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TikTok will recheck the age of every user in Italy after DPA order

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TikTok has agreed to re-verify the age of every user in Italy and block access to users who state they are under 13, the country’s data protection agency said today.

The video sharing social network confirmed that from February 9 every user in Italy will be required to go through its age gate process again — and only those users aged 13 and above will be allowed to continue using the app.

Accounts of those who say they are under 13 will be deleted.

The move to required all users in Italy to go through TikTok’s age-verification process again follows an emergency order by Italy’s GPDP on January 22 after the death of a 10-year-old girl from Palermo who died of asphyxiation after participating in a “blackout challenge” on the social network, according to reports in local media.

TikTok was given a deadline of January 29 to respond to the GPDP’s order, as we reported earlier. Today the agency confirmed the measures TikTok has agreed to take.

As well as asking all users in the country to re-enter their date of birth to continue using the app, the GPDP said TikTok will “consider deploying AI-based systems for age verification purposes”.

The Italian watchdog added that it will be monitoring the effectiveness of TikTok’s age verification process.

The basic age-check TikTok conducts when users sign-up — which it will be pushing out again to all users in Italian in a few days — simply requires users to enter a date of birth so is very easy to circumvent. But it’s also clear that age verification online remains a hard problem.

Robust identity checks to determine age beyond doubt threaten a ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ scenario — potentially limiting service access in a way that’s unfair and risking harm to online anonymity and privacy, with potential knock on impacts on other considerations like freedom of expression and data security.

On the flip side are growing public concerns that underage users are being exposed to inappropriate and even harmful content online.

While TikTok’s lead data supervisor in the European Union is Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) includes a provision that allows national DPAs to take emergency interventions to protect users — which is the route the GPDP has used here.

“In order to identify users below 13 years with reasonable certainty following this initial check, the company undertook to further consider the deployment of AI-based systems,” the agency said today.

“Since the implementation of such systems requires balancing the need for accurate verification against the children’s right to data protection, the company committed to starting a dialogue with the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) on the use of AI for age verification purposes. Ireland is where TikTok set its main establishment in the EU,” it added.

Reached for comment, the Irish Data Protection Commission told TechCrunch: “The DPC is engaging with TikTok to review, in the context of the processing of personal data, the measures implemented by the company to ensure it has effective means of identifying child users on the platform and, more generally, the measures and protections to protect the most vulnerable of users in terms of risks arising from the processing of their personal data.” So it remains to be seen whether the regulator will push for more robust age checks.

In another change triggered by the GPDP’s intervention TikTok has implemented an in-app button to enable users to “quickly and easily” report other users that may seem to be below 13 years of age.

Per TikTok, these reports are reviewed by moderators and “removed as necessary”.

“All the above measures supplement those already in place,” the GPDP said, adding: “TikTok undertook to also double the number of Italian moderators of platform contents.”

Commenting in a statement, Alexandra Evans, TikTok’s head of child safety, added: “Keeping people on TikTok safe is our top priority. We’ve reached an agreement with the Garante and today, we’re taking additional steps to support our community in Italy. From February 9, we’ll be sending every user in Italy through our age gate process again and only users aged 13 and over will be able to continue using the app after going through this process. We’re also rolling out a new, dedicated in-app reporting button to allow users to flag an account they believe may be under the age of 13, which will then be reviewed by our team and removed as necessary.

“There is no finish line when it comes to protecting our users, especially our younger ones, and our work in this important area doesn’t stop. That’s why we’re continuing to invest in the people, processes and technologies that help to keep our community a safe space for positive, creative expression.”

TikTok’s reissued age check in Italy will also be accompanied by a local information campaign in which TikTok will aim to raise parents’ and children’s awareness of the age checks and other child-safety-related features — both via its app and in the media.

“An information campaign will be launched by TikTok starting on February 4 both via the app and through other channels. The company will send push alerts to users on the app before blocking their access and will inform them on the need to enter their age. Banners will also be published containing links to information on security tools and on how to change profile settings from ‘public’ to ‘private’. The information campaign both via the web and through the press will be addressed to parents and the age threshold for registration will be specifically highlighted, among other things,” the GPDP said.

