Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen will talk Section 230 reform with Congress this week

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen will go before Congress again this week, this time offering her unique perspective on the company’s moderation and policy failures as they relate to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the key legal shield that protects online platforms from liability for the user-created content they host.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold the hearing, titled “Holding Big Tech Accountable: Targeted Reforms to Tech’s Legal Immunity,” this Wednesday, December 1 at 10:30 AM ET. Color of Change President Rashad Robinson and Common Sense Media CEO James Steyer will also testify on Wednesday.

The hearing is the latest Section 230-focused discussion from the House committee. In March, the chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter went before lawmakers to defend the measures they’ve taken to fight misinformation and disinformation — two major areas of concern that have inspired Democratic lawmakers to reexamine tech’s longstanding liability shield.

In an October Senate hearing, Haugen advocated for changes to Section 230 that would hold platforms accountable for the content that they promote algorithmically. While Haugen isn’t an expert on legislative solutions to some of social media’s current ills, given her time with Facebook’s since-dismantled civic integrity team, she’s uniquely positioned to give lawmakers insight into some of the most dangerous societal outcomes of algorithmically amplified content.

“User-generated content is something companies have less control over. But they have 100% control over their algorithms,” Haugen said. “Facebook should not get a free pass on choices it makes to prioritize growth, virality and reactiveness over public safety.”

Facebook’s former News Feed lead and current Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri is also set to testify before the Senate for the first time next week, addressing revelations in leaked documents that the company knows its business takes a toll on the mental health of some of its youngest, most vulnerable users.

In its announcement, the House Energy and Commerce committee cited four tech reform bills that Congress is currently mulling: the Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act of 2021, the SAFE TECH Act, the Civil Rights Modernization Act of 2021 and the Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act. The first bill, proposed by the committee holding Wednesday’s hearing, would lift Section 230’s liability protections in cases when a platform “knowingly or recklessly” recommends harmful content using algorithms.

Bolt makes first acquisition with Tipser, launches ‘Remote Checkout’

The ability to purchase something at the point of discovery from digital content exists, but checkout technology company Bolt has the opportunity to give that its “one-click” treatment. It announced Monday that it made its first acquisition in Tipser, a Swedish-based technology company enabling direct checkout on any digital surface.

San Francisco-based Bolt is fresh off of raising $393 million in Series D funding in October, bringing total capital raised to date to $600 million. And though the Tipser acquisition is in line with the company’s plans of what it wanted to do with the new capital, Ryan Breslow, founder and CEO of Bolt, told TechCrunch the deal “had been in the works for a while.”

Tipser’s technology enables consumers to purchase products natively from sites like online publications, mobile marketplaces, price comparison sites, social media platforms or search engines. The company is led by Marcus Jacobsson, co-founder and CEO, who started the company in 2012 with Axel Wolrath and Jonas Sjöstedt.

In fact, when Bolt initially began talking to Tipser, the company was not in a place to sell, and was actually working on their next investment round (they raised just over $14 million), but the two companies ended up going into deeper conversations and found their cultural resonances worked better together, Breslow said.

“We saw how significant Tipser could be for Bolt,” he added. “They had been perfecting their embedded commerce technology for a decade and were the only formidable player. They were stronger than us in areas where we were weaker. It is very strategic to have them on our team.”

Exact transaction figures were not disclosed, but Breslow did reveal to TechCrunch that the acquisition, which was an all-stock deal, came in “just shy of $200 million.” The entire Tipser team is staying put, so Bolt will be adding 100 more people to its team. Tipser’s presence in Sweden will now also serve as Bolt’s European headquarters to go with the company’s recent announcement of expanding into Europe.

In addition to the acquisition, Bolt is launching Remote Checkout, a tool for shoppers to make a purchase from the exact point of discovery. Instead of seeing something on social media — where 84% of shoppers look for reviews, according to Pew Research Center — then going to another website to make the purchase,

The new tool is one that Bolt was working on internally for over a year and was inspired by Instagram Checkout, also a tool where you can discover a product and check out directly from the app, Breslow said.

“With the death of tracking and cookies, we could see the need for native checkout so retailers can track conversion,” he added. “It’s better for consumers to not have to click a million things.”

Bolt’s Remote Checkout features include the direct one-click checkout, engagement with Bolt’s network of shoppers and the ability for merchants to boost conversion rates while receiving orders through multiple channels and building direct relationships with visitors. It also turns anonymous visitors into logged-in account holders and monetizes traffic on-site.

The added feature of publishers and creators being able to monetize traffic coming to their sites was one that Jason Wagenheim, president and CRO at media publisher BDG (formerly known as Bustle Digital Group), found particularly interesting. BDG’s brands include Bustle, EliteDaily and Fatherly.

He was a bystander of sorts for the merger, having signed up with Tipser in January as the company’s first U.S. publisher, going live with the product in April on two of BDG’s 13 sites, Wagenheim said in an interview.

“What I love most about this acquisition is that we can accelerate the onboarding of hundreds of more merchants onto our platform,” he said. “This is a marriage of content and commerce.”

Before social media and companies like Bolt and Tipser, shopping directly from a magazine page meant utilizing QR codes, but that didn’t take off like people thought it would, Wagenheim said.

Other publishers tried to crack the code, and he noted Goop being one of the few able to do it. Now with these new technologies, any publisher or creator can close the gap between the upper and lower funnels and drive awareness because its commerce is shoppable and one click away.

He considers BDG’s project with Tipser still in the beta phase, but there are plans to roll out the technology on all of its sites next year. The company already had its audience engage in over 25 million sessions with people, on average, seeing 10 products per session, a metric Wagenheim says means the process is working: people are spending time with the products, are engaged and adding products to carts.

“With hundreds more merchants for editors to write about, and the one-click transaction happening, that is a game-changer,” he added.

Digital regulation must empower people to make the internet better

As COVID-19 spread rapidly across the world in 2020, people everywhere were hungry for reliable information. A global network of volunteers rose to the challenge, consolidating information from scientists, journalists and medical professionals, and making it accessible for everyday people.

Two of them live almost 3,200 kilometers away from one another: Dr. Alaa Najjar is a Wikipedia volunteer and medical doctor who spends breaks during his emergency room shift addressing COVID-19 misinformation on the Arabic version of the site. Sweden-based Dr. Netha Hussain, a clinical neuroscientist and doctor, spent her downtime editing COVID-19 articles in English and Malayalam (a language of southwestern India), later focusing her efforts on improving Wikipedia articles about COVID-19 vaccines.

