Google suspends Parler social networking app from Play Store; Apple gives 24-hour warning

A still image from a video posted on YouTube shows the logo of the social media app Parler. (YouTube video)
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Updated 09 January 2021

Google suspends Parler social networking app from Play Store; Apple gives 24-hour warning

  • Right-leaning social media users in the US have flocked to Parler, which had been lenient about posts inciting violence

Alphabet Inc’s Google on Friday suspended the Parler social networking service from its app store, citing posts inciting violence and demanding “robust” content moderation from the app favored by many supporters of US President Donald Trump.
Apple Inc. on Friday also gave the service 24 hours to submit a detailed moderation plan, pointing to participants using the service to coordinate Wednesday’s siege of the US Capitol building.
The actions by the two Silicon Valley companies mean that the network seen as a haven for people expelled from Twitter could become unavailable for new downloads on the world’s main mobile phone app stores within a day. It would still be available in mobile browsers.
Right-leaning social media users in the United States have flocked to Parler, messaging app Telegram and hands-off social site Gab, citing the more aggressive policing of political comments on mainstream platforms such as Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. Twitter permanently suspected President Trump’s account on Friday.
In suspending the service, Google, whose software powers Android phones, cited its policy against apps that promote violence and gave recent examples from Parler, including a Friday post that began “How do we take back our country? About 20 or so coordinated hits” and another promoting a “Million Militia March” on Washington.
Parler Chief Executive John Matze said in a post on Friday that Apple was applying standards to Parler that it did not apply to itself.
In a statement, Google said that “for us to distribute an app through Google Play, we do require that apps implement robust moderation for egregious content. 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.”
In a letter from Apple’s App Store review team to Parler seen by Reuters, Apple cited participants of the mob storming the US Capitol building on Wednesday.
“Content that threatens the well-being of others or is intended to incite violence or other lawless acts has never been acceptable on the App Store,” Apple said in the letter.
Apple gave Parler 24 hours to “remove all objectionable content from your app ... as well as any content referring to harm to people or attacks on government facilities now or at any future date.” The company also demanded that Parler submit a written plan “to moderate and filter this content” from the app.
Apple declined to comment.
Matze, who describes himself as libertarian, founded Parler in 2018 as a “free-speech driven” alternative to mainstream platforms but began courting right-leaning users as prominent supporters of Trump moved there.
Those who have joined include commentator Candace Owens, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and right-wing activist Laura Loomer, who handcuffed herself to the door of Twitter’s New York office in Nov. 2018 to protest a ban on her by the site. In November, conservative activist Rebekah Mercer confirmed that the she and her family, which includes her father and hedge-fund investor Robert Mercer, have provided funding to Parler.
“Apparently they believe Parler is responsible for ALL user generated content on Parler,” Matze said. “Therefor (sic) by the same logic, Apple must be responsible for ALL actions taken by their phones. Every car bomb, every illegal cell phone conversation, every illegal crime committed on an iPhone, Apple must also be responsible for,” he wrote. “Standards not applied to Twitter, Facebook or even Apple themselves, apply to Parler.”

Suit says Meta board ‘turned blind eye’ to human trafficking

Updated 22 March 2023

Suit says Meta board ‘turned blind eye’ to human trafficking

  • Claims mischaracterize platform efforts to combat this type of activity, Meta argues

SAN FRANCISCO: 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.
“We prohibit human exploitation and child sexual exploitation in no uncertain terms,” Meta spokesperson Andy Stone said in reply to an AFP enquiry.
“The claims in this lawsuit mischaracterize our efforts to combat this type of activity.”
Those behind the suit include Employees’ Retirement System of the State of Rhode Island, Kiwi Investment Management Wholesale Core Global Fund, and Teamsters Pension Fund, according to the filing.
Meta has teams, policies, partnerships and software devoted to thwarting misuse of its platforms for criminal activities.
Meta already faces numerous lawsuits on an array of grounds, including whether it is harmful to the mental health of young users of its social networking services.
The tech titan has been under increasing pressure from legislators since 2021, when whistleblower Frances Haugen — a former Facebook engineer — leaked documents suggesting the firm put profits before safety.

