The Twitch streamers fighting to keep minority languages alive

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Minority languages are often associated with aging rural communities, thought to have fallen out of use or confined to textbooks. Defined simply as a language spoken by less than half of the population in a country, they adapt with the times like any living language, often due to the efforts of enterprising young people.

Recently, many of these languages have found new life from an unexpected source: video game streamers.

On Twitch, streamers from around the world are showcasing indigenous languages as a form of entertainment and activism. Estimates show that we lose one language every two weeks, and half of our 7,000 languages will be extinct by the end of the century, so preserving these tongues and the cultural identities that go with them is crucial. With its easy access, potential for a huge audience, and creators’ ability to combine hobbies and language promotion, it’s easy to see why young minority language speakers have turned to Twitch.

Many minority language streamers lack an official language tag for their streams, and these creators see their content lost in the miscellany of the “Other” tag, making it hard for other speakers to find, connect with, and enjoy gaming in their own language. Good news arrived for some on May 26th when Twitch announced that it would add over 350 new stream tags, encompassing different ethnic groups and underrepresented communities. The platform was frank about how it has been slow to act on adding the tags users want. However, not all streamers received the opportunity for visibility they’d been hoping for.

Two groups who missed out were Basque and Galician streamers. Basque, which is native to the semi-autonomous Basque Country straddling southwestern France and northern Spain, is one of the oldest languages still spoken and unrelated to any other in the world. Further along the Iberian Peninsula, the Galician language is spoken by around 2.4 million people in a tiny corner of Spain.

Inspired by the success of the #CatalanLoveTwitch campaign, which saw the minority Romance language added as a streaming language tag, a group of Basque streamers launched #3000Twitz last December, a campaign to see their language achieve the same status. Despite a petition, which is by far the most voted in the Twitch User Voice forums and having now surpassed the number of votes the Catalan petition received, Basque streamers are still awaiting a response from the streaming giant.

Iruñe, who streams as arkkuso, is one of the founding members of the campaign. For her, the addition of Basque as a streaming language has broader implications for the survival and visibility of the language. “It is very important that Basque has a presence online and therefore on social networks,” she says. “Nowadays, if you’re not on the internet, you don’t exist. The same will happen very soon with languages.”

Without the help of a tag to identify streamers, Iruñe feels that Twitch has made Basque creators invisible. As a result, the growth of the Basque streaming community has been entirely grassroots, and language activism is part and parcel of her channel. “I believe that at the end of the day, all of us who create content in Basque are [activists],” she says. “For many of us, the relationship we have with our mother tongue is fundamental for us when it comes to enjoying what we do.”

Fellow streamer and native Basque speaker Eneko found himself in a similar situation. “At first, I started streaming without knowing anyone on Twitch. And since there was no Basque language tag, I didn’t know if there were more people or if they were just very difficult to find. I hit a roadblock because I wanted to stream in Basque, but it meant not reaching anyone,” he says. The current camaraderie between Basque streamers and the popular support their campaign enjoys would have seemed like a fantasy when he first started out.

“When you meet people, it is through raids and not by randomly finding someone streaming the type of content you like. There are campaigns calling for double labeling because today, many of us speak several languages, and choosing only one (especially when one is a minority) greatly reduces your ability to reach people. In these circumstances, either you participate in the digital disappearance of your language or you remain visible only to a very small part of Twitch.”

The collective Galician Gamers launched a language tag petition around the same time as their Basque neighbors, with the aim of “promoting the use of Galician, not only as a home life language, but as a language for culture and entertainment as well.” Dubbed “Twitch en Galego” (“Twitch in Galician”), the movement’s social media accounts announce when any Galician-speaking streamer is going live and has exploded from a small group of four or five streamers to having a Discord server with over 200 members with 58 Twitch channels registered.

Given that other less popular language petitions such as Ukrainian have now been added as official streaming languages, Iruñe is understandably frustrated. “We are going to continue creating varied content in Basque, quality content that we want to use to reach more people as we are still a small community. Likewise, we want to create channels of dialogue with Twitch, and for this, we want to work together with the Basque government as well as get Basque streamers who have lots of followers to help us achieve this.”

Adrián, who goes by Dinav in the Galician Gamers team, is equally undeterred. CRTVG, a regional TV network in Galicia, recently created a Twitch channel and invited the Galician Gamers on to discuss their cause. “Though we’ll still act independently, organising events on certain dates to generate movement on the internet and get more people to sign the request, getting the support of Galician public institutions is a path we are open to explore.”

On the other side of the world, a community of streamers of te reo Māori, the indigenous language of New Zealand, is thriving. Despite suffering a decline after the Second World War, it has been enjoying a renaissance due to revitalization efforts in recent years, including national Māori Language Week and Māori immersion schools. According to the 2018 census, 4 percent of the population speaks the language.

Twitch creator Rangiora has lived his whole life through teo reo Māori. Combining his two passions, he streams under the moniker PrideLandz, and it’s only natural that he would do so in his native tongue. “Te reo Māori is what connects me to my culture, my ancestors, my family, my environment, and helps to navigate the world I live in,” he shares. “In the last five years, I noticed I was speaking next to no Māori because I wasn’t surrounded by confident speakers. Streaming in Māori has provided a space where I can practice, share, and learn about the language more often.”

One of the most fascinating aspects of Māori streamers’ content is their incorporation of an ancestral language into modern gaming. As he lays waste to beasts on the screen superimposed behind him, Rangiora explains how game titles are translated into te reo Māori. Call of Duty is composed using the name of the Māori god of war, translating as something like “a call to arms in the realm of Tūmatauenga.”

His streams are open to speakers of all levels and even those just interested in learning more about the culture. “I don’t stream entirely in Māori, but I try to share some knowledge such as having Māori word of the week or Māori phrase or saying as something viewers can redeem with their channel points. Hopefully we can inspire more people to speak [the language] because I’m aware that a lot of Māori [people] aren’t confident due to colonization and the suppression in the past. I feel as if people are learning something every time I stream as we try to normalize Māori in this space.”

The community of Māori and Pacific Islander streamers on Twitch have been a huge motivator for Rangiora, so much so that he’s launched a campaign to achieve Partner status on the platform. Spurred on by support from Ngati Gaming, a Discord community of Māori streamers, the ultimate goal is to launch a Māori esports organization.

Multiplayer online gaming has been a lifeline for speakers of regional tongues to stay connected over the course of the pandemic. YnChwarae, meaning “In Play,” is a group of Welsh language streamers. Pre-COVID, they met monthly to livestream games while chatting in Welsh; for the time being, they’ve brought their club online on a weekly basis. “I feel it’s important to be able to express yourself in the language you feel most comfortable. For Welsh as a language to grow quicker, there has to be a space for people to do everything in Welsh and this includes the digital realm,” says Morgan from the group. “Gaming can be an extremely sociable activity and the majority of our streams reflect this.”

Despite a gradually increasing amount Welsh speakers over the last decade, there’s still work to be done in maintaining its survival. “A lot of the crew are not able to use Welsh in their everyday jobs, so streaming with YnChwarae gives them the opportunity to use the language meaningfully doing something they love and not forget it,” Morgan explains. “We are allowing other Welsh speakers to access Welsh language content on Twitch and be a part of our streams through communicating with us in the chat.”

