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US government investigating how 9 social media companies collect and use data

The Federal Trade Commission, which enforces US antitrust and consumer protection laws, has issued orders to nine social media companies demanding information about how and for what purposes they collect and store user data. The FTC is also wants to know about the companies’ advertising and user engagement practices, specifically as they relate to child and adolescent users.

The list of targeted companies is a rogues gallery of digital malefactors: Amazon, ByteDance (owner of TikTok), Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snap, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube. They have 45 days to respond to the order. I’m not sure, but I don’t believe that any of them have 1300 numbers.

On its webpage, the FTC writes that the objective is to gain a fuller understanding of:

  • how social media and video streaming services collect, use, track, estimate, or derive personal and demographic information;
  • how they determine which ads and other content are shown to consumers;
  • whether they apply algorithms or data analytics to personal information;
  • how they measure, promote, and research user engagement; and
  • how their practices affect children and teens.

“The FTC wants to understand how business models influence what Americans hear and see, with whom they talk, and what information they share,” explained the FTC in a press statement. “And the FTC wants to better understand the financial incentives of social media and video streaming services.”

As CNBC reports, there’s a clause in the FTC Act that enables the FTC to conduct wide-reaching probes that are separate from law enforcement. These are known as “6(b) studies.” The FTC carried one out earlier this year in which it reviewed various takeovers by some of the major US monopolies, namely, Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft.

Of course, Bill Gates’ Microsoft was the subject of a major antitrust lawsuit in 2001. In that case, Microsoft was confirmed as a corporate outlaw operating in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Now Facebook finds itself faced with a similar lawsuit filed just this month by the FTC along with 48 attorneys general. In that suit, Facebook is alleged to have taken over Instagram and WhatsApp after determining that, if left alone, they could pose a threat to Facebook’s hegemony.

Thus, Facebook is accused of unlawfully crushing competition and subsequently harming consumers by limiting their range of options, particularly with regard to privacy. Facebook plans to use the fact that the FTC approved its takeovers of Instagram and WhatsApp as the main pillar of its defense.

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Companies Social Media TikTok Uncategorized

Reddit buys out TikTok rival Dubsmash

Reddit announced recently that it had bought out a video sharing company called Dubsmash, further expanding the message board’s digital footprint. Dubsmash, a competitor of obnoxious prepubescent app TikTok, is going to hold onto its platform and brand while Reddit helps “bring our teams together to combine the unique creator experience of Dubsmash with the community growth engine of Reddit.” Reddit has not disclosed the financial terms of the takeover.

Dubsmash (a pretty stupid-sounding name, wouldn’t you say so?) functions much like TikTok does, giving users the ability to create and share short videos that are supposed to be really funny and clever but are actually just puerile and annoying. CNN, which doesn’t appear to have many articles about child care in Hornsby, reports that Dubsmash is known for its “diverse audiences”: one quarter of black teens in the US are on the app, and 70 percent of users are women. By “women” I assume CNN means “girls.” At least I hope that’s the case. If 70 percent of Dubsmash users are grown women, Western culture is in serious trouble.

A Reddit blog post says that about 30 percent of Dubsmash users log in each day to create content, which doesn’t seem overly-impressive. It also says that “Dubsmash’s mission is to elevate under-represented creators.” I’m not really sure what constitutes an “under-represented creator,” but there you have it.

“Dubsmash will bring two key strengths to Reddit,” Reddit explains. “First, Dubsmash’s mission is unique among social platforms, and is aligned with Reddit’s own mission of bringing community and belonging to everyone in the world. Just as Reddit is a place for content you won’t see anywhere else on the Internet, Dubsmash provides a welcoming platform for creators and users who are under-represented in social media.”

Commenting on the takeover, Dubsmash leader Suchit Dash delivered the following bromides:

“In our years of building Dubsmash, we’ve learned how video can spark creativity, unlock interactions, and deepen connections within communities. We want to continue our journey to bring best in class video products to our users, and now Reddit users. We believe in the idea of connecting creators around interests and topics, something Reddit has pioneered, in our growing Dubsmash community.”

Prior to being taken over by Reddit, Dubsmash reportedly considered letting Facebook or Snap do the honors.

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Influencers Social Media Society TikTok

Don’t read this if you like cereal

Darwin was wrong, and the #CerealChallenge proves it. What is the #CerealChallenge, you say? Brace yourself. Take a breath. Stop reading if you’re feeling irritable and/or eating cereal. The #CerealChallenge is the latest trend on TikTok. Have you ever felt inclined to eat cereal out of someone else’s mouth? Well, now you have an excuse not only to do it, but to film yourself doing it and then to upload it on the internet. Because that’s what the #CerealChallenge entails.

When I first read that people were eating cereal out of each other’s mouths, I saw an image in my mind of people imitating the feeding techniques of birds. Meaning one person chews cereal and then lets it drop into the other person’s mouth. That was the wrong interpretation. I suppose I should have known better.

