- 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.
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.
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.
TikTok Bans Ads for Weight Loss Supplements and Fasting Apps
- TikTok said Wednesday that it will ban advertisements for fasting apps and weight loss supplements. It will also add new restrictions on ads that “promote a harmful and negative body image.”
- Part of its new policies include only allowing viewers ages 18 and up to see ads for “weight management products” and barring ads with irresponsible claims.
- The app is also partnering with the National Eating Disorder Association to connect users with resources directly on the app and will support Weight Stigma Awareness Week (Sept. 28-Oct.2) with information about the topic on its discover page.
- The move comes after months of users noticing increased ads for Intermittent fasting apps and other weight-related products, which many found concerning considering TikTok’s massive young user base.
New Restrictions Announced
TikTok announced some new restrictions for weight loss advertisements on its platform Wednesday in an effort to support body positivity.
“We’re introducing new ad policies that ban ads for fasting apps and weight loss supplements, and increase restrictions on ads that promote a harmful or negative body image,” the company’s Safety Policy Manager, Tara Wadhwa, wrote in a blog post.
“These types of ads do not support the positive, inclusive, and safe experience we strive for on TikTok.”
Wadhwa said the app recognizes the role the internet plays in exacerbating weight stigma and body shaming and wants to do more to make TikTok a safe and comfortable environment for its users.
As far as what those new policies will be, TikTok said:
- Advertisements for weight-management products can now only reach users ages 18 and up.
- Stronger restrictions will be placed on weight loss and implied weight-loss claims.
- Further restrictions will be introduced to limit irresponsible claims made by products that promote weight loss management or control.
- Ads promoting weight loss and weight management products or services cannot promote a negative body image or negative relationship with food.
Concerns for Young Users
Those are some pretty important changes that address ads that have recently become common on the app. Over the last few months, TikTok users have complained about being served ads for products like intermitted fasting apps. That sparked a ton of concerns, especially since TikTok has such a young user base.
According to internal company documents viewed by The New York Times, in July, TikTok classified more than a third of its 49 million daily users in the United States as being 14 years old or younger.
But that’s not all the app is doing to support inclusion and body positivity.
TikTok has also partnered with the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) to connect its users with resources directly on the app.
“We’ll soon begin redirecting searches and hashtags – for terms provided to us by NEDA, or associated with unsafe content we’ve removed from our platform – to the NEDA Helpline, where NEDA can then provide our community with confidential support, tools, and resources,” TikTok explained.
On top of that, the app is also supporting Weight Stigma Awareness Week, which runs from September 28-October 2.
During that time, it will have a dedicated page on it’s discover tab to support NEDA’s #EndWeightHateCampaign in an effort to educate the community about the topic, why it matters, and how users can find support for themselves or others.
In its announcement, TikTok also reminded users that they can always use its existing features to block content, users, and comments that they find disturbing, and report ads that violate its policies.
While some would like to see TikTok do more to combat diet culture on its platform, the move has generally been met with praise, and it puts the app closer in line with policies platforms like Instagram have enacted.
Last year, Instagram started restricting users under the age of 18 from viewing ads promoting weight loss and cosmetic procedures. It also barred posts that make “miraculous” claims about weight loss while also including coupon codes or other commercial elements. Those changes were meant to target products people like the Kardashians and others promoted: flat tummy teas, appetite suppressant lollipops, and other items of that nature.
Ultimately, it seems like TikTok is listening to its users by creating these new policies.
“Though there’s always more work we can do in this critical area, we think these are steps in the right direction,” it said in its blog post. “We continue to look for new ways to support our community and foster a positive environment for everyone on TikTok.”
Charli D’Amelio’s Dunkin’ Partnership Proves Successful
- TikTok’s most-followed creator, Charli D’Amelio, partnered with the coffee chain Dunkin’ to add her go-to order to its menu for a limited time.
