Facebook shuts down its Bulletin newsletter service

Facebook shuts down its Bulletin newsletter service
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Updated 05 October 2022

Facebook shuts down its Bulletin newsletter service

Facebook shuts down its Bulletin newsletter service
  • Parent company Meta said that the platform, which was designed to be its response to Substack, will close early in 2023
  • It gave independent creators the chance to publish directly to their audience and get paid for their work through subscriptions

LONDON: Facebook has announced it is shutting down its Bulletin newsletter service as it seeks to shift resources to other projects.

Described by Facebook’s parent company Meta as “a project that is directly for journalists and individual writers,” the service aimed to offer new ways for writers and readers to connect.

“Bulletin has allowed us to learn about the relationship between creators and their audiences and how to better support them in building their community on Facebook,” the company said on Tuesday.

“While this off-platform product itself is ending, we remain committed to supporting these and other creators’ success and growth on our platform.”

Bulletin was launched in June 2021 as Meta’s response to Substack, a popular newsletter platform on which independent writers, podcasters and other creators can publish directly to their audiences and get paid for their work through subscriptions.

Bulletin was launched with a group of well-known users, including Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell, public health expert James Hamblin, and Pakistani Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, in an attempt to build an audience for the platform.

Meta also signed a number of up-and-coming writers and pledged $5 million to support local news reporters, along with providing a host of publishing and subscription tools for creators.

Sources close to the decision said that Meta has contacted the 120 creators that are part of the program to tell them that Bulletin will close early next year. The company will honor all contracts in full, some of which are not due to end until 2024. Creators will also be allowed to keep their subscription revenue and take subscriber lists and content with them when Bulletin is wound down.

Speculation about the possible closure of Bulletin began to circulate early in the summer amid the company’s stalled growth and a fall in revenue.

Last month, some media sources reported that Facebook executives had told staff the company was reorganizing budgets and would be focusing its resources on creator economy projects.


TikTok hit by US lawsuits over child safety, security fears

TikTok hit by US lawsuits over child safety, security fears
Updated 08 December 2022

TikTok hit by US lawsuits over child safety, security fears

TikTok hit by US lawsuits over child safety, security fears
  • The legal salvo came as problems are mounting for TikTok in the United States, with multiple accusations that the extremely popular app is a national security threat and a conduit for spying by China

WASHINGTON: TikTok was hit Wednesday with a pair of lawsuits from the US state of Indiana, which accused it of making false claims about the Chinese-owned app’s safety for children.

The legal salvo came as problems are mounting for TikTok in the United States, with multiple accusations that the extremely popular app is a national security threat and a conduit for spying by China.

“The TikTok app is a malicious and menacing threat unleashed on unsuspecting Indiana consumers by a Chinese company that knows full well the harms it inflicts on users,” said Attorney General Todd Rokita in a statement.

The lawsuit said TikTok algorithms served up “abundant content depicting alcohol, tobacco, and drugs; sexual content, nudity, and suggestive themes” to users as young as 13.

The state also sued TikTok for allegedly deceiving customers into believing that “reams of highly sensitive data and personal information” were protected from the Chinese government.

In a statement, a TikTok spokesperson did not comment specifically on the case but said “the safety, privacy and security of our community is our top priority.”

“We build youth well-being into our policies, limit features by age, empower parents with tools and resources, and continue to invest in new ways to enjoy content based on age-appropriateness or family comfort,” the company said.

TikTok is facing a growing front of opposition in the United States, with several states and the US military banning its use on government devices.

Texas on Wednesday became the latest state to do so, calling for “aggressive action” against TikTok.

The highly popular app is often singled out for its alleged connections to the Beijing government with fears that China is able to use TikTok’s data to track and coerce users around the world.

TikTok is currently in negotiations with the US government to resolve national security concerns, hoping to maintain operations in one of its biggest markets.

TikTok said it was “confident that we’re on a path...to fully satisfy all reasonable US national security concerns.”

The spectacular success of TikTok has seen rival sites such as Meta-owned Instagram or Snapchat struggle to keep up, with once soaring ad revenues taking a hit.

But Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers last month that he is “extremely concerned” about security risks linked to TikTok.


