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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.”

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Google To Replace Passwords With Passkeys In New Update 

On Tuesday, Google announced an update to the way they plan to enforce cybersecurity: by replacing passwords with passkeys instead. According to Gizmodo Magazine, Google claimed it’s planning to “make passwords a rarity, and eventually obsolete.” 

Passkeys have been around for a little while now. A passkey is defined as any sort of short form method of unlocking your devices or accounts, for example, using your fingerprint or pin code to unlock your phone. 

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The biggest advantage of these types of cybersecurity systems is that hackers will need your entire device, not just your password, to gain access to your accounts; as most passkeys only work on the single device they’re implemented on. 

According to Google, passkeys are 40% faster than passwords as well, and are popular among consumers due to the fact that they don’t need to memorize long randomized passwords full of various letters, numbers, and symbols.

According to Gizmodo, technology experts have been predicting for the past decade that the use of passwords for cybersecurity would likely become obsolete, however, every year that sentiment has been proven wrong, especially with the rise of new streaming services and social media platforms in the past five years alone. 

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Google, however, is the platform that has the best chance at being the catalyst for this transition. As one of the biggest tech companies in the world, Google has the potential to set a new precedent when it comes to how the average person protects their presence online. 

Google has stated that when a user logs into their account, a new prompt will appear asking if the user wants to create and use passkeys, allowing them to “skip passwords when possible” if you go into the settings of your Google account, and use other features. 

With these new changes, it’s still not likely that passwords will go away anytime soon. 

“The tech industry has a lot of work to tackle before you can forget all your passwords, but that impossible dream is now a massive step closer to reality,” wrote Thomas Germain.

The US Government Is Still Threatening To Ban TikTok

TikTok told the media this week that US federal officers are demanding that the Chinese Owners of the app sell their stake in the social media app, or they risk facing a US ban of the app due to security concerns.

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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.

Snapchat Fights Drug Dealing With Automated Drug Detection System On App 

Snapchat announced that they will be making a greater effort to combat drug dealing on the platform. The announcement is partially due to the increased amount of drug-related deaths among US high school and college-aged students. 

Snapchat announced that they have adopted improved automated drug detection systems as well as enhancing partnerships with law enforcement. The app will also now have a portal that can be used for educating users on the dangers of drugs. 

“Our position on this has always been clear: we have absolutely zero tolerance for drug dealing on Snapchat. We have a unique opportunity to use our voice, technology and resources to help address this scourge, which threatens the lives of our community members.”

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The increased security efforts come after the CDC warned of a major spike of drug overdoses in 2021, mainly driven by fentanyl; a cheap synthetic opioid that’s 100 times more potent than heroin, and is often mixed with counterfeit pills that young people buy through social media. 

In 2020 fentanyl fatalities rose by 32% when compared to 2019; more than 93,000 deaths. Individuals aged 24 or younger have seen a 50% increase in drug deaths as well.

“Every drug you try now is a game of Russian roulette,” Shabbir Safdar, director of the Partnership for Safe Medicines, a non-profit fighting pharmaceutical counterfeits, said

A recent study from the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) found that pills labeled as Oxycontin, Percocet, Xanax or Adderall are readily available on platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Craigslist. 

Within the past year Snapchat claims it has increased its proactive detection of drug sales by 390%; increasing security efforts by 50% within the last quarter alone. When Snapchat’s systems detect drug dealing activity on the app the account is automatically banned and the creator is blocked from creating new accounts on the platform. 

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The company has also increased their partnerships with law enforcement and improved on response times to law enforcement inquiries by 85% within the past year. 

Snapchat said it is “working with experts to continually update the list of slang and drug-related terms blocked from search results on Snapchat. Other platforms should also take measures to put a stop to the massive rise in online drug dealing. This is not just a Snapchat problem,” said Christine Elgersma, a senior editor at children’s safety non-profit Common Sense Media.

At a 2021 congressional hearing, Instagram executive Adam Mosseri had to answer questions regarding drug dealing on social media.

“Why are children’s accounts even allowed to search for drug content to begin with, much less allowed to do so in a way that leads them to a drug dealer in two clicks?” asked the Republican senator Mike Lee of Utah.

“Accounts selling drugs or any other regulated goods are not allowed on the platform. The app uses technology to proactively take down a huge number of drug-related posts, Mosseri responded.

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Google Introduces New Tool To Help Minors Delete Their Photos From Search 

Google is now making it easier for minors or their parents to delete photos from search results within their devices. 

