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Instagram brings back the chronological feed, South Korea bans P2E games, Google looks for ecosystem integrations – TechCrunch

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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports out this week. App Annie says global spending across iOS and Google Play is up to $135 billion in 2021, and that figure will likely be higher when its annual report, including third-party app stores in China, is released next year. Consumers also downloaded 10 billion more apps this year than in 2020, reaching nearly 140 billion in new installs, it found.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that was up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Instagram to bring back the chronological feed

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Instagram said it will begin testing a new feature that will allow users to select between three different feeds: the current algorithmically generated timeline as well as two new options, Favorites and Following, which are sorted chronologically. This is similar to the Recent & Favorites section that Facebook today offers — though that version is buried in the app’s More menu, making it difficult to access. It’s unclear how easy it will be to access Instagram’s new feed options — especially given the app’s growing clutter and strategic priorities. The latter even saw Instagram shifting its critical “post” button to an out-of-reach spot to give the prime real estate in the app’s navigation to Instagram’s Reels instead.

The feed changes were announced following a Senate hearing where Instagram head Adam Mosseri testified for the first time. The hearing had focused on the app’s teen safety track record but often branched into other areas, like user privacy, and to what extent users were being “manipulated by algorithms,” as one Senator put it. Mosseri had then responded by saying the company was developing a feature that would allow consumers to choose to view a chronological feed. In other words, it’s likely this “test” will soon evolve into a public-facing feature for all users, in order to deflect further pressure from Congress over the matter.

Although users have clamored for an option or full-on return to a chronological feed for some time, Instagram ignored those demands until now — when it’s a topic of legislative inquiry. That fact indicates the need for increased tech regulations as it proves companies won’t listen to user demands unless pressured to do so.

South Korea blocks new “play-to-earn” (P2E) games

The South Korean government’s Game Management Committee in the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (or GMC for short) has asked the major app stores to block any games that require an in-app purchase before users play. The games, which have become popular in the crypto industry, often require that players first purchase game pieces as NFT. Players can then compete for in-game rewards and prizes, giving them the name “play-to-earn” (or P2E). The GMC said it asked the app stores to remove the existing P2E games on the market and block the release of new ones.

The changes follow other difficulties for these types of games in South Korea, which have been battling in the courts to get age ratings required to be listed in the domestic app stores. The government limits in-game rewards to 10,000 Korean won (~$8.40), but some of the games’ cashouts exceed that figure but were being listed anyway — which would technically be illegal.

The government views this genre of gaming as a money-making scheme and is now taking a harsher stance to get them removed from the app stores and out of kids’ hands, in particular. In addition to penalizing games themselves, the new restrictions may impact other titles associated with games in this genre, like those tied to games like Axie Infinity and Splinterlands.

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple launched App Analytics for in-app events. Events are a newer feature that allow developers to promote something happening inside their app at the present time — like game competitions, the release of seasonal features, livestreamed experiences, new movie releases and more. Now developers will be able to view information about their events’ performance, including event page views, reminder and notification data, and the number of downloads and redownloads that were driven by their in-app events. This data can also be viewed by territory, source type, device and more, Apple said.

Platforms: Google

  • ⭐️ Google is working to catch up with Apple with a new series of integrations between its various platforms, including Android, Wear OS and Chromebooks. At CES, the company showed off a number of new software features that would allow its users to be able to do things like mirror their Android screen on their Chromebook or use its Fast Pairing feature generally meant for headphones on other devices like TVs and smart home devices. Later this year, Chromebook owners will also be able to instantly set up their devices using an Android handset to port over their data and logins. Smartwatches running Wear OS 3 will also be able to unlock Android phones and Chromebooks, the way Apple Watch works today. Plus, Windows PCs and Android will also work more closely, Google says.
  • Google also at CES introduced a new integration with Volvo which will allow owners to do things like turn their car on and off, control the temperature, and get car information using voice commands on Google Assistant-enabled home and Android mobile devices.
  • XDA Developers reportedly got ahold of Android 13 screenshots (aka “Tiramisu”) which show updates and changes in areas like app language selection, runtime permissions for notifications, the lockscreen clock and more. They also include a look at The Android Resource Economy (TARE), which focuses on energy use management.

