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Dorsey-Backed Decentralized Twitter Rival Bluesky Launches in Beta



Dorsey-Backed Decentralized Twitter Rival Bluesky Launches in Beta

Decentralized social media protocol Bluesky has been launched in beta. The Jack Dorsey-backed application, one of many apps considered an alternative to Twitter, is now available on the Apple App Store to a limited number of users.

The application amassed a quickfire 30,000 signups for its waitlist for the beta version within 48 hours of announcing the protocol in October 2022. Now the app is available for download in “private beta” – but users will need an invite code to create an account.

What is Bluesky?

Bluesky is building the Authenticated Transfer Protocol (AT Protocol), a new foundation for social networking which supposedly frees developers from corporate and government control. Large-scale distributed social applications can be built using the protocol.

The company received $13 million in funding for R&D last year, including from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who described it as “an open decentralized standard for social media.” Bluesky was originally incubated within Twitter since 2019 when Dorsey was CEO, according to industry media.

Also read:Elon Wants A Twitter For Everything, Pushes The Payments Button

It aims to create a protocol that grants users portability, scale, and trust, according to its website. Portability allows users to switch between apps without losing their data. Scale allows apps to handle more traffic. While trust prevents algorithms from profiling users.

A federated social network

While the likes of Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram are controlled by one central authority, Bluesky is installed on thousands of computer servers, largely run by volunteer administrators or businesses who join their systems together in a “federated network.”

“The AT Protocol is a new federated social network. It integrates ideas from the latest decentralized technologies into a simple, fast, and open network,” said Bluesky in a blog post.

For the most part, Bluesky – so named because of the “wide-open space of possibility” the word evokes – looks and feels just like Twitter, according to testers. The platform comes with similar hashtags, notifications and “retweets.”

TechCrunch reports that both apps have near identical user interfaces: the ability to view your feed, see other people’s updates, profile pictures, and other info that can already be found on Twitter. People on Bluesky can share, mute and block accounts.

Users create a handle and a name will be displayed prominently in bold text, as on Twitter. They can also create posts of up to 256 characters. While Twitter asks “What’s happening?” Bluesky’s take is, “What’s up?”

Dethroning Twitter

Dorsey-Backed Decentralized Twitter Rival Bluesky Launches in Beta

Bluesky app on App Store

Bluesky is still a work-in-progress. Developers say the private beta App Store launch is meant to “iron out issues.” The latest version includes “bugfixes (including the follows/followers listing!) and some code preparing for a major protocol upgrade in the coming weeks.”

Since its debut on the App Store on Feb. 17, the Bluesky iOS application has been downloaded over 2,000 times, Tech Crunch said, quoting data from app intelligence company The number likely indicates the newly added invite-only beta testers.

Bluesky joins a growing list of emerging decentralized social media networking apps promising to restore individual privacy and freedom of speech. The list of so-called Twitter alternatives includes Mastodon, Donald Trump’s Truth Social, Parler, Damus, Nostr and Cohost, among others.

Policing free speech

Over the years, key figures in crypto and web3 – entities predominantly on the receiving end of government intrusion – have either disapprovingly reassessed the monopoly of dominant social networks or started to delink their relationships.

The loss of confidence is symptomatic of the political entanglements of entrenched social platforms like Facebook or Google. Decentralized assets like Bitcoin and, by extension, decentralized social networks like Bluesky, aim to be on the right side of history.

In a recent investigative article, The Intercept detailed how the US government is secretly working with leading tech companies to monitor and moderate content. The firms include Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, Wikipedia, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Verizon Media.

The plan is to filter out content the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) considers “dangerous speech.” The report claimed the DHS is targeting “inaccurate information on the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic and the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines.”

Interestingly, FBI chief Christopher Wray recently stated that the bureau’s position is that Covid-19 most likely originated in a Chinese government-controlled lab.

In George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 the secret police of the superstate of Oceania, known as the Thought Police, use many chilling methods to surveil citizens and crush dissent.

The secret police punish thoughtcrime, personal and political thoughts unapproved by the regime’s tyrannical leader, Big Brother. Likewise, Uncle Sam has weaponized social media to police free speech at the risk of flouting its First Amendment.

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.


Epic CEO Says Apple Could Try to ‘Crush the Metaverse’



Epic CEO Says Apple Could Try to ‘Crush the Metaverse’

Tim Sweeney, the CEO of video game and software developer Epic Games, is a big believer in the metaverse – but thinks Apple will try to either crush it or “extract all the profit from it.”

Sweeney made the comments during an interview with GameIndustry at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco this week.

