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Epic Games’ Ongoing Legal Battle With Apple and Google, Explained

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  • Epic Games, Apple, and Google have been engaging in their own battle royale to see if the tech giants are indeed monopolies.
  • Epic Games claims that both companies, through their associated app stores, restrict what users can access and force fees that amount to an unnecessary tax.
  • Additionally, Epic Games accuses the platforms of forcing this to be the case by not allowing, or heavily restricting, how apps can be accessed outside of the approved play stores.
  • Apple and Google both claim that the stores are for user data safety, and that their pricing models are in-line with industry standards.

Epic Games announced on August 17 that Apple has threatened to block access to developer tools, increasing the stakes of Epic Games’ recent decision to sue Apple.

The situation started last week, when Epic Games, the creator of the popular game Fortnite, was booted off the App Store for not paying Apple its 30% cut on in-App purchases within the Fortnite app. In response, Fortnite released a video that riffed on an old Apple ad and suggested the company was leading society to an Orwellian future.

This video coincided with Epic Games serving Apple an antitrust lawsuit. Almost right after all of this happened, Apple received an unexpected ally; Google. The other tech giant decided to also remove Fortnite from the Google Play story for essentially the same reason, leading Epic Games to file a lawsuit against it as well.

Past Criticisms

For longtime observers of the situation, none of this is particularly surprising. Tim Sweeny, the CEO of Epic Games, has been extremely vocal about his distaste for both Apple and Android. In fact, in response to a June 2020 change to the App Stores policies, he wrote on Twitter, “Here Apple speaks of a level playing field. To me, this means: All iOS developers are free to process payments directly, all users are free to install software from any source.”

However, the largest criticism from the CEO has been about the possible monopolies Apple and Google have with their app distribution platforms, and how that allows them to force developers to pay exuberant fees.

The fees cover 30% of both the purchasing of apps and in-app purchases. Sweeny says that having other app distribution platforms would mean that users could receive a substantial savings. To this effect, Epic Games put out a statement between suing Apple and Google that said, “Epic believes that you have a right to save money thanks to using more efficient, new purchase options. Apple’s rules add a 30% tax on all of your purchases, and they punish game developers like us who offer direct payment options.”

Lawsuit Arguments and Issues

In their various lawsuits, Epic Games lays out the same arguments, saying that the restrictive nature of the app stores means that Google and Apple arguably have monopolies. Yet, in the case of Google, Epic might face the argument that Google Play technically isn’t the only app store or way to get apps on Android.

Other app stores do exist, with the largest competitor being the Galaxy Store for Samsung Devices. Additionally, users can download apps directly from developers, something Epic Games offers on their Fortnite App.

It could be noted that Google Play is such a big platform and so heavily promoted on Android that most users don’t even realize there are other ways to get apps. Additionally, Google gives their store other advantages, like rolling out updates that restrict what type of location data can be accessed by non-Google Play apps, although there hasn’t been any limitations on in-app payments for those apps.

However the arguments against monopolization of the app ecosystem holds more water against Apple. The company’s platforms are a notoriously closed ecosystem, which is why Epic Games had originally focused their criticisms and efforts on Apple.

Easy Fix, Just Concede

For their parts, both Apple and Google have told various outlets that they want to work with Epic Games to have them on their app stores, but neither seem willing to concede on their guidelines, including the 30% cut. For example, Apple told The Verge that “The problem Epic has created for itself is one that can easily be remedied if they submit an update of their app that reverts it to comply with the guidelines they agreed to and which apply to all developers.”

Google largely has the same argument: that these rules are equally enforced on everyone and that Epic Games won’t get an exception. Regarding why the guidelines are even necessary, both companies have similar justifications.

The companies argue that by requiring apps to be on their app stores allows for a safer and cleaner experience for the user, additionally that having the same rules for everyone means that no one can claim they were treated unfairly.

However, that still leaves the elephant in the room and the big issue for everyone involved: the 30% commission, something that Apple and Google aren’t unique in having. Apple commissioned a study that found the 30% price tag is nearly ubiquitous among Apple and its peers. Notably a direct competitor to Epic Games, Steam, also charges 30%.