E-commerce

  • Amazon dropped to No. 4 in global shopping app installs in 2021, according to data from Apptopia. Amazon had topped the list last year, but has now fallen behind Singapore’s Shopee, China’s Shein and India’s Meesho. Amazon is still No. 1 in the U.S., however.

Augmented Reality

  • Snapchat released a new AR filter ahead of the holidays which lets you see what you’d look like in the “metaverse.” In other words, the filter makes you look more like a virtual character (your SIMS self?) or some sort of gaming avatar. This is maybe even more impressive than that Disney filter?
snapchat avatar lens examples

Image Credits: Snapchat

Fintech/Crypto

  • Messaging app Signal’s cryptocurrency feature seemed to have quietly launched to worldwide users in mid-November, but was only picked up on this past week. The feature, which was previously being tested in the U.K., integrates with a privacy-focused cryptocurrency called MobileCoin. Signal users can now send MobileCoin to others in the app worldwide. MobileCoin founder Josh Goldbard confirmed the rollout to Wired, noting Signal’s adoption helped the cryptocurrency jump to thousands of daily transactions compared with just dozens before the global release.
  • Spare change investing app Acorns is inching into Robinhood territory with its plan to build a feature that allows users to customize their own stock portfolios instead of just using Acorns’ own ETFs.
  • China’s WeChat will begin supporting the digital yuan (e-CNY), the country’s sovereign digital currency that’s been in the works since 2014. The move would bring the currency to WeChat Pay’s over 800 million MAUs.
  • Apptopia revealed the top finance apps for 2021, including to 10 most downloaded crypto apps — a list that was led by Binance, Crypto.com, and Coinbase.

Image Credits: Apptopia

Social

  • Twitter released a handful of new features this week, including its own take on TikTok’s video reactions and updated Spaces features, including the ability for hosts to see how many listeners joined live and how many replayed the Space after the fact.
  • Microsoft-owned LinkedIn is the latest to clone Clubhouse with this week’s beta launch of interactive audio events, which will be followed by a video version in the spring. Hosts will be able to record and run their events directly on LinkedIn, host live conversations, moderate rooms and more.
  • Snap is suing the USPTO for rejecting its application to trademark the word “spectacles” for its digital AR glasses. The application was rejected because spectacles is a generic term, and Snap’s version “has not acquired distinctiveness,” according to a report from The Verge.
  • TikTok is testing its own version of a retweet with a new “Repost” button that shows up on video on the For You feed. Reposted videos will then appear on the For You feed for those who you’re mutual friends with on the app. You can also add a comment as to why you shared the video. TikTok said the feature is live for a limited number of users for the time being.

Image Credits: TikTok screenshot

  • Instagram was spotted testing a new Stories feature that would allow users to “like” each other’s stories, but privately. Only the person who had posted the Story would be able to see the total number of likes and that there were not any plans to make the like count public.
  • Tumblr has been getting in trouble with Apple’s App Review over the mature content in its app, leading it to new crackdowns that have confused Tumblr users. The company had been struggling to remove content featuring pornography, sex and other adult material from its iOS app, amid constant App Store rejections. It seems Tumblr’s own system requiring blogs to be labeled as “adult” wasn’t getting the job done to keep this sort of content out of the hands of iOS users. Complicating matters is how Apple’s review system works. Apple randomly assigns an app review to whoever is available at the time instead of allowing a company to work with an Apple employee on a more direct basis to solve a specific problem. That leads to inconsistent responses based on how each reviewer interprets Apple’s rules or their overall thoroughous. For Tumblr, it’s meant a lot of jumping through hoops to try to get its app cleaned up enough to be allowed back in the App Store.

Dating

  • Tinder was spotted developing a feature called Swipe Party that lets users invite friends to their swiping session. Users send friends a link to establish a guest account, and then those friends can watch their friend using audio and video while they vet their dating prospects.

Messaging

  • China’s WeChat (to be fair, a super app not just a social messenger) said DAUs of its mini-programs grew about 12.5% to 450 million in 2021 and its native search function added 200 million MAUs over the past year. The growth took place among government crackdowns on local tech companies.
  • WhatsApp is preparing to introduce profile photo notifications in a future update, according to WABetaInfo. The feature is being rolled out to beta users on iOS (iOS 15+).