Lacking in the community size of their Welsh counterparts, streamers of other Celtic languages have pioneered the use of their tongue on Twitch. Gwenn, a streamer from Brittany in the northwest of France, is the only person on Twitch who regularly streams in Breton, the traditional language of the region. As a severely endangered language, Breton faces more challenges than just visibility online. Having lost around 800,000 speakers since 1950, the language is not recognized at a national level by the French state, and so it receives little government support in media or public services.

“I think it is important for Breton to be everywhere Breton speakers are,” Gwenn says. “There are a lot of young Breton speakers, and they use what young people use: Discord, Twitch, TikTok, Instagram… I think it’s a good thing to grow minority language communities on those platforms.”

Like YnChwarae, the interactive aspect of Twitch is a huge draw. Although happy to help learners, Gwenn’s target audience is advanced speakers. “When I stream, the beginners can take their time to write out sentences that I will read and correct, and the people who are fluent are happy with just meeting other Breton-speaking people, which could be already rare in the pre-lockdown world and is even rarer now. That is why I usually stream chill games like GeoGuessr that allow [people] to read the chat and have subjects to talk about.”

Twitch’s addition of new tags is bittersweet. “I think it’s good for the communities that will benefit from those new tags. I wasn’t expecting Twitch to add minority languages, so I’m not really disappointed. I will follow what happens for more active language communities like Basque to see if it is something that can be achievable for Breton before trying to spend energy on this.”

Cluicheamaid, the brainchild of Scottish streamer Robbie, is an award-nominated Scots Gaelic video game streaming series including Fall Guys, Among Us, and Dark Souls III all in the ancient Scottish tongue. Classed as definitely endangered on the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, Robbie’s channel is an opportunity for speakers to use their Gaelic in a world without English subtitles. “Streaming is such a new form of entertainment, and I like giving Gaelic representation on the cutting edge,” he says.

Existing in a linguistic niche has given him a different perspective of what success on Twitch looks like. “There are fewer folk I can get watching my stream in terms of total numbers, but also I am not in competition with thousands of other video game streamers at the same time. I think when you grow up speaking a minoritised language, you have to adjust your expectations of success. Every stream that I get four or five folk all talking Gaelic in the chat feels like a massive win because that is what it is.”

Included in Twitch’s recent launch of new tags is “Scottish,” referring streamers from Scotland as opposed to those speaking Scots Gaelic. Irish, Welsh, and Māori creators found themselves with a new national identifier for their streams. For minority language speakers who fall into these groups, the reaction in terms of linguistic visibility has been ambivalent. “Language tags would be more useful to me than nationality tags,” Robbie says. “My stream will have more in common with Irish-language streamers than most generic ‘Scottish’ streams. So I am hopeful but not expectant that the addition of the new tags is a step towards more easy identification.”

Across the sea in Ireland, Úna-Minh — or yunitex as she is known on Twitch — has brought the Irish national language to an audience of over 2,500 followers. Like Gwenn and Robbie, she is the only person regularly creating content in her language, but the main aim of her bilingual channel isn’t activism. “Ultimately, I’m using it [Irish] as I would in my everyday life, and if that inspires people to become more interested, then that’s a welcome bonus,” she explains.

She has partnered with language-learning app Duolingo to bring a little more Gaeilge to the world through her streams, be that through livestreaming Final Fantasy or painting and sketching. However, she believes that minority language Twitch creators like herself can’t be at the forefront of language revival alone. “Too many times do I see people treating people like me, fluent speakers, like their personal teachers or translators, and it’s not fair. I’m not a teacher, I’m just me. I think it’s important that communities don’t rely on one person ever to be a beacon, they need to work together to keep the language alive.”

With or without formal support from Twitch, those who stream in minority languages are doing the important work of ensuring that their mother tongue is used among young people, outside of the classroom, and within a modern context — the key ingredients for survival.

Aurélie Joubert, assistant professor of Language and Society at the University of Groningen, is all too aware of this. “The problem is that for languages to survive, they need to be considered as equal in their function and their communicative value for their own community. Language planners have realized that if kids nowadays speak more Irish, Breton, or Basque at school, it doesn’t mean that they use it in the playground. The reality is that a language needs to be perceived positively everywhere. This type of modern online interaction attracts the younger generation who needs to see and hear their minority language being used in modern online platforms.”

Across linguistic groups, one thing remains clear: minority language movements on Twitch are grassroots, community-centric, and driven by small gains. Visibility is essential for minority language creators to grow and thrive. “We sometimes see minority languages as not fit for modern technology but if they are not part of it in the first place, they cannot develop the corresponding vocabulary needed for it,” Joubert explains. “Linguists increasingly adopt a holistic approach towards language planning and that includes all modes of interaction, social media, and video gaming. It is a battle to lead on all fronts.”

IRL is a new social network taking on Facebook groups

Do people want an app specifically for discovering events and messaging as a group? That’s the bet behind IRL, a young social network that has been quietly growing over the past year and just attracted an eye-popping amount of money to take on Facebook.

The two-year-old startup is betting that a post-pandemic world will fuel its mission to help people “do more together,” usually by meeting up in real life — you know, IRL. The idea has attracted the deep pockets of the Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank, which is the biggest investor in a new $170 million round of funding that values IRL at roughly $1 billion.

That’s a remarkable amount of money for an app with roughly 12 million monthly users and no revenue. Even still, IRL is finding early traction primarily with people under the age of 18 in the United States, and the app has already facilitated more than 1 billion messages in barely a year. A handful of universities have now let students enter their school emails to gain access to virtual events and group chats.

What a paid IRL group looks like.
Image: IRL

“We’re building Facebook groups and events for the generation that doesn’t use Facebook,” IRL CEO and co-founder Abraham Shafi told The Verge. “There just happens to be no other product really focused on this space for the next generation.”

It’s true that Facebook’s users are getting older — look no further than Instagram preparing an app for kids as a sign that the company is desperate to attract young people. And Shafi is right to identify groups as a critical area in social networking, as people are increasingly moving away from communicating primarily in public feeds to private chats.

IRL is also starting to experiment with allowing groups to charge for access to for things like tutoring or music lessons, though it hasn’t rolled the feature out broadly. Eventually, it also plans to let brands promote events on its main discovery page.

According to Shafi, the goal is to become “a super messaging social network” over time. “We have the opportunity to build WeChat for the rest of the world,” he said in reference to the messaging app that over 1 billion people use in China to do everything from pay bills to hail taxis. “The combination of messaging and events creates the conditions for a platform,” said the venture capitalist Mike Maples, an IRL board member and investor who was also an early backer of Twitter.

For now, the vast majority of IRL’s users are teenagers that live in middle America, but Shafi plans to use SoftBank’s money to help grow in other countries. Besides paying some creators on TikTok to promote their IRL chats early on, the startup hasn’t spent money on marketing. Instead, it’s finding new users in apps where young people are already spending time, like Snapchat, Roblox, and TikTok — the latter of which is also working on a product integration with IRL. (SoftBank’s only other known investment in the social media industry is ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company.)

As part of this fundraiser, IRL is setting up a creator fund that will pay people to organize events in major cities using its app, like an outdoor movie night or a block party. Up to $100,000 in grant money will be earmarked for each city in the application program, which will start in the US this year and move to other countries sometime in 2022. The initiative is application only and IRL hasn’t specified the list of cities yet.