The agency also noted that TikTok has agreed to improve the wording of the short privacy notice intended for users aged under 18 years — “to explain what data are collected and how those data are processed in an easily understandable and user-oriented manner”.

In addition to TikTok’s impending information campaign, the GPDP is launching a child safety awareness-raising campaign of its own on national TV channels, in cooperation with a child protection charity called Telefono Azzurro. It said this will be targeted at parents to encourage them to supervise their kids’ use of the app.

“The campaign is aimed at calling upon parents to actively supervise and pay special attention to the situations where their children are requested to enter their age in order to access TikTok,” it said.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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EBay and Adevinta to sell UK sites Gumtree, Motors.co.uk and Shpock to get their $9.2B deal past regulators

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After inking a $9.2 billion deal to merge their classifieds businesses last year, eBay and Norway’s Adevinta have announced a deal to sell off three popular web properties in the UK to get the deal cleared by local regulators, the Competition Markets Authority. The companies plan to sell off Adevina-owned Shpock, and eBay-owned Gumtree and Motors.co.uk — three UK sites that let individuals sell used goods and find/offer services — with the transactions expected to be completed in time for eBay and Adevinta to complete their bigger deal in Q2 2021, pending final regulatory approvals.

“EBay and Adevinta remain excited about the proposed combination of Adevinta and eBay Classifieds Group and now target closing the transaction in Q2 2021, subject to final ratification of the remedies execution plan by the CMA and receipt of outstanding regulatory approval in Austria,” the companies said in a joint statement.

The companies have not yet said whether they plan to sell them in a single package or to independent buyers, but a spokesperson for Adevinta said that it’s likely that there will be another update in 4-6 weeks. She declined to give a price range for the properties.

But in the statement from the companies, eBay said that Gumtree and Motors, which form its UK classifieds business, account for less than 10% of its consolidated revenues ($10.3 billion last year); and Adevinta said that Shpock revenues make up less than 1% of its consolidated revenues (which were about $80 million in the last 12 months). Adevinta is the majority owner of Norwegian publisher Schibsted, among other businesses.

The CMA provisionally has said that it would support the deal if the sale of the three properties gets completed.

“The CMA considers that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the undertakings offered by Adevinta and eBay, or a modified version of them, might be accepted by the CMA under the Enterprise Act 2002,” it noted in a brief update (which was dated 2 March, 2020, although I think that was a typo).

The divestment decision comes as a result of the CMA last month announcing that the deal raised competition concerns as is.

“It is important that people have choice when it comes to selling items they no longer require or searching for a bargain online, and that they can enjoy competitive fees and services,” said CMA’s Joel Bamford, Senior Director of Mergers, in a statement. “There is a realistic chance that without this deal Gumtree and Shpock would have been direct competitors to eBay, which is by far the biggest player in this market. This is the latest in a series of merger probes by the CMA involving large digital companies, where we are thoroughly examining deals to ensure that competition is not restricted, and consumers’ interests are protected.”

Interestingly, one of those other deals also involves eBay, indirectly. Another asset that eBay sold off as part of its wider divestment efforts aiming to streamline its business was selling secondary ticket market company Stubhub to Viagogo in a $4 billion deal. That acquisition closed last year, but then the merger was investigated by the CMA, which last month ordered Viagogo to divest the company’s business outside of North America. It’s a crushing blow when you consider that events have fallen off a virtual cliff (literally and figuratively).

Turning back to Gumtree, Shpock and Motors.co.uk, even if those sites are a relatively small part of eBay and Adevinta’s wider business revenue-wise, collectively they form a very popular option for people looking to buy or sell used goods or hire people for service jobs in the UK. I’ve been a regular user of both in my time, to sell and buy items, and to advertise for/discover several excellent au pairs. Coincidentally, people also use them to resell tickets.

