Meta battles US antitrust agency over future of virtual reality

FTC belives Meta’s acquisition of Within would “tend to create a monopoly” in the market for virtual reality (VR) fitness apps. (AFP/File)
FTC belives Meta’s acquisition of Within would “tend to create a monopoly” in the market for virtual reality (VR) fitness apps. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 09 December 2022

Meta battles US antitrust agency over future of virtual reality

Meta battles US antitrust agency over future of virtual reality
  • FTC sued Meta in July to stop the tech giant's acquisition of virtual reality app developer Within
  • Government victory could crimp Meta’s ability to maneuver in an area of emerging technology

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration on Thursday accused Meta Platforms Inc. of trying to buy its way to dominance in the metaverse, kicking off a high-profile trial to try to prevent the Facebook parent from buying virtual reality app developer Within Inc.
The FTC sued in July to stop the deal, saying Meta’s acquisition of Within would “tend to create a monopoly” in the market for virtual reality (VR) fitness apps. It has asked the judge to order a preliminary injunction that would halt the proposed transaction.
In an opening statement, FTC lawyer Abby Dennis said the Within acquisition was part of Meta’s bid to acquire new and more diverse virtual reality users, including customers of Within’s popular subscription-based virtual reality workout app Supernatural.
That would complement Meta’s existing virtual reality users, who tend to skew young and male, and be more focused on gaming, Dennis added.
“Meta could have chosen to use all its vast resources and capabilities to build its own dedicated VR fitness app, and it was planning on doing that before it acquired Within,” Dennis said, pointing to a plan from early 2021.
The plan, Operation Twinkie, involved expanding a rhythm game app called Beat Saber that the company acquired in 2019 into the fitness space via a proposed partnership with digital fitness company Peloton, Dennis said.
She cited an email from Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg saying he was “bullish” on fitness and calling the proposed partnership with Peloton “awesome.”
Lawyers for Meta and Within argued that the FTC did a poor job of defining the relevant market and said the companies compete with a range of fitness content, not just VR-dedicated fitness apps.
Meta’s lawyers also disputed that plans for a Meta-owned VR fitness app had proceeded beyond low-level “brainstorming” and argued that the FTC underestimated the competition in the market it had defined, citing the potential for fellow tech giants Apple Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Bytedance to join the fray.
Rade Stojsavljevic, who manages Meta’s in-house VR app developer studios, testified that he had proposed the tie-up between Beat Saber and Peloton but did not develop a formal plan and never discussed the idea with either party.
Internal documents from early 2021 that were displayed in court showed Stojsavljevic proposing acquisitions of VR developers before they could be “cannibalized” by competitors and discussing pressure from Zuckerberg to “get aggressive” in response to reports of a prospective Apple headset.
The trial, scheduled through Dec. 20, will serve as a test of the FTC’s bid to head off what it sees as a repeat of the company acquiring small upcoming would-be rivals and effectively buying its way to dominance, this time in the nascent virtual and augmented reality markets.
The FTC is separately trying to force Meta to unwind two previous acquisitions, Instagram and WhatsApp, in a lawsuit filed in 2020. Both were in relatively new markets at the time the companies were purchased.
PRESSURE TO PRODUCE HIT APPS
A government victory could crimp Meta’s ability to maneuver in an area of emerging technology — virtual and augmented reality — that Zuckerberg has identified as the “next generation of computing.”
If blocked from making acquisitions in the space, Meta would face greater pressure to produce its own hit apps and would give up the gains — in terms of revenue, talent, data and control — associated with bringing innovative developers in-house.
Within developed Supernatural, which it advertises as a “complete fitness service” with “expert coaches,” “beautiful destinations” and “workouts choreographed to the best music available.”
It is available only on Meta’s Quest devices, which are headsets offering immersive digital visuals and audio that market research firm IDC estimates capture 90 percent of global shipments in the virtual reality hardware market.
The majority of the more than 400 apps available in the Quest app store are produced by external developers. Meta owns the most popular virtual reality app in the Quest app store, Beat Saber, the app it was considering expanding with the Peloton partnership.
The social media company agreed to buy Within in October 2021, a day after changing its name from Facebook to Meta, signalling its ambition to build an immersive virtual environment known as the metaverse.
Zuckerberg will be a witness in the trial. Other potential witnesses are Within CEO Chris Milk and Meta Chief Technology Officer Andrew Bosworth, who runs the company’s metaverse-oriented Reality Labs unit.
The trial is at the US District Court for the Northern District of California.