IRL CEO and co-founder Abraham Shafi.

Giving its young audience exposure to group chats with strangers opens up the potential for problems, and IRL will have to contend with moderating its growing network. The startup has already had to battle spam, and it’s just now starting to ramp up hiring for its trust and safety team. It plans to give group moderators adjustable tools for proactively weeding out bad messages through Hive, an automated content moderation platform that Reddit also uses. Group chats that aren’t invite-only will be reviewed by IRL staff before they are promoted on the app’s explore page.

Even with all the money it has raised, IRL faces tough odds against tech giant incumbents. Aside from the audio social app Clubhouse, which has already seen its growth stall as people emerge from pandemic lockdowns, only a small handful of social networks have managed to reach hundreds of millions of people since Snapchat debuted almost a decade ago. Unlike Clubhouse, IRL has yet to crack the top of the App Store’s free downloads chart, according to the research firm Apptopia.

Thanks to its new fundraiser, IRL doesn’t need to make money in the near term, but it certainly needs to prove it can keep growing, according to Shafi. “The pressure is to become a global phenomena as quickly as possible.”


Razer is releasing its Project Hazel mask in limited drops in the fourth quarter of this year

Razer had a few announcements timed for E3 2021, including its new Razer Blade 14 with AMD’s Ryzen 9 processors, and an updated Raptor 27 gaming monitor along with a 130W GaN charger. We weren’t expecting to hear about anything else, but Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan announced that its Project Hazel mask will actually go on sale, starting early in the fourth quarter of this year.

Tan said that Hazel will be released in “drops” exclusively on its website, with the first coming in that fourth quarter timeframe.

A slide from Razer’s E3 2021 presentation announcing the launch plan.
Image: Razer

Alongside that availability announcement, Tan also shared some changes coming to the mask since it was first shown in January. Razer is planning to keep the mask’s transparent design to make it easier to see the wearer’s mouth, but the company will also be adding interior lighting and anti-fog coating on the inside of the mask.

If you want to see what Project Hazel looks like on your face, Razer has an Instagram filter that lets you try it on via augmented reality. (I should note that for some reason, it doesn’t work for me on my iPhone 12 mini.)

We know you’ve been waiting for the Project Hazel smart mask to become a reality – we’re working on it and there’ll be news soon! Meantime, we’ve made our Project Hazel smart mask available as an Instagram AR Filter. Check out how it looks like on you:

— R Λ Z Ξ R (@Razer) April 24, 2021

If you want to be notified of the upcoming drops, sign up on the Project Hazel website.

Correction: The Project Hazel filter on Instagram is not new; it was released in April. We regret the error.


Samsung Galaxy A32 5G review: 5G on a budget

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If you’re looking for a 5G Android phone and want to spend as little as possible, you can stop right here. At $279, the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G is your best bet right now, especially if you’re in the US where such options are scarce. It offers good 5G support (including the all-important C-band!), a huge battery, and four years of security updates. That’s a compelling package for under $300.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. The A32 5G’s screen isn’t great, performance is a little laggy, and though capable, its camera is limited. If you can spend just a bit more, you can get a phone that does better in at least one of these areas. And if you can hold off on your phone purchase for even a few more months, we should see many more very affordable 5G phones on the market to choose from, like the OnePlus N200. But if you don’t have time to wait and can’t spare the extra cash, I can’t find a good reason to talk you out of the A32 5G.

The A32 5G is a big device, housing a 6.5-inch screen and a large 5,000mAh battery.

Samsung Galaxy A32 5G screen, performance, and design

The A32 5G features a big 6.5-inch 720p LCD panel that’s best described as nothing special. Colors look a little flat and washed out, and though it gets bright enough to see in direct sunlight, the screen’s reflective plastic protective panel makes it challenging. It’s also a low resolution to be stretched across such a large screen, so you’ll see a little pixelization if you look close.

The phone uses a MediaTek Dimensity 720 5G processor that compares well with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 690 5G chipset for budget 5G phones, used by OnePlus Nord N10 5G. The Galaxy A32 5G combines the MediaTek processor with 4GB of RAM (decent) and 64GB of storage (skimpy but just enough to get by, and you can throw in a microSD card to expand it), and it performs well enough for its class.

There’s noticeable hiccuping with media-dense pages, brief pauses when diving into a demanding task like starting Google Maps navigation, and noticeable camera shutter lag. For the most part, though, I just didn’t notice slowdowns as I jumped between apps, scrolled through Instagram, and just generally went about using the phone normally. That’s about all I’d ask for from a sub-$300 phone.

The phone’s headline feature, 5G, still isn’t something we’d recommend you run out and buy a new phone to get. But the A32 5G has a couple of features that make it worth your time, even considering that good 5G is still a year or two away in the US. Crucially, the A32 5G has been cleared by the Federal Communications Commission to use C-band frequencies that Verizon and AT&T, in particular, will be utilizing for 5G in the coming years. Not all 5G phones can use C-band, so that’s a big ol’ checkmark in the A32 5G’s favor. There’s no mmWave support here, which is the fastest and scarcest flavor of 5G, but that’s no great loss.

The second factor here is that you can reasonably expect to keep using this phone for enough years to actually see 5G that’s meaningfully better than LTE because Samsung will keep offering security updates for four years. Many budget devices only get about two years of security update support, but the A32 5G’s lengthy lifespan should see it through to the actual 5G age in a few years.

Battery life is one of the A32 5G’s strengths. Its 5,000mAh capacity battery is big indeed, and I had no trouble getting two full days of moderate use out of it. My usage was more battery-friendly than someone else’s might be, with battery optimization on and the bulk of my time spent on Wi-Fi, but even the most power-hungry user would be able to get a full day — if not more — out of the A32 5G.

With a 6.5-inch screen, the A32 5G is a big phone for sure. It’s a little too bulky and awkward-feeling in my hand. What I dislike even more is that it feels slippery to me — the back panel plastic feels hard to get a decent grip on. On one occasion, I set the phone down on a softcover book, and it somehow shimmied itself across the cover and off of a side table when I wasn’t looking. (There’s a happy ending, though: it only fell about a foot into a box filled with hand-me-down baby clothes waiting to be put away, so there’s a good argument for keeping clutter around your house.) Anyway, get a case for it if you buy this phone, and know that if your hands are small, it won’t be very comfortable to use.

There’s a decent-quality 48-megapixel main camera on the A32 5G’s rear panel.

Samsung Galaxy A32 5G camera

There are two cameras of consequence on the A32 5G’s rear panel: a 48-megapixel standard wide and an 8-megapixel ultrawide. There’s a 5-megapixel macro camera that’s not very good and a 2-megapixel depth sensor that may or may not help with portrait mode photos. There’s also a 13-megapixel selfie camera around front.

  • Taken with ultrawide

  • Taken with ultrawide

Considering the phone’s price, the A32 5G’s main camera performs well enough. Like most any other phone, it takes very nice pictures in good lighting. That’s no surprise, even for a budget phone. But it reaches its limits quickly in less-good lighting, like interiors. That’s where optical stabilization or more sophisticated image processing would come in handy, neither of which the A32 5G offers. Instead, you may find some of your photos indoors are a little blurry, and you’ll be very challenged to get a sharp photo of a moving subject in anything less than bright daylight.

