Pinterest announces $500K Creator Fund, ‘Creator Code’ content policy, moderation tools and more

Pinterest today hosted an event focused on its creator community, where the company announced a series of updates including the launch of a $500,000 Creator Fund, a new content policy called the Creator Code, as well as new moderation tools, among other things. With the changes, the company says its goal is to ensure the platform continues to be a “inclusive, positive and inspiring place.” The new content guidelines put that into more specific terms as it requires Pinterest creators to fact-check content, practice inclusion, be kind, and ensure any call to action they make via the site doesn’t cause harm.

Creators will be required to agree and sign the code during the publishing process for Story Pins, where they tap a button that say “I agree” to statements that include “Be Kind,” “Check my facts,” “Be aware of triggers,” “Practice inclusion,” and “Do Not Harm.”

Image Credits: Pinterest

The code will be enforced the same way Pinterest today applies its rules for its other content policies: a combination of machine learning and human review, Pinterest tells us. However, the site’s algorithm will be designed to reward positive content and block harmful content, like anti-vaccination sentiments, for example. This could have a larger impact on what sort of content is shared on Pinterest, rather than a pop-up agreement with simple statements.

The Creator Code itself is not yet live, but will roll out to creators to sign and adopt in the weeks ahead, Pinterest says.

Image Credits: Pinterest

Pinterest today also introduced several new creator tools focused on the similar goal of making Pinterest a more positive, safe experience for all.

It’s launching comment moderation tools that will allow creators to remove and filter comments on their content, as well as tools that will allow them to feature up to three comments in the comment feed to highlight positive feedback. New spam prevention tools will help to clear out some of the unwanted comments, too, by leveraging machine learning technology to detect and remove bad comments.

Also new are “positivity reminders,” which will pop up asking Pinterest users to reconsider before posting potentially offensive comments. The notification will push users to go back and edit their comment, but doesn’t prevent them from posting.

Image Credits: Pinterest

Related to these efforts, Pinterest announced the launch of its first-ever Creator Fund at today’s event. The fund is specifically focused on elevating creators from underrepresented communities in the United States, and will offer a combination of creative strategy consulting, and compensating them with budget for content creation and ad credits. At least 50% of the fund’s recipients will be from underrepresented groups, Pinterest says.

The company tells us it’s initially committed to giving creators $500,000 in cash and media throughout 2021.

“For the first participants of the program, we worked with eight emerging creators across fashion, photography, food and travel, and will be identifying ten more creators in the next few months for the next cohort,” noted Creator Inclusion Lead Alexandra Nikolajev.

“We’re on a journey to build a globally inclusive platform where Pinners and Creators around the world can discover ideas that feel personalized, relevant and reflective of who they are,” Nikolajev said.

Pinterest has been working to rebuild its image in the wake of last year’s allegations of a host of internal issues, including unfair pay, racism, retaliation, and sexism, which conflicted with its outside image of being one of the “nicer” places to work in tech. Despite this fallout — which included a lawsuit, employee walkout, petitions, and more —  the issues that had been raised weren’t always reflected in Pinterest’s product.

The company had previously launched inclusive features like “skin tone ranges” to help those shopping for beauty products find matches for their skin tone. It also allowed retailers and brands to identify themselves as members of an underrepresented group, which gave their content the ability to appear in more places across Pinterest’s platform, like the Today tab, Shopping Spotlights and The Pinterest Shop, for instance.

Evan Sharp, Pinterest’s co-founder and Chief Design and Creative Officer, referenced the company’s image as “a positive place” at today’s event.

“We’ve been building Pinterest for 11 years, and ever since our users routinely tell us that Pinterest is the ‘last positive corner of the internet.’ In that time, we’ve also learned that you need to design positivity into online platforms as deliberately as much as you design negativity out,” Sharp said. “The Creator Code is a human-centric way for Creators to understand how to be successful on Pinterest while using their voice to keep Pinterest positive and inclusive,” he added.

Today, Pinterest serves over 450 million users worldwide, but is challenged by large platforms serving creators like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and others, including newcomers like TikTok and those that are inching into the creator community with funds of their own, like Snapchat, which is paying creators for Spotlight content, and Clubhouse, which is now funding creators’ shows. The increased competition for creator interest has left Pinterest needing an incentive program of its own.

To kick of its announcement, Pinterest’s Head of Content and Creator Partnerships, Aya Kanai, interviewed television personality Jonathan Van Ness (Queer Eye) at today’s virtual event, where they talked about the need for positivity and inclusivity on social media. Other event participants included creators Peter Som, Alison Cayne, Onyi Moss, Oyin Edogi and Jomely Breton — the latter two who spoke about putting the Creator Fund to use for themselves.

This Week in Apps: TikTok viral hit breaks Spotify records, inauguration boosts news app installs, judge rules against Parler

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.

Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage 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 per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week, we’re looking into how President Biden’s inauguration impacted news apps, the latest in the Parler lawsuit, and how TikTok’s app continues to shape culture, among other things.

