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Fitbit Snapped Up By Google In $2.1 Billion Deal

Google is buying Fitbit for $2.1 billion in cash. Both companies pledged health data won’t be used to sell ads.

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SAN FRANCISCO (United States): Search engine giant Google has announced that it has acquired leading wearable brand Fitbit for $2.1 billion.

Today, we’re announcing that Google has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Fitbit, a leading wearables brand,” said Rick Osterloh, Senior Vice President, Devices & Services, Google.

By working closely with Fitbit’s team of experts, and bringing together the best AI, software and hardware, we can help spur innovation in wearables and build products to benefit even more people around the world,” he added.


Over the years, Google has made progress with partners in this space with Wear OS and Google Fit.

Fitbit has been a true pioneer in the industry and has created engaging products, experiences and a vibrant community of users.

Google aspires to create tools that help people enhance their knowledge, success, health and happiness.



“This goal is closely aligned with Fitbit’s long-time focus on wellness and helping people live healthier, more active lives,” said Google.

Similar to its other products, Google said: “with wearables, we will be transparent about the data we collect“.

We will never sell personal information to anyone. Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads. And we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move or delete their data,” the company said.

Fitbit co-founder and CEO James Park called Google “an ideal partner” to advance Fitbit’s mission.

With Google’s resources and global platform, Fitbit will be able to accelerate innovation in the wearables category, scale faster, and make health even more accessible to everyone. I could not be more excited for what lies ahead,” Park said in a statement.


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DIALOGUE FOR CHANGE

TikTok Underlines Need For Data Protection Bill

India needs to set up a grievance redressal mechanism for all the social media applications.

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TikTok is a new social media trend amongst youngsters. This app showcases self-made videos from anywhere and about everything, from comedy to lip-syncs and cook recipes to personal grooming tips that users create and share to gain likes and followers. In India alone, there has been a record download of about 466.8 million. This quirky and funny app has hooked youngsters around the world.

However, what is worrisome is the lack of understanding about the long-term implications of such social media apps with regard to data protection and national security.

Origin of TikTok:


Zhang Yiming, the founder of TikTok, was a Microsoft engineer and Chinese entrepreneur who first set up a company called ByteDance in 2012 to carry forward his ambition of running a global company. Bytedance was ranked as one of China’s top tech companies in 2018.

Following the launch of ByteDance, Zhang launched a mobile app called Toutiao or Jinri Tautiao ‘today’s headline,’ an artificial intelligence (AI) enabled newsfeed that caters to the likes and dislikes of the users.

In 2016, he developed a video sharing app called Douyin ‘shaking sound’ for the Chinese market. The global equivalent of the same app, called TikTok, was launched in 2017. It has since gained immense popularity. This was soon followed by the acquisition of another video-sharing app based in Shanghai, called Musical.ly.



The idea was to blend “TikTok’s AI-fed streams and monetisation track record with Musical.ly’s product innovation and grasp of users’ needs and tastes in the West.” This simultaneously increased the user base as well as the profit margin for the TikTok App.

TikTok overtook Facebook as the most downloaded social networking application globally in the first quarter of 2019.

In India, both Facebook and Twitter saw a market shrink as Tiktok saw a sharp surge. Tiktok’s reach in India rose from 1.12 per cent in January 2018 to 28 per cent in August this year. Even in terms of monthly active users and amount of time spent per day, Tiktok saw an exponential increase as compared to other social media applications.

Prevalent Concerns:

With more than 200 million active users, the app has found considerable popularity among the Indian youth. This 15-second video-making application is enough to create a star (equivalent of a local celebrity) out of an individual. While all the social media platforms carry a cautionary note stating that they are not directed at children, TikTok’s target audience encompasses preteens and adolescents.

The desperation to get more people to like and follow the video has often led to youngsters attempting dangerous acts, causing serious injuries and even death in many cases.


Over the last one year, at least 27 people are reported to have died while filming TikTok videos and another five for undertaking TikTok challenges.

Additionally, there have been several cases of objectionable content being uploaded which eventually led to banning of TikTok in several countries, including Indonesia, Bangladesh and India.

In April 2019, the app was briefly banned in India on the ground that it was being used as a platform for spreading of obscene and illicit content, and with the primary target consumer being children and young adults. The court ruling had also questioned the impact on mental health that the app was having on the average consumer.

Another concern regarding the app has been that of data collection and censorship. A report by The Guardian revealed that TikTok tends to censor videos on issues that do not please China such as the Tiananmen Square incident, Hong Kong protests and Tibetan independence. This came to light through leaked documents outlining the site’s moderation guidelines. This has led the United States (US) to launch a national security review of TikTok.

