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Indiana State’s Lawsuit Against TikTok Over Child Safety Dismissed By Judge

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit in Indiana state that was filed against TikTok over accusations of making false claims about safety of children on the app and age-appropriate content. 

According to CNN, Judge Jennifer DeGroote of Allen County Superior Court in Fort Wayne, Indiana stated that the court lacks “personal jurisdiction” over the social media platform, and that downloading an app for free is not considered “consumer transaction” under the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act.” 

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The lawsuit was initially filed in December 2022, and was originally two separate lawsuits that were later consolidated. This was the first lawsuit filed by a state against TikTok, however, similar lawsuits are currently active in other states. 

“[The state respects the ruling] but we also disagree with it on various points and are considering appellate options at this time,” the office of Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said in a statement to CNN

“We were the first state to file suit against TikTok, but not the last, and it’s reassuring to see others take up this ongoing fight against a foreign Big Tech threat, in any jurisdiction.”

Rokita also stated that TikTok is a “malicious and menacing threat unleashed on unsuspecting Indiana consumers by a Chinese company that knows full well the harms it inflicts on users.”

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The lawsuit alleged that the social media platform advertises to younger individuals with the sentiment that it’s a safe app, however, the app itself easily grants access for users to see inappropriate content such as nudity, profanity, and drug and alcohol use. 

The lawsuit also stated that TikTok collects sensitive data from its users and uses their personal information. “[TikTok] has deceived those consumers to believe that this information is protected from the Chinese government and Communist Party.”

Indiana also has been involved in a lawsuit against Meta, the parent company of Instagram, for its addictive nature and harm to young users’ mental health. Dozens of other states have filed similar lawsuits against Meta as well. 

Indiana was also one of the first states to ban TikTok on any government-issued devices over “the threat of gaining access to critical US information and infrastructure.”

meta

Meta, Instagram-Parent Company, Sued By Multiple States Over ‘Addictive’ Features And Negative Mental Health Impacts On Youths

Dozens of states are suing Meta, the parent-company of Instagram, accusing the major tech company of harming young users’ mental health through addictive features, such as infinite news feeds and frequent notifications that demand users’ attention.

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Meta Announces They’re Prioritizing Advancing Artificial Intelligence As A Company 

Almost two years after Facebook rebranded as Meta and advertised giving the world a futuristic landscape through the metaverse, the company announced that now, their top investment priority is advancing artificial intelligence (AI). 

CEO Mark Zuckerberg sent out a letter to Meta staff on Tuesday, announcing plans to lay off 10,000 employees as a means of focusing on efficiency for the company; a move that was first announced last month in Meta’s quarterly earnings call. 

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Zuckerberg now says Meta will “focus mostly on cutting costs and streamlining projects. Building the metaverse remains central to defining the future of social connection, Zuckerberg wrote.

“Our single largest investment is in advancing AI and building it into every one of our products.” 

He added information on how AI tools can help “users of its apps express themselves and discover new content, but also new AI tools can be used to increase efficiencies internally by helping engineers write better code faster.”

The CEO described last year as a “humbling wake-up call as the world economy changed, competitive pressures grew, and our growth slowed considerably.”

AI in general has been taking over the tech world, and Meta is no different, in fact, the company has been involved in AI research and development since it was called Facebook. 

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“I do think it is a good thing to focus on AI,” Ali Mogharabi, a senior equity analyst at Morningstar, told CNN

“Meta’s investments in AI has benefits on both ends because it can improve efficiency for engineers creating products, and because incorporating AI features into Meta’s lineup of apps will potentially create more engagement time for users, which can then drive advertising revenue,” he explained.

“A lot of the investments in AI, and a lot of enhancements that come from those investments in AI, could actually be applicable to the entire metaverse project,” Mogharabi stated. 

Last year, Meta lost more than $13 billion from its “Reality Labs” unit, the business sector focused on developing and expanding the metaverse. This shift comes after multiple big investors expressed their concerns over the lack of growth that came from the sector. 

Angelo Zino, a senior equity analyst at CFRA Research, said “the second round of layoffs at Meta officially make us convinced that Mark Zuckerberg has completely switched gears, altering the narrative of the company to one focused on efficiencies rather than looking to grow the metaverse at any cost.”

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Meta To Launch Paid Subscription Services For Facebook And Instagram 

Mark Zuckerberg announced on Instagram this weekend that Meta is currently testing a subscription service in which users of Instagram and Facebook can pay to get verified; similar to Twitter’s recent launch of its paid Twitter Blue services where users can pay for verification. 

Meta will be releasing “Meta Verified” in Australia and New Zealand this week, in which users will have the option to pay either $11.99 a month for web service or $14.99 a month on iOS devices. 

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The service will also include extra protection from impersonation accounts and direct access to customer support services. 

To avoid an increase in fake accounts, users who want the paid service will need to provide proof through a government ID which matches their profile name and picture; users must also be 18 to be eligible for the service. 

“This new feature is about increasing authenticity and security across our services.”

