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Apple Defends Removal of Rival Apps

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  • Apple has removed several apps from its App Store that allowed parents to track and limit their children’s screen time.
  • The New York Times issued a report with complaints from competitor apps who suggested Apple was engaging in anti-competitive behavior.
  • Apple denied this claim and said the removal was because the apps were abusing technology that enables third-party access to sensitive information.

Apple’s Statement

Apple said Sunday that it has removed several parental control apps from its App Store because they put user privacy and security at risk, not because the company wants to stifle competition.

Apple removed apps that they say were abusing a technology called Mobile Device Management (MDM), which gives app developers access to sensitive information. “The information includes things like user location, browsing history, saved images and video, and more,” the company said in a statement on their website.

Apple released its statement in response to a New York Times report published Saturday, which suggested that the company removed the apps for anti-competitive reasons. “Apple has always supported third-party apps on the App Store that help parents manage their kids’ devices.” Apple said.

“Contrary to what The New York Times reported over the weekend, this isn’t a matter of competition. It’s a matter of security. In this app category, and in every category, we are committed to providing a competitive, innovative app ecosystem.”

The company went on to say that it had given the affected apps 30 days to submit updated software that did not violate its policies. It said many of the companies did make changes and were not removed afterward. Those that did not were removed from the App Store.

New York Times Report

On Saturday, the New York Times released a report that included statements from several app makers who complained that Apple had removed their products from the App Store after it launched its own similar tools.

The latest version of Apple’s iOS mobile operating system includes a feature called Screen Time, which allows users to see how much time they spend on their phone. The tool allows for content and privacy restrictions that parent’s often used to control how much time their children can spend on certain apps and websites.

Apple’s Screen Time Tool – Source: Apple

According to the Times, over the past year, Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps. The report also says they have cracked down on several other lesser known apps and in some cases, forced companies to remove features that allowed for parental controls on apps.

Features for time and content restrictions. Source: Apple

The newspaper noted that on Thursday, the apps Kidslox and Qustodio filed a complaint with the European Union’s competition office. The two companies were among the most popular parental-control apps on the market, but Kidslox says business had drastically dropped since Apple forced changes to its app that has made it less useful than Apple’s own Screen Time tool.

Apple is also facing an antitrust complaint in Russian from Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity firm that American security officials say has ties to the Russian government. The firm says Apple removed important features from its parental control app, and in addition to their antitrust complaint in Russia, they are also now exploring a similar complaint in Europe.

Accusations that Apple engages in anti-competitive behavior are not new, nor are they exclusive to the ScreenTime tool. In fact, Spotify and other streaming services have long complained that Apple gives its Apple Music service an unfair advantage over competitors. In March, Spotify filed an antitrust complaint against Apple with the European Union, alleging that Apple is hurting innovation and consumer choice with its Apple “tax” and restrictive rules in its App Store.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Gizmodo) ((CNBC)

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Angled Toilet Designed to Shorten Employees’ Bathroom Breaks Met With Criticism

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  • A British company, StandardToilet, has filed a patent for a toilet fixture designed with a downward-sloping seat. 
  • The product is meant to be uncomfortable to sit on for more than five minutes, in an effort to reduce bathroom breaks and increase employee productivity.
  • StandardToilet also says their product will reduce bathroom lines in public spaces and serve better for people’s health.
  • The company’s idea has been supported by some, but largely slammed by others who claim it promotes an unhealthy expectation of workplace productivity and is inconsiderate to a range of users with differing needs.

A New Type of Toilet

A British startup has developed a toilet designed to be uncomfortable to sit on for longer than five minutes in an effort to increase workplace productivity.

StandardToilet has filed a patent for a toilet fixture with a seating surface sloped forward between 11-13 degrees. The company claims that this design will decrease the time that employees spend taking bathroom breaks, thus allowing them to devote more minutes to work. 

“In modern times, the workplace toilet has become private texting and social media usage space,” StandardToilet says on their website.  

