Twitter rolls out improved ‘reply prompts’ to cut down on harmful tweets

A year ago, Twitter began testing a feature that would prompt users to pause and reconsider before they replied to a tweet using “harmful” language — meaning language that was abusive, trolling, or otherwise offensive in nature. Today, the company says it’s rolling improved versions of these prompts to English-language users on iOS and soon, Android, after adjusting its systems that determine when to send the reminders to better understand when the language being used in the reply is actually harmful.

The idea behind these forced slow downs, or nudges, are about leveraging psychological tricks in order to help people make better decisions about what they post. Studies have indicated that introducing a nudge like this can lead people to edit and cancel posts they would have otherwise regretted.

Twitter’s own tests found that to be true, too. It said that 34% of people revised their initial reply after seeing the prompt, or chose not to send the reply at all. And, after being prompted once, people then composed 11% fewer offensive replies in the future, on average. That indicates that the prompt, for some small group at least, had a lasting impact on user behavior. (Twitter also found that users who were prompted were less likely to receive harmful replies back, but didn’t further quantify this metric.)

Image Credits: Twitter

However, Twitter’s early tests ran into some problems. it found its systems and algorithms sometimes struggled to understand the nuance that occurs in many conversations. For example, it couldn’t always differentiate between offensive replies and sarcasm or, sometimes, even friendly banter. It also struggled to account for those situations in which language is being reclaimed by underrepresented communities, and then used in non-harmful ways.

The improvements rolling out starting today aim to address these problems. Twitter says it’s made adjustments to the technology across these areas, and others. Now, it will take the relationship between the author and replier into consideration. That is, if both follow and reply to each other often, it’s more likely they have a better understanding of the preferred tone of communication than someone else who doesn’t.

Twitter says it has also improved the technology to more accurately detect strong language, including profanity.

And it’s made it easier for those who see the prompts to let Twitter know if the prompt was helpful or relevant — data that can help to improve the systems further.

How well this all works remains to be seen, of course.

Image Credits: Twitter

While any feature that can help dial down some of the toxicity on Twitter may be useful, this only addresses one aspect of the larger problem — people who get into heated exchanges that they could later regret. There are other issues across Twitter regarding abusive and toxic content that this solution alone can’t address.

These “reply prompts” aren’t the only time Twitter has used the concept of nudges to impact user behavior. It also reminds users to read an article before you retweet and amplify it in an effort to promote more informed discussions on its platform.

Twitter says the improved prompts are rolling out to all English-language users on iOS starting today, and will reach Android over the next few days.

Apple expands its ad business with a new App Store ad slot

At the same time as it’s cracking down on the advertising businesses run by rivals, Apple is introducing a new way for developers to advertise on the App Store. Previously, developers could promote their apps after users initiated a search on the App Store by targeting specific keywords. For example, if you typed in “taxi,” you might then see an ad by Uber in the top slot above the search results. The new ad slot, however, will reach users before they search. This can expose the app to a wider audience.

This new and more prominent ad placement is found on the App Store’s Search tab, which sees millions of visits from Apple device owners every month. Today, the Search tab offers two sections below the search box itself: a “Discover” section that highlights current App Store trends, and a “Suggested” section with recommended apps and games to try. The ad will appear in the latter section at the top of the list of Suggested apps.

These new ad placements, which Apple calls “Search tab campaigns,” are being made available as part of Apple’s Search Ads Advanced service, and can take advantage of the assets that developers have already uploaded to their App Store product page — like the app’s name, icon, and subtitle. Because developers are buying a direct placement on the App Store, they don’t need to submit keywords as they would for other App Store ads, nor any other creative assets.

Image Credits: Apple

Like the existing Search results campaigns, there’s no minimum spend required for a Search tab campaign. Developers can spend as little or as much as they want, then start, stop or adjust the campaign at any time, says Apple. Ad pricing is based on a cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) model. The actual cost is the result of a second price auction, which calculates what the developer will pay based on what the next closest bidder is willing to pay. Impressions are counted when at least 50% of the ad is visible for one second, Apple notes.