Notably though, Epic Games only charges a 12% fee for games on its platforms.

Epic Games isn’t alone in their frustration over the imposed prices. One of the biggest app developers out there, Tinder, has been extremely vocal about the issue, while Spotify launched a complaint with the European Commission about the fee.

The EU launched two investigations into the matter and have said:“It appears that Apple obtained a ‘gatekeeper’ role when it comes to the distribution of apps and content to users of Apple’s popular devices. We need to ensure that Apple’s rules do not distort competition in markets where Apple is competing with other app developers, for example with its music streaming service Apple Music or with Apple Books.”

In the U.S., lawmakers have increasingly applied pressure within the last year for both companies to explain the 30% cut.

Apple’s Retort

This situation has culminated in Apple’s threat to restrict Epic Games from accessing Apple Developer Tools. Epic Games claims they were told they until August 28 to fix the issues their apps had with the App Store or face losing their developer tools access.

Apple didn’t just cite the issue of cutting Apple out of their 30% fee. It also said Epic’s update descriptions were too vague. Either way, this could be a massive problem for Epic because without access to the developers tools, they’re barred from working on anything that goes onto the App Store.

Obviously that means no more Fortnite for iOS or Mac users, but that’s hardly the only thing Epic does on the App Store. The biggest casualty will be the Unreal Engine.

Gamers will recognize that name, but it’s one of the most accessible ways for developers to make games, and Epic owns it. The engine is used for more than just video games, but even film and television projects like “The Mandalorian” use it. It’s a mainstay in the entertainment industry.

No access to developer tools means no more updates for the Unreal Engine, and that means developers who rely on the Unreal Engine will be stuck using the same version, or possibly not even allowed to use the Engine at all on iOS and Mac devices.

This has put Epic in a hard spot, and so they went to the courts again. This time they’re asking for an injunction against Apple’s recent move, writing, “Apple’s actions will irreparably damage Epic’s reputation among Fortnite users and be catastrophic for the future of the separate Unreal Engine business.”

The company also added that without an injunction, there would be irreparable harm to itself, the Unreal Engine, and Fortnite.

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (Forbes) (The Verge)

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FDA Recalls 11,000 Ice Cream Containers and Sportsmix Pet Food Products

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  • Over 11,000 cartons of Weis Markets ice cream were recalled after a customer discovered an “intact piece of metal equipment” inside a 48-ounce container of the brand’s Cookies and Cream flavor. 
  • The FDA also expanded a recall of Sportsmix pet food over concerns that the products may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins.
  • So far, more than 70 dogs have died and more than 80 pets have become sick after eating Sportsmix food. The agency recommends taking your pet to a veterinarian if they have eaten the recalled products, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

Metal Pieces in Weis Ice Cream Cause Massive Recall

The Food and Drug Administration announced two major product recalls this week following serious consumer complaints.

The first came Sunday when the agency revealed that over 11,000 cartons of Weis Market ice cream were recalled. “The products may be contaminated with extraneous material, specifically metal filling equipment parts,” the FDA’s statement explained.

At least one customer discovered an “intact piece of metal equipment” inside a 48-ounce container of the brand’s Cookies and Cream flavor.

Those containers were available in 197 Weis Market grocery stores, but they have already been pulled from shelves. The products have a sell-by date of October 21, 2020, and customers who purchased the product can return it for a full refund.

Along with removing 10,869 units of the Cookies and Cream containers, the brand also recalled 502 3-gallon bulk containers of Klein’s Vanilla Dairy Ice Cream.

Those bulk containers were not for retail sale, but were instead sold to one retail establishment in New York and have since been removed.

Sportsmix Recall Follows 70 Pet Deaths, 80 Illnesses

The second major recall came Tuesday when the FDA expanded a recall of Sportmix dog food.

According to the agency, the product may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins – toxins produced by the Aspergillus flavus mold, which can grow on corn and other grains used as ingredients in pet food.

As of Tuesday, more than 70 pets have died and more than 80 have gotten sick after eating Sportsmix pet food. Not all the cases have been officially confirmed as aflatoxin poisoning at this time. This count also may not reflect the total number of pets affected.