Top Stories

Judge says Amazon doesn’t have to host Parler on AWS

logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler

Logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler. Image Credits: TechCrunch

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle this week ruled that Amazon won’t be required to restore access to web services to Parler. As you may recall, Parler sued Amazon for booting it from AWS’ infrastructure, effectively forcing it offline. Like Apple and Google before it, Amazon had decided that the calls for violence that were being spread on Parler violated its terms of service. It also said that Parler showed an “unwillingness and inability” to remove dangerous posts that called for the rape, torture and assassination of politicians, tech executives and many others, the AP reported.

Amazon’s decision shouldn’t have been a surprise for Parler. Amazon had reported 98 examples of Parler posts that incited violence over the past several weeks before its decision. It told Parler these were clear violations of the terms of service.

Parler’s lawsuit against Amazon, however, went on to claim breach of contract and even made antitrust allegations.

The judge shot down Parler’s claims that Amazon and Twitter were colluding over the decision to kick the app off AWS. Parler’s claims over breach of contract were denied, too, as the contract had never said Amazon had to give Parler 30 days to fix things. (Not to mention the fact that Parler breached the contract on its side, too.) It also said Parler had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction to restore access to Amazon’s web services.

The ruling only blocks Parler from forcing Amazon to again host it as the lawsuit proceeds, but is not the final ruling in the overall case, which is continuing.

TikTok drives another pop song to No. 1 on Billboard charts, breaks Spotify’s record

@livbedumb♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

We already knew TikTok was playing a large role in influencing music charts and listening behavior. For example, Billboard last year noted how TikTok drove hits from Sony artists like Doja Cat (“Say So”) and 24kGoldn (“Mood”), and helped Sony discover new talent. Columbia also signed viral TikTok artists like Lil Nas X, Powfu, StaySolidRocky, Jawsh 685, Arizona Zervas and 24kGoldn. Meanwhile, Nielsen has said that no other app had helped break more songs in 2020 than TikTok.

This month, we’ve witnessed yet another example of this phenomenon. Olivia Rodrigo, the 17-year-old star of Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical: the Series” released her latest song, “Drivers License” on January 8. The pop ballad and breakup anthem is believed to be referencing the actress’ relationship with co-star Joshua Bassett, which gave the song even more appeal to fans.

Upon its release the song was heavily streamed by TikTok users, which helped make it an overnight sensation of sorts. According to a report by The WSJ, Billboard counted 76.1 million streams and 38,000 downloads in the U.S. during the week of its release. It also made a historic debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100, becoming the first smash hit of 2021.

On January 11, “Drivers License” broke Spotify’s record for most streams per day (for a non-holiday song) with 15.17 million global streams. On TikTok, meanwhile, the number of videos featuring the song and the views they received doubled every day, The WSJ said.

Charli D’Amelio’s dance to it on the app has now generated 5 million “Likes” across nearly 33 million views, as of the time of writing.

@charlidamelio♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

Of course, other TikTok hits have broken out in the past, too — even reaching No. 1 like “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd) and “Mood” (24kGoldn). But the success of “Drivers License” may be in part due to the way it focuses on a subject that’s more relevant to TikTok’s young, teenage user base. It talks about first loves and being dumped for the other girl. And its title and opening refer to a time many adults have forgotten: the momentous day when you get your driver’s license. It’s highly relatable to the TikTok crowd who fully embraced it and made it a hit.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple stops signing iOS 12.5, making iOS 12.5.1 the only versions of iOS available to older devices.
  • A report claims Apple’s iOS 15 update will cut support for devices with an A9 chip, like the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s Plus and the original iPhone SE.
  • New analysis estimates Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes will cause a roughly 7% revenue hit for Facebook in Q2. The revenue hit will continue in following quarters and will be “material.”

Platforms: Google

  • Google adds “trending” icons to the Play Store. New arrow icons appeared in the Top Charts tab, which indicate whether an app’s downloads are trending up or down, in terms of popularity. This could provide an early signal about those that may still be rising in the charts or beginning to fall out of favor, despite their current high position.
  • Google appears to be working on a Restricted Networking mode for Android 12. The mode, discovered by XDA Developers digging in the Android Open Source Project, would disable network access for all third-party apps.

Gaming

  • Goama (or Go Games) introduced a way for developers to integrate social games into their apps, which was showcased at CES. The company focuses on Asia and Latin America and has more than 15 partners, including GCash and Rappi, for digital payments and communications.
  • Fortnite maker Epic Games is getting into movies. The animated feature film Gilgamesh will use Epic’s Unreal Engine technology to tell the story of the king-turned-deity. The movie is not an in-house project, but rather is financed through Epic’s $100M MegaGrants fund.

Augmented Reality

  • Patents around Apple’s AR and VR efforts describe how a system could be identified in a way that’s similar to FaceID, then either permitted or denied the ability to change their appearance in the game.
  • Pinterest launches AR try-on for eyeshadow in its mobile app using Lens technology and ModiFace data. The app already offered AR try-on for lipsticks.