Twitter says users will be able to appeal account suspension

Twitter says users will be able to appeal account suspension
Updated 28 January 2023

Twitter says users will be able to appeal account suspension

Twitter says users will be able to appeal account suspension
  • Under the new criteria, Twitter accounts will only be suspended for severe or ongoing and repeat violations of the platform’s policies

BENGALURU, India: Twitter users will be able to appeal account suspensions and be evaluated under the social media platform’s new criteria for reinstatement, starting Feb. 1, the company said on Friday.
Under the new criteria, which follow billionaire Elon Musk’s purchase of the company in October, Twitter accounts will only be suspended for severe or ongoing and repeat violations of the platform’s policies.
Severe policy violations include engaging in illegal content or activity, inciting or threatening violence or harm, and engaging in targeted harassment of other users, among others.
Twitter said that going forward, it will take less severe action, in comparison to account suspension, such as limiting the reach of tweets that violate its policies or asking users to remove tweets before continuing to use the account.
In December, Musk came under fire for suspending accounts of several journalists over a controversy on publishing public data about the billionaire’s plane. He later reinstated the accounts.


Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests

Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests
Updated 28 January 2023

Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests

Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests
  • Documentary investigates Narendra Modi’s role in the deadly Gujarat riots in 2002
  • Government sees the British broadcaster’s program as ‘manipulation by foreign power’

NEW DELHI: Indian students are defying a ban on a BBC program examining Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s past, despite arrests and attempts by authorities to prevent them from organizing screenings.

The two-part program, “India: The Modi Question,” examines claims about Modi’s role in the 2002 riots in Gujarat that left more than 1,000 dead, most of them Muslims.

Modi was serving as chief minister of the western state when the violence broke out.

The government banned the documentary over the weekend using emergency powers under information technology laws, but students continued to organize screenings across the country.

At least 13 students of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi were detained for 24 hours on Wednesday, after they tried to show the documentary at their campus. 

HIGHLIGHTS

• Documentary investigates Narendra Modi’s role in the deadly Gujarat riots in 2002.

• Government sees the British broadcaster’s program as ‘manipulation by foreign power.’

“We were handed over to the police by the proctor of Jamia Islamia University. On Friday, the Jamia authorities shut down all the facilities for students,” one of the arrested, Azeez Shareef from the Students Federation of India, told Arab News.

“We grew up with a certain idea of India, with secular values and democratic principles, but this government has attacked everything.”

Earlier this week, authorities cut off electricity at Jawaharlal Nehru University when students gathered to screen the documentary.

“We wanted to screen the documentary so that youth can form their own opinion,” said Aishe Ghosh, president of Jawaharlal Nehru Students Union.

“The new generation does not remember what happened in Gujarat in 2002 because they were too young. But when we see today’s reality, it’s important for the young generation to make the link that the same political party that is in power in Delhi was responsible in some form or another in manufacturing a pogrom in the state of Gujarat.”

She added that universities are where students should have “space to debate and discuss and differ.”

As the government ban means the film cannot be streamed or shared on social media — and Twitter and YouTube have complied with a government request to take down links to the documentary — students argue there is no explicit ban on screenings.

“Where is the order to ban the documentary?” said Abhisek Nandan, president of the Student Union of the University of Hyderabad, which has organized a screening and discussion on the first episode of the program.

“The documentary carries the truth about Gujarati riots that journalists and civil society groups have been telling for the last 20 years.”

Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party sees the British broadcaster’s film as manipulation and an assault on India’s judicial system.

“A foreign power undermining the judicial system of India is not the right thing to do. The entire episode of the Gujarat riot has minutely been scrutinized by all, including the judiciary,” BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Mittal told Arab News.

In 2013, a court in Gujarat found Modi not directly responsible for the riots. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 2022.

“The documentary is an assault on the judicial system of this country. That’s why it is not permitted,” Mittal said.

“The country is right in not allowing manipulation by a foreign power.”

The film could undermine Modi’s reputation at a time when India is chairing the Group of 20 largest economies and will host the G20 summit this year.

“It’s obvious that PM Modi realized that the documentary had the potential to hurt his reputation at a time when he could least afford it,” political analyst Sanjay Kapoor told Arab News.  

“For him, the G20 platform provided him an opportunity to showcase himself as a world leader, and he didn’t want his image to be sullied as someone who was complicit in the Gujarat genocide.”

 

 


Saudi Arabia’s KAICIID launches journalism program for Arabs

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 27 January 2023

Saudi Arabia’s KAICIID launches journalism program for Arabs

Photo/Shutterstock
  • KAICIID’s secretary-general, Dr. Zuhair Alharthi, said that the second edition of the fellowship program was launched following the success achieved in the first edition, which helped journalists combat hate speech and promote a culture of dialogue

RIYADH: The King Abdullah International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, KAICIID, announced on Thursday the launch of the second edition of its Journalism Fellowship Program for Dialogue in the Arab region.

The program targets a new group of male and female journalists from the Arab region who will receive training on dialogue journalism, conduct professional reports that focus on matters related to interfaith and intercultural dialogue, religious relations, identity, and conflicts.

The aim is to enhance pluralism, diversity, peaceful coexistence, set ethical standards of journalism, and to combat hate speech.

KAICIID’s secretary-general, Dr. Zuhair Alharthi, said that the second edition of the fellowship program was launched following the success achieved in the first edition, which helped journalists combat hate speech and promote a culture of dialogue.

