Twitter rolls out vaccine misinformation warning labels and a strike-based system for violations

Twitter announced Monday that it would begin injecting new labels into users’ timelines to push back against misinformation that could disrupt the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. The labels, which will also appear as pop-up messages in the retweet window, are the company’s latest product experiment designed to shape behavior on the platform for the better.

The company will attach notices to tweeted misinformation warning users that the content “may be misleading” and linking out to vetted public health information. These initial vaccine misinformation sweeps, which begin today, will be conducted by human moderators at Twitter and not automated moderation systems.

Twitter says the goal is to use these initial determinations to train its AI systems so that down the road a blend of human and automated efforts will scan the site for vaccine misinformation. The latest misinformation measure will target tweets in English before expanding.

Twitter also introduced a new strike system for violations of its pandemic-related rules. The new system is modeled after a set of consequences it implemented for voter suppression and voting-related misinformation. Within that framework, a user with two or three “strikes” faces a 12-hour account lockout. With four violations, they lose account access for one week, with permanent suspension looming after five strikes.

Twitter introduced its first pandemic-specific policies a year ago, banning tweets promoting false treatment or prevention claims along with any content that could put people at higher risk of spreading COVID-19. In December, Twitter added new rules focused on popular vaccine conspiracy theories and announced that warning labels were on the way.

Instagram launches ‘Live Rooms’ for live broadcasts with up to four creators

Instagram today announced it’s adding a much-requested feature to its app with the launch of “Live Rooms,” which allow up to four people to broadcast live together at the same time. Previously, the app only allowed users to live stream with one other person, similar to Facebook Live. The company says it hopes Live Rooms will open up more creative opportunities in terms of live broadcast formats to allow for things like live talk shows, expanded Q&A’s or interviews, jam sessions for musicians, live shopping experiences, and more.

In addition to the ability to live stream with more people, Instagram also touts how the new feature can help creators to make more money. Last year, in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, Instagram introduced badges as a way for fans to support their favorite creators during a live video. Once purchased, the badges appear next to a fan’s name throughout the live video, helping them to stand out in the comments and unlock other special features, like placement on the creator’s list of badge holders and access to a special heart.

Badges became more broadly available last fall, at three price points: $0.99, $1.99, or $4.99.

With Live Rooms, fans can buy badges to support the hosts (one badge per person) as well as use other interactive features like Shopping and Live Fundraisers. The company says it’s also now developing other tools, like moderator controls and audio features that will roll out in the months to come.

To start a Live Room, you’ll swipe left and select the Live camera option, then title the Room and tap the Room icon to add guests. Here, you’ll see a list of people who’ve already requested to go live with you and you’ll be able to search for other guests to add.

Image Credits: Instagram

When you start the Live Room, you’ll remain at the top of the screen while guests are added. The guests can be added all at once or individually, depending on your preference. This allows for opportunities to add “surprise guests” to live streams to keep fans engaged.

The ability to add more guests to a live stream can also help a creator grow their follower base, as all the guests’ followers are notified about the Live Room, in addition to your own.

For safety reasons, any person that’s been blocked by any of the Live Room participants will not have access to join the live stream. Plus, any guests who have previously had their live access revoked due to violations of Instagram’s Community Guidelines won’t be able to join any Live Rooms.

During live broadcasts, the hosts can also report and block comments and use comment filters to maintain a safer experience for all viewers.

Live broadcasts became an increasingly important way for creators, business owners and brands to stay connected with followers during the pandemic, which shut down in-person live events, including concerts, shows, classes, conferences, meetups, and more. Instagram reported a 70% increase in Live views from February to March, for instance, as creators and businesses shifted their work online.

Image Credits: Instagram

As the pandemic wore on throughout 2020 and into 2021, the lack of in-person connection has allowed for other opportunities and even new social networks to grow. Live audio platform Clubhouse, for example, has seen rapid adoption, particularly by the tech and creative crowds, who today use the app to tune into live shows, chat sessions, and even big-name interviews. Twitter is now building a rival, and reportedly, so is Facebook.