Entertainment

  • The CW app became the No. 1 app on the App Store this week, topping TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, thanks to CW’s season premieres of Batwoman, All American, Riverdale and Nancy Drew.
  • Users of podcasting app Anchor, owned by Spotify, say the app isn’t bringing them any sponsorship opportunities, as promised, beyond those from Spotify and Anchor itself.
  • YouTube launches hashtag landing pages on the web and in its mobile app. The pages are accessible when you click hashtags on YouTube, not via search, and weirdly rank the “best” videos through some inscrutable algorithm.
  • Apple’s Podcasts app adds a new editorial feature, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, meant to increase podcast listening by showcasing the best podcasts as selected by Apple editors.

E-commerce

  • WeChat facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs” in 2020. The figure is more than double that of 2019.

Fintech

  • Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, launched an e-wallet, Douyin Pay. The wallet will supplement the existing payment options, Alipay and WeChat Pay, and will help to support the Douyin app’s growing e-commerce business.
  • Neobank Monzo founder Tom Blomfield left the startup, saying he struggled during the pandemic. “I think [for] a lot of people in the world…going through a pandemic, going through lockdown and the isolation involved in that has an impact on people’s mental health,” he told TechCrunch.
  • New estimates indicate about 50% of the iPhone user base (or 507 million users) now use Apple Pay. 
  • Samsung’s newest phones drop support for MST, which emulates a mag stripe at terminals that don’t support NFC.

Social

  • Indian messaging app, StickerChat, owned by Hike, is shutting down. Founder Kavin Bharti Mittal said India will never have a homegrown messenger unless it bars Western companies from its market. Hike pivoted this month to virtual social apps, Vibe and Rush, which it believes have more potential.
  • Instagram head Adam Mosseri, in a Verge podcast, said he’s not happy with Reels so far, and how he feels most people probably don’t understand the difference between Instagram video and IGTV. He says the social network needs to simplify and consolidate ideas.
  • Facebook and Instagram improve their accessibility features. The apps’ AI-generated image captions now offer far more details about who or what is in the photos, thanks to improvements in image recognition systems.
  • TikTok launches a Q&A feature that lets creators respond to fan questions using text or videos. The feature, rolled out to select creators with more than 10,000 followers, makes it easier to see all the questions in one place.

Health & Fitness

  • Health and fitness app spending jumped 70% last year in Europe to record $544 million, a Sensor Tower report says. The year-over-year increase is far larger than 2019, when growth was just 37.2%. COVID-19 played a large role in this shift as people turned to fitness apps instead of gyms to stay in shape.

Government & Policy

  • Biden’s inauguration boosted installs of U.S. news apps up to 170%, Sensor Tower reported. CNN was the biggest mover, climbing 530 positions to reach No. 41 on the App Store, and up 170% in terms of downloads. News Break was the second highest, climbing 13 positions to No. 65. Right-wing outlet Newsmax climbed 43 spots to reach No. 108. In 2020, the top news apps were: News Break (23.7 million installs); SmartNews (9 million); CNN (5 million); and Fox News (4 million). This month, however, News Break saw 1.2 million installs, followed by Newsmax with about 863,000 installs, the report said.
  • Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) sent a draft decision to fellow EU Data Protection Authorities over the WhatsApp-Facebook data sharing policy. This means a decision on the matter is coming closer to a resolution in terms of what standards of transparency is required by WhatsApp.
  • German app developer Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents filed a complaint with the EU, U.S. DOJ and other antitrust watchdogs around the world over Apple and Google’s rejection of his COVID-related mobile game. Both stores had policies to only approve official COVID-19 apps from health authorities. Mueller renamed the game Viral Days and removed references to the novel coronavirus to get the app approved. However, he still feels the stores’ rules are holding back innovation.

Productivity

  • Basecamp’s Hey, which famously fought back against Apple’s App Store rules over IAP last year, has launched a business-focused platform, Hey for Work, expected to be public in Q1. The app has more App Store ratings than rival Superhuman, a report found. Currently, Hey has a 4.7-star rating across 3.3K reviews; Superhuman has 3.9 rating across only 274 reviews.

Trends

  • Baby boomers are increasingly using apps. Baby boomers/Gen Xers in the U.S. spent 30% more time year-over-year in their most used apps, App Annie reports. That’s a larger increase than either Millennials or Gen Z, at 18% and 16%, respectively.

Funding and M&A

  • Curtsy, a clothing resale app for Gen Z women, raised an $11 million Series A led by Index Ventures. The app tackles some of the problems with online resale by sending shipping supplies and labels to sellers, and by making the marketplace accessible to new and casual sellers.
  • Storytelling platform Wattpad acquired by South Korea’s Naver for $600 million. The reading apps whose stories have turned into book and Netflix hits will be incorporated into Naver’s publishing platform Webtoon.
  • On-demand delivery app Glovo partnered with Swiss-based real estate firm, Stoneweg, which is investing €100 million in building and refurbishing real estate in key markets to build out Glovo’s network of “dark stores.”
  • Pocket Casts app is up for sale. The podcast app was acquired nearly three years ago by a public radio consortium of top podcast producers (NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago and This American Life). The owners have now agreed to sell the app, which posted a net loss in 2020. (NPR’s share of the loss was over $800,000.)
  • Travel app Maps.me raised $50 million in a round led by Alameda Research. The funding will go toward the launch of a multi-currency wallet. Cryptocurrency lender Genesis Capital and institutional cryptocurrency firm CMS Holdings also participated in the round, Coindesk reported.
  • Bangalore-based hyperlocal delivery app Dunzo raised $40 million in a round that included investment from Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada and Alteria.
  • London-based food delivery app Deliveroo raised $180 million in new funding from existing investors, led by Durable Capital Partners and Fidelity Management, valuing the business at more than $7 billion.
  • Dating Group acquired Swiss startup Once, a dating app that sends one match per day, for $18 million.

