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WhatsApp now lets users encrypt their chat backups in the cloud – TechCrunch

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WhatsApp is beginning to roll out a new feature that will provide its two billion users the option to encrypt their chat history backup in iCloud or Google Drive, patching a major loophole that has been exploited by governments to obtain and review private communication between individuals.

WhatsApp has long encrypted chats between users on its app. But users have had no means to protect the backup of those chats stored in the cloud. (For iPhone users, the chat history is stored in iCloud, and Android users rely on Google Drive.)

It has been widely reported that law enforcement agencies across the globe have been able to access the private communications between suspect individuals on WhatsApp by exploiting this loophole.

WhatsApp, which processes over 100 billion messages a day, is closing that weak link, and tells TechCrunch that it’s providing this new feature to users in every market where the app is operational. The feature is optional, the company said. (It’s not uncommon for companies to withhold privacy features for legal and regulatory reasons. Apple’s new encrypted browsing feature isn’t available to users in certain authoritarian regimes, such as China, Belarus, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines.)

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chief executive of Facebook, noted that WhatsApp is the first global messaging service at this scale to offer end-to-end encrypted messaging and backups. “Proud of the team for continuing to lead on security for your private conversations,” he wrote in a post on his Facebook page.

WhatsApp began testing the feature with a small group of users last month. The company devised a system to enable WhatsApp users on Android and iOS to lock their chat backups with encryption keys. WhatsApp says it will offer users two ways to encrypt their cloud backups.

Users on WhatsApp will see an option to generate a 64-digit encryption key to protect their chat backups in the cloud. Users can store the encryption key offline or in a password manager of their choice, or they can create a password that backs up their encryption key in a cloud-based “backup key vault” that WhatsApp has developed. The cloud-stored encryption key can’t be used without the user’s password, which isn’t known to WhatsApp.

“While end-to-end encrypted messages you send and receive are stored on your device, many people also want a way to back up their chats in case they lose their phone,” the company wrote in a blog post.

The feature can be accessible by navigating to Settings > Chats > Chat Backups > End-to-End Encrypted Backup (WhatsApp)

As we wrote last month, the move to introduce this additional layer of privacy is significant and one that can have far-reaching implications.

Thoughts, governments?

End-to-end encryption remains a thorny topic of discussion as governments across the globe continue to lobby for backdoors. Apple was pressured to not add encryption to iCloud Backups after the FBI complained, according to Reuters, and while Google has offered users the ability to encrypt their data stored in Google Drive, the company reportedly didn’t tell governments before it rolled out the feature.

India, WhatsApp’s biggest market by users, has introduced a new law that requires the company to devise a way to make “traceability” of questionable messages possible. WhatsApp has sued the Indian government over this new mandate, and said such a requirement effectively mandates “a new form of mass surveillance.”

The UK government — which isn’t exactly a fan of encryption — recently asked messaging apps to not use end-to-end encryption for kids’ accounts. Elsewhere in the world, Australia passed controversial laws three years ago that are designed to force tech companies to provide police and security agencies access to encrypted chats.

WhatsApp declined to discuss whether it had consulted about the new feature with lawmakers or government agencies.

Privacy-focused organizations including Electronic Frontier Foundation have lauded WhatsApp’s move.

“This privacy win from Facebook-owned WhatsApp is striking in its contrast to Apple, which has been under fire recently for its plans for on-device scanning of photos that minors send on Messages, as well as of every photo that any Apple user uploads to iCloud. While Apple has paused to consider more feedback on its plans, there’s still no sign that they will include fixing one of its longstanding privacy pitfalls: no effective encryption across iCloud backups,” the organization wrote.

“WhatsApp is raising the bar, and Apple and others should follow suit.”

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Facebook tests a new ‘Professional’ mode for creator profiles – TechCrunch

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Meta (formerly Facebook) today is introducing a new “Professional” mode for user profiles, designed to be used by creators looking to monetize their followings on the social network. The new mode, which is initially available to select creators in the U.S., will present creators with additional money-making opportunities and expanded insights that had been previously only available to Facebook Pages.

Among these will be the ability for creators to participate in the new Reels Play bonus program, where some creators are able to earn up to $35,000 per month based on the views for their short-form video content. However, access to this program, for the time being, is invite-only — meaning Meta will determine which creators qualify to earn bonuses.

