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Google suspends ‘free speech’ app Parler

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Google has suspended “free speech” social network Parler from its Play Store over its failure to remove “egregious content”.

Parler styles itself as “unbiased” social media and has proved popular with people banned from Twitter.

But Google said the app had failed to remove posts inciting violence.

Apple has also warned Parler it will remove the app from its App Store if it does not comply with its content-moderation requirements.

On Parler, the app’s chief executive John Matze said: “We won’t cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!”

Launched in 2018, Parler has proved particularly popular among supporters of US President Donald Trump and right-wing conservatives. Such groups have frequently accused Twitter and Facebook of unfairly censoring their views.

While Mr Trump himself is not a user, the platform already features several high-profile contributors following earlier bursts of growth in 2020.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz boasts 4.9 million followers on the platform, while Fox News host Sean Hannity has about seven million.

It briefly became the most-downloaded app in the United States after the US election, following a clampdown on the spread of election misinformation by Twitter and Facebook.

However, both Apple and Google have said the app fails to comply with content-moderation requirements.

Analysis: Necessary or draconian action?

By Shayan Sardarizadeh, BBC Monitoring

For months, Parler has been one of the most popular social media platforms for right-wing users.

As major platforms began taking action against viral conspiracy theories, disinformation and the harassment of election workers and officials in the aftermath of the US presidential vote, the app became more popular with elements of the fringe far-right.

This turned the network into a right-wing echo chamber, almost entirely populated by users fixated on revealing examples of election fraud and posting messages in support of attempts to overturn the election outcome.

In the days preceding the Capitol riots, the tone of discussion on the app became significantly more violent, with some users openly discussing ways to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory by Congress.

Unsubstantiated allegations and defamatory claims against a number of senior US figures such as Chief Justice John Roberts and Vice-President Mike Pence were rife on the app.

Google and Apple say they are taking necessary action to ensure violent rhetoric is not promoted on their platforms.

However, to those increasingly concerned about freedom of speech and expression on online platforms, it represents another example of draconian action by major tech companies which threatens internet freedom.

This is a debate which is certain to continue beyond the Trump presidency.

In a statement, Google confirmed it had suspended Parler from its Play Store, saying: “Our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence.

“In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.”

Apple has warned Parler it will be removed from the App Store on Saturday in a letter published by Buzzfeed News.

It said it had seen “accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate” the attacks on the US Capitol on 6 January.

Mr Matze said Parler had “no way to organise anything” and pointed out that Facebook groups and events had been used to organise action.

But Apple said: “Our investigation has found that Parler is not effectively moderating and removing content that encourages illegal activity and poses a serious risk to the health and safety of users in direct violation of your own terms of service.”

“We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content.”

In a related development, Google has kicked Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast off YouTube, saying it had repeatedly violated the platform’s rules.

The ex-White House aide’s channel had more than 300,000 subscribers.

“In accordance with our strikes system, we have terminated Steve Bannon’s channel ‘War room’ and one associated channel for repeatedly violating our Community Guidelines,” Google said in a statement.

“Any channel posting new videos with misleading content that alleges widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential election in violation of our policies will receive a strike, a penalty which temporarily restricts uploading or live-streaming. Channels that receive three strikes in the same 90-day period will be permanently removed from YouTube.”

The action was taken shortly after the channel posted an interview with Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in which he blamed the Democrats for the rioting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

One anti-misinformation group said the action was long overdue after “months of Steve Bannon calling for revolution and violence”.

“The truth is YouTube should have taken down Steve Bannon’s account a long time ago and they shouldn’t rely on the labour of extremism researchers to moderate the content on their platform,” said Madeline Peltz, Senior Researcher at Media Matters for America.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55598887

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Twitter Blue subscription service launches in Australia and Canada

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Twitter is launching its new subscription service, Twitter Blue, in Australia and Canada on Thursday.

The paid-for extra service will add features such as an “undo tweet” button, bookmarks, and a reader mode, Twitter said.

The limited launch is designed to “gain a deeper understanding” of what customers are looking for.