The executive has been a long-standing critic of Apple’s walled garden approach, having previously been entangled in a legal battle with the company relating to its App Store policies.

Also Read: Apple May Launch Reality Pro VR Headset Early

‘The metaverse must be open’

Apple is expected to release its Reality Pro VR/AR headset later this year, and many believe the launch could be a watershed moment for the much-hyped metaverse, encouraging mainstream adoption due to the tech giant’s name value.

Sweeney, though, isn’t buying it. In the interview with GameIndustry, the CEO predicted that Apple will “either try to crush the metaverse, or extract all the profit from it, one or the other.”

Explaining the rationale for his claim, the outspoken executive noted, “Apple doesn’t let you use a competing browser engine. So they can do the same thing with the metaverse, so they can say, ‘You must use Apple’s limited metaverse engine, you can’t build your own, you can’t use Unreal.’”

Such a policy would be anathema to the grand vision of an interactive, interoperable metaverse accessible to all users. As Sweeney himself says, “The metaverse has to be open, it can’t be another walled garden.

“Open is a natural state of things, it’s only in the past 15 years that we’ve seen walled gardens take over the world with iOS and Facebook and other companies.”

Unreal Engine is an advanced real-time 3D creation tool for photo-real visuals and immersive experiences. At the GDC, Fortnite developer Epic has been busy demoing the latest features of Unreal 5.2, such as a nifty substrate shading system that lets artists create materials at a level of quality and fidelity that was previously impossible.

Apple faces anti-competitive claims 

Although it’s unclear whether Apple would actually disallow Unreal Engine, this isn’t the first time complaints have been levelled against the company and its anticompetitive practices. 

Earlier this year, Spotify and eight companies and associations co-authored a letter to the EU Commission’s executive vice president, dubbing the firm “harmful, anti-competitive, and monopolistic.” Signatories called for greater regulation to combat Apple’s app distribution practices, which they claimed “imposed unfair restrictions” on their businesses.

Sweeney, for his part, believes antitrust laws are necessary to keep Apple in check, saying, “We see them as utterly dominating this business if they’re allowed to use their market power and hardware to do so. So we’re fighting that.”

Appearing alongside executive VP Saxs Persson at the GDC’s State of the Unreal event, Sweeney brought the audience up-to-date on all things Epic including animation tools for virtual humans (MetaHumans) and an Unreal-powered creation tool for Fortnite (UEFN), which has been launched in public beta.

The metaverse ain’t dead

Last year, Epic announced a $2 billion funding round to advance its vision of building the metaverse, with the likes of Sony Group Corporation and LEGO investment firm KIRKBI pledging capital.

This week, Sweeney sat down with The Verge and said the metaverse was “a much more enjoyable and personal and empathetic medium than today’s social networks.” 

He also took the opportunity to throw shade at Facebook, where everyone “gripes about politics and shows how awesome they are through photos.”

You gotta love Sweeney’s scorched-earth approach to interviews, where tech rivals are routinely trampled underfoot. But his comments about Apple in particular are likely to be shared by many metaverse maximalists, such are the measures it takes to prevent rivals from competing with its App Store. 

According to a recent report by Bloomberg Intelligence, Apple’s entry to the metaverse could be a catalyst for faster growth, and the metaverse space could be worth $615 billion by the end of the decade.

The question is, will walled gardens be the norm – or will the metaverse be open to all?

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Congressman Says TikTok Ban Won’t Ensure Americans’ Data Safety



Congressman Says TikTok Ban Won't Ensure Americans' Data Safety

China-owned video-sharing platform TikTok is on the verge of a nationwide ban in the United States over security concerns.

The proposed ban is being reviewed by Congress, but voices have started to rise against the restriction. TikTok currently has 150 million monthly active users in the US.

Also Read: TikTok Has Troves of Indian User Data 3 Years After Ban

A group of lawmakers, including Jamaal Bowman, Mark Pocan, and Robert Garcia, along with TikTok’s creators, held a press conference in Washington DC to advocate for the implementation of comprehensive privacy regulations that would apply to all major social media platforms.

“Banning TikTok isn’t the answer. Making sure Americans’ data is safe is,” said Pocan.

A “xenophobic witch hunt” is motivating some in Congress to seek a TikTok ban, argued Pocan.

‘Ban is not a practical solution’

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu is also against the ban and believes it does not seem like a “practical” solution to national security concerns about the application.

Sometimes government bans are necessary, but if “the government’s now going to tell 100 million people they have to delete TikTok off their devices, that doesn’t seem practical,” he explained.

“The app should not be banned in the United States,” added Sununu. “Americans should have the choice whether to download TikTok or not.”

