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Spotify Files First Public EU Antitrust Complaint Against Apple

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  • Spotify’s CEO announced in a recent blog post, that the company has filed a complaint against Apple in the European Union.
  • The company claims that Apple has abused its control over apps in its App Store, stifled innovation, and limited consumer choice for their own benefit.
  • They also launched a website to highlight what they call Apple’s “anti-competitive behavior.”

Spotify CEO Speaks Out

Spotify filed an antitrust complaint against Apple on Monday with the European Union, alleging that Apple is hurting innovation and consumer choice with its Apple “tax” and restrictive rules in its App Store.

In a blog post shared Wednesday morning, Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek said that Apple imposes rules that “purposely limit choice and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience—essentially acting as both a player and referee to deliberately disadvantage other app developers.”

Ek said his company takes issue with the 30 percent cut that Apple takes from subscriptions made through the Apple Store. He argues that this “tax” is designed to hurt services that compete with Apple’s own music service, Apple Music.

To pay this fee, Spotify says it has to inflate their premium membership prices “well above the price of Apple music.”  However, if Spotify refuses to pay the fee, then Apple “applies a series of technical and experience-limiting restrictions” that make Spotify a worse experience. For example, Ek says that Apple limits their communication with customers and in some cases has restricted them from even sending emails to customers who use Apple.

“Apple also routinely blocks our experience-enhancing upgrades. Over time, this has included locking Spotify and other competitors out of Apple services such as Siri, HomePod, and Apple Watch,” Ek continued in the post.

According to Spotify general counsel Horacio Gutierrez, this is not something the company faces in Alpahbet Inc’s Google Play Store, where Spotify is not required to use Google’s payment system.

Time to Play Fair

The European Commission complaint is confidential, so to bring attention to the issue, Spotify has also launched a website called “Time to Play Fair.”

The site is dedicated to explaining Apples “anti-competitive behavior,” and even features a video that breaks down the issue at hand.

Not Just Spotify

Spotify has complained informally to the EU several times about similar issues in recent years. However, this filing is the first official complaint publically registered in the EU against Apple’s App Store.

Concerns over this type of behavior aren’t only expressed by Spotify. Last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said that if elected president in 2020, she would work to break up big tech companies.

Warren criticized firms like Google, Amazon, and Facebook for operating marketplaces where they also compete against other companies. She argued that this allows them to set the rules in a way that gives them benefits at the expense of others

What’s Next?

A spokesperson for the European Commission told The Wall Street Journal that it had received Spotify’s complaint and was “assessing [it] under our standard procedures.”

At this time, it’s unclear what this complaint will mean for the tech giant. However, EU regulators have become increasingly concerned with how technology platforms control the online ecosystem and how they can use their control to their own advantage.

For instance, in 2017 and 2018 the EU hit Google with record fines totaling $7.7 billion for alleged anticompetitive behavior. Then in September of last year, the EU said it was opening an investigation into Amazon to see if the company used data on rival sellers to unfairly compete against them by selling similar Amazon-brand products.

The current European Commission will reach the end of its term later this year, following parliament elections in May. That means they’ll be leaving little time to make any major progress on a new investigation.

Despite that, the complaint is already getting support from other companies. Deezer, another music streaming firm that filed an informal complaint with Spotify in 2017, said Wednesday that they supported Spotify in their antitrust challenge. Deezer added that it looked forward to the commission’s response.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (Bloomberg) (Tech Crunch)

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Celebrities, Politics, & Scandal: The Truth About Deepfakes & Future What Ifs…

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Deepfakes are defined as any “fake” or manipulated video, image, or even audio created using something known as deep learning technology. In this video, we’ll discuss how that technology works as we dive into the complex and controversial world of deepfakes.

You’ll hear from some of the most talented creators on YouTube who use this powerful technology to create impressive fake videos. We’ll also take a look at the more malicious uses of this technology including non-consensual pornography, white-collar crime, and election tampering. Check out our video for the full story.

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Weight Watchers’ Kids App Draws Backlash From Parents and Nutritionists

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  • Weight Watchers recently introduced a new app called Kurbo, which is aimed at helping adolescents between the ages of 8-17 lose weight.
  • Some are happy to see the company create an easy to use app for the millions of children struggling with their weight. 
  • But many parents and nutritionists worry that the app could promote unhealthy relationships with food and worsen or create body image issues and eating disorders. 

WW Launches Kurbo 

More than 80,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for Weight Watchers to remove its new weight loss app aimed at children.

