Bearing down on hugely popular social media platforms and their impact on children, the leaders of a Senate panel have called executives from YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat to face questions on what their companies are doing to ensure young users’ safety.
The Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection is fresh off a highly charged hearing with a former Facebook data scientist, who laid out internal company research showing that the company’s Instagram photo-sharing service appears to seriously harm some teens.
The panel is widening its focus to examine other tech platforms, with millions or billions of users, that also compete for young people’s attention and loyalty.
The three executives — Michael Beckerman, a TikTok vice president and head of public policy for the Americas; Leslie Miller, vice president for government affairs and public policy of YouTube’s owner Google; and Jennifer Stout, vice president for global public policy of Snapchat parent Snap Inc. — are due to appear at a subcommittee hearing Tuesday.
The three platforms are woven into the fabric of young people’s lives, often influencing their dress, dance moves and diet, potentially to the point of obsession. Peer pressure to get on the apps is strong. Social media can offer entertainment and education, but platforms have been misused to harm children and promote bullying, vandalism in schools, eating disorders and manipulative marketing, lawmakers say.
“We need to understand the impact of popular platforms like Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube on children and what companies can do better to keep them safe,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the subcommittee’s chairman, said in a statement.
The panel wants to learn how algorithms and product designs can magnify harm to children, foster addiction and intrusions of privacy, Blumenthal says. The aim is to develop legislation to protect young people and give parents tools to protect their children.
The video platform TikTok, wildly popular with teens and younger children, is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. In only five years since launching, it has gained an estimated 1 billion monthly users.
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TikTok denies allegations, most notably from conservative Republican lawmakers, that it operates at the behest of the Chinese government and provides it with users’ personal data. The company says it stores all TikTok U.S. data in the United States. The company also rejects criticisms of promoting harmful content to children.
TikTok says it has tools in place, such as screen time management, to help young people and parents moderate how long children spend on the app and what they see. The company says it focuses on age-appropriate experiences, noting that some features, such as direct messaging, are not available to younger users.
Early this year after federal regulators ordered TikTok to disclose how its practices affect children and teenagers, the platform tightened its privacy practices for the under-18 crowd.
A separate House committee has investigated video service YouTube Kids this year. Lawmakers said the YouTube offshoot feeds children inappropriate material in “a wasteland of vapid, consumerist content” so it can serve ads to them. The app, with both video hosting and original shows, is available in about 70 countries.
A panel of the House Oversight and Reform Committee told YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki that the service doesn’t do enough to protect children from potentially harmful material. Instead it relies on artificial intelligence and self-policing by content creators to decide which videos make it onto the platform, the panel’s chairman said in a letter to Wojcicki.
Parent company Google agreed to pay $170 million in 2019 settlements with the Federal Trade Commission and New York state of allegations that YouTube collected personal data on children without their parents’ consent.
Instagram for kids idea questioned
Despite changes made after the settlements, the lawmaker’s letter said, YouTube Kids still shows ads to children.
YouTube says it has worked to provide children and families with protections and parental controls like time limits, to limit viewing to age-appropriate content. It emphasizes that the 2019 settlements involved the primary YouTube platform, not the kids’ version.
“We took action on more than 7 million accounts in the first three quarters of 2021 when we learned they may belong to a user under the age of 13 — 3 million of those in the third quarter alone — as we have ramped up our automated removal efforts,” Miller, the Google vice president, says in written testimony prepared for the hearing.
Snap Inc.’s Snapchat service allows people to send photos, videos and messages that are meant to quickly disappear, an enticement to its young users seeking to avoid snooping parents and teachers. Hence its “Ghostface Chillah” faceless (and word-less) white logo.
Only 10 years old, Snapchat says an eye-popping 90% of 13- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. use the service. It reported 306 million daily users in the July-September quarter.
The company agreed in 2014 to settle the FTC’s allegations that it deceived users about how effectively the shared material vanished and that it collected users’ contacts without telling them or asking permission. The messages, known as “snaps,” could be saved by using third-party apps or other ways, the regulators said.
Snapchat wasn’t fined but agreed to establish a privacy program to be monitored by an outside expert for the next 20 years — similar to oversight imposed on Facebook, Google and Myspace in privacy settlements in recent years.