- A Dunkin’ official told TMZ that the chain sold hundreds of thousands of her signature drink, “The Charli,” within the first five days of launching. It also set a record for daily users on the Dunkin’ app the first day of the launch after seeing a 57% increase in app downloads.
- Dunkin’ even saw a 20% sales boost for all cold brews that day as well as a 45% surge the following day.
- This collaboration, along with musician Travis Scott’s partnership with McDonald’s, has many interested to see if and how more chains will use big names as marketing tools in the future.
Officials at Dunkin’ have finally given some insight into just how powerful its partnership with 16-year-old Charli D’Amelio has been for the coffee chain.
D’Amelio, of course, is TikTok’s most famous personality, and she recently teamed up with Dunkin’ to get her go-to coffee order on its menu for a limited time. The drink is called “The Charli,” a cold brew with whole milk and three pumps of caramel swirl.
It officially debuted in stores on Sept. 2. As part of the partnership, she also launched a contest with the chain. For that, the company invited her fans to post a picture on Instagram, recreating a memorable moment of Charli and her Dunkin’ drink using the hashtag #CharliXDunkinContest. Then, on Sept. 19, National Dance Day, five lucky winners were selected to join a virtual hang out with Charli.
View this post on Instagram
📣 Calling all Charli D’Amelio x Dunkin’ fans 📣 Want the chance to win a virtual call with the queen of cold brew herself – @charlidamelio? Keep reading… 👀 We’re giving five lucky winners the chance to win a virtual cold brew date with Charli D’Amelio. 🧡 ✨HOW IT WORKS✨ 1️⃣ Post a photo of yourself recreating an iconic Charli x Dunkin’ moment on Instagram 2️⃣ Use hashtag #CharliXDunkinContest and tag us @dunkin . *NO PURCH NEC. Open to 50 US/DC, 13+ (with parental permission if a minor). Ends 9/14/20 Rules: www.DunkinContest.com
It was probably fair to assume that the drink would be a success given Charli’s massive following and influence these days. She’s currently sitting at 88.4 million followers on TikTok alone. and the drink has been spotted all over the app, with fans, friends, and influencers trying it out themselves.
However, Drayton Martin, vice president of brand stewardship at Dunkin’, just confirmed to TMZ that the chain sold hundreds of thousands of the signature drink within the first five days of launch. Dunkin’ also set a record for daily users on its app the day her drink debuted after seeing a 57% increase in app downloads.
Apparently it wasn’t just “The Charli” that saw success. Dunkin’ also saw a 20% sales boost for all cold brews the first day as well as a 45% surge the next day.
Travis Scott’s McDonald’s Deal
These numbers are especially interesting to look at when acknowledging how lucrative Travis Scott’s limited edition collab with McDonald’s has proved to be. His partnership was for a $6 combo that included a Quarter Pounder with bacon and lettuce, fries, BBQ sauce, and a Sprite.
That launched on Sept. 9, and he also sold some exclusive Mcdonald’s themed merch on his website at the time.
Within days of the launch, several McDonald’s locations reported running out of ingredients to make the meals. In a memo sent to employees, McDonald’s said: “We’ve created a program that’s so compelling to our customers that it’s stretching our world-class supply chain; and if demand continues at these levels, more restaurants will break supply.”
Tons of people have been trying to get their hands on this meal. In fact, it even became a trend on TikTok to order it using a range of phrases. According to USA Today, McDonald’s even noted some of the various ways customers have been ordering the meal in their memo to employees. Some were part of marketing and social media materials for it, like the phrase “Say Cactus Jack sent me.”
Other variations include “It’s lit, sick mode,” “The Fornite guy burger,” or “You know why I’m here” which is often followed by customers playing Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode.”
Eventually, McDonald’s said the promotion will continue through Oct. 4 as scheduled. However, starting Sept. 22, customers who want the meal have to order it through the McDonald’s app. So maybe that will intentionally slow sales, or perhaps downloads for that app soar as it did for Dunkin’ with D’Amelio’s help.