While Meta didn’t share what other monetization options will be available in the days ahead, it did note that it will also make professional-level insights available to these creators, which are similar to what Page owners have access to. This includes access to post, audience and profile insights. For example, creators will be able to now see the total number of shares, reactions and comments that their posts have and be able to view their follower growth over time. This allows them to make better, more informed decisions about the content they post and how it resonates with their audience.

Image Credits: Meta

While many creators are already using Facebook profiles instead of Pages to attract fans and followers, Meta warns that others who decide to opt into this new experience will be opening themselves up to being more of a public figure on the social network. That means anyone can follow them and see the public content posted to their feed, but they’ll be able to mark posts as either public or friends-only, as you could otherwise on a private profile.

Meanwhile, creators who are using Facebook Pages will be opted into the new Pages experience instead. This will provide access to a Professional Dashboard that will serve as a central destination for admins to review the Page’s performance and access professional tools and insights, the company notes. Facebook is also testing a two-step composer on Pages. which allows creators to schedule posts and cross-post into a group.

The changes come at a time when Meta is heavily investing in its creator user base, as it sees the potential in a new revenue stream that comes from things like creator subscriptions and virtual tips, aka “Stars” — the latter which it just made available yesterday outside the app stores through a new website where it no longer has to pay commissions to Apple and Google. The company earlier said it was planning to lure in creators with $1 billion in payments, like the Reels bonuses among other things, as the competition for creator talent heats up with TikTik and other top social apps, like YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat and others.

Meta notes that the new Professional mode is still in testing with select creators in the U.S. for now, but will roll out more broadly in the future, including to the EMEA region.

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Reddit to roll out personalized end-of-year recaps with stats about users’ habits – TechCrunch

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Reddit is launching a new personalized Spotify Wrapped-like recap feature for all users tomorrow. The new recaps will include a variety of stats, including a summary of the time you spent on the platform, a look at the content that you interacted with or contributed, topics you engaged with and communities you’ve viewed or joined. Reddit notes that users will be able to hide their username and avatar if they want when sharing the recap across other social media apps.

“In previous years, Reddit Recap focused on aggregated trends across the platform. This year we wanted to add a fun, personalized in-product experience to remind users of their contributions and belonging on the platform,” Reddit said in a statement. “Every Redditor has a unique role to play on Reddit, and so we referenced user browsing and engagement data from January 1st, 2021 to November 30th, 2021 to help shape the stories about how they fit in.”

End-of-year recaps have become increasingly popular thanks to Spotify’s annual Wrapped feature that is widely shared across social media each year. Given its success, it’s no surprise that other companies like Apple, YouTube, Snapchat and now Reddit are looking to mimic the popular feature with their own versions.

In addition to the launch of recaps, Reddit has released data about the most popular themes on the platform in 2021. The company notes that cryptocurrency, gaming, sports, weddings, health and fitness, food and drink, and movies and television were the most popular categories. In terms of cryptocurrency, the top five most-viewed crypto communities this year were r/dogecoin, r/superstonk. r/cryptocurrency, r/amcstock and r/bitcoin. So far this year, Reddit has seen 6.6 million mentions of “crypto” across its platform.

As for gaming, the top five most viewed communities in 2021 were r/genshinimpact, r/leagueoflegends, r/gaming, r/rpclipsgta and r/ffxiv. For the sports category, the top five communities were r/nba, r/soccer, r/nfl, r/squaredcircle and r/mma. In terms of the weddings category, the top five communities were r/weddingplanning, r/engagementrings, r/bridezillas, r/wedding and r/weddingsunder10k.

Regarding health and fitness, the top five communities were r/lifeprotips, r/sports, r/progresspics, r/fitness and r/loseit. As for the food and drink category, the top five were r/food, r/cooking, r/keto, r/kitchenconfidential and r/starbucks. Lastly, the top five communities in the movies and television category were r/movies, r/marvelstudios, r/starwars, r/moviedetails and r/dc_cinematic.

Reddit also revealed that users created 366 million posts in 2021, which is a 19% year-over-year increase. The company has seen 2.3 billion total comments, a 12 percent increase year-over-year and 46 billion total upvotes, a 1% increase year-over-year so far this year.

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Instagram announces plans for parental controls and other safety features ahead of congressional hearing – TechCrunch

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On Wednesday, Instagram head Adam Mosseri is set to testify before the Senate for the first time on the issue of how the app is impacting teens’ mental health, following the recent testimonies from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, which have positioned the company as caring more about profits than user safety. Just ahead of that hearing, Instagram has announced a new set of safety features, including its first set of parental controls.

The changes were introduced through a company blog post, authored by Mosseri.

