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Italy blocks TikTok for certain users after death of girl allegedly playing 'choking' game
TikTok Logo
TikTok Logo Credit: Illustration: Pendect, LogoTikTok (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the accidental death of a 10-year-old girl who allegedly took part in a "blackout challenge" on the video-sharing network TikTok.

TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, said on Friday it had not managed to identify any content on its site that could have encouraged the girl to participate in any such challenge, but was helping the authorities in the probe over possible "incitement to suicide".

Medical experts have warned about the danger of the challenge being taken up by some young people, who refer to it as "scarfing" or "the choking game" in which restricted oxygen to the brain results in a high.

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Microsoft has been granted patent for chatbot to imitate dead people
Microsoft has been granted patent for chatbot to imitate dead people
Credit: unsplash.com / Christian Wiediger

In order to digitally recreate a deceased person based on their "images, voice data, social media posts, electronic messages," and other data, Microsoft has been granted a patent for an underlying technology trying to achieve that. In addition to creating a chatbot, it is suggested that 2D or 3D models could potentially be created.

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Alphabet shuts down Loon, its internet balloon company
Alphabet shuts down Loon, its internet balloon company
Credit: Alphabet / X moonshot division

Alphabet has announced it will shut down its internet balloon company Loon as "the road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped," according to a post on the blog of Alphabet’s X moonshot division.

"Sadly, despite the team’s groundbreaking technical achievements over the last 9 years — doing many things previously thought impossible, like precisely navigating balloons in the stratosphere, creating a mesh network in the sky, or developing balloons that can withstand the harsh conditions of the stratosphere for more than a year — the road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped. So we’ve made the difficult decision to close down Loon. In the coming months, we’ll begin winding down operations and it will no longer be an Other Bet within Alphabet."

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Google competitor DuckDuckGo increased its traffic by 62% in 2020
DuckDuckGo on desktop and mobile
DuckDuckGo on desktop and mobile Credit: DuckDuckGo

The privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo, increased its average number of daily searches by 62% in 2020 as users seek alternatives to impede data tracking.

In an interview with USA TODAY, Kamyl Bazbaz, DuckDuckGo vice president of communications said: "People are coming to us because they want more privacy, and it's generally spreading through word of mouth."

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Parler website is back online
Parler.com screenshot
Parler.com screenshot Credit: Parler

After Amazon, Google, and Apple forced Parler offline, the social network managed to make an online comeback on Sunday, even if not fully operational.

Parler's CEO John Matze wrote a post on the platform saying: "Our return is inevitable due to hard work, and persistence against all odds."

The social networking site went dark when Amazon stopped providing it cloud hosting services after it was revealed the platform was used to help organize the Capitol Hill attack on Jan. 6, which left five people dead.

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Twitter CEO announces funding of "an initiative around an open decentralized standard for social media"
Twitter CEO announces funding of "an initiative around an open decentralized standard for social media"
Credit: Courtesy of Twitter

Twitter CEO and co-founder Jack has stated in a series of tweets that Twitter is working on a future of social media and doing their "part by funding an initiative around an open decentralized standard for social media." The technology called Bluesky will be blockchain-based and Twitter intends to "ultimately be a client of this standard."

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Twitter temporarily suspends account of Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene
Twitter temporarily suspends account of Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene
Credit: Courtesy of Twitter

Twitter has on Sunday temporarily blocked the account of Republican Congresswoman and "QAnon" supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Greene had violated company rules on multiple occasions, the online platform said. The congresswoman had written on Twitter that voter fraud had occurred in the Senate elections in Georgia. According to U.S. broadcaster CNN, Greene had spread several conspiracy myths and false reports at once in a lengthy thread.

The congresswoman's Twitter messages were then flagged with a notice that their content was controversial. A few hours later, the online network decided to suspend Greene's account for twelve hours.

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WhatsApp delays enforcement of privacy terms by 3 months, following backlash
WhatsApp delays enforcement of privacy terms by 3 months, following backlash

WhatsApp announced Friday a three-month delay of a new privacy policy originally slated to go into effect on February 8th following widespread confusion over whether the new policy would mandate data sharing with Facebook. WhatsApp stated it wouldn’t enforce the planned update to its data-sharing policy until May 15.

"We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms. No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp. We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15," the firm said in a blog post.

"There's been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts," said the company, which earlier this week ran full-page ads on several newspapers in India, where it has amassed over 450 million monthly active users.

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Telegram and Signal have unprecedented growth after a controversial change in WhatsApp's privacy terms
Telegram and Signal have unprecedented growth after a controversial change in WhatsApp's privacy terms
Credit: Signal Foundation

Messaging applications Telegram and Signal see impressive user growth in the wake of confusion over updated terms of service notification from Facebook-owned encrypted messaging service WhatsApp.

Telegram said on Wednesday it had surpassed 500 million active users globally, while Signal took the number 1 spot on both Google Play Store and Apple App Store's top free apps lists this week.