But while Clubhouse offers a very different experience, it still operates in the same broader space of allowing fans to connect with high-profile individuals of some sort — entrepreneurs and founders, celebrities, market experts, thought leaders, influencers, and so on. And because users’ time is limited, seeing this type of activity shift to non-Facebook owned platforms is likely of concern to Instagram and its parent.

Meanwhile, in the live video broadcasting space, Instagram today faces a number of competitors, from those focused on a particular niche — like game streaming site Twitch, live shopping apps, and more— as well as general purpose live platforms offered by YouTube and TikTok. (The latter was spotted offering a four-up live stream format just last month, in fact.)

Instagram says Live Rooms are rolling out now to both iOS and Android to all global markets. The company expects the rollout to reach 100% of its user base within the week.

 

Daily Crunch: Facebook launches rap app

Facebook unveils another experimental app, Atlassian acquires a data visualization startup and Newsela becomes a unicorn. This is your Daily Crunch for February 26, 2021.

The big story: Facebook launches rap app

The new BARS app was created by NPE Team (Facebook’s internal R&D group), allowing rappers to select from professionally created beats, and then create and share their own raps and videos. It includes autotune and will even suggest rhymes as you’re writing the lyrics.

This marks NPE Team’s second musical effort — the first was the music video app Collab. (It could also be seen as another attempt by Facebook to launch a TikTok competitor.) BARS is available in the iOS App Store in the U.S., with Facebook gradually admitting users off a waitlist.

The tech giants

Atlassian is acquiring Chartio to bring data visualization to the platform — Atlassian sees Chartio as a way to really take advantage of the data locked inside its products.

Yelp puts trust and safety in the spotlight — Yelp released its very first trust and safety report this week, with the goal of explaining the work that it does to crack down on fraudulent and otherwise inaccurate or unhelpful content.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Newsela, the replacement for textbooks, raises $100M and becomes a unicorn —  If Newsela is doing its job right, its third-party content can replace textbooks within a classroom altogether, while helping teachers provide fresh, personalized material.

Tim Hortons marks two years in China with Tencent investment — The Canadian coffee and doughnut giant has raised a new round of funding for its Chinese venture.

Sources: Lightspeed is close to hiring a new London-based partner to put down further roots in Europe — According to multiple sources, Paul Murphy is being hired away from Northzone.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

In freemium marketing, product analytics are the difference between conversion and confusion — Considering that most freemium providers see fewer than 5% of free users move to paid plans, even a slight improvement in conversion can translate to significant revenue gains.

As BNPL startups raise, a look at Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay earnings — With buy-now-pay-later options, consumers turn a one-time purchase into a limited string of regular payments.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Jamaica’s JamCOVID pulled offline after third security lapse exposed travelers’ data — JamCOVID was set up last year to help the government process travelers arriving on the island.

AT&T is turning DirecTV into a standalone company — AT&T says it will own 70% of the new company, while private equity firm TPG will own 30%.

How to ace the 1-hour, and ever-elusive, pitch presentation at TC Early Stage — Norwest’s Lisa Wu has a message for founders: Think like a VC during your pitch presentation.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Facebook launches BARS, a TikTok-like app for creating and sharing raps

Facebook’s internal R&D group, NPE Team, is today launching its next experimental app, called BARS. The app makes it possible for rappers to create and share their raps using professionally created beats, and is the NPE Team’s second launch in the music space following its recent public debut of music video app Collab.

While Collab focuses on making music with others online, BARS is instead aimed at would-be rappers looking to create and share their own videos. In the app, users will select from any of the hundreds of professionally created beats, then write their own lyrics and record a video. BARS can also automatically suggest rhymes as you’re writing out lyrics, and offers different audio and visual filters to accompany videos as well as an autotune feature.