Apple’s decision to expand its advertising business appears to be a calculated move timed with the launch of iOS 14.5, the latest version of the iPhone’s operating system. Through a feature called App Tracking Transparency (ATT), rolling out in iOS 14.5, Apple is cracking down on apps that track users’ data without permission. After updating, users will see a new pop-up box appear in each app, where the developer will ask permission to collect and share the user’s information with data brokers and other third parties, if they previously collected this information without users’ consent. Users can also go into their iOS Settings to turn on or off app tracking for individual apps at any time.

The change is shaking up the $350+ billion digital ad industry, led by Facebook and Google. Facebook has argued the impacts of the change will hurt small businesses, who have historically relied on highly targeted, personalized ads that allow them to reach potential customers without spending a lot of money. Advertisers, meanwhile, have suggested that Apple’s changes will benefit its own bottom line at the expense of their own.

But Apple’s response, to date, has simply been that the changes were necessary to protect consumer privacy. People should have a right to know “when their data is being collected and shared across other apps and websites,” the company said, “and they should have the choice to allow that or not.”

According to early data by Flurry Analytics, only around 11% of users are opting in to being tracked after the iOS 14.5 launch. For app publishers looking to acquire new users, that could make this new ad slot look more appealing than it would have, had it launched before ATT rolled out.

Apple’s plans to launch the new ad slot were reported by the Financial Times in April, which noted that ultimately, the changes may be more about money — they could also be about control. In years past, getting featured on the App Store could boost a company’s valuation as new users flooded in. Apple may want to shift that power away from third-parties and back to itself and its own App Store both in terms of app discovery and anointing the next hit apps.

A new YouTube feature will make its connected TV ads more shoppable

YouTube today gave advertisers a sneak peek at its plans to make its video platform more shoppable. The company will soon be introducing a new interactive feature aimed at advertisers called brand extensions, which will allow YouTube viewers to learn more about a product they see on the screen with a click of a button.

The new ad format will allow the advertiser to highlight their website link or another call-to-action in their connected TV video ad. The viewer can then click the option “send to phone,” which then sends that promotion or URL directly to their mobile device, without interrupting their viewing experience.

From the mobile device, the consumer could then shop the website as they would normally — browsing products, adding items to the cart, and completing the transaction. But they can do it when they’re ready to engage with that product information, instead of having to stop their video to do so.

The advertisers will also be able to smartly target the ads to the correct audience, based on the video content. For example, a fitness video may feature a brand extension ad that shows a new pair of running shoes.

Advertisers will be able to measure the conversions generated by these brand extensions directly in Google Ads, YouTube says.

In a related e-commerce ad effort, brands can now also add browsable product images to their direct response video ads, in order to encourage interested shoppers to click to visit their website or app.

These are only a few of the efforts YouTube has been working on with the goal of expand further into e-commerce.

Consumers, and particularly younger Gen Z users, today like to watch videos and engage while they shop, leading to the emergence of numerous video shopping services — like Popshop Live, NTWRK, ShopShops, TalkShopLive, Bambuser, and others. Facebook has also invested in live shopping and video-based shopping across both Facebook and Instagram.

Meanwhile, TikTok has become a home to video-based e-commerce, with Walmart (which also tried to acquire a stake in the app when Trump was trying to force a sale) hosting multiple shopping livestreams in recent months. TikTok also found success with e-commerce as it has rolled out more tools to direct video viewers to websites through integrated links and integrations with Shopify, for example.

But YouTube still has a sizable potential audience for video shopping, as it represents 40% of watch time of all ad-supported streaming services, per Comscore data. And of the top five streaming services in the U.S. that account for 80% of the connected TV market, only two are ad-supported, YouTube noted.

Ads are only one way YouTube will drive e-commerce traffic. Creators will also play a role.

A report from Bloomberg this past fall said YouTube was asking creators to tag and track the products they were featuring in their clips. YouTube later revealed more about this effort in February, saying it was beta testing a shopping experience that lets viewers shop from their favorite creators, and that this would roll out more broadly in 2021.

Brand extensions are separate from that effort, however, as they’re focused on giving the advertiser their own means to drive a shopping experience from a video.

YouTube says the new brand extensions ads are only the first of more interactive features the company has in store. The feature will roll out globally later this year.

Live video platform Bright lets you Zoom with your favorite creators

What if you could Zoom with your favorite creator and ask them questions? That’s the promise of Bright, the new live video platform launching today from co-founders Guy Oseary and early YouTube product manager Michael Powers. The service, built on top of Zoom, allows fans to engage in live, face-to-face video sessions with creators, ask questions and even join creators on a virtual stage for a more personal and direct learning experience.

