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.

Alms is a social app focused on real-world impact and positive change

A number of startups are experimenting with what a better social app could look like. For a startup called Alms, the answer is a social network that focuses on users’ well-being through participation in creator-led challenges in areas like personal growth, sustainability, and others with positive impacts. Instead of driving the collection “likes,” as on other social apps, Alms aims to encourage real-world engagement through its challenges and the specific steps and actions that must be taken.

The idea, explains Alms founder Alexander Nevedovsky, is to design an app that guides users to a happier and more meaningful life when they use it. That’s something modern social platforms can’t really promise to do.

Work on the project began during the early days of the pandemic in 2020, Nevedovsky says.

“A lot of us were feeling depressed and sad, at home without much access to friends and family,” he explains. “I felt like the world really needed something that’s a bit more than just meditation, journaling, or mood tracking — all those apps and techniques are great, but they’re not designed to improve your life on a day-to-day basis, interacting in the real world.”

However, the original version of Alms released last year was lacking something that would make the app “sticky.” Users would sign up because they liked the concept, but at some point would drop out and stop participating in the activities. The startup knew it needed something more to tie users to their journeys, which is why it has now shifted to become more of a social community.

Image Credits: Alms

When you first launch the newly designed Alms app, you’re taken through a brief onboarding process where you select your interests from three main topical areas: personal growth, sustainability, and impact. For example, “personal growth” interests may include things like mental health, wellness, spirituality, or relationships. “Sustainability” focuses on interests related to the environment and nature. And “impact” would wrap in things like activism, volunteering, local community, and more.

After setup is complete, you can follow creators who post challenges or choose to join individual challenges, each with their own set of steps that have to be taken in order to fully complete them. For instance, in a challenge focused on improving your work-from-home lifestyle, the steps guide users to take steps to improve their workspace and their work-life balance (by scheduling breaks and hard stops to their day, e.g.), and asks them to add physical activity to their routines, among other concrete actions.

As you participate in a challenge by completing and checking off each step, you’re prompted to post a story about that step in that challenge’s feed to inspire others, who may add an encouraging comment. But gathering likes and comments is not Alms’ goal, says Nevedovsky.

“We see tremendous possibility in allowing more and more people with expertise in these topics — personal growth, sustainability, and impact of various sorts — to basically try to scale their impact with us,” he notes. “We allow them to put all their knowledge or their content in a scalable way so that people can actually — not like it, not comment under it — but actually try to repeat it.”

At launch, Alms has around 30 creators sharing their content in the form of challenges on its app, and 15 more are in the pipeline. It hopes to reach a couple of hundred over the next few months. So far, the new version of the app has attracted a couple of thousand users, as well.

Image Credits: Alms

Many of the challenges on the app have been joined by hundreds of users, so you do feel some sense of participating in a larger event when you click to join. However, I’d personally prefer that posting a story and sharing it to the feed was optional — not every step deserves its own post, I feel. (And sometimes, you may not have anything to say about the minor steps you completed and end up feeling like you’ve cluttered the feed with less-than-helpful posts.)

Alms was co-founded with startup studio Palta, a home to apps like Flo.Health, Simple Fasting, and Zing Fitness Coach. Palta owns a majority stake in Alms, and the company has no other outside investment. A remotely distributed team of fourteen works on the Alms app, which isn’t currently monetized.

Nevedovsky says the team is considering adding some sort of token-based economy or perhaps a DAO which would convey some sort of real-world rewards. This could include being able to participate in Alms’ governance or joining a creator fund, for example. The tokens, at least in the near term, would not be tradeable. The company may also consider simpler ideas, like in-app tipping. But nothing has yet been determined as Alms is still working on product-market fit at this time, and scaling its userbase.

Overall, Alms seems like it could appeal to those who want to be more mindful and impactful about how they’re spending their time on social apps, but who are in search of inspiration that comes with more specific direction.

“I think, a lot of the time, people place hopes on what will happen in the future without actually influencing it. So I think that having an app that helps you with ideas and inspiration from people who know what they share, what they recommend, is super helpful — especially when it’s all about support,” notes Nevedovsky. “People [on Alms] actually care.”

The app, we found, is well-built and attractively designed. But it could still face the original issue of having users drop off, despite its new social components, given the competition for screen time on today’s mobile devices.

Alms is a free download on iOS only for the time being.

Jack is leaving Twitter and we have ~thoughts~

Well, so much for a relaxed post-holiday week on Monday.

News broke this morning that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is stepping down from the company entirely. The company’s CTO, Parag Agrawal, will be taking over at the helm. Saleforce exec Bret Taylor will take over as board chairman.