There’s also a “Challenge mode” available, where you can freestyle with auto-suggested word cues, which has more of a game-like element to it. The experience is designed to be accommodating to people who just want to have fun with rap, similar to something like Smule’s AutoRap, perhaps, which also offers beats for users’ own recordings.

Image Credits: Facebook

The videos themselves can be up to 60 seconds in length and can then be saved to your Camera Roll or shared out on other social media platforms.

Like NPE’s Collab, the pandemic played a role in BARS’ creation. The pandemic shut down access to live music and places where rappers could experiment, explains NPE Team member DJ Iyler, who also ghostwrites hip-hop songs under the alias “D-Lucks.”

“I know access to high-priced recording studios and production equipment can be limited for aspiring rappers. On top of that, the global pandemic shut down live performances where we often create and share our work,” he says.

BARS was built with a team of aspiring rappers, and today launched into a closed beta.

Image Credits: Facebook

Despite the focus on music, and rap in particular, the new app in a way can be seen as yet another attempt by Facebook to develop a TikTok competitor — at least in this content category.

TikTok has already become a launchpad for up-and-coming musicians, including rappers; it has helped rappers test their verses, is favored by many beatmakers and is even influencing what sort of music is being made. Diss tracks have also become a hugely popular format on TikTok, mainly as a way for influencers to stir up drama and chase views. In other words, there’s already a large social community around rap on TikTok, and Facebook wants to shift some of that attention back its way.

The app also resembles TikTok in terms of its user interface. It’s a two-tabbed vertical video interface — in its case, it has  “Featured” and “New” feeds instead of TikTok’s “Following” and “For You.” And BARS places the engagement buttons on the lower-right corner of the screen with the creator name on the lower-left, just like TikTok.

However, in place of hearts for favoriting videos, your taps on a video give it “Fire” — a fire emoji keeps track. You can tap “Fire” as many times as you want, too. But because there’s (annoyingly) no tap-to-pause feature, you may accidentally “fire” a video when you were looking for a way to stop its playback. To advance in BARS, you swipe vertically, but the interface is lacking an obvious “Follow” button to track your favorite creators. It’s hidden under the top-right three-dot menu.

The app is seeded with content from NPE Team members, which includes other aspiring rappers, former music producers and publishers.

Currently, the BARS beta is live on the iOS App Store in the U.S., and is opening its waitlist. Facebook says it will open access to BARS invites in batches, starting in the U.S. Updates and news about invites, meanwhile, will be announced on Instagram.

Facebook’s recent launches from its experimental apps division include Collab and collage maker E.gg, among others. Not all apps stick around. If they fail to gain traction, Facebook shuts them down — as it did last year with the Pinterest-like video app Hobbi.

Daily Crunch: Twitter announces ‘Super Follow’ subscriptions

Twitter reveals its move into paid subscriptions, Australia passes its media bargaining law and Coinbase files its S-1. This is your Daily Crunch for February 25, 2021.

The big story: Twitter announces ‘Super Follow’ subscriptions

Twitter announced its first paid product at an investor event today, showing off screenshots of a feature that will allow users to subscribe to their favorite creators in exchange for things like exclusive content, subscriber-only newsletters and a supporter badge.

The company also announced a feature called Communities, which could compete with Facebook Groups and enable Super Follow networks to interact, plus a Safety Mode for auto-blocking and muting abusive accounts. On top of all that, Twitter said it plans to double revenue by 2023.

Not announced: launch dates for any of these features.

The tech giants

After Facebook’s news flex, Australia passes bargaining code for platforms and publishers — This requires platform giants like Facebook and Google to negotiate to remunerate local news publishers for their content.

New Facebook ad campaign extols the benefits of personalized ads — The sentiments are similar to a campaign that Facebook launched last year in opposition to Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Sergey Brin’s airship aims to use world’s biggest mobile hydrogen fuel cell — The Google co-founder’s secretive airship company LTA Research and Exploration is planning to power a huge disaster relief airship with an equally record-breaking hydrogen fuel cell.