Weight Watchers, which now calls itself WW, introduced a new app called Kurbo last week, saying the program is designed “to help kids and teens ages 8-17 reach a healthier weight,” according to a WW press release.

In 2018, WW acquired the nutrition app, which is based on Stanford University’s pediatric obesity program and “30 years of clinical nutrition and behavior change research,” according to the app’s website. 

After purchasing Kurbo, WW spent about a year developing it, adding in features like breathing-exercise instructions, a Snapchat-inspired interface, and multi-day streaks to encourage daily activity.

Source: CNBC

Users in the U.S. can download the free app, add in their height, weight, age, and health goals, and begin logging in what they eat. In their statement announcing the program, WW explained that Kurbo uses the “Traffic Light System” to guide adolescents towards healthy food choices. 

“Kids and teens are encouraged to eat more of the healthy “green light” foods (such as fruits and veggies), be mindful of portions of “yellow light” foods (such as lean protein, whole grains and dairy) and gradually reduce but still include consumption of “red light” foods (such as sugary drinks and treats),” the statement reads. 

Users can also consult with a personal coach through the app for a fee, starting at $69 a month. This gives them access to 15-minute video chat sessions with Kurbo coaches every week. 

Prices of Kurbo coaching listed on their website.

Kurbo says their coaches are “specially-trained, Kurbo-certified and come from a diverse range of professional backgrounds including counseling, fitness and nutrition-related fields.” 

The company also claims that its mission is to help kids build long-lasting healthy habits. 

“According to recent reports from the World Health Organization, childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. This is a global public health crisis that needs to be addressed at scale,” Joanna Strober, co-founder of Kurbo, said in a statement released by WW. 

“As a mom whose son struggled with his weight at a young age, I can personally attest to the importance and significance of having a solution like Kurbo by WW, which is inherently designed to be simple, fun and effective.”

Concerns Raised 

Fans of WW are supportive of the app, saying they hope the company can transform the lives of children the way it has for so many adults. Others point out that millions of young people struggle with their weight, so it is important to have easily accessible tools to help with weight loss.

About 13.7 million U.S. children between 2-19-year-old are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the CDC uses data based on body mass index (BMI), a measurement based on weight and height that many health professionals have slammed as arbitrary and inaccurate. 

Despite some support, many parents and nutritionists are concerned that Kurbo can create unhealthy relationships with food at a highly impressionable time in a child’s life. In fact, some studies suggest that childhood weight loss efforts can lead to or worsen eating disorders and body image issues. 

Critics have also expressed concerns about specific points on the app, including the success stories section which shows before and after photos of children as young as eight, along with their weight loss totals and testimonials. 

“Looking at before and after pictures of kids who have lost weight is absolutely something that could lead to children to feel horrible about themselves and it really is a form of body shaming,” Keri Glassman, a New York City-based registered dietitian told Good Morning America. 

“They could have created an app for children that promoted healthy eating and healthy lifestyle and good health education and information and help children boost confidence,” she said. “But I feel like the way this app was built is so similar to Weight Watchers, and just geared completely towards weight loss, weight loss, weight loss.”

Others have criticized the goals section on the app, which includes the options: eat healthier, lose weight, make parents happy, get stronger and fitter, have more energy, boost my confidence, or feel better in my clothes. 

Source: CNBC

Kurbo has stressed that the app is meant to be a “family-based-approach,” but many say that working to lose weight to satisfy family members can be damaging and parents handing their child this app can make them feel like something is wrong with them. 

Nutritionists have also criticized the coaches, who they argue are not health-care experts. Based on staff descriptions on the app’s website, the trained experts include people with degrees in economics, tourism management, and communications.

However, WW responded to this with WW’s Chief Scientific Officer Gary Foster telling CNBC: “If we want to live our purpose of making wellness accessible to all and doing it outside an academic medical center, we’re not going to be able to hire pediatricians, dietitians, exercise physiologists and psychologists.”

“What we do well is take science and scale it, measure the impact to make sure we’re living up to our purpose.”

WW was likely expecting some backlash over the app, but still, many are sharing the petition that calls for its removal to spread awareness about the concerns. Holly Stallcup, the woman who started the petition told GMA that she is recovering from an eating disorder herself.

“The story that you are hearing over and over again is all of us who started struggling at the age that this app is targeted for saying it was already bad enough without an app,” she said. 

“If we had had this app in our hands to literally log every bite of food to eat, we know that some of us would have actually died from our diseases because it would have so enabled our unhealthy, mentally ill thinking.”