But the company also said the free-to-use version of the platform would also remain.

“We’ve heard from the people that use Twitter a lot, and we mean a lot, that we don’t always build power features that meet their needs,” the company said in a statement.

“We took this feedback to heart, and are developing and iterating upon a solution that will give the people who use Twitter the most what they are looking for: access to exclusive features and perks that will take their experience on Twitter to the next level.”

Twitter said the new subscription was not designed to undermine the free experience, but to offer “enhanced and complementary” features “for those who want it”.

It will cost $3.49 in Canadian dollars and $4.49 in Australian dollars per month, Twitter said.

No date has been announced for other countries, but previous listings in mobile app stores have suggested it will eventually cost $2.99 in the US and £2.49 in the UK.

Blue perks

Twitter said subscribers will get “perks” – giving examples such as customisable app icons for phone home screens and what it calls “fun colour themes” for the app.

But they will also have access to a “dedicated” customer support, the company says.

The additional features that Twitter says were inspired by user requests include:

  • Bookmark folders, designed to help users organise saved tweets more easily
  • Undo tweet, which will let users set a timer of up to 30 seconds after posting before it appears publicly – to allow quick correction of obvious mistakes
  • Reader mode, which turns long threads of tweets into easier-to-read text

“We will be listening to feedback and building out even more features and perks for our subscribers over time,” it said.

It does not, however, include verification in the form of a “blue tick” on a user profile, which cannot be bought.

Twitter recently re-opened its verification applications for the fist time in years, but was forced to shutter the programme for a few days after just a week of accepting them, because it was inundated with requests.

Twitter made no secret of plans to charge its top users a small fee for some extra perks – but it’s only dipping its wing in the water for now.

The much-asked-for undo tweet button is undoubtedly top of the list, for all of us who’ve ever had a screamer of a typo, or – even worse – accidentally tweeted something we meant to search for.

But other features are squarely targeted at the Twitterati elite.

When Twitter bought web reader firm Scroll in May, it made a big deal about Twitter being for news and discussion. Bookmarks and the reader feature for long threads are firmly targeted there.

And for good reason.

Twitter’s growth in active users has slowed in recent years – a potential problem for any social network, where perceived value is often based on numbers. Twitter has never had the users that Facebook has – it boasts hundreds of millions, but not billions.

But many of its biggest users are media personalities, politicians, and business leaders – the type of people for whom a small monthly fee might not be too much to ask.

This is new territory. Unfounded rumours that Facebook might one day ask for a fee have led to digital panic in the past – so Twitter’s two-country opener is a test to see if the idea will fly.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-57348456

 

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Flubot: Warning over major Android ‘package delivery’ scam

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A text-message scam that infects Android phones is spreading across the UK, experts have warned.

The message – which pretends to be from a package delivery firm, prompts users to install a tracking app – but is actually a malicious piece of spyware.

Called Flubot, it can take over devices and spy on phones to gather sensitive data, including online banking details.

Network operator Vodafone said millions of the text messages were already being sent, across all networks.

“We believe this current wave of Flubot malware SMS attacks will gain serious traction very quickly, and it’s something that needs awareness to stop the spread,” a spokesman said.

Customers should “be especially vigilant with this particular piece of malware”, he said, and be very careful about clicking on any links in a text message.

The malware also has the ability to send more text messages to an infected user’s contacts, helping it spread.

“The seriousness of these malicious text messages is underlined by Vodafone making the decision to alert its customers,” said Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight.

“This has the potential to become a denial-of-service attack on mobile networks, given the clear risk that a rogue application can be installed on users’ smartphones and start spewing out endless text messages.

“The broader risk for users is a loss of highly sensitive personal data from their phones,” he added.

While text message scams claiming to be about a package delivery firm are common, they have mostly focused on phishing – trying to trick the user into filling in a form with bank details and other information.

This newest wave differs because it tries to install malicious software on the phone itself – and because of the scale of its spread.

One version of the scam reported online pretends to be a text message from DHL, with a link to a website for parcel tracking.

