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)
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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 restricted in quake-hit Turkiye

Twitter restricted in quake-hit Turkiye
Updated 08 February 2023

Twitter restricted in quake-hit Turkiye

Twitter restricted in quake-hit Turkiye
  • Platform has been widely used to seek help and establish personal contact
  • Turkish authorities have limited access to social media during previous national emergencies

LONDON: Twitter is facing restrictions in Turkiye as the country struggles to deal with the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, sources reported.

Independent global internet monitor NetBlocks confirmed that the social media platform has been restricted on multiple network providers, including TTNet and Turkcell, on Wednesday.

“Real-time network data show Twitter has been restricted in Turkiye,” Netblocks said in a tweet.

“The filtering is applied on major internet providers and comes as the public come to rely on the service in the aftermath of a series of deadly earthquakes.”

Twitter is widely adopted in the country and its restriction disrupts critical communication for rescue efforts.

NetBlocks Director Alp Toker said that this is the first time the company detected social media restrictions during a natural disaster.

“Twitter has been in use extensively in the aftermath of the earthquakes, both to seek assistance and rescue equipment and by those trying to get back in touch with loved ones,” Toker said.

Turkish authorities have not given any formal explanations, but NetBlocks said that Turkiye often acts to prevent alleged disinformation during national emergencies.

In November, following a terrorist attack in central Istanbul that killed six people and injured more than 80, authorities imposed a 10-hour social media ban.

Some users also reported that TikTok might have been affected by the restrictions.

In a statement, the video-sharing app said it was aware of the technical difficulties and is “investigating the matter and hope access is restored as soon as possible as platforms like TikTok remain a critical way to stay in touch during crises.”

NetBlocks and some Twitter users have reported that users in Turkiye can still access the platforms through VPNs.


Dubai Lynx launches Young Lynx Academy in partnership with Publicis Groupe

Dubai Lynx launches Young Lynx Academy in partnership with Publicis Groupe
Updated 08 February 2023

Dubai Lynx launches Young Lynx Academy in partnership with Publicis Groupe

Dubai Lynx launches Young Lynx Academy in partnership with Publicis Groupe
  • Hosted over 3 days, program will feature keynote talks, workshops, competition
  • Dubai Lynx festival director Thea Skelton: We are seeing an increasing number of agencies from KSA enter and win at Dubai Lynx

DUBAI: The Dubai Lynx International Festival of Creativity has launched the Young Lynx Academy in partnership with multinational advertising company Publicis Groupe.

Aimed at mentoring young professionals in the Middle East and North Africa region, the academy will run from March 12 to 14.

Thea Skelton, festival director of Dubai Lynx, told Arab News: “As we know, the region is using creativity as a driving force for growth.

“We are seeing an increasing number of agencies from KSA enter and win at Dubai Lynx and it’s very exciting for us to watch young talent from the Kingdom grow.”

The academy is designed to support young talent within the creative communications sector by offering them a free mentorship opportunity.

Hosted over three days, the program will include keynote talks, workshops, and a 24-hour hack competition involving participants working on a charity brief.

Skelton said: “Creativity is a key part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan, and the training and development of young people in this sector is very much a part of this.

“We’re excited to see how young creatives from Saudi Arabia will perform this year and pave the way for many more people from the region to excel,” she added.

The academy will be open to professionals aged 30 or younger who have worked for a minimum of one year in the creative, media, digital, or social sectors in the MENA region. Successful applicants will also receive tickets to attend the festival and Lynx party on March 14.

The deadline for entries is Feb. 27. More details are available on the Young Lynx Academy website at https://www.dubailynx.com/talent-and-training/young-lynx-academy


Meta, nonprofit end US lawsuit over infinity-logo trademark

Meta, nonprofit end US lawsuit over infinity-logo trademark
Updated 08 February 2023

Meta, nonprofit end US lawsuit over infinity-logo trademark

Meta, nonprofit end US lawsuit over infinity-logo trademark
  • Lawsuit by Dfinity Foundation said Meta would cause confusion with its infinity logo

LONDON: Meta Platforms Inc and blockchain nonprofit Dfinity Foundation have resolved Dfinity’s trademark lawsuit against Meta over its infinity-symbol logo, according to a joint filing in San Francisco federal court.

Meta and Dfinity asked the court Monday to dismiss the case with prejudice, which means it cannot be revived.

A Meta spokesperson said Tuesday that the company was “pleased with the outcome of the case.” It said Dfinity had dropped the lawsuit after Meta “pointed out the defects” in its revised complaint.