A Meta spokesperson also stated that there will be “no changes to accounts that are already verified,” as verification was previously given to users who are “authentic and notable.”

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“We are evolving the meaning of the blue badge to focus on authenticity so we can expand verification access to more people. We will display the follower count in more places so people can distinguish which accounts are notable public figures among accounts that share the same name.”

Twitter recently launched its own version of this paid verification subscription service with Twitter Blue; launched in December. 

This move came from Twitter after an influx in fake “verified” accounts began to take over the platform. 

For Twitter, each checkmark is a different color to differentiate what type of account is verified: gold check marks for companies, gray for government entities and other government organizations, and blue for the average individual.

Twitter Blue currently costs $11 a month for iOS and Android users.

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Texas Sues Google Over Facial Data Collection

The state of Texas is suing Google for illegally collecting Texans’ facial and voice recognition information without their consent, according to a statement issued by the state attorney general’s office on Thursday.

For over a decade, a Texas consumer protection law has barred companies from collecting data on Texans’ faces, voices or other biometric identifiers without receiving prior informed consent. Ken Paxton, the state’s attorney general, said Google violated this law by recording identifiers such as “a retina or iris scan, fingerprint, voiceprint, or record of hand or face geometry.

“In blatant defiance of that law, Google has, since at least 2015, collected biometric data from innumerable Texans and used their faces and their voices to serve Google’s commercial ends. Indeed, all across the state, everyday Texans have become unwitting cash cows being milked by Google for profits.”

The law imposes a $25,000 fine for every violation. According to reports, millions of users in Texas had their information stored. The complaint explicitly references the Google Photos app, Google’s Nest camera, and Google Assistant as means of collection.

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A spokesman for Google, José Castañeda, accused Paxton of “mischaracterizing” products in “another breathless lawsuit.”

“For example, Google Photos helps you organize pictures of people by grouping similar faces, so you can easily find old photos. Of course, this is only visible to you, and you can easily turn off this feature if you choose and we do not use photos or videos in Google Photos for advertising purposes. The same is true for Voice Match and Face Match on Nest Hub Max, which are off-by-default features that give users the option to let Google Assistant recognize their voice or face to show their information. We will set the record straight in court.”

This lawsuit is the latest in a string of major cases brought against the company. Earlier this month, Arizona settled a privacy suit against Google for $85 million. Indiana, Washington and the District of Columbia also sued Google in January over privacy invasions related to location tracking.

In a much larger antitrust case, 36 states filed a lawsuit against Google in July over its control of the Android app store.

Paxton has gone after large technology corporations in the past for their privacy and monopolizing practices. In 2020, his office joined nine other states in filing an antitrust lawsuit against Google, which accused it of “working with Facebook Inc. in an unlawful manner that violated antitrust law to boost its already-dominant online advertising business.”

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After the Jan. 6 insurrection, Paxton demanded Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google to be transparent about their content moderation procedures. This year, he also opened an investigation into Twitter over its reported percentage of fake accounts, saying that the company may be disingenuous about its numbers to inflate its value and raise its revenue.

In February, Paxton sued Meta for facial recognition software it provided users to help tag photos. The lawsuit is ongoing. However, Instagram is now required to ask for permission to analyze Texans’ facial features to properly use facial filters.

“Google’s indiscriminate collection of the personal information of Texans, including very sensitive information like biometric identifiers, will not be tolerated. I will continue to fight Big Tech to ensure the privacy and security of all Texans.”

In 2009, Texas revealed its privacy law, which covered biometric identifiers. Other states were implementing similar laws around the country during this same time. Texas was unique in that in the case of violations, the state of Texas would have to sue on behalf of the consumers.

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The Newest VR Headset To Be Released In October From Meta

On Thursday, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed the latest addition to his line of virtual reality headsets will be making their debut in October.

The new product from Meta is expected to be fully revealed at the Meta’s annual Connect event which usually takes place sometime within the month of October.

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The codenamed “Project Cambria” is set to contain features that will help users experience the feeling of social presence and have them feel more connected with other users.

Some of the features that will be included with the new VR headset will be more eye- and facial- tracking features. These new features will allow digital avatars to smile and frown within the virtual reality. 

“For me, this stuff is all about, like, helping people connect… I just started thinking about… what would be the ultimate expression of, basically, people using technology to feel present with each other, right? It’s not phones, it’s not computers.”

The new VR headset is supposed to contain a high-resolution color screen, internal sensor for the eye tracking and sophisticated augmented reality. 

The name of the VR headset has yet to be revealed but the cost of the headset is projected to cost around $800. This is a significant price jump up from the popular Quest 2 headset which costed $399 to $499 depending on the model. 

“In the previous version eye contact was all just AI simulated, we didn’t actually know when you were making eye contact because we weren’t tracking the eyes. Now for this version, and hopefully a lot of the different ones we build going forward, you’ll be able to have realistic facial expressions and more transmitted directly to your avatar,” said Zuckerberg. 