The US believes that China is advancing its policy of control and censorship abroad through the app which is against the American value system that promotes free speech and competing ideologies.

The parent company ByteDance has also been accused of possible links with the Chinese Government.

The company has denied these allegations and has reported that the user data of US is stored domestically and the backup data in Singapore. However, with the parent company based in Beijing, TikTok is subjected to the Chinese jurisdiction and laws that often compel the private agencies to share information when needed. This is due in part to the Chinese Government’s deliberate integration of the public and private digital landscape through Article 7 of its National Intelligence Law that requires Chinese citizens and organisations to cooperate with state intelligence work.

This has been further fortified by China’s 2017 Cybersecurity Law. As public policy researchers noted last year, these laws “[entail] strict provisions requiring data to be housed inside China, as well as spot inspections and even black-box security audits.”

Data Protection:

The recent incident of WhatsApp (despite being end-to-end encrypted) being used by the NSO Group, via a spyware, to spy on people has once again brought forth the concerns about data protection.

One often tends to ignore the importance of protecting the personal data voluntarily disseminated on social media apps. With such data becoming a critical resource, the first question to be asked is where is the user data being stored?

Currently, the TikTok data for Indian users is being stored in the third-party data centres located in the US and Singapore. In July 2019, ByteDance proposed setting up a data centre in India itself.


However, no definitive timeline for the proposed plan has been given yet. Moreover, there is no clear indication as to what level the data would still be accessible or what set of security measures would be in place for data protection.

It is important to note that if a company stores Indian data overseas then that data is subjected to that country’s legislation which may or may not be in line with India’s interest. Furthermore, Indian lawmakers and citizens possess even less insight into data security practices of foreign-owned technology practices.

The dearth of information with regard to real-time data collection, storage, levels of access, server locations, and third party partnerships present a national security risk.

According to an article published in Quartz in May 2019, the previous version of TikTok’s privacy policy allowed data on the app to be shared with “any member or affiliate of [its] group in China” before the policy was revised in February 2019 with no clear indication of how much data has been already shared before the revision. Besides, the new privacy policy does not specify whether the user data can be transferred to or accessed from China.

Without a deeper insight and greater transparency regarding storage and handling of data of the Indian users, there could also be concerns regarding possible backdoors or even introduction of security flaws.

TikTok app has been blamed for censoring politically sensitive information with respect to China in the name of content moderation. The same has not been true for other countries. In India, the app has been blamed for aggravating religious and caste-based hatred and political differences in the country.

Although TikTok has community guidelines against hateful or violent content, and a moderation team that flags and removes problematic videos, the extent of their implementation remains far from satisfactory.

Earlier, during the ban in April 2019, it had stated that around 250 people have been employed for the same, that is, 250 people for content moderation in a country with approximately 120 million active users. One can easily do the math and estimate the quality of content moderation.

However, TikTok is not the sole case of a social media app misusing data or fomenting hatred and violence. The same has been true for other apps too. With most of the social media apps originating abroad, it is often difficult for the social media app makers to fully grasp the cultural complexities or sensitivities attached to certain social and political issues in other countries. This is where effective civil rights audit is required to ensure that misinformation or messages likely to incite hatred and violence are not proliferated through these applications.

It is noteworthy that a civil rights audit was undertaken by Facebook in the US in May 2018 pertaining to concerns raised by more than 90 civil rights organisations.

Till date, the company has been putting in place policies that protect against misinformation, identifies hate slogans and symbols connected to white nationalism and separatism, and prevents voter suppression.

Furthermore, with the availability of a variety of user data including data with high commercial value (biometric and behavioural patterns), private companies tend to lobby against strict data protection laws.

With increasing data thefts and applications often becoming tools for spying, there is a dire need for a data protection bill to come into play. India needs to set up a grievance redressal mechanism for all the social media applications available in the country. It is also vital that the privacy rules of apps cater to the sensitivities of its Indian users and have their data centres within the country.

The draft Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 was recently introduced in the Lok Sabha and would now be examined by a joint select committee. The Bill emphasises the need for data localisation and the importance of treating data as a national property. Data is a strategic asset and should be handled with utmost security.

It is important to ensure that customers are secure with respect to their data. Although the draft Bill may not be foolproof at this juncture, nevertheless, a beginning has been made towards having a stronger framework for the protection and security of data.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Originally published by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.inhere.

Kritika Roy

Kritika Roy is Research Analyst at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.