Apple: Most iCloud data can now be end-to-end encrypted

Apple: Most iCloud data can now be end-to-end encrypted
Updated 08 December 2022

Apple: Most iCloud data can now be end-to-end encrypted

Apple: Most iCloud data can now be end-to-end encrypted
  • The world’s most valuable company has long placed customer security and privacy at a premium

BOSTON: As part of an ongoing privacy push, Apple said Wednesday it will now offer full end-to-encryption for nearly all the data its users store in its global cloud-based storage system. That will make it more difficult for hackers, spies and law enforcement agencies to access sensitive user information.
The world’s most valuable company has long placed customer security and privacy at a premium. Its iMessage and Facetime communications services are fully encrypted end-to-end and it has sometimes locked horns with law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, over its refusal to unlock devices.
But nearly everything that customers backed up remotely using Apple’s iCloud service — including photos, videos and chats — has not been protected by encryption. That made it far easier for crooks, spies — and criminal investigators with court orders — to get at it.
No longer. The loophole that law enforcement had for getting at iPhone data will now be considerably narrowed.
Apple, which is based in Cupertino, California, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the timing of the announcement and other issues. Nor did the FBI immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Cybersecurity experts have long argued that attempts by law enforcement to weaken encryption with backdoors are ill-advised because they would inherently make the Internet less reliable and more dangerous.
Last year, Apple announced, then withdrew after a flood of objections, a plan to scan iPhones for photos of child sexual abuse.
“Where Apple was hesitant about deploying encryption features last year ... it now feels like they’ve decided to put the gas pedal down,” noted Johns Hopkins cryptography professor Matthew Green on Twitter.
Apple’s encryption announcement offers what the company calls Advanced Data Protection, to which users of its devices must opt in. It adds iCloud Backup, Notes and Photos to data categories that are already protected by end-to-end encryption in the cloud, including health data and passwords. Not included in the iCloud encryption scheme are email, contacts and calendar items because they must interoperate with products from other vendors, Apple said.
It said Advanced Data Protection for iCloud would be available to US users by the end of the year and start rolling out to the rest of the world in early 2023.
In a blog post, Apple said “enhanced security for users’ data in the cloud is more urgently needed than ever,” citing research that says data breaches have more than tripled over the past eight years.
Other tech products that already offer end-to-end encryption include the world’s most popular messaging app, WhatsApp, and Signal, a communications app prized by journalists, dissidents, human rights activists and other dealers in sensitive data.
Apple announced a few other advanced security features on Wednesday, including one geared toward journalists, human rights activists and government officials who “face extraordinary digital threats” — such as from no-click spyware. Called iMessage Contact Key Verification, it will automatically alert users to eavesdroppers who succeed in inserting a new device into their iCloud via a breach.
In July, Apple announced a new optional feature called Lockdown Mode that is designed to protect iPhones and its other products against intrusions from state-backed hackers and commercial spyware.
Apple said at the time that it believed the extra layer of protection would be valuable to targets of hacking attacks launched by well-funded groups.
Users are able to activate and deactivate lockdown mode at will.


New York Times braces for 24-hour newsroom strike

New York Times braces for 24-hour newsroom strike
Updated 08 December 2022

New York Times braces for 24-hour newsroom strike

New York Times braces for 24-hour newsroom strike
  • The NewsGuild said management has been “dragging its feet” bargaining for nearly two years

NEW YORK: The New York Times is bracing for a 24-hour walkout Thursday by hundreds of journalists and other employees, in what would be the first strike of its kind at the newspaper in more than 40 years.
Newsroom employees and other members of The NewsGuild of New York say they are fed up with bargaining that has dragged on since their last contract expired in March 2021. The union announced last week that more than 1,100 employees would stage a 24-hour work stoppage starting at 12:01 a.m. Thursday unless the two sides reach a contract deal.
Negotiations lasted for more than 12 hours into late Tuesday and continued Wednesday, but the sides remained far apart on issues including wage increases and remote-work policies.
“It’s looking very likely that we are walking on Thursday,” said Stacy Cowley, a finance reporter and union representative. “There is still a pretty wide gulf between us on both economic and a number of issues.”
It was unclear how the day’s coverage would be affected, but the strike’s supporters include members of the fast-paced live-news desk, which covers breaking news for the digital paper. Employees are planning a rally for Thursday afternoon outside the newspaper’s offices near Times Square.
New York Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha told The Associated Press that the company has “solid plans in place” to continue producing content, that include relying on international reporters and other journalists who are not union members.
“While we are disappointed that the NewsGuild is threatening to strike, we are prepared to ensure The Times continues to serve our readers without disruption,” Rhoades Ha said in separate statement.
In a note sent to Guild-represented staff Tuesday night, Deputy Managing Editor Cliff Levy called the planned strike “puzzling” and “an unsettling moment in negotiations over a new contract.” He said it would be the first strike by the bargaining unit since 1981 and “comes despite intensifying efforts by the company to make progress.”
But in a letter signed by more than 1,000 employees, the NewsGuild said management has been “dragging its feet” bargaining for nearly two years and “time is running out to reach a fair contract” by the end of the year.
The NewsGuild also said the company told employees planning to strike they would not get paid for the duration of the walkout. Members were also asked to work extra hours get work done ahead of the strike, according to the union.
The New York Times has seen other, shorter walkouts in recent years, including a half-day protest in August by a new union representing technology workers who claimed unfair labor practices.
In one breakthrough that both sides called significant, the company backed off its proposal to replace the existing adjustable pension plan with an enhanced 401 (k) retirement plan. The Times offered instead to let the union choose between the two. The company also agreed to expand fertility treatment benefits.
Levy said the company has also offered to raise wages by 5.5 percent upon ratification of the contract, followed by 3 percent increases in 2023 and 2024. That would be an increase from the 2.2 percent annual increases in the expired contract.
Cowley said the union is seeking 10 percent pay raises at ratification, which she said would make up for the pay raises not received over the past two years.
She also said the union wants the contract to guarantee employees the option to work remotely some of the time, if their roles allow for it, but the company wants the right to recall workers to the office full time. Cowley said the Times has required its staff to be in office three days a week but many have been showing up fewer days in an informal protest.


Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit

Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit
Updated 08 December 2022

Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit

Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit
  • Wen Zongduo expresses gratitude for hospitality shown by “impressive” Saudi capital Riyadh 
  • Veteran Chinese journalist is in Saudi Arabia to cover President Xi’s landmark visit to the Kingdom

RIYADH: A veteran Chinese journalist, who is in the Kingdom to cover President Xi Jinping’s landmark visit, says he is overwhelmed by the warmth of Saudi hospitality and the rapid pace of development of the Saudi capital.

“This is my first visit. I had been eager to come over for years now,” Wen Zongduo, managing editor of China’s leading English-language newspaper China Daily, told Arab News.

“I am very grateful to Saudi officials and diplomats. They provided all help to me and my team to come over to Saudi Arabia, working extra hours on their weekend. Their devotion to work and the assistance they extended to us touched me and my team members.

Wen Zongduo, managing editor of China Daily, with Noor Nugali, assistant editor in chief of Arab News, and other Arab News staff. (AN Photo)

“I must say that Riyadh city is impressive. I can see many high-rise buildings here, with more coming up. It seems the city is going through a period of massive new construction. To me, it seems Riyadh is getting an altogether new life. The Boulevard World, a premier entertainment zone that has many elements from other countries, has just been finished.

“It seems to me that Riyadh is an inclusive city. It is introducing different elements from all over the world in order to make residents’ lives better and exciting and make Riyadh more attractive. These developments I find very impressive.”

Praising the local people for showing great hospitality, Wen told Arab News: “The residents of Riyadh have been kind, generous and helpful…Wherever I have been, everyone has been very helpful.”

Commenting on President Xi’s visit, Wen described it as very important from the standpoint of Chinese news media.

“The summits are significant, especially when our world needs the efforts of all countries, including China, Saudi Arabia and other countries that are facing the same challenges. We are going through a difficult period, which means every country has a responsibility to humanity,” he told Arab News.

According to Wen, instead of arms sales and launching wars, the world needs more efforts to achieve sustainable development, especially when billions of people in the developing world are already experiencing difficulties related to climate change.

There will be three summits in the Kingdom during the visit. (AFP)

“The decision of China and the Arab states to come together in this difficult time is very good news for the entire world,” Wen told Arab News.

“This is also because China and Arab states have been good partners and friends for a very long time…We have every reason to continue and do more for the world in this difficult time.”

President Xi arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday for a three-day visit during which he will meet Saudi, Gulf and Arab leaders.

Three summits will take place while he is in the Kingdom: the Saudi-Chinese summit, the Riyadh Gulf-China Summit for Cooperation and Development, and the Riyadh Arab-China Summit for Cooperation and Development.

The Chinese president’s visit reflects the desire of Saudi Arabia and China to strengthen their bilateral ties, enhance their strategic partnership, and realize the relationship’s full political and economic potential in order to advance their common interests.

More than 20 initial agreements between the two countries, worth over SR110 billion ($29.3 billion), will be signed during the presidential visit. Also on the agenda are a strategic partnership deal and a plan to harmonize the implementation of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 development and diversification project with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.