For now, the FDA is asking pet owners and veterinary professionals to stop using the impacted Sportsmix products that have an expiration date on or before July 9, 2022, and have “05” in the date or lot code.

More detailed information about the recalled products can be found on the FDA’s announcement page.

Pets experiencing aflatoxin poisoning may have symptoms like sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice, and/or diarrhea. In some cases, this toxicity can cause long-term liver issues without showing any symptoms. Because of this, pet owners are being advised to take their animals to a veterinarian if they have eaten the recalled products, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

There is currently no evidence that pet owners who have handled the affected food are at risk of aflatoxin poisoning. Still, the FDA recommends that wash your hands after handling pet food.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (USA TODAY) (PEOPLE)

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Signal and Telegram Downloads Surge After WhatsApp Announces It Will Share Data With Facebook

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  • Downloads for Signal and Telegram have skyrocketed in the last week, with the encrypted messaging apps boasting 7.5 million and 9 million new followers, respectively.
  • The growth comes after WhatsApp said it will require almost all users to share personal data with its parent company Facebook.
  • It also comes after Parler’s shutdown and bans against President Trump from Twitter and Facebook, which prompted his supporters to turn specifically to Telegram.

Telegram and Signal See Big Boost

Downloads for the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram have surged in the last week after WhatsApp announced that it will start forcing all users outside the E.U. and U.K. to share personal data with Facebook.

Last week, WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, told users that they must allow Facebook and its subsidiaries to collect their phone numbers, locations, and the phone numbers of their contacts, among other things.

Anyone who does not agree to the new terms by Feb. 8 will lose access to the messaging app. The move prompted many to call for people to delete WhatsApp and start using other services like Signal or Telegram.

Now, it appears those calls to use other encrypted messaging apps have been heard. According to data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower, Signal saw 7.5 million installs globally through the App Store and Google Play from Jan. 6 to Jan. 10 alone, marking a 4,200% increase from the previous week.

Meanwhile, Telegram saw even more downloads. During the same time, it gained 9 million users, up 91% from the previous week. It was also the most downloaded app in the U.S.

WhatsApp responded to the exodus by attempting to clarify its new policy in a statement Monday.

“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way,” the company said. “Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.”

Other Causes of App Growth

Notably, some of the spikes in the Telegram downloads, specifically, also come from many supporters of President Donald Trump flocking to alternative platforms after Parler was shut down and Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook.

Far-right chat room membership on the platform has increased significantly in recent days, NBC News reported. Conversations in pre-existing chatrooms where white supremacist content has already been shared for months has also increased since the pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week.

According to the outlet, many of the president’s supporters have moved their operations to the app in large part because it has very lax community guidelines. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have recently cracked down on groups and users sharing incendiary content, known conspiracy theories, and attempting to organize events that could lead to violence.

There have been several documented instances of Trump supporters now using Telegram channels to discuss planned events and urge acts of direct violence. Per NBC, in one channel named “fascist,” users have called on others to “shoot politicians” and “encourage armed struggle.” A post explaining how to radicalize Trump supporters to become neo-Nazis also made rounds on the “fascist” channel, among others. 

Membership one channel frequently used by members of the Proud Boys has grown by more than 10,000 in recent days, seeming to directly attract users from Parler.

“Now that they forced us off the main platforms it doesn’t mean we go away, it just means we are going to go to places they don’t see,” a user posted in the chatroom, according to NBC.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Business Insider) (CNBC)

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Pornhub Removes All Unverified User Uploads, Taking Down Most of Its Videos

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  • Pornhub is now removing all videos that were not uploaded by verified users.
  • Before the massive purge, the site hosted around 13.5 million videos. As of Monday morning, there were only 2.9 million videos left. 
  • The move is part of a series of sweeping changes the company made days after The New York Times published a shocking op-ed detailing numerous instances of abuse on the site, including nonconsensual uploads of underage girls.
  • Following the article, numerous businesses cut ties with the company, including Mastercard and Visa, which both announced Thursday that they will not process any payments on the site.