TikTok CEO says company at ‘pivotal’ moment as some US lawmakers seek ban

Updated 22 March 2023

TikTok CEO says company at ‘pivotal’ moment as some US lawmakers seek ban

  • Shou Zi Chew to testify before congress to try to address US data security concerns
  • Chew said ban would damage businesses, individuals as platform confirms it has more than 150 million active monthly US users

WASHINGTON: TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said the Chinese-owned short video app company faces a pivotal moment as a growing number of US lawmakers seek to ban the popular app over national security concerns.
Chew said in a video posted on TikTok early Tuesday the app now has more than 150 million active monthly US users. “That’s almost half the US coming to TikTok,” Chew said. TikTok in 2020 said it had 100 million US users.
Chew, who will testify Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said: “Some politicians have started talking about banning TikTok.”
“Now this could take TikTok away from all 150 million of you,” he said in the video that features the US Capitol in the background.
He asked TikTok users to leave comments about what they wanted US lawmakers to know about “what you love about TikTok.”
Chew also said 5 million US businesses use TikTok to reach customers.
TikTok’s critics fear its US user data could be passed on to China’s government by the app, which is owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance. TikTok rejects the spying allegations.
TikTok also said Tuesday it had updated its community use guidelines and offered more details of its plans to secure the data of US users. The company said it had started to delete this month US user protected data in data centers in Virginia and Singapore after it started routing new US data to the Oracle Cloud last year.
Last week, TikTok said the Biden administration demanded that TikTok’s Chinese owners divest their stake in the app or it could face a US ban.
TikTok, which has said it has spent more than $1.5 billion on rigorous data security efforts, said “if protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access.”
A growing number of US lawmakers support a ban on TikTok. This includes Energy and Commerce Committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, congressional aides told reporters on a call Monday. On Friday, six more US senators backed bipartisan legislation to give Biden new powers to ban TikTok.
On March 1, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee voted along party lines to give President Joe Biden new powers to ban TikTok.

Google suspends Chinese shopping app amid security concerns

Updated 21 March 2023

Google suspends Chinese shopping app amid security concerns

  • Google urged users to uninstall any Pinduoduo app not downloaded from its own Play store

HONG KONG: Google has suspended the Chinese shopping app Pinduoduo on its app store after malware was discovered in versions of the app from other sources.
Google said in a statement Tuesday that it suspended the Pinduoduo app on the Google Play app store out of “security concerns” and that it was investigating the matter.
The suspension of the Pinduoduo app –- mainly used in China –- comes amid heightened US-China tensions over Chinese-owned apps such as TikTok, which some US lawmakers say could be a national security threat. They allege that such apps could be used to spy on American users.
Pinduoduo is a popular e-commerce app in China which often offers discounts if users team up to buy multiples of an item. Google warned users Tuesday to uninstall any Pinduoduo app not downloaded from its own Play store.
“Google Play Protect enforcement has been set to block installation attempts of these identified malicious apps,” Google said in its statement. “Users that have malicious versions of the app downloaded to their devices are warned and prompted to uninstall the app.”
It was unclear if there are similar security concerns around the Pinduoduo app for Apple users, and Pinduoduo was still available to download from Apple’s iOS store Tuesday.
PDD Holdings Inc, which operates Pinduoduo, did not immediately comment. Hong Kong traded shares in the company tumbled 14.2 percent on Tuesday.


BBC football commentator Lineker returns after suspension for criticizing government

Updated 21 March 2023

BBC football commentator Lineker returns after suspension for criticizing government

  • BBC managers reversed their decision to suspend Lineker, the broadcaster's highest-paid presenter
  • "It was a really difficult situation for everyone concerned," Lineker's co-presenter Alan Shearer said in a short statement

LONDON: Former England football captain Gary Lineker returned to host the BBC’s flagship football show on Saturday, a week after his suspension for criticizing government immigration policy caused a row over the broadcaster’s impartiality rules.