Downloads

Bodyguard

Image Credits: Bodyguard

A French content moderation app called Bodyguard, detailed here by TechCrunch, has brought its service to the English-speaking market. The app allows you to choose the level of content moderation you want to see on top social networks, like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch. You can choose to hide toxic content across a range of categories, like insults, body shaming, moral harassment, sexual harassment, racism and homophobia and indicate whether the content is a low or high priority to block.

Beeper

Image Credits: Beeper

Pebble’s founder and current YC Partner Eric Migicovsky has launched a new app, Beeper, that aims to centralize in one interface 15 different chat apps, including iMessage. The app relies on an open-source federated, encrypted messaging protocol called Matrix that uses “bridges” to connect to the various networks to move the messages. However, iMessage support is more wonky, as the company actually ships you an old iPhone to make the connection to the network. But this system allows you to access Beeper on non-Apple devices, the company says. The app is slowly onboarding new users due to initial demand. The app works across MacOS, Windows, Linux‍, iOS and Android and charges $10/mo for the service.

 

Pinterest launches an AR-powered Try-on experience for eyeshadow

Pinterest is expanding its virtual makeup try-on capabilities with today’s launch of a new augmented reality feature that allows online shoppers to virtually try on new eyeshadow. Initially, Pinterest is allowing try-on with 4,000 shades from brands like Lancome, YSL, Urban Decay, and NYX Cosmetics.

The feature leverages Pinterest’s existing Lens visual search technology, its skin tone ranges feature, and computer-vision powered recommendations, the company says. We also understand Pinterest is incorporating elements from data partner ModiFace, including digitization parameters that ensure the products recognized are mapped to ModiFace’s database for higher-quality rendering.

This not Pinterest’s first virtual makeup feature. The company had previously launched an AR try-on experience for lipstick a year ago, which has now grown to include 10,000 shades, discoverable from 48 million beauty pins from brands like Estée Lauder, bareMinerals, Neutrogena, NARS, Cle de Peau, Thrive Causemetics, NYX Professional Makeup, YSL Beauté, Lancôme, and Urban Decay. Retailers, including Kohl’s, have also used AR try-on to reach consumers.

With the newly launched eyeshadow try-on, users can filter the product search results by factors like color, price range, and brand. if they find something they like, they can then purchase it immediately, save it to a board, or browse a “more like this” section to find more Pins offering similar shades.

video of AR eyeshadow effect

Image Credits: Pinterest

The expansion to eyeshadow means users can now experiment with more of a full makeup look, rather than just try on individual shades. There’s a toggle that lets users switch between lipstick and eyeshadow to try on multiple products at once, Pinterest says.

AR-powered virtual makeup experiences have been growing in popularity over the years, thanks in part to AR beauty apps  like ModiFace’ YouCam MakeupSephora’s Virtual ArtistUlta’s GLAMLab and others. L’Oréal has also offered Live Try-On on its website, and partnered with Facebook to bring virtual makeup to the site. Target’s online Beauty Studio also offers virtual makeup.

More recently, Google entered the AR virtual makeup space, initially with the launch of a more limited feature on YouTube that allowed some beauty influencers to incorporate an AR try-on experience for products in their videos. In December 2020, however, Google more fully embraced AR try-on with the launch of virtual makeup try-on within Google Search, also in partnership with ModiFace.

But Pinterest’s expansion to eyeshadow means it’s once again ahead of Google when it comes to visual search technology and virtual makeup. Not only does it offer more lipstick shades than Google, it now also offers eyeshadow try-on.

Pinterest says the AR try-on feature is being made available for free to brands who want to create visual shopping experiences and reach customers earlier in their decision-making process. The company says it continues to generate revenue through ads, including shopping ads, and not by monetizing its AR features or doing any revenue share on the try-ons that turn into sales.

“As we make Pinterest more shoppable through products like AR Try on, the platform becomes more engaging and actionable to Pinners, which can result in increases in usage and click-through of ads,” a spokesperson explains. “Organic features like Try on and ingestion of catalogs to create Product Pins can oftentimes complement a paid strategy where brands drive traffic across the site,” they noted.

The support for eyeshadow try-on is timely. Some beauty brand sales have been depressed by the pandemic, and particularly lipsticks, since it makes no sense to use lip color when your face is under a mask. Instead, current beauty trends have shifted to highlighting the eyes, with bright and bold colors for eyeshadow shades, the wild floating eyeliner look, large false lashes, and more — trends that are also designed to look good when filmed for social media posts, of course.

Pinterest says it has indications that its AR features are converting undecided shoppers to customers. In 2020, Pinterest found that users would try-on an average of 6 lipstick shades once they began the AR try-on experience, and then were 5 times more likely to show purchase intent on try-on compared with standard Pins.

