LONDON: Apple Inc. is dropping its mask mandate for corporate employees at most locations, the Verge reported on Monday, citing an internal memo.
This comes even as COVID-19 infections in the United States have been on the rise with the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the omicron variant accounting for more than 90 percent of infections, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These subvariants have significant mutations from the earliest versions of omicron and protection from vaccines wanes over time.
“Don’t hesitate to continue wearing a face mask if you feel more comfortable doing so,” the report quoted Apple as saying in the internal email. “Also, please respect every individual’s decision to wear a mask or not.”
Apple did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment outside regular business hours.
Apple drops mask requirements for most of its corporate workers
Apple drops mask requirements for most of its corporate workers
- Apple also said it will continue to support employees who choose to wear a face mask.
LONDON: Apple Inc. is dropping its mask mandate for corporate employees at most locations, the Verge reported on Monday, citing an internal memo.
Spotify’s new report delves into how UAE’s Gen Zs are driving culture
- Annual Culture Next report reveals the behaviors, attitudes and mindsets of GenZs in the UAE
DUBAI: Spotify has released the UAE edition of its annual global culture and trends report, Culture Next.
In the fourth edition of the report, the second to feature the UAE, Spotify delves deeper into the behaviors, attitudes and mindsets of their largest audience segment, Generation Z (aged 15 to 25), and how they differ from Generation Y, known as millennials (26 to 40).
In 2021, Gen Zs globally streamed music more often than they used any other media (including videos, games, and TV), and shared more Spotify playlists and engaged in more group listening sessions than any other generation, according to the report.
In the first quarter of 2022 alone, 18 to 24-year-olds have played more than 578 billion minutes of music on Spotify — more than any other segment, and roughly 16 billion more minutes than millennials, or 25 to 34-year-olds, around the world.
“Audio has always been part of our lives,” Mark Abou Jaoude, Spotify’s head of music in the Middle East and North Africa, told Arab News.
“Streaming is being seen more and more as a key driver for discovery and the formation of a global community that identifies with one another through audio. It’s a way of self-expression and it's screenless,” he added.
Video, as a format, has grown in popularity in recent times, spurred by short-form video such as that on TikTok and Instagram’s Reels.
Jaoude, however, stresses the importance of audio, particularly for Gen Zs. “A video with no audio is hard to comprehend, for example, but a pure audio piece is not. Audio enriches storytelling,” he said.
The report highlights key differences between Gen Zs and millennials, with the former having gone from an “emerging” generation to the “center stage of culture.”
Firstly, while both generations are stressed, Gen Zs are more so. “Millennials were raised in a boom, Zs in a bust,” said Jaoude. They have experienced significant downturns associated with the crash of 2008 and later COVID-19, which they experienced mostly as adults, he explained.
In this environment, they are turning to audio as a safe space. Fifty-nine percent of 18 to 24-year-olds in the UAE said they turn to podcasts to get answers to hard or personal questions before talking to their families about it, and 66 percent said they listen to podcasts to inform the conversations they have with their friends.
Moreover, according to 68 percent of Gen Zs in the UAE, audio helps them understand themselves better, and 80 percent said it allows them to explore different sides of their personality.
All of this means that for Gen Zs, audio has always been a part of their lives, and they use it for everything from creativity and self-expression, to discovering aspects of their own personality.
The second factor setting Gen Zs apart is that they are “the most racially and culturally diverse generation and therefore they demand this diversity be reflected through their lifestyle, the brands they engage with, social media and the audio they consume,” according to Jaoude.
Self-expression and creativity are core to this generation and so, “they lean into music, artists, podcasts, and playlists to shape the stories they tell about themselves,” he added.
For instance, 82 percent in the UAE said they had learned something about themselves by looking back on their listening habits, and 74 percent believe that their listening habits tell a story about who they are.
It might appear that they are self-involved, but according to the report, they are driving the “main-character energy” trend, in which people use social media or digital audio to make themselves feel like the center of attention. This is evident in the popularity of playlists like “My Life is a Movie” and ones containing “POV” in the title.