© 2021 The Canadian Press
U.S. financial regulators investigate Trump social media deal – The Globe and Mail
Wall Street’s top financial regulators are investigating former U.S. President Donald Trump’s $1.25 billion deal to float his new social media venture on the stock market, a filing showed.
Digital World Acquisition Corp, the blank-check acquisition firm that agreed to merge with Trump Media & Technology Group Corp (TMTG), disclosed in a regulatory filing on Monday that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) were probing the deal.
TMTG did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
Digital World said the SEC asked for documents in early November relating to communications between Digital World and TMTG, meetings of Digital World’s board, policies and procedures relating to trading, the identification of banking, telephone, and e-mail addresses and the identities of certain investors.
The SEC stated in its request that its investigation does not mean that the regulator has concluded that anyone violated the law, Digital World added.
Senator Elizabeth Warren had asked the SEC to investigate TMTG’s proposed merger with Digital World over potential violations of securities laws, including whether they had sufficiently disclosed when deal talks began.
The SEC declined to comment on Monday.
The investigations come amid excitement among Trump supporters and retail investors over the planned deal. Frantic trading of Digital World’s shares has driven TMTG’s valuation from $875 million in October to close to $4 billion.
Digital World, whose shares were down 1.8% to $44.14 at 1824 GMT, said FINRA had asked for details in late October and early November about “surrounding events,” including a review of trading, that preceded the announcement of the merger.
FINRA said in its request that its inquiry should not be construed as an indication that any violations of Nasdaq rules or federal securities laws have occurred, Digital World added.
FINRA declined to comment.
TMTG said on Saturday it had entered into agreements to raise about $1 billion from a group of unidentified investors, bringing the deal’s total proceeds to $1.25 billion.
But TMTG will only receive this money if the deal is completed. A vote required for Digital World shareholders to approve the transaction has yet to be scheduled.
Some on Wall Street have been reluctant to associate with Trump, and the Digital World filings did not disclose which investors backed the $1 billion fundraising.
Trump was banned from top social media platforms after the Jan. 6 attack by his supporters on the U.S. Capitol amid concerns he would inspire further violence. [USN LINK]
The Capitol attack was based on unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in last year’s presidential election.
In its first financial projections since the announcement of the merger, Digital World said it expected the average revenue per user of Trump’s social media app, TRUTH Social, to grow to $13.50 in 2026, with 81 million total users.
That is despite the app not having reached even trial mode. TMTG plans to launch the beta version of Truth Social in the first quarter of 2022.
Digital World also said it expected TMTG to reach 40 million total subscribers by 2026. By comparison, social media platform Twitter Inc has over 200 million daily active users.
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Media Release – December 6, 2021 – Guelph Police – guelphpolice.ca
Another resident loses thousands in Bitcoin scam
For the second time in as many weeks, a Guelph resident has lost thousands of dollars after falling victim to a scam involving Bitcoin.
Saturday afternoon, the Guelph Police Service was contacted by a 68-year-old city resident. He reported he had been contacted by someone claiming to represent the Canada Border Services Agency, who claimed a package with the male’s name on it had been intercepted at the border and contained illegal substances.
The male was instructed to deposit $3,900 into a Bitcoin ATM and did so while keeping the caller on the line. When the caller then demanded the male pull additional funds from a line of credit, the male got suspicious and hung up.
The report comes less than two weeks after a 27-year-old Guelph female lost nearly $8,000 in the same scam.
Payments made via Bitcoin or other crypto currencies are nearly impossible to trace. To avoid falling victim to similar scams:
- Do not provide any information to a caller you don’t know.
- Do not click on links provided or follow directions from a caller you don’t know.
- If the caller claims to be from an agency such as Canadian Border Services or the Canada Revenue Agency, hang up and call the agency back directly before following any instructions. Look up the number yourself rather than using a number provided by the caller.
- The caller will use various means, including threats, to try to force you to act quickly. Don’t fall for it.
- No government agency will demand payment by gift cards or crypto currency. If they ask for this, hang up.
Two impaired driving arrests on weekend
Two motorists were arrested for impaired driving in Guelph over the weekend.
Approximately 2 a.m. Saturday, officers on patrol observed several parties getting into a vehicle outside a licensed establishment on Silvercreek Parkway South. This included three people who entered through the rear hatch and occupy positions without seatbelts.
A traffic stop was conducted and officers detected an odour of alcoholic beverage on the driver’s breath. The driver registered a fail on a roadside screening device and was taken to the police station, where further testing confirmed he had more than the legal limit of alcohol in his system.
