All posts by JenThorpe

Facebook’s Acquisition of GIPHY Questioned by Several Authorities



The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating Facebook’s acquisition of GIPHY. The CMA is considering whether that transaction has resulted in the creation of a relevant merger situation under the merger provisions of the Enterprise Act 2002. If so, then the merger may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition within any market or markets in the United Kingdom for goods and services.

As you may recall, GIPHY was acquired by Facebook in May of 2020. At the time, Facebook stated that 50% of GIPHY’s traffic already came from Facebook’s family of apps, with half of that amount coming from Instagram alone.

Reuters reported that Facebook is now pausing the integration of GIPHY.

Reuters also reported that the CMA served Facebook with an initial enforcement order earlier this week and began the first stage of an investigation on Friday. That part of the investigation invites comments on the merger of Facebook and GIPHY from any interested party.

Politico reported that the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission are also seeking to review the Facebook/GIPHY merger. It appears each wants to determine for themselves whether this merger should be allowed to go forward. The two agencies have not yet resolved a dispute over which of them should take on the task, according to Politico.

Earlier this month, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) began an investigation of Facebook’s acquisition of GIPHY.

The ACCC is considering whether the acquisition:

  • provides Facebook with data that will strengthen its market power in any markets
  • provides Facebook with data about its social media and online private messaging rivals, that may lead to a substantial lessening of completion
  • could lead to the foreclosure of Facebook’s social media and online private messaging rivals

Twitter Removed Inauthentic Networks of Accounts



Twitter disclosed 32,242 accounts to their archives of state-linked information operations. The account sets recently published to the archives include three distinct operations that Twitter has attributed to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia, and Turkey.

Twitter states that every account and piece of content associate with these operations has been permanently removed from the service.

According to Twitter, the PRC disclosure relates to two interconnected sets of accounts. One set has 23,750 accounts that comprise the core of the network. They had low follower accounts and low engagement.

The other set had approximately 150,000 amplifier accounts, designed to boost the things the first group posted. The core group of accounts were caught early and failed to receive consider traction on Twitter. The majority of the 150,000 amplifier accounts had little to no follower counts and were strategically designed to artificially inflate impression metrics and engage with the core accounts.

These groups predominantly tweeted in Chinese languages and spread geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China (CCP). They also posted deceptive narratives about the political dynamics of Hong Kong.

The Russia network of 1,152 accounts were suspended for violations of Twitter’s platform manipulation policy, specifically for cross-posting and amplifying content in an inauthentic, coordinated manner for political ends. These accounts promoted the United Russia Party and attacked political dissidents.

The Turkey network of 7,340 accounts were suspended for inauthentic activity, primarily targeted at domestic accounts in Turkey. It was a collection of fake and compromised accounts that were used to amplify political narratives favorable to the AK Parti, and demonstrated support for President Erdogan.

Personally, I think Twitter is making a good start with these efforts – but it could still do more. It would be good for Twitter to look into networks of inauthentic accounts that tweet in English, and that are politically motivated. One of the things that bothers me about Twitter is the plethora of inauthentic accounts that clutter up the place.


Twitch Streamers are Struggling with DMCA Takedowns



Twitch streamers have recently been facing takedowns under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). According to The Verge, he claimant was the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It appears that the RIAA is going after clips, some of which may have been created several years ago.

It appears that Twitch was taken by surprise by the takedown requests. Twitch Support tweeted: “This week, we’ve had a sudden influx of DMCA takedown requests for clips with background music from 2017-19. If you’re unsure about rights to audio in past streams, we advise removing those clips. We know many of you have large archives, and we’re working to make this easier.”

Twitch also tweeted: “This is the first time we have received mass DMCA claims against clips.” A third tweet included a link to Twitch’s Music Guidelines. Part of those guidelines state: You may not include music you do not own in your Twitch streams or VOD’s (Past Broadcasts, Past Premieres, Highlights, Clips and Uploads).