Though the startup has some similarities to voice chat apps like Clubhouse, as it also democratizes access to big-name talent at times, the co-founders explain that Bright’s focus will be very different. Besides being a video-on experience, Bright is solely focused on educational content — that is, learning from people who are sharing their expertise with the community. In addition, the sessions hosted on Bright are ticketed events, where the creator decides how many tickets they want to sell and how much they’re charging.

Image Credits: Bright

“Twenty percent of the content on YouTube was learning. It was the second-biggest area next to music. And that was true the first year of YouTube and it’s true now at scale,” explains Bright CEO Michael Powers, as to why Bright has chosen to focus on learning. Powers knows the creator industry firsthand, having launched the YouTube Channels feature while at YouTube, and later managed YouTube’s first revenue-generating opportunities for creators. More recently, he served as SVP and GM at CBS Interactive.

Powers says he saw how powerful educational and learning content could be, but also how difficult it was for creators earning a rev share off an ad network, like YouTube’s, to become self-sustainable.

“I watched that over the past five years, especially, as the different platforms have scaled up,” Powers says, and became inspired to launch a better way for creators to monetize their expertise. “We’ve got to empower [creators] so they can go beyond just being a personal brand or social brand, and be an actual business,” he adds.

Oseary, meanwhile, was tooling around with a similar concept, having also had direct experience with creators in the music industry and through his investments. The founder of Maverick music management company, Oseary continues to manage Madonna and U2, but these days has his hands in numerous startups as the co-founder of Sound Ventures and A-Grade Investments with actor Ashton Kutcher.

Though Oseary and Powers have yet to meet in person, they connected over the web — much like Bright’s creators will now do — to get the new startup off the ground during a pandemic.

With today’s launch, Bright is promising a lineup of more than 200 prominent creators, many from the arts, including Madonna, Ashton Kutcher, Naomi Campbell, Shawn Mendes, Amy Schumer, D-Nice, the D’Amelio Sisters, Laura Dern, Judd Apatow, Deepak Chopra, Diplo, Kenny Smith, Kane Brown, Drew and Jonathan Scott (Property Brothers), Lindsey Vonn, Rachel Zoe, Diego Boneta, Tal Fishman, Ryan Prunty, Demi Skipper, Charlotte McKinney, Jason Bolden, Yris Palmer, Cat & Nat, Ronnie2K, Chef Ludo Lefebvre and Jonathan Mannion, among others.

And it has another 1,500 creators on a waitlist, ready to begin hosting their own sessions when Bright opens up further.

Image Credits: Bright session example

Although Bright’s lineup implies it’s aiming at a high-profile creator crowd, Oseary insists Bright will be for anyone with an audience of their own — not just famous names.

“This is not elitist…If you’ve got an audience and you have something to offer your audience, we would like you on the platform,” he says.

Today, creators can go to other social networks, like Facebook Live or Instagram Live, if they want to just chat with fans more casually. But people will come to Bright to be educated, Oseary notes. And short of getting a creator to FaceTime you directly, he believes this will be the next best way to reach them — and one people are familiar with using, thanks to the Zoom adoption that grew out of the pandemic’s impact to business culture and remote work.

“The best way to connect is to use a platform that we’ve all learned how to use this last year,” Oseary says, referring to Bright’s Zoom connection. “We all already have the app. We already know how to navigate through it. We’ve added a bunch of features to make it more interesting,” he adds.

Image Credits: Bright

At launch, fans will be able to visit Bright’s website, view the array of upcoming events and purchase tickets. Some of the first sessions include Laura Dern leading a “Tell Your Story” session about personal growth; Kenny Smith will interview favorite athletes and discuss their mindsets at turning points in their careers; Property Brothers Jonathan & Drew Scott will host “Room by Room,” focused on home improvement; recording artist Kane Brown will host “Record This: Nashville Edition” about the country music industry; and Ronnie2K will host a series about building a career in gaming.

Bright’s model will see it taking a 20% commission on creator revenue, which is lower than the traditional marketplace split of 30/70 (platform/creator), but higher than the commission-free payments on Clubhouse (at least for the time being!). Further down the road, Bright envisions building out more tools to help creators with other aspects of their business — like the sale of physical or digital goods, for example.