A 20-year-old Guelph male is charged with impaired operation. His driver’s licence was immediately suspended for 90 days and his vehicle was impounded for seven days. He will appear in a Guelph court December 17, 2021.
Approximately 11:45 p.m. Saturday, police were called to a report of a male passed out in a running vehicle on Water Street near McCrae Boulevard. Officers attended and detected an odour of alcohol and marijuana coming from the vehicle. The driver registered a fail on a roadside screening device and was taken to the police station, where further testing confirmed he had more than the legal limit of alcohol in his system.
A 44-year-old Fergus male is charged with impaired operation. His driver’s licence was immediately suspended for 90 days and his vehicle was impounded for seven days. He will appear in a Guelph court December 21, 2021.
The Guelph Police Service would like to encourage the public to always consume alcohol and cannabis responsibly. Please don’t drive if you are going to consume alcohol or cannabis, and please ensure that you plan ahead so that you have a safe ride home.
Male fired, charged after internal theft
A Guelph male is unemployed and facing a criminal charge after he was caught stealing from his now-former employer.
On Saturday, the Guelph Police Service received a call from the loss prevention officer of a west-end business, who reported an employee had been let go. During a two-week period in November, the male was caught on camera eating more than $70 worth of product without paying. The total loss is believed to be much higher.
A 21-year-old Guelph male is charged with theft under $5,000. He will appear in a Guelph court January 28, 2021.
Three drivers taken off road during RIDE checks
Three motorists had their driver’s licences suspended for 72 hours during weekend RIDE checks.
Officers stopped 750 vehicles at two locations Saturday night. Almost 50 drivers were asked to provide breath samples into approved screening devices, with three of them taken off the road after registering between 50 and 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit is 80 milligrams.
As well, one driver was charged under the Cannabis Control Act with having cannabis readily available and another was charged under the Highway Traffic Act with failing to surrender a driver’s licence.
Drivers will notice increased enforcement until early January during the Festive RIDE season. The Guelph Police Service would like to encourage the public to always consume alcohol and cannabis responsibly. Please don’t drive if you are going to consume alcohol or cannabis, and please ensure that you plan ahead so that you have a safe ride home.
Total calls for service in the last 72 hours – 619
Trump Media & Technology Group social media could have 81M users by 2026 – CTV News
NEW YORK –
Regulators are asking questions about the deal to bring Donald Trump’s new social media company to the stock market, one that has attracted both legions of fans of the former president and people looking to make a quick profit.
The company partnering with Trump Media & Technology Group acknowledged the inquiries in a filing it made with regulators on Monday. It also gave some financial forecasts for the company, which is hoping to rival Twitter and other platforms that banned Trump, along with Netflix and other streaming video services.
Digital World Acquisition, which is often referred to by its trading symbol of “DWAC,” said it is cooperating with “the preliminary, fact-finding inquiries” by the Financial Industry Regulation Authority and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The Financial Industry Regulation Authority, or FINRA, asked in late October and early November for a review of trading in DWAC’s stock before the Oct. 20 merger deal was announced. That announcement sent the stock surging from US$9.96 to $94.20 in just two days as Trump supporters and investors looking to make a fast buck piled in. The shares have since pulled back to roughly $43.
The Securities and Exchange Commission made a request in early November for documents related to meetings of DWAC’s board, trading policies and other things. According to DWAC, the SEC’s request said the commission’s “investigation does not mean that the SEC has concluded that anyone violated the law or that the SEC has a negative opinion of DWAC or any person, event, or security.”
DWAC said over the weekend that it has lined up $1 billion in promised investments for the former president’s new venture from a group of unnamed institutional investors, and it filed a copy of the presentation used to pitch investors and analysts.
The presentation included forecasts that the company’s Truth Social service may have 81 million users by 2026, or nearly 7 million more people than voted for Trump in the last U.S. presidential election.
In five years, Trump Media is forecast to generate nearly $3.7 billion in revenue, according to the filing. That is more than the annual revenue of retailer Restoration Hardware, RV maker Winnebago Industries and entertainment giant iHeart Media, which owns more than 800 radio stations.
DWAC was shaky in Monday morning trading following the filing. It opened with a slight gain before falling to a 2.2% loss.
AP Writer Bernard Condon contributed
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