One option for streamers who don’t want to get hit with a DMCA claim is to delete clips that include music that they do not own the rights to. The problem is that Twitch doesn’t make it easy for streamers to delete clips. Streamers who have been streaming for years, and who have active fans, could have a huge amount of clips to dig through. It becomes a race between how fast Twitch’s system allows for deletion, and the rate at which DMCA notices arrive at Twitch.

This could result in some streamers quickly racking up DMCA notices faster than they can do anything about them. Your favorite streamers might end up banned as a result. It seems unfair, considering that Twitch itself didn’t foresee the speed at which the DMCA notices would start arriving.

The best advice I have for streamers is to stop playing music until this whole mess gets sorted out. You might also want to ask your fans to stop making clips.


Google Faces $5 Billion Lawsuit for Invading Privacy of Users



Google users might be surprised to learn that “private” mode doesn’t actually mean that Google won’t track your internet use. Reuters reported that there is a proposed class action lawsuit against Alphabet Inc. that is seeking at least $5 billion. The lawsuit alleges that Google has been illegally invading the privacy of millions by tracking their internet use through browsers set in “private” mode.

The case is Brown et al v Google LLC et al, which was filed in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. I tried to find more information about this lawsuit, but could not find anything. Typically, a controversial lawsuit, that has the potential to affect many people, is embedded somewhere online. This one does not appear to be.

Google calls their private mode “incognito mode”. It would be reasonable to presume that a private mode would enable users to find information that they would not be comfortable having Google know about. For example, people might choose to look up “intimate and potentially embarrassing things” (as the lawsuit states) in Incognito mode, believing that Google would not track it.

According to the complaint filed in the federal court in San Jose, California, Google gathers data through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager, and other applications and website plug-ins, including smartphone apps, regardless of whether users click on Google-supported ads.

Google spokesman Jose Castaneda told Reuters: “As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity”. As you may have guessed, Google intends to defend itself vigorously against the claims in the lawsuit.

If this situation troubles you, there are other options. Some people prefer to use more ethical search engines such as Duck Duck Go, or Ecosia (which plants a tree for every search). Mozilla’s Firefox has the capability of blocking certain types of trackers. Keep in mind, though, that nothing on the internet is 100% private.

The lawsuit seeks at least $5,000 of damages per user for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws. It will be very interesting to see if this case gets anywhere. Whenever a gigantic company is the defendant in a lawsuit, I have concerns that the case will disappear before a court can hear it.


Snapchat will Stop Promoting Trump’s Account in Discover



Snapchat posted a long post titled: “We Stand Together”. It is well worth reading. It discusses racial inequality in the United States, why change hasn’t happened, and more. The part of the post that appears to be getting the most attention is the portion that mentions Snapchat’s decision to no longer promote President Trump’s account in its Discover tab.

…As for Snapchat, we simply cannot promote accounts in America that are linked to people who incite racial violence, whether they do so on or off our platform. Our Discover content platform is a curated platform, where we decide what we promote. We have spoken time and again about working hard to make a positive impact, and we will walk the talk with the content we promote on Snapchat. We may continue to allow divisive people to maintain an account on Snapchat, as long as the content that is published on Snapchat is consistent with our community guidelines, but we will not promote that account or content in any way…

The Verge received a statement from Snapchat that said: “We are not currently promoting the president’s content in Snapchat’s Discover platform. We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them a platform on Discover. Racial violence and injustice have no place in our society and we stand together with all who seek peace, love, equality, and justice in America.”

To be clear, Snapchat has not taken President Trump’s account down. Snapchat users can still view the content on that account if they choose to do so. The only difference is that Trump’s content on Snapchat will no longer appear in the Discover tab.

The Guardian reported that Snapchat’s decision regarding Trump’s Snapchat account “will likely increase pressure on the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has come under intense criticism from civil rights leaders and Facebook employees over his decision to allow Trump’s threat that “when the looting starts the shooting starts” remain on the platform.”