Though there are numerous creator platforms to choose from these days, Bright aims to give creators direct access to their own analytics about their biggest fans, their content and fans’ contact information, like names and emails. This allows them to continue their relationship with their community beyond Bright into other areas of their business — whether that’s email newsletters or Shopify stores.

To make all this work, LA-based Bright has recruited a team with deep expertise in both the creator economy and tech.

This includes Bright’s VP of Talent & Partnership, Kaitlyn Powell, former head of Talent at Caffeine; Bright’s lead Creator & Product Strategy, Sadia Harper, formerly a UX Strategist at Instagram; Bright’s director of Creative Programming, Jeben Berg, previously of YouTube & Maker Studios; Design lead Heather Grates, previously of Pinterest; and Bright’s finance lead Jarad Backlund, previously in roles at Apple and Facebook.

The startup has raised an undisclosed amount funding from Oseary’s own Sound Ventures, as well as RIT Capital, Norwest, Globo and other investors.

Twitter acquires distraction-free reading service Scroll to beef up its subscription product

Twitter this morning announced it’s acquiring Scroll, a subscription service that offers readers a better way to read through long-form content on the web, by removing ads and other website clutter that can slow down the experience. The service will become a part of Twitter’s larger plans to invest in subscriptions, the company says, and will later be offered as one of the premium features Twitter will provide to subscribers.

Premium subscribers will be able to use Scroll to easily read their articles from news outlets and from Twitter’s own newsletters product, Revue, another recent acquisition that’s already been integrated into Twitter’s service. When subscribers use Scroll through Twitter, a portion of their subscription revenue would go to support the publishers and the writers creating the content, explains Twitter in an announcement.

The service today works across hundreds of sites, including The Atlantic, The Verge, USA Today, The Sacramento Bee, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Daily Beast, among others. For readers, the experience of using Scroll is similar to that of a “reader view” — ads, trackers, and other website junk is stripped so readers can focus on the content.

Image Credits: Twitter

Scroll’s pitch to publishers has been that it can end up delivering cleaner content that can make them more money than advertising alone.

Deal terms were not disclosed, but Twitter will be bringing on the entire Scroll team, totalling 13 people.

For the time being, Scroll will pause new customer sign-ups so it can focus on integrating its product into Twitter’s subscriptions work and prepare for the expected growth. It will, however, continue to onboard new publishers who want to participate in Scroll’s network, following the deal’s closure.

And Scroll itself will be headed back into private beta as the team works to integrate the product into Twitter.

Twitter says it will also be winding down Scroll’s news aggregator Nuzzel product, but will work to bring some of Nuzzel’s core elements to Twitter over time.

“Twitter exists to serve the public conversation. Journalism is the mitochondria of that conversation. It initiates, energizes and informs. It converts and confounds perspectives. At its best it helps us stand in one another’s shoes and understand each other’s common humanity,” said Tony Haile, Scroll CEO, in the company’s post about Scroll’s acquisition. “The mission we’ve been given by Jack and the Twitter team is simple: take the model and platform that Scroll has built and scale it so that everyone who uses Twitter has the opportunity to experience an internet without friction and frustration, a great gathering of people who love the news and pay to sustainably support it,” he added.

Amazon’s over-the-top business, including IMDb TV and Twitch, tops 120M monthly viewers

Amazon’s free, ad-supported streaming service IMDb TV is getting its own mobile app. The company announced the news today at its first-ever NewFronts presentation to advertisers, where it also shared that its over-the-top streaming businesses combined — meaning, IMDb TV, Twitch, live sports like Thursday Night Football, Amazon’s News app and others — have now grown to more than 120 million monthly viewers.

This over-the-top business, or Amazon OTT as it’s called, includes anywhere ads show up alongside content on the IMDb TV app, Twitch’s game streaming site, during live sports Amazon streams through Prime Video, its 3P network and broadcaster apps and its Amazon’s News app for Fire TV.

IMDb TV viewership, in particular, jumped 138% year-over-year, Amazon noted.