Streaming & Entertainment

  • Spotify introduced a new ad format for podcasts. The cards will appear as the audio ad begins playing, and is supported by Spotify’s investment in streaming ad insertion technology. The cards will also remain on show and episode pages for users to discover later on.
  • Clubhouse finally added support for listening to its shows via the web. The feature is first launching in the U.S. as an experiment. The company also rolled out a “Share on Clubhouse” feature that lets you post to social media when you’re in an interesting room that you want others to join. Creators will also be able to see Share and Clip counts at the bottom of their rooms, and access a new Room Insights page which will include more insights over time.
  • TikTok teamed up with business-focused streaming service Atmosphere, which offers video content for commercial venues like bars, gyms and restaurants. Atmosphere will offer a new channel featuring curated TikTok content — the first time TikTok is offered on an out-of-home service.
  • Apple is reportedly considering an entry into the audiobook market, according to a report by The Economist. A new service would fit into Apple’s broader goal of offering more subscriptions to its users, and the rumor fits with other reports of a services expansion in 2022.

Gaming

  • Samsung at CES announced its 2022 TVs will bring cloud gaming services, including GeForce Now and Google’s Stadia, to a new gaming hub, where viewers can also watch YouTube gaming videos. The TVs will also support NFTs somehow but details were light on the implementation details.
  • China’s continued gaming crackdown has put a freeze on new video game licenses, leading 14,000 gaming-related firms and small studios to shut down over the past several months. Regulators haven’t released a list of approved new video game titles since the end of July, making this the longest crackdown since the nine-month pause in 2018.

Utilities/Productivity

  • Brave’s browser, available for both mobile and web, says it has doubled the number of MAUs for the fifth year in a row, going from 24 million MAU on December 31st, 2020, to over 50 million by the end of 2021. It also has over 15.5 million daily active users and sees 2.3 billion searches per year. In 2021, the browser added Brave Search, Brave Wallet, Brave Talk and, for iOS, Brave Playlist.
  • At CES, gaming PC maker Razer introduced plans for a new Razer Smart Home app that will allow users to set up a range of smart home devices from across manufacturers.
  • Hey’s email app was updated with a vacation auto-responder called “Away Autoresponder” that will send out pre-written automatic replies to incoming emails. Users can just toggle the feature on when they’re out, and can opt to restrict the auto-replies to screened-in contacts or to all.

Health & Fitness

  • Apple updated its Apple Fitness+ service which will include Collections and Time to Run features starting on January 10. Collections are a series of workouts and meditations from the Fitness+ library focused on helping users reach a specific goal, like improving your posture or running your first 5K. Meanwhile, Time to Run is an audio experience designed for runners, where each episode focuses on a popular running route in select major cities, and includes music that aims to capture the spirit of the city and photos of the route being run. Time to Walk will also roll out its third season with new guests like Rebel Wilson, Bernice A. King and Hasan Minhaj. New Artist Spotlight workouts are being added as well.
  • A study of over 2,000 adults by Sleep Junkie found that TikTok was the worst app to use before bed, as it causes difficulties in falling asleep. TikTok users took over one hour longer than average to fall asleep and spent 14% of their sleep in the REM phase, which is half of the recommended amount.
  • Meditation app Calm has launched its first foray into physical activity and short-form video content with its new “Daily Move” video series. The series will feature elements from yoga, tai chi, Pilates, stretching, dance, walking and more, and each video will be 3-5 minutes in length.
  • Most of the U.S. still isn’t using COVID-19 exposure identification apps, even as omicron surges, The Washington Post reported. More than 20 U.S. states don’t use the technology for exposure notifications built by Apple and Google, it found.

Travel & Transportation

  • China’s ride-sharing app Didi disclosed a $4.7 billion loss after its revenues shrank in the last quarter, driven by new government regulations in the country, Bloomberg reported. The company plans to shift its listing to Hong Kong next year.

Government & Policy

  • Indian antitrust regulator ordered an investigation into Apple’s business practices, including its requirement for app developers to use its own payments system for apps and in-app purchases. The inquiry was triggered by a complaint filed by nonprofit Together We Fight Society, which said the requirement makes a significant dent in developers’ revenues.
  • Germany’s antitrust regulator found that Google met the threshold for special abuse control under its competition laws for digital companies. The assessment included Google’s dominance in online advertising as well as its role as gatekeeper on key services like YouTube and the Play Store on Android.
  • Spotify’s Head of Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer Horacio Gutierrez, who led the company’s antitrust battles with Apple, is leaving the company for Disney. The move is also a loss for the Coalition for App Fairness, which recently saw its amicus curiae brief rejected by a regional appeals court in the Epic-Apple battle.