Thanks to Najjar, Hussain and more than 280,000 volunteers, Wikipedia emerged as one of the most trusted sources for up-to-date, comprehensive knowledge about COVID-19, spanning nearly 7,000 articles in 188 languages. Wikipedia’s reach and ability to support knowledge-sharing on a global scale — from informing the public about a major disease to helping students study for tests — is only made possible by laws that enable its collaborative, volunteer-led model to thrive.

As the European Parliament considers new regulations aimed at holding Big Tech platforms accountable for illegal content amplified on their websites and apps through packages like the Digital Services Act (DSA), it must protect citizens’ ability to collaborate in service of the public interest.

Lawmakers are right to try to stem the spread of content that causes physical or psychological harm, including content that is illegal in many jurisdictions. As they consider a range of provisions for the comprehensive DSA, we welcome some of the proposed elements, including requirements for greater transparency about how platforms’ content moderation works.

But the current draft also includes prescriptive requirements for how terms of service should be enforced. At first glance, these measures may seem necessary to curb the rising power of social media, prevent the spread of illegal content and ensure the safety of online spaces. But what happens to projects like Wikipedia? Some of the proposed requirements could shift power further away from people to platform providers, stifling digital platforms that operate differently from the large commercial platforms.

Big Tech platforms work in fundamentally different ways than nonprofit, collaborative websites like Wikipedia. All of the articles created by Wikipedia volunteers are available for free, without ads and without tracking our readers’ browsing habits. The commercial platforms’ incentive structures maximize profits and time on site, using algorithms that leverage detailed user profiles to target people with content that is most likely to influence them. They deploy more algorithms to moderate content automatically, which results in errors of over- and under-enforcement. For example, computer programs often confuse artwork and satire with illegal content, while failing to understand human nuance and context necessary to enforce platforms’ actual rules.

The Wikimedia Foundation and affiliates based in specific countries, like Wikimedia Deutschland, support Wikipedia volunteers and their autonomy in making decisions about what information should exist on Wikipedia and what shouldn’t. The online encyclopedia’s open editing model is grounded in the belief that people should decide what information stays on Wikipedia, leveraging established volunteer-developed rules for neutrality and reliable sources.

This model ensures that for any given Wikipedia article on any subject, people who know and care about a topic enforce the rules about what content is allowed on its page. What’s more, our content moderation is transparent and accountable: All conversations between editors on the platform are publicly accessible. It is not a perfect system, but it has largely worked to make Wikipedia a global source of neutral and verified information.

Forcing Wikipedia to operate more like a commercial platform with a top-down power structure, lacking accountability to our readers and editors, would arguably subvert the DSA’s actual public interest intentions by leaving our communities out of important decisions about content.

The internet is at an inflection point. Democracy and civic space are under attack in Europe and around the world. Now, more than ever, all of us need to think carefully about how new rules will foster, not hinder, an online environment that allows for new forms of culture, science, participation and knowledge.

Lawmakers can engage with public interest communities such as ours to develop standards and principles that are more inclusive, more enforceable and more effective. But they should not impose rules that are aimed solely at the most powerful commercial internet platforms.

We all deserve a better, safer internet. We call on lawmakers to work with collaborators across sectors, including Wikimedia, to design regulations that empower citizens to improve it, together.

This Week in Apps: Twitter launches livestream shopping, Netflix snags new games, Tile gets acquired

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Twitter launches livestream shopping

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter’s e-commerce initiatives now include livestream shopping, the company announced this week, and Walmart will be the first retailer to test the new platform. The Live Shopping service will take advantage of Twitter’s existing capabilities in livestreaming content and its newer e-commerce features, like the Shop Module for business profiles. During the upcoming livestream event, users will be able to watch the show, tweet to join the conversation from the Live Events page, and browse products on the “Shop” and “Latest” tabs just below the video. When ready to purchase, users will click through to the retailer’s website where the livestream will continue — so they don’t have to miss any of the show.

Walmart was a sensible first partner for the new effort, as the retailer has been increasingly investing in livestream events across social media. Over the past year, it hosted more than 15 livestream events across five platforms, including YouTube, TikTok and its own website, among others.

Its Twitter livestream will focus on Cyber Deals and will kick off on November 28 at 7 PM ET in the U.S. The stream will also be broadcast on Walmart.com/live, and across the retailer’s Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube accounts.

Twitter says this is the first-ever e-commerce livestream on its platform, but it plans to bring more experiences like this to its customers in the future.

The event will also serve as a means of testing the Twitter user base’s appetite for live shopping, which today often takes place on other social apps, like Instagram and Facebook, on dedicated live commerce platforms and on video services like YouTube and TikTok. But Twitter —  a place where users tend to track news, events, pop culture trends, politics and more — hasn’t yet defined itself as a platform. Its overabundance of new features released in the past year feel more like spaghetti being thrown at the wall to see what sticks, instead of a carefully planned roadmap. Twitter today wants to be a home to live audio, creator subscriptions, newsletters, bitcoin tipping, NFTs, private communities and more. But, in reality, only some of these things will actually work. For example, Twitter already had to kill its Stories feature (Fleets) due to lack of traction. And its early days of Super Follow, subscriptions didn’t produce much revenue.

Whether or not it will be able to offer the sort of live commerce experience that resonates with consumers and delivers retailers’ objectives still remains to be seen.

Weekly News

Platforms: Google

  • Google’s Play Store is testing out a new “Offers” section that’s different from the existing “Offers & Notifications” page in the app menu. Instead, it’s being used to bring up carousels of deals, limited-time specials and paid apps going free, while the “Offers & Notifications” section had only delivered a heavily curated list of offers, or, if none were available, the option to add a promo code.
  • Android 10 is still the most-used version of the Android OS, according to numbers crunched by 9to5Google using data provided through Android Studio. The Android 10 OS has a 26.5% market share, edging out Android 11’s 24.2%. Android 12 hasn’t yet made an appearance in the numbers.

E-commerce and delivery services

  • Uber enters the cannabis delivery market. The ride-hailing app announced that users in Ontario, Canada would be able to place cannabis orders on its Uber Eats app following its listing of cannabis retailer Tokyo Smoke on its marketplace. The company had said it would consider expanding cannabis delivery in the U.S. when the legality of doing so is made more clear.
  • Mobile advertising and app monetization company Tapjoy announced the launch of a rewarded shopping product, Tapjoy Shopping. The in-app marketplace lets consumers shop from hundreds of brands and retailers, and earn rewards in their favorite apps — like virtual currency — for their purchases. The feature is available in any of the over 10,000 apps that belong to Tapjoy’s network. Tapjoy says shopping offers like this have been increasingly important to mobile publishers after Cost Per Engagement app ads were banned on iOS.
  • France has asked search engines and app stores to remove the popular e-commerce platform Wish, which mostly sources products from China-based merchants. The order comes following France’s investigations into fraud, product safety and counterfeit goods on Wish, which found that 95% of toys on Wish didn’t comply with EU regulation, 45% were dangerous, 95% of electronics didn’t comply with regulation and 90% were dangerous.