The ad-supported service, which likely benefited from the same pandemic bump that drove streaming service viewership higher across the board last year, is something of a rival to other free, ad-supported streamers, like Fox’s Tubi, ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV or Roku’s The Roku Channel. However, more like Roku’s hub, Amazon leverages IMDb TV to help it sell its own media devices by promising users easy access to free, streaming content.

Today, that’s resulted in the IMDb TV app seeing the majority of its usage on Fire TV. But over the past several months, the app has become more broadly available, with launches on Roku, Chromecast with Google TV, PlayStation 4 consoles, Xbox One and Series X devices, LG Smart TVs, Nvidia, Sony Android TV and TiVo Android TV devices, Amazon says.

Now it will get its own dedicated mobile app, as well, instead of only a small section inside the IMDb app where the service’s content can be found today on smartphones. The new standalone app will arrive this summer on both iOS and Android, says Amazon.

Amazon also told advertisers about IMDb TV’s current user base, noting that 62% were in between ages 18 and 49. And they spend 5.5 hours per week on the app, on average.

The forthcoming mobile launch was one of several announcements Amazon made today at its Newfronts presentation today.

The company also detailed its upcoming IMDb TV slate, including unscripted series “Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road Diary,” “Bug Out” and “Untitled Jeff Lewis Project” as well as scripted releases “Blessed and Highly Favored,” “Greek Candy,” “Primo,” “The Fed,” and “The Pradeeps of Pittsburgh, PA.” Music duo Tegan and Sara’s memoir “High School” will be adapted as an original series for IMDb TV. IMDb TV also announced a new crime drama, “Leverage: Redemption,” and police drama, “On Call.”

IMDb TV parent company Amazon, meanwhile, expanded its deal with the NFL for Thursday Night Football, which now runs 11 seasons, starting with the 2022 season instead of the following year.

Twitter expands Spaces to anyone with 600+ followers, details plans for tickets, reminders and more

Twitter Spaces, the company’s new live audio rooms feature, is opening up more broadly. The company announced today it’s making Twitter Spaces available to any account with 600 followers or more, including both iOS and Android users. It also officially unveiled some of the features it’s preparing to launch, like Ticketed Spaces, scheduling features, reminders, support for co-hosting, accessibility improvements, and more.

Along with the expansion, Twitter is making Spaces more visible on its platform, too. The company notes it has begun testing the ability to find and join a Space from a purple bubble around someone’s profile picture right from the Home timeline.

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter says it decided on the 600 follower figure as being the minimum to gain access to Twitter Spaces based on its earlier testing. Accounts with 600 or more followers tend to have “a good experience” hosting live conversations because they have a larger existing audience who can tune in. However, Twitter says it’s still planning to bring Spaces to all users in the future.

In the meantime, it’s speeding ahead with new features and developments. Twitter has been building Spaces in public, taking into consideration user feedback as it prioritizes features and updates. Already, it has built out an expanded set of audience management controls, as users requested, introduced a way for hosts to mute all speakers at once, and added the laughing emoji to its set of reactions, after users requested it.

Now, its focus is turning towards creators. Twitter Spaces will soon support multiple co-hosts, and creators will be able to better market and even charge for access to their live events on Twitter Spaces. One feature, arriving in the next few weeks, will allow users to schedule and set reminders about Spaces they don’t want to miss. This can also help creators who are marketing their event in advance, as part of the RSVP process could involve pushing users to “set a reminder” about the upcoming show.

Twitter Spaces’ rival, Clubhouse, also just announced a reminders feature during its Townhall event on Sunday as well at the start of its external Android testing. The two platforms, it seems, could soon be neck-and-neck in terms of feature set.

Image Credits: Twitter

But while Clubhouse recently launched in-app donations feature as a means of supporting favorite creators, Twitter will soon introduce a more traditional means of generating revenue from live events: selling tickets. The company says it’s working on a feature that will allow hosts to set ticket prices and how many are available to a given event, in order to give them a way of earning revenue from their Twitter Spaces.

A limited group of testers will gain access to Ticketed Spaces in the coming months, Twitter says. Unlike Clubhouse, which has yet to tap into creator revenue streams, Twitter will take a small cut from these ticket sales. However, it notes that the “majority” of the revenue will go to the creators themselves.

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter also noted that it’s improving its accessibility feature, live captions, so they can be paused and customized, and is working to make them more accurate.