🤝 Twitter completed the sale of MoPub to AppLovin for $1.05 billion. The deal was first announced in October 2021, following Twitter’s reveal of its plan to double its revenue by 2023 to reach $7.5 billion or more. Twitter said it aims to redirect more resources toward performance-based ads, SMBs and commerce.

💰 Pediatric mental health app Little Otter raised $22 million to scale its service providing treatment to kids and families. The round was led by CRV and brings the company’s total raise to date to $26.7 million.

💰 Indian hyperlocal delivery startup Dunzo raised $240 million in funding led by Reliance Retail. Its $200 million investment will give it a 25.8% stake in the six-year-old startup that now operates in seven cities in India.

💰 Emotional wellness app Mine’d raised $3.5 million in a seed round led by Listen Ventures. The app offers interactive and short-form live and on-demand classes on a variety of topics like dating, breakups, career and purpose. The six-month-old app now has a community of over 100,000 users and 1 million videos.

💰 Vietnam-based digital banking firm Timo Bank raised $20 million in its first external funding led by Square Peg. Founded in 2015, Timo Bank lets users sign up without visiting a bank branch and helps customers visualize their financial goals.

🤝 Delivery Hero is acquiring a majority stake in Spanish delivery company Glovo. The deal, announced on December 31, 2021, will allow Delivery Hero to acquire an additional 39.4% on top of its existing 44% stake.

💰 Prune-based mobile-first credit card company OneCard raised $75 million in a new round led by existing investor QED, valuing the business at $722 million, post-money. That’s up 4x from the valuation in the company’s Series B round in April 2021. OneCard is offered in 12 cities, including Mumbai, Delhi, NCR and Bengaluru.

💰 Fintech Ant Money, a micro-income startup, raised $20 million in funding (a mix of previously unannounced seed and Series A capital) and acquired Blast, a startup offering financial tools for gamers, via a stock-for-stock merger. The funding was led by Franklin Templeton’s Franklin Venture Partners. The startup declined to share the acquisition price for Blast.

💰 Indian neobank Jupiter raised $86 million in Series C funding to launch new lending and wealth management services. QED and Sequoia Capital India co-led the round, valuing the startup at $711 million, up from $300 million in August 2021.

The Oculus app, apparently

Oculus Quest 2

Image Credits: Facebook

Consumers worldwide downloaded Meta’s Oculus app, the mobile companion for Oculus VR devices including the Quest 2, roughly 2 million times globally since Christmas Day, according to new data from third-party app intelligence firms Apptopia and Sensor Tower. Already, there had been some indication that the Quest 2 was a popular holiday gift after the Oculus app shot to the top of the Apple App Store for the first time ever on Christmas Day and became the most popular free app on Google Play in the U.S., as well.

During the week of Christmas in the U.S. (December 23-29), adoption of the Oculus app jumped up by 517% week-over-week to reach 1.5 million installs, Sensor Tower’s data indicates.

In the week that followed, the firm saw those installs drop 77% to 345,000 from December 30 through January 5, but this figure is still higher than the week before Christmas 2021 by 42%. And it’s likely that these more recent downloads still include those who recently received a new Oculus device for the holidays, but hadn’t gotten around to setting it up yet.

While the U.S. accounted for the majority of the post-Christmas installs, app intelligence firms estimate that, in total, the app has seen around 2 million global installs from Christmas Day through the present across the App Store and Google Play combined.

(Read TechCrunch’s full report here.) 

 

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Rivian shares down more than 17% following report of Ford sell-off – TechCrunch

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Rivian’s stock price fell more than 17% Monday, a drop prompted by a CNBC report that Ford was selling 8 million shares of the EV automaker.

Ford held a 12% stake, or about 102 million shares, of Rivian.

Over the weekend, David Faber of CNBC reported that Ford would sell 8 million of its Rivian shares through Goldman Sachs. Faber followed up on Monday, describing the sale as “done.” The sell-off came as an insider lockup for the stock expired Sunday.

