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Microsoft Takes a Shot at Apple, Says App Stores Should Be More Competitive

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  • Microsoft released a set of 10 app store principles designed to ensure fairness and healthy competition in Windows 10 and the Microsoft Store.
  • While these principles won’t require much change for the company, they are significant because they are aimed at sending a message to Apple, which has been repeatedly criticized for anti-competitive and unfair practices in its app store.
  • This makes Microsoft the largest company to go after the Apple app store, as it joins the likes of Spotify and Epic Games, which are already members of the Coalition For App Fairness. Microsoft’s 10 principles are very similar to principles that the coalition has laid out. 
  • Apple has defended itself, claiming that its app store is fair and competitive, and adding that it created an open marketplace for app developers. 

Microsoft’s New Principles

In an apparent shot at Apple, Microsoft released a set of principles for its app store on Thursday, calling for app stores everywhere to be more competitive and fair. 

“For software developers, app stores have become a critical gateway to some of the world’s most popular digital platforms,” Rima Alaily, Microsoft’s Vice President and Deputy General Counsel wrote in a blog post. “We and others have raised questions and, at times, expressed concerns about app stores on other digital platforms. However, we recognize that we should practice what we preach.”

The post went on to list 10 principles aimed to promote choice, fairness, and innovation on Windows 10 and in the Microsoft store. Those principles include Microsoft not blocking competing app stores on Windows, not blocking an app based on a developer’s business model or how it delivers content, not blocking apps based on the payment system a developer uses for in-app purchases, and giving developers access to information about the interoperability interfaces used on Windows.

These first four principles are designed to preserve freedom of choice and keep competition alive on Windows 10 in third party app stores. Alaily wrote that this offers different pricing options and distribution choices to developers as they distribute their apps across the internet. 

The remaining principles are meant to ensure that developers are all subject to the same standards and prevent Microsoft from favoring itself.  This includes holding developers equally accountable for safety and privacy, not forcing developers to sell anything on their app they do not want to, allowing developers to communicate with their users on business terms, and making sure Microsoft does not use private data to compete with developers. 

These rules will not apply to the Xbox Store. According to Alaily, game consoles are specialised and run on a different ecosystem and business model than PCs or phones. Therefore, these principles would not be practical for Xbox. 

Apple’s Anti-competitive Behavior

These principles will not require massive changes at Microsoft because Windows 10 is already an open platform, but constant references in the blog post to “other app stores” show that these rules are a clear nudge to Apple, which has been repeatedly criticized for anti-competitive behavior on its app store. 

Earlier this week, a House subcommittee released a report accusing Apple and other major tech companies, notably not Microsoft, of abusing monopoly powers and engaging in anti-competitive tactics. When it came to Apple, the report’s findings largely had to do with its app store. The report said that while Apple’s ecosystem has significant benefits for both app developers and customers, the company still functions on an extreme and controlling bias. 

The subcommittee wrote that this control over the app store creates barriers for competition and allows Apple to discriminate against rivals so they can instead promote their own apps.

“Apple also uses its power to exploit app developers through misappropriation of competitively sensitive information and to charge app developers supra-competitive prices within the App Store,” the report said. “Apple has maintained its dominance due to the presence of network effects, high barriers to entry, and high switching costs in the mobile operating system market.”

The report also noted that Apple, along with Google, charges developers a 30% commission on paid apps. While Apple claims this is an industry-standard, according to the report, this standard was actually established by Apple back in 2009.

Coalition For App Fairness

Microsoft is far from the first tech company to go after Apple’s app store practices, but it is the largest. The principles the company laid out borrow from policies laid out by The Coalition for App Fairness, whose members include Spotify, Epic Games, and Match Group. On its website, the coalition says that the tech giant is ruled by anti-competitive practices. 

“Apple uses its control of the iOS operating system to favor itself by controlling the products and features that are available to consumers,” the group says. “Apple requires equipment manufacturers to limit options, forces developers to sell through its App Store, and even steals ideas from competitors.”

The coalition also says that the 30% app tax forces developers to drive up their prices, making it impossible to compete with similar apps made by Apple that can get away with charging much less. Because of this, the group believes Apple is cutting into consumer purchasing power and freedom.

Tensions between tech groups in this coalition and Apple are nothing new. Over the summer, Epic Games slapped Apple with a lawsuit over its app store policies. Epic Games CEO thanked Microsoft for joining efforts to limit their powers. 

“It’s wonderful to see Microsoft formally codify its long-held principles in Windows as an open platform and a fair market for all developers and consumers,” he wrote.

He was not the only one to praise Microsoft. Spotify spokesman Adam Grossberg released a statement in support of the company’s move. 