Seventy-eight percent of Gen Zs in the UAE listen to music from movies or shows because “they like to feel like they are a character in the story,” according to Jaoude, and 79 percent of all Spotify playlists globally with “POV” in the title were created by Gen Zs.
Jaoude said: “They are experts in structuring and communicating their individual stories through playlists. They create their own playlists on Spotify and even use collaborative playlist features to ask their friends and community to exchange songs.”
While millennials are known for being nostalgic, Gen Zs go even further down memory lane, he added. They are “reinventing nostalgia” by filtering pop culture “through a contemporary perspective to access and inspire something new and unique to them,” he said.
Millennials are nostalgic for the times they have lived through; Gen Zs, on the other hand, are nostalgic for eras that offer some form of reprieve from current times, which they find stressful and anxiety-inducing.
“Among Zs, the past is all fuel for the future — and that is true for more than music,” Jaoude said.
It is why 71 percent of Gen Zs in UAE said they like listening to and watching media from earlier decades — because it reminds them of when things were simpler, and 75 percent like it when brands bring back old aesthetic styles, while 72 percent love it when brands produce retro products or content.
“You will see that movement in today’s fashion and the sound of music; there’s a lot of borrowing from previous eras and artists add their personal flair or vision to that sound,” said Jaoude.
Gen Zs’ unique problems, and habits, provide an untapped opportunity for marketers. As Jaoude said: “They are seeking new opportunities to share themselves through audio — and looking to brands to help make it happen.”
Forty-nine percent in the UAE said they like being able to select the ad they listen to on a digital audio streaming service, and more than a third said they like it when they can interact with ads.
For example, Spotify worked with Adidas on the “Nite Jogger” campaign where they created a custom digital experience that gleaned the “sonic traits” of listeners’ nighttime streaming activity to create a custom playlist unique to each individual. The campaign racked up 32.4 million impressions and over 9 million unique visitors.
“While brands of the past may have prioritized keeping an iron grip over their messaging, there’s a huge opportunity to connect with the next generation by handing the reins over to them and allowing them to customize their experience — especially in the space of audio,” said Jaoude.
BBC announces job losses at World Service
- The BBC said its international services needed to make savings of £28.5 million as part of wider reductions of £500 million
- Radio services in Arabic, Persian, Kyrgyz, Hindi, Bengali, Chinese, Indonesian, Tamil and Urdu will stop, if the proposals are approved by staff and unions
LONDON: Nearly 400 staff at BBC World Service will lose their jobs as part of a cost-cutting program and move to digital platforms, the broadcaster announced on Thursday.
The BBC said its international services needed to make savings of £28.5 million ($31 million) as part of wider reductions of £500 million.
In July it detailed plans to merge BBC World News television and its domestic UK equivalent into a single channel to launch in April next year.
BBC World Service currently operates in 40 languages around the world with a weekly audience of some 364 million people.
But the corporation said audience habits were changing and more people were accessing news online, which along with a freeze on BBC funding and increased operating costs meant a move to “digital-first” made financial sense.
“Today’s proposals entail a net total of around 382 post closures,” it said in an online statement.
Eleven language services — Azerbaijani, Brasil, Marathi, Mundo, Punjabi, Russian, Serbian, Sinhala, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese — are already digital only.
Under the restructuring plans they will be joined by seven more: Chinese, Gujarati, Igbo, Indonesian, Pidgin, Urdu and Yoruba.
Radio services in Arabic, Persian, Kyrgyz, Hindi, Bengali, Chinese, Indonesian, Tamil and Urdu will stop, if the proposals are approved by staff and unions.
No language services will close, the broadcaster insisted, although some production will move out of London.
The Thai service will move to Bangkok, the Korean service to Seoul and the Bangla service to Dhaka.
The “Focus on Africa” television bulletin will be broadcast from Nairobi, it added.