TechCrunch will update the article if Ford responds to a request for comment.

The news has further accelerated the decline of Rivian’s share price since its IPO last year. Rivian debuted as a publicly traded company in November with an opening share price of $106.75, a price that made it one of the largest IPOs in U.S. history and put its market cap above GM as well as Ford. (At the time, GM’s market cap was $86.31 billion; Ford’s was $78.2 billion.)

Rivian’s share price reached as high as $179.47 a week later, before coming back down to earth. Rivian shares have fallen more than 75% since its public market opener.

That freefall has also affected its largest shareholders, Ford and Amazon. Last month, Ford reported it lost $3.1 billion in GAAP terms in Q1, largely due to a write-off of the value of its stake in Rivian. 

Amazon reported a $7.6 billion loss on its investment in Rivian.

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Why Twitter’s top lawyer has come under fire from Elon Musk

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Vijaya Gadde came reluctantly to the decision that cemented her reputation on the right as Twitter’s “chief censor.” For years, the company’s top lawyer had resisted calls to boot then-President Donald Trump from his favorite social media platform.

Even after a violent pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, Gadde explained during an emotional virtual company town hall on Jan. 8 that Trump hadn’t broken enough of Twitter’s rules against glorification of violence to merit a permanent ban of his account.

Three hours later, after her team produced evidence that Trump’s latest tweets had sparked calls to violence on other sites, Gadde relented, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. She reached then-CEO Jack Dorsey in French Polynesia, and they agreed to lower the boom.

Elon Musk wants ‘free speech’ on Twitter. But for whom?

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account,” the company announced in a blog post, “… we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”

The ban on Trump, which continues to this day, is the most prominent example of the deeply polarizing decisions that have led conservatives to accuse Twitter of political censorship. As billionaire Elon Musk, a self-declared free-speech absolutist, seeks to acquire the social network, these decisions — and Gadde herself — are coming under fresh scrutiny.

Critics have derided her as Twitter’s “top censorship advocate,” a barb amplified by Musk, who tweeted a meme with a photo of Gadde that cast her as an icon of “Twitter’s left wing bias.” Musk’s legions of followers have tweeted calls for her firing, some of them racist. (Gadde, 47, is Indian American.)

Twitter colleagues describe Gadde’s work as difficult but necessary and unmotivated by political ideology. Defenders say her team, known as the trust and safety organization, has worked painstakingly to rein in coronavirus misinformation, bullying and other harmful speech on the site, moves that necessarily limit some forms of expression. They have also disproportionately affected right-leaning accounts.

But Gadde also has tried to balance the desire to protect users with the values of a company built on the principle of radical free speech, they say. She pioneered strategies for flagging harmful content without removing it, adopting warning labels and “interstitials,” which cover up tweets that break Twitter’s rules and give people control over what content they see — strategies copied by Twitter’s much larger rival, Facebook.

Many researchers and experts in online harassment say Gadde’s policies have made Twitter safer for its roughly 229 million daily users and say they fear Musk will dismantle them if the sale goes through.

“If Musk takes things in the direction he has been signaling — which is a rather simplistic view that more or less anything goes in the name of free speech — we will certainly see the platform go back to square one,” said Rebekah Tromble, director of the Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics at George Washington University.

Twitter workers face a reality they’ve long feared: Elon Musk as owner

Whatever happens to her policies, Gadde signaled at a staff meeting late last month that her days at Twitter may be numbered, telling employees that she would work to protect their jobs as long as she is around, according to a person who attended the meeting.

She did not respond to requests for comment. Twitter declined to comment. Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

This story is based on interviews with 10 current and former Twitter employees, as well as others familiar with decisions made by Gadde and her team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private company discussions.

“I do believe very strongly — and our rules are based on this framework — that free expression is a fundamental right, that everyone has a voice and they should be able to use it,” said Gadde in a 2019 interview with The Washington Post. There is a line between doing that and committing what we call abuse or harassment, and crossing over into a place where you’re preventing someone else from using their voice.”

Gadde is a previous donor to Kamala Harris and other Democrats, and in 2017 she helped lead Twitter’s $1.59 million donation to the ACLU to fight Trump’s executive order banning immigration from majority Muslim countries.

