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TikTok to tackle grooming with safeguards for young users | TikTok



Children on TikTok will face “groundbreaking” new restrictions in an attempt to prevent grooming on the platform, the video-sharing company has announced, with particularly strict new rules for users under 16.

The platform, which has a lower age limit of 13, said users under 16 would no longer be able to receive comments from strangers, have their videos used for “duets” or mark their posts as available to be downloaded. Their accounts will default to “private”, which prevents anyone other than friends from viewing their videos.

The company is also changing the default settings across the app for users under 18. Unless they actively change the settings, 16- and 17-year-olds will also have their videos made unavailable for download, and only friends will be able to record duets.

“The groundbreaking changes announced today mark the next step in our mission to ensure TikTok is a safe platform for all our users,” said Alexandra Evans, TikTok’s European head of child safety. “They build on previous changes we’ve made to promote minor safety, including restricting direct messaging and hosting livestreams to [users aged] 16 and over and enabling parents and caregivers to set guardrails for their teen’s TikTok account through our Family Pairing feature.

“We know there is no finish line when it comes to minor safety, and that is why we are continuously evolving our policies and investing in our technology and human-moderation teams so that TikTok remains a safe place for all our users to express their creativity.”

NSPCC welcomed the changes. Andy Burrows, the charity’s head of child safety online policy, said: “This is a bold package of measures by TikTok and a hugely welcome step that will reduce opportunities for groomers to contact children. It comes as abusers are taking advantage of the pandemic to target children spending more time online, and we urge other platforms to be similarly proactive rather than wait for regulation to come into effect.

“The full benefits of these changes will be felt when age assurance measures are put in place in September when the age appropriate design code comes into force.”

The changes to the app will affect tens of millions of TikTok’s young userbase, and suggest the company is comfortable with the fact that restricting some of its most popular features will not cause teens to desert the app for competitors such as Snapchat and Instagram.

Duets in particular have become a core feature of TikTok in recent months. The feature allows users to record a video of themselves alongside another user’s post. As well as creating YouTube-style “reaction” videos and two-handed comedy skits, the feature has led to the creation of organically produced musical hits. In October, one post of a hypothetical song from a musical version of the Pixar film Ratatouille became, through the duet feature, a full-blown Broadway-style musical that was eventually filmed and aired by Disney.

This week a single post of a user singing Wellerman, a traditional sea shanty, was duetted with multiple times until a full a cappella version of the song became one of the platform’s most popular videos.

• This article was amended on 14 January 2021. The accounts of users aged under 16 will default to “private”, not those of under-18s as stated in an earlier version.

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US attacks Australia’s ‘extraordinary’ plan to make Google and Facebook pay for news | Media




The United States has urged the Australian government to ditch draft media laws that would force tech giants Google and Facebook to pay news organisations for sharing their content.

The US, in a submission to an Australian parliamentary inquiry, has said that the proposed legislation is unreasonable, impractical, “fundamentally imbalanced” and could run counter to the US-Australia free trade agreement.

The media laws would impose a mandatory code of conduct on digital platforms which would allow for both individual and collective bargaining by Australian media companies to determine payment for displaying news content in Google Search and on Facebook.

It also allows for an arbiter to have the final say if news companies and the US tech giants can’t agree on a fair price and it requires the latter to provide media outlets with 14 days advance notice of algorithmic changes that would affect their business.

The laws were tabled in parliament in December and are currently before a Senate committee. In a submission to that committee, the office of the US trade representative said the proposed world-first laws “may result in harmful outcomes”.

It called on the Australian government to shelve the proposal, arguing that directly intervening in the market to distribute advertising revenue was “extraordinary” and “a significant step that needs to be carefully thought through and justified”.

“In the view of the United States, it would be preferable to pursue additional market study and consultation to identify a specific market failure that might be addressed first though a voluntary code, and if demonstrably ineffective, through Australia’s regulatory rule-making process where stakeholders can participate by weighing in on options and providing evidence in support of or opposition to specific proposals,” the submission states.

“We respectfully request that Australia reconsider whether legislation is needed.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was initially asked to develop a voluntary code but the federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, requested in April 2020 that it instead pursue a mandatory code following a sharp dive in advertising revenue and the closure of several regional newspapers in April.

The mandatory code has broad support from the news industry in Australia including from Guardian Australia.

The US made the same points in an earlier submission to the ACCC when the mandatory code was first announced.

The submission to the Senate inquiry by the assistant trade representative for services and investment, Daniel Bahar, and the assistant trade representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Karl Ehlers, said that while some changes had been made to the proposed legislation it “does not substantially address key US concerns”.

The US is concerned the draft code grants the responsible minister broad discretion to nominate a tech company as being subject to “a highly prescriptive, burdensome code without having first established a violation of existing Australian law or a market failure”. The submission states the legislation is “designed to exclusively target (as an initial matter) two US companies”.

It also said the process for determining compensation for news companies was “fundamentally imbalanced” in favour of media outlets to the point of “preferential treatment” because it requires the arbiter to take into account the cost of news production and its value to the digital platform – but not the cost of running and hosting content on a digital platform and the value that gives to the news company.

The submission said the US government “urges Australia” to consider whether allowing an arbitrator to mandate remuneration would allow full compliance with article 20.5 of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement which “requires Australia and the United States to provide for appeals against administrative or bureaucratic decisions”.

The US said it was “inappropriate” for the draft code to allow for collective bargaining, a measure introduced to allow smaller media players to band together, saying it was “a departure from broadly accepted competition principles”.

It said provisions that effectively prevent Google and Facebook from circumventing the bargaining process by displaying content from aggregating news sites was “disproportionately punitive”. At best, it said, that measure should only apply to Australian media companies.