BBC World Service director Liliane Landor said there was a “compelling case” for expanding digital services, as audiences had more than doubled since 2018.
“The way audiences are accessing news and content is changing and the challenge of reaching and engaging people around the world with quality, trusted journalism is growing,” she added.
BBC World Service is funded out of the UK license fee — currently £159 for a color TV and payable by every household with a television set.
The BBC has faced increasing claims from right-wingers since the UK’s divisive Brexit referendum in 2016 of political bias, and pushing a “woke,” London-centric liberal agenda.
But it has faced similar accusations of political bias in favor of the right from the left.
The government announced a freeze on the license fee earlier this year, in what was seen as a brazen attack on a cherished British institution.
But ministers claimed the funding model needed to be revised because of technological changes, including the uptake of streaming services.
Rival commercial broadcasters have long complained that the guaranteed funding is unfair.
Rohingya seek reparations from Facebook for role in massacre
- “Meta — through its dangerous algorithms and its relentless pursuit of profit — substantially contributed to the serious human rights violations perpetrated against the Rohingya,” the report says
With roosters crowing in the background as he speaks from the crowded refugee camp in Bangladesh that’s been his home since 2017, Maung Sawyeddollah, 21, describes what happened when violent hate speech and disinformation targeting the Rohingya minority in Myanmar began to spread on Facebook.
“We were good with most of the people there. But some very narrow minded and very nationalist types escalated hate against Rohingya on Facebook,” he said. “And the people who were good, in close communication with Rohingya. changed their mind against Rohingya and it turned to hate.”
For years, Facebook, now called Meta Platforms Inc., pushed the narrative that it was a neutral platform in Myanmar that was misused by malicious people, and that despite its efforts to remove violent and hateful material, it unfortunately fell short. That narrative echoes its response to the role it has played in other conflicts around the world, whether the 2020 election in the US or hate speech in India.
But a new and comprehensive report by Amnesty International states that Facebook’s preferred narrative is false. The platform, Amnesty says, wasn’t merely a passive site with insufficient content moderation. Instead, Meta’s algorithms “proactively amplified and promoted content” on Facebook, which incited violent hatred against the Rohingya beginning as early as 2012.
Despite years of warnings, Amnesty found, the company not only failed to remove violent hate speech and disinformation against the Rohingya, it actively spread and amplified it until it culminated in the 2017 massacre. The timing coincided with the rising popularity of Facebook in Myanmar, where for many people it served as their only connection to the online world. That effectively made Facebook the Internet for a vast number of Myanmar’s population.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled into neighboring Bangladesh that year. Myanmar security forces were accused of mass rapes, killings and torching thousands of homes owned by Rohingya.
“Meta — through its dangerous algorithms and its relentless pursuit of profit — substantially contributed to the serious human rights violations perpetrated against the Rohingya,” the report says.
A spokesperson for Meta declined to answer questions about the Amnesty report. In a statement, the company said it “stands in solidarity with the international community and supports efforts to hold the Tatmadaw accountable for its crimes against the Rohingya people.”
“Our safety and integrity work in Myanmar remains guided by feedback from local civil society organizations and international institutions, including the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar; the Human Rights Impact Assessment we commissioned in 2018; as well as our ongoing human rights risk management,” Rafael Frankel, director of public policy for emerging markets, Meta Asia-Pacific, said in a statement.
Like Sawyeddollah, who is quoted in the Amnesty report and spoke with the AP on Tuesday, most of the people who fled Myanmar — about 80 percent of the Rohingya living in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine at the time — are still staying in refugee camps. And they are asking Meta to pay reparations for its role in the violent repression of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, which the US declared a genocide earlier this year.
Amnesty’s report, out Wednesday, is based on interviews with Rohingya refugees, former Meta staff, academics, activists and others. It also relied on documents disclosed to Congress last year by whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist. It notes that digital rights activists say Meta has improved its civil society engagement and some aspects of its content moderation practices in Myanmar in recent years. In January 2021, after a violent coup overthrew the government, it banned the country’s military from its platform.
