Snapchat permanently bans President Trump’s account

Quite a bit has happened since Snap announced last week that it was indefinitely locking President Trump’s Snapchat account. But after temporary bans from his Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts as well as a permanent ban from Twitter, Snap has decided that it will also be making its ban of the President’s Snapchat account permanent.

Though Trump’s social media preferences as a user are clear, Snapchat gave the Trump campaign a particularly effective platform to target young users who are active on the service. A permanent ban will undoubtedly complicate his future business and political ambitions as he finds himself removed from most mainstream social platforms.

Snap says it made the decision in light of repeated attempted violations of the company’s community guidelines that had been made over the past several months by the President’s account.

“Last week we announced an indefinite suspension of President Trump’s Snapchat account, and have been assessing what long term action is in the best interest of our Snapchat community. In the interest of public safety, and based on his attempts to spread misinformation, hate speech, and incite violence, which are clear violations of our guidelines, we have made the decision to permanently terminate his account,” a Snap spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Snap’s decision to permanently ban the President was first reported by Axios.

App stores saw record 218 billion downloads in 2020, consumer spend of $143 billion

Mobile adoption continued to grow in 2020, in part due to the market forces of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to App Annie’s annual “State of Mobile” industry report, mobile app downloads grew by 7% year-over-year to a record 218 billion in 2020. Meanwhile, consumer spending grew by 20% to also hit a new milestone of $143 billion, led by markets that included China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

Consumers also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone, the report found.

In another shift, app usage in the U.S. surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours on their mobile device.

The increase in time spent is a trend that’s not unique to the U.S., but can be seen across several other countries, including both developing mobile markets like Indonesia, Brazil and India, as well as places like China, Japan, South Korea, the U.K., Germany, France and others.

The trend isn’t isolated to any one demographic, either, but is seen across age groups. In the U.S., for example, Gen Z, millennials and Gen X/Baby Boomers spent 16%, 18% and 30% more time in their most-used apps year-over-year, respectively. However, what those favorite apps looked like was very different.

For Gen Z in the U.S., top apps on Android phones included Snapchat, Twitch, TikTok, Roblox and Spotify.

Millennials favored Discord, LinkedIn, PayPal, Pandora and Amazon Music.

And Gen X/Baby Boomers used Ring, Nextdoor, The Weather Channel, Kindle and ColorNote Notepad Notes.

The pandemic didn’t necessarily change how consumers were using apps in 2020, but rather accelerated mobile adoption by two to three years’ time, the report found.

Investors were also eager to fuel mobile businesses as a result, pouring $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year. According to Crunchbase data, 26% of total global funding dollars in 2020 went to businesses that included a mobile solution.

From 2016 to 2020, global funding to mobile technology companies more than doubled compared with the previous five years, and was led by financial services, transportation, commerce and shopping.

Mobile gaming adoption also continued to grow in 2020. Casual games dominated the market in terms of downloads (78%), but Core games accounted for 66% of games’ consumer spend and 55% of the time spent.

With many stuck inside due to COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines, mobile games that offered social interaction boomed. Among Us, for example, became a breakout game in several markets in 2020, including the U.S.

Other app categories saw sizable increases over the past year, as well.

Time spent in Finance apps in 2020 was up 45% worldwide, outside of China, and participation in the stock market grew 55% on mobile, thanks to apps like Robinhood in the U.S. and others worldwide, that democratized investing and trading.

TikTok had a big year, too.

The app saw incredible 325% year-over-year growth, despite a ban in India, and ranked in the top five apps by time spent. The average monthly time spent per user also grew faster than nearly every other app analyzed, including 65% in the U.S. and 80% in the U.K., surpassing Facebook. TikTok is now on track to hit 1.2 billion active users in 2021, App Annie forecasts.

Other video services boomed in 2020, thanks to a combination of new market entrants and a lot of time spent at home. Consumers spent 40% more hours streaming on mobile devices, with time spent in streaming apps peaking in the second quarter in the west as the pandemic forced people inside.

YouTube benefitted from this trend, as it became the No. 1 streaming app by time spent among all markets analyzed except China. The time spent in YouTube is up to 6x that of the next closet app at 38 hours per month.