“If the price of withdrawing from the Australian domestic news market is essentially a requirement to forgo making any news-related content available in Australia, that price appears both unreasonable and impractical,” the submission said.

It said the requirement for tech companies to compensate Australian news companies for coverage – including coverage of international news – while foreign media companies offering the same news would not be compensated “could raise concerns with respect to Australia’s international trade obligations”

The requirement that tech companies provide data on users accessing news content and advance notice of changes to proprietary algorithms could also be in breach of the Australia-US free trade agreement, the submission stated. “Given the United States’ significant outstanding concerns, we urge Australia not to rush the passage of this legislative proposal.”

Submissions to the Senate committee closed on Monday. It will hold its first hearing on Friday.

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Google denies claim of anticompetitive agreement with Facebook




Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai gestures during a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 22, 2020.

(Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

Google on Sunday disputed claims from a group of attorneys general, led by Texas’ Ken Paxton, that its ad-buying arrangement with Facebook was anticompetitive.

In a blog post, Google’s director of economic policy Adam Cohen called the lawsuit from 10 Republican-led states “misleading.” The statement is Google’s most extensive response yet to the lawsuit, which is also the only one to name Facebook as a “co-conspirator.” The company faces two other complaints from a bipartisan group of attorneys general and from the Justice Department.

The statement followed a New York Times article earlier on Sunday that described more details of the alleged arrangement, citing an unredacted draft of the complaint. The Wall Street Journal previously reported on the unredacted draft in December.

According to that version of the complaint as described by the Times, a Google executive saw an “existential threat” in Facebook’s 2017 announcement that it was testing a move into the ad space. Facebook was considering a project in header bidding at the time, a form of ad buying that allows publishers to circumvent dependence on Google’s platforms.

But that project came to an end when the two reached an agreement in 2018 for Facebook to become a partner in Google’s Open Bidding project, which allows competing ad exchanges alongside its own, but takes a fee from winning bids. That agreement was unlike others offered to partners in the alliance, according to members interviewed by the Times who declined to be identified for fear of endangering their relationship with Google.

Google allegedly offered Facebook more time to bid for ads than other members of the alliance, according to the documents and interviews presented by the Times. Google also allegedly offered Facebook more insight into who would be on the receiving end of ads and a guaranteed “win rate” for bids, the Times reported. The two agreed to “cooperate and assist” each other in the event the agreement was investigated for competition concerns, the documents showed.

In the blog post responding to the allegations, Cohen defended Open Bidding as a tool that benefits publishers. Cohen wrote that Open Bidding addresses some of the problems with header bidding, like slow-loading pages, and that header bidding is still a growing market, citing a 2019 eMarketer report.

Cohen noted that Google’s agreement with Facebook had been widely reported at the time and said that it simply allows Facebook and its advertisers to participate in Open Bidding.

“We absolutely don’t,” manipulate auctions in Facebook’s favor, Cohen wrote. The agreement doesn’t prevent Facebook from pursuing header bidding and still requires the company and its advertising network to make the highest bid to win, Cohen wrote. He also said that Google’s fees for advertisers are lower than the industry average and said there is plenty of competition in the space.

“Partnerships like this are common in the industry, and we have similar agreements with several other companies,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “Facebook continues to invest in these partnerships, and create new ones, which help increase competition in ad auctions to create the best outcomes for advertisers and publishers. Any suggestion that these types of agreements harm competition is baseless.”

One day after the Texas-led group filed its lawsuit against Google, a bipartisan coalitions of 38 states and territories sued Google over another set of antitrust concerns, including allegedly exclusionary contracts and discriminatory behavior against competitors on its search results pages. The Justice Department and a group of Republican-led states earlier sued Google over some of the same concerns over contracts.

Facebook separately faces complaints from the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general from 48 states and territories claiming it violated anti-monopoly law.

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WATCH: Google and Facebook face antitrust reckoning — here’s what could happen in 2021: CNBC After Hours

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Super Meat Boy Forever review – a gristly challenge | Games




Ten years ago, attempting to conquer Super Meat Boy became a weekly ritual for me and my friends. We’d take turns throwing ourselves at the latest torturous arrangement of spinning blades, lava, missiles and near-impossible wall jumps until we couldn’t take it any more, passing the pad around until someone finally made it one level further. Mistime a jump and you’d explode in a splatter of red that stained the level, etching a record of your failures on the architecture. It’s one of the most difficult games I’ve ever played, and yet I remember it so fondly – I can still summon the exact layouts of particularly cruel levels, and the rush I felt on conquering them.

Super Meat Boy Forever was conceived as a smartphone-friendly version of the original, but over time it evolved into a sequel. This time, Meat Boy (or Bandage Girl, the damsel elevated to a player character) moves under their own unstoppable momentum, and our job is to jump and dash at the right time. The levels are now randomly generated, with enemies and layouts that remix themselves every time you start a new game. In theory this makes it infinitely replayable, a fount of continual, unpredictable challenge – but it loses so much in the transition that I didn’t feel like returning to it.

The pain and the pleasure of platformers such as this is their precision: the controls must be so tight, the jumping and running so perfectly predictable, that your failures are always your own. In Super Meat Boy Forever, though, enemies can turn up in especially unfair places, and the architecture of the levels sometimes feels thrown together as opposed to carefully placed by human hand. Its difficulty feels vindictive rather than playful, and oddly soulless, like trying to beat a computer at chess. For all its challenges, it felt as if I could feel the creators cheering me through the original Super Meat Boy’s death chambers, willing me onwards. Here, the algorithm is coldly indifferent to your efforts, and, despite the offbeat art and quirky vibe, the game is a punishing gauntlet that’s not worth running.

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