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Need to fix an iPhone or Android device? You can now break DRM under new US rules

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It’s now legal for consumers and repair firms to break an electronic device’s DRM protections to repair it, according to a ruling by the US Copyright Office.

The rules are part of newly adopted exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which prohibits circumventing digital rights management (DRM) protections used to safeguard copyrighted works.

Every three years the Copyright Office makes a ruling on petitions for new exemptions or the cancellation of existing ones.

The new ruling, which comes into effect on October 28, affects the legality of owners and professional repairers bypassing access controls on devices for specific purposes, for example, for repairs, jailbreaking, unlocking a device from a carrier’s network, accessibility, and education.

The ruling covers an array of devices, including smartphones, tablets, mobile hotspots, wearables, smart TVs, vehicles — including cars and tractors, as well as smart home appliances like refrigerators, Nest-like devices, and HVAC systems.

See: iOS 11 tips and tricks for business professionals (free PDF)

Specifically, the rules permit circumvention of access-control features to maintain or repair them.

The Copyright Office explains that the repair-related exemptions cover “computer programs that are contained in and control the functioning of a lawfully acquired motorized land vehicle such as a personal automobile, commercial vehicle or mechanized agricultural vehicle, except for programs accessed through a separate subscription service, when circumvention is a necessary step to allow the diagnosis, repair or lawful modification of a vehicle function.”

Security researchers are also exempt from the rules when hacking computer programs, such as electronic voting systems, so long as the activity is carried out in good faith and doesn’t break the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Jailbreaking smartphones was already allowed under existing exemptions, and now this situation has been expanded to include smart speakers, like Google Home and Amazon Echo devices.

While the exemptions will be welcomed by right-to-repair advocates, there are still practical limitations and contradictory elements.

As Motherboard notes, companies have made it hard to acquire the tools needed to fix devices and put in obstacles that make it difficult to bypass manufacturer-made restrictions, even if it’s now legal to bypass them.

For example, the recently discover ‘kill switch’ in MacBook Pros could be used by Apple to brick a device if it were repaired by an unauthorized repair shop.

Also, the Copyright Office, part of the Library of Congress, says it can’t make an exemption on a rule that makes it illegal for anyone to manufacture or supply tools that could be used to break copyright protection systems.

As Cory Doctorow puts it: “You’re allowed to jailbreak your iPhone, but no one is allowed to give you an iPhone jailbreaking tool, and if you make a tool for your own use you can’t share it or even tell people how it works.”

A worker tries to repair an iPhone in a repair store in New York.


Image: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

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Pinterest to test livestreamed events this month with 21 creators – TechCrunch

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Pinterest is expanding into live events. The company is planning to host a three-day virtual event that will feature livestreamed sessions from top creators, including big names like Jonathan Van Ness and Rebecca Minkoff, among others. The virtual event will run inside the Pinterest app from May 24th through May 25th, and will serve as the company’s first public test of directly streaming creator content to its more than 475 million global users.

The rise of the creator economy and a pandemic-fueled demand for virtual events led Pinterest to explore the idea of livestreaming. Last fall, it began testing a “class communities” feature that allowed users to sign up for Zoom classes through Pinterest, while creators used Pinterest’s boards to organize materials, notes and other resources. These communities also included a group chat option and shopping features.

The new livestreamed sessions will operate a bit differently.

For starters, they’re not directing users off-site to Zoom for the sessions. Instead, users will launch the livestreaming experience directly inside Pinterest mobile app and remain there during the sessions. Pinterest users can also comment to interact with the creator during their stream, but there is no longer any shopping functionality, Pinterest tells TechCrunch.

Image Credits: Pinterest

The livestreams allow up to five “guests” and an unlimited number of viewers. Meanwhile, moderators — which may include Pinterest employees, during this test — will help to control the experience. They will also have the ability to remove people from the chat if they do not uphold Pinterest’s Community Standards.

The forthcoming event’s lineup will focus a variety of topics, including food, design, cooking, style and more.

Jonathan Van Ness‘ session will discuss morning rituals and self-care routines. Fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff will teach Pinterest users how to style their summer wardrobe. Others featured during the event include food creators GrossyPelosi and Peter Som, who will showcase favorite recipes; Women’s Health magazine will talk about using vision boards to achieve your goals; Jennifer Alba will show how to communicate the Zodiac through sign language; and Hannah Bronfman will offer ideas for creating an at-home spa night.

In total, Pinterest will feature around 21 creators throughout the three-day event, with around seven different sessions per day. Users will be directed to the live event via a new “Live” tab inside the Pinterest app for iOS and Android, where they can view the schedule and join sessions.

Image Credits: Pinterest

“As a visual platform, people discover billions of ideas on Pinterest every day, and we’re always looking for new ways to help them bring those ideas to life,” says David Temple, Pinterest’s head of Creators.