Among employees, Gadde is known for taking a legalistic yet pragmatic approach to content moderation. As with Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection, she often has argued against limiting speech and has rejected colleagues who wanted to take a stronger approach to removing content, moving to do so only after careful consideration.

For years, she has been the animating force pushing Twitter to champion free expression abroad. In India and Turkey, for example, her team has resisted demands to remove content critical of repressive governments. In 2014, Gadde made Twitter the only Silicon Valley company to sue the U.S. government over gag orders on what tech companies could say publicly about federal requests for user data related to national security. (Five other companies settled.)

Elon Musk boosts criticism of Twitter executives, prompting online attacks

“She wasn’t a censorship warrior or a free expression warrior,” said a former colleague familiar with Gadde’s approach. “She is pragmatic, but not doctrinaire.”

A dedication to free speech has been part of Twitter’s DNA since its founding in San Francisco 16 years ago. Early executives were such believers that they famously referred to Twitter as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.” That approach made Twitter ripe for abuse in its early days, and the platform developed a reputation as unsafe — particularly for high-profile women, who endured threats of rape and other sexist attacks.

Back then, Twitter’s attitude was, “we don’t touch speech,” said University of Virginia law professor Danielle Citron, an expert on online harassment. In 2009, Citron prepared a three-page, single-spaced memo for the Twitter C-suite, explaining the legal definition of criminal harassment, true threats and stalking.

Gadde joined Twitter’s legal team two years later, leaving her post at the Silicon Valley firm Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati. People who worked with her said her move was inspired by the Arab Spring uprising, when pro-democracy activists used Twitter and other social platforms to organize protests across the Middle East. The Arab Spring solidified the belief among Twitter’s leaders that their job was to protect speech, not police it.

Twitter was soon engulfed in scandal, however. In 2014, online trolls launched a brutal campaign against women in the video game industry. The attacks — which came to be known as “GamerGate” — were carried out on multiple tech platforms. But they were most visible on Twitter, where women received highly graphic threats of violence, some including the woman’s address or an exact time of attack.

The incident was a wake-up call for the company, said software engineer Brianna Wu, one of the women targeted in GamerGate, who worked with Twitter to improve the site.

In an op-ed published in The Post, Gadde wrote that she was “seriously troubled by the plight of some of our users who are completely overwhelmed by those who are trying to silence healthy discourse in the name of free expression.”

Elon Musk wants a free speech utopia. Technologists clap back.

By then, Gadde had been promoted to general counsel, overseeing all legal and trust and safety matters facing the company.

In response to GamerGate, Twitter streamlined the company’s complicated nine-step process for reporting abuse and tripled the number of people on its trust and safety team, as well as other teams that protect users, according to the op-ed and other reports at the time.

But the moves to clamp down on harassment soon stirred fresh controversy. Internal emails obtained by BuzzFeed in 2017 showed Gadde and other executives engaged in messy, seemingly ad hoc deliberations over whether to shut down the accounts of alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and right-wing flamethrower Chuck C. Johnson, who had tweeted that he was raising money in the hopes of “taking out” a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Johnson, who says his comment was part of a “journalistic project,” has complained that Twitter never offered a clear reason for the ban. He sued the company over it and lost. He has since abandoned his alliance with Trump and declared his support for President Biden, he said, leading to attacks online. Because his Twitter account is still suspended, Johnson argues he is unable to defend himself.

About the same time, Twitter was confronted with another conundrum: the candidacy of Trump, who made Twitter central to his 2016 presidential campaign. With nearly 90 million followers at his peak, Trump routinely lobbed tweets at political opponents, journalists and even private citizens, triggering waves of online harassment.

After Trump’s election, Gadde and Dorsey convened a “free speech roundtable” at the company’s San Francisco headquarters, where top Twitter executives heard from Citron, former New York Times editor Bill Keller and Tom Goldstein, former dean of the graduate journalism school at University of California at Berkeley. During the meeting, which has not been previously reported, Citron expressed concerns about online harassment, especially directed at journalists.

Gadde “understood how speech could silence speech,” Citron recalled, “and could be incredibly damaging to people’s lives.”

Goldstein declined to comment on the meeting. Keller said the group discussed how new standards could bring order to the “wild west” of social media.