So, Amanda and Natasha and Alex jumped into onto the mics — and, ironically, a Twitter space — to riff on all things Jack and future of Twitter. From the show:

  • Crypto and the CTO, what can we read from the tea leaves?
  • Jack’s dual role, and its detractors.
  • The fact that Twitter’s product work has been great lately, which we don’t want to stop. When is a good time to leave a company, is it on the up and up or when things are quiet?
  • And, finally, Jack’s somewhat biting words regarding founder-led companies, which are, frankly, a bit at odds with his own behavior until now.

The show is back on Wednesday, unless some other major CEO resigns.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Quick-commerce startup YallaMarket eyes Saudi Arabia and Qatar next year after U.A.E expansion

YallaMarket, a Dubai-based quick-commerce startup, is planning to expand within the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E), and to enter Saudi Arabia and Qatar next year, to tap the appetite for speedy and convenient grocery shopping.

The startup, which was formally launched last month, is expanding in the U.A.E cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai by setting up an additional 100 dark stores to offer 15-minute delivery services. Dark stores are order fulfillment centers for online retail outlets. These stores are inaccessible to customers but serve the important role of rapid order fulfillment. YallaMarket has two dark stores that are currently operational with plans to open two more in the next two weeks.

The instant delivery service will use the $2.3 million it has raised in the pre-seed round to fund expansion within the U.A.E. The round was co-led by Dubai Angel Investors and Wamda Capital, with the participation of a number of angel investors that focus on the Middle-East and North Africa (MENA). YallaMarket is planning to launch the production of ready-to-eat meals that will be available to order via the app, in the near future too.

The startup was founded by Dubai-based Russian entrepreneurs Leonid Dovbenko and Stanislav Seleznev, also founders of restaurant automatization services DocsinBox and Tawreed.

“We plan to use the majority of newly secured funding to boost our growth. The MENA region is actively developing…Our goal is to cover as much territory by on-demand fast delivery as possible,” said co-founder Dovbenko, who is also CEO of iiko Middle East, a cloud-based POS for restaurants.

The startup’s dark stores are located in residential areas that make it possible for delivery persons to collect orders within three minutes after purchase, and to deliver to several households on each trip. The company has its own delivery unit that uses e-scooters and bicycles. The average order of everyday goods bought through YallaMarket is $15 (55AED), with fruits, dairy and drinks leading in popularity.

YallaMarket makes a profit on each item it sells as it sources its inventory directly from brands or through large distributors.

“We see that the level of development of the e-grocery in the UAE is far from Russia, where express delivery services have achieved incredible success. Over the past few years, it has become clear that the dark-store model is supposed to replace classic convenience stores,” said Dovbenko.

As it gains more data on user habits, YallaMarket is now investing in product development by implementing a “behavior prediction system” to customize user experiences and offers based on their preferences to reduce the time spent when making orders.

The concept of the instant delivery business model (quick commerce) grew exponentially last year as the pandemic fueled the adoption of online grocery shopping according to a Coresight Research report. The report says that “permanent gains” are expected as consumers continue shopping online even after the pandemic.

Fast and reliable delivery and availability continue to be some of the most important factors when shopping online, as noted by a majority of consumers surveyed in a recent PwC study. The study expects online shopping to continue to gain ground as people continue to work from home, and as they adopt new habits like shopping online. The report ranked grocery spending as the category which consumers expect their spending to increase followed by takeaway food.

Jack reportedly stepping down from Twitter CEO role

CNBC reported this morning that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is expected to step down from his role at the social media company.

Dorsey is the CEO of both Twitter and Square, a financial company that serves both consumer and corporate customers with payment, cash management and transference services.

Twitter’s stock rose on the news that Dorsey may step down, trading up 6.1% as of the time of writing after giving up some early gains in the first minutes of the week’s trading cycle.

The company did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

For comparison purposes, Twitter is worth around $40 billion today. No small number, to be clear, but less than half the value of Square, which has a public-market worth of just over $99 billion.

Running one public company is work. Running two is uncommon and, we presume, not a simple feat. Square shares are also trading higher this morning, albeit to a smaller degree. (Twitter has attracted investor dissent for its CEO’s split time.)

A great product run

Twitter’s leadership and product direction have received criticism over the years for being too conservative or too slow — or both. In recent quarters, however, Twitter’s ability to develop and ship new products and services has accelerated.

Though Twitter’s functionality remained largely stagnant for years — save for some major changes like making tweets longer — the app has introduced a slew of new features and acquisitions.

Twitter entered the live audio race with Spaces, then introduced monetization features, like Ticketed Spaces, Tip Jar and livestream shopping (Meta apps like Facebook and Instagram have also picked up the pace when it comes to e-commerce). More recently, the platform launched its subscription Twitter Blue service, which offers a more customizable user experience — including the ability to undo tweets — for $2.99 per month.