Temple notes Pinterest has integrated with third-party livestreaming technologies and built its own in-house messaging systems to power live interactions.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to respond to Pinner feedback for more dynamic and timely events as new interests like cooking have emerged for many in quarantine, and trends like beauty, fashion, and home renovation are on all-time highs as we move into a post-pandemic world,” Temple adds.

However, Pinterest isn’t discussing how it views the potential for live events longer-term. For the time being, it’s not offering tools that could woo creators away from other platforms where they can monetize their fans through features like donations, tips, virtual gifts, paid ticketing, subscriptions or brand partnerships via a creator marketplace. Without such options, Pinterest could have a hard time competing for creators’ attention.

Image Credits: Pinterest

Nearly every big tech platform today is making a play for creators, and some are even willing to throw cash at them to win them over. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and Twitter are all building out features that let creators do more than build an audience to monetize through ads or brand deals. Now, fans can send creators money during or after streams, subscribe for exclusive content, pay for access and more, depending on the platform.

New types of creator services are emerging, too, including the audio chat room experience pioneered by Clubhouse (and being cloned by everyone else), as well as dozens of virtual events startups hoping to win the market.

Pinterest’s attraction among such heavy competition isn’t clear, but the company will use this experiment to learn more about what works for its own community.

Pinterest tested its livestreaming technology with employees a few weeks ago, but this will be the first time the feature will be available to the public.

While the event lineup can be viewed on the web, the livestreams themselves will only run inside the Pinterest app for iOS and Android starting May 24th.

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Discord announces Stage Discovery, a portal that connects events with communities – TechCrunch

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If you’re new to Discord, you might be thrown off by the lack of an endless feed peppered with ads. On Discord, all of the action happens in interest-specific servers, and the company wants to make it easier for anyone to stumble across and plunge into those communities.

The company launched Stage Channels, its own Clubhouse-like voice event rooms, in late March. With those building blocks in place, in June Discord will start surfacing events (think open mic nights, book clubs, etc.) through a new portal called Stage Discovery, adding a way for anybody to connect with the cool communities in the process.

Discord Product Manager Rick Ling says Stage Channels are a hit so far, and the company realized that events can be a gateway to introduce new users to the communities at the heart of the platform.

“For us, just dropping in and out of these audio conversations is not the end goal,” Ling said during a press event. Soon, servers will be able to list public events, inviting anybody to come check things out. Discord also says that its new discovery feature will launch with some noteworthy partners, hinting that “one rhymes with…… rhymes.” (It’s Grimes.)

Discord has a few other new features around the corner too. Threaded conversations are on the way this summer and the company is about to begin a pilot program to test paid, ticketed audio events. The latter could be a huge boon for creators, who haven’t been able to make money through the platform previously, and an important extra revenue stream for a platform that has no plans to get into the targeted advertising game.

Discord’s next evolution

Stage Discovery is a bit of a departure for Discord. Previously, to check out a live event, you needed to pop into a server first. Because the platform is so community-based, people interested in a topic, say a particular Twitch streamer, often hop directly into those servers from elsewhere.

Discord does have some discovery and search functionality — users can thumb through popular and featured public servers in its Discover tab — but historically it’s been relatively basic. But by expanding the “discovery surface,” Discord is likely to attract a lot of people who either haven’t heard of the app or think it’s just a voice chat utility for gamers.

The new feature will show up in the home tab, offering a directory of live voice events. While that much is Clubhouse-esque, the feature’s real promise is that those events can bring new users into the fold, connecting them to thriving communities that have a lot more going on beyond events. Users will be able to see voice events their friends are hanging, events that servers they belong to are hosting and other live events that they aren’t connected to.

“At the end of the day, this is still really a window into communities and how to join communities,” Discord Product Marketing spokesperson Jesse Wofford told TechCrunch. Wofford emphasized that Discord isn’t trying to lure anybody into an endless scrolling loop — instead the goal is connecting users with the vibrant communities the platform is known for.

Discord grows up

Discord is also celebrating its 6th birthday by sprucing up its brand a little, brightening its color scheme and making a few tweaks to its apparently beloved anthropomorphized little purple controller dude, Clyde. (Discord insists that Clyde is “blurple.”) The company says it wants to keep things playful while making its visual identity “more inclusive and welcoming” to the kind of people who haven’t been using the app for years.

While a big boost to discovery is on the near horizon, Discord’s product philosophy hasn’t changed. “There are no feeds, no likes, no way for anything to go viral,” Discord Founder and CEO Jason Citron said, adding that Discord was designed with community building in mind from day one.

Discord wasn’t always such a welcoming place. The app has always served gamers, but it was also a haven for white supremacists, including the ones who organized the Charlottesville rally that left Heather Heyer dead. In a not-so-distant past life, dangerous far-right extremism thrived on Discord, even as the company largely avoided the bad headlines that slammed more mainstream social platforms for facilitating hate.