Elon Musk acquires Twitter for roughly $44 billion

Internally, some employees faulted Gadde for ineffectiveness, as rules were unevenly applied across the massive platform. Three former workers said her trust and safety unit did not coordinate well with other teams that also policed the site.

Even as the company took action to limit hate speech and harassment, Gadde resisted calls to police mere misinformation and falsehoods — including by the new president.

“As much as we and many of the individuals might have deeply held beliefs about what is true and what is factual and what’s appropriate, we felt that we should not as a company be in the position of verifying truth,” Gadde said on a 2018 Slate podcast, responding to a question about right-wing media host Alex Jones, who had promoted the falsehood on his show, Infowars, that the Sandy Hook school shooting was staged.

A year later, nearly every other major platform banned Jones. Twitter initially declined to do so, saying Jones hadn’t broken any of its rules. Within a month, however, Gadde reversed course, banishing Jones for “abusive behavior.” In a 2019 appearance on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, Gadde explained that Jones had earned “three strikes” by posting videos that did violate Twitter’s rules, including one she deemed an incitement to violence against the news media.

Jones did not respond to a request for comment. At the time, he called Infowars “a rallying cry for free speech in America,” adding that he was “very honored to be under attack.”

Gadde and her team later escalated the company’s efforts to fight disinformation — along with spam and fake accounts — after news broke that Twitter, Facebook and other platforms had been exploited by Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign. The company began removing a million accounts a day in a broad effort to crack down on abuse.

In a move described as signature Gadde, Twitter also launched an initiative called “Healthy Conversations” that sought feedback from hundreds of experts about how to foster more civil dialogue. That effort led to updated hate speech policies that banned “dehumanizing speech” — such as racial slurs and negative stereotypes based on religion, caste or sexual orientation — because it could have the effect of “normalizing serious violence,” according to a company blog post.

In subsequent years, Dorsey became increasingly absent and would effectively outsource a growing number of decisions to Gadde, including those around content moderation, three of the people said.

Gadde also was key to a 2019 decision to ban political advertising on the platform, according to four people familiar with the decision, arguing that politicians should reach broad audiences on the merits of their statements rather than by paying for them. Other companies copied the move, enacting temporary pauses during the 2020 election.

Throughout Trump’s presidency, at the company’s monthly town halls, Twitter employees regularly called on Gadde to ban Trump, accusing him of bullying and promoting misinformation. Gadde argued that the public had a right to hear what public figures such as Trump have to say — especially when they say horrible things, the people said.

How Twitter decided to ban Trump

Meanwhile, Gadde and her team were quietly working with engineers to develop a warning label to cover up tweets — even from world leaders such as Trump — if they broke the company’s rules. Users would see the tweet only if they chose to click on it. They saw it as a middle ground between banning accounts and removing content and leaving it up.

In May 2020, as Trump’s reelection campaign got underway, Twitter decided to slap a fact-checking label on a Trump tweet that falsely claimed that mail-in ballots are fraudulent — the first action by a technology company to punish Trump for spreading misinformation. Days later, the company acted again, covering up a Trump tweet about protests over the death of George Floyd that warned “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” More such actions followed.

Later that year, Gadde was involved in a decision that drew widespread criticism. In October 2020, the New York Post published an exclusive story based on material found on a laptop allegedly belonging to Biden’s son Hunter. Gadde and other trust and safety executives suspected the story was based on material obtained through hacking and therefore violated the company’s rules against publishing such material.

Anxious to avoid a repeat of Russia leaking hacked material during the 2016 election,Twitter executives took the unusual step of temporarily locking the newspaper’s Twitter account and blocking Twitter users from sharing a link to the story.

Even within liberal Twitter, the decision was controversial, two of the people said. It was not entirely clear the materials had been hacked, nor that the New York Post had participated in any hacking. A Post investigation later confirmed that thousands of emails taken from the laptop were authentic.

Amid mounting outrage among conservatives, Gadde conferred with Dorsey and announced an 11th-hour change to the hacked-materials policy: The company would remove only content posted by the hackers themselves or others acting in concert with them. It also would label more questionable tweets.

Dorsey later tweeted that the decision to block mention of the New York Post story was a mistake. Recently, Musk tweeted that “suspending the Twitter account of a major news organization for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate.”

