on Meta's video Reels service, that was delivering short clips more efficiently to users on Facebook and Instagram.

Meta competes fiercely with TikTok, the Chinese owned video-sharing platform that has proved a formidable rival in attracting young users away from once-dominant Instagram.

"The number of people daily using Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp is the highest it's ever been," Zuckerberg says in an earnings call. — AFP

January 25, 2023

The US Justice Department has sued Googlefor its dominance of the online advertising market, launching a fresh legal battle against the California-based tech giant.

The case was the second federal lawsuit against Google over alleged antitrust violations and the first since US President Joe Biden took office two years ago.

The earlier case targeted Google's world-dominating search engine and is expected to go to trial later this year.

In this latest suit, prosecutors took aim at Google's extremely profitable advertising business, asking that it be broken up to level the playing field for other companies.

Google's ad dealings generated more than $200 billion in sales in 2021 and is parent company Alphabet's biggest moneymaker by a wide margin. — AFP

January 22, 2023

Twitter boss Elon Musk announced in a series of tweets Saturday that the company's subscription service would show less advertising to users, including an ad-free tier. 

The announcement comes as the social network has faced major economic uncertainty since its takeover by Musk in October. 

"Ads are too frequent on Twitter and too big. Taking steps to address both in coming weeks," Musk posted to his Twitter account Saturday.

And for those who choose it, "there will be a higher priced subscription that allows zero ads," Musk added. -- AFP

Follow this thread for updates on tech and social media companies in 2023.

Photo: Journalists, fact-checkers and researches attend the Google Trusted Media Summit in 2022

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