Coinbase files to go public in a key listing for the cryptocurrency category — Coinbase’s financials show a company that grew rapidly from 2019 to 2020 while also crossing the threshold into unadjusted profitability.

Boosted by the pandemic, meeting transcription service Otter.ai raises $50M — With convenient timing, Otter.ai added Zoom integration back in April 2020.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

DigitalOcean’s IPO filing shows a two-class cloud market — The company intends to list on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “DOCN.”

Pilot CEO Waseem Daher tears down his company’s $60M Series C pitch deck — For founders aiming to entice investors, the pitch deck remains the best way to communicate their startup’s progress and potential.

Five takeaways from Coinbase’s S-1 — We dig into Coinbase’s user numbers, its asset mix, its growing subscription incomes, its competitive landscape and who owns what in the company.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Paramount+ will cost $4.99 per month with ads — The new streaming service launches on March 4.

Register for TC Sessions: Justice for a conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion in the startup world — This is just one week away!

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Twitter plans to double revenue by 2023, reach 315M daily users

Just ahead of its 2021 virtual investor day on Thursday, Twitter this morning announced its three long-term goals focused on user base and revenue growth, and a faster pace of shipping new features across its platform. The company said it aims to “at least” double its total annual revenue from $3.7 billion in 2020 to $7.5 billion or more in 2023. It also expects to reach at least 315 million mDAUs — that’s Twitter’s self-invented metric for “monetizable” daily active users — by the fourth quarter of 2023.

That would represent a roughly 20% compound annual growth rate from Twitter’s base of 152 million mDAUs reported in the fourth quarter of 2019, the company noted in a new SEC filing.

Active user growth has been difficult for Twitter — the growth tends to be slow or even flat, at times. Per Twitter’s most recent earnings, mDAUs in the fourth quarter 2020 had reached 192 million instead of the 193.5 million expected, for instance. Investors are used to Twitter under-delivering on this metric — or even inventing its own user base metric to hide that its monthly user growth sometimes declines.

In any event, Twitter’s longer-term plans indicate it believes it will finally be able to deliver on user growth — perhaps aided by its investment in new features.

In its filing, Twitter said it would “double development velocity by the end of 2023,” which means doubling the number of features shipped per employee that “directly drive either mDAU or revenue,” it said.

On this front, Twitter has been fairly active in recent months. Late last year, it launched its “stories” feature called Fleets to its global audience. It’s also now testing new features including a Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces, and a community-led misinformation debunking effort known as Birdwatch. And it acquired newsletter platform Revue, which is already now integrated on the Twitter website. The company has made smaller acquisitions, as well, to build out product teams, including with social app Squad, stories template maker Chroma Labs, and podcasting app Breaker.

New features may help to attract increased Twitter usage, but revenue growth will also come from diversification beyond advertising. Twitter has spoken several times about its plans to build out a subscription product, which the company said would begin in 2021 but wouldn’t impact Twitter revenue in the near-term. The company has also said it may investigate other areas of monetization, like tipping and various paid consumer-facing features.

Today, Twitter said publicly it plans to reach the $7.5 billion or more target by “growing our audience and gaining advertising market share in both brand and direct response.” But the company did not speak to its plans for subscriptions.

Investors are already responding favorably to Twitter’s announcements this morning. Twitter stock is up by nearly 7% as of the time of writing.

New Facebook ad campaign extols the benefits of personalized ads

Online advertising can be a “pretty dry topic,” as Facebook’s head of brand marketing Andrew Stirk acknowledged, but with a new campaign of its own, the social networking giant is looking to “bring to life how personalized ads level the playing field” for small businesses.

The Good Ideas Deserve To Be Found campaign will include TV, radio and digital advertising. Individual businesses will also be able to promote it using a new Instagram sticker and the #DeserveToBeFound hashtag on Facebook.

