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Google Asked to Block Banned Groups, Organisations From YouTube in Nigeria

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Nigeria asked Google to block the use of YouTube channels and livestreams by banned groups and terrorist organisations in the country, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said on Thursday.

Nigeria has been exploring ways to regulate social media usage in the country, Africa’s most populous. The country is home to millions of Internet users and platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Tiktok are popular.

YouTube “channels and emails containing names of banned groups and their affiliates should not be allowed on Google platforms,” Mohammed said he told Google executives in Abuja, the country’s capital.

Charles Murito, Google’s sub-Saharan African director for government affairs and public policy, in a statement said the company already has measures to address the Nigerian government’s concerns.

Those measures include a system for trained users to flag troublesome content, he added. “We share the same goals and objectives,” Murito said. “We do not want our platform to be used for ill purposes.”

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The minister said the government was particularly concerned with online activities by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The government has labeled IPOB, a group campaigning for the secession of a southeastern region of Nigeria, a “terrorist organization.”

The YouTube concerns are part of an effort by the government, the minister said, to protect Nigerian internet users from harmful effects of social media, especially ahead of a presidential election next year.

Nigeria suspended Twitter in June 2021 and blocked access to users after the social media giant removed a post from President Muhammadu Buhari threatening to punish regional secessionists.

The government lifted the Twitter ban six months later.

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© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Biden Administration Tells US Supreme Court Section 230 of Communications Decency Act Has Limits

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The Biden administration argued to the US Supreme Court on Wednesday that social media giants like Google could in some instances have responsibility for user content, adopting a stance that could potentially undermine a federal law shielding companies from liability.

Lawyers for the US Department of Justice made their argument in the high-profile lawsuit filed by the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old American citizen killed in 2015 when Islamist militants opened fire on the Paris bistro where she was eating.

The family argued that Google was in part liable for Gonzalez’ death because YouTube, which is owned by the tech giant, essentially recommended videos by the Islamic State group to some users through its algorithms. Google and YouTube are part of Alphabet (GOOGL.O).

The case reached the Supreme Court after the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Google, saying they were protected from such claims because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Section 230 holds that social media companies cannot be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by other users.

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The law has been sharply criticised across the political spectrum. Democrats claim it gives social media companies a pass for spreading hate speech and misinformation.

Republicans say it allows censorship of voices on the right and other politically unpopular opinions, pointing to decisions by Facebook and Twitter to ban dissemination of a New York Post article about the son of then-Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s adult son, Hunter, in October 2020.

The Biden administration, in its filing to the Supreme Court, did not argue that Google should be held liable in the Gonzalez case and voiced strong support for most of Section 230’s protections of social media companies.

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But the DOJ lawyers said that algorithms used by YouTube and other providers should be subject to a different kind of scrutiny. They called for the Supreme Court to return the case to the 9th Circuit for further review.

Attorneys for Google could not be reached for comment on Wednesday night.

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© Thomson Reuters 2022


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WhatsApp Avatar Feature Rolling Out to Users With Support for 36 Customisable Stickers

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WhatsApp has begun rolling out Avatars, a feature that allows users to make a digital representation of themselves. The Meta-owned instant messaging service previously rolled out the Bitmoji-like feature to beta testers on Android and iOS. The feature which is now making its way to all users as part of a full-scale rollout, will allow users to curate their digital representation or personal avatar from a combination of hairstyles, facial features, and outfits, according to the company. WhatsApp will also provide 36 custom stickers that reflect different emotions and actions.

The instant messaging platform announced the new Avatars feature via a blog post on Wednesday. A user can set an Avatar as their WhatsApp profile photo, or use them as stickers. Meta says that these stickers will be available in 36 versions of popular emojis and actions, adding that avatars could provide users “a fast and fun way to share feelings with friends and family.”

Personalised avatars were first made popular on social media by Snapchat which now owns Bitmoji which was initially created by Bitstrips. Instagram, which is also owned by Meta, previously added support for Avatars, just like Facebook and Facebook Messenger.

WhatsApp’s support for Bitmoji-like 3D avatars appears to be the same set of models that are available on other Meta-owned apps. Facebook was the first amongst the Meta family to be introduced to Avatars through Messenger and the News Feed in 2019. A year later in 2020, the company added support for adding these digital avatars on Facebook comments and stories.

The company intends to serve Avatars as a mode for fun and creative expression as well as a privacy feature. Avatar can be a “great way to represent yourself without using your real photo so it feels more private,” added the company blog post.

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Users may access the Avatars feature by updating their WhatsApp to the latest version and navigating to Settings > Avatar > Create Your Avatar.

WhatsApp is also promising to bring future enhancements in the form of lighting, shading, hairstyle textures, and more that will improve the experience.

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The feature was previously tested with a few beta testers on WhatsApp beta version 2.22.23.9 for Android, about a month before it was eventually rolled out to all users.


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Twitter Blue Pricing to Be Lowered for Web Users to $7, App Store Subscribers to Pay $11: Report

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Twitter plans to change the pricing of its Twitter Blue subscription product to $7 (roughly Rs. 600) from $7.99 (roughly Rs. 700) if users pay for it through the website, and $11 (roughly Rs. 900) if they do so through its iPhone app, the Information reported on Wednesday, citing a person briefed on the plans.

The move was likely a pushback against the 30 percent cut that Apple takes on revenues from apps on its operating system, the report said, with lower pricing for the website likely to drive more users to that platform as opposed to signing up on their iPhones.

It did not mention whether pricing would change for the Android platform as well.

Last week, Musk accused Apple of threatening to block Twitter from its App Store without saying why in a series of tweets that also said it had stopped advertising on the social media platform.

In the first quarter of 2022, Apple was the top advertiser on Twitter, spending $48 million (roughly Rs. 390 crore) and accounting for more than 4 percent of total revenue for the period, the Washington Post reported, citing an internal Twitter document.

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Among the list of grievances tweeted by Musk was the up to 30 percent fee Apple charges software developers for in-app purchases.

He also posted a meme suggesting he was willing to “go to war” with Apple rather than paying the commission.

The fee has drawn criticism and lawsuits from companies such as Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, while attracting the scrutiny of regulators globally.

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The commission could weigh on Musk’s attempts to boost subscription revenue at Twitter, in part to make up for the exodus of advertisers over content moderation concerns.

Musk later met Apple chief executive Tim Cook at the company’s headquarters and later tweeted that the misunderstanding about Twitter being removed from Apple’s App Store was resolved.

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Twitter and Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

© Thomson Reuters 2022


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