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AGENTS OF CHANGE

The Final Peak? Google CEO Sundar Pichai Named CEO Of Google’s Parent Company Alphabet

An alumnus of Wharton, Stanford and IIT Kharagpur, Pichai was born in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

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SAN FRANSISCO (United States): Google’s India-born Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai will assume the leadership role at its parent firm Alphabet after the internet giant’s co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped down from its active management, making him one of the most powerful corporate leaders of the world.

Page and Brin stepped down as CEO and president, respectively, of Alphabet, the company announced on Tuesday. Pichai, 47, the current CEO of Google and a longtime executive at the company, will take over as CEO of Alphabet in addition to his current role.

Considered as a significant shakeup in the Silicon Valley company, the shuffle comes at a time when Google is facing mounting scrutiny over its size, data privacy practices and potential impact on society.


With Alphabet now well-established, and Google and ‘Other Bets’ operating effectively as independent companies, it’s the natural time to simplify our management structure, the two Google co-founders wrote in a public letter.

We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company,” they said. “And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President. Going forward, Sundar will be the CEO of both Google and Alphabet. He will be the executive responsible and accountable for leading Google, and managing Alphabet’s investment in our portfolio of Other Bets,” said Page and Brin.

The co-founders will continue to serve on Alphabet’s board of directors. “We are deeply committed to Google and Alphabet for the long term, and will remain actively involved as Board members, shareholders and co-founders. In addition, we plan to continue talking with Sundar regularly, especially on topics we’re passionate about!” they wrote.



Page and Brin, who founded the internet giant over two decades ago, took lesser roles in day-to-day operations in the company in 2015 when they turned Google into Alphabet.

In his statement, Pichai made it clear that the transition will not affect the Alphabet structure or the work they do day-to-day.

I will continue to be very focused on Google and the deep work we’re doing to push the boundaries of computing and build a more helpful Google for everyone,” he wrote. “At the same time, I’m excited about Alphabet and its long term focus on tackling big challenges through technology,” he said in his email.

Pichai took over as CEO of Google in 2015 as part of the company’s broader corporate restructuring to create Alphabet.

Prior that, Pichai had held a variety of roles at the company, including overseeing Chrome, product chief of Google and head of the Android operating system. Endorsing the leadership role played by Pichai ever since he was made Google CEO, Page and Sergey said the Indian-American brings humility and a deep passion for technology to their users, partners, and employees every day. “He’s worked closely with us for 15 years, through the formation of Alphabet, as CEO of Google, and a member of the Alphabet Board of Directors.


He shares our confidence in the value of the Alphabet structure, and the ability it provides us to tackle big challenges through technology,” they wrote. “There is no one that we have relied on more since Alphabet was founded, and no better person to lead Google and Alphabet into the future,” they said.

Pichai was born in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. He is an alumnus of Wharton business school, Stanford University and Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur.

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Digital and Technology

Facebook Has Removed 5.4 Billion Fake Accounts This Year

As much as 5% of its monthly user base of nearly 2.5 billion consists of fake accounts, the company said.

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SAN FRANCISCO (United States): Digital media giant Facebook says it has stopped 5.4 billion fake accounts so far this year, in a sign of a persistent battle on social media against manipulation and disinformation.

The company said it removed more than 3.2 billion fake accounts between April and September, compared with more than 1.5 billion during the same period last year. The company also said it removed 11.4 million pieces of hate speech, compared to 5.4 million in the same six-month period in 2018.

As much as 5% of its monthly user base of nearly 2.5 billion consists of fake accounts, the company said, despite advances in technology that have allowed Facebook to catch more fake accounts the moment they are created.


The disclosure highlights the scale of the challenge before Facebook as it prepares for a high-stakes election season in the United States, as well as the 2020 US census.

Analysts and watchdogs are bracing for a wave of fake and misleading content on social media following revelations about election meddling in 2016.

In its latest transparency report, the Internet firm said it has improved its ability to detect and block attempts to create fake and abusive accounts.



The detailed report also showed that government demands for user information hit a new high led by the US.

For the first time, Facebook included Instagram in the report. The company said it made progress in detecting child nudity and sexual exploitation, removing more than 1.2 million pieces of content between April and September.

Instagram spokesperson Stephanie Otway told VOA that Instagram previously had different ways of measuring enforcement on their community standards policies.

“We brought our methodology in line with Facebook and that alignment meant we were able to share metrics for the first time today,” Otway said.

Overall, requests by governments for Facebook user data rose 16 per cent to 128,617 in the first half of this year.


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