The campaign will highlight specific small businesses on Facebook, including bag and luggage company House of Takura, whose founder Annette Njau spoke about the benefits of digital advertising at a press event yesterday.

“What those platforms allow us to do is, they allow us to tell stories,” Njau said. “I can’t tell this story on TV, I can’t tell this story in a huge magazine because it costs money and I don’t know who will see it.”

These sentiments are similar to a campaign that Facebook launched last year in opposition to Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature, where apps will have to ask for permission before sharing user data for third-party ad targeting. In response, Facebook claimed that it was “standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere,” though the social network also pointed to these changes as one of the “more significant advertising headwinds” that it expects to face this year. (Apple’s Tim Cook, in contrast, has said that these changes provide consumers with the control that they’ve been asking for.)

When asked how this fits into the broader dispute with Apple, Stirk said that while Facebook has been publicly opposed to Apple’s changes, this campaign is part the company’s longer-term support for small business.

“There is a degree of urgency in the fact that … small businesses are hurting right now,” he said.

Head of Facebook Business Products Helen Ma added that this is “very much an extension of the work that we did on the product side at the very start of the COVID period,” which included the launch of the Businesses Nearby section and a #SupportSmallBusiness hashtag.

In addition to launching the campaign today, Facebook is announcing several product changes, including a simplified Ads Manager dashboard, new options for restaurants to provide more information about their dining experiences and more information about personalized ads in Facebook’s Business Resource hub and Instagram’s Professional Dashboard.

The company also said it will continue to waive fees on transactions through Checkouts on Shops through June 2021, and will do the same for fees collected on paid online events until August 2021 at the earliest.

After Facebook’s news flex, Australia passes bargaining code for platforms and publishers

A week after Facebook grabbed eyeballs globally by blocking news publishers and turning off news-sharing on its platform in Australia, the country’s parliament has approved legislation that makes it mandatory for platform giants like Facebook and Google to negotiate to remunerate local news publishers for their content, to take account of how journalism is shared on their platforms.

The News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code was developed in conjunction with Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) with the aim of addressing the power imbalance that exists between digital platforms and news businesses.

Facebook and Google had both lobbied aggressively against the legislation, with Google initially threatening to close down its search engine in Australia — before changing tack and hurrying to strike deals with local publishers in a bid to undercut the law by showing an alternative model.

But none of the tech giants’ moves derailed the legislative effort entirely.

“The Code will ensure that news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content they generate, helping to sustain public interest journalism in Australia,” said treasury minister Josh Frydenberg and communications minister Paul Fletcher in a joint statement today.

“The Code provides a framework for good faith negotiations between the parties and a fair and balanced arbitration process to resolve outstanding disputes,” they added.

The operation of the code will be reviewed by the government within a year “to ensure it is delivering outcomes that are consistent with the Government’s policy intent”, they added.

On Tuesday Facebook reversed course on its intentionally over-broad news ban after the government agreed to make amendments to the draft legislation — including adding a two-month mediation period to allow digital platforms and publishers to agree deals before being forced to enter into arbitration.

The government also agreed to take platforms’ existing deals with publishers into account before deciding whether the code applies to them and provide them with one month’s notice before taking a final decision.

Facebook said it was satisfied with the tweaks, having been concerned commercial deals it struck off its own bat would not be taken into account.

In a blog post which the tech giant entitled “the real story” (yes, really), Facebook’s chief spin doctor, Nick Clegg — aka the former deputy prime minister of the UK — wrote that the law as originally drafted would have forced it to pay “potentially unlimited amounts of money to multi-national media conglomerates under an arbitration system that deliberately misdescribes the relationship between publishers and Facebook”.

“Thankfully, after further discussion, the Australian government has agreed to changes that mean fair negotiations are encouraged without the looming threat of heavy-handed and unpredictable arbitration,” Clegg added.