Despite this pro-choice stance, the Governor suggested users should be fully aware of the dangers of having TikTok installed on their devices.

“Our job is to make sure folks know that if they’re choosing to use TikTok, they’re choosing to hand their personal information over to the Chinese government, effectively. So we need to make it very clear about what is being transferred, what information is being made available.”

TikTok, of course, has repeatedly refuted allegations of sharing American user data with China’s government, saying it “is not an agent of China or any other country.”

5m US businesses affected

Banning TikTok will affect around five million business in the United States, argued Rep. Jamaal Bowman.

“More than 150 million Americans, including 5 million U.S. businesses, use TikTok to inspire creativity, bring joy, and support their livelihoods,” said Bowman, who has 160,000 followers on TikTok himself.

Robert Garcia, who represents California’s Democratic Party, believes “there has got to be a way of ensuring that we don’t disrupt a huge opportunity for the country.”

Although a significant number of voters support a ban on TikTok, according to American statistician Nate Silver, this does not necessarily dictate the political reaction to such a ban.

“That isn’t necessarily dispositive to what the political reaction would be. But I’d trust it before some hand-waving notion that OMG GEN Z WILL BE SO MAD AND WE HAVE TO APPEAL TO THE YOUTHS,” tweeted Silver.

The tech editor at Yahoo Finance, Daniel Howley, has previously stated TikTok’s data-collection policies are similar to other social-media apps like Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat.

“TikTok is collecting similar data to Meta, Twitter, Snap. We frequently talk about these kinds of groups of bots that are found, spreading propaganda — that can be an issue on TikTok, but it already is on Meta,” said Howley.

Tech journalist Matthew Keys, meanwhile, believes that what TikTok is accused of is “Google and Facebook’s job.”

“Bipartisan lawmakers in Congress are ready for a ban on TikTok because they claim it can be used to collect data and spy on Americans, which we all know is Google and Facebook’s job,” tweeted Keys.

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Publishers Pursue Compensation From Tech Giants Over AI Tools



Publishers Pursue Compensation From Tech Giants Over AI Tools

As AI-powered chatbots such as ChatGPT become more prevalent, publishing executives are exploring the possibility of compensation for the use of their content in training such technologies.

Generative AI technology has already left people in awe with their ability to have a live conversation, write complex computer programming codes, compose sonnets and raps, etc.

Also Read: US Copyright Office Says You Can’t Copyright AI-generated Images

“We have valuable content that’s being used constantly to generate revenue for others off the backs of investments that we make, that requires real human work, and that has to be compensated,” said Danielle Coffey, executive vice president and general counsel of the News Media Alliance.

AI chatbots such as Google’s Bard and ChatGPT are trained on large amounts of text data using deep learning neural networks, enabling them to generate responses based on patterns they have learned from the training data.

Publishers Pursue Compensation From Tech Giants Over AI Tools

When I asked ChatGPT, “How are chatbots like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Alphabet’s Bard trained?” it says the “natural language processing (NLP) technique is used.”

NLP involves “a large dataset of human language inputs and outputs,” which includes “a variety of sources, such as books, articles, and conversations.”

Hence, the publishing executives have begun to examine the extent to which their content has been used to “train” AI tools and are considering legal options for compensation, according to people familiar with meetings organized by the News Media Alliance.

Compensation for proprietary content

During a recent investor conference, Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corp., the parent company of The Wall Street Journal, revealed he has started talks with an undisclosed party over compensation.

“Clearly, they are using proprietary content — there should be, obviously, some compensation for that,” said Mr. Thomson.

According to sources familiar with the matter, discussions have taken place between Reddit and Microsoft regarding the use of Reddit’s content for AI training. However, a spokesperson for Reddit declined to comment on the matter.

The debate is now focused on whether the developers of AI companies have the right to scrape content off the internet and feed it into their training models. This is because a legal provision called “fair use” allows for copyright material to be used without permission in certain cases.

Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, once said in an interview “we’ve done a lot with fair use,” when it comes to ChatGPT.

“We’re willing to pay a lot for very high-quality data in certain domains,” Altman added, citing science as one example.

Publishers are not alone

Last month, stock photo provider Getty Images sued Stable Diffusion, an AI image generator, alleging they used Getty’s photos to train AI without consent or a license.

Getty claimed Stable Diffusion stole 12 million copyrighted images and demanded $150,000 for each image, meaning $1.8 trillion in total compensation.

“Media should be up in arms about this. AI is going to eat the internet and there’s no benefit for being its training materials,” tweeted Cameron Wilson in response to the WSJ article.

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