Augmented Reality

Image Credits: Snap

  • Snapchat is bringing AR to holiday shopping. On Black Friday (11/26), the company will launch the Snap Holiday Market, which will feature immersive AR experiences from a half-dozen brand partners, including Amazon Prime Video, Coca-Cola, Hollister, Under Armour, Verizon and Walmart. Each brand will have a dedicated storefront where Snapchat users can browse their products and deal in an AR space designed for each brand. The market will be available from the Lens Carousel and the top of the “For You” tab in the Lens Explorer.
  • Snap also plans to offer AR try-on and e-commerce Lenses throughout the holiday shopping season, including those from brands like American Eagle, Fendi, Diork Kaja Beauty, NYX Cosmetics, Shein and Tory Burch.
  • The company announced a new AR stat, as well: Snapchat now sees over 6 billion AR Lens plays every day on average, it said.

Fintech

  • The German neobank N26 will shutter its U.S. operations. The company’s 500,000 U.S. customers will see their accounts closed on January 11 and will be provided with instructions on how to withdraw their funds. The company said it made the decision to better focus on its core European business and plans to launch to more countries in Eastern Europe, as well as Brazil. The bank had previously shut down its business in the U.K., citing post-Brexit difficulties.

Social

  • TikTok hires a new head of diversity and inclusion. The company has hired Shavone Charles, previously of VSCO, Instagram and Twitter, to fill the newly created role. The exec will be LA-based and report to TikTok’s head of comms, Hilary McQuaide.
  • Kuaishou, the Chinese maker of the largest short-form video platform after TikTok, reported earnings. Revenue rose 33% as the company reported 20.5 billion yuan ($3.2 billion) for the three months ended September, versus the 20.1 billion yuan average forecast. Total MAUs on its main app reached 573 million, though the company had to shut down its U.S. TikTok rival Zynn earlier this year.
  • Twitter made a change to its crowdsourced fact-checking program, Birdwatch, which now allows users to submit their contributions anonymously. Twitter says pilot users “overwhelmingly” requested this feature, particularly women and Black contributors. “Research has shown that aliases have the potential to reduce bias, by putting focus on the content of a note, not the author,” Twitter said, adding that aliases may also “reduce polarization by helping people feel comfortable crossing partisan lines.”

  • Twitter also updated its iOS app to address the annoying bug (which Twitter must have thought was a feature) where your timeline would refresh automatically, making the tweets you were actively reading disappear from view. After first fixing this issue on the web, Twitter is now rolling it out to iOS users.
  • Reddit said it’s shutting down Dubsmash, the short-form video app it acquired late last year, and is integrating video tools into its own app.  Reddit said its camera features will now include the ability to change recording speeds and the option to set a timer, similar to other short-form video apps. Users can now also upload videos in landscape, portrait mode and fill, as well as adjust and trim multiple clips. The company is also adding a new editing screen that includes text Stickers, a drawing tool and filters. And users have the option to add voiceovers or adjust the volume directly on the editing screen.
  • Social networking app for women Peanut announced a new feature called “Go Global,” which will allow its users to connect with other women around the world, instead of only those nearby. The company said there was demand for the option after it launched its live audio feature Pods. But it could also make Peanut more useful in markets where there just aren’t that many local users to connect with.

Image Credits: Peanut

  • The TikTok app ecosystem is huge. Correction! In our last newsletter, we pointed to Sensor Tower’s analysis of the TikTok app ecosystem and mistakenly referred to its “400 or so mobile apps.” The ecosystem saw 400 apps debut in 2020, but in total, there are some 900 apps tied to TikTok to offer things like downloading videos, viewing analytics, tracking hashtags and more. Meanwhile, those 900 apps reached over 1 billion downloads worldwide, not 3 billion. (But TikTok, including its sister app Douyin, have 3.3 billion installs, for comparison.)

Messaging

  • Facebook, err Meta, said it’s delaying the launch of end-to-end encryption (E2EE) across its messaging products until 2023 following warnings from child safety campaigns, including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Such a system would prevent law enforcement and tech platforms from being able to detect child abusers, critics warned, and asked Meta to not proceed until it had a plan in place to prevent child abuse from being undetected on its platform. A former Facebook employee also accused Meta of announcing an absurdly accelerated timeline for E2EE to preempt antitrust action and for “good marketing,” which would have resulted in systems to identify child grooming, sextortion and CSAM distribution operating at less than 10% of the effectiveness of the systems that did inspect content.
  • WhatsApp introduced a new feature that would allow its web and desktop users to make their own custom stickers for use in the messaging app. The sticker maker is available from any chat from the paperclip icon, then clicking on “Sticker.”

Streaming & Entertainment

  • Apple Podcasts gets a suspicious boost in its App Store ratings. At first, it looked like angry podcast listeners and creators would finally have their say about the app’s decline by downrating Apple’s Podcasts app after Apple, for the first time, made its first-party apps reviewable by the public. But soon thereafter, the previously (embarrassingly) 1.8 star-rated app jumped, in a little over a month, to a 4.6 star rating. What gives? Apple critic Kosta Eleftheriou first noticed the change, and theorizes it’s because Apple is now intelligently prompting users for reviews — which, to be fair, is its right. But many of the reviews seem to be people reviewing the podcasts themselves, not the actual app, which is odd and…a bit suspicious.
  • Spotify will drop its shuffle feature on albums, after Adele asked. The streamer would previously default to shuffle mode but Adele had asked Spotify to allow her new album to play in the intended order. The artist tweeted that “our art tells a story and our stories should be listened to as we intended,” when thanking Spotify for the adjustment.
  • Music streaming app Tidal introduced direct artist payments, which aims to more equitably distribute funds to artists, compared with the models used by Apple and Spotify. With this user-centric payment system, subscription fees are directly distributed to the artists a user streams.
  • TikTok expands its TV footprint. The short-form video app rolled out to more TV devices across the U.S. and Canada with the addition of support for Google TV and Android TV OS, as well as LG and Samsung Smart TVs. Amazon Fire TV was previously supported.
  • Spotify tests a TikTok-like feed. The company is the latest to experiment with short-form video in its app as a means of content discovery. Except in Spotify’s case, it’s capitalizing on its existing Canvas video format but presenting it in a new place.
  • Spotify also debuted a “Netflix Hub” on its app, which features playlists, soundtracks and podcasts tied to Netlflix shows and movies. The companies had partnered on other initiatives before now, and see the hub as a way to serve their respective audiences with new and, sometimes exclusive, entertainment content.