The new eyeshadow try-on is live starting today using the Lens camera in the Pinterest app for iOS and Android.

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.

Pinterest says it will adopt workplace culture recommendations

Pinterest has committed to adopting the recommendations from its special committee of the Board of Directors, the company wrote in a blog post today. The committee formed earlier this year in June, shortly after two former employees, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, went public with their allegations of racial and gender discrimination while working at Pinterest.

The committee, which retained law firm WilmerHale to conduct a workplace review, spoke with more than 350 current and former employees to make its recommendations geared toward improving diversity, equity and inclusion at Pinterest. Here are a few of those recommendations:

  • mandatory unconscious bias training for every employee, including managers and executives
  • offer additional trainings on inclusivity and unconscious bias
  • include “diverse employees” in interview panels with job candidates
  • reward employees for their efforts to support and promote DEI
  • publish a diversity report twice a year for at least two years; after two years, publish the report annually
  • establish criteria for promotion eligibility
  • enhance Pinterest’s harassment and discrimination policy
  • create a centralized workplace investigations team to ensure consistent and fair outcomes

You can see all of the recommendations here. Pinterest, in a statement to TechCrunch, said it’s committed to making those changes.

“We value our employees and know it’s our responsibility to build a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for everyone at Pinterest,” a Pinterest spokesperson said. “Because we understand the urgency for change, we have taken actions over the past months to ensure everyone at Pinterest feels safe, welcomed and championed and believe we’re on a path to ensuring a culture where all employees feel included and supported.”

In a note to employees, Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann said that everyone at the company will have an opportunity to discuss the recommendations and ask questions later this week. Silberman also said he felt encouraged that many of the suggestions “mirror efforts we already have underway to build a culture where all employees feel included and supported.”

Earlier this week, Pinterest settled a gender discrimination lawsuit with former COO Francoise Brougher for $22.5 million. But that hefty payout highlighted some of the inequities in tech. Brougher filed her lawsuit in August, after Ozoma and Banks went public with their allegations. While Brougher walked away with millions, Ozoma and Banks received less than one year’s worth of severance.

“So we, like in many, many, many other cases, Black women put ourselves on the line, shared absolutely everything that happened to us, then laid the groundwork for someone else to swoop in and collect ‘progress,’ ” Ozoma previously told TechCrunch. “No progress has been made here because no rights have been made with people who harm has been done to.”

Pinterest’s $22.5M settlement highlights tech’s inequities, say former employees who alleged discrimination

When Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, formerly of Pinterest’s policy team, alleged racial and gender discrimination at Pinterest in June, the hope was for Pinterest to make them whole and address its culture of alleged discrimination, Ozoma told TechCrunch. But that’s not what happened.

Just two months later, former Pinterest COO Françoise Brougher sued Pinterest, alleging gender discrimination, which yesterday resulted in a $22.5 million settlement. As part of the settlement, Pinterest will pay $20 million to Brougher and her attorneys, the company wrote in a filing.

“It’s about as plain a case of disparate treatment and discrimination as you can come up with,” Ozoma said.

On a call with TechCrunch today, Ozoma and Banks described a double standard in their experiences compared to Brougher’s. While Brougher received a $20 million payout, Ozoma and Banks received less than one year’s worth of severance.

“This follows the time-honored tradition in America where Black women come forward, blazing a trail, revealing injustice and white women coming in and reaping all the benefits of that,” Banks told TechCrunch.

Earlier this month, a group of shareholders filed a lawsuit against Pinterest executives, including CEO Ben Silbermann, alleging they enabled a culture of discrimination. The complaint goes on to allege that culture of discrimination has harmed Pinterest’s reputation and led to financial harm.

For Ozoma and Banks, however, they say they’ve exhausted all of their legal options and will not pursue a lawsuit. Banks said it is important to keep in mind the fact that Brougher, a former COO, had far more resources to pursue litigation.

“So we, like in many, many, many other cases, Black women put ourselves on the line, shared absolutely everything that happened to us, then laid the groundwork for someone else to swoop in and collect ‘progress,'” Ozoma said. “No progress has been made here because no rights have been made with people who harm has been done to.”

As a part of the settlement, both Pinterest and Brougher will commit $2.5 million toward “advancing women and underrepresented communities” in the tech industry.

“Francoise welcomes the meaningful steps Pinterest has taken to improve its workplace environment and is encouraged that Pinterest is committed to building a culture that allows all employees to feel included and supported,” Pinterest and Brougher said in a joint statement detailing the settlement.

Ozoma took issue with Pinterest and Brougher donating $2.5 million to charity. She said, “it smells rotten,” noting that she herself is an individual and not a charity.

TechCrunch reached out to Pinterest regarding Ozoma and Banks’ recent statements. Pinterest declined to comment, saying the company doesn’t comment on legal matters. In June, however, Pinterest said in a statement to TechCrunch:

We took these issues seriously and conducted a thorough investigation when they were raised, and we’re confident both employees were treated fairly. We want each and every one of our employees at Pinterest to feel welcomed, valued, and respected. As we outlined in our statement on June 2nd, we’re committed to advancing our work in inclusion and diversity by taking action at our company and on our platform. In areas where we, as a company, fall short, we must and will do better.