“By embracing these principles, Microsoft will help create a level playing field for developers both large and small, provide consumers with greater choice, and hopefully encourage other platforms to do the same,” he said.

For its part, Apple has defended its practices within the app store. After the House released their report, the company put out a statement condemning its findings. 

“We have always said that scrutiny is reasonable and appropriate but we vehemently disagree with the conclusions reached in this staff report with respect to Apple,” the statement said. “Our company does not have a dominant market share in any category where we do business.”

“We’ve built the App Store to be a safe and trusted place for users to discover and download apps and a supportive way for developers to create and sell apps globally.”

See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Verge) (The New York Times)

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Robinhood Crypto Trading Crashes Twice as Dogecoin Multiplies in Value, Enraging Users

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  • Robinhood users found themselves unable to buy or sell cryptocurrency Thursday night, an issue reminiscent of the app’s decision to restrict GameStop trades earlier this year.
  • While Robinhood resolved the problem within a matter of hours, it came amid a massive rally on Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that started out as a joke. The app’s crypto services briefly went down again Friday morning as the rally continued.  
  • Robinhood has denied that its crypto trading outages were an intentional effort to drive down Dogecoin prices and instead blamed the outages on “unprecedented demand for Robinhood Crypto services.”
  • By Friday morning, Dogecoin briefly soared to $0.45, more than 400% of the value it had at the beginning of the week and more than 4,500% of the value it had at the beginning of the year.

Robinhood Crashes Amid Dogecoin Rally

The joke cryptocurrency Dogecoin has surged more than 400% this week alone, but around 10 p.m. EST Thursday night, the free-to-trade app Robinhood tweeted that it was “experiencing issues with crypto trading.” In turn, that caused many of the app’s users to find themselves unable to execute trades.

Dogecoin first began to spike Tuesday ahead of the market debut of the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, which raised $86 billion in its first day of trading. That morning, one Dogecoin amounted to about $0.07. By midnight, it had doubled in value. Those gains continued Thursday evening when Dogecoin spiked to around $0.33.

That may not seem like much, but if a person invested $1,000 in Dogecoin when it was selling for around $0.01 at the beginning of the year, by Thursday evening, that person would be sitting on a small fortune of around $33,000 before taxes. 

Robinhood Users Angry Yet Again 

Many Robinhood users found themselves frustrated when they were unable to sell off their existing dogecoins, especially since the cryptocurrency’s value was rapidly falling. 

In fact, within the matter of just over an hour, it had dipped to around $0.25. Using the last example above, that would mean thousands of dollars of missed opportunity.

“Are you going to cover my account?!?” one user asked Robinhood when she found herself unable to sell her dogecoins. “This is a technical error, not my own risk. Ive been trying to execute this transaction for almost two hours! None of my crypto comes up!” 

This is not Robinhood’s only bout with controversy. Earlier this year, the company infamously blocked its users from buying GameStop stock during a frenzy that sent shares from under $20 to nearly $500 at one point; however, Robinhood still allowed users to sell their existing shares — a move that even if it lacked the intention, had the effect of attempting to drive share prices for GameStop down. 

Though CEO Vlad Tenev later argued that the company “had no choice” but to restrict buying, Robinhood’s decision nonetheless sparked the ire of its users and even prompted Congressional investigations.

Many Robinhood users were quick to point that out Thursday when they once again found themselves unable to execute trades. Some even accused the company of more nefarious intentions. 

Service Restored… Until It Went Down Again 

At 11:46 p.m. Thursday night, Robinhood tweeted that crypto trading had been “fully” restored.

“Like others, we were experiencing unprecedented demand for Robinhood Crypto services, which created issues with crypto trading,” the company said. “We’ve resolved the issue and apologize for the inconvenience.

Multiple times since Thursday evening, the company has denied that it intentionally halted crypto trading to affect Dogecoin prices. 

“Unprecedented demand for Robinhood Crypto services created temporary issues with crypto trading,” a Robinhood spokesperson told the New York Post Friday. “That’s it, plain and simple.” 

On Friday morning, Dogecoin went on to spike at a current 52-week high of $0.45; however, it soon dipped back into the mid- to upper-thirty-cent range, where it remained around 3 p.m. EST.

Meanwhile, amid the surging demand, Robinhood experienced yet another crypto outage around 10:30 a.m. EST Friday. Just before 11 a.m., it said that trading had been restored for most customers. 