Image Credits: Spotify/Netflix

Gaming

  • Netflix’s new gaming service added two more titles, including the return of Gameloft’s “Asphalt Xtreme.” The streamer recently expanded its service worldwide across iOS and Android, with a handful of titles, including a few casual games and two “Stranger Things”-themed games. Now, it’s added another arcade title, “Bowling Ballers,” and a reboot of Gameloft’s action racing game, “Asphalt Xtreme,” which had officially shut down just in September.

Travel and Transportation 

  • Telsa’s app experienced an outage that prevented car owners from opening their doors or starting their vehicles. Users reported getting a 500 server error on their iOS app, leading them to tweet at Elon Musk directly for help.

Government & Policy

  • The EU passed new rules that may impact major European and U.S. tech companies. The Digital Markets Act’ would make messaging apps interoperable, bans behavioral ad targeting to minors and would fine a company as much as 20% of total global annual sales for breaches of the law. The vote was the final step toward finalizing the rules, expected to come into action in 2022.
  • WhatsApp is reorganizing its privacy policy to provide more information on the data it collects and how it’s protected, used and shared across borders, after Irish regulators fined the service a record €225 million ($267 million USD) for breaching EU data privacy rules.
  • Instagram head Adam Mosseri is the next big tech rep who will testify before Congress. The exec will appear before lawmakers for the first time, and will answer the senators’ questions about Instagram’s impact on young people following the whistleblower leaks.
  • China’s state media reported Tencent has to submit new apps or updates for regulatory inspection through December 31 after Beijing determine Tencent’s apps infringed on users’ rights and interests. Tencent said its apps are still functional and available for download.
  • Apple pushed back the feature that would allow U.S. users to store their state’s driver’s license or state ID on their iPhone. The company said Arizona and Georgia would be the first states to get the feature, with Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma and Utah to follow. The feature was originally set to launch in late 2021, but will now arrive in early 2022.

Security & Privacy

  • Privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo added to its Android app the ability to block hidden trackers, as part of its new “App Tracking Protection for Android” feature. The new option, now in beta, aims to block data collection from happening inside apps, where third-party trackers are hidden away in the app’s code.
  • Apple sued NSO Group, the maker of the nation-state spyware Pegasus. The suit is asking for a permanent injunction that would prevent NSO Group from using any Apple product or service, to “prevent further abuse and harm to its users.”

Funding and M&A

🤝 Family locator and communication app Life360 announced it would acquire lost-item tracking company Tile for $205 million. The deal will see Tile continue to be led as its own brand under its existing CEO CJ Prober. The company says no further changes to the Tile team are currently planned and Prober will also now join the Life360 board of directors. Tile, an Apple critic, claims that its business suffered from the AirTag’s arrival and Apple’s anti-competitive practices. It had recently announced a $40 million debt round to keep the business going.

💰 Niantic raised $300 million from Coatue at a $9 billion valuation to build the “real-world metaverse.” The Pokémon GO maker is betting on a metaverse that blends the real world with augmented reality, not virtual reality. This month, Niantic unveiled the Lightship AR Developer Kit which offers tools for AR game development. It also recently launched a new AR game, Pikmin Bloom.

🤝 Triller, the one-time TikTok rival turned live events company, has acquired Thuzio, a live events company co-founded by NY Giants’ Tiki Barber. The business had suffered during the pandemic when live events were shuttered. TrillerNet (Triller’s parent) confirmed the deal to the New York Post but didn’t disclose terms.

💰 Creator-driven marketplace LTK raised $300 million from SoftBank’s Vision Fund, valuing the business at $2 billion. The company, which was previously branded RewardStyle and LIKEtoKNOW.it, helps social media influencers make their posts shoppable from a centralized marketplace on the web and the LTK app. Brands can also use LTK to connect with creators on marketing campaigns.

💰 Mobile DevOps company Bitrise announced a $60 million round of funding led by Insight Partners to help developers build better mobile apps. Bitrise aims to create an end-to-end platform for mobile development that automates core workflows, shortens release cycles and provides a better understanding of how new pieces of code will affect live apps before their release, and counts over 100,000 developers as users.

💰 Column Tax, a company that makes income tax software designed to be embedded in other fintech apps, raised $5.1 million in seed funding led by Bain Capital Ventures. The company’s Tax Refund Unlock feature also recently became available to 2 million users of the cash advance app Klover.

💰 Berlin-based same-day grocery delivery app Yababa raised $15.5 million in seed funding led by Creandum and Project A, to expand its service within Germany and across Europe. The service, which currently offers items that cater to Turkish and Arabic communities, plans to expand its product mix in the future.

🤝 Coinbase acqui-hired the team behind BRD, a crypto wallet startup that first launched its mobile wallet back in 2014. BRD’s co-founders say nothing will be changing for BRD users for the time being, but users will have the option to migrate to Coinbase’s wallet in 2022.

💰 TabTrader raised $5.8 million in Series A funding for its mobile app that aggregates crypto exchange data. The app has more than 400,000 active users, with a particularly strong presence in Europe and Asia. Investors include 100X Ventures, Hashkey Capital, Spartan Capital, SGH Capital, SOSV and Artesian Venture Partners.

Downloads

Fold AR (Fold)

Image Credits: Fold

Of course, the metaverse has bitcoin? I mean, for sheer rubbernecking purposes we have to check out Niantic’s latest app. The Pokémon GO maker has weirdly teamed up with a bitcoin rewards and payments app, Fold, to launch an AR bitcoin mining experience called Fold AR. Currently in beta, Fold AR lets users earn bitcoin and other in-app benefits by exploring their physical surroundings using augmented reality. Unlike in Pokémon GO, where users seek out rare creatures, Fold users will collect bitcoin and other prizes, including those that increase their bitcoin cashback rewards. The company believes the game will appeal to bitcoin newcomers and existing cryptocurrency fans alike and will drive users to Fold’s app — where the in-app AR experience lives. Before the AR launch, Fold was focused on its bitcoin cashback experience where users connect their credit card, their Fold card or a bitcoin wallet, in order to purchase gift cards and receive cash back in the form of BTC. Fold AR rolls out on November 23 to select users and will add more users over time.

Europe offers tepid set of political ads transparency rules

It’s been almost a year since the EU’s executive announced it would propose rules for political ads transparency in response to concern about online microtargeting and big data techniques making mincemeat of democratic integrity and accountability.

