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Featured January 20, 2023

Twitter Q4 Revenue Tumbles 35% as 500 Advertisers Suspend Spending



Twitter Q4 Revenue Tumbles 35% as 500 Advertisers Suspend Spending

1453Twitter Inc’s fourth quarter revenues plunged about 35% year-on-year to $1.03 billion after advertisers held back spending following Elon Musk’s takeover of the microblogging site.

The revenue represents 72% of the company’s own targets for the quarter under review, tech publication The Information reported on Wednesday, citing Twitter senior executive for global sales and marketing Chris Riedy.

He expects first quarter revenue to come in at $732 million, down 39% from a year ago. News of falling revenues comes as Twitter faces an imminent finance charge of $13 billion.

Also read: Twitter Competitor Parler in Limbo After Massive Layoffs at Parent Firm

Over 500 advertisers halt spending on Twitter

On Jan. 17, the same publication revealed that more than 500 advertisers on Twitter pulled the plug on ad spending since billionaire Musk’s $44 billion takeover of the company in October last year. Companies have generally started to cut spending due to a range of macroeconomic difficulties.

It said a senior Twitter manager told employees that the firm’s daily revenue was 40% lower than the same day a year ago, implying that implied first quarter revenue would be around $720 million. Q1 revenue has now been projected to be a little higher, at $732 million.

Since taking over Twitter, Musk’s alleged overbearing management style and restructuring of the business that saw the sacking of top executives of the company, has unnerved advertisers. Elon Musk’s first interest payment on the company is due at the end of January.

“The lesson? Advertisers will not stop using social networks out of moral concerns over false information, the spread of fascism and racism, and their negative effects on young people. They will leave only when it hurts their advertising effectiveness,” commented marketing specialist Samuel J Scott on Twitter

Musk says things aren’t so bad

However, Musk insists things are rosy at the company since he took over. It is not just boastful claims, he said.

“Companies in general are missing the incredible opportunity that Twitter provides to reach customers. Just Tweet interesting things! That’s all it takes,” said Musk in response to one tweet that claimed U.S. automakers did not make money from Twitter advertising in 2022.

Data from Apptopia and Sensor Tower, independent research companies, shows that downloads and activity on Twitter have increased since Musk snapped up the business last year.

Downloads of the social network in the U.S. averaged around 125,000 a day during a recent 31-day period, a figure reflecting a 23% jump during the previous month and a 42% growth in the same period last year, according to Apptopia.

However, the growth was stunted outside the U.S with a 14% growth from the month ago period and 4% growth from a year earlier, Apptopia data showed.

Twitter relies on advertising for the bulk of its income. As such, ads accounted for more than 90% of its $5.1 billion in revenue in 2021. Of late, its clients, Audi and Pfizer, have halted ad spending after the Tesla boss’ $44 billion takeover.

Concerns over increased hate speech on the platform have seen advertisers withdrawing in their numbers. They have also been alarmed by a spate of impersonator accounts that flourished on the site after a botched relaunch of its blue tick scheme for verified users.

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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