But critics, including some of Facebook’s own employees, have long maintained such an approach will never truly work. It means Meta is playing whack-a-mole trying to remove harmful material while its algorithms designed to push “engaging” content that’s more likely to get people riled up essentially work against it.
“These algorithms are really dangerous to our human rights. And what happened to the Rohingya and Facebook’s role in that specific conflict risks happening again, in many different contexts across the world,” said Pat de Brún, researcher and adviser on artificial intelligence and human rights at Amnesty.
“The company has shown itself completely unwilling or incapable of resolving the root causes of its human rights impact.”
After the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar highlighted the “significant” role Facebook played in the atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingya, Meta admitted in 2018 that “we weren’t doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence.”
In the following years, the company “touted certain improvements in its community engagement and content moderation practices in Myanmar,” Amnesty said, adding that its report “finds that these measures have proven wholly inadequate.”
In 2020, for instance, three years after the violence in Myanmar killed thousands of Rohingya Muslims and displaced 700,000 more, Facebook investigated how a video by a leading anti-Rohingya hate figure, U Wirathu, was circulating on its site.
The probe revealed that over 70 percent of the video’s views came from “chaining” — that is, it was suggested to people who played a different video, showing what’s “up next.” Facebook users were not seeking out or searching for the video, but had it fed to them by the platform’s algorithms.
Wirathu had been banned from Facebook since 2018.
“Even a well-resourced approach to content moderation, in isolation, would likely not have sufficed to prevent and mitigate these algorithmic harms. This is because content moderation fails to address the root cause of Meta’s algorithmic amplification of harmful content,” Amnesty’s report says.
The Rohingya refugees are seeking unspecified reparations from the Menlo Park, California-based social media giant for its role in perpetuating genocide. Meta, which is the subject of twin lawsuits in the US and the UK seeking $150 billion for Rohingya refugees, has so far refused.
“We believe that the genocide against Rohingya was possible only because of Facebook,” Sawyeddollah said. “They communicated with each other to spread hate, they organized campaigns through Facebook. But Facebook was silent.”
Netflix launches ‘New Saudi Voices’ collection to celebrate Saudi filmmakers
- 11 films will celebrate creativity and talent of emerging figures in the Kingdom
DUBAI: Netflix is releasing a collection titled “New Saudi Voices” consisting of 11 specially curated short films to celebrate the creativity of emerging Saudi filmmakers.
The collection comprises movies across genres including horror, fantasy and animation, in an attempt to capture the full scope of Saudi filmmakers’ creativity and talent.
The 11 films are part of the New Saudi/New Cinema Shorts showcased at the Red Sea Film Festival last year and encapsulate the work of some of the most promising new voices in the Kingdom.
The films include Mohamed Basalamah’s “Hallucinated,” which tells the story of a delivery worker who suffers from worsening insomnia until the line blurs between his reality and hallucinations; and Rami Alzayer’s “The Day I Lost Myself,” which explores how a young man with anxiety finds himself stuck in an elevator on his way to an interview.
Documentaries like “Arufea” by Abbas Alshuwayfie offer a peek into an old Saudi neighborhood, and Omar Al-Omirat’s “Covida the 19th” explores lifestyle changes post-pandemic.
The collection also includes an animated short called “Whisper Down the Lane” by Raghad Albarqi, “The Jakar” by Abdulaziz Saleh, “The Palm Witch” by Hala Alhaid, “Hide and Seek” by Mohammad Helal, “Red Circle” by Abdulaziz Sarhan and “Little Bird” by Khalid Fahad.
Nuha El-Tayeb, director of content acquisitions, Netflix, MENA and Turkey, said: “We’re very excited to amplify the voices of up-and-coming filmmakers in Saudi Arabia through this collection. There’s incredible talent in the Kingdom, and they have unique stories to tell. We hope that as people tune into the films, they learn more about these creators, and catch a glimpse of their passion, originality and creativity, as we have.”
