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Apple App Store new rules will affect Google Stadia, Microsoft xCloud

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Apple revised its App Store guidelines on Friday ahead of the release of iOS 14, the latest version of the iPhone operating system, which is expected later this month. 

Apple’s employees use these guidelines to approve or deny apps and updates on the App Store. Those rules have come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks from app makers who argue iPhone maker has too much control over what software runs on iPhones and how Apple takes a cut of payments from those apps. In particular, Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, is in a bitter legal battle with Apple over several of its guidelines, including its requirement to use in-app purchases for digital products. Apple removed Fortnite from its app store last month.

One major update on Friday relates to game streaming services. Microsoft and Facebook have publicly said in recent months that Apple’s rules have restricted what their gaming apps can do on iPhones and iPads. Microsoft’s xCloud service isn’t available on iOS, and Facebook’s gaming app lacks games on iPhones. 

Apple now says that game streaming services, such as Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud, are explicitly permitted. But there are conditions: Games offered in the service need to be downloaded directly from the App Store, not from an all-in-one app. App makers are permitted to release a so-called “catalog app” that links to other games in the service, but each game will need to be an individual app.

Apple’s rules mean that if a streaming game service has 100 games, then each of those games will need an individual App Store listing as well as a developer relationship with Apple. The individual games also have to have some basic functionality when they’re downloaded. All the games and the stores need to offer in-app purchase using Apple’s payment processing system, under which Apple usually takes 30% of revenue. 

“This remains a bad experience for customers. Gamers want to jump directly into a game from their curated catalog within one app just like they do with movies or songs, and not be forced to download over 100 apps to play individual games from the cloud,” a Microsoft representative said in a statement. A Google representative declined to comment. 

The rules underscore the tension between Apple’s control of its platform, which it says is for safety and security reasons, and emerging gaming services considered by many to be the future of the gaming industry. Gaming streaming services want to act as a platform for game makers, such as approving individual games and deciding which games to offer, but Apple wants the streaming services to act more like a bundle of games and says it will need to review each individual game. 

Apple does not have a cloud gaming service, but it does sell a subscription bundle of iOS games called Apple Arcade.

Another change relates to in-person classes purchased inside an iPhone app. This spring, amid the pandemic, several companies that previously enabled users to book in-person products, like Classpass, started offering virtual classes. Apple’s rules previously said that virtual classes were required to use Apple’s in-app payment process.

Apple’s new guidelines say that one-on-one in-person virtual classes, like fitness training, can bypass Apple for payment, but classes where one instructor is teaching more a class with multiple people will still require apps to use Apple’s in-app purchases. 

Apple also addressed an issue raised by companies like WordPress and Hey, and loosened the requirement for free apps to use in-app purchases.

A full log of the App Store changes is available on Apple’s website. 

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DoJ case against Google has strong echoes of Microsoft antitrust case

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Bill Gates, (R) talks with Steven Ballmer, who was named President of Microsoft July 21, 1998 in Redmond, Washington.

Jeff Chistensen | Getty Images

The Department of Justice’s long-expected antitrust lawsuit against Google draws explicitly from the government’s antitrust case against Microsoft almost 20 years ago, offering a narrowly focused argument that has a better chance of holding up than the Microsoft case did.

The Microsoft case included several lines of argument, but the core of it was whether Microsoft illegally bundled its web browser, Internet Explorer, with its market-dominating Windows operating system, in turn closing out opportunities for other browsers, including Netscape Navigator.

After many twists and turns, including a breakup order that was overturned on appeal, Microsoft and the government reached a fairly narrow settlement in 2001. That settlement did not establish that Microsoft’s bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows was illegal, nor did it require Microsoft to unbundle its browser from Windows. However, it did restrict the terms and conditions that Microsoft could impose on PC makers who distributed Windows.

In other words, after all was said and done, the Microsoft antitrust case in the U.S. was mainly about distribution.

This time around, the DoJ is cutting straight to the chase and focusing on how Google uses distribution, particularly on mobile devices, to bolster its alleged monopolies in search and search advertising.