Google posted a blog post this week in which they detailed how they’ll be rolling out a tool that allows parents and their kids, younger than the age of 18, to request the removal of images from Google’s imaging tab, as well as request to have the images no longer appear as thumbnails in search inquiries. 

Google previously released methods for users to request the removal of personal information and photos that are deemed as “non-consensually explicit” or reveal “financial, medical, and national identification” information. The company’s newest security measures extend that protection to images of minors. 

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“We know that kids and teens have to navigate some unique challenges online, especially when a picture of them is unexpectedly available on the internet. We believe this change will help give young people more control over their digital footprint and where their images can be found on Search.”

The company’s blog post explained how the new form allows users to flag certain URLs that contain any images or search results that they want removed. Google will then review each submission and reach out to the user if additional information is needed. 

Google did emphasize, however, that these requests won’t result in the total removal of a particular image from the internet, and users will likely need to contact a website’s webmaster to ask for specific content to be removed. 

The company announced this new tool back in August as a part of their larger plan to protect minors across its platforms. Other features within Google such as “Family Link” allow parents to better monitor their kids accounts and internet activity. 

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Big tech companies all over the world have been called out for their lack of efforts when it comes to protecting minors from the harmful content that’s on the internet. David Monahan, campaign manager at Fairplay, a child advocacy group, recently spoke to the media about Google’s newest efforts, and hopes for the future. 

“We’re glad to see Google take this overdue step to give children and teens and their families more control over what images show up in search results. We hope Google will go farther to reverse its collection of sensitive data and give families the ability to erase the digital footprint that Google and its partners maintain on every young person in the US.”

Alexandra Hamlet, a clinical psychologist who works with teenagers, said Google’s request process could also “help parents talk more openly with their kids about managing their online presence. That could include discussing what’s worthy of consideration for removal, such as a photo that could harm their future reputation versus one where they perceive to look less than perfect.”

“While some parents may believe that their teen can handle the removal of various pictures without help, I do suggest that they still have conversations about values and how they tie into image online. They could be missing out on a great opportunity to help their teen to build insight and assertiveness skills,” she explained.

Apple Addresses Privacy Concerns, Says Siri Will No Longer Send Requests To Main Servers 

Apple announced this week that they will no longer be using Siri to send requests to its servers as a means of speeding up how quickly the AI voice assistant is able to respond, as well as addressing multiple privacy concerns from users. 

It was revealed a couple of years ago that Apple’s staff regularly listens in on confidential details spoken to Siri while carrying out quality control for the assistant. The company made the announcement at their worldwide developers conference.

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“From this autumn onwards, Siri will proces audio on device, meaning that a majority of the queries won’t be recorded or uploaded to any of Apple’s servers.” 

“With on-device speech recognition, the audio of users’ requests is processed right on their iPhone or iPad by default. This addresses one of the biggest privacy concerns for voice assistants, which is unwanted audio recording. For many requests, Siri processing is also moving on device, enabling requests to be processed without an internet connection, such as launching apps, setting timers and alarms, changing settings or controlling music,” an Apple spokesperson said. 

Back in 2019 the Guardian published an investigative report that revealed “Siri ‘graders’ regularly heard confidential information as part of their job assessing the voice assistant’s responses for quality. The company apologized and, after a three-month pause to the grading program, allowed users to opt out of having their speech analyzed by humans.”

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Apple also announced that they would be introducing a slew of new privacy featured across all of its products to make users feel more secure in their experience using these devices. Mail Privacy Protection is being implemented to block emailers from tracking whether or not users open up an email and consume the content within it. 

Apple will also be making improvements to their FaceTime app as a means of competing with Zoom, Google Meet, and other digital forms of communication that are thriving in this pandemic world. 

Apple recently released a software update as well that forces every third-party app to ask for a user’s permission to be able to track what they do on their device. These tracking features are traditionally used by social media applications to track what kind of products you like so that they can make your advertisements more personalized. 

The goal of all of these updates is to give smart device users the comfort of knowing they are not constantly being tracked and watched by these major corporations. 

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New iOS Update From Apple Includes App Tracking ‘Transparency’ Feature 

iPhone users will now be able to prevent advertisers from tracking them and their search activity across all the apps on their phone thanks to a new software update from Apple. Despite protests from advertisers and Facebook, the company introduces the new feature as a part of its iOS 14.5 update. 

The setting is listed in your phone as “app tracking transparency,” which will require all applications to ask for a user’s consent before they’re able to track their activity across all other apps and websites on their device. 