The ultrawide camera shows its shortcomings if you look close — there’s some distracting flare in direct sunlight, and some noise visible in shadows of high-contrast scenes. There’s no telephoto lens here, with shortcuts in the camera app to jump to 2x (acceptable), 4x (eh), and 10x (don’t use it) digital zoom.

The Galaxy A32 5G’s generous security support timeline means it’s a phone you can plan to use for the next few years.

It’s tough to say how the Galaxy A32 5G compares to the competition because it doesn’t have much yet. It’s among the least expensive 5G phones you’ll find anywhere. Its closest competition at the moment is the OnePlus Nord N10 5G, which is a little more expensive at $299 but offers some worthwhile hardware upgrades, like a nicer screen, a bit better camera performance, and faster charging. It’s a nicer phone in a lot of ways, but it’s only slated for two years of security updates.

Of course, if you only plan to hold on to your phone for a couple of years, then the N10 5G is worth strongly considering. If that’s the case, then 5G becomes a less important feature, too. If there’s room in your budget, consider the $349 Google Pixel 4A, which will get you a much better camera, cleaner software, and timely updates over the next couple of years, albeit without support for 5G at all. It’s a much smaller device, though. So if a big screen is part of the A32 5G’s appeal, you might want to look at something like the $279 Motorola Moto G Stylus.

If you’d like to avoid the hassle of phone shopping again in two years and you want a future-proof choice that’s easy on the budget, then the Samsung A32 5G will do the trick.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge


House lawmakers introduce five bipartisan bills to unwind tech monopolies

On Friday, House Democrats introduced five new bills meant to chip away at the power of big tech companies, targeting a variety of practices that antitrust advocates say are stifling competition.

These measures are the House Judiciary Committee’s historic, 16-month long investigation into the business tactics of companies like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google. With this new slate of bills, Congress is getting ready to legislate based on the concerns raised by that investigation — and the move could reshape the tech industry as we know it.

“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy. They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers, and put folks out of work,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) said in a statement Friday. “Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure the wealthiest, most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us.”

The package unveiled Friday includes five measures targeting the different ways in which tech companies maintain market dominance. One bill would empower the Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission to break up tech firms by forcing them to sell off parts of their business that could create a conflict of interest — potentially forcing Amazon to carve off house brands like Amazon Basics.

Another bill would bar companies from giving their own services preference over their rivals, like Google boosting its own products in search results over competitors. Yet another bill would block companies like Facebook from buying up nascent competitors like in the 2012 acquisition of Instagram.

The last two bills are less controversial. Last week, the Senate already passed a measure put out by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would boost merger filing fees for large companies, giving antitrust enforcers more money to take on cases. A bill mirroring that legislation was introduced Wednesday. The last bill would force platforms to make the data they collect interoperable in order to make it easier for users to jump from one service to another. Both Republicans and Democrats seem eager to move forward on data portability legislation.

The House’s tech investigation was a bipartisan endeavor, and while both parties agree on many of the probe’s findings, they disagree on some of the solutions. The probe culminated into an over 400-page report from Democratic staff detailing its findings. Rep. Ken Buck (CO), the committee’s top Republican, issued his own report focusing on the ways large platforms allegedly censor conservative speech and encouraging other Republicans to support competition reform as a means of addressing the issue.

It’s unclear how lawmakers plan to move forward on the legislation, but the multi-pronged approach could make it easier to enact some changes over the coming Term. More measured approaches like Klobuchar’s to boost regulatory funding could find broad support in the House.

At least one Republican and one Democrat signed on to each of Friday’s measures. Still it’s unclear if all members support each bill. On Thursday, Axios reported that lobbyists for Rupert Murdoch’s media companies, like Fox Corp. and News Corp., were urging House Republicans to support the measures.

“These companies have maintained monopoly power in the online marketplace by using a variety of anticompetitive behaviors to stifle competition,” Buck said in a statement Friday. “Doing nothing is not an option, we must act now.”


Apple is trying to dominate watch parties, but it needs more help

Apple is bringing one of streaming’s trendiest features to iPhone users with the debut of SharePlay in iOS 15 later this year, allowing FaceTime users to stream music, online videos, and movies together with friends. The move positions FaceTime to compete more directly with platforms like Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and Houseparty, which all offer ways to video chat while watching things as a group. It offers Apple a chance to hook a new generation of users on FaceTime — but the service is still missing some key integrations to make that happen, particularly for the teens most likely to use it.

SharePlay, announced earlier this week and likely arriving in the fall, will allow FaceTime users to share and stream media in real time from an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV. It’s a neat tool for the pandemic era, and it takes inspiration from the watch party modes that many major streaming platforms — including Disney Plus, Hulu, and Prime Video, among others — added themselves in the last year. For services where it’s not supported, like Netflix, there are popular extensions that enable simultaneous streaming and chatting as well.

The goal isn’t to compete with those native platforms, though. After all, you’re still watching Hulu, just in a different space. Instead, the update puts FaceTime square against services like Facebook Messenger that dominate messaging and have already been trying to build out co-watching experiences, but without as robust of a service list as Apple has the ability to line up.

SharePlay particularly makes sense for the next generation of iPhone users, as teens are more inclined to watch videos on their phones. Video-based social media apps like Instagram and TikTok are immensely popular among teens, and an overwhelming majority of teens have access to these apps on their own personal smartphones. Video chatting is hugely popular, too, with a 2015 survey from Pew Research finding that 59 percent of US teens video chatted with their friends.

The introduction of SharePlay also jibes with Apple’s reported plans to make iMessage compete more directly with Facebook-owned WhatsApp by becoming more of a social network. It makes a lot of sense that the company would similarly invest in developments for its video-calling product as well, which is just a couple of taps away.

But if Apple wants SharePlay to be a success among the demographic of consumers most likely to use it, it’ll need to expand the number of apps that support it.

Apple said that at launch, Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, HBO Max, Hulu, MasterClass, Paramount Plus, Pluto TV, TikTok, and Twitch will be supported on SharePlay, which is a somewhat limited grab bag of streaming options. Granted, there’s plenty of time for that list to get longer before iOS 15 officially rolls out to users in the fall. And Apple told The Verge that SharePlay will be available to any streaming app that wants to support it, so we’re likely to see wider adoption down the road.

Some of the best applications of this feature failed to make their way into Apple’s initial slide of supported services, though. Netflix is perhaps the most obvious of these simply on the basis that virtually everyone has a Netflix login, whether they’re actually paying for it or not (at least until the inevitable password crackdown). But YouTube was not mentioned either, and neither company had comment to share about potential support down the line when contacted by The Verge this week. A spokesperson for Peacock, however, told The Verge that SharePlay support was on its “roadmap.”

YouTube, in particular, seems like a huge miss for Apple, especially where teens are concerned. YouTube hosts just about every digital media format imaginable — music, movies, news, personalities, tutorials, live feeds, etc. — but most importantly, it’s free. As video callers tend to skew younger already, apps with highly shareable content like livestreams seem like the best use case for SharePlay outside of live sporting events. That’s particularly true given that for paid services, each participant in a SharePlay streaming session will need a login for the app. After all, if the tool didn’t require credentials and allowed just anyone to drop in a FaceTime stream of content from a paid service, SharePlay would be a piracy nightmare.