Of course, another big story for 2020 was the rise of e-commerce amid the pandemic. This made the past year the biggest ever for mobile shopping, with an over 30% increase in time spent in Shopping apps, as measured on Android phones outside of China.

Mobile commerce, however, looked less traditional in 2020.

Social shopping was a big trend, with global downloads of Pinterest and Instagram growing 50% and 20% year-over-year, respectively.

Livestreaming shopping grew, too, led by China. Downloads of live shopping TaoBao Live in China, Grip in South Korea and NTWRK in the U.S. grew 100%, 245% and 85%, respectively. NTWRK doubled in size last year, and now others are entering the space as well — including TikTok, to some extent.

The pandemic also prompted increased usage of mobile ordering apps. In the U.S., Argentina, the U.K., Indonesia and Russia, the app grew by 60%, 65%, 70%, 80% and 105%, respectively, in Q4.

Business apps, like Zoom and Google Meet among others, grew 275% in Q4, for example, as remote work and sometimes school, continued.

The analysis additionally included lists of the top apps by downloads, spending and monthly active users (MAUs).

Although TikTok had been topping year-end charts, Facebook continued to beat it in terms of MAUs. Facebook-owned apps controlled the top charts by MAUs, with Facebook at No. 1 followed by WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram.

TikTok, however, had more downloads than Facebook and ranked No. 2 by consumer spending, behind Tinder.

The full report is available only as an online interactive experience this year, not a download. The report largely uses data from both the iOS App Store and Google Play, except where otherwise noted.

Healthvana’s digital COVID-19 vaccination records are about communication, not passports for the immune

As the vaccination campaign to counter COVID-19 gets underway (albeit with a rocky start), a number of companies are attempting to support its rollout in a variety of ways. Healthvana, a health tech startup that began with a specific focus on providing patient information digitally for individuals living with HIV, is helping Los Angeles County roll out mobile vaccination records for COVID-19 using Apple’s Wallet technology. A cursory appraisal of the implementation of this tech might lead one to believe it’s about providing individuals with easy proof of vaccination — but the tech, and Healthvana, are focused on informing individuals to ensure they participate in their own healthcare programs, not providing an immunity pass.

“I generally consider most of healthcare to look and feel like Windows 95,” Healthvana CEO and founder Ramin Bastani said. “We look and feel like Instagram . Why is that important? Because patients can engage in things they understand, it’s easier for them to communicate in the way they’re used to communicating, and that ends up leading them to better health outcomes.”

Bastani points out that they began the company by focusing this approach to patient education and communication on HIV, and demonstrated that using their software led to patients being 7.4 times more likely to show up for their next follow-up appointment versus patients who received follow-up information and appointment notices via traditional methods. The company has built their tooling and their approach around not only producing better health for individuals, but also on reducing costs for healthcare providers by eliminating the need for a lot of the work that goes into clearing up misunderstandings, and essentially hounding patients to follow-up, which can significantly dig into clinician and care staff hours.

“We’re actually also reducing the cost to healthcare providers, because you don’t have 1,000 people calling you asking what are their results, and saying ‘I don’t understand, I can’t log in, I don’t know what it means to be SARS nonreactive,’ or all those things we address through simplicity,” Bastani said. “That’s made a huge difference. Overall, I think the key to all healthcare is going to be to be able to get patients to pay attention, and take action to things around their health.”

That’s the goal of Healthvana’s partnership with LA County on COVID-19 immunization records, too — taking vitally important action to ensure the successful rollout of its vaccination program. All approved COVID-19 vaccines to date require a two-course treatment, including one initial inoculation followed by a booster to be administered sometime later. Keeping LA county residents informed about their COVID-19 inoculation, and when they’re due for a second dose, is the primary purpose of the partnership, and benefits from Healthvana’s experience in improving patient follow-up activities. But the app is also providing users with information about COVID-19 care, and, most usefully, prevention and ways to slow the spread.