According to the approved schedule for the program, selected candidates will be invited for interviews by late February, with the program to begin online in March followed by on-the-ground training in April.

As per the admission rules to the program, a relevant committee should select between 20 to 25 journalists between the ages of 28 and 40.

They must be working in print, audio, or digital media, and have at least five years of experience in journalism or in other related fields; they must have a professional record in sensitive conflict environments, and they need to be citizens of an Arab country.

Wasim Haddad, the director of programs in the Arab region, said: “This program is one of the main axes within the center’s work strategy in the Arab region, which primarily aims at building social cohesion and promoting the values of dialogue and common citizenship through intensified work and building partnerships with religious leaders, policy makers, the youth, and women as main pillars of change in the region, as it is clear to everyone the leading roles the media can play in this regard.”

 

 


End of an Era: BBC Arabic Radio goes off air after 85 years

End of an Era: BBC Arabic Radio goes off air after 85 years
Updated 28 January 2023

End of an Era: BBC Arabic Radio goes off air after 85 years

End of an Era: BBC Arabic Radio goes off air after 85 years
  • The move comes as part of the World Service's cost cuts

LONDON: “Tears in my eyes as I listen to the last broadcast by BBC Arabic, closing down after 85 years. It meant so much to so many people here over the decades,” tweeted British journalist Jim Muir, Middle East correspondent for the BBC News, “Now the airwaves are dead. End of an era.”

BBC’s Arabic radio service officially ended its decades-long broadcast on Friday, leaving behind a legacy that many believe to be everlasting. 

The station launched in early 1938 as the BBC Empire Service’s first foreign language radio broadcast.

Many journalists and public figures took to Twitter to express grief and share fond memories of BBC’s Arabic radio station. Some believed the event marked a decline in the United Kingdom’s soft power while others recalled their days at the studios. 

“It's far beyond sad and painful to see BBC Arabic radio shutting down today,” wrote Egypt-based BBC Arabic correspondent Sally Nabil on Twitter. 

“It's incredibly difficult to describe how we feel!” She added. 

Amal Mudallali, former permanent representative of Lebanon to the UN, said: “As someone who worked for the BBC Arabic, I do not understand the decision.

“It is the only thing people know and remember about Britania, as we call it, in the region for generations.”

The final words and signature statement of BBC Arabic radio presenter Mahmoud Almossallami, “Huna London” (This is London), seems to have brought tears to many eyes. 

Almousallami’s daughter, Osha, wrote: “I grew up listening to my dad presenting on BBC Arabic, and now here he is, presenting the final hour of BBC Arabic before it's closed and taken off the air.

“It really is the end of an era.”

The head of David Nott Foundation, Elly Nott, wrote: “Huna London no more,” hailing BBC Arabic radio for helping her to learn its language. 

BBC News Lead Technical Operator Jack Mooney shared a footage showing the last moments as the Arabic news network went off the air, while sound producer Tome Roles wrote: “I’ll always treasure the magic of sitting in a tiny studio at 3 am in London, picturing the sun rising thousands of miles away, and wondering about the lives of those tuning in.”

“It’s a painful moment,” wrote photographer Ali Al-Baroodi. 

“BBC Arabic was one of few windows to the world in the time of the economic blockade (in the) 1990s (and) ISIS occupation,” he added, “Iraq was under (a) huge blackout. My father used to stock batteries for his radio in prep for the tough times.”

BBC correspondent Emir Nader shared the last two minutes of the Arabic radio’s final broadcast and wrote: “Today is a tragic day for Arab media… One of many huge losses following cuts in BBC World Service's budget.”


Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza
Updated 27 January 2023

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza
  • The ruling prohibits anyone from sharing links to Meduza's website

LONDON: Russia on Thursday declared Meduza, its most prominent independent news website, an “undesirable organization,” banning the outlet’s operation on Russian territory under the threat of felony prosecution.

Russia’s prosecutor-general said in an official statement that Meduza, which was founded by Russian journalists in Latvia, “threatens the foundations of constitutional order and the security of the Russian Federation.”

The ruling prohibits the outlet’s activities in Russia as well as any reference to it, even by posting a hyperlink on social media. Anyone who fails to cooperate may face a prison sentence of up to six years, according to The Guardian.

Russian officials previously labeled Meduza a “foreign agent,” hindering the news website’s ability to raise funds through advertising and forcing it to shift to a crowdfunding model.

“We believe in what we do. We believe in freedom of speech. We believe in a democratic Russia. The bigger the pressure, the harder we will stand up to it,” Meduza said in a statement.

With the onset of the Ukraine war in February 2022, the Russian government banned several outlets, including Echo of Moscow and TV Rain, the country’s only independent news channel.

Russian lawmakers introduced a bill in May 2022 outlawing “discrediting the armed forces,” with a prison sentence of up to 15 years for criticizing the Russian military.

Russia has been cracking down on “undesirable organizations” since 2015, according to Meduza, granting the prosecutor-general the power to label as such any organization that purportedly imperils the country’s “constitutional-order foundations” or national security.