The social giant also opened its checkbook to bring more capabilities to its service. So far this year, Twitter has acquired companies like Threader (which helped develop a thread reading experience for Twitter Blue), Sphere (a group social messaging app), Breaker (which helped build Spaces), and, most notably, Revue, a newsletter platform that gives writers the convenience of linking their posts directly on their profile.

Finally, it’s no secret that Dorsey is interested in crypto — his Twitter bio is literally just “#bitcoin” — but he’s not the company’s only proponent. Twitter has been working on a way for users to display NFTs in their profile and, more broadly, Twitter houses Bluesky, a decentralized web project. Dorsey’s alleged departure may not slow the momentum of Twitter crypto, especially after the company announced earlier this month that it will build a dedicated crypto team.

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.

Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri will testify before the Senate on teen mental heath

Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri will testify before the Senate for the first time as part of a series of hearings about online safety for children and teens. Per The New York Times, Mosseri’s hearing will take place on December 6.

Mosseri’s upcoming testimony comes after Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) wrote a letter to Facebook (now Meta) CEO Mark Zuckerberg, asking that either he or Mosseri participate in a Senate hearing.

Mosseri posted a video responding to the news of his forthcoming appearance on Capitol Hill. He discussed growing concerns about teen safety online, then outlined past actions Instagram has taken to protect young users, like making young teens’ accounts private by default and restricting the kinds of ads they see.

“I’m going to be talking about these issues with Congress relatively soon,” Mosseri said. “These are important issues, but we all have shared goals. We all want young people to be safe when they’re online.”

When reports leaked in September about Instagram’s knowledge of its dangerous affects on teen girls, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation didn’t take it lightly. The committee first questioned Facebook Global Head of Security Antigone Davis, who was reticent to answer direct questions from the Senate. Then weeks later, the committee heard testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former civic integrity product manager who leaked thousands of internal documents known as the “Facebook Papers.” In her hearing, Haugen told the Senate that Facebook cares more about profits than user safety.

“I am disappointed that Facebook has been unwilling to be fully transparent with me, other members of Congress, and the public, and appears to have concealed vital information from us about teen mental health and addiction,” wrote Senator Blumenthal, who chairs the Senate committee hosting these hearings. “When I sought specific information about Instagram and teens in an August letter, Facebook provided clearly evasive and misleading answers that have now been directly disputed by Ms. Haugen.”

Now, after hearing from executives at Snap, TikTok and YouTube last month, the committee will convene again to hear from the head of Instagram himself. Given the committee’s demonstrated concern about Instagram’s connection to the onset of adolescent eating disorders, it’s expected that Mosseri will be questioned about leaked internal studies that Meta conducted about Instagram’s impact on teen girls.

The internal study, obtained by The Wall Street Journal and later published by Meta itself, found that Instagram makes body image issues worse for one in three teen girls, and that teens blame Instagram for increases in anxiety and depression. Among teens with suicidal thoughts, the study says that 6% of users traced their desire to die by suicide to Instagram. Plus, 32% of surveyed teen girls reported that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made those feelings worse.

Shortly after these documents were leaked, Mosseri announced that Instagram would pause building Instagram Kids. Meta already has products like Messenger Kids, which lets users under 13 chat with people approved by their parents.

“While we stand by the need to develop this experience, we’ve decided to pause this project,” Mosseri wrote. “This will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today.”

But critics are skeptical of Meta’s ability to build an Instagram Kids product responsibly. Per research published this month, Facebook allegedly continues to surveil teens for ad targeting.

“It is urgent and necessary for you or Mr. Adam Mosseri to testify to set the record straight and provide members of Congress and parents with a plan on how you are going to protect our kids,” Senator Blumenthal wrote to Zuckerberg.

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.

World Mobile Group bringing Zanzibaris online through mobile network built on blockchain

As the world quickly transitions into a global village thanks to the rapid penetration of internet networks, it is easy for some people to be left behind owing to the remoteness of their locations. In most parts of Zanzibar, an autonomous island in East Africa, for example, services by terrestrial cable and satellite networks are deficient, leaving a big percentage of the population uncovered. But, if plans by the World Mobile Group — a global telecommunications operator — materialize, many Zanzibaris will be connecting to the internet for the first time in the next few months.

World Mobile is building infrastructure for last-mile connectivity using spectrums like free-space optical communication and other radio transmitters, which do not require licensing, translating to less expensive internet access.

The spectrums connect to multiple air nodes to create a mesh network, providing internet coverage to far-flung villages.

“There’s a lot of fiber optics that have been laid throughout the continent, and we pick up on the last mile of fiber and use alternative spectrums like free-space optics, or other radio spectrums that do not require licensing,” World Mobile group CEO and founder Micky Watkins told TechCrunch.