Who exactly has come out on top in this stand off between a sovereign government and two of the biggest tech giants in the world remains to be seen. But if Facebook and Google were hoping to block the law they certainly failed.

Claims by the Australian government that public interest journalism has won are, however, being tempered by critical suggestions that the law will merely end up favoring big media over small publishers — after all, it’s the larger publishers Google has rushed to strike deals with, for example.

How much of the adtech duopoly’s money ends up trickling down to support smaller publishers and grow media pluralism in Australia isn’t yet clear. But the suspicion among some is that the whole episode amounts to a shake down of big tech by big media via their friends in government — and that ugly oligarchy won.

There is also the risk that by directly linking the funding of public interest journalism — and therefore, by implication, the vitality of a country’s democracy — to tech giants like Facebook and Google it will further entrench the monopoly positions of those selfsame giants.

Suddenly calls to break up Google et al can be conflated with ‘harming democracy’ by taking money away from ‘public interest journalism’. Even just the claim of support suggests rich PR pickings for Facebook and co.

Yet these are platform giants that already have massive and unprecedented power over the public information sphere — as Facebook just demonstrated, via its flex against legislators (showing it can flip a switch to crater traffic to all sorts of publicly valuable information if it so chooses, leaving all its users in an entire country vulnerable to disinformation).

Their dominance has also long been implicated in harming democracy around the world — as their ad-funded business models profile people and amplify content for profit, without any kind of public service mission (quite unlike traditional media).

So if the tech giants were looking for a cheap way to reduce their antitrust risk then paying over a couple of billion every few years to regional publishers (who they may hope will also dial down their techlash rhetoric as a result) probably doesn’t sound so bad.

Facebook said this week that it plans to spend at least $1BN on ‘supporting’ the news media over the next three years. Google also recently outted a $1BN fund for news licensing fees.

Neither company can claim it just discovered the existence of journalism; it’s crystal clear these suddenly pledged billions are only on the table because lawmakers have made platforms paying for news mandatory. (Australia is not alone here; EU lawmakers also legislated in recent years to extend copyright to cover snippets of news — which is starting to result in Google striking licensing deals with publishers in Europe.)

So news publishers are certainly winning by gaining revenue that wasn’t being made available to them before. Though at what wider cost — if the mechanism being used to support them helps entrench anti-democratic monopolists?

The lack of transparency around the commercial deals being struck between platforms and publishers is certainly unhelpful. Without clarity on such arrangements the risk, again, is that the law will favor the big publishers while the smaller ones (who may have more of a public interest mission) will be at a disadvantage — needing to work even harder to compete with tabloid giants further fattened up with fresh adtech profits.

Australia has for certain won something, though. It’s bagged the world’s attention for taking on tech giants through a legislative code.

Its direct thrust at Facebook and Google — coming up with a framework tailor made to take on their market power — has caught the eye of other policymakers and competition regulators.

The chief of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, Andrea Coscelli, said this week that he’s watching the media code with interest as the UK government moves at a clip to set up a pro-competition regulator with the aim of reining in big tech, calling Australia’s approach of having a backstop of mandatory arbitration if commercial negotiations fail “a sensible one”.

“We are definitely following what’s happening in Australia,” he told the BBC. “We think they are dealing with problems we have in the UK as well and they are coming up with possible solutions to that. There are many variants to it but certainly I think it’s a very important data point for what we could in the UK.”

Asked if the UK should follow Australia’s example, Coscelli gave a cautious thumbs up to something along those lines, saying: “We have said we should also think about fair trading between publishers and the platforms for news content. So I know both government and parliament is certainly interested in what’s happening in Australia — and potentially thinking about something similar.”