Pinterest employees staged a walkout in August shortly after Brougher filed her suit. In addition to the walkout, a petition circulated throughout the company demanding systemic change. The change they sought entailed full transparency about promotion levels and retention, total compensation package transparency and for the people within two layers of reporting to the CEO to be at least 25% women and 8% underrepresented employees.

Since then, Pinterest has made some changes at the board level. A couple of days after the walkout, Pinterest announced Andrea Wishom as the company’s first-ever Black board member. In October, Pinterest added its second Black board member, Salaam Coleman Smith.

Pinterest says it has also enhanced its hiring and interview processes to try to improve diversity at senior levels, updated its inclusion training and launched an internal wiki detailing how Pinterest makes compensation decisions.

Pinterest had long been considered a leader in diversity and inclusion. When asked about whether that has ever been true — if Pinterest had effectively enacted a solid DEI strategy, Ozoma was clear.

“No. If it were true, I don’t think we’d be having a conversation right now.”

Discrimination, particularly toward Black women, is systemic in the tech industry. Earlier this month, Dr. Timnit Gebru said Google fired her for an email speaking out about ethics in artificial intelligence. Banks and Ozoma told TechCrunch they are worried about a chilling effect on other Black women coming forward.

One person reached out to her, Banks said, asking about what hope other Black women have.

“That’s why we said something,” Ozoma said. “We’re not in a position that someone in the C-suite would have been. But our integrity means more than anything else, and if we can help other folks, we will.”

Pinterest settles gender discrimination lawsuit with former COO for $22.5 million

Pinterest today announced it has settled the gender discrimination lawsuit brought forth by former COO Francoise Brougher. In August, Brougher sued Pinterest, alleging gender discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination.

As part of the settlement, Pinterest will pay $20 million to Brougher and her attorneys, and both Pinterest and Brougher will commit $2.5 million toward “Advancing women and underrepresented communities” in the tech industry, the company wrote in a filing.

“Pinterest recognizes the importance of fostering a workplace environment that is diverse, equitable and inclusive and will continue its actions to improve its culture,” Pinterest and Brougher said in a joint statement detailing the settlement. “Francoise welcomes the meaningful steps Pinterest has taken to improve its workplace environment and is encouraged that Pinterest is committed to building a culture that allows all employees to feel included and supported.”

Shortly after Brougher went public with her claims, Pinterest employees staged a walkout in response to her accusations as well as in response to the claims of two former Black Pinterest employees. Prior to Brougher’s claims, Aerica Shimizu Banks and Ifeoma Ozoma accused Pinterest of racial discrimination.

In addition to the walkout, a petition circulated throughout the company demanding systemic change. The change they sought entailed full transparency about promotion levels and retention, total compensation package transparency and for the people within two layers of reporting to the CEO to be at least 25% women and 8% underrepresented employees.

Since then, Pinterest has notably made some changes at the board level. A couple of days after the walkout, Pinterest announced Andrea Wishom as the company’s first-ever Black board member. In October, Pinterest added its second Black board member, Salaam Coleman Smith.

Pinterest says it has also enhanced its hiring and interview processes to try to improve diversity at senior levels, updated its inclusion training and launched an internal wiki detailing how Pinterest makes compensation decisions.

Pinterest adds favorites, notes and a new toolbar after increased use of boards during pandemic

Pinterest today is adding a few new features — notes, favorites and a board toolbar — aimed at helping those who use their boards for making lists of gift ideas, or who have a hard time navigating and sorting through boards with a larger number of items. The additions follow a blowout third quarter for the social platform which benefited from the increases in screen time during the Covid-19 pandemic, which kept people indoors to shop, socialize, and plan online.

According to Pinterest, there’s been a 35% increase in the number of monthly boards created during the last six months, and a 30% increase in the number of collaborative boards.

To make it easier for those who are using boards to remind them of things to try or — as the holidays roll out — buy as gifts, a new “Notes to self” feature could be useful. This allows users to add private notes to their Pins on either their public or private boards, including on boards where they’re collaborating with others. This feature is interesting because it could also serve as a rudimentary communication system between multiple parties who are working on projects together, where resources are organized on Pinterest’s platform.

Image Credits: Pinterest

Connecting Pinterest users with a broader audience is something the company has been experimenting with, as of late. As we reported in November, Pinterest has been testing an online events feature that allows influencers and creators to use the platform to host classes, organize class materials, and group chat with attendees. A “notes” feature was part of this test, as well.

Another new addition rolling out today is a board toolbar designed for active boards with over 150 Pins. The toolbar makes it easier to sort through the Pins by offering to connect users to actions that can be taken on board. This includes things like organizing the board, creating to-do’s, or exploring more ideas that are related to the Pins.

Image Credits: Pinterest

Similarly, a board favorites feature is being launched today to help users better organize boards that have many Pins. Though it doesn’t require a large board to work, the feature could help to surface a user’s top Pins from a larger list of items. To mark a Pin as a favorite, you’ll just use the star icon on the board toolbar.