Watkins said that because they do not require licenses for these alternative spectrums they get a massive tax saving, which translates to cheaper internet for users.

“We use these alternative spectrums to build the backhaul (connection between an access node and the core network) and then create a device (node) that people can use to pick up from that backhaul,” said Watkins.

For sustainability, the air nodes will be owned by private entities, through a one-off fee of about $7,000 that they will recoup over time by earning income or rewards in the form of World Mobile Token (WMT), the operator’s cryptocurrency, as people connect to the internet through their access points. The network operator is working with micro-lenders in financing entrepreneurs to buy the nodes.

Each air node provides reliable Wi-Fi internet to 500 to 700 people, and other ancillary utilities like public lighting through integrated solar-powered floodlights.

Watkins said the concept of a sharing economy reduces operational expenditures incurred in maintenance, security and leasing costs, while also powering a self-sustaining business model.

“And now the residents have a choice; do I own livestock or is it better for me to own part of a telecom infrastructure and run a telecommunications platform? This option was never there before; so, just like Uber or Airbnb, we are operating under the sharing economy model.”

World Mobile is currently serving about 3,000 customers on the five pilot sites, but has plans to expand to 30 sites by January — as it moves to fast-track the connectivity efforts.

Watkins said that current users spend about $4 a month on internet usage. The operator has a network of vendors where users onboard their fiat cash or buy WMT, the company’s digital currency, to connect to the internet.

World Mobile has a more ambitious plan of covering Zanzibar in five years, making internet available to the entire population of 1.5 million people, stepping up competition for traditional network companies like Zanlink and satellite internet companies like GlobalTT teleport and operator.

“We have a few deals that are coming through the pipeline that will allow us to have connectivity throughout the whole of Zanzibar, including the whole shoreline and in between mainland (Tanzania) and the borders of Zanzibar, allowing us to implement IoT, as well as connectivity for the people,” said Watkins.

The company is set to roll out the network in Kenya and Tanzania, where they already have operations, over the coming months.

“This is a movement, and this can be the biggest mobile network in the world that is run by the people. No one has ever done that before. So that’s what we’re actually going for,” said Watkins.

Zanzibar, an autonomous island in East Africa, is a popular tourist destination. World Mobile Group is building infrastructure for last-mile connectivity to bring the unconnected online. Image Credits: World Mobile Group

How Zanzibar is tapping connectivity to build a digital economy

As more citizens get connected, the Zanzibar government has started implementing its digital economy framework, a plan it had shelved for over a decade.

Among the many ideas it had laid out and is now on course for includes tapping connectivity to grow its blue economy and to develop solutions that protect Zanzibar’s blue economy from illegal fishing trawlers.

Zanzibar’s ocean-based activities provide employment to 33% of its labor force and contribute more than 29% of the island’s GDP, but could realize more from its ocean-based wealth with better technologies.

It will also help in building infrastructure that will help it automate all its administrative tasks and processes. This means building an e-government system that would allow the interaction of government with its citizens, businesses, employees and between its agencies. The investment will make the government more accessible to its citizens, who no longer need to physically visit offices for services or information.

“The new administration is really focusing on digital transformation. We need to get there. But first we’re going to ensure that everybody can access the internet at an affordable rate,” said Said Seif Said, director general of the E-Government Agency of Zanzibar (eGaz).

The agency was established to promote policies, standards and other practices to improve ICT uptake across the public institutions.

“We might have a different solution like an integrated blue economy management system — which means we’re including satellite automatic identification systems, vessel management systems and drones. So, all this is to solve the problem of illegal unreported and unregistered fishing. And all these technologies need the connectivity to be in place.”

The urgency to digitize has partly been fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has accelerated Zanzibar’s plan for a digital government and economy. Zanzibar is now compensating for the time lost by quickening its pace toward that transition.

“The COVID pandemic has really changed how we do everything and we need to enable our citizens to do what they need to do from their homes. We have to ensure the sheer accessibility of government services countrywide in an affordable, effective and efficient manner through the appropriate use of ICT, and that’s where this collaboration with the World Mobile Group and Input Output Global (IOG) comes in,” he said.

In the partnership, IOG, a blockchain and digital identity firm behind Cardano blockchain, will automate Zanzibar’s systems by implementing blockchain technology in registry systems to provide “digital identifications with traceability”. It will also integrate back-end government systems to enable business-process automation and facilitate the flow of communication within government institutions.

World Mobile subscribers will access Atala PRISM, IOG’s digital identity solution for services such as education, banking and healthcare.

Meanwhile, Zanzibar is launching a blockchain academy that will, beginning early next year, hold conferences as the tourist destination positions itself as a blockchain center of 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.