‘Exclusionary agreements’

The DOJ’s argument focuses on how Google pays distributors, including mobile device makers and mobile carriers, to ensure they make its search engine the default. In exchange, the complaint says, Google sometimes requires these distributors to take other Google apps, including search apps, “and feature them on devices in prime positions where consumers are most likely to start their internet searches.”

Specifically:

  • Google allegedly requires some device makers who want some Google apps to accept other apps they don’t want, keep them permanently installed on the device and give Google apps and services “the most valuable and important real estate on the default home screen.”
  • For some mobile devices, Google allegedly prohibits device makers and carriers from preinstalling or setting defaults to rival search engines.

The complaint goes on to say that more than 80% of mobile search queries are covered by these allegedly exclusionary agreements.

It also goes into detail about how Google exercises control over the Android mobile operating system, which it created and distributes under an open-source license.

In theory, open source licenses give anybody the right to copy, modify and redistribute the code used to create a piece of software. But Google essentially offers tiered versions of Android. If device makers want, they can take the basic operating system and do whatever they want with it. But if they want access to particular Google apps or services, they must sign agreements that limit what they can do with Android.

Google uses this control to boost distribution of its search engine and search ads business, the complaint says.

Microsoft cited as precedent

No kitchen sink

Google is a sprawling conglomerate with many different business lines. This can often lead to arguments against the company that lack focus.

For instance, when Democratic-led staff of the the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust released its massive report last month on antitrust and Big Tech, it called the company “an ecosystem of interlocking monopolies” and touched on many alleged abuses, including how Google displays search results to favor its own properties, its acquisition of ad tech companies like DoubleClick and AdMob and how it uses other products like Chrome, Android and the Google Play Store to bolster its dominance.

The DOJ complaint smartly avoids this kitchen-sink approach and focuses very specifically on Google’s strongest and most important businesses — search and search ads — and how it allegedly uses distribution on mobile devices to foreclose competition.

By focusing its arguments and calling very specifically back to the Microsoft case, the DoJ increases its chance of prevailing in this case while leaving the door very much open for future cases in other areas.

The outcome is unlikely to be a single blow that destroys Google or opens the door to a wave of new competition. Rather, as was the case with Microsoft, this is likely the beginning of a decade-plus wave of antitrust litigation that could distract and slow the company, leaving it more vulnerable to encroachment from large and well-funded competitors like Facebook and Amazon.


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Microsoft releases Windows 10 October 2020 Update, 20H2

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Microsoft boss Satya Nadella speaking at the DLD (Digital-Life-Design) conference in Munich, Germany, 16 Janaury 2017. Guests at the 3-day conference discussed trends and developments in digitalisation.

Tobias Hase | picture alliance | Getty Images

Microsoft said Tuesday it’s starting to release the next version of its Windows 10 operating system for PCs and tablets. The Windows 10 October 2020 Update, aka version 20H2, irons out technical and security issues and provides a handful of software enhancements.

More than 1 billion devices run Windows 10, making it more popular than Apple’s MacOS and Google’s Chrome OS. Windows contributes about 16% of Microsoft’s revenue, as consumers and businesses buy machines with the operating system installed.

Microsoft introduced Windows 10 in 2015. Since then the company has issued two updates per year. This marks the second year Microsoft is bringing out a relatively low-profile update in the fall that seeks to boost the performance and quality of Windows, rather than a release packed with attention-grabbing new features that people might have to learn how to use.