Ultimately, both collaborations have shown just how influential big names can be in the fast food and drink world. It’ll be interesting to see if and how chains will continue to use people with massive followings as advertising tools in the future.
Twitter to Investigate Auto-Crop Algorithm After Accusations of Racial Bias
- Twitter users believe they discovered a racial bias in an algorithm the platform uses to automatically select which part of an image it shows in a photo preview.
- Many argued that the auto-cropping tool showed a white bias after testing the theory with photos of Black and white people, cartoon characters, and even dogs.
- However, others who tested the theory generated results that did not support this idea. Regardless, most users admit that these experiments have their limitations and agree that the current results at least show that this is something worth looking into.
- The company released a statement saying it tested its system for bias in the past but admitted it needs to conduct further analysis of it. Online, Twitter employees seemed to welcome the public discourse and the company promised to share its results as well as further actions it may take.
Potential White Bias
Twitter responded to concerns over its automatic cropping algorithm Sunday after users believed they discovered a racial bias in the tool.
In 2018, Twitter began auto-cropping photos in its timeline previews to prevent them from taking up too much space in the main feed and to allow multiple photos to appear in the same tweet. To do this, the company uses several algorithmic tools that focus on the most important part of the picture, like faces or text.
However, users recently began to spot issues with the algorithm. The first person credited for highlighting a potential problem was PhD student Colin Madland. He made his discovery while highlighting a different racial bias he thinks he found on the video-conference company Zoom.
Madland tweeted that when his Black colleague uses a virtual background on Zoom, his head is erased. When he uploaded examples to show this happening to his Black colleague and not himself, he noticed that Twitter was only showing his own face in its preview.
Soon after, others followed up with more targetted experiments. Cryptographic and infrastructure engineer Tony Arcieri, for example, tweeted out two long images with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and Former President Barack Obama.
The two photos have the politicians stacked on top of each other in different orders but with white space in between them. The experiment showed that Twitter would focus on McConnell, no matter what order the photos were stacked in.
Another user found that the algorithm even focused on McConnell when two photos of Obama were present in a single stack.
I wonder what happens if we increase the number of Obamas. pic.twitter.com/sjrlxjTDSb— Jack Philipson (@Jack09philj) September 19, 2020
A similar white preference appeared in examples of Black and white men in suits, Simpsons characters Lenny and Carl, and even black and white dogs.
Examples That Don’t Support White Bias Theory
Others looking into this theory of a white bias found results that did not support the idea.
For example, one user found that photos of Obama were cropped for the preview over photos of Donald Trump.
Still, some researching the trends noted that these experiments do have their limitations and are likely influenced by tons of other factors. Some believe the algorithm recognized high profile figures or considers brightness and contrast, among other photo elements.
Twitter’s Chief Design Officer (CDO), Dantley Davis, even suggested that the choice of cropping sometimes takes brightness of the background into consideration.
However, ohers found examples that rejected that idea. Regardless, all these tests did a lot to convince people that there was something worth looking at here, including Davis, who has been experimenting himself.
He’s not alone in his research. In fact, plenty of other Twitter users have been going to great lengths to track their results as they try to study what is going on.
Twitter Promises to Investigate
On Sunday, a Twitter spokesperson eventually released a statement admitting that the company had work to do.
“Our team did test for bias before shipping the model and did not find evidence of racial or gender bias in our testing,” the company explained.
“But it’s clear from these examples that we’ve got more analysis to do. We’ll continue to share what we learn, what actions we take, and will open source our analysis so others can review and replicate.”
Davis also isn’t the only employee that has appeared to welcome all of this public discourse. The company’s Chief Technology Officer, Parag Argawal tweeted, “This is a very important question. To address it, we did analysis on our model when we shipped it, but needs continuous improvement. Love this public, open, and rigorous test — and eager to learn from this.”