The company will be hosting a Twitter Space of its own today around 1 PM PT to further discuss these announcements in more detail.

Epic Games buys artist community ArtStation, drops commissions to 12%

One the same day as Fortnite maker Epic Games goes to trial with one of the biggest legal challenges to the App Store’s business model to date, it has simultaneously announced the acquisition of the artist portfolio community ArtStation — and immediately lowered the commissions on sales. Now standard creators on ArtStation will see the same 12% commission rate found in Epic’s own Games Store for PCs, instead of the 30% it was before. This reduced rate is meant to serve as an example the wider community as to what a “reasonable” commission should look like. This could become a point of comparison with the Apple App Store’s 30% commission for larger developers like Epic as the court case proceeds.

ArtStation today offers a place for creators across gaming, media, and entertainment to showcase their work and find new jobs. The company has had a long relationship with Epic Games, as many ArtStation creators work with Epic’s Unreal Engine. However, ArtStation has also been a home to 2D and 3D creators across verticals, including those who don’t work with Unreal Engine.

The acquisition won’t change that, the team says in its announcement. Instead, the deal will expand the opportunities for creators to monetize their work. Most notably, that involves the commission drop. For standard creators, the fees will drop from 30% to 12%. For Pro members (who pay $9.95/mo for a subscription), the commission goes even lower — from 20% to 8%. And for self-promoted sales, the fees will be just 5%. ArtEngine’s streaming video service, ArtStation Learning, will also be free for the rest of 2021, the company notes.

The slashed commission, however, is perhaps the most important change Epic is making to ArtStation because it gives Epic a specific example as to how it treats its own creator communities. It will likely reference the acquisition and the commission changes during its trial with Apple, along with its own Epic Games Store and its similarly low rate. Already, Epic’s move had prompted Microsoft to lower its cut on game sales, too, having recently announced a similar 30% to 12% drop.

In the trial, Epic Games will try to argue that Apple has a monopoly on the iOS app ecosystem and it abuses its market power to force developers to use Apple’s payment systems and pay it commissions on the sales and in-app purchases that flow through those systems. Epic Games, like several other larger app makers, would rather use its own payment systems to avoid the commission — or at the very least, be able to point users to a website where they can pay directly. But Apple doesn’t allow this, per its App Store guidelines.

Last year, Epic Games triggered Fortnite’s App Store expulsion by introducing a new direct way to pay on mobile devices which offered a steep discount. It was a calculated move. Both Apple and Google immediately banned the game for violating their respective app store policies, as a result. And then Epic sued.

While Epic’s fight is technically with both Apple and Google, it has focused more of its energy on the former because Android devices allow sideloading of apps (a means of installing apps directly), and Apple does not.

Meanwhile, Apple’s argument is that Epic Games agreed to Apple’s terms and guidelines and then purposefully violated them in an effort to get a special deal. But Apple says the guidelines apply to all developers equally, and Epic doesn’t get an exception here.

However, throughout the course of the U.S. antitrust investigations into big tech, it was discovered that Apple did, in fact, make special deals in the past. Emails shared by the House Judiciary Committee as a part of an investigation revealed that Apple had agreed to a 15% commission for Amazon’s Prime Video app at the start, when typically subscription video apps are 30% in year one, then 15% in year two and beyond. (Apple says Amazon simply qualified for a new program.) Plus, other older emails revealed Apple had several discussions about raising commissions even higher than 30%, indicating that Apple believed its commission rate had some flex.

Ahead of today’s acquisition by Epic Games, ArtStation received a “Megagrant” from Epic during the height of the pandemic to help it through an uncertain period. This could may have pushed the two companies to further discuss deeper ties going forward.

“Over the last seven years, we’ve worked hard to enable creators to showcase their work, connect with opportunities and make a living doing what they love,” said Leonard Teo, CEO and co-founder of ArtStation, in a statement. “As part of Epic, we will be able to advance this mission and give back to the community in ways that we weren’t able to on our own, while retaining the ArtStation name and spirit.”

Clubhouse begins externally testing its Android app

Clubhouse, the voice-based networking app that’s now being knocked off by every major tech platform, is bringing its service to Android. The company announced during its weekly townhall event that its Android version has entered beta testing with a handful of non-employees who will provide the company with early feedback ahead of a public launch.