While Bastani stresses that Healthvana is, in the end, just “the last mile” for message delivery, and that there are many other layers involved in determining the right steps for proper care and prevention, the way in which they provide actionable info has already proven a big boon to one key measure: contact tracing. In select municipalities, Healthvana will also prompt users who’ve tested positive to anonymously notify close contacts directly from their device, which will provide those individuals with both free testing options and information resources.

“Just us doing this in the greater Los Angeles area for less than two months, 12,000+ people have been notified that they’ve been exposed,” Bastani said. “Each of them likely lives with other people and families — this is how you can help slow the spread.”

Contrast that with the relatively slow uptake of the exposure notification tools built into iOS and Android devices via recent software updates provided by Google and Apple working in a rare collaboration. While the technology that underlies it is sound, and focused on user privacy, its usage numbers thus far are far from earthshaking; only 388 people have sent alerts through Virginia’s app-based on the exposure notification framework in three months since its launch, for instance.

Healthvana’s focus on timely and relevant delivery of information, offered to users in ways they’re mostly likely to understand and engage with, is already showing its ability to have an impact on COVID-19 and its community transmission. The startup is already in talks to launch similar programs elsewhere in the country, and that could help improve national vaccination outcomes, and how people handle COVID-19 once they have it, too.

The deplatforming of a president

After years of placid admonishments, the tech world came out in force against President Trump this past week following the violent assault of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. on Wednesday. From Twitter to PayPal, more than a dozen companies have placed unprecedented restrictions or outright banned the current occupant of the White House from using their services, and in some cases, some of his associates and supporters as well.

The news was voluminous and continuous for the past few days, so here’s a recap of who took action when, and what might happen next.

Twitter: a permanent ban and a real-time attempt to shut down all possible account alternatives

Twitter has played a paramount role over the debate about how to moderate President Trump’s communications, given the president’s penchant for the platform and the nearly 90 million followers on his @realDonaldTrump account. In the past, Twitter has repeatedly warned the president, added labels related to electron integrity and misinformation, and outright blocked the occasional tweet.

This week, however, Twitter’s patience seemed to have been exhausted. Shortly after the riots at the Capitol on Wednesday, Twitter put in place a large banner warning its users about the president’s related tweet on the matter, blocking retweets of that specific message. A few hours later, the company instituted a 12-hour ban on the president’s personal account.

At first, it looked like the situation would return to normal, with Twitter offering Thursday morning that it would reinstate the president’s account after he removed tweets the company considered against its policies around inciting violence. The president posted a tweet later on Thursday with a video attachment that seemed to be relatively calmer than his recent fiery rhetoric, a video in which he also accepted the country’s election results for the first time.

Enormous pressure externally on its own platform as well as internal demands from employees kept the policy rapidly changing though. Late Friday night, the company announced that it decided to permanently ban the president from its platform, shutting down @realDonaldTrump. The company then played a game of whack-a-mole as it blocked the president’s access to affiliated Twitter handles like @TeamTrump (his official campaign account) as well as the official presidential account @POTUS and deleted individual tweets from the president. The company’s policies state that a blocked user may not attempt to use a different account to evade its ban.

Twitter has also taken other actions against some of the president’s affiliates and broader audience, blocking Michael Flynn, a bunch of other Trump supporters, and a variety of QAnon figures.

With a new president on the horizon, the official @POTUS account will be handed to the new Biden administration, although Twitter has reportedly been intending to reset the account’s followers to zero, unlike its transition of the account in 2016 from Obama to Trump.

As for Trump himself, a permanent ban from his most prominent platform begs the question: where will he take his braggadocio and invective next? So far, we haven’t seen the president move his activities to any social network alternatives, but after the past few years (and on Twitter, the last decade), it seems hard to believe the president will merely return to his golf course and quietly ride out to the horizon.

Snap: a quick lock after dampening the president’s audience for months

Snap locked the president’s account late Wednesday following the events on Capitol Hill, and seemed to be one of the most poised tech companies to rapidly react to the events taking place in DC. Snap’s lock prevents the president from posting new snaps to his followers on the platform, which currently number approximately two million. As far as TechCrunch knows, that lock remains in place, although the president’s official profile is still available to users.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the concomitant Black Lives Matter protests, the company had announced back in June that it would remove the president’s account from its curated “Discover” tab, limiting its distribution and discoverability.

