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TikTok agrees $92m deal to settle US privacy lawsuits

Media|Americas|: San Francisco: TikTok has agreed to pay $92 million in a deal to settle a cluster of US class-action lawsuits accusing the video-snippet sharing platform of invading the privacy of young users. A legal filing Friday in federal court in the state of Illinois urged a judge to approve the settlement, which includes TikTok being more transparent about data gathering and better training employees about user privacy. The litigation combined 21 class-action cases taking aim at TikTok and its China-based parent company ByteDance. "The TikTok app infiltrates its users' devices and extracts a broad array of private data including biometric data and content that defendants use to track and profile TikTok users for the purpose of, among other things, ad targeting and profit," Illinois attorneys said in a filing. Attorneys estimated in a filing that the settlement would apply to 89 million TikTok users in the United States, with most of them eligible for pay-outs of 96 cents each if they all filed claims for settlement money. TikTok software identified users' faces to let people apply special effects to videos, but also gleaned insights about age, gender and race for content recommendation and other features, legal filings contended. Attorneys also accused TikTok of sending or storing data in China where its parent company is based. TikTok has denied any misuse of data, saying it only uses anonymous markers to detect where faces are and left that data on users' devices, according to legal paperwork. Attorneys told the judge that ByteDance had been motivated to settle due to pressure by US officials to sell TikTok. The administration of US President Joe Biden has reportedly shelved a plan by his predecessor Donald Trump to require the sale of TikTok to US tech giant Oracle with Walmart as a retail partner. Trump had aimed executive orders at TikTok and other Chinese online services allegedly posing security risks because of ties to the Beijing government. A Trump administration move to ban downloads of TikTok had been stalled amid legal challenges. TikTok, the wildly popular app with an estimated 100 million US users, has repeatedly defended itself against allegations of data transfers to the Chinese government, saying it stores user information on servers in the United States and Singapore. Early last year, Facebook agreed to pay $550 million to settle a suit accusing it of gathering facial recognition data in violation of an Illinois privacy law.

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Judge in Google case disturbed that even 'Incognito' users are tracked

Media|Business|: When Google users browse in "Incognito" mode, just how hidden is their activity? The Alphabet Inc. unit says activating the stealth mode in Chrome, or "private browsing" in other browsers, means the company won't "remember your activity." But a judge with a history of taking Silicon Valley giants to task about their data collection raised doubts Thursday about whether Google is being as forthright as it needs to be about the personal information it's collecting from users. At a hearing Thursday in San Jose, California, US District Judge Lucy Koh said she's "disturbed" by Google's data collection practices as described in a class-action lawsuit that says the company's private browsing promises is a "ruse." The suit seeks $5,000 in damages for each of the millions of people whose privacy has been compromised since June of 2016. Weighing Google's attempt to get the suit dismissed, Koh said she finds it "unusual" that the company would make the "extra effort" of data collection if it doesn't use the information to build user profiles or targeted advertising. Google has become a target antitrust complaints in the last year filed by state and federal officials - as well as businesses - accusing it of abusing its dominance in digital advertising and online search. Koh has a deeper history with the company as a vocal critic of its privacy policies. She forced Google in one notable case to disclose its scanning of emails to build profiles and target advertising. In this case, Google is accused of relying on pieces of its code within websites that use its analytics and advertising services to scrape users' supposedly private browsing history and send copies of it to Google's servers. Google makes it seem like private browsing mode gives users more control of their data, Amanda Bonn, a lawyer representing users, told Koh. In reality, "Google is saying there's basically very little you can do to prevent us from collecting your data, and that's what you should assume we're doing," Bonn said. Company disclosure Google argues that every time people use Chrome's private browsing mode, a full-page notice makes clear that other people who use the device won't see their activity - but that it may still be visible to, among others, websites they visit and their internet service provider. Andrew Schapiro, a lawyer for Google, said the company's privacy policy "expressly discloses" its practices. "The data collection at issue is disclosed," he said. Another lawyer for Google, Stephen Broome, said website owners who contract with the company to use its analytics or other services are well aware of the data collection described in the suit. Broome's attempt to downplay the privacy concerns by pointing out that the federal court system's own website uses Google services ended up backfiring. The judge demanded an explanation "about what exactly Google does," while voicing concern that visitors to the court's website are unwittingly disclosing information to the company. "I want a declaration from Google on what information they're collecting on users to the court's website, and what that's used for," Koh told the company's lawyers.The case is Brown v. Google, 20-cv-03664, US District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