Not all the features are brand new, and some are smaller expansions on earlier safety features the company already had in the works.

However, the bigger news today is Instagram’s plan to launch its first set of parental control features in March. These features will allow parents and guardians to see how much time teens spend on Instagram and will allow them to set screen time limits. Teens will also be given an option to alert parents if they report someone. These tools are an opt-in experience — teens can choose not to send alerts, and there’s no requirement that teens and parents have to use parental controls.

The parental controls, as described, are also less powerful than those on rival TikTok, where parents can lock children’s accounts into restricted experience, block access to search, as well as control their child’s visibility on the platform and who can view their content, comment or message them. Screen time limits, meanwhile, are already offered by the platforms themselves — that is, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile operating systems offer similar controls. In other words, Instagram isn’t doing much here in terms of innovative parental controls, but notes it will “add more options over time.”

Another new feature was previously announced. Instagram earlier this month launched a test of its new “Take a Break” feature, which allows users to remind themselves to take a break from using the app after either 10, 20 or 30 minutes, depending on their preference. This feature will now officially launch in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Image Credits: Instagram

Unlike on rival TikTok, where videos that push users to get off the app appear in the main feed after a certain amount of time, Instagram’s “Take a Break” feature is opt-in only. The company will begin to suggest to users that they set these reminders, but it will not require they do so. That gives Instagram the appearance of doing something to combat app addiction, without going so far as to actually make “Take a Break” enabled by default for its users, or like TikTok, regularly remind users to get off the app.

Another feature is an expansion of earlier efforts around distancing teens from having contact with adults. Already, Instagram began to default teens’ accounts to private, and restrict target advertising and unwanted adult contact — the latter by using technology to identify “potentially suspicious behavior” from adult users, then preventing them from being able to interact with teens’ accounts. It has also restricted other adult users from being able to contact teens who didn’t already follow them, and sends the teen notifications if the adult is engaging in suspicious behavior, while giving them tools for blocking and reporting.

Now it will expand this set of features to also switch off the ability for adults to tag or mention teens who don’t follow them, and to include their content in Reels Remixes (video content), or Guides. These will be the new default settings, and will roll out next year.

Image Credits: Instagram

Instagram says it will also be stricter about what’s recommended to teens in sections of the app like Search, Explore, Hashtags and Suggested Accounts.

But in describing the action it’s taking, the company seems to have not yet made a hard decision on what will be changed. Instead, Instagram says it’s “exploring” the idea of limiting content in Explore, using a newer set of sensitive content control features launched in July. The company says it’s considering expanding the “Limit Even More” — the strictest setting — to include not just Explore, but also Search, Hashtags, Reels and Suggested Accounts.

Image Credits: Instagram

It also says if it sees people are dwelling on a topic for a while it may nudge them to other topics, but doesn’t share details on this feature, as it’s under development. Presumably, this is meant to address the issues raised about teens who are exploring potentially harmful content, like those that could trigger eating disorders, anxiety or depression. In practice, the feature could also be used to direct users to more profitable content for the app — like posts from influencers who drive traffic to monetizable products, like Instagram Shopping, LIVE videos, Reels and others.

Image Credits: Instagram

Instagram will also roll out tools this January that allow users to bulk delete photos and videos from their account to clean up their digital footprint. The feature will be offered as part of a new hub where users can view and manage their activity on the app.

Image Credits: Instagram

This addition is being positioned as a safety feature, as older users may be able to better understand what it means to share personal content online; and they may have regrets over their older posts. However, a bulk deletion option is really the sort of feature that any content management system (that’s behaving ethically) should offer its users — meaning not just Instagram, but also Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

The company said these are only some of the features it has in development and noted it’s still working on its new solution to verify people’s ages on Instagram using technology.

As always, I’m grateful to the experts and researchers who lend us their expertise in critical areas like child development, teen mental health and online safety,” Mosseri wrote, “and I continue to welcome productive collaboration with lawmakers and policymakers on our shared goal of creating an online world that both benefits and protects many generations to come,” he added. 

In response to Meta’s announcement, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) issued the following statement:

Meta is attempting to shift attention from their mistakes by rolling out parental guides, use timers, and content control features that consumers should have had all along. This is a hollow “product announcement” in the dead of night that will do little to substantively make their products safer for kids and teens. But my colleagues and I see right through what they are doing. We know that Meta and their Silicon Valley allies will continue pushing the envelope out of selfishness and greed until they can no longer do so.

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