The president has never really effectively used the Snap platform, and with an indefinite ban in place, it looks unlikely he will find a home there in the future.

Facebook / Instagram: A short-to-medium ban with open questions on how long “indefinite” means

Facebook, like Twitter, is one of the president’s most popular destinations for his supporters, and the platform is also a locus for many of the political right’s most popular personalities. It’s moderation actions have been heavily scrutinized by the press over the past few years, but the company has mostly avoided taking direct action against the president — until this week.

On Wednesday as rioters walked out of the halls of Congress, Facebook pulled down a video from President Trump that it considered was promoting violence. Later Wednesday evening, that policy eventually extended into a 24-hour ban of the president’s account, which currently has 33 million likes, or followers. The company argued that the president had violated its policies multiple times, automatically triggering the one-day suspension. At the same time, Facebook (and Instagram) took action to block a popular trending hashtag related to the Capitol riots.

On Thursday morning, Mark Zuckerberg, in a personal post on his own platform, announced an “indefinite” suspension for the president, with a minimum duration of two weeks. That timing would neatly extend the suspension through the inauguration of president-elect Biden, who is to assume the presidency at noon on January 20th.

What will happen after the inauguration? Right now, we don’t know. The president’s account is suspended but not deactivated, which means that the president cannot post new material to his page, but that the page remains visible to Facebook users. The company could remove the suspension once the transition of power is complete, or it may continue the ban longer-term. Given the president’s prominence on the platform and the heavy popularity of the social network among his supporters, Facebook is in a much more intense bind between banning content it deems offensive, and retaining users important to its bottom line.

Shopify / PayPal: Ecommerce platforms won’t sell Trump official merchandise for the time being

It’s not just social networks that are blocking the president’s audience — ecommerce giants are also getting into moderating their platforms against the president. On Thursday, Shopify announced that it was removing the storefronts for both the Trump campaign and Trump’s personal brand.

That’s an evolution on policy for the company, which years ago said that it would not moderate its platform, but in recent years has removed some controversial stores, such as some right-wing shops in 2018.

PayPal meanwhile has been deactivating the accounts of some groups of Trump supporters this week, who were using the money-transfer fintech to coordinate payments to underwrite the rioters’ actions on Capitol Hill. PayPal has been increasingly banning some political accounts, banning a far-right activist in 2019 and also banning a spate of far-right organizations in the wake of violent protests in Charlottesville in 2017. These bans have so far not extended directly to the president himself from what TechCrunch can glean.

Given the president’s well-known personal brand and penchant for product tie-ins before becoming president, it’s a major open question about how these two platforms and others in ecommerce will respond to Trump once he leaves office in two weeks. Will the president go back to shilling steaks, water and cologne? And will he need an ecommerce venue to sell his wares online? Much will depend on Trump’s next goals and whether he stays focused on politics, or heads back to his more commercial pursuits.

Google removes Parler from the Google Play Store, while Apple mulls a removal as well

For supporters of Trump and others concerned about the moderation actions of Facebook and other platforms, Parler has taken the lead as an alternative social network for this audience. Right now, the app is number one in the App Store in the United States, ahead of encrypted and secure messaging app Signal, which is at number four and got a massive endorsement from Elon Musk this week.

Parler’s opportunism for growth around the riots on Capitol Hill though has run into a very real barrier: the two tech companies which run the two stores for mobile applications in the United States.

Google announced Friday evening that it would be removing the Parler app from its store, citing the social network’s lack of moderation and content filtering capabilities. The app’s page remains down as this article was going to press. That ban means that new users won’t be able to install the app from the Play Store, however, existing users who already have Parler installed will be able to continue using it.

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed reports that Apple has reportedly sent a 24-hour takedown notice to Parler’s developers, saying that it would mirror Google’s actions if the app didn’t immediately filter content that endangers safety. As of now, Parler remains available in the App Store, but if the timing is to be believed, the app could be taken down later this Saturday.

Given the complexities of content moderation, including the need to hire content moderators en masse, it seems highly unlikely that Parler could respond to these requests in any short period of time. What happens to the app and the president’s supporters long-term next is, right now, anyone’s guess.