Today it’s come out with its proposal. But frankly it doesn’t look like the wait was worth it.

The Commission’s PR claims the proposal will introduce “strict conditions for targeting and amplifying” political advertising using digital tools — including what it describes as a ban on targeting and amplification that use or infer “sensitive personal data, such as ethnic origin, religious beliefs or sexual orientation”.

However the claimed ‘ban’ does not apply if “explicit consent” is obtained from the person whose sensitive data is to be exploited to better target them with propaganda — and online ‘consents’ to ad targeting are already a total trashfire of non-compliance in the region.

So it’s not clear why the Commission believes politically vested interests hell-bent on influencing elections are going to play by a privacy rule-book that almost no online advertisers operating in the region currently do, even the ones that are only trying to get people to buy useless plastic trinkets or ‘detox’ teas.

In a Q&A offering further detail on the proposal, the Commission lists a set of requirements that it says anyone making use of political targeting and amplification will need to comply with, which includes having an internal policy on the use of such techniques; maintaining records of the targeting and use of personal data; and recording the source of said personal data — so at best it seems to be hoping to burden propagandists with the need to create and maintain a plausible paper trail.

Because it is also allowing a further carve-out to allow for political targeting — writing: “Targeting could also be allowed in the context of legitimate activities of foundations, associations or not-for-profit bodies with a political, philosophical, religious or trade union aim, when it targets their own members.”

This is incredibly vague. A “foundation” or an “association” with a political “aim” sounds like something any campaign group or vested interest could set up — i.e. to carry on the “legitimate” activity of (behaviorally?) targeting propaganda at voters.

In short, the scope for loopholes for political microtargeting — including via the dissemination of disinformation — looks massive.

On scope, the Commission says it wants the incoming rules to apply to “ads by, for or on behalf of a political actor” as well as “so called” issue-based ads — aka politically charged issues that can be a potent proxy to sway voters — which it notes are “liable to influence the outcome of an election or referendum, a legislative or regulatory process or voting behaviour”.

But how exactly the regulation will define ads that fall in and out of scope remains to be seen.

Perhaps the most substantial measure of a very thin proposal is around transparency — where the Commission has proposed “transparency labels” for paid political ads.

It says these must be “clearly labelled” and provide “a set of key information” — including the name of the sponsor “prominently displayed and an easily retrievable transparency notice”; along with the amount spent on the political advertisement; the sources of the funds used; and a link between the advertisement and the relevant elections or referenda.

However, again, the Commission appears to be hoping that a few transparency requirements will enforce a sea change on an infamously opaque and fraud-filled industry — one that has been fuelled by rampant misuse and unlawful exploitation of people’s data. Rather than cutting off the head of the hydra by actually curbing targeting — such as by limiting political targeting to broad-brush contextual buckets.

Hence it writes: “All political advertising services, from adtech that intermediate the placement of ads, to consultancies and advertising agencies producing the advertising campaigns, will have to retain the information they have access to through the provision of their service about the ad, the sponsor and the dissemination of the ad. They will have to transfer this information to the publisher of the political ad — this can be the website or app where the ad is seen by an individual, a newspaper, a TV broadcaster, a radio station, etc. The publisher will need to make the information available to the individual who sees the ad.”

“Transparency of political advertising will help people understand when they see a paid political advertisement,” the Commission further suggests, adding: “With the proposed rules, every political advertisement – whether on Twitter, Facebook or any other online platform – will have to be clearly marked as political advertisement as well as include the identity of the sponsor and a transparency notice with the wider context of the political advertisement and its aims, or a clear indication of where it can be easily retrieved.”

It’s a nice theory but for one thing plenty of election interference originates from outside a region where the election itself is taking place.

On that the Commission says it will require organisations that provide political advertising services in the EU but do not have a physical presence there to designate a legal representative in a Member States where the services are offered, suggesting: “This will ensure more transparency and accountability of services providers acting from outside the Union.”

How exactly it will require (and enforce) that stipulation isn’t clear.

Another problem is that all these transparency obligations will only apply to “political advertising services”.

Propaganda that gets uploaded to online platforms like Facebook by a mere “user” — aka an entity that does not self-identify as a political advertising service — will apparently escape the need for any transparency accountability at all.

Even if they’re — y’know — working out of a Russian trollfarm that’s actively trying to destabilize the European Union… Just so long as they claim to be ‘Hans, 32, Berliner, loves cats, hates the CSU’.

Now if platforms like Facebook were perfectly great at identifying, reporting and purging inauthentic activity, fake accounts and shadey influence ops in their own backyards it might not be such a problem to leave the door open for “a user” to post unaccountable political propaganda. But a whole clutch of whistleblowers have pointed out, in excruciating detail, that Facebook at least is very much not that.

So that looks like another massive loophole — one which underlines why the only genuine way to fix the problem of online disinformation and election interference is to put an end to behavioral targeting period, rather than just fiddling around the edges. Not least because by fiddly with some tepid measures that will offer only a flawed, partial transparency you risk lulling people into a false sense of security — as well as further normalizing exploitative manipulation (just so long as you have a ‘policy’ in place).

Once online ads and content can be targeted at individuals based on tracking their digital activity and harvesting their personal data for profiling, it’s open season for opaque InfluenceOps and malicious interests to workaround whatever political ads transparency rules you try to layer on top of the cheap, highly scalable tools offered by advertising giants like Facebook to keep spreading their propaganda — at the expense of your free and fair elections.

Really what this regulation proposes is to create a large admin burden for advertisers who intend to run genuinely public/above board political campaigns — leaving the underbelly of paid mud slingers, hate spreaders and disinformation peddlers to exploit its plentiful loopholes to run mass manipulation campaigns right through it.

So it will be interesting to see whether the European Parliament takes steps to school the Commission by adding some choice amendments to its draft — as MEPs have been taking a stronger line against microtargeting in recent months.

On penalties, for now, under the Commission proposal, ‘official’ advertising services could be fined for breaking things like the transparency and record-keeping requirements but how much will be determined locally, by Member States — at a level the Commission says should be “effective, proportionate and dissuasive”.

What might that mean? Well under the proposal, national Data Protection Authorities (DPAs) will be responsible for monitoring the use of personal data in political targeting and for imposing fines — so, ultimately, for determining the level of fines that domestic rule-breaking political operators might face.

Which does not exactly inspire a whole lot of confidence. DPAs are, after all, resourced by the same set of political entities — or whichever flavor happens to be in government.

The UK’s ICO carried out an extensive audit of political parties data processing activities following the 2018 Cambridge Analytica Facebook data misuse scandal — and in 2020 it reported finding a laundry list of failures across the political spectrum.