Podcasts: The future of media in the Arab world?

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 07 December 2022

Podcasts: The future of media in the Arab world?

Photo/Shutterstock
  • As the sector evolves and grows, the introduction of video to podcasting might just be just the push the audio industry needs to propel it to ever-greater heights
  • It is not a question of ‘leaving audio behind,’ said one expert; video is ‘unlocking further potential for the content to reach new realms, creatively, and for more people to access the content’

Arabs are among the biggest consumers of media around the world, with many spending hours each day watching and listening to their various devices, from TVs to smartphones.

In the region, Saudis spend the most time watching TV, averaging 5.2 hours a day, followed by Emiratis on 4.2 hours, according to a report by the consultancy Strategy&.

Moreover, it found that Saudis on average spend 14.2 hours a day engaging with various types of media channels. However, long periods spent staring at devices can result in screen fatigue, which is perhaps a reason for growth of alternative media formats, such as podcasts.

“(A podcast) is an easily consumable content (format) and, most importantly, it offers a screen-less alternative to social media and doom scrolling,” Ramsey Tesdell, the CEO of Jordan-based podcast network Sowt Media, told Arab News.

There are estimated to be more than 10 million podcast listeners in the Middle East and North Africa region, who listen to an average of between five and seven hours of podcasts a week, according to Bella Ibrahim, marketing director of regional podcasting company the Kerning Cultures Network. The biggest markets are in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, she added, but other countries in the region are following suit. 

The rise of new creators and development of improved technologies have helped to create a burgeoning podcast ecosystem, with special events such as “Ignite the Sound” in Saudi Arabia, and “Sada” and “Podfest” in the UAE, bringing creators together.

Statistics reveal the growth in popularity of the medium in the region and internationally. According to Strategy&, 18.4 percent of Saudis listen to podcasts more than once a week. Globally, Spotify said that podcast engagement on its platform has grown from less than seven percent in 2018 to 30 percent this year.

Although podcasting is still a relatively new medium, the ideas and traditions it emerged from are not.

“Audio has always been part of our lives,” Rhea Chedid, a senior podcast manager at Spotify MENA, told Arab News. “The Arab world has a long history of oral storytelling, and podcasts are a continuation of that.”

Still, podcast listenership remains relatively low compared with the popularity of social media and video streaming. And so despite the clear benefits offered by audio content, including hands-free, screenless entertainment, video is, perhaps inevitably, increasingly becoming a pervasive part of the podcast scene.

“Video is an important aspect of entertainment and podcasts will adapt to that as well,” Tesdell said.

Spotify, for example, first flirted with the idea of adding video to podcasts in 2020 during limited tests, after which it rolled out video-podcast options to selected creators through Anchor, a podcast creation and distribution platform it acquired in 2019. Last month, it expanded it video-podcasting capabilities to most global markets in which Anchor is available, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Does that mean the days of the audio-only podcast might be numbered already? Experts say that this is not the way to look at it.

“It’s not a question about audio or video, or leaving audio behind,” said Chedid. Instead, video is “unlocking further potential for the content to reach new realms, creatively, and for more people to access the content they want, in the way they want.”

Moreover, people consume a variety of content types throughout the day, which means that they are not necessarily choosing video over audio.

“The more people there are consuming audio, no matter the format, is a good thing,” Tesdell said.

Videos have been around as a source of online entertainment much longer than audio podcasts — from the early days of YouTube to the new breed of short and snappy footage on sites such as TikTok and Instagram. As a result, distribution and monetization tools are well-developed across video platforms and creators are more familiar with the format, Tesdell added.

In fact, though it might appear counterintuitive, some experts suggest that video might very well be the factor that propels the podcast industry to greater heights.

Spotify, for example, said it has already seen strong adoption of video by podcast creators in markets where it is available, said Chedid.

Video can also serve as a marketing and promotional tool for podcasters, Ibrahim said, but she cautioned: “With all the buzz around video, it’s worth noting that not all podcasts should be forced into being video podcasts. It’s a great format for talk shows but less so for narrative or fiction shows.”

So, do podcasts represent the future of media in the Arab world? Ibrahim certainly believes so.

“Absolutely; the medium of audio storytelling creates a very intimate listening experience,” she said.

Tesdell and Chedid are also optimistic about the future of podcasting but view it more as an increasingly significant part of the wider media ecosystem rather than its future.

“Podcasts will play an important and significant role in the development of Arab media,” Tesdell said.

Chedid added: “Podcasts will be part of the future of media in the Arab world, just like they have become globally.”