Discord / Twitch / YouTube / Reddit / TikTok: All the socials don’t want to be social anymore with President Trump

Finally, let’s head over to the rest of the social networking world, where Trump is just as unpopular as he is at Facebook and Twitter HQ these days. Companies widely blocked the president from accessing their sites, and they also took action against affiliated groups.

Google-owned YouTube announced Thursday that it would start handing out “strikes” against channels — including President Trump’s — that post election misinformation. In the past, videos with election misinformation would have a warning label attached, but the channel itself didn’t face any consequences. In December, the company changed that policy to include the outright removal of videos purveying election misinformation.

This week’s latest policy change is an escalation from the company’s previous approach, and would result in lengthier and lengthier temporary suspensions for each additional strike that a channel receives. Those strikes could eventual result in a permanent ban for a YouTube channel if they happen within a set period of time. That’s precisely what happened with Steve Bannon’s channel, which was permanently banned Friday late afternoon for repeated violations of YouTube’s policies. Meanwhile, President Trump’s official channel has less than 3 million followers, and is currently still available for viewing on the platform.

Outside YouTube, Twitch followed a similar policy to Facebook, announcing Thursday morning that it would ban the president “indefinitely” and at least through the inauguration on January 20th. The president has a limited audience of just about 151,000 followers on the popular streaming platform, making it among the least important of the president’s social media accounts.

In terms of the president’s supporters, their groups are also being removed from popular tech platforms. On Friday, Reddit announced that it would ban the subreddit r/DonaldTrump, which had become one of a number of unofficial communities on the platform where the president’s most ardent supporters hung out. The social network had previously removed the controversial subreddit r/The_Donald back in June. Discord on Friday shut down a server related to that banned subreddit, citing the server’s “overt connection to an online forum used to incite violence.”

Lastly, TikTok announced on Thursday that it was limiting the spread of some information related to the Capitol riots, including redirecting hashtags and removing violent content as well as the president’s own video message to supporters. The president does not have a TikTok account, and therefore, most of the company’s actions are focused on his supporters and broader content surrounding the situation on Capitol Hill this week.

Google pilots a search feature that aggregates short-form videos from TikTok and Instagram

Google is testing a new feature that will surface Instagram and TikTok videos in their own dedicated carousel in the Google app for mobile devices — a move that could help the company retain users in search of social video entertainment from fully leaving Google’s platform. The feature itself expands on a test launched earlier this year, where Google had first introduced a carousel of “Short Videos” within Google Discover  — the personalized feed found in the Google mobile app and to the left of the home screen on some Android devices.

To be clear, this “Short Videos” carousel is different from Google’s Stories, which rolled out in October 2020 to the Google Search app for iOS and Android. Those “Stories” — previously known as “AMP Stories” — consist of short-form video content created by Google’s online publishing partners like Forbes, USA Today, Vice, Now This, Bustle, Thrillist and others.

Meanwhile, the “Short Videos” carousel had been focused on aggregating social video from other platforms, including Google’s own short-form video project Tangi, Indian TikTok competitor Trell, as well as Google’s own video platform, YouTube — which has also been experimenting with short-form content as of late.

The expansion to include Instagram and TikTok content in this carousel was first reported by Search Engine Roundtable (via Brian Freiesleben’s tweet). They were able to access the feature by searching for “packers” in the Google app then scrolling down the page.

We were able to replicate this, as well. (See below image.)

Image Credits: screenshot of Google search results

We found the Short Videos carousel appears when you scroll past the Google Knowledge Base box for the Green Bay Packers, followed by the the scores, Top Stories, Twitter results, Top Results, Images, Videos and other content, like a listing of the players, standings and more.

Both Instagram and TikTok videos were available in the Short Videos row. When clicked, you’re taken to the web version of the social platform — not the native mobile app, even if it’s installed on your device. The end result is that Google users are more likely to remain on Google, as all it takes is a tap on the back arrow to return to the search results after watching the video.