Discord rooted out neo-Nazis and other dangerous communities starting in 2017, and by 2021 the company was well-positioned to tell a different story. Now, 15 percent of the company works on its Trust and Safety team, a group dedicated to protecting users and shaping content moderation policies. Discord says it has 150 million monthly active users and most of them are Gen Z 18-24 year olds. The product was built for gamers from the get-go, but Discord has been broadening its horizons recently and started having conversations with users about how it’s helped them fight isolation during the pandemic.

Unlike Instagram’s ad-choked social feed or Twitter’s often brain-melting endless feed, Discord is often a joy to use. And all of that user-friendliness doesn’t appear to be a bait and switch either. Revenue from its Nitro premium product and other paid perks are growing fast and the company has no plans for targeted ads.

Discord’s savvy pandemic-era campaign to broaden Discord’s appeal to non-gaming communities — musicians, study groups, surrealist fantasy baseball leagues — appears to be paying off. Discord’s user numbers are explosive and the company is adding sensible new features at a healthy clip. The outlook is good for the company and its users alike — and what a rare convergence that is.

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TikTok removes 500k+ accounts in Italy after DPA order to block underage users – TechCrunch

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Video sharing social network TikTok has removed more than 500,000 accounts in Italy following an intervention by the country’s data protection watchdog earlier this year ordering it to recheck the age of all Italian users and block access to any under the age of 13.

Between February 9 and April 21 more than 12.5M Italian users were asked to confirm that they are over 13 years old, according to the regulator.

Online age verification remains a hard problem and it’s not clear how many of the removed accounts definitively belonged to under 13s. The regulator said today that TikTok removed over 500k users because they were “likely” to be under the age of 16; around 400,000 because they declared an age under 13 and 140,000 through what the DPA describes as “a combination of moderation and reporting tools” implemented within the app.

TikTok has also agreed to take a series of additional measures to strengthen its ability to detect and block underage users — including potentially developing AI tools to help it identify when children are using the service.

Reached for comment, TikTok sent us a statement confirming that it is trialling “additional measures to help ensure that only users aged 13 or over are able to use TikTok”.

Here’s the statement, which TikTok attributed to Alexandra Evans, its head of child safety in Europe:

“TikTok’s top priority is protecting the privacy and safety of our users, and in particular our younger users. Following continued engagement with the Garante, we will be trialling additional measures to help ensure that only users aged 13 or over are able to use TikTok.

“We already take industry-leading steps to promote youth safety on TikTok such as setting accounts to private by default for users aged under 16 and enabling parents to link their account to their teen’s through Family Pairing. There is no finish line when it comes to safety, and we continue to evaluate and improve our policies, processes and systems, and consult with external experts.”

Italy’s data protection regulator made an emergency intervention in January — ordering TikTok to recheck the age of all users and block any users whose age it could not verify. The action followed reports in local media about a 10-year-old girl from Palermo who died of asphyxiation after participating in a “blackout challenge” on the social network.

Among the beefed up measures TikTok has agreed to take is a commitment to act faster to remove underage users — with the Italian DPA saying the platform has guaranteed it will cancel reported accounts it verifies as belonging to under 13s within 48 hours.

The regulator said TikTok has also committed to “study and develop” solutions — which may include the use of artificial intelligence — to “minimize the risk of children under 13 using the service”.

TikTok has also agree to launch ad campaigns, both in app and through radio and newspapers in Italy, to raise awareness about safe use of the platform and get the message out that it is not suitable for under-12s — including targeting this messaging in a language and format that’s likely to engage underage minors themselves.

The social network has also agreed to share information with the regulator relating to the effectiveness of the various experimental measures — to work with the regulator to identify the best ways of keeping underage users off the service.

The DPA said it will continue to monitor TikTok’s compliance with its commitments.

Prior to the Garante’s action, TikTok’s age verification checks had been widely criticized as trivially easier for kids to circumvent — with children merely needing to input a false birth date that suggested they are older than 13 to circumvent the age gate and access the service.

A wider investigation that the DPA opened into TikTok’s handling and processing of children’s data last year remains ongoing.

The regulator announced it had begun proceedings against the platform in December 2020, following months of investigation, saying then that it believed TikTok was not complying with EU data protection rules which set stringent requirements for processing children’s data.

In January the Garante also called for the European Data Protection Board to set up an EU taskforce to investigate concerns about the risks of children’s use of the platform — highlighting similar concerns being raised by other agencies in Europe and the U.S.

In February the European consumer rights organization, BEUC, also filed a series of complaints against TikTok, including in relation to its handling of kids’ data.

Earlier this year TikTok announced plans to bring in outside experts in the region to help with content moderation and said it would open a ‘transparency’ center in Europe where outside experts could get information on its content, security and privacy policies.

 

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