Here are some of the changes in version 20H2:

  • The new version of the Edge browser powered by the open-source Chromium engine arrives, for those who don’t already have it. Compared with the Microsoft-made Edge that debuted with Windows 10 in 2015, Chromium-based Edge supports more websites and browser extensions. Microsoft had made early versions of Chromium-based Edge available for people to download in 2019, but the company had not previously packaged it up with a Windows update until now. (Chromium is the same core technology that powers Google’s popular Chrome browser, but released under an open-source license for third parties to modify and redistribute.)
  • If you choose to use Edge, the Alt + Tab keyboard shortcut will allow you to toggle between different browser tabs, as well as any open programs. Users can adjust or disable that new behavior by going to Settings > System > Multitasking.
  • If you pin a website — say, CNBC.com — to your Taskbar in Edge, now when you hover over the app icon for that website in the Taskbar, Windows will show you all of the open browser tabs from that website across various browser windows. It’s similar to the way you can see all open windows for a given program, such as Excel, by hovering over its icon in the Taskbar.
  • If you have a two-in-one PC, such as a Surface Pro, and you take off the keyboard, Windows will no longer display a dialog box to ask if you’d like to switch to tablet mode; it will just do that automatically.
  • The background color for icons that appear on the Start menu will look consistent and match well with the light or dark color of the full Start menu, depending on whether the machine uses a light or dark theme.
  • Microsoft will try to do a better job of selecting the app icons that will appear by default in the Taskbar when people create new accounts or log on for the first time. For instance, the Taskbar might display the Your Phone app instead of the standard-issue Mail app for people who have linked their Android phones to Windows. Microsoft said it won’t change Taskbar app icons for existing accounts.
  • It’s easier to take action on the specifications of a given PC and its version of Windows. Microsoft has added copy buttons to the Settings > System > About page.

You can check if the update is available for your PC by going to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update and clicking the “check for updates” button.

WATCH: Microsoft is launching its “smallest Xbox ever”—Here are the details


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Zuckerberg Says Facebook Will Ban Less Content Post-Election

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Facebook has spent the past few months scrambling to ban Holocaust denial, the QAnon mass delusion, and right-wing extremist groups. To outside observers, it appears the company is finally reckoning with the vast landscape of hate and disinformation it has helped create.

But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently told employees at a companywide meeting the real reason the social network was cracking down: the US presidential election.

In an all-hands conference call with Facebook employees last Thursday, the 36-year-old billionaire said that the company made policy changes to address the unstable situation around the US election and its aftermath. There has been no change in the way the company operates, according to Zuckerberg, who maintains majority shareholder voting power at Facebook.

“Once we’re past these events, and we’ve resolved them peacefully, I wouldn’t expect that we continue to adopt a lot more policies that are restricting of a lot more content,” Zuckerberg said in audio of the conference call obtained by BuzzFeed News.

While observers have speculated that Facebook’s new policies against potentially violent and conspiratorial content could mean that it’s turned a corner — or that the company is preparing for a Biden presidency and possible government regulation — Zuckerberg’s comments are an indication that the new rules are only stopgap measures. The 3 billion people who use at least one Facebook-owned product should not expect more rule changes after the election, Zuckerberg said.

“The basic answer is that this does not reflect a shift in our underlying philosophy or strong support of free expression,” he said. “What it reflects is, in our view, an increased risk of violence and unrest, especially around the elections, and an increased risk of physical harm, especially around the time when we expect COVID vaccines to be approved over the coming months.”

“This does not reflect a shift in our underlying philosophy or strong support of free expression.”

While the social network has created new policies to address health misinformation, violence-inciting militants, and hate, Zuckerberg has not expressed the same kind of candor in public Facebook posts as he has in speeches to his own employees. In September, he provided a general update on the company’s approach to the US election, which was followed this month by a post explaining the changing approach to Holocaust denial content.

He had previously posted a video in August explaining the “operational mistake” of allowing a militant group to exist on the platform in the lead-up to the shooting deaths of two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. But he only published the video, which was made at an August all-hands meeting, after BuzzFeed News reported the contents of his talk and his admission to the company’s failure to act.

On Thursday, he tried to provide more clarity to more than 50,000 workers, some of whom pressed him on why it took so long take action against Holocaust denial. In 2018, Zuckerberg famously said in an interview that while he abhors such rhetoric, Facebook allowed Holocaust denial content because it showed that the company stood for free expression.