Google has been indexing video content for years and partnered with Twitter on 2015 to index search results. It’s not clear to what extent it has any formal relationship with Facebook/Instagram or TikTok, however. (If those companies comment, we’ll update.)

Google declined to formally comment or further detail its plans, but a company spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch the feature was currently being piloted on mobile devices. They clarified that means it’s a limited, early-stage feature. In other words, you won’t find the video carousel on every search query just yet. But over time, as Google scales the product, it could become an interesting tool for indexing and surfacing top video content from social media — unless, of course, the platforms choose to block Google from doing so.

The feature is currently available in a limited way on the Google app for mobile devices and on the mobile web, the company said.

TikTok launches its first personalized annual recap feature, ‘Year on TikTok’

Spotify users have Wrapped and Instagram users have their Top 9. And now TikTok users will have their own year-in-review feature, too. The company today announced the launch of its first personalized annual recap feature with the launch of “Year on TikTok,” a video highlight reel that showcases individual users’ own top TikTok moments. This includes things like how long you’ve been on TikTok, what sort of videos you watched most, your favorite tracks and creative effects, metrics on how often you commented and shared videos, and more.

The feature will also identify your favorite “vibes” — meaning, the sort of videos you like best, such as crafts, cooking, animals, travel, Cottagecore or any of the now numerous communities that have sprung up on the social video platform.

If users haven’t been on TikTok long enough to have developed their own “vibe,” TikTok says their “Year on TikTok” will include other top videos from its “Year on TikTok: Top 100” list instead.

Image Credits: TikTok

The content for the recap is presented in a familiar way. You’ll vertically scroll down through a video that details your 2020 interests and activities. You then have the chance to share that video directly to your own TikTok profile in order to receive a special profile badge that puts a “2020” on top of your profile photo.

The app’s “Year on TikTok” page also includes other TikTok highlights to browse through, including top memes, top creators, top viral videos, most impactful creators, top celebs, top songs and other year-end trends.

TikTok users can access their “Year on TikTok” by tapping the icon on their For You feed — a prominent placement — or by scrolling to the banner at the top of the app’s Discover page.

The accuracy of TikTok’s recap is debatable. For example, even though every other video in my For You feed is related to politics and news (go figure!), TikTok informed me my top “vibes” were things like home, travel and animal videos. That’s true too, but it’s an incomplete list and doesn’t match up with the majority of my past “likes.” It seems that TikTok may be curating the experience to focus on more positive “vibes” — and political videos and themes didn’t make the cut.

Regardless of its attempts at spin, social features that offer users a personalized retrospective of how they engaged with an app through the year have proven to be fairly popular — and a good marketing mechanism, as well.

Spotify’s Wrapped, for instance, has been so well-received that people began to complain that people’s Wrapped shares were dominating and overwhelming their social feeds at year-end. Spotify this year partially addressed this problem by offering new customization options for its 2020 Wrapped that let users adjust the color of their Wrapped card before sharing. This way, the flood of Wrapped shares wouldn’t look quite as homogenous as in prior years, and may be perceived as less of an annoyance.

The “Year on TikTok” feature will likely do well, too, though it’s hard to track. The hashtag #YearOnTikTok is up to 5.4 billion views, thanks to users who are adopting the tag in hopes of propelling their videos to a wider audience or getting on the For You page. The real test will be how many creators end up with the 2020 badge stuck on their profile in the days to come.

While TikTok’s feature is fun, if you find it somewhat lacking there are third-party alternatives.

One app, Retroplay, launched its own 2020 TikTok Year in Review this month. The app does more than just round-up your own stats and metrics. Users can also vote for their favorite creators and videos through Retroplay’s “Superlatives” awards, collect cards from favorite creators and customize their own highlight reel. But the app is brand-new and struggling with bugs — the highlight reel is currently down while it’s being fixed, for instance, and the app couldn’t resolve a username that began with a period instead of a letter, we found.

“We wanted to focus more on the year-in-review for content creators, and over the past two weeks have been working with creators to get their ideas. We’ve temporarily disabled the Highlight Reel feature based on feedback,” the developers responded in an email to TechCrunch. They said creators will be able to create their Top 4 or Top 9 video compilations through a new feature launching at the end of the week.