The company estimates that about £16 billion ($20.8 billion) are lost annually to the time that people are spending using the bathroom at work in the U.K. They claim that reducing time spent sitting on the toilet will save about £4 billion of that sum. 

Mahabir Gill, the founder of StandardToilet, told Wired that sitting on the angled fixture for more than five minutes will cause strain on the legs, but “not enough to cause health issues.”

“Anything higher than that would cause wider problems,” Gill said. “Thirteen degrees is not too inconvenient, but you’d soon want to get off the seat quite quickly.”   

StandardToilet says that in addition to increasing employee productivity, their design will shorten bathroom lines in public places such as shopping malls and train stations.

They also claim studies have suggested that flat-surfaced toilets used now can cause medical issues, like swollen haemorrhoids and weakening of pelvic muscles. The company says its product can reduce musculoskeletal disorder “through promoting the engagement of upper leg muscles.”

Response to StandardToilet

While news of the proposed time-saving toilet has been supported by some, like the British Toilet Association (BTA), an organization that campaigns for better toilet facilities, it was also largely met with criticism. Jennifer Kaufmann-Buhler, an assistant professor of design history at Purdue University in Indiana, expressed that the idea is a bit controlling. 

“In an office, the one space you have where you can find privacy is often the toilet,” Kaufmann-Buhler told Wired. “So, god forbid that we want to make the one place where workers should have at least some autonomy – the toilet – another place where people impose the very capitalist idea that people should always be working.”

Kaufmann-Buhler’s sentiment was echoed across Twitter, where people were upset by StandardToilet’s motive.

Others pointed out the discomfort StandardToilet’s design would bring to those with physical disabilities.

The company told HuffPost in an email that the product isn’t designed to take the place of toilets for people with disabilities. StandardToilet’s website also notes that another benefit of the slanted toilet is “reduction in overspill usage of disabled facilities.” 

Nadine Vogel is the CEO of Springboard Consulting, a company that works with other businesses on how to serve workers with disabilities. She noted to HuffPost that there are other kinds of hindrances that might justify more time in the bathroom.

Vogel brought up examples of diabetic people testing their glucose levels or others simply needing a break for their mental health.

 “The fact that the concern is extended employee breaks ― well, what about people that have some kind of mental health situation that actually need that kind of longer break?” Vogel said.

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Guardian) (Wired)

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Pinkwashing: The Dark Side of the Breast Cancer Awareness Industry Explained…

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Chances are you’ve seen a handful of breast cancer awareness campaigns throughout the years from the pink ribbon slapped on NFL footballs to your favorite yogurt brand changing their packing to pink every October, which is breast cancer awareness month. But did you know that there are many pink ribbon products that contain chemicals linked to cancer? 

Breast cancer activists call this phenomenon pinkwashing and it’s been happening for years. Whether it be a carcinogenic chemical found in pink ribbon perfume to pink ribbons found on alcohol, a known risk factor for breast cancer, pinkwashing touches many industries. In this deep dive, we’re going to look at why companies want to pinkwash and why it has changed how people around the world participate in breast cancer awareness campaigns. 

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Pinterest, The Knot, and Brides Will No Longer Promote Plantation Weddings

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  • Pinterest and The Knot, popular sites used for wedding planning, agreed to stop promoting content and venues that romanticize slave plantations. 
  • The decision was made after the civil rights advocacy group Color of Change penned a letter to the companies explaining the pain and insensitivity behind glamorizing properties once used to brutalize people. 
  • Brides magazine has since also agreed to enact a similar policy, though sites like Zola said promoting such content does not violate their discrimination policy.

Criticism of Plantation Weddings 

Two of the biggest internet platforms used for wedding content and planning, Pinterest and The Knot, are changing their policies to stop promoting any wedding content that romanticizes slave plantations. 

Plantation weddings have become very common in the wedding industry, however, they are often criticized for glorifying sites that were once used to enslave and brutalize millions of black people. 