It’s notable that the CMA didn’t consider Facebook, or any others, big enough yet to be seen as viable competitors in that market. It will be worth watching to see how and if that changes though. With deals like last week’s $191 million fundraise for Wallapop, and Facebook’s persistent Marketplace efforts, it is clear that there is still business to be found in classified listings, both as a standalone enterprise, or as something that creates stickiness for users to hang around for other services and advertising alongside them.

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Microsoft’s Power Automate Desktop is now free for all Windows 10 users

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Microsoft today announced that it is making Power Automate Desktop, its enterprise-level tool for creating automated desktop-centric workflows, available to all Windows 10 users for free. Power Automate Desktop is what Microsoft calls its “attended Robotic Process Automation” solution, but you can think of it as a macro recorder on steroids. It comes with 370 prebuilt actions that help you build flows across different applications, but its real power is in letting you build your own scripts to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks.

Power Automate Desktop originally launched last September. It’s based on Microsoft’s acquisition of Softomotive in early 2020, but Microsoft has since extended Softomotive’s technology and integrated it deeper into its own stack.

Users who want to give Power Automate Desktop a try can now download it from Microsoft, but in the coming weeks, it’ll become part of Microsoft’s Insider Builds for Windows 10 and then eventually become a built-in part of Windows 10, all the way down to the standard Windows Home version. Until now, a per-user license for Power Automate Desktop would set you back at least $15 per month.

“We’ve had this mission of wanting to go democratize development for everybody with the Power Platform,” Charles Lamanna, the CVP of Power Platform engineering at Microsoft, told me. “And that means, of course, making products which are accessible to anybody — and that’s what no-code/low-code is all about, whether it’s building applications with Power Apps or automating with Power Automate. But another big part of that is just, how do you also expand the imagination of a typical PC user to make them believe they can be a developer?”

This move, Lamanna believes, reduces the licensing friction and sends a message to Windows users that they can build bots and automate tasks, too. “The way we’ve designed it — and the experience we have, particularly around the recording abilities like a macro recorder — makes it so you don’t have to think about for loops or what is this app I’m clicking on or this text box — you can just record it and run it,” he said.

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Piano acquires analytics company AT Internet

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Piano is expanding its platform for digital publishers with the acquisition of AT Internet, a 25-year-old analytics company based in France.

Even if you don’t recognize Piano as a company, TechCrunch readers will probably be familiar with the product, since we use it to manage the reader experience of our Extra Crunch membership program.

Other customers include CNBC, The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press, and Piano describes itself more broadly as a “digital business platform” with products around personalization, advertising and analytics, as well as subscriptions.

“Fundamentally, our job is to help big websites make more money,” said CEO Trevor Kaufman. “We view that not as a billing problem, but as a marketing problem.”

Kaufman described a “pretty siloed system” used by most publishers and other digital businesses, where data around ad revenue, subscriptions, content engagement and customer profiles is all stored separately. By integrating with AT Internet’s “user-centric, event-based data store,” he said Piano can provide a more comprehensive picture of “the full customer journey,” allowing businesses to personalize their marketing and messaging accordingly.

He also praised AT Internet for its focus on “data quality and privacy,” with the company helping clients comply with GDPR and CCPA regulations.

New York-based Piano says AT Internet’s chief executive Mathieu Llorens will continue in that role while becoming a “significant shareholder” in the combined organization. The acquisition price was not disclosed, but the transaction involves both cash and equity and was funded by Updata Partners, Rittenhouse Ventures and Sixth Street Partners.

“The merger of our two organizations is an exciting chapter in our company’s history and prominence in the web analytics industry,” Llorens said in a statement. “This next chapter with Piano will enable AT Internet to invest more resources in and drive expansion of our current products, as well as help more organizations leverage analytics values and segments to deliver personalized customer experiences.”

Kaufman added that Piano and AT Internet will both work to integrate their platforms while continuing offer standalone products, but “the line becomes blurrier and blurrier as we use the backend of AT Internet to power more and more stuff for Piano.”

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