Image Credits: Retroplay

The app also had difficulties pulling data as TikTok didn’t offer an API and cut them off from accessing public-facing user videos and pulling stats.

But the app’s design is catchy and the interactive features are engaging, so hopefully the developer can address the other issues soon — and before year-end!

Facebook launches revamped Instagram Lite app in India

Facebook is working to bring back the Instagram Lite app, months after it shut down the light version offering worldwide.

The social conglomerate said on Wednesday that it is testing the revamped Instagram Lite app in India, where it hopes to “gain valuable insights” about the new offering before “a global rollout” of the app later.

The revamped Instagram Lite app weighs less than 2MB and delivers a “fast, reliable, and responsive” experience of the social service. The Android app supports Bangla, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu, but currently lacks a several core features of Instagram including Reels, Shopping and IGTV.

Facebook quietly discontinued the previous iteration of Instagram Lite earlier this year. In July, Vishal Shah, VP of Product at Instagram, told TechCrunch that the company had identified some issues in the app and was working to resolve those. In September, a new Lite app was spotted in the wild, though Facebook did not acknowledge it.

Lite apps are especially popular in emerging markets where most users don’t have access to high-end smartphones or fast and cheap mobile internet data. Facebook Lite app, for instance, had about 40 million monthly active users in India last month, while Messenger Lite app had about 13 million, according to mobile insight firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. (Instagram app had about 164 million users.)

Shah made the announcement about the revamped Instagram Lite app at Facebook Fuel for India event on Wednesday, where scores of Facebook executives including Mark Zuckerberg and Ajit Mohan outlined a number of other programs they were working on for the world’s second largest internet market.

Instagram also announced the second version of ‘Born on Instagram,’ a one-year-old program it has built for content creators to better understand and leverage ways to collaborate with one another and explore monetization opportunities.

“With the test of Instagram Lite, and the next edition of Born on Instagram, we’re aiming to democratize expression and creativity for a greater number of people in India,” said Shah.

At the event, WhatsApp India head Abhijit Bose said that the company was working to launch sachet-sized health insurance offering to users in India this month. In July, WhatsApp had unveiled that it was working to pilot credit, insurance, and pension services in India, the instant messaging app’s biggest market by users, over the next year and a half.

“WhatsApp has proactively been working on several pilots to help ensure that every adult has access to the most basic critical financial and livelihood services through their mobile device. By the end of this year, we expect that people will be able to buy affordable sachet sized health insurance through WhatsApp,” Bose said today. For insurance protection, WhatsApp has partnered with SBI General, and for pension, with HDFC Pension.

Facebook, which identifies India as its biggest market by users, is also working with telecom giant Jio Platforms to help tens of millions of small businesses establish online presence and sell digitally. The American giant, which invested $5.7 billion in Jio Platforms this year, are collaborating to make Jio Platforms’ JioMart e-commerce service available through WhatsApp. Some new features are coming to JioMart’s WhatsApp channel in the “coming days,” Facebook and Reliance executives teased today.

Snap launches a native Twitter integration

Twitter is partnering with Snap to bring tweets into Snapchat with a native integration that both companies hope will push users away from screenshots and towards more interactive embeds.

Twitter users who are also logged into the Snapchat app on their phone will be able to access the functionality by tapping share on a particular tweet and navigating to the Snapchat icon where they’ll be able to share and react or comment on a Twitter post and send it to a friend or share on their story. The functionality will notably only work for tweets from public accounts, not protected ones.

The feature is rolling out on iOS for now, with Android integration “coming soon.”

Given how much content across Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Reddit originates from Twitter, it’s surprising that this functionality is arriving so deep into Twitter’s life as a company. They’ve long had a web embed integration which has allowed reporters to embed tweets into stories, but when it came to sharing on social media, Twitter’s strategy has deferred to the un-trackable and un-monetizable screenshot.

This has been low-hanging product rollout for Twitter which will likely be able to coax some non-Twitter users to enjoy content straight from the source, something the company has been vaguely alluding to in marketing campaigns over the years but is just now approaching with a direct integration into another company’s platform.

