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Snapchat says it’s getting better at finding illicit drug dealers before users do – TechCrunch

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Snapchat has faced increasing criticism in recent years as the opioid crisis plays out on social media, often with tragic results.

In October, an NBC investigation reported the stories of a number of young people aged 13 to 23 who died after purchasing fentanyl-laced pills on Snapchat. Snapchat parent company Snap responded by committing to improve its ability to detect and remove this kind of content and ushering users who search for drug-related content to an educational harm reduction portal.

Snapchat provided a glimpse at its progress against illicit drug sales on the platform, noting that 88 percent of the drug-related content it finds is now identified proactively by automated systems, with community reporting accounting for the other 12 percent. Snap says this number is up by a third since its October update, indicating that more of this content is being detected up front before being identified by users.

“Since this fall, we have also seen another important indicator of progress: a decline in community-reported content related to drug sales,” Snap wrote in a blog post. “In September, over 23% of drug-related reports from Snapchatters contained content specifically related to sales, and as a result of proactive detection work, we have driven that down to 16% as of this month. This marks a decline of 31% in drug-related reports. We will keep working to get this number as low as possible.”

The company says that it also recently introduced a new safeguard that prevents 13 to 17 year-old users from showing up in its Quick Add user search results unless they have friends in common with the person searching. That precaution is meant to discourage minors from connecting with users they don’t know, in this case to deter online drug transactions.

Snapchat is also adding information from the CDC on the dangers of fentanyl into its “Heads Up” harm reduction portal and partnering with the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), a global nonprofit working to “prevent substance misuse through collaborative community efforts.”

The company works with experts to identify new search terms that sellers use to get around its rules against selling illicit substances. Snapchat calls the work to keep its lexicon of drug sales jargon up to date “a constant, ongoing effort.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration published a warning last month about the dangers of pills purchased online that contain fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is deadlier in much smaller doses than heroin. Because fentanyl increasingly shows up in illicitly purchased drugs, including those purchased online, it can prove fatal to users who believed they were ingesting other substances.

In December, DEA Administrator Anne Milgram called Snapchat and other social media apps “haven[s] for drug traffickers” in a December interview with CBS. “Because drug traffickers are harnessing social media because it is accessible, they’re able to access millions of Americans and it is anonymous and they’re able to sell these fake pills that are not what they say they are,” Milgram said.

While social media platforms dragged their feet about investing in proactive, aggressive content moderation, online drug sales took root. Companies have sealed up some of the more obvious ways to find illicit drugs online (a few years ago it was as simple as searching #painpills on Instagram, for instance) but savvy sellers adapt their practices to get around new rules as they’re made.

The rise of fentanyl is a significant factor exacerbating the American opioid epidemic and the substance’s prevalence in online sales presents unique challenges. In an October hearing on children’s online safety, Snap called the issue the company’s “top priority,” but many lawmakers and families affected by online drug sales remain skeptical that social media companies are taking their role in the opioid crisis seriously.

 

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After buying Bungie, Sony goes all in on live service games – TechCrunch

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After buying Bungie earlier this year, Sony is moving fast to integrate the company’s expertise into its broader vision.

In an investor presentation Thursday, Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan outlined a near future for the company that focuses heavily on continually updated online games inspired by Destiny, Bungie’s long-running hit.

Sony expects to spend 49% of its PlayStation Studios development budget on live service games by the end of the year. By 2025, Sony plans to bump that to 55%, up from just 12% in 2019. By the end of 2025, Sony projects that it will have 12 different live service games of its own, up from just one now.

The company declined to answer questions from TechCrunch about which of its franchises might get the live service treatment, but the presentation cited God of War, Horizon Forbidden West, Spider-Man, The Last of Us and Uncharted in a list of its noteworthy single-player first-party titles. Sony-owned studio Naughty Dog has been hiring for a standalone multiplayer game, so a new game could indeed emerge out of The Last of Us or Uncharted’s virtual worlds.

Bungie is best known for creating the Halo franchise, though most recently the studio has become synonymous with Destiny, a fresh sci-fi series the company developed after leaving Halo with Microsoft. Like Halo, Destiny is a futuristic first-person shooter with precise, satisfying mechanics. But Destiny’s real appeal is Bungie’s impressively seamless online multiplayer experience that brings players into central hubs where they can explore and run missions together, making it more akin to World of Warcraft than a traditional FPS like Call of Duty.

Three years after splitting with Microsoft, Bungie signed onto a 10-year partnership with Activision. The company eventually split with Activision, too, paving the way for Sony to snap it up earlier this year for $3.6 billion. Bungie will remain a standalone game studio on the other side of the deal, à la Naughty Dog.