But that’s part of what makes the practical application of SharePlay a bit of a puzzler. Streaming the game or a movie premiere could get expensive fast. If your friends are watching NFL coverage on Sling TV, you’ll need a $35 subscription to join in (assuming the content is included in one of the service’s base plans). If you wanted to watch a Premier Access release like Cruella on Disney Plus, you’d need to pay the $8 monthly subscription cost on top of an additional $30 early access ticket fee. (A spokesperson for Disney Plus confirmed to The Verge that SharePlay users still need to pay for access to watch.)

It’s hard to imagine that most users would pay for a service just to be able to FaceTime while they’re watching a title. Then again, based on recent media consumption trends among teens, maybe SharePlay is part of the future of how entertainment is consumed, at least for the younger subset of Apple users.

It makes sense that a company investing heavily in its services offerings would jump on the watch party trend, if not a little late, and it does feel like a natural way for Apple to not only stay relevant but also sell subscriptions and hardware — even if right now, SharePlay alone seems unlikely to balloon numbers for streaming services. Free, social-leaning services and streaming titans are most likely to see success with this feature, and livestreaming apps seem likely to perform best. But they’ll actually have to be on SharePlay for that to work. As it currently stands, many are not.


Facebook plans first smartwatch for next summer with two cameras, heart rate monitor

Facebook is taking a novel approach to its first smartwatch, which the company hasn’t confirmed publicly but currently plans to debut next summer. The device will feature a display with two cameras that can be detached from the wrist for taking pictures and videos that can be shared across Facebook’s suite of apps, including Instagram, The Verge has learned.

A camera on the front of the watch display exists primarily for video calling, while a 1080p, auto-focus camera on the back can be used for capturing footage when detached from the stainless steel frame on the wrist. Facebook is tapping other companies to create accessories for attaching the camera hub to things like backpacks, according to two people familiar with the project, both of whom requested anonymity to speak without Facebook’s permission.

The idea is to encourage owners of the watch to use it in ways that smartphones are used now. It’s part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to build more consumer devices that circumvent Apple and Google, the two dominant mobile phone platform creators that largely control Facebook’s ability to reach people.

The planned device is Facebook’s first stab at releasing hardware specifically for the wrist, opening up another area of competition with Apple at a time when the two tech giants are already at odds on other fronts. Apple has aggressively positioned itself as a protector of privacy by limiting the kinds of data that apps like Facebook can collect, while Facebook has for years been besieged by scandals regarding its handling of user data. That dynamic could create an uphill battle for Facebook to convince people to buy its forthcoming Apple Watch competitor, especially since it plans to also position the watch as a fitness device with a heart rate monitor.

Facebook is working with the top wireless carriers in the US to support LTE connectivity in the watch, meaning it won’t need to be paired with a phone to work, and sell it in their stores, the people familiar with the matter said. The watch will come in white, black, and gold, and Facebook hopes to initially sell volume in the low six figures. That’s a tiny sliver of the overall smartwatch market — Apple sold 34 million watches last year by comparison, according to Counterpoint Research.

In future versions of the watch, Facebook is planning for it to serve as a key input device for its planned augmented reality glasses, which Zuckerberg thinks will one day be as ubiquitous as mobile phones. The company plans to use technology it acquired from CTRL-labs, a startup that has demonstrated armbands capable of controlling a computer through wrist movements.

Facebook aims to release the first version of the watch in the summer of 2022 and is already working on second and third generations for subsequent years. Employees have recently discussed pricing the device at roughly $400, but the price point could change. While it’s unlikely, Facebook could also scrap the watch altogether, as the device has yet to enter mass production or even be given an official name.

Facebook’s track record for making hardware is spotty. Its 2013 phone with HTC was a spectacular flop, and it has yet to disclose sales for its Oculus VR headsets or Portal video chat device for the home. In recent interviews, executives have said that sales for the Oculus Quest 2 headset have surpassed all previous Oculus headsets combined.

Facebook’s interest in building a smartwatch dates back at least a few years. It looked at acquiring Fitbit in 2019 before Google bought the fitness wearable maker. Since then, the social network has spent roughly $1 billion to develop the first version of its watch and has hundreds of people working on the effort, according to one of the people with knowledge of the matter.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment for this story. The Information earlier reported that Facebook was building a smartwatch with health and messaging features, but details about its cameras and other specifics in this story are new.

Using a custom version of Google’s Android operating system, Facebook plans to lean on its suite of apps and external partnerships to create compelling experiences for the watch, which will include a companion app for phones. Even still, Facebook’s wrist wearable resonating with people is far from guaranteed. Smartwatches with cameras on them have so far failed to catch on, and Apple has cornered the high end of the market already.


Is there any way out of Clearview’s facial recognition database?

In March 2020, two months after The New York Times exposed that Clearview AI had scraped billions of images from the internet to create a facial recognition database, Thomas Smith received a dossier encompassing most of his digital life.

Using the recently enacted California Consumer Privacy Act, Smith asked Clearview for what they had on him. The company sent him pictures that spanned moments throughout his adult life: a photo from when he got married and started a blog with his wife, another when he was profiled by his college’s alumni magazine, even a profile photo from a Python coding meetup he had attended a few years ago.

“That’s what really threw me: All the things that I had posted to Facebook and figured, ‘Nobody’s going to ever look for that,’ and here it is all laid out in a database,” Smith told The Verge.

Clearview’s massive surveillance apparatus claims to hold 3 billion photos, accessible to any law enforcement agency with a subscription, and it’s likely you or people you know have been scooped up in the company’s dragnet. It’s known to have scraped sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram, and is able to use profile names and associated images to build a trove of identified and scannable facial images.

Little is known about the accuracy of Clearview’s software, but it appears to be powered by a massive trove of scraped and identified images, drawn from social media profiles and other personal photos on the public internet. That scraping is only possible because social media platforms like Facebook have consolidated immense amounts of personal data on their platforms, and then largely ignored the risks of large-scale data analysis projects like Clearview. It took Facebook until 2018 and the Cambridge Analytica scandal to lock down developer tools that could be used to exploit its users’ data. Even after the extent of Clearview’s scraping came to light, Facebook and other tech platforms’ reactions came largely in the form of strongly worded letters asking Clearview to stop scraping their sites.

But with large platforms unable or unwilling to go further, the average person on the internet is left with a difficult choice. Any new pictures that feature you, whether a simple Instagram shot or a photo tagged on a friend’s Facebook page, are potentially grist for the mill of a globe-spanning facial recognition system. But for many people, hiding our faces from the internet doesn’t feel like an option. These platforms are too deeply embedded in public life, and our faces are too central to who we are. The challenge is finding a way to share photos without submitting to the broader scanning systems — and it’s a challenge with no clear answers.

In some ways, this problem is much older than Clearview AI. The internet was built to facilitate the posting of public information, and social media platforms entrenched this idea; Facebook recruited a billion users between 2009 and 2014, when posting publicly on the internet was its default setting. Others like YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn encourage public posting as a way for users to gain influence, contribute to global conversations, and find work.

Historically, one person’s contribution to this unfathomable amount of graduation pics, vacation group shots, and selfies would have meant safety in numbers. You might see a security camera in a convenience store, but it’s unlikely anyone is actually watching the footage. But this kind of thinking is what Clearview thrives on, as automated facial recognition can now pick through this digital glut on the scale of the entire public internet.