So what did the EU’s (at the time) best resourced DPA do about all these flagrant breaches by UK political parties?

The ICO’s enforcement action at that point consisted of — checks notes — issuing a series of recommendations.

There was also a warning that it might take further action in the future. And this summer the ICO did issue one fine: Slapping the Conservative Party with a £10,000 penalty for spamming voters. Which doesn’t really sound very dissuasive tbh.

Earlier this month another of these UK political data offenders, the Labour Party, was forced to fess up to what it dubbed a “data incident” — involving an unnamed third party data processor. It remains to be seen what sanction it may face for failing to protect supporters’ information in that (post-ICO-audit) instance.

Adtech generally has also faced very little enforcement from EU DPAs — despite scores of complaints against its privacy-eviscerating targeting methods — and despite the ICO saying back in 2019 that its methods are rampantly unlawful under existing data protection law.

Vested interests in Europe have been incredibly successful at stymieing regulatory enforcement against invasive ad targeting.

And, apparently, also derailing progress by defanging incoming EU rules — so they won’t do anything much to stop the big-data ‘sausage-factory’ of (in this case) political microtargeting from keeping on slicing ‘n’ dicing up the eyeballs of the citizenry.

Twitter iOS update prevents tweets from disappearing while you’re reading them

Twitter is updating its iOS app to prevent tweets from disappearing while users are still reading them. The change comes as the social media giant recently updated its web platform to no longer automatically refresh timelines with new tweets. Twitter acknowledged that in the past, tweets would often disappear from view as users were reading them when their timeline would automatically refresh, creating a frustrating experience.

“We’ve made some updates on iOS to prevent Tweets from disappearing mid-read. Now when you pause your timeline scrolling to look at a tweet, it should stay put,” Twitter outlined in a tweet.

In September, the company noted it would be rolling out updates to the way it displays tweets so that they wouldn’t disappear mid-read. These updates have now rolled out to Twitter’s web and iOS platforms. Twitter notes that it’s working on making changes to the disappearing Tweet experience on Android too, but it’s unknown when the updates will roll out.

Twitter also recently announced that it will no longer automatically crop image previews on the web, after rolling out full-size image previews on mobile earlier this year. On Twitter for the web, images will now display in full without any cropping. Instead of gambling on how an image will show up in the timeline, images will look just like they did when you shot them. The social media giant first tested the change in March with a small subset of iOS and Android users.

These tweaks come as Twitter has been working to enhance its platform and make its services more accessible. The social media giant recently rolled out the ability for users to share direct links to their Spaces to let others tune into a live audio session via the web without being logged into the platform. The company also recently introduced its in-app tipping feature to all Android users above the age of 18.

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes testifies in her own criminal trial

One of the biggest mysteries in former Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes’ high-profile fraud trial was whether or not she would testify. So it was a shock late Friday afternoon when the Stanford dropout took the stand, eleven weeks after the trial began. Now that the prosecution has rested its case — questioning witnesses like former US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, whistleblower Erika Cheung, Theranos patients, investors, medical professionals and journalists — Holmes is telling her side of the story under oath, her defense aiming to build the case that she did not knowingly defraud her investors.

The former Silicon Valley hotshot faces two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud. If convicted, each count could land her up to 20 years in prison.

So far, Holmes has stuck to her argument that while Theranos made errors, the startup’s failure wasn’t fraud. She claims that when she told stakeholders about the capabilities of Theranos’ technology, she was conveying what she thought was the truth. Since Holmes isn’t a trained scientist, she says she listened to the guidance of the experts she hired — she even testified that scientists and engineers designed a slide deck presented to investors.

Holmes’ defense has produced emails from high-ranking lab officials like chief scientist Ian Gibbons, who said that Theranos machines had “demonstrated capabilities fully equivalent to lab methods in areas where we have done assay development.” Holmes testified that Gibbons’ emails indicated that Theranos’ 4.0 Edison machine “could run any test,” per live courtroom reporting from Law 360’s Dorothy Atkins (the trial is not livestreamed). Gibbons died by suicide in 2013 while employed at Theranos, days before he was to be summoned to appear in court about a Theranos-related patent dispute.

Holmes has also denied that she was trying to lead Walgreens astray by sending the company documents with the unauthorized use of Pfizer’s logo. She said in court that she wishes she had handled the situation differently, but that she had included the Pfizer logo because Theranos had done some testing with Pfizer before they decided not to work together. Her defense also pulled up a study from Johns Hopkins University from around the same time, which called the Theranos technology “novel and sound.”

This is a direct response to a key claim from the prosecution, which produced evidence that Holmes sent Walgreens a document in 2010 called “Pfizer Theranos System Validation Final Report.” As it turned out, this document was created by Theranos staff, not Pfizer. Yet Pfizer’s logo appeared prominently in the document, which indicated that the pharmaceutical giant endorsed Theranos’ technology. Theranos entered deals with Walgreens and Safeway that year. But in court, a Pfizer scientist denied that Pfizer endorsed Theranos, adding that no employees approved the document she sent while in talks about the deal. Pfizer had looked into Theranos’ technology in 2008, but chose not to invest in the company.

Holmes has also begun discussing her relationship with the Theranos board, who were paid $150,000 per year and given half a million shares for their role — former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was paid $500,000 per year as a consultant. So far, it seems Holmes is trying to characterize the board as being knowledgeable enough about the nature of the company to make an informed investment in the company. Multiple courtroom reporters have noted that Holmes is deploying corporate and scientific jargon in her testimony.

Image Credits: Ethan Swope (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Elizabeth Holmes built Theranos with a heartfelt pitch that raised enough capital from high-profile investors to reach a $10 billion valuation. With just a needle prick of blood, her technology would run dozens of blood tests to detect disease quicker, and at a lower cost. She famously repeated the line: “I hope that less people will have to say goodbye too soon to people that they love.”

But, as we now know — and as you can now learn about through tell-all HBO documentaries and investigative nonfiction books — the technology didn’t work, and the company appeared to continue testing patients’ blood despite knowing they couldn’t deliver accurate medical information. Her criminal trial began in early September in San Jose, California — after delays due to the pandemic and Holmes’ childbirth — with Judge Edward Davila at the bench.

In her heyday, when Forbes named her the youngest and wealthiest female self-made billionaire in America, she was portrayed as a Steve Jobs-like genius with unstoppable charisma. But in court filings, Holmes’ defense said that Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, her former boyfriend and COO of Theranos, was abusive and controlling. The filings indicate that Holmes’ lawyers might introduce testimony on Holmes’ mental health and the effects of the abuse as part of her defense, perhaps pinning the blame of Theranos’ failure on Balwani, who will be tried for fraud separately next year.