Brian Acton, who co-founded WhatsApp before selling it to Facebook and then co-founding the Signal Foundation, told Reuters that "We’ve seen unprecedented growth this past week." He also said Signal was working to improve its video and group chat functions, allowing it to compete better with WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams, and other conferencing apps that have become vital to day-to-day life over the past year. Privacy advocates have jumped on the WhatsApp changes, pointing to what they say is Facebook's poor track record of supporting consumers' interests when handling their data, with many suggesting users migrate to other platforms.

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Parler data leaked and archived before the app was shutdown
Parler data leaked and archived before the app was shutdown
Credit: Twitter Reproduction

Parler, a social network used to plan the storming of the U.S. Capitol last week, has been hit by a massive data scrape. Security researchers collected user data before the network went dark Monday morning after Amazon, Google, and Apple booted the platform.

Lead by Twitter user @donk_enby, a team of security researchers began the work of archiving all of Parler’s posts, ultimately capturing around 99.9 per cent of its content.

The scraped data includes user profile data and information, raw media files -- including geolocation metadata -- and posts, including deleted ones.

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YouTube bans Steve Bannon's podcast channel
YouTube bans Steve Bannon's podcast channel
Credit: Elekes Andor / via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

YouTube bans Steve Bannon's podcast channel hours after Rudy Giuliani appeared on an episode and blamed the Capitol siege on Democrats.

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Twitter bans former Trump adviser Michael Flynn and other QAnon figures

Twitter took action against a pair of President Trump's close associates Friday, banning them from the platform as part of a broader effort to contain the QAnon conspiracy movement. In recent months, each figure has promoted QAnon, an elaborate constellation of conspiracy theories purporting that President Trump is waging a secret battle against a cabal of political enemies who engage in child sex trafficking, among other baseless claims. As part of Trump's post-election legal team, Powell became a heroic figure to the QAnon crowd, which believes that a master plan being orchestrated behind the scenes will give the president a second term.

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Google bans right-wing online network Parler from App Store
Google bans right-wing online network Parler from App Store
Credit: Recreation Pendect

Following the violent storming of the US Capitol by radical supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump, Google has removed the online service Parler from its app store.

In addition Apple threatened a removal and demanded that Parler must take measures to prevent users from planning illegal, violent activities together.

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Twitter has permanently suspended Donald Trump "due to the risk of further incitement of violence"
Twitter has permanently suspended Donald Trump "due to the risk of further incitement of violence"
Credit: Courtesy of Twitter

Twitter has stated that "After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence."

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WhatsApp user data will be automatically shared with Facebook following change of terms

WhatsApp has been informing its approximately two billion users via a pop-up message in the app that there have been changes to the terms of use.

Following an update to the terms of use and privacy policy, WhatsApp users must now agree that all information in the app may be used by the entire company. This includes user-stored data such as phone numbers, address book, profile names, profile pictures, status messages, and more.

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Twitter suspends Donald Trump for 12 hours over tweets
Twitter suspends Donald Trump for 12 hours over tweets
Credit: Courtesy of Twitter

Twitter has stated that three tweets of the United States President Donald Trump have been removed because they were in "severe" violation of Twitters "Civic Integrity policy".

This means that Trump needs to remove the tweets and his account will be locked for 12 hours following the removal of the tweets.

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Adobe officially ended support for Flash Player on December 31, 2020

Adobe officially discontinued support for its Flash Player on December 31, 2020, and will start blocking Flash content starting January 12, 2021. Adobe already announced its plan to end support for Flash in 2017.

The Adobe Flash Player was released in 1996 and was used for streaming videos and playing games, but showed security problems and failed to transition to smartphones.

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Facebook criticizes Apple’s iOS privacy changes in newspaper ads
Facebook criticizes Apple’s iOS privacy changes in newspaper ads
Credit: via @DaveStangis (Twitter)

Facebook published full-page newspaper ads in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post on Wednesday criticizing Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes.

"We’re standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere," the headline read. "At Facebook, small business is at the core of our business," the ad continues and claims that Apple's changes will be "devastating to small businesses," and ends by writing that"small businesses deserve to be heard. We hear your concerns, and we stand with you."

Apple responded by saying it was "standing up" for people who use its devices and that user "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."

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To avoid EU privacy rules, Facebook will move UK users to US terms
To avoid EU privacy rules, Facebook will move UK users to US terms
Credit: Illustration for Pendect by Ashley Winkler, Logo Facebook

In an effort to avoid the EU's privacy laws, Facebook will move all of its users in the United Kingdom into user agreements with the corporate headquarters in California. Google has done a similar move in February. 

"Like other companies, Facebook has had to make changes to respond to Brexit and will be transferring legal responsibilities and obligations for UK users from Facebook Ireland to Facebook Inc. There will be no change to the privacy controls or the services Facebook offers to people in the UK," so Facebook's UK arm.