“Even when the world involved a lot of surveillance cameras, there wasn’t a great way to analyze the data,” said Catherine Crump, professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Law. “Facial recognition technology and analytics generally have been so revolutionary because they’ve put an end to privacy by obscurity, or it seems they may soon do that.”

This means that you can’t rely on blending in with the crowd. The only way to stop Clearview from gathering your data is by not allowing it on the public internet in the first place. Facebook makes certain information public, without the option to make it private, like your profile picture and cover photo. Private accounts on Instagram also cannot hide profile pictures. If you’re worried about information being scraped from your Facebook or Instagram account, these are the first images to change. LinkedIn, on the other hand, allows you to limit the visibility of your profile picture to only people you’ve connected with.

Outside of Clearview, facial recognition search engines like PimEyes have become popular tools accessible to anyone on the internet, and other enterprise facial recognition apps like FindFace work with oppressive governments across the world.

Another key component to ensuring the privacy of those around you is to make sure you’re not posting pictures of others without consent. Smith, who requested his data from Clearview, was surprised at how many others had been scooped up in the database by just appearing in photos with him, like his friends and his college adviser.

But since some images on the internet, like those on Facebook and Instagram, simply cannot be hidden, some AI researchers are exploring ways to “cloak” images to evade Clearview’s technology, as well as any other facial recognition technology trawling the open web.

In August 2020, a project called Fawkes released by the University of Chicago’s SAND Lab pitched itself as a potential antidote to Clearview’s pervasive scraping. The software works by subtly altering the parts of an image that facial recognition uses to discern one person from another, while trying to preserve how the image looks to humans. This exploit on an AI system is called an “adversarial attack.”

Fawkes highlights the difficulty of designing technology that tries to hide images or limit the accuracy of facial recognition. Clearview draws on hundreds of millions of identities, so while individual users might be able to get some benefit from using the Windows and Mac app developed by the Fawkes team, the database won’t meaningfully suffer from a few hundred thousand fewer profiles.

Ben Zhao, the University of Chicago professor who oversees the Fawkes project, says that Fawkes works only if people are diligent about cloaking all of their images. It’s a big ask, since users would have to juggle multiple versions of every photo they share.

On the other hand, a social media platform like Facebook could tackle the scale of Clearview by integrating a feature like Fawkes into its photo uploading process, though that would simply shift which company has access to your unadulterated images. Users would then have to trust Facebook to not use that access to now-proprietary data for their own ad targeting or other tracking.

Zhao and other privacy experts agree that adversarial tricks like Fawkes aren’t a silver bullet that will be used to defeat coordinated scraping campaigns, even those for facial recognition databases. Evading Clearview will take more than just one technical fix or privacy checkup nudge on Facebook. Instead, platforms will need to rethink how data is uploaded and maintained online, and which data can be publicly accessed at all. This would mean fewer public photos and fewer opportunities for Clearview to add new identities to its database.

Jennifer King, privacy and data policy fellow at Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, says one approach is for data to be automatically deleted after a certain amount of time. Part of what makes services like Snapchat more private (when set up properly) than Facebook or Instagram is its dedication to short-lived media posted mainly to small, trusted groups of people.

Laws in some states and countries are also starting to catch up with privacy threats online. These laws circumvent platforms like Facebook and instead demand accountability from the companies actually scraping the data. The California Consumer Privacy Act allows residents to ask for a copy of the data that companies like Clearview have on them, and similar provisions exist in the European Union. Some laws mandate that the data must be deleted at the user’s request.

But King notes that just because the data is deleted once doesn’t mean the company can’t simply grab it again.

“It’s not a permanent opt-out,” she said. “I’m concerned that you execute that ‘delete my data’ request on May 31st, and on June 1st, they can go back to collecting your data.”

So if you’re going to lock down your online presence, make sure to change your privacy settings and remove as many images as possible before asking companies to delete your data.

But ultimately, to prevent bad actors like Clearview from obtaining data in the first place, users are at the mercy of social media platforms’ policies. After all, it’s the current state of privacy settings that has allowed a company like Clearview to exist at all.

“There’s a lot you can do to safeguard your data or claw it back, but ultimately, for there to be change here, it needs to happen collectively, through legislation, through litigation, and through people coming together and deciding what privacy should look like,” Smith said. “Even people coming together and saying to Facebook, ‘I need you to protect my data more.’”


How to use a two-factor security key

Two-factor authentication is a good way to add an extra layer of security to online accounts. It requires the use of your smartphone, however, which is not only inconvenient, but can be a problem if your phone is lost or breached. Hardware security keys can offer an additional layer of security to password-protected online accounts and, in turn, your identity. They’re also not hard to install. Here’s how to set them up for your Google account, Facebook, and Twitter.

Security keys can connect to your system using USB-A, USB-C, Lightning, or NFC, and they’re small enough to be carried on a keychain (with the exception of Yubico’s 5C Nano key, which is so small that it’s safest when kept in your computer’s USB port). They use a variety of authentication standards: FIDO2, U2F, smart card, OTP, and OpenPGP 3.

When you insert a security key into your computer or connect one wirelessly, your browser issues a challenge to the key, which includes the domain name of the specific site you are trying to access. The key then cryptographically signs and allows the challenge, logging you in to the service.

Many sites support U2F security keys, including Twitter, Facebook, Google, Instagram, GitHub, Dropbox, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Microsoft account services, Nintendo, Okta, and Reddit. The best thing to do is to check the website of your security key of choice and see which services are supported — for example, here’s a link to the apps supported by YubiKeys.

A setup process is necessary before you can use a security key. After that, securely accessing your online profile on a site is a simple matter of entering your password, inserting the key, and tapping the button.

Keep in mind that you can’t copy, migrate, or save security-key data between keys (even if the keys are the same model). That is by design, so keys can’t be easily duplicated and used elsewhere. If you lose your security key, you can use two-factor authentication on your cellphone or an authenticator app. Then, if you want to use a new key, you will have to go through the process of reauthorizing your accounts all over again.

Which security key should I use?

Several brand choices are available. Yubico, one of the developers of the FIDO U2F authentication standard, sells several different versions. Google sells its own U2F key, called the Titan, which comes in three versions: USB-C, USB-A / NFC, or Bluetooth / NFC / USB. Other U2F keys include Kensington’s USB-A fingerprint-supporting key, and the Thetis USB-A key.

For this how-to, we used the YubiKey 5C NFC security key, which fits into a USB-C port but also works with phones via NFC. The process is pretty similar for all hardware security keys, though.

Pairing a key with your Google account

In order to use a security key with your Google account (or any account), you need to have already set up two-factor authentication.

  • Log in to your Google account, and select your profile icon in the upper-right corner. Then choose “Manage your Google Account.”
  • In the left-hand menu, click on “Security.” Scroll down until you see “Signing in to Google.” Click on the “2-step Verification” link. At this point, you may need to sign in to your account again.

“Signing in to Google” > “2-step Verification.”” data-upload-width=”1422″ src=”” >

Go to “Security” > “Signing in to Google” > “2-step Verification.”