Personally, I’m very confused about why the President of the United States, who is frequently on television, and written about in a wide variety of news outlets around the world, feels that he needs to be the focus of every social media platform as well. Neither Twitter nor Snapchat have removed his accounts. They simply are requiring him to adhere to the rules of their platforms.


Zoom Limits End-To-End Encryption to Paid Users



Those of you who are using Zoom, on a free account, might want to stop doing that. According to The Next Web, Zoom calls made by people who have free accounts won’t be encrypted. The end-to-end encryption is only for paid users.

Bloomberg reported that Zoom’s sales “soared” in the three months that ended on April 30, 2020. This happened due to a wave of stay-at-home orders put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Those who suddenly found themselves working from home, and students whose schools shifted to virtual learning, started using Zoom. Clearly, Zoom has the money to add end-to-end encryption for all users.

Choosing not to do that is strange, especially since children use Zoom to access education. Churches and groups that focus on therapy and/or addiction have also used Zoom for meetings.

We’ve all heard about “Zoom-bombing”, which got so bad that the U.S. Department of Justice warned that “Zoom-bombing” can result in fines or imprisonment. That is a problem, but I don’t see how cutting off free users from end-to-end encryption will solve it.

The Next Web reported a quote from Zoom CEO Eric Yuan. “Free users, for sure, we don’t want to give that [end-to-end encryption]. Because we want to work it together with the FBI and local law enforcement, in case some people use Zoom for bad purpose.”

Alex Stamos, whom The Next Web identified as a security consultant for Zoom, tweeted: “Zoom is dealing with some serious issues. When people disrupt meetings (sometimes with hate speech, CSAM, exposure to children and other illegal behaviors) that can be reported by the host. Zoom is working with law enforcement on the worst repeat offenders.”

From this, it sounds like Zoom believes that free users cause shenanigans. But, that paints all free users with the same brush, and that’s not acceptable. I think Zoom will lose customers over this decision. I don’t think parents of kids who use Zoom for school, people who attend church through Zoom, or those who access self-help meetings on Zoom, will feel comfortable having law enforcement monitoring their Zoom calls.


Mark Zuckerberg Defended Leaving Up Trump’s Posts



Facebook and Twitter are very different social media platforms. Recently, the differences have become vividly clear, as we see how each platform chooses how they will respond to controversial content posted by President Trump.

The Verge obtained a recording of an extended conference with employees in which Mark Zuckerberg addressed accusations that Facebook allowed election misinformation and veiled promotions of violence from President Trump. According to The Verge, Mark Zuckerberg stood by what he described as a “pretty thorough” evaluation of Trump’s posts. Zuckerberg reportedly said that the choice to avoid labeling them or removing them was difficult but correct.

As you may have heard, Twitter added a fact-check to two of President Trump’s tweets about mail-in ballots. Twitter also flagged another tweet made by President Trump because it violated Twitter’s rules about glorifying violence. It should be noted that all three of those tweets are still on Twitter. Those who want to read them can simply click a link to view them.

There has been some pushback. President Trump issued an executive order that some see as intended to curtail free speech on Twitter’s platform. Personally, I think that President Trump should have read Twitter’s policies about what is, and is not, allowed on their platform. If he had done that, and acted accordingly, there would be no need for that executive order.

The Guardian reported that Facebook staff held a virtual walkout to show their disagreement with Mark Zuckerberg’s decision regarding posts by President Trump. Some took to Twitter to express their displeasure. Facebook Software Engineer Timothy J. Aveni, resigned in response to Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to leave up Trump’s post that called for violence. The Hill reported that Owen Anderson, another Facebook employee, announced his departure from the company on Twitter.

Overall, I think that people who are fans of President Trump are going to take his side of the situation no matter what. Those who dislike Facebook and/or Mark Zuckerberg’s decision making process, might choose to leave that platform. Those angry with Twitter may quit that platform. None of this is going to lead to healthier versions of either Facebook or Twitter, and I miss the days before the politicians invaded social media.