The petition quickly spread online and has even been shared by Good Place actress Jamella Jamil, a vocal advocate for body positivity.

Christy Harrison, a registered dietitian who specializes in helping people recover from disordered eating, penned an opinion piece in The New York Times warning parents not to let their children use this app, or other similar weight loss programs.

“Our society is unfair and cruel to people who are in larger bodies, so I can empathize with parents who might believe their child needs to lose weight, and with any child who wants to,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, attempts to shrink a child’s body are likely to be both ineffective and harmful to physical and mental health.”

“If we truly want to help children be the healthiest and happiest people they can be, we need to stop putting them on diets of any kind, which are likely to worsen their overall well-being. Instead, we need to start teaching them to trust their own inner wisdom about food. And we need to help them make peace with their bodies, at any size,” she added

See what others are saying: (Time) (CNBC) (Good Morning America)


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Walmart Removes “Violent” Displays Including Video Game Demos From Stores

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  • Walmart employees were given a memo instructing them to remove all signs and demos for “violent” video games, as well as turn off any movies or videos depicting violence.
  • Walmart, which is one of the largest gun sellers in the U.S., has come under renewed fire for continuing firearm sales after two recent shootings at their stores.
  • On Wednesday, dozens of Walmart employees in San Bruno, California staged a walkout to protest the company’s gun sales.
  • Walmart has said it will not change its policies around the sale of firearms.

Walmart Memo 

Walmart is instructing its employees to take down displays “referencing violence” following recent fatal shootings in two of their stores.

On Aug. 3, a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 and injuring dozens more. A few days earlier, on July 30, another gunman shot and killed two employees and injured a police officer at a Walmart in Southaven, Mississippi.

Following the shooting, many politicians including President Donald Trump partially blamed violent videogames for the massacres.

Earlier this week, a memo sent to Walmart employees titled “Immediate Action: Remove Signing and Displays Referencing Violence” circulated on social media. Walmart confirmed the authenticity of the letter to USA Today on Thursday.

“We’ve taken this action out of respect for the incidents of the past week, and this action does not reflect a long-term change in our video game assortment,” Walmart spokeswoman Tara House said in a statement to the media.

The memo specifically tells employees to turn off demos of “violent games, specifically PlayStation or Xbox units” and instructs them to cancel promotional events for “combat style or third-person shooter games.” 

It also tells staff to turn off movies that depict violence as well as hunting season videos that are played in sporting goods sections.

Calls for Action & Employee Walkout

The memo does not indicate that Walmart will stop selling any of the products in the displays that employees have been directed to remove.

Critics have since argued that the store should focus less on video games and more on its current gun sale policies Advocacy groups, employees, politicians, and others have called for Walmart to do more to prevent gun violence, including stopping selling firearms altogether.

Walmart is one of the largest firearm and ammunition retailers in the United States. It also allows customers to carry guns in their stores in the cities and states where open carry is legal. 

Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called on Walmart to stop selling guns, writing on Twitter, “The weapons they sell are killing their own customers and employees. No profit is worth those lives.”

Actress and activist Alyssa Milano also implored the store to stop selling guns on Twitter.

Walmart Employees Walkout

Separately, dozens of Walmart employees staged a walkout in San Bruno, California on Wednesday after two employees sent emails and Slack messages to all about 20,000 employees calling for a strike to protest the company’s firearm sales.

The two employees, Thomas Marshall and Kate Kesner, also circulated a Change.org petition, which currently has over 54,000 signatures. 

Marshall told the Washington Post that some Walmart employees are concerned they could face retaliation from the company if they participated in the strike. “People are really afraid for their jobs,” he said. “Walmart has a reputation for silencing dissent.”

Walmart has since disabled both Marshall and Kesner’s company email and Slack accounts. 

Walmart’s Response

Despite public backlash, Walmart for its part has indicated it will not stop selling guns. “There has been no change in company policy,” Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said in an interview earlier this week.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon also addressed the shootings in a statement on his Facebook page. 

“We will work to understand the many important issues that arise from El Paso and Southaven, as well as those that have been raised in the broader national discussion around gun violence,” he wrote.

McMillon did not provide any specific details or plans.

While many are not optimistic, others have noted changes Walmart has made in the past. In 2015, the company stopped selling assault rifles, and following the Parkland shooting in 2018 they raised the minimum gun purchasing age from 18 to 21.

See what others are saying: (VICE) (USA Today) (The Washington Post)

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