But as Holmes has testified the last few days, the San Jose courthouse has looked more like a circus than the site of a criminal fraud case. Law360 reporter Dorothy Atkins tweeted this morning that when she arrived at 4:30 AM, she was the 32nd person in line to enter the courthouse. Due to the popularity of the case, audience members have been urged to only take notes or live-report using silent keyboards, like touch screens on a smartphone. Some journalists have brought tarot cards to give readings while waiting hours in line. The fanfare is reminiscent of the early days of the trial in September, when fans (yes, fans) of the disgraced entrepreneur cosplayed as Elizabeth Holmes. As a play on that viral moment, artist Danielle Baskin — who often pokes fun at Silicon Valley culture — sold blonde wigs, black turtlenecks, lipstick, and blood energy drinks in line this morning (she later tweeted that she learned today that you can’t “sell merch” on federal property.)

Though Elizabeth Holmes makes for an easy Halloween costume, the antics around the high-profile case can’t undermine the horrifying evidence presented by the prosecution, which is working to prove to the jury that Holmes knowingly defrauded investors by lying about the efficacy of Theranos products.

One former Theranos patient Erin Tompkins testified in court that her Theranos test results detected the presence of HIV antibodies, which could mean she had the virus that causes AIDS, a life-threatening disease. Tompkins said she didn’t have insurance at the time, so it wasn’t until three months later that she could get a blood test elsewhere, which did not detect HIV. She said she was initially drawn to Theranos since the prices were so low. Another patient, Dr. Mehrl Ellsworth, testified that he received inaccurate results, which falsely indicated that he had prostate cancer.

Dr. Adam Rosendorff, the former Theranos lab director, testified that “the company was more about PR and fundraising than patient care,” adding that Holmes went ahead with Theranos’ commercial launch despite his concerns about the technology. One of the Theranos whistleblowers, Erika Cheung, recounted her story of quitting the startup because she was uncomfortable processing patient samples when she didn’t think the technology could provide accurate results.

After court adjourns today, the trial will take a break for the Thanksgiving holiday, resuming Holmes’ testimony on Monday. According to court schedules, her defense is expected to continue presenting its case through the middle of December.

Reddit is shutting down Dubsmash and integrating video tools into its own app

Reddit is shutting down Dubsmash, its short-form TikTok-like video platform, on February 22, 2022. The company says after February, Dubsmash will no longer be available for download in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Currently downloaded apps will stop functioning on the same date.

The company acquired Dubsmash in December 2020 and had said it would integrate its video creation tools into Reddit. Following the acquisition, Dubsmash’s leadership team joined Reddit. Now, nearly a year later, Reddit says the Dubsmash team has been accelerating the app’s video offerings and that parts of Reddit will feel familiar to Dubsmash users.

“Since joining, the Dubsmash team has been working to integrate their innovative video creation tools into Reddit — with a goal of empowering Reddit’s own creators to express themselves in original ways that are authentic to our communities,” Reddit said in a blog post. “Combining forces has been a perfect match. Reddit is where passionate communities come together for timely, interactive, and authentic exchanges about topics that matter to them, and video is increasingly core to how people want to connect.”

As part of the integration, Reddit has announced that it’s rolling out new video creation tools. New camera features include the ability to change recording speeds and the option to set a timer. Users can now also upload videos in landscape, portrait mode and fill, as well as adjust and trim multiple clips. The company is also adding a new editing screen that includes text Stickers, a drawing tool and filters. And users have the option to add voiceovers or adjust the volume directly on the editing screen.

Image Credits: Reddit

In August, Reddit rolled out a video feed feature for iOS users, which shows a stream of videos in a TikTok-like configuration. When presented with a video, users can upvote or downvote, comment, gift an award or share it. Similar to TikTok, users can swipe up to see another video, feeding content from subreddits the user is subscribed to, as well as related ones. The launch of the new video feed came as Instagram’s Reels feature and Snapchat’s Spotlight tool were gaining traction, as social media platforms were looking to compete with TikTok.

Reddit says video content is soaring on Reddit, as it has seen nearly 70% growth in overall hours watched. It notes that there has been a 30% increase in daily active video viewers growth. The app has also seen a 50% increase in quarter-over-quarter short video viewership, which it describes as less than than 2 seconds, in its new video player.

It’s worth noting that Reddit first launched its native video platform in 2017, which allows users to upload MP4 and MOV files to the site. Then, in August 2019, it launched RPAN (Reddit Public Access Network), which lets people livestream to selected subreddits.

Now that Reddit has completed its Dubsmash integration, it’s no surprise that it’s looking to garner more users with the launch of its new video creation tools as it aims to continue to compete with TikTok. However, apps like TikTok and Snapchat go beyond simple video creation, as they also leverage sounds and music on their platforms. It’s unknown if Reddit will take its video ambitions further by following suit in the future.

Reddit is shutting down Dubsmash and integrating video tools into its own app

Reddit is shutting down Dubsmash, its short-form TikTok-like video platform, on February 22, 2022. The company says after February, Dubsmash will no longer be available for download in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Currently downloaded apps will stop functioning on the same date.

The company acquired Dubsmash in December 2020 and had said it would integrate its video creation tools into Reddit. Following the acquisition, Dubsmash’s leadership team joined Reddit. Now, nearly a year later, Reddit says the Dubsmash team has been accelerating the app’s video offerings and that parts of Reddit will feel familiar to Dubsmash users.

“Since joining, the Dubsmash team has been working to integrate their innovative video creation tools into Reddit — with a goal of empowering Reddit’s own creators to express themselves in original ways that are authentic to our communities,” Reddit said in a blog post. “Combining forces has been a perfect match. Reddit is where passionate communities come together for timely, interactive, and authentic exchanges about topics that matter to them, and video is increasingly core to how people want to connect.”

As part of the integration, Reddit has announced that it’s rolling out new video creation tools. New camera features include the ability to change recording speeds and the option to set a timer. Users can now also upload videos in landscape, portrait mode and fill, as well as adjust and trim multiple clips. The company is also adding a new editing screen that includes text Stickers, a drawing tool and filters. And users have the option to add voiceovers or adjust the volume directly on the editing screen.

Image Credits: Reddit

In August, Reddit rolled out a video feed feature for iOS users, which shows a stream of videos in a TikTok-like configuration. When presented with a video, users can upvote or downvote, comment, gift an award or share it. Similar to TikTok, users can swipe up to see another video, feeding content from subreddits the user is subscribed to, as well as related ones. The launch of the new video feed came as Instagram’s Reels feature and Snapchat’s Spotlight tool were gaining traction, as social media platforms were looking to compete with TikTok.