  • Scroll down until you see the “Add more second steps to verify it’s you” heading. Look for the “Security Key” option and click on “Add Security Key.”
  • A pop-up box will list your options, which include devices that have built-in security keys and the option to use an external security key. Select “USB or Bluetooth / External security key.”
  • You’ll see a box telling you to make sure the key is nearby but not plugged in. You’ll also see an option to use only the security key as part of Google’s Advanced Protection Program (which is for users with “high visibility and sensitive information”). Assuming you don’t fall into that category, click “Next.”
  • The next box lets you register your security key. Insert your key into your computer port. Press the button on the key, then click “Allow” once you see the Chrome pop-up asking to read the make and model of your key.
  • Give your key a name.
  • Now you’re set! You can come back to your Google account’s 2FA page to rename or remove your key.

Pairing a key with your Twitter account

  • Log in to your Twitter account and click on “More” in the left-hand column. Select “Settings and privacy” from the menu.
  • Under the “Settings” heading, select “Security and account access” > “Security” > “Two-factor authentication.”
  • You’ll see three choices: “Text message,” “Authentication app,” and “Security key.” Click on “Security key.” You’ll probably be asked for your password at this point.
  • Select “Start.”

Once your security key is registered, you receive a just-in-case backup code (deleted here).

  • Insert your security key into your computer’s port, then press the key’s button.
  • The window should refresh to say, “Security key found.” Type in a name for your key and click “Next.”
  • The window will now read “You’re all set.” It will also give you a single-use backup code to use if you don’t have access to any of your other log-in methods. Copy that code and put it somewhere safe.
  • If you’ve changed your mind and want to remove the security key, go back to the “Two-factor authentication” page and select “Manage security keys.”
  • Click on the name of the key, and then choose “Delete key.” You’ll need to enter your password and verify that you want to delete the key.

Pairing a key with your Facebook account

  • Log in to your Facebook account. Click on the triangle icon on the upper-right corner and select “Settings & Privacy” > “Settings.”
  • Now you’re at “General Account Settings.” Select the “Security and Login” link from the left sidebar.
  • Scroll down until you see the section labeled “Two-Factor Authentication.” Click “Edit” on the “Use two-factor authentication” option. You may be asked for your password.
  • If you don’t have 2FA set up, you’ll be given three choices: “Authentication App,” “Text Message (SMS),” and “Security Key.” It’s recommended that you use an authenticator app as your primary security, but if you prefer, you can just click on “Security Key.”

You can use a security key as your main authentication method.

  • If you do have 2FA set up, then you’ll find the “Security Key” option under “Add a Backup Method.”
  • Either way, you’ll get a pop-up box; click on “Register Security Key.” You’ll be instructed to insert your security key and press its button.
  • And that’s it. If you don’t use 2FA, you’ll now be asked for the security key if you log in from an unrecognized device or browser. If you do, you can use your key if you don’t have access to your authentication app.
  • If you no longer want to use the key, go back to “Two-Factor Authentication,” find “Security Key” under “Your Security Method,” and click on “Manage my keys.”

Instagram chief explains how the service decides what you see

Instagram chief Adam Mosseri shed some light on how the social network decides what you see in a new blog post published on Tuesday. The explanation seems to be meant at least in part to combat persistent rumors that Instagram intentionally hides or disfavors certain posts, which Instagram says isn’t exactly true.

The short answer to how Instagram works is that it’s complicated. Instagram uses “thousands” of signals to determine what you see in your feed, according to Mosseri, and there isn’t just one algorithm that decides what shows up for you. But the company is also committed to better explaining why content is taken down and how the service surfaces posts, he writes. One of the more surprising revelations: most Instagram followers won’t see your posts anyway because “most people look at less than half of their Feed.”

Tuesday’s blog is just the first of a series that “will shed more light on how Instagram’s technology works and how it impacts the experiences that people have across the app,” for example, so it seems we can expect more detailed breakdowns in the future.

In this first blog, Mosseri explained that Instagram uses “a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes, each with its own purpose” to determine what to show you. He then broke down the “signals” Instagram uses to surface something in your feed or in stories. Here are the “most important” signals, “roughly in order of importance:”

Information about the post. These are signals both about how popular a post is – think how many people have liked it – and more mundane information about the content itself, like when it was posted, how long it is if it’s a video, and what location, if any, was attached to it.

Information about the person who posted. This helps us get a sense for how interesting the person might be to you, and includes signals like how many times people have interacted with that person in the past few weeks.

Your activity. This helps us understand what you might be interested in and includes signals such as how many posts you’ve liked.

Your history of interacting with someone. This gives us a sense of how interested you are generally in seeing posts from a particular person. An example is whether or not you comment on each other’s posts.

Instagram will then predict how you might interact with a post, such as commenting or liking it. “The more likely you are to take an action, and the more heavily we weigh that action, the higher up you’ll see the post,” Mosseri said.

Mosseri also addressed how people accuse the service of silencing or “shadowbanning” users and said the company will do a better job of explaining why content is removed. “We’re developing better in-app notifications so people know in the moment why, for instance, their post was taken down, and exploring ways to let people know when what they post goes against our Recommendations Guidelines,” Mosseri said. Instagram will have “more to share soon” on those updates.

The blog post also details the signals the company uses to show you content in the Explore tab and on Reels (Instagram’s TikTok-like video service) — which, notably, primarily show you content from accounts you don’t follow.

Mosseri’s explanation hits as Instagram is kicking off its Creator Week event, designed to help creators build their brands on the platform.


Fortnite season 7 has Superman, flying saucers, and a virtual influencer

As expected, aliens have invaded Fortnite’s battle royale island. The game’s latest season — Chapter 2: Season 7 — is called “Invasion,” and it’s just kicked off with a sci-fi vibe that’s a big change from last season’s prehistoric theme.

Among the changes are flying saucers that players can hack and then pilot, weapons like a rail gun that can shoot through structures and a scanning device, along with a crafting material called nuts and bolts that lets players make classic weapons that were previously removed from the game.

As always, the big draw of the new season is the battle pass, which introduces a number of characters to the game for those who purchase it. For season 7 that means Superman (who will be available to unlock later in the season), a customizable alien named Kymera, a human / alien double agent called Joey, and a hulking battle droid. Perhaps the strangest addition is Guggimon, a virtual influencer with more than 1 million followers on Instagram.

For those playing on PC, the new season will also include a number of visual improvements putting the game on par with next-gen consoles.


How to watch Apple’s WWDC 2021 keynote

Apple’s hosting its second all-virtual Worldwide Developers Conference this year, and it seems like the company plans to squeeze in even more hardware announcements alongside its usual software updates. WWDC 2021 will run all week long, but things start off with the traditional Apple keynote on June 7th at 10AM PT / 1PM ET.

Apple is expected to try to win back professional users at WWDC by leaning in with a new more powerful M2 chip and a redesigned MacBook Pro that ditches maligned features like the Touch Bar and brings back the HDMI port and MagSafe. The new M2 is rumored to have double the processor and GPU cores, and it might not even be Apple’s top-of-the-line: the company is rumored to launch a more powerful iMac and Mac Pro sometime later this year.

WWDC 2021 may bring some equally big changes to iOS 15 and iPadOS 15. iPads might finally get an updated homescreen with fully customizable widgets, after years of mostly looking like a blown-up iPhone. Both operating systems are also rumored to get a new privacy menu for viewing the data apps use, notification settings that can be set around a user’s status (like if they’re driving or sleeping), and possibly a big update to iMessage and the Messages app that will make the service more of a social network.

That’s a whole lot to talk about, even ignoring minor changes to macOS, tvOS, and watchOS, but the company will be hosting developer sessions throughout the week to get into all of the details.