Just after the Bungie acquisition was made public, Sony CFO Hiroki Totoki confirmed the company’s plan to weave Bungie’s live game service know-how into its broader gaming offerings.

“The strategic significance of this acquisition lies not only in obtaining the highly successful Destiny franchise, as well as major new IP Bungie is currently developing, but also incorporating into the Sony group the expertise and technologies Bungie has developed in the live game services space,” Totoki said.

In bringing Bungie under its wing, Sony is buying a lot of knowledge about how to build online multiplayer games that expand over time, keeping players coming back for more. This kind of experience, usually called a “live service game,” explains how Fortnite is still one of the world’s most popular games years after it first made headlines for luring casual gamers and hardcore streamers alike into its colorful, chaotic world.

It’s also an extremely lucrative business model. Live service games generally have an in-game storefront that invites dedicated players to buy digital goods like character skins and clothing. Those assets cycle in and out, creating scarcity and nudging players to spend real cash to collect them. In a given content season, players in games like Destiny 2 and Fortnite can pay to earn a special set of these cosmetic virtual goods with a “battle pass.”

Some live service games, like Final Fantasy XIV, require players to pay for a monthly subscription to access the most recent content, while others are free to play. Happily, these days, most free-to-play games no longer require a paid subscription through Microsoft or Sony’s own premium subscription services.

Live service games add expansion content over time, and players often pay to access the new stuff, even while the core game remains mostly the same. For game makers, the real allure is maintaining a game that can live and grow over time, raking in revenue for years rather than burning bright and fizzling out a few months postlaunch.

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Twitter investors sue Elon Musk over acquisition shenanigans – TechCrunch

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The world’s richest man isn’t above trying to get a discount, apparently.

In a new lawsuit, Twitter shareholders are suing Elon Musk, alleging that he manipulated the price of the company’s stock for his own benefit in the course of agreeing to buy the company. The lawsuit represents a group of Twitter investors but would allow any shareholders to receive financial compensation.

The suit was filed Wednesday in federal district court for Northern California and argues that Musk intentionally drove down the company’s stock to secure a better deal. “The fair market value of Twitter securities has been adversely affected by Musk’s false statements and wrongful conduct,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit cites Musk’s decision to waive due diligence as a condition of the acquisition and his subsequent suspiciously timed claim that Twitter had misrepresented the number of bots on its platform.

“At the time, Musk was well aware that Twitter had a certain amount of ‘fake accounts’ and accounts controlled by ‘bots’ and had in fact settled a lawsuit based on the fake accounts for millions of dollars,” the complaint states. “Musk had tweeted about that issue at Twitter several times in the past, prior to making his offer to acquire Twitter with full knowledge of the bots.”

The suit alleges, as many people observed at the time, that Musk was likely trying to secure a discount by casting doubt on his commitment and disparaging the company. Since Musk’s initial commitment to purchase the company was announced, tech stocks — including Tesla, which accounts for the vast majority of Musk’s wealth — took a dive.

Following Musk’s comments, Twitter shares also dipped significantly, a phenomenon that the suit alleges is “highly unusual” given the company’s agreed-upon buyout price.

While Musk claimed the deal was on hold, there was no formal mechanism in place that would back up that claim. Even within Twitter, company leaders encouraged employees to proceed as though nothing had changed, noting that there was “no such thing” as casually pausing a binding agreement to buy the company.

The suit also alleges that Musk deliberately delayed filing a disclosure form when his stake in the company exceeded 5%, allowing him to continue to buy shares at a discount. After the form was filed and Musk’s purchases became public knowledge, Twitter stock soared by nearly a third.

“Musk’s disregard for securities laws demonstrates how one can flaunt the law and the tax code to build their wealth at the expense of the other Americans,” the complaint states.

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Instagram is currently down for some users – TechCrunch

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If you’re having problems accessing Instagram today, you’re not alone. The social media giant is currently experiencing some problems, according to reports on third-party web monitoring service Downdetector. The website indicates that issues began at around 12:30 p.m. EDT. NetBlocks, which tracks global internet usage and disruptions, has also noted that Instagram is facing intermittent international service outages.

Reports indicate that users are experiencing various issues with the service, including not being able to log back in after being logged out. Some users also reporting seeing a “Welcome to Instagram” message when logging on as though they have a new account. Others are unable see past a few posts or only seeing posts that were uploaded weeks ago. Some users are also reporting that they’re unable to refresh their home screen and are seeing a “we’re sorry, but something went wrong” notice.

Instagram and its parent company Meta have yet to acknowledge the issues. TechCrunch has reached out to Meta to learn more about the issues and will update this article once we get a response.

This story is developing…

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