Reddit says video content is soaring on Reddit, as it has seen nearly 70% growth in overall hours watched. It notes that there has been a 30% increase in daily active video viewers growth. The app has also seen a 50% increase in quarter-over-quarter short video viewership, which it describes as less than than 2 seconds, in its new video player.

It’s worth noting that Reddit first launched its native video platform in 2017, which allows users to upload MP4 and MOV files to the site. Then, in August 2019, it launched RPAN (Reddit Public Access Network), which lets people livestream to selected subreddits.

Now that Reddit has completed its Dubsmash integration, it’s no surprise that it’s looking to garner more users with the launch of its new video creation tools as it aims to continue to compete with TikTok. However, apps like TikTok and Snapchat go beyond simple video creation, as they also leverage sounds and music on their platforms. It’s unknown if Reddit will take its video ambitions further by following suit in the future.

Small creators are big business

You’ve likely heard of the “creator economy” already — it’s no longer a new concept, although some people are more acquainted with what it entails than others. But the creator economy needs creators. It says so right there on the label.

Essentially, what we call the creator economy encompasses two groups. The first is a large, decentralized and amorphous group of predominantly independent creatives connected to the digital sphere in one way or another. This includes musicians, visual artists, filmmakers, graphic designers, bloggers and influencers. The second is the companies and platforms that provide the tools that enable this creation, and, by extension, distribution and monetization.

Unsurprisingly, the creator economy’s business side is fundamentally digital, and thus the domain of the tech industry. This has made it easier than ever for independent creators to make a living through their work.

It has also, rather remarkably, kick-started the long overdue unraveling of the superstar model — the old-school way of doing entertainment business in which a small cohort of famous stars made content for everyone, and that was it. That’s not to say subcultures haven’t flourished for decades — they have — but they’ve never made the bulk of the cash.

The creator economy and creator tech sprung up relatively organically. The shift was initially enabled by virality and audience access through newfangled social media channels, but creator tech is now a world unto itself. As such, its very survival depends on the continuation of this slide away from the superstar model.

Kicking holes into the superstar model

In a July 16 letter to shareholders, Netflix acknowledged TikTok as a real competitor, going so far as to note its “astounding” growth. One could even argue that Netflix’s initial begrudging acknowledgment of TikTok’s competitive edge happened last year when the platform launched Fast Laughs, a copycat video feed with short clips culled from its comedy catalog.

Regardless, Netflix has long hitched its wagon to superstars: Zac Efron travels the globe, Paris Hilton cooks, every household-name comedian has at least one special, and original movies and series net the likes of Timothée Chalamet, Jane Fonda, Sandra Oh and Anthony Hopkins, to name but a few. It’s the old guard.

Meanwhile, the biggest stars on TikTok are not “stars” at all, but regular people who happened to be funny or clever or incisive and garnered an audience based on the luck of the algorithm and their creativity alone. They’re not names everyone knows, but many creators have found their niche and a dedicated following. They’re the new guard, and they’re siphoning off precious attention and viewership.

There are no “tentpoles” in the creator economy, a term used to describe a given studio’s big-budget blockbuster that does so well it secures the financial health of the studio itself. This also applies to major labels: Most albums hardly recoup the costs required to make them, but then Adele comes along, drops a record, and pays for all those records that didn’t recoup and then some.

Not so in the creator economy. Yes, TikTok has minted its own type of stars like Khaby Lame, whose hilarious exasperation at overcomplicated life hacks catapulted him to global fame — he’s now shilling for Meta.

But people who follow Khaby Lame don’t open the app, watch his latest video, then close it. (The algorithm is specifically designed so you don’t do this, but that’s a different story.) They also follow any number of smaller creators in addition to those stars, and the majority of the videos they watch are just statistically bound to be made by creators who are not internationally famous.

Smaller creators finding niche success and devoted audiences are changing everything, and creator tech is rising to meet their needs in real time. This is where creator welfare comes in — and why sustaining it must be paramount.

Good ethics = good business

It’s easy to frame the creator payment question as a purely ethical one. But that’s a well-trod argument. Obviously, artists should be paid well for their work. So let’s look at it a different way.

For creator economy tech platforms, fair compensation for smaller creators must be the heart of our business models. Doing so is crucial to our sustainability as platforms and companies. It shores up demand for our platforms by drawing creators to our platforms and retaining them.

It’s also realistic. It’s not the ’90s, and there are no tentpoles in this game. Creator tech needs creator numbers. Large numbers of small creators form the very demand that creator tech relies on.

Creator tech must go all-in on supporting smaller creators. Without supporting small creators and fair payouts, and without continually improving platforms that connect creators to sponsorship and patronage opportunities, all the progress made against the superstar model will be for naught. Creator tech will shoot itself in the foot.

Business plans in which shareholders reap returns that dwarf those of the creators themselves are neither admirable nor sustainable, particularly in a climate with so much audience demand and willingness to pay. Algorithms that punish content creators for taking a day off are ridiculous and need to go. It’s high time for an overhaul of these models and the companies that use them.

Creator tech should continue to embrace and innovate on modern patronage. Creator tech is already fostering a competitive market of patron platforms that cater to specific creators’ needs and, in certain cases, connect brands with creators for profitable partnerships.

Substack is changing the game for freelance writers. Patreon bills itself as ideal for creators of all types, but it’s the unofficial go-to for podcasters. The platforms offering the most — the most money, the most visibility, the most opportunities, the most accessibility — will win.

Continued innovation in terms of licensing, distribution and blockchain certification is as good for artist welfare as it will be for the companies that enable these innovations. How can art auction platforms migrate beyond the legacy galleries and toward the people? Digital music, footage and image licensing is only accelerating and represents an important link within the creator economy among, for instance, video content creators, photographers and songwriters.

In colder terms, there’s money to be made, and no one has to be exploited in the process.

Investing in smaller creators is good for the economic gander

In the age of the individual creator, creator tech’s responsibility to the creators themselves is as much an ethical position as it is one of self-preservation. (No creator tech without a full thriving ecosystem of smaller creators, to err on the side of the obvious.) The superstar economy is ceding ground to independent creators with dedicated followings scattered across platforms and mediums.

If the creator economy is to thrive, the creators must thrive first. Patrons must come from unexpected places and the bottom up. Audiences must be easier to access. Creator tech can’t take the lion’s share and leave pennies for the creators. In other words, creator tech’s success is inextricable from creator success.

Tech has a bad habit of thinking its fate isn’t tied up with that of its users. From a purely business standpoint, creator tech shouldn’t make this mistake. From an ethical one, it will be glad it didn’t.