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Twitter fined €450k for breaking the EU's Data Privacy Law by Irish data regulator
Twitter fined €450k for breaking the EU's Data Privacy Law by Irish data regulator
Credit: Twitter

Twitter has been fined €450,000 by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) for breaching Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

"The DPC’s investigation commenced in January, 2019 following receipt of a breach notification from Twitter and the DPC has found that Twitter infringed Article 33(1) and 33(5) of the GDPR in terms of a failure to notify the breach on time to the DPC and a failure to adequately document the breach," so the DPC in a statement on its website.

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Reddit is buying TikTok rival Dubsmash
Reddit Logo
Reddit Logo Credit: Reddit

Reddit said in a statement on Sunday that it has acquired TikTok rival Dubsmash. It did not disclose the financial terms of the deal. Dubsmash allows users to create and share video content, and it's especially popular with young, diverse audiences.

Dubsmash's three co-founders, Suchit Dash, Jonas Drüppel, and Tim Specht, will be joining Reddit with immediate effect.

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Google services experience problems with YouTube, Gmail and Calendar unreachable when logged in
Google services experience problems with YouTube, Gmail and Calendar unreachable when logged in
Credit: Recreation YouTube Error Message

Users from around the world are reporting problems with multiple Google-owned services. Among others YouTube, Gmail and the Google Calendar are unreachable to users.

According to first reports YouTube remains reachable if used in incognito mode or the user hasn't been logged in before.

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U.S. Treasury emails hacked by suspected Russian hackers
U.S. Treasury emails hacked by suspected Russian hackers
Credit: MeanieHyaena / via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution 4.0)

Hackers believed to be working for Russia have been monitoring internal email traffic at the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments. The hack is so serious it led to a National Security Council meeting at the White House on Saturday.

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Google releases "Year in Search 2020"
Screenshot of "Year in Search 2020"
Screenshot of "Year in Search 2020" Credit: Google

Google has released its "Year in Search 2020" Wednesday, featuring this year's top searches in various categories.

The top five search queries were Coronavirus, Election results, Kobe Bryant, Zoom and IPL. The list also highlights this year's losses, with people searching for Kobe Bryant, George Floyd, Chadwick Boseman, Sean Connery, Eddie van Halen and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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The U.S. government, 48 states sue Facebook, could force the company to divest Instagram and WhatsApp
Facebook
Facebook Credit: Illustration: Pendect, Ashley Winkler. (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a coalition of attorneys general from 48 states and territories filed two separate antitrust lawsuits against Facebook on Wednesday. The lawsuits target two of the companies major acquisitions: Instagram and WhatsApp.

The antitrust lawsuits were announced by the Federal Trade Commission and New York Attorney General Letitia James.

"It’s really critically important that we block this predatory acquisition of companies and that we restore confidence to the market," James said during a press conference announcing the lawsuit.

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Airbnb starts nonprofit to help house people "in times of crisis"
Screenshot of Airbnb.org
Screenshot of Airbnb.org Credit: Airbnb

Airbnb has launched Airbnb.org, a nonprofit platform designed to proved housing and shelter for people in emergency situations. After Airbnb hosts have opened up their homes for people in need for years, Airbnb.org will now formally "hosts on Airbnb to provide stays for people in times of need. "

"The program has evolved to focus on emergency response and to help provide stays to evacuees, relief workers, refugees, asylum seekers, and most recently, frontline workers fighting the spread of COVID-19," so Airbnb in a statement.

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Second judge says Trump has no legal basis for a TikTok ban
Second judge says Trump has no legal basis for a TikTok ban
Credit: Ashles Winkler for Pendect

Federal Judge Carl Nichols has decided that the U.S. Department of Commerce has no sufficient legal basis for prohibiting ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of TikTok, from holding infrastructure and data for the operation of the social media application in the United States.

The Trump administration used as a basis for its action a 1977 law granting the U.S. president broad emergency powers in the event of extraordinary dangers from abroad. However, this provision expressly prohibits the president from restricting the import and export of information or information material or personal communications. TikTok clearly falls into this category, Judge Nichols now stressed.

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Hackers leak data from Embraer, world's third-largest airplane maker
Hackers leak data from Embraer, world's third-largest airplane maker
Credit: Courtesy of Embraer

Brazilian company Embraer, considered today's third-largest airplane maker after Boeing and Airbus, was the victim of a ransomware attack last month.

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German court forces mail provider Tutanota to perform a surveillance function, enabling a backdoor
Tutanota email client
Tutanota email client Credit: Tutanota

Tutanota is one of the few email providers that encrypt all incoming emails by default. However, a ruling by the Cologne Regional Court is now forcing the Hanover-based company to install a function with which investigators can monitor individual mailboxes and read emails in plain text.

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Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak starts new company focusing on blockchain technology
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak starts new company focusing on blockchain technology
Credit: Courtesy of Twitter

The now 70 year old Apple co-founder Wozniak has set up a new technology company called Efforce, a decentralized, block chain-based platform designed to enable energy savings to be traded. On the trading platform, contributors can make financial contributions to projects of other companies that aim to improve their energy efficiency. Participants will benefit by receiving crypto tokens that represent the value of the energy savings made possible by such projects.