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Facebook restores news for Australian users after media bargaining deal

Technology|Oceania|: Sydney: Facebook on Friday restored access to news for its Australian users after reaching agreement with the government on a landmark law requiring it and other tech firms to pay for journalistic content. The Facebook pages of Australian news outlets were able to update from early Friday morning for the first time in a week, since the social media slapped a ban on news content being seen Down Under in a dispute over the law which was adopted Thursday. Facebook and Google, the two companies targeted by the regulation, strongly objected to clauses requiring them to submit to mandatory arbitration over the amount they would have to pay local media to show Australian news on their platforms and search results. To avoid being hit by the arbitration, Google negotiated multi-million dollar content licensing deals with a host of Australian companies, and notably the country's two biggest news organisations: Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and Nine Entertainment. Facebook, which relies less on news in its business model, responded on February 18 by blocking access to Australian news for all its users. The move also hit many non-media Facebook pages, including for governmental emergency services, health organisations and charities, prompting widespread outrage. Facebook eventually followed Google in agreeing to negotiate paid arrangements with Australian media, leading the government to water down the arbitration requirements in the so-called News Media Bargaining Code. In announcing the end of its news blackout, Facebook said it "looks forward to continuing to work with the industry to find the best ways to support news." The firm also announced possible deals with three independent media companies Private Media, Schwartz Media and Solstice Media. The agreements marked a new foray into content payment for Facebook and Google, who became two of the world's largest and most profitable companies largely by organising, curating and indexing others' content cost-free. Facebook and Google have each said they will invest around US$1 billion in news around the world over the next three years. Google will pay for news content that appears on its "Showcase" product and Facebook is expected to pay providers who appear on its "News" feature, which is to be rolled out in Australia later this year.

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Twitter considers charging users for special content, in revenue push

Technology|: San Francisco: Twitter said Thursday it plans to offer a subscription service in which users would pay for special content from high-profile accounts, part of an economic model to diversify its revenue. The globally popular social media platform announced the potential new Super Follows service at its annual investor meeting, as it searches for new revenue streams beyond targeted advertising. "Exploring audience funding opportunities like Super Follows will allow creators and publishers to be directly supported by their audience and will incentivize them to continue creating content that their audience loves," a Twitter spokesperson told AFP. Top Twitter executives discussed Super Follows while outlining goals and plans for the near future during the streamed presentation. "We are examining and rethinking the incentives of our service - the behaviors that our product features encourage and discourage as people participate in conversation on Twitter," the spokesperson said. Super Follows was described during the presentation as a way for Twitter audiences to financially support creators and receive newsletters, exclusive content and even virtual badges in exchange. Twitter, which currently makes money from ads and promoted posts, might be able to add additional revenue via the Super Follows transactions. Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi was not convinced people will be inclined to pay for special content on Twitter. Such a model makes sense for content on platforms like YouTube, where hours of craftsmanship might be devoted to producing entertaining videos, but it is debatable whether the same could be said for tweets on Twitter, she said. No timeline was given for when Super Follows might become a feature, but it is expected that the tech giant will make further announcements in the coming months. Building communitiesTwitter considers charging users for special content, in revenue push Twitter is also considering allowing users to join communities devoted to topics via a feature seemingly similar to Facebook's "groups." Twitter aims to reach a milestone of 315 million "monetizable" users in 2023, a steep increase from the 192 million it had at the end of last year, according to a filing with US financial markets regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission. The San Francisco-based firm defined monetizable users as people who log in daily and can be shown ads. Twitter, like Google and Facebook, makes most of its money from digital advertising. The company said it is aiming for $7.5 billion in revenue in 2023, more than double the $3.7 billion it took in last year. Twitter also plans to double "development velocity," meaning the number of new features it releases per employee to get people to engage more with the service. Apple bite? Twitter revenue product lead Bruce Falck told analysts that the tech company was mindful of a potential crimp in revenue that could be caused by new privacy labels Apple is mandating for apps on its mobile devices. App makers are concerned that the labels will discourage users from allowing collection of data used to more effectively target ads. "It's still too early to tell exactly how this will impact the industry, but it will be felt by the entire industry," Falck said, adding that Twitter was innovating to soften the blow. Twitter's plan to boost revenue also includes getting more involved in online commerce. "Imagine easily discovering and quickly purchasing a new skincare product, or trendy sneaker from a brand new follow with only a few clicks," a Twitter executive told analysts. An area where Twitter is additionally looking to make money is Fleets, a recently added feature where posts and conversations vanish after a day.