India announces sweeping guidelines for social media, on-demand streaming firms, and digital news outlets

India announced sweeping changes to its guidelines for social media, on-demand video streaming services, and digital news outlets on Thursday, posing new challenges for small firms as well as giants such as Facebook and Google that count the nation as its biggest market by users.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s IT, Law, and Justice minister, said in a press conference that social media companies will be required to acknowledge the request within 24 hours and deliver a complete redressal in 15 days. In sensitive cases that surround rape or other sexual nature, firms will be required to takedown the objectionable content within 24 hours.

These firms will also be required to appoint a chief compliance officer, a nodal contact officer, who shall be reachable round the clock, and a resident grievance officer. The firms will also be required to have an office in the country.

For social media companies, Prasad said they will be required to disclose the originator of objectionable content. “We don’t want to know the content, but firms need to be able to tell who was the first person who began spreading misinformation and other objectionable content,” he said. WhatsApp has previously said that it can’t comply with such traceability request without compromising end-to-end encryption security for every user.

Firms will also be required to publish a monthly compliance report to disclose the number of requests they received and what actions they took. They will also be required to offer a voluntary option to users who wish to verify their accounts.

The guidelines go into effect for small firms effective immediately, but bigger services will be provided three months to comply, said Prasad.

New Delhi has put together these guidelines because citizens in India have long requested a “mechanism to address grievances,” said Prasad. India has been working on a law aimed at intermediaries since 2018. This is the first time New Delhi has publicly shared an update on the specifics of the guidelines.

“India is the world’s largest open Internet society and the Government welcomes social media companies to operate in India, do business and also earn profits. However, they will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of India,” he said, adding that WhatsApp had amassed 530 million users, YouTube, 448 million users, Facebook’s marquee service 410 million users, Instagram 210 million users, and Twitter, 175 million users in the country.

Full guidelines for social media firms and other intermediaries. (Source: Indian government.)

For streaming platforms, the draft, which will be legally enforceable when it becomes a law, has outlined a three-tier structure for “observance and adherence to the code.” Until now, on-demand services such as Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, and MX Player have operated in India with little to no censorship.

New Delhi last year said India’s broadcasting ministry, which regulates content on TV, will also be overseeing digital streaming platforms. 17 popular streaming firms had banded together to devise a self-regulation code. Prakash Javedkar, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, said the proposed solution from the industry wasn’t adequate and there will be an oversight mechanism from the government to ensure compliance of code of practices.

Streaming services will also have to attach a content ratings to their titles. “The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”,” the Indian government said.

“The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.”

Digital news outlets will be required to disclose the size of their reach and structure of their ownership.

Industry executives have expressed concerns over the new proposed regulation, saying New Delhi hasn’t consulted them for these changes. IAMAI, a powerful industry body that represents nearly all on-demand streaming services, said it was “dismayed” by the guidelines, and hoped to have a dialogue with the government.

Javedkar and Prasad were asked if there will be any consultation with the industry before these guidelines become law. The ministers said that they had already received enough inputs from the industry.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

YouTube to launch parental control features for families with tweens and teens

YouTube announced this morning it will soon introduce a new experience designed for teens and tweens who are now too old for the schoolager-focused YouTube Kids app, but who may not be ready to explore all of YouTube. The company says it’s preparing to launch a beta test of new features that will give parents the ability to grant kids more limited access to YouTube through a “supervised” Google Account. This setup will restrict what tweens and teens can watch on the platform, as well as what they can do — like create videos or leave comments, for example.

Many parents may have already set up a supervised Google Account for their child through Google’s Family Link parental control app. This app allows parents to restrict access across a range of products and services, control screen time, filter websites and more. Other parents may have created a supervised Google Account for their child when they first set up the child’s account on a new Android device or Chromebook.

If not, parents can take a few minutes to create the child’s supervised account when they’re ready to begin testing the new features. (Unfortunately, Google Edu accounts — like those kids now use for online school — aren’t supported at launch.)

The new features will allow parents to select between three different levels of YouTube access for their tween or teen. Initially, YouTube will test the features with parents with children under the age of consent for online services — age 13 in the U.S., but different in other countries — before expanding to older groups.