Pornhub Purges Videos

Pornhub removed the vast majority of its existing videos Monday, just hours after the company announced that it would take down all existing videos uploaded by non-verified users.

According to reports, before the new move was announced Sunday night, Pornhub hosted about 13.5 million videos, according to the number displayed on the site’s search bar. As of writing, that search bar shows just over 2.9 million videos. 

The decision comes less than a week after the company announced it would only allow video uploads from content partners and members of its Model program.

At the time, Pornhub claimed it made the decision following an independent review launched in April to eliminate illegal content. However, many speculated that it was actually in large part due to an op-ed published in The New York Times just days before. That piece, among other things, found that the site had been hosting videos of young girls uploaded without their consent, including some content where minors were raped or assaulted.

The article prompted a wave of backlash against Pornhub and calls for other businesses to cut ties with the company. On Thursday, both Visa and Mastercard announced that they would stop processing all payments on the site.

“Our investigation over the past several days has confirmed violations of our standards prohibiting unlawful content on their site,” Mastercard said in a statement.

Less than an hour later, Visa tweeted that it would also be suspending payments while it completed its own investigation.

Pornhub Claims It’s Being Targeted

However, in its blogpost announcing the most recent decision, Pornhub claimed that it was being unfairly targeted.

Specifically, the company noted that Facebook’s own transparency report found 84 million instances of child sexual abuse content over the last three years. By contrast, a report by the third-party Internet Watch Foundation found 118 similar instances on Pornhub in the same time period.

Notably, the author of The Times report, Nicholas Krisof, specifically said the Internet Watch Foundation’s findings represented a massive undercount, and that he was able to find hundreds of these kinds of videos on Pornhub in just half an hour.

Still, the site used the disputed numbers to point a finger at others.

“It is clear that Pornhub is being targeted not because of our policies and how we compare to our peers, but because we are an adult content platform,” the statement continued.

“Every piece of Pornhub content is from verified uploaders, a requirement that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter have yet to institute,” the company added. 

However, Pornhub’s implication that it is somehow more responsible because it only let verified users post content is a highly impractical comparison. First of all, Pornhub is a platform created exclusively for porn, content the social media companies the company name-checked explicitly prohibit.

Second of all, and the vast majority of people who use those platforms are not verified, and it would be impossible for a company like Facebook or YouTube to limit content to only verified users without entirely undermining their own purposes.

Verification Concerns

Even beyond that, there are also still questions about Pornhub’s verification process. According to their site, all someone needs to do to become verified is to simply have a Pornhub account with an avatar and then upload a selfie of themselves holding a piece of paper with their username and Pornhub.com written on it.

While the company did tell reporters the process would be made more thorough sometime next year, they did not provide any specific details, prompting questions about exhaustive the verification process will ultimately be.

That question is highly important because, at least per its current policies, the verification process makes it so users are eligible to monetize their videos as part of the ModelHub program.

If the new verification process is still weak or has loopholes, people could easily slip through the cracks and continue to profit. However, on the other side, there are also big concerns among sex-workers that if the process is too limited, they will be able to make money on the platform.

That concern has already been exacerbated by some of the other actions taken since The Times article was published. For example, after Mastercard and Visa made their announcements, numerous sex workers and activists condemned the decision, saying it would seriously hurt how porn performers collect income —  not just on Pornbub, but on other platforms as well. 

“By targeting Pornhub and successfully destroying the ability for independent creators to monetize their content, they have made it easier to remove payment options from smaller platforms too,” model Avalon Fey told Motherboard last week. “This has nothing to do with helping abused victims, and everything to do with hurting online adult entertainers to stop them from creating and sharing adult content.”  

Other performers also expressed similar concerns that the move could spillover to smaller platforms. 

“I am watching to see if my OnlyFans will be their next target and sincerely hoping not,” amateur performer Dylan Thomas also told the outlet.

“Sex workers are scared by this change, despite not having uploaded any illegal content,” Fey continued, “because we have seen these patterns before and have had sites and payment processors permanently and unexpectedly shut down.”

See what others are saying: (Motherboard) (The Verge) (Bloomberg)

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