It is not the first time that Netflix has shined the spotlight on Saudi cinema. Earlier this year, the company launched a specially curated collection of 21 Arab films, “Because She Created,” featuring movies from filmmakers across Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt and more.
At the time, El-Tayeb told Arab News: “There’s incredible talent in Saudi Arabia. The entertainment landscape is rapidly evolving and Saudi women — like other women from the Arab world and globally — have beautiful, complex and layered stories to tell.”
The streaming giant has also worked with writer and director Hana Al-Omair on “Whispers,” an eight-part psychological thriller, as well as with Haifaa Al-Mansour on “Wadjda,” the first feature film made by a female Saudi director.
The “New Saudi Voices” collection will be available on Netflix on Sept. 29.
Google announces host of updates and improvements
- Company said during annual Search On event that the new features will be rolled out across its Search, Maps and other services
DUBAI: Google on Wednesday announced a host of updates and improvements to its Search, Maps and Shopping services.
The enhancements, announced during the company’s annual Search On virtual event, are “just the start of how we’re transforming our products to help you go beyond the traditional search box,” said Prabhakar Raghavan, a senior vice president at Google.
Some of the biggest updates are to Google Search, including multisearch, which enables users to search using text and images simultaneously. First introduced in beta mode in the US, it is now available in English worldwide and is being rolled out in 70 other languages.
Google will also introduce, initially only in the US, “multisearch near me,” which allows users to take photos of items and search for suppliers near them.
Every month, people use Google to translate text contained in images more than a 1 billion times across more than 100 languages, said Cathy Edwards, Google’s vice-president and general manager for Search.
“With major advancements in machine learning, we’re now able to blend translated text into complex images so it looks and feels much more natural,” she added. This improved experience will launch later this year.
In addition, shortcuts will be placed under the search bar that make it easy for users to shop their screenshots and translate images of text taken with their camera, among other things. This initially will be available on the Google app for iOS.
Google said its research has found that 40 percent of people already have a dish in mind when they search for food, so to help people find exactly what they are looking for, users will soon be able to search for any dish and find local establishments that have it on the menu.
These and other features, such as continuous scrolling, are designed to improve the search experience for users by making it quicker and more intuitive, the company said.
Improvements to Google Maps include new features such as a “neighborhood vibe check,” which will highlight popular landmarks and hot spots in a given area. The information will be based on a combination of artificial intelligence and photos and reviews uploaded by Google users.
This year, Google introduced Immersive View, which provides multi-dimensional views of an area along with information about the weather, traffic and businesses. Building on this feature, the company is launching more 250 photorealistic aerial views of global landmarks such as the Tokyo Tower and the Acropolis of Athens.
Using predictive modeling, Immersive View automatically learns and uses the historical trends for a location to determine what it will be like in the future. This means that users can search for additional information about each landmark, such as weather, nearby restaurants and parking, on specific future dates.
Neighborhood vibe check will be rolled out globally in the coming months while Immersive View will be launched in Los Angeles, London, New York, San Francisco and Tokyo on iOS and Android devices.
Other improvements to Maps include the expansion of the Live View search feature, and of eco-friendly routing to third-party developers.
The growth of online shopping in the past two years has resulted in many digital and social platforms creating tools designed to make the buying experience more seamless. Google is no exception, after launching almost 10 new features at this year’s event.
Most of them will only be available in the US at first and are aimed at enabling shopping from within Google products. For instance, users can choose to “shop the look,” with Google offering suggestions on complementary pieces in an outfit within Search.
Other features include trending products, 3D images, buying guides, new filters, page insights, and a “discover” section in the Google app that features shoppable styles and looks.
The updates aim to make the shopping experience on Google more intuitive, fun and easier, according to Lilian Rincon, senior director of product, shopping.
“Regardless of where you end up buying, these tools can help you find what you want more quickly and maybe even discover the next thing you’ll love,” she added.