Image Credits: YouTube

For tweens who have more recently graduated out of the YouTube Kids app, an “Explore” mode will allow them to view a broad range of videos generally suited for viewers age 9 and up — including vlogs, tutorials, gaming videos, music clips, news, and educational content. This would allow the kids to watch things like their favorite gaming streamer with kid-friendly content, but would prevent them (in theory) from finding their way over to more sensitive content.

The next step up is an “Explore More” mode, where videos are generally suitable for kids 13 and up — like a PG-13 version of YouTube. This expands the set of videos kids can access and allows them access to live streams in the same categories as “Explore.”

For older teens, there is the “Most of YouTube” mode, which includes almost all YouTube videos except those that include age-restricted content that isn’t appropriate for viewers under 18.

Image Credits: YouTube

YouTube says it will use a combination of user input, machine learning, and human review to curate which videos are included in each of the three different content settings.

Of course, much like YouTube Kids, that means this will not be a perfect system — it’s a heavily machine-automated attempt at curation where users will still have to flag videos that were improperly filtered. In other words, helicopter parents who closely supervise their child’s access to internet content will probably still want to use some other system — like a third-party parental control solution, perhaps — to lock down YouTube further.

The supervised access to YouTube comes with other restrictions, as well, the company says.

Parents will be able to manage the child’s watch and search history from within the child’s account settings. And certain features on YouTube will be disabled, depending on the level of access the child has.

For example, YouTube will disable in-app purchases, video creation, and commenting features at launch. The company says that, over time, it wants to work with parents to add some of these features back through some sort of parent-controlled approach.

Also key is that personalized ads won’t be served on supervised experiences, even if that content isn’t designated as “made for kids” — which would normally allow for personalized ads to run. Instead, all ads will be contextual, as they are on YouTube Kids. In addition, all ads will have to comply with kids advertising policies, YouTube’s general ad policies, and will be subject to the same category and ad content restrictions as on Made for Kids content.

That said, when parents establish the supervised account for their child, they’ll be providing consent for COPPA compliance — the U.S. children’s privacy law that requires parents to be notified and agree to the collection and use personal data from the kids’ account. So there’s a trade-off here.

However, the new experience may still make sense for families where kids have outgrown apps designed for younger children — or even in some cases, for younger kids who covet their big brother or sister’s version of “real YouTube.” Plus, at some point, forcing an older child to use the “Kids” app makes them feel like they’re behind their peers, too. And since not all parents use the YouTube Kids app or parental controls, there’s always the complaint that “everyone else has it, so why can’t I?” (It never ends.)

Image Credits: YouTube Kids app

This slightly more locked down experience lets parents give the child access to “real YouTube” with restrictions on what that actually means, in terms of content and features.

YouTube, in an announcement, shared several endorsements for the new product from a few individual youth experts, including Leslie Boggs, president of National PTA; Dr. Yalda Uhls, Center for Scholars & Storytellers, UCLA – Author of Media Moms & Digital Dads; Thiago Tavares, Founder and President of SaferNet Brazil; and Professor Sun Sun Lim, Singapore University of Technology & Design – Author of Transcendent Parenting.

YouTube’s news, notably, follows several product updates from fast-growing social video app and YouTube rival TikTok, which has rolled out a number of features aimed at better protecting its younger users.

The company in April 2020 launched a “family pairing” mode that lets a parent link their child’s account to their own in order to also lock down what the child can do and what content they can see. (TikTok offers a curated experience for the under-13 crowd called Restricted Mode, which can be switched on here, too.) And in January of this year, TikTok changed the privacy setting defaults for users under 18 to more proactively restrict what they do on the app.

YouTube says its new product will launch in beta in the “coming months” in over 80 countries worldwide. It also notes that it will continue to invest in YouTube Kids for parents with younger children.