Pinterest says the features were built with user feedback and none of the new additions will be used for ad targeting. A three features are available globally and will roll out across all platforms, starting today.

Pinterest tests online events with dedicated ‘class communities’

Pinterest is getting into online events. The company has been spotted testing a new feature that allows users to sign up for Zoom classes through Pinterest, while creators use Pinterest’s class boards to organize class materials, notes, and other resources, or even connect with attendees through a group chat option. The company confirmed the test of online classes is an experiment now in development, but wouldn’t offer further details about its plans.

The feature itself was discovered on Tuesday by reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong, who found details about the online classes by looking into the app’s code.

Currently, you can visit some of these “demo” profiles directly — like “@pinsmeditation” or “@pinzoom123,” for example — and view their listed Class Communities. However, these communities are empty when you click through. That’s because the feature is still unreleased, Wong says.

When and if the feature is later launched to the public, the communities would include dedicated sections where creators will be able to organize their class materials — like lists of what to bring to class, notes, photos, and more. They could also use these communities to offer a class overview and description, connect users to a related shop, group chat feature, and more.

Creators are also able to use the communities — which are basically enhanced Pinterest boards — to respond to questions from attendees, share photos from the class, and otherwise interact with the participants.

When a user wants to join a class, they can click a “book” button to sign up, and are then emailed a confirmation with the meeting details. Other buttons direct attendees to download Zoom or copy the link to join the class.

It’s not surprising that Pinterest would expand into the online events space, given its platform has become a popular tool for organizing remote learning resources during the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers have turned to Pinterest to keep track of lesson plans, get inspiration, share educational activities, and more. In the early days of the pandemic, Pinterest reported record usage when the company saw more searches and saves globally in a single March weekend than ever before in its history, as a result of its usefulness as a online organizational tool.

This growth has continued throughout the year. In October, Pinterest’s stock jumped on strong earnings after the company beat on revenue and user growth metrics. The company brought in $443 million in revenue, versus $383.5 million expected, and grew its monthly active users to 442 million, versus the 436.4 million expected. Outside of the coronavirus impacts, much of this growth was due to strong international adoption, increased ad spend from advertisers boycotting Facebook, and a surge of interest from users looking for iOS 14 home screen personalization ideas.

Given that the U.S. has failed to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control, many classes, events and other activities will remain virtual even as we head into 2021. The online events market may continue to grow in the years that follow, too, thanks to the kickstart the pandemic provided the industry as a whole.

“We are experimenting with ways to help creators interact more closely with their audience,” a Pinterest spokesperson said, when asked for more information.

Pinterest wouldn’t confirm additional details about its plans for online events, but did say the feature was in development and the test would help to inform the product’s direction.

Pinterest often tries out new features before launching them to a wider audience. Earlier this summer, TechCrunch reported on a Story Pins feature the company had in the works. Pinterest then launched the feature in September. If the same time frame holds up for online events, we could potentially see the feature become more widely available sometime early next year.

Former Facebook and Pinterest exec Tim Kendall traces “extractive business models” to VCs

Last month, former Facebook and Pinterest executive Tim Kendall told Congress during a House hearing on the dangers of social media that Facebook made its products so addictive because its ad-driven business model relies on people paying attention to its product longer every day. He said much the same in the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” in which Kendall — along with numerous other prominent early employees of big tech companies — warns of the threat that Facebook and others pose to modern society.

Kendall — who today runs Moment, an app that helps users monitor device habits and reinforces positive screen-time behavior — isn’t done campaigning against his former employer yet. On Friday morning, we talked with him about the FTC inching closer to filing an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook for its market power in social networking; what he thinks of the DOJ’s separate antitrust lawsuit against Google, filed last Tuesday; and how venture capital contributed to the “unnatural” ways the companies have commanded our attention — and advertisers’ dollars along with it.

Our conversation has been excerpted. You can hear the full conversation here.

TC: Like everyone else, you wrestle with addiction to the apps on your phone. At what point did you decide that you wanted to take a more public role in helping to identify the problem and potentially help solve it.

TK:  I’ve always been interested in willpower, and the various things that weaken it. I have addiction in various parts of my family and extended family, and I’ve seen up close substance abuse, drug abuse. And as I started to look at this problem, it felt really similar. It’s the same shape and size as being addicted to drugs or having a behavioral addiction to food or shopping. But it didn’t seem like anyone was treating this with the same gravity.

TC: What has been the reaction of your colleagues to you turning the tables on this industry?

TK: It has evolved in the sense that, at the beginning of this, I was kinder to Facebook. When I started talking publicly about my work with Moment, I said, ‘Look, I think that those folks are focused on the right issues. And I think they’re going to solve the problem.’ And I was out there throughout 2018, saying that. Now I’ve gotten a lot more vocal [about the fact that] I don’t think they’re doing enough. And I don’t think it’s happening quickly enough. I think they’re absolutely negligent. And I think the negligence is really about not fully and accurately understanding what their platforms are doing to individuals and what their platforms are doing to society. I just do not think they have their arms around it in a complete way.