In the #CerealChallenge, one person’s mouth acts as the bowl. He or she lies down flat on his or her back. (The floor and the table are ideal surfaces based on my research.) That person then opens up wide, as you do at the dentist’s office. The other proceeds to pour cereal and milk into the gaping mouth (the cereal is typically poured first, though I’ve seen it done the other way round; each to his own).

Once the cereal is in the “bowl,” the upright person grabs a spoon and digs in. The video clip is usually accompanied by some atrocious R&B song.

It’s a repellent spectacle. It’s also, as you might imagine, quite dangerous. In one video, a man attempts (or pretends to attempt) to do this with a young woman he introduces as his sister. The sister dumps the milk in first. It’s too much, though, and once the cereal is added the man spits it all over his face and the table.

I’m waiting for the news story about the teenager who choked to death while trying out the #CerealChallenge.

The #CerealChallenge is revolting in any case. But more so when someone tries it with a dog, as one person did. In that clip, a boy who looks to be college-age lies down on the floor and someone else pours milk into his mouth as a dog looks on. Once the milk is in place the dog is allowed to walk over, at which point it begins to drink the milk from the boy’s mouth. Off camera someone can be heard laughing inanely.

The video’s caption says that “he yakked in the bathroom after this.” You don’t say …

The first such “challenge” I remember seeing is the Ice Bucket Challenge. That, while dumb, reportedly raised more than $200 million for ALS research. The only value the Cereal Challenge is likely to have is providing extraterrestrials with a case study in primitive human behavior.

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Apps Social Media Society TikTok

WWE and TikTok: Match made in Neverland

Hey, all you grown-ups who still watch professional wrestling, the WWE has teamed up with another entertainment service designed for teenyboppers—TikTok. (I naturally assume that adults who never grew out of their Degeneration-X phase are also using TikTok, but I could be wrong.)

The new partnership will be officially launched today, 15 December, just in time for the WWE Tables, Ladders and Chairs pay-per-view extravaganza. According to a WWE press release, the company now has an official TikTok account featuring entrance theme music from over 30 famous wrestlers. Among them, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker (is that cat still alive?), the Ultimate Warrior (pretty sure he’s dead by now), Becky Lynch (whoever that is), and John Cena.

“The themes and original entrance music will be integrated into TikTok’s vast content library joining music from top artists like Lil Nas X, Mariah Carey, Lizzo, and emerging artists like Arizona Zervas,” the press release states. ”By offering WWE’s iconic entrances for TikTok users to play off of and make their own unique videos, the partnership provides fans a new way to engage with their favorite Superstars.”

Jayar Donlan, WWE’s Executive Vice President, Advanced Media, is very excited, or pretending to be.

“We are thrilled to be launching this partnership which offers a new level of engagement with WWE content by enabling the TikTok community to create their own shareable stories tied to WWE‘s world renowned Superstars,” she said.

Mayan Scharf, Global Partnerships, TikTok, sounded an equally euphoric note.

“By capturing the passion and thrill of wrestling, WWE is at the forefront of bringing together sports and entertainment in an unconventional and fun way,” Scharf said. “Through our partnership with WWE, we’re looking forward to bringing the excitement of the WWE experience to TikTok’s global community.”

What are you waiting for? Open up your TikTok app, follow the WWE account, crack open a few Budweisers and start blasting that Stone Cold theme song.

Categories
Apps Blog Social Media TikTok

US goes after TikTok using “national security” pretext

China is a rising world power, which means the United States is extremely hostile to everything related to China, which means the increasingly popular Chinese social media app TikTok is in Washington’s crosshairs. According to news sources the US government has opened a “national security review” of a two-year-old acquisition that saw American social media app Musical.ly bought by Beijing ByteDance Technology Co, the owner of TikTok.

Per Reuters, “TikTok has been growing more popular among U.S. teenagers at a time of growing tensions between Washington and Beijing over trade and technology transfers. About 60% of TikTok’s 26.5 million monthly active users in the United States are between the ages of 16 and 24, the company said this year.”

Therefore, “U.S. lawmakers have been calling in recent weeks for a national security probe into TikTok, concerned the Chinese company may be censoring politically sensitive content, and raising questions about how it stores personal data.”

So the US government is going after a social media app that’s popular with American adolescents because it’s concerned about censorship and data security. Call me crazy but I’m calling bullshit on that one. Since when does the US government, home to the National Security Agency, care about data security and privacy? Maybe it’s found Jesus. Or maybe it’s just full of shit. The latter seems a little more likely.

The investigation into the Musical.ly acquisition is a shot over the bow, just like the attacks on Huawei. The message is clear: the United States is prepared to challenge Chinese development at every turn, in every domain, including social media. In addition to the new Cold War with Russia, the US is instigating another one with China. Because the threat of nuclear war isn’t quite pressing enough yet.

Here’s an idea. Instead of demonizing the comparatively puny and impotent TikTok, why doesn’t the US get its own house in order and impose meaningful regulations on giant mass surveillance firms like Facebook and Google?