Celebrities like Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds still face criticism for hosting their 2012 wedding at Boone Hall Plantation in South Carolina. In addition to being a popular wedding venue, the property also offers history tours of its original slave cabins.

Other venues have been blasted for using decorative language that critics say minimizes the painful history of the locations. For instance, some properties have been described as “breathtaking” scenes with an “elaborate past,” or were said to have “a touch of southern charm.”

Policy Changes 

The decision to implement policy changes comes at the urging of the civil rights advocacy group Color of Change. The group sent letters to Pinterest and the Knot Worldwide, which owns The Knot and Wedding Wire, asking the companies to stop promoting plantations altogether. 

“The decision to glorify plantations as nostalgic sites of celebration is not an empowering one for the Black women and justice-minded people who use your site,” the letter, reviewed by Buzzfeed News, read. 

“Plantations are physical reminders of one of the most horrific human rights abuses the world has ever seen,” the letter continued. “The wedding industry routinely denies the violent conditions Black people faced under chattel slavery by promoting plantations as romantic places to marry.”

Pinterest responded to the letter with their own announcement, saying, “Weddings should be a symbol of love and unity. Plantations represent none of those things. We are grateful to Color of Change for bringing attention to this disrespectful practice. We are working to limit the distribution of this content and accounts across our platform, and continue to not accept advertisements for them.”

Pinterest has already started moderating and limiting plantation wedding content on its platform that appeared in search recommendations and notifications. It is also working to de-index Google searches for plantation weddings that direct to their site. 

Users call still search “plantation weddings” and similar terms on the site but they will be warned that some of the results may violate the site’s policies.

Source: Pinterest

Meanwhile, the Knot said it was working with Color of Change to prohibit vendors on its sites “from using language that romanticizes or glorifies a history that includes slavery.” Vendors who do not follow that rule will be removed, the company said.

“Color of Change brought an issue to light about the way venues with a history of slavery describe their properties to couples,” the Knot said in a statement. “We’re grateful to Color of Change for bringing this issue to us and for partnering with us to help educate our vendors on how to respectfully market their businesses to all couples.”

The Knot clarified that plantations will still be able to list themselves as venues. Their new guidelines are simply designed to ensure that vendors aren’t using language such as “elegant” or “charming” when referencing history that includes slavery. 

The language policy will apply to all venues listed on the Knot, not just ones that market themselves as plantations. A representative from the Knot told Buzzfeed New,  “You can imagine there could be former plantations that maybe have changed their names to manors or farms.”

The Knot’s new guidelines are expected to be officially released in the next few weeks as they continue to comb through the current vendors listed on their site. 

Color of Change Reached Out to Other Wedding Content Giants 

Along with the Knot and Pinterest, Color of Change also sent letters to Zola, Martha Stewart Weddings, and Brides. The group said they specifically called on these platforms to make a change because millions of couples turn to them for not only wedding inspiration but also information about potential vendors. 

Color of Change also argued that because these wedding planning platforms don’t profit directly from weddings themselves, they might be more motivated to hear their concerns. 

A spokesperson for Color of Change called Pinterest and the Knot’s efforts an “extremely massive step.” Following the news of two platform’s changes, the spokesperson added that Brides also reached out and requested a meeting.

Brides later issued a statement to Bustle saying, “Brides is an inclusive place where everyone can feel celebrated. Content glorifying plantations is not in line with our core values. We have removed these references and are actively working with Color of Change to evolve our guidelines to help ensure all our couples are supported, respected and inspired.”

As for the other platforms, in a statement to BuzzFeed News, Emily Forrest, a communications manager for Zola responded with: “After reviewing this complaint we determined it did not violate our non-discrimination policy. While we may not always agree with couples on all of their wedding details, we also respect their right to choose where and how they want to get married.”

As of now, Martha Stewart Weddings has not responded to the letter. 

See what others are saying: (Buzzfeed News) (The Washington Post) (Bustle)  

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