In a recent interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Rogan was allowed to be one of the first people who got to try out the new VR headset. He stated that he was impressed with all the features and how well his avatar was able to match his facial expression and eyes. 

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“It’s getting to the point where it’s mimicking human patterns in kind of a creepy way,” said Rogan. 

Over the last few years, Meta has been putting a lot of their effort and money into VR and augmented reality to keep expanding and evolving the world of computers and how people interact with them. 

According to Digital Trends, VR players usually identify themselves and have a strong connection to their alternates in virtual reality where real connections can be formed. 

With the increase of the technology, it could become a huge stepping stone in the world of virtual reality.

EU, U.K. To Open Antitrust Investigations Into Ad Bidding Agreement Between Meta, Google

EU and U.K. regulators have opened parallel antitrust investigations on tech titans Google and Meta for a possibly illegal ad bidding agreement that took place back in September of 2018, which eliminated competition between the two and allowed for a controlling of the market.

According to a press release by the European Commission (EC), through the agreement — known as “Jedi Blue” — “a competing technology to Google’s Open Bidding may have been targeted with the aim to weaken it and exclude it from the market for displaying ads on publisher websites and apps.”

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“If confirmed by our investigation, this would restrict and distort competition in the already concentrated ad tech market, to the detriment of rival ad serving technologies, publishers and ultimately consumers,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) stated their own concern that Meta and Google put obstacles in the way of “competitors who provide important online display advertising services to publishers.” Like the EC, the CMA emphasized that the agreement could significantly damage the industry, particularly when it comes to smaller businesses.

“If one company has a stranglehold over a certain area, it can make it hard for start-ups and smaller businesses to break into the market – and may ultimately reduce customer choice.”

As The Verge notes, the Jedi Blue agreement is already under investigation in the U.S., where 15 state attorney generals have filed lawsuits against Meta and Google. The Verge also detailed the traces of Jedi Blue, which go back to 2017, when Meta (then Facebook) made a decision to support an adtech system that would rival Google.

The lawsuits claim Meta dropped that technology when Google offered them special access to its online ad bidding system. Meta was then able to be the first in line when buying real estate ads from Google, and proceeded to stop investing into rivaling ad technology or use any header bidding.

The probes could take years to complete, as the EC stated there is no legal deadline for bringing an antitrust investigation to an end. The length depends on a number of factors, from the complexity of the case to the extent of Google and Meta’s cooperation. Appeals by the companies could also draw out the process.

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If found guilty of breaking the law, the companies could be subject to a fine up to 10% of worldwide turnover, along with legally binding directions to bring the breach to an end. In 2021, Meta saw a $117 billion annual revenue while Google reached $258 billion, so 10% wouldn’t exactly be chump change.

The companies have denied any wrongdoing, and labeled the allegations as false. “This is a publicly documented, pro-competitive agreement that enables Facebook Audience Network (FAN) to participate in our Open Bidding program, along with dozens of other companies,” Google said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Meta explained the agreement has helped to not only increase competition for ad bidding, but enables them to bring more value to advertisers and publishers, resulting in a “better outcome for all.”

For Meta, the probe is just one of numerous messy situations currently occurring to the company in Europe. Russia wants them to be labeled as an “extremist organization” and have all their activities banned in the country following claims that they broke laws on terrorist propaganda while inciting hatred.

Billionaire Businessman, Orlando Bravo, Claims The Metaverse Will Be Big, And Should Be Invested In 

Puerto Rican billionaire businessman Orlando Bravo, co-founder and managing partner of the private equity firm Thoma Bravo, claimed this week that the metaverse will be the “big word of 2021, and is a big time investment.” 

“The metaverse is very investable, and it’s going to be very big.” 

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Much like the movie “Ready Player One,” the metaverse is a sci-fi concept where humans put on some sort of virtual reality gear that allows them to live, work, and play in a virtual world. The concept has been viewed as a utopian dream, and a dystopian nightmare, depending on your standpoint. 

Facebook’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg announced his company’s plans for the metaverse last month. Zuckerberg also recently changed the name of Facebook to Meta, claiming the new company will have a major focus on the metaverse. 

“The metaverse is the next frontier just like social networking was when we got started.”

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The entire concept of the metaverse has been heavily debated online. One marketing campaign in Iceland even went as far as to mock the metaverse announcement video as a means of bringing in tourists. In the video, a Zuckerberg lookalike introduces viewers to “Icelandverse, a place of enhanced actual reality without the silly-looking headsets.” 

Beyond Facebook, tech giants like Microsoft, Roblox, and Nvidia are already trying to enhance their software so that it’s compatible with the metaverse, and can even be used to power it if needed. 

Thomas Bravo alone has more than $83 billion in assets under management and a portfolio that contains more than 40 software companies. Beyond his excitement for the metaverse, Bravo also discussed his passion for cryptocurrency and bitcoin. 

“How could you not love crypto? Crypto is just a great system. It’s frictionless. It’s decentralized. And young people want their own financial system. So it is here to stay,” Bravo said.