Representatives for Dfinity did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Switzerland-based Dfinity’s Internet Computer is an “infinite” public blockchain network designed to host smart contracts. Dfinity sued Meta last year, alleging the logo Meta adopted after changing its name from Facebook would cause confusion with Dfinity’s infinity-symbol trademarks.

Meta has described its logo as a “continuous loop” that resembles both the letter ‘M’ and an infinity sign to symbolize “infinite horizons in the metaverse.”

US District Judge Charles Breyer dismissed Dfinity’s original complaint in November but allowed the company to amend the lawsuit. Breyer said Meta’s logo was unlikely to cause consumer confusion, citing differences in the logos’ designs and the fact that Dfinity’s customers are “tech-savvy developers.”

Dfinity filed an amended complaint in December.

Meta is still facing trademark lawsuits from virtual-reality company MetaX and investment firm Metacapital over its name change.


YouTube collaborates with Egypt’s National Council for Women on Safer Internet Day

YouTube collaborates with Egypt’s National Council for Women on Safer Internet Day
Updated 08 February 2023

YouTube collaborates with Egypt’s National Council for Women on Safer Internet Day

YouTube collaborates with Egypt’s National Council for Women on Safer Internet Day
  • National council 1st Egyptian entity to enrol in YouTube’s Trusted Flagger program
  • NCW will provide tailored workshops for content creators focused on creating content that is sensitive to women’s needs

DUBAI: YouTube has partnered with the National Council for Women in Egypt to introduce a series of initiatives aimed at promoting a safer experience for women using the platform and encouraging more female content creators to share their stories.

Announced on Safer Internet Day, Feb. 7, the collaboration includes a series of workshops and meet-ups to set up a community of content creators, YouTube experts, and representatives from the NCW.

Council president, Dr. Maya Morsy, said the organization was pleased to partner with YouTube, “especially in light of what women suffer from exposure to various types of cyberviolence via social media that have become an open space for people to engage in violence against women.”

She noted that in recent years, Egypt had been taking steps to introduce legislation that protected women from all forms of violence.

“We are proud to encourage more women content creators and support them to develop their skills, to further understand women’s issues, and promote meaningful and useful content,” she added.

The workshops, which will take place throughout the year, aim to help more women content creators benefit from available resources to grow their channels, and learn about the different tools and features to stay safe online.

NCW will provide tailored workshops for content creators focused on creating content that is sensitive to women’s needs, raising awareness about women’s empowerment, and staying safe from cyberviolence against women and girls.

The workshops will also feature sessions focused on #IamRemarkable, a Google initiative that aims to empower women and other under-represented groups celebrate their achievements.

As part of the collaboration, the NCW will become the first entity in Egypt to enrol in YouTube’s Trusted Flagger program, which allows government bodies and non-profit organizations to directly report content to YouTube and have visibility on the decisions made.

Tarek Amin, director of YouTube partnerships in the Middle East and North Africa region, said: “Together, we aim to continue developing a safe experience for women creators in Egypt by equipping them with the skills needed and inviting them to join a wider support circle of other content creators and experts of the platform.”


Starzplay partners with Zain Kuwait

Starzplay partners with Zain Kuwait
Updated 08 February 2023

Starzplay partners with Zain Kuwait

Starzplay partners with Zain Kuwait
  • Deal furthers Starzplay’s expansion in MENA
  • Platform has expanded its sports content

DUBAI: Starzplay has partnered with Zain Kuwait as the telecommunications provider’s commercial and retail distributor in Kuwait.

As part of the deal, Zain Kuwait will make Starzplay and the platform’s sports package available to customers with the new Max plans available through mobile and home internet packages.

The platform has already partnered with Zain in other markets such as Saudi Arabia.

The new deal comes as Starzplay looks to strengthen its “geographical expansion across the MENA region,” said Raghida Abou Fadel, senior vice president for business development and sales.

“Kuwait is an important market for our business, and we want to extend further to offer Starzplay’s diverse entertainment and sports portfolio to fans in the market,” she added.

Meshal Mohammed, chief commercial officer of Zain Kuwait, said: “We are always on the lookout for lucrative partnerships with the region’s streaming giants to offer the best selection of entertainment and sports titles to our customers.”

Starzplay has expanded its sports content, and offers international and regional events such as Coppa Italia, Dutch Eredivisie, All Elite Wrestling, PGA Tour, and the EuroLeague and EuroCup basketball competitions.