In its release notes, Clubhouse referred to this test as involving a “rough beta version” that’s in the process of being rolled out to a group of “friendly testers.” That means there’s not a way for the broader public to sign up for the Android app just yet.

The lack of an Android client combined with its invite system initially gave Clubhouse an aura of exclusivity. You had to know someone to get in, and then you would need an iOS device to participate. But the delay to provide access to Android users also gave larger competitors time to catch up with Clubhouse and court users who were being left behind. One of the largest of the rivals, Facebook, recently challenged Clubhouse across all its platforms and services, in fact.

Facebook announced a full audio strategy that included a range of new products, from short-form audio snippets to a direct Clubhouse clone that works across Facebook and Messenger. It also announced a way for Instagram Live users to turn off their video and mute their mics, similar to Clubhouse. Even Facebook’s R&D division tested a Clubhouse alternative, Hotline, which offers a sort of mashup between the popular audio app and Instagram Live, with more of a Q&A focus.

Meanwhile, Twitter is continuing to expand its audio rooms feature, Twitter Spaces, and there are Clubhouse alternatives from Reddit, LinkedIn, Spotify, Discord, Telegram and others, in the works, too.

For Clubhouse, that means the time has come to push for growth — especially as there are already some signs its initial hype is wearing off. According to app store intelligence firm Apptopia, Clubhouse has seen an estimated 13.5 million downloads on iOS to date, but the number of daily downloads has been falling, mirroring a decline in the number of daily active users.

Image Credits: Apptopia

Apptopia’s data shows that Clubhouse’s daily active users are down 68% from a high in February 2021, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that Clubhouse is over — it’s just becoming less of a daily habit. But if the company is able to build out its creator community and establish a number of popular shows, which it’s aiming to do via its accelerator, it could still see users tuning in on a weekly and monthly basis. And those sessions would be longer in comparison with some other social apps, as Clubhouse users often tune into shows that run over an hour — even leaving the app open as they do other tasks.

For example, Clubhouse’s average session time per user is about 125% higher than Snapchat or Instagram. But compared with a streaming app like Spotify, sessions are shorter. Spotify’s average session per user is about 63% higher than Clubhouse, Apptopia data indicates.

However, Clubhouse is taking aim at the challenges around re-engaging people whose usage may have dwindled in recent days. Also during its townhall, the company announced it would introduce a bell icon for events that will allow users to be notified about the events to which they’ve RSVP’d. This will be important for creators who are advertising their events, as well.

Clubhouse didn’t give a specific time frame as to when its Android app would reach more testers or the wider public, only noting that it’s looking forward to welcoming more Android users in the “coming weeks.” In March, Clubhouse said the Android launch would take a couple of months.

This Week in Apps: EU rules Apple’s a monopoly, Spotify and Facebook team up, ATT arrives

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 at the launch of Apple’s ATT, the Facebook and Spotify team-up and the latest from the EU’s antitrust investigation against Apple.

This Week in Apps will soon be a newsletter! Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Here Comes ATT

Apple’s public debut of App Tracking Transparency, or ATT, is the news of the week and possibly of the year. Through a small pop-up message asking users if the app can track them, Apple has disrupted a multibillion-dollar adtech industry, altered the course of tech giants like Facebook and drawn possible lawsuits and antitrust complaints, all in the name of protecting consumer privacy. Apple does believe in privacy and user control — you can tell that from the way the company has built its technology to do things like on-device processing or permissions toggles that let people decide what their apps can and cannot do.

But Apple will also benefit from this particular privacy reform, too. Its own first-party apps can collect data and share it with other first-party apps. That means what you do in apps like the App Store, Apple News, Stocks and others can be used to personalize Apple’s own ads. And the company is prepared to capitalize on this opportunity too, with the addition of a new ad slot on the App Store (in the Suggested section on the Search tab.) If it wants to roll out more ads over time to other businesses — perhaps, those podcasts it got newly interested in after Spotify did? Or in its streaming TV service or fitness solution? Perhaps the ads it sells in Apple News? — then it would have access to valuable data it could use. Oh and the next time you open the App Store or Apple News, you won’t be bothered with one of those pesky warnings! Nope — that’s only for third-parties, a very important distinction! If you want to turn off Apple’s own ability to track you across its growing number of apps, that’s at the VERY bottom of iOS’s Privacy Settings.