It starts at 1PM ET / 10AM PT / 6PM BST. Following the keynote, developer sessions will be available to watch online for free through June 11th via the Apple Developer website or the Apple Developer app.


We’ll embed the keynote livestream up top, so you can watch from here once that’s up. Otherwise, head to these links below for more:

  • Tune in to The Verge’s Apple WWDC 2021 live blog for commentary and feelings
  • Apple is streaming the event live on its website and on YouTube
  • Follow @verge on Twitter
  • Keep an eye on @verge on Instagram for updates

Facebook employees call for company to address concerns of Palestinian censorship

Facebook employees are circulating an internal petition calling for the company to investigate content moderation systems that led many Palestinians and allies to say their voices were being censored, the Financial Times reports. The news comes weeks after Israeli airstrikes killed more than 200 people in Gaza, including at least 63 children. Israel and Hamas have now reached a cease fire.

Palestinian activists and allies have long accused social media companies of censoring pro-Palestinian content — and the issue has only gotten worse during the recent conflict. At Facebook, content moderation decisions are made by third-party contractors and algorithms, and the process is less than perfect, particularly in non-English speaking countries. After Instagram restricted a hashtag referring to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, pro-Palestinian activists coordinated a campaign to leave one-star reviews of Facebook in the app store.

It appears Facebook employees are taking note. “As highlighted by employees, the press, and members of Congress, and as reflected in our declining app store rating, our users and community at large feel that we are falling short on our promise to protect open expression around the situation in Palestine,” they wrote in the petition. “We believe Facebook can and should do more to understand our users and work on rebuilding their trust.”

The letter was posted on an internal forum by employees in groups called “Palestinians@” and “Muslims@.” It reportedly has 174 signatures.

Employees are asking Facebook to do a third-party audit of content moderations decisions surrounding Arab and Muslim content. They also want a post by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he allegedly called Palestinian civilians terrorists, to be reviewed by the company’s independent oversight board.

Last month, employees at Google, Apple, and Amazon wrote internal letters calling for executives to support Palestine. Employees at all three tech giants said they felt executives were unsupportive of Muslim workers. Some also wanted Google and Amazon to review a $1.2-billion cloud computing contract the companies had recently signed with the Israeli government. Yet no company had as immediate an impact on information surrounding the fighting as Facebook.

In a statement emailed to The Verge, a Facebook spokesperson said the company has committed to an audit of its community standards enforcement report. “We know there were several issues that impacted people’s ability to share on our apps,” the spokesperson added. “While we fixed them, they should never have happened in the first place and we’re sorry to anyone who felt they couldn’t bring attention to important events, or who believed this was a deliberate suppression of their voice. We design our policies to give everyone a voice while keeping them safe on our apps and we apply them equally, regardless of who is posting or what their personal beliefs are.”


Twitter’s Fleets are getting Stories-like ads

Twitter said Tuesday it will start adding full-screen ads to Fleets, its disappearing tweets that sit in a row at the top of users’ mobile Twitter interface. Introduced last November, the Fleet format — a clone of Instagram and Snap’s Stories — has apparently been successful enough that Twitter now wants to try to make money from it.

“Fleet ads are full-screen billboards for advertisers,” Twitter senior product manager Justin Hoang and global product marketing manager Austin Evers wrote in a post announcing the ads. It’s partnering with a “handful” of advertisers in what it calls an “experiment,” making the Fleet ads visible to a limited group of US users on iOS and Android.

The ads support images and video in 9:16, and videos can be up to 30 seconds long. Brands can choose to add a “swipe up” call-to-action and will be able to access standard Twitter ad metrics, including impressions, profile visits, clicks, website visits, and other information.

Example of a Fleet ad from Wendy’s.
Image: Twitter

In April, Twitter reported that its ad revenue grew 32 percent year over year to $899 million, and total ad engagement rose 11 percent. Expanding its ads beyond users’ timelines, where people can easily scroll past without engaging, seems like the logical next step. Instagram, after all, has had ads in its Stories since 2017 and started putting ads in its TikTok clone Reels last month.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said during April’s Q1 earnings call with analysts that the company was still learning about who uses Fleets. “We started this product not to build a storage product within Twitter, but to solve the problem of people not wanting to tweet because they appear to be staying around too long,” he said, adding “we certainly have seen a different audience than we normally see, but we still have much to learn and a lot to figure out in terms of like, where it goes from here.”

Twitter is planning to closely study how vertical full-screen ads perform, not just for Fleet ads but possible future iterations of other full-screen formats, according to Hoang and Evers.

“We also believe that ads should be non-intrusive and bring value to people, so we’re focused on learning more about how people feel about and engage with this new placement,” the blog post states, adding that the company is planning to launch more Fleet updates soon to stickers and backgrounds.

Twitter has been on a tear announcing new features this spring, updating its warnings for potentially offensive tweets, improving its photo cropping algorithm to allow “taller” images, adding the ability for Android users to search their direct messages, and rolling out a Tip Jar feature for donations.

Twitter also acquired Scroll, the $5-per-month subscription service that removes ads from participating websites. And its long-awaited paid subscription service Twitter Blue may be coming soon as well.


Instagram making changes to its algorithm after it was accused of censoring pro-Palestinian content

Facebook-owned Instagram has made changes to its algorithm after a group of its employees reportedly complained that pro-Palestinian content was not viewable for users during the conflict in Gaza. Instagram typically surfaces original content in its stories before reposted content, but will now begin to give equal weighting to both, the company confirmed to The Verge on Sunday.

As reported by BuzzFeed News and the Financial Times, the Instagram employee group had made numerous appeals about content that had been censored by Instagram’s automated moderation, such as posts about the al-Asqa mosque being mistakenly removed. The employees didn’t believe the censorship was deliberate, according to FT, but one said that “moderating at scale is biased against any marginalized groups.”

The change is not only in response to concerns over pro-Palestinian content, a Facebook spokesperson said in an email to The Verge, but the company realized the way the app functioned— bubbling up posts that it believes its users care about most— led people to believe it was suppressing certain points of view or topics. “We want to be really clear— this isn’t the case,” the spokesperson said. “This applied to any post that’s re-shared in stories, no matter what it’s about.”

Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have been criticized over the past several weeks about how they have surfaced — or not surfaced—content around the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Earlier this month Twitter restricted the account of a Palestinian writer, which it later said was done “in error.” And Instagram ended up apologizing after many accounts were unable to post Palestine-related content for several hours on May 6th, a move that head of Instagram Adam Mosseri tweeted was due to a “technical bug.”

Many people thought we were removing their content because of what they posted or what hashtag they used, but this bug wasn’t related to the content itself, but rather a widespread issue that has now been fixed.

— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) May 7, 2021

Instagram says it has repeatedly heard from users who say they are more interested in original stories from close friends than they are in seeing people who reshare others’ photos and posts. That’s why it prioritized original stories, the spokesperson said. “But there’s been an increase— not just now but in the past as well — in how many people are resharing posts, and we’ve seen a bigger impact than expected on the reach of these posts,” the spokesperson said. “Stories that reshare feed posts aren’t getting the reach people expect them to, and that’s not a good experience.”

The spokesperson added that Instagram still believes users want to see more original stories, so is looking at how to focus stories on original content through new tools.