Is that deliberate? Is that because they’re delusional? I don’t know. But I know that the impact is very serious. And they are not aligned with the rest of us in terms of how severe and significant that impact is.

I think everyone within Facebook has confirmation bias, probably in the same way that I have confirmation bias. I am picking out the family at the restaurant that’s not looking at each other and staring at their phones and thinking, ‘Look at Facebook, it’s ruining families.’ That’s my confirmation bias. I think their confirmation bias is ‘There’s so much good that Facebook has done and is doing for the world.’ I can’t dispute that, and I suspect that the leaders there are looking to those cases more often and dismissing the severity of the cases that we talk about, [including] arguably tipping the election in 2016, propagating conspiracy theories, propagating misinformation.

TC: Do you think that Facebook has to be regulated the FTC?

TK: I think that something has to change. What I would really like to see is the leaders of government all over the world, the consumers that really care about this issue, and then the leaders of the company get together and maybe at the start it’s just a discussion about where we are. But if we could just agree on the common set of facts of the situation that we’re in, and the impact that these platforms are having on our world, if we could just get some alignment in a non-adversarial dynamic, I believe that there is a path whereby [all three can] come together and say, ‘Look, this doesn’t work. The business model is incongruent with the long-term well-being of society, and therefore —  not unlike how fossil fuels are incongruent with the long-term prospects for Earth, we need to have a reckoning and then create and a path out of it.’

Strict regulation that’s adversarial, I’m not sure is going to solve the problem. And it’s just going to be a drawn-out battle whereby more individuals are going to get sick [from addiction to their phones], and [companies like Facebook are] going to continue to wreak havoc on society.

TC: If this antitrust action is not necessarily the answer, what potentially could be on the regulatory front, assuming these three are not going to come together on their own?

TK: Congress and the Senate are looking really closely at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that allows — and has allowed since it got put in place in 1996 — platforms like Google and Facebook to operate in a very different way than your traditional media company does, in that they’re not liable for the content that shows up on their network.

That seemed like a great idea in 1996. And it did foster a lot of innovation because these bulletin board and portal-ike services were able to grow unabated as they didn’t have to deal with the liability issues on every piece of content that got posted on their platform. But you fast forward to today, it sure seems like one of the ways that we could solve misinformation and conspiracy theories and this tribalism that seems to take root by virtue of the social networks.

If you rewind five or 10 years ago, the issue that really plagued Facebook and to a lesser extent, Google, was privacy. And the government threatened Facebook again and again and again, and it never did anything about it. And finally, in 2019, it assessed a $5 billion fine and then ongoing penalties beyond that  for issues around privacy. And it’s interesting. It’s been a year since those were put in place, and we haven’t had any issues around privacy with Facebook.

TC: You were tasked with developing Facebook’s ad-driven business and coming up with a way for Pinterest to monetize its users. As someone who understands advertising as well as you do, what do you think about this case that the DOJ has brought against Google. What’s your hot take?

TK: If you’re trying to start an online business, and you want to monetize that business through advertising, it’s not impossible, but it is an incredibly steep uphill battle.

Pinterest ultimately broke through when I was president of Pinterest and working on their revenue business. But the dominance of both Google and Facebook within advertising makes it really difficult for new entrants. The advertisers don’t want to buy from you because they basically can get to anyone they want in a very effective way through Google and Facebook. And so what do they need Pinterest for? What do they need Snap for? Why do they need XYZZ startup tomorrow?

That’s on the advertising side. On the search side, Google has been stifling competition for years, and I mean that less in terms of allowing new entrants into search — although the government may be asserting that. I actually mean it in terms of content providers and publishers. They’ve been stifling Yelp for years. They’ve been basically trying to create these universal search boxes that provide the same local information that Yelp does. [Yelp] shows up organically  when I search for sandwich shops in downtown San Mateo, but then [Google puts] their own stuff above it and push it down to create a wedge to hurt Yelp’s business so that [Google] can support and build up their own local business. That’s anti-competitive.

TC: Along with running Moment, you’ve been talking with startups that are addressing some of the issues we’re seeing right now, including startups that tell you if a news outlet is left- and right-leaning so you’re aware of any biases ahead of time. Would you ever raise a fund? We’re starting to see these solo GPs raise pretty enormous first-time funds and people seemingly just as happily entrust their money to you.

TK. I think traditional venture capital, with traditional limited partners, and the typical timeframe of seven years from when the money goes in and the money needs to come out, created some of the problems that we have today. I think that companies are put in a position, once they take traditional venture capital, to do unnatural things and grow in unnatural ways. Absolutely the social networks that took venture capital felt the pressure at the board level from traditional venture capitalists to grow the user base faster and monetize it more quickly. And all those things led to this extractive business model that we’re looking at today with a critical eye and saying, ‘Oh, whoops, maybe this business model is creating an outcome that we don’t really like.’

If I ever took outside money to do more serious professional-grade investing, I would only take it from wealthy individuals and there would be an explicit term that basically said, ‘There’s no time horizon. You don’t get your money back in seven to 10 years necessarily.’ I think that’s the criteria you need to have if you’re really going to do investing in a way that doesn’t contribute to the problems and misaligned incentives that we’re dealing with today.