Here’s how The Post analyzed Hunter Biden’s laptop

Now employees are worried that Musk will undo much of the trust and safety team’s work. Many people silenced by policies adopted under Gadde are clamoring for Musk to avenge them. Johnson, for example, said he has appealed via text to Jared Birchall, head of Musk’s family office, asking when his account might be restored.

Birchall did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Though Johnson does not plan to tweet, he said, he wants his account back on principle. According to text messages first reported by the Wall Street Journal and subsequently viewed by The Post, Birchall replied: “Hopefully soon.”

Birchall also shed light on one of the biggest questions looming over the Musk takeover: Will Musk undo Gadde’s decision to ban Trump? At a recent TED conference, Musk said he supports temporary bans over permanent ones.

Musk “vehemently disagrees with censoring,” Birchall texted to Johnson. “Especially for a sitting president. Insane.”

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Gradient Ventures backs Mentum’s goal to democratize investment services in LatAm – TechCrunch

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Investment in stocks or retirement accounts can seem like a complicated process if you are not sure where to begin.

Mentum is out to change that in Latin America, and is working on customizable investment APIs and widgets so businesses in Latin America can build and offer fully digital investment products, like local mutual funds, ETFs and stocks, to their customers. The products are also compliant with local regulations.

Co-founder and CEO Gustavo Trigos started the San Francisco-based company in 2021 with Simon Avila and Daniel Osvath. The trio, who participated in Y Combinator’s summer 2021 cohort, come from a mixture of backgrounds in payments, technology, APIs and investment services.

All of them came to the U.S. from Latin America to study and work, and in the course of using some of the investment apps offered in the U.S., they struggled to find similar products in Latin America that provided a way to fully invest. And, in Latin America, just 2% of the population in each country have access to investment products, and that’s mainly because they are high-net-worth individuals, Trigos said.

He noted in talking to folks at Chile-based Fintual, which is operating in the retail investing space, why there was not more competition, and what they discussed was a huge gap in the infrastructure and understanding the regulations in each country.

“You have to start from scratch in each country,” Trigos told TechCrunch. “We saw no one was building it, so we did.”

Mentum is not alone in working to provide an easier way for Latin Americans to learn about investing and try it out. In the past year or so, some significant venture capital dollars have been infused into companies, like Vest, Flink and Grupo Bursátil Mexicano, that have also developed investment products as a way to boost financial inclusion within the region.

Trigos considers Mentum a technology company operating in the fintech space versus a fintech company. It started in Colombia and acts as a middle layer, developing technology that companies can build on top of.

One of the early approaches the company took was to reach out to 10 of the top broker-dealers in each country to understand the regulations and build relationships to get the greenlight to do business. While Trigos called that process “burdensome,” once Mentum did that, it was able to more easily repeat the process in Chile and now is eyeing Peru and Argentina for expansion.

Initially, Mentum targeted fintech companies because they already knew how to work with APIs, but then demand started coming in from traditional banks and even supermarkets, insurance companies, credit unions and super apps that deliver food.

Mentum’s widgets. Image Credits: Mentum

Having so many different kinds of companies eager to offer investment products is a big reason why the company wanted to make its products easier to use, Trigos said.

“We analyzed hundreds of apps to see what the general experience should look like, then we created widgets that do require some code, but we also have a desktop simulator in beta that will require no code to set up the experience,” he added.

Mentum’s products are still in beta, but plans to launch them this year were accelerated by $4.2 million in funding, led by Google’s Gradient Ventures, with participation from Global Founders Capital, Soma Capital Y Combinator and co-founders of Plaid and Jeeves.

Trigos intends to use the new capital to increase its headcount from the seven employees it has now, including setting up its founding team. One of his goals for the year is to grow in Colombia and Chile by integrating five clients in each country. The company will work on product development and features that will enhance the experience, like more payments and adding DeFi and crypto.

Mentum already has two strategic partnerships with broker-dealers and is currently in the integration process with two of its fellow YC-backed fintech companies in Colombia and another 25 companies interested in launching its products.

“The financial services industry is undergoing a massive transformation in Latin America. APIs have created new opportunities for the way we bank,” said Wen-Wen Lam, partner at Gradient Ventures, in a written statement. “With its innovative technology, Mentum has opened up a wide range of possibilities for Latin America fintech apps. We’re excited to back Gus and his team as they usher in the next generation of banking.”

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