With Twitter now starting to roll out its Stories product Fleets to users, the company likely feels as though they have more feature familiarity to bring new users onboard from Snap who might not have experimented with the platform previously.

The truth is there aren’t a ton of integrations across social media channels, screen recordings and screen shots tell one platform’s story in an imperfect way on another’s. This integration comes as a result of updates made to Snap’s Snap Kit API and a particular feature called Creative Kit. Snap says that Spotify, Reddit, SoundCloud, Sendit, YOLO and GOAT have also created integrations that allow content from those apps to be shared across Snapchat.

Twitter didn’t rule out the expansion of this feature to other platforms in the future.

“This agreement with Snap was focused on this feature,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We would love to partner with other platforms to enable people to share Tweets more widely. We hope this will be the first of many integrations of its kind.”

Instagram businesses and creators may be getting a Messenger-like ‘FAQ’ feature

Instagram is developing a new product, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), that will allow people to start conversations with businesses or creators’ accounts by tapping on a commonly asked question within a chat. Those who already have the feature available report they’re able to create set of up to four questions which can optionally be displayed at the beginning of a conversation with other users.

The feature could be useful for businesses that are often responding to customer inquiries about their products or services, or for creators who receive a number of inbound requests from fans or brands interested in collaborations, for example.

The product’s introduction highlights the extent that Instagram’s messaging platform now overlaps with Facebook Messenger, following the recent launch of the new Instagram messaging experience. In September, Facebook announced Instagram users would have the option to upgrade to a new inbox that now offers a number of Messenger-inspired features — like the ability to change your chat color, react with any emoji, set messages to disappear, and more. The upgrade also introduced cross-app communication between Instagram and Messenger’s platforms.

With these changes, it appears Facebook is paving a road towards making the Instagram messaging experience more on par with Messenger.

Today, the Messenger app offers a similar FAQ option for Facebook Page owners under the Automated Responses section in Messenger’s settings. Here, Page owners or admins can set up a series of frequently asked questions and their responses to those questions which can be presented at the beginning of conversations with their Page — just like this new Instagram feature offers.

The Instagram FAQ option had been spotted earlier this year while in development, but seemed to be only for Business accounts, according to the app’s code.

 

However, new reports and screenshots from one Instagram user with access to the feature indicate the FAQ will be available for creator accounts, in addition to businesses.

The feature was spotted on Monday by social media consultant Matt Navarra, who credited @thenezvm for the new discovery.

Given that @thenezvm has access to the feature now, as the above credited screenshots show, the FAQ option could either be in early testing or starting to roll out more broadly.

It’s likely the former, however, as Instagram declined to comment or provide details, when TechCrunch asked for more information.

L’Oréal rolls out a line of ‘virtual makeup’

Selfie filters have improved immensely over the past several years, but companies on the forefront of the tech see plenty of room to grow.

The cosmetics world has also seen some rapid change in the past several years as makeup has proven particularly ripe for up-and-coming direct-to-consumer and influencer-endorsed brands to take hold. Plenty of legacy brands have seen their revenues decimated, while others have proven resilient by leaning into new tech and sales channel trends.

Back in 2018, L’Oréal made the interesting decision to buy an augmented reality filter company called Modiface. Fast forward to 2020 and they’ve opted to roll out a line of “virtual makeup” selfie filters. The “Signature Face” filters show off eye makeup, lipsticks, and hair products from the company.

They’ve gone fairly wide with the rollout supporting Instagram, Snapchat, Snap Camera and Google Duo. Snap Camera support in particular enables the selfies to be used across plenty of video chat services like Houseparty and Zoom, L’Oréal is marketing these selfies as a way to spice up your look on video calls specifically. You can check our more details on where you can use the filters on their site.

In terms of the filters themselves, there’s nothing terribly more advanced about them than the makeup-centric selfie filters that have been floating around Snapchat for years, but it is interesting to see such a substantial brand leaning in so heavily and pitching this idea where people use selfie filters during video calls in a non-gimmicky way. It’s not clear whether the technology or consumer habits are there yet but it’s certainly plausible that things could move in that direction, especially as social media apps begin a more-focused drive towards becoming commerce platforms.