If a user decides to decline, the applications won’t be able to access the digital footprint that they normally can automatically, which allows them to track you from app to app. The prompt reads: “Allow [insert app name here] to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?” The prompt will appear with any app that requests access to that digital footprint. 

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Apple initially announced that app tracking transparency would be implemented in all iPhones last summer, and was originally projected to be implemented in fall 2020, however, the company decided to delay the release of the update six months to give advertisers and other industry leaders time to prepare. 

Dan Levy, Facebook’s head of advertisements and business products, spoke out greatly with Facebook this past winter about Apple’s new policy. “The app transparency setting is about control of the entire internet. This is about a long-term view that is anti-personalized advertising and we think is trying to take the world back 10 to 20 years.” 

Facebook even went as far as to launch an advertising campaign arguing that “the real victim of the changes are your neighborhood coffee brewery, your friend who owns their own retail business, your cousin who started an event planning service and the game developers who build the apps you use for free. Those small businesses would lose out if they were no longer able to target customers with personalized adverts.”

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Facebook’s not alone either, digital publishing house Axel Springer has filed a complaint on behalf of Germany’s biggest tech, media, and advertising companies, to the German competition regulator in which they argue that the new rules could lead to a 60% fall in advertising revenues for app developers. 

In France, consumer group Noyb argued the complete opposite, claiming that Apple should not only roll out the privacy tools as soon as possible, but also remove the ability for advertisers to see what you’re doing on your phone all together. “With our complaints we want to enforce a simple principle: trackers are illegal, unless a user freely consents,” said Stefano Rossetti, a privacy lawyer at Noyb.

Apple’s director of global privacy, Jane Horvath, wrote a letter to a slew of privacy and advertising groups to address these criticisms.

“We developed [app tracking transparency] for a single reason: because we share your concerns about users being tracked without their consent and the bundling and reselling of data by advertising networks and data brokers. Facebook and others have a very different approach to targeting. Not only do they allow the grouping of users into smaller segments, they use detailed data about online browsing activity to target ads.”

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CEO’s Of Google, Facebook, And Twitter To Testify In Front Of Congress On Misinformation

This marks the first time the chief executives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter will be appearing before lawmakers since the Capitol riots and Covid-19 vaccine distributions.

Facebook And Apple Feuding Over Privacy Changes That Threaten Targeted Advertisements 

Facebook has spent its week pushing public relations efforts meant to attack Apple due to the fact that the company is planning on making iOS data privacy changes that would make it harder for advertisers to track users search history and therefore deliver extremely specific targeted ads on platforms like Facebook

Critics of Facebook were quick to point out that it’s interesting they care so much about targeted advertisements, and believe they’re just showing how integral that is to their actual core business. 

Facebook has put out advertisements in several national newspapers, such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, in which the platform slams Apple’s upcoming privacy changes. Facebook has claimed in the ads that the changes would be “devastating” to millions of smaller businesses that use Facebook to get their companies name out there more. 

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Facebook has been pushing their new small business initiative, SpeakUpForSmall, recently in which the platform encourages local businesses to “speak their mind” and share what personalized advertisements have meant to the success of their business. However, many were quick to point out that Facebook is likely more upset about these changes due to the fact that the platform makes a majority of its annual revenue from advertising on the site. 

Apple announced these changes at their Worldwide Developer Conference back in June, but they won’t be implemented until early 2021. During the event Apple discussed how users would now be shown a prompt on their devices that would ask for their permission to allow tracking from advertisers, and a bold warning that their information would be used specifically for targeted advertisements. 

Apple has defended this move multiple times by claiming that “online privacy is a fundamental human right,” a right that Facebook has definitely been criticized on throughout the past decade. Now, Facebook is attempting to position themselves as a large supporter of small businesses with these new advertisements, which claim that the platform is “standing up for small businesses everywhere.” 

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The advertisements continue: “Many in the small business community have shared concerns about Apple’s forced software updates, which will limit businesses’ ability to run personalized ads and reach their customers effectively. … These changes will be devastating to small businesses, adding to the many challenges they face right now.”

Apple released a statement this week in response to the advertisements and the small businesses throughout the nation who are actually concerned that this new policy could hinder how well they’re able to advertise: “Users should know when their data is being collected and shared across other apps and websites — and they should have the choice to allow that or not. App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 does not require Facebook to change its approach to tracking users and creating targeted advertising, it simply requires they give users a choice.”

Apple and Facebook have clashed in the past over privacy-related concerns as well. Just last week WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, criticized Apple over these privacy concerns and warnings, to which Apple replied that peoples privacies should always be top priority, and they would continue to fight for that.