See what others are saying: (New York Post) (Business Insider) (Coindesk)

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Child Safety Advocates Urge Facebook To Scrap Plans for Instagram Kids

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  • Nearly 100 child safety experts and international organizations sent a letter to Facebook Thursday criticizing its plans to develop an Instagram app for children under 13.
  • Facebook claims the app will offer parental controls and is meant to create a safer space for kids, who are often lying about their age to access the normal version of Instagram.
  • Still, critics point out that children already on Instagram are unlikely to switch to a kids version. Many also cited concerns about screen time, mental health, and privacy, arguing that younger children are not ready for such a platform.
  • U.S. Lawmakers expressed similar concerns earlier this month, saying, “Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation.”

Instagram for Kids

An international group of 35 organizations and 64 experts, coordinated by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, released a letter Thursday urging Facebook to abandon its plans to release an Instagram app for kids under 13-years old.

Plans for Instagram Kids have been public for about a month after Buzzfeed News obtained emails about the app in mid-March. Since then, there have been widespread concerns about how such an app could affect children.

Thursday’s letter argues that a version of Instagram targeting under-13-year-olds raises concerns about privacy, screen time, mental health, self-esteem, and commercial pressure. Stephanie Otway, a spokesperson for Facebook, said the company understands the concerns presented by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“We agree that any experience we develop must prioritize their safety and privacy, and we will consult with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates to inform it,” she said.

“The reality is that kids are online. They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate. We also want to find practical solutions to the ongoing industry problem of kids lying about their age to access apps,” Otway added, noting the reality of how many children interact with age-gated apps.

Unlikely To Stop Children From Joining Regular Instagram

The idea that children would just switch to Instagram Kids received pushback from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. In fact, the group’s executive director, Josh Golin, pointed out that most kids who are currently on Instagram are between 10 and 12-years-old, and they likely wouldn’t migrate over to Instagram Kids because it will be perceived as “babyish and not cool enough.”

The children this will appeal to will be much younger kids,” Golin explained. “So they are not swapping out an unsafe version of Instagram for a safer version. They are creating new demand from a new audience that’s not ready for any type of Instagram product.”

It’s unknown exactly how the app would work, but it would feature content similar to what is allowed in other age-appropriate apps, such as YouTube Kids. One of the few details given out so far is that Instagram Kids will be ad-free and feature parental control options.

Concerns over Instagram Kids has also come from lawmakers. On April 5th Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), alongside Representatives Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressing concerns that “children are a uniquely vulnerable population online, and images of kids are highly sensitive data.”

“Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation.”

See what others are saying: (TechCrunch) (BBC) (NBC News)

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Retail Sales Jump Amid Stimulus Spending, Unemployment Claims Plunge To Pandemic Low

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  • The Commerce Department released a report Thursday recording a 9.8% spike in retail sales for the month of March.
  • That surge was largely driven by stimulus check spending, with restaurant, sporting goods, clothing and accessory, and auto sales all being among the top-performing sectors in retail for the month. 
  • Coupled with that news, the Labor Department reported that 576,000 unemployment claims were filed last month — a pandemic low. 
  • That figure is still significantly higher than the roughly 200,000 weekly unemployment claims filed before the pandemic. 

Retail Sales Spike

U.S. retail sales for the month of March jumped 9.8% from February, according to a Thursday morning report from the Commerce Department.

That spike is largely thanks to the most recent round of stimulus checks from Congress.

March was the best month of retail spending since May of last year, which at the time saw an 18.3% gain following the first wave of stimulus checks.  

Sales in the bar and restaurant industry rose 13.4%, making them among the retail sectors that saw the biggest spikes last month. That’s largely a result of relaxed lockdowns stemming from the country’s current pace of around three million vaccinations a day. Meanwhile, sporting goods spending rose 23.5%, clothing and accessory sales rose 18.3%, and motor vehicle parts and dealer sales rose 15.1%.

“Spending will almost certainly drop back in April as some of the stimulus boost wears off,” wrote Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, “but with the vaccination rollout proceeding at a rapid pace and households finances in strong shape, we expect overall consumption growth to continue rebounding rapidly in the second quarter too.” 

Unemployment Hits Pandemic Low

The retail sales data came around the same time that the Labor Department released this past week’s unemployment figures, which dropped to a new pandemic low of 576,000 claims. 

That’s a massive difference from almost exactly a year ago when 6 million people filed for unemployment in a single week. It’s also a significant decline from the 769,000 people that filed jobless claims last week, especially since some analysts had predicted there would be around 700,000 jobs lost with this week’s report.

That said, unemployment claims are still much higher than the around 200,000 a week that were being filed prior to pandemic closures.

“You’re still not popping champagne corks,”  Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton, said according to The New York Times. “I will breathe again — and breathe easy again — once we get these number[s] back down in the 200,000 range.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (Fox Business)

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