BBC managers reversed their decision to suspend Lineker, the broadcaster’s highest-paid presenter, after his colleagues refused to work in solidarity last weekend, forcing it to air football matches without normal commentary.

The controversy shook the public broadcaster, which is funded by a levy on nearly all British households with televisions, and which often faces accusations of bias from across the political spectrum.

“It was a really difficult situation for everyone concerned,” Lineker’s co-presenter Alan Shearer said in a short statement to viewers before the start of the BBC’s broadcast of an FA Cup quarter-final game between Burnley and Manchester City.

“And through no fault of their own, some really great people on TV and in radio were put in an impossible situation, and that wasn’t fair. So it’s good to get back to some sort of normality and be talking about football again,” Shearer said.

Lineker said: “I absolutely echo those sentiments.”

Lineker, who has hosted refugees in his home, had been suspended on March 10 for a tweet that called government policy on migration “immeasurably cruel” and compared language used to support it to “that used by Germany in the 30s.”

BBC news reporters and current affairs presenters are required to avoid making politically partisan statements, though those guidelines do not generally apply to other staff or to presenters on freelance contracts such as Lineker.

He refused to apologize for his tweet and the opposition Labour Party accused the broadcaster of caving in to government pressure by suspending him. After reinstating Lineker, the BBC said it would review how its impartiality guidelines applied to freelance presenters’ use of social media.

Reducing illegal migration is one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s top policy goals for 2023.

More than 45,000 people — mostly young men from Albania, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq — crossed the Channel in small boats last year, preferring to seek asylum in Britain rather than other countries they had traveled through in Europe.

Interior minister Suella Braverman has described these arrivals as an “invasion” and is seeking to deport thousands of migrants to Rwanda.

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Saudi Arabia wins first grand prix in mobile category at Dubai Lynx

Updated 18 March 2023

Saudi Arabia wins first grand prix in mobile category at Dubai Lynx

  • Kingdom also collects gold trophy in radio and audio section

DUBAI: Dubai Lynx, the Middle East’s festival for creative excellence in branded communications, has awarded this year’s winners at a ceremony in Dubai.

Ian Fairservice, the vice chairman of Dubai Lynx, said: “After a successful return to a physical event yesterday, I’d like to congratulate our 2023 Dubai Lynx award winners for setting the creative benchmark in MENA for a 16th year.”

This year marked Saudi Arabia’s first grand prix in the mobile category, which was awarded to delivery app HungerStation and its agency Wunderman Thompson for their campaign “The Subconscious Order.”

A new feature on the HungerStation app has been introduced to recognize when a user has been scrolling for some time. The “subconscious ordering” tool is then launched.

The app then displays a variety of cuisines, and the front camera tracks the eye’s interest. Using artificial intelligence and proprietary food topic modeling, the app then suggests a list of relevant restaurants.

The campaign, which was also deployed on HungerStation’s social media channels, resulted in 2.5 million impressions and 78,000 new customers.

Saudi Arabia also won its first gold trophy in the radio and audio category, thanks to the campaign “Sound of the Flag,” created by SRMG Labs and the King Salman Center for Disability Research.

National Day is the biggest celebration in the Kingdom, yet approximately 720,000 people with impaired hearing are unable to listen to the national anthem.

So, the two companies teamed up to design a wearable “hearing flag” that enables people to feel the song.

The flag features sensors in the fabric to create an immersive experience that brings music to life in a way that the body can feel physically.

Simon Cook, CEO at Cannes Lions, said: “We can see lots of exciting shifts taking place in the Middle East and North Africa, and this year’s winners really showcase the level of excellence coming from the region and the new trends emerging from a post-pandemic body of work.”

Leo Burnett was named network of the year and its Dubai office was named MENA agency of the year, while Starcom received the award for media network of the year.

The full list of winners can be viewed here.