“There are a lot of things that I think that people say that are deeply offensive, and that are hurtful or even hateful,” Zuckerberg said. “But you know, where I think that we should draw the line is around when something has the likelihood to contribute to real-world violence or harm. And what we’ve seen over the last several years is a rise in anti-Semitic violence, both in the United States and across the world.”

“There’s an increased risk of these kind of different attacks, especially around this flashpoint around the election,” he added.

Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois reiterated the idea that the changes in polices did not reflect a new approach to the company’s principles.

“We remain committed to free expression while also recognizing the current environment requires clearer guardrails to minimize harm,” she said.

For some, Zuckerberg’s comments may reinforce the charge that the company only makes policy changes when faced with major US events or under press scrutiny. In an explosive internal memo posted last month, fired engineer Sophie Zhang wrote that the company prioritized action in instances of political or electoral misinformation in the US and Western Europe.

“It’s an open secret within the civic integrity space that Facebook’s short-term decisions are largely motivated by PR and the potential for negative attention,” she wrote in her note, which was first obtained by BuzzFeed News.

In his talk, Zuckerberg cited non-US and European countries where the company had supposedly taken action to ban certain types of speech to prevent real-world harm.

“We’ve had ongoing work in a number of countries that we consider at risk — countries at risk of ongoing civil conflict, places like Myanmar, or Sri Lanka, or Ethiopia — where the determination that we’ve made alongside human rights groups and local groups on the ground is that a wider band of speech and expression would lead potentially to more incitement of violence or different issues,” he said.

In 2018, United Nations investigators found that Facebook had been culpable and slow to act against hate speech that fueled the genocide of Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority that had lived primarily in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Facebook was also used to organize deadly violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka. Violent rhetoric on the social network is also pushing Ethiopia closer to genocide, according to Vice.

“The idea that this election is the only one that matters is nuts,” said David Kaye, a former UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression and clinical professor of law at the University of California, Irvine. “The platform has an enormous and a more significant impact in a lot of places around the world.”

“To say we’re done does not strike me as a plausible response to the possible violence that could be done in the next couple of months or years,” he added.

“To say we’re done does not strike me as a plausible response to the possible violence that could be done in the next couple of months or years.”

In his remarks about the election, Zuckerberg mostly avoided discussion of the company’s decision to limit the spread of an unconfirmed New York Post story about Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, only suggesting that it could have been part of “a big misinformation dump.”

He did, however, comment on the current presidential polling, which favors Biden.

“It looks like potentially Biden’s margin of leading in the polls has increased, which may lead to a result, which is not close, which, could be potentially helpful — if there’s just a decisive victory from someone — that could be helpful for clarity and for not having violence or civil unrest after the election,” Zuckerberg said. Facebook is currently running an online voting information center to tell people that results may not be settled by the end of election night due to the large increase in mail-in voting during the pandemic.

Beyond the election, Zuckerberg addressed other employee concerns, including when they’d be asked to return to the office. While some Facebook content moderator contractors have been required to come back to offices in California and Texas, Facebook’s CEO said it was not a priority for full-time workers and that remote work “was the only responsible thing to do during a pandemic.”

On Monday, the Intercept reported that a Facebook contractor hired by Accenture who had returned to an office in Austin had contracted the novel coronavirus. That person is now in self-quarantine.

When prompted, Zuckerberg also discussed his views on a recent report from a House of Representatives subcommittee on antitrust issues. After noting that he thought Facebook existed in a competitive environment that included Twitter, Snapchat, and TikTok, he said that his company would be adopting a policy that prevented employees from discussing antitrust issues on internal forums and messages.

He called a policy at Google that prohibits employees from discussing antitrust issues because of ongoing federal investigations “quite prudent” and noted that Facebook would be taking the same approach.

“Given that, you know, anything that any of you say internally is, of course, available to be subpoenaed or used in any of these investigations, I just think we should make sure that people aren’t just, you know, mouthing off about this and saying things that may reflect inaccurate data, or generally just are kind of incomplete,” he said, minutes after noting how Facebook stood for free expression. “You shouldn’t be emailing about these things and you shouldn’t really be discussing this in non-privileged forums across the company.”


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