If someone using an Android phone clicks on the link, they will be taken to a page “explaining” how to install the parcel tracking app using something called an APK.

APK files are a way of installing Android apps outside of the secure Google Play store. By default, such applications will be blocked for security reasons, but the scam page includes instructions on how to allow the installation.

That can be confusing, as there are some niche genuine cases for installing those kind of apps – such as downloading the Fortnite video game, which was removed from the official app store amid a major legal row between its owner and Google.

Apple iPhone users are not affected as those phones cannot install Android APKs.

In a blog post detailing the scam, security expert Paul Morrison wrote that he expects the “success rate would be low” due to the hurdles involved.

But he said: “With the number of SMS being sent out, just a 0.1% success rate could be very profitable.”

The Flubot malware has also spread in other countries in recent months – notably Spain, Germany and Poland.

Industry body Mobile UK said it was “pro-actively co-ordinating its response with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to minimise any potential damage”.

Users who receive a suspicious message should forward it to 7726 to report it, a spokesman said – and then delete the message.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-56859091

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Apple Christmas sales surge to $111bn amid pandemic

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Apple sales have hit another record, as families loaded up on the firm’s latest phones, laptops and gadgets during the Christmas period.

Sales in the last three months of 2020 hit more than $111bn (£81bn) – up 21% from the prior year.

The gains come as the pandemic pushes more activity online, fuelling demand for new technology.

Apple now counts more than 1.65 billion active devices globally, including more than 1 billion iPhones.

Apple’s gains follow the release of its new iPhone 12 suite of phones, which executives said had convinced a record number of people to switch to the company or upgrade from older models.

The firm said growth in China – where the pandemic has already loosened its grip on the economy – was particularly strong, helped in part by demand for phones compatible with new 5G networks.

Sales in the firm’s greater China region, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, jumped 57%. In Europe, sales roles 17%, and they rose 11% in the Americas.

“The products are doing very well all around the world,” said Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer. “As we look ahead into the March quarter, we’re very optimistic.”

Analyst Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities said he thought the firm was just at the beginning of a “super-cycle” as Apple devotees finally trade in old phones, coinciding with upgrades to telecommunications networks.

“With 5G now in the cards and roughly 40% of its ‘golden jewel’ iPhone installed base not upgrading their phones in the last 3.5 years, [Apple chief Tim] Cook & Co have the stage set for a renaissance of growth,” he wrote.

Big Tech is having an exceptionally lucrative pandemic.

It’s hard not to be wowed by some of these figures.

That Apple recorded more than $100bn in sales in just three months is simply astonishing.

Facebook figures are also well up on where they were last year.

As other companies have struggled to survive, Big Tech has flourished.

There are other reasons for some of these incredible figures. Certainly it seems iPhone enthusiasts were holding out for the new 5G enabled iPhone12.

But it’s not just Apple and Facebook, all of the massive tech companies are having a bumper year.

Covid-19 means people are spending more time indoors – buying things online, watching things online and chatting online.

Perhaps then it’s no surprise that these companies are posting record breaking figures.

But others point to these figures as yet more evidence that Big Tech has become too big to fail.

These figures are impressive. But they also attract the attention of politicians who are increasingly asking difficult questions – like are these tech mega companies operating in a market that is fair and with enough competition?

Facebook Apple feud

Apple said profits in the quarter reached nearly $28.8bn, up 29% compared with the same quarter last year.

The gains seen by technology firms like Apple contrast with losses hitting many other economic sectors, as the virus restricts activity and keeps shoppers at home.

Other tech firms, such as Microsoft and Facebook, have also enjoyed strong growth.

Facebook on Wednesday said increased online shopping during the pandemic helped lift ad revenue in the quarter by 30%.

The number of people active on its apps – which also include WhatsApp and Instagram – also rose to 2.6 billion daily, up 15% compared to 2019.

It said ad spending could slow as the Covid crisis relaxes and shopper appetite returns for services like travel rather than products.

It also warned that plans by Apple to change how it shares user data could weigh on growth.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55835504

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