We heard you like Spotify, so we put Spotify in your Facebook app

Image Credits: Spotify

Facebook and Spotify expanded their partnership this week. The companies had earlier announced their plans to make it easier for Facebook users to stream music and podcasts from the Facebook app. On Monday, this integration began rolling out in the form of a miniplayer experience that allows Facebook users to stream from Spotify through the Facebook app on iOS or Android.

The feature is available to both free and paying Spotify users and will allow them each to hear the full song or podcast episode being shared. However, free users will then be moved into “shuffle” mode if they continue to listen after the song plays.

What’s interesting about this integration is that it’s not actually streaming Spotify through Facebook. The miniplayer activates and controls the launch and playback in the Spotify app — which is how the playback is able to continue even as the user scrolls on Facebook or if they minimize the Facebook app altogether. This gives the appearance of Facebook doing the streaming. (Songs on social! Cue Myspace vibes!)

Spotify says users can’t upgrade to Spotify Premium from the miniplayer directly, so there’s no rev share there. It’s also paying the royalties on streams, as usual. But it’s getting massive distribution through Facebook, driving signups and repeat usage, while Facebook gets a way to keep users on its app longer. Win-win. Not coincidentally, both companies now share a common enemy with Apple, whose privacy-focused changes are impacting Facebook’s ad business and whose investments in Apple Music and Podcasts are a threat to Spotify.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) fined Apple $12.1 million for alleged app market abuse, saying Apple gave its own products a competitive advantage.

✨ The EU is charging Apple for its anticompetitive behavior this week, nearly two years after Spotify filed its first complaint about the App Store and Apple Music. The European Commission last year opened its antitrust investigation into Apple’s business, which is also now under fire in the U.S. for similar matters.

On Friday, the European regulators stated that Apple has “abused its dominant position” in the distribution of music streaming services on the App Store, and called it a “monopoly.” The EU doesn’t think Apple should be able to force developers to use its own in-app purchase mechanism nor should it be able to restrict them from telling users where else they can pay — like the developer’s own website, for example.

Spotify founder Daniel Ek seemed happy with the news:

Apple, however, did not:

Image Credits: TC

Apple is correct in pointing out that Spotify has built a massive business — which to be fair, was built both on and off the App Store. But it’s claiming a pretty big hand in that. The EU’s belief, meanwhile, is that Spotify might have been even more successful if Apple hadn’t imposed the restrictions it did, and that other smaller, streaming competitors are being harmed, too, but don’t have the power to speak up.

Now that ATT is live, Apple warns developers that it will ban apps from its App Store that offer rewards to users that enable tracking. (But seeing how the App Store is being policed as of late [or not], it seems there could be a dark market established for this sort of thing.)

The Apple-Epic trial is set to start next week. Witnesses include Epic CEO Tim Sweeney and COO Daniel Vogel, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft Xbox executive Lori Wright, Adrian Ong from Match Group and other current and former Apple execs, including Matt Fischer (App Store VP), Michael Schmid (head of game biz dev for App Store) and Craig Federighi, Eddy Cue, Scott Forstall, Eric Gray, and Phil Schiller, plus many others.

Platforms: Google

Google says it’s updating its Google Play policies for app developers to improve app quality and discoverability. Now banned is keyword stuffing in the app’s title for ASO purposes. Titles will now be limited to 30 characters and can’t use keywords that imply store performance, or promotion in the icon, title or developer name. Icons that mislead users will also be banned. Emoticons and emoji can also no longer be used. The company is additionally cracking down on preview assets to ensure they accurately represent the game or app and give users enough information to make a decision to download. They can’t use words like “free” or best” either, and must be localized and legible.

Image Credits: Google

Adtech

Advertisers told The WSJ that Apple’s ATT gives Apple’s own advertising system a competitive advantage. The adtech industry, which is reeling from Apple’s changes to tracking — it’s giving users the ability to opt-out of being tracked — is making the point that there’s something in it for Apple, too, when ATT goes live.

German advertisers filed an antitrust complaint over ATT, saying the changes will negatively affect their industry with up to a 60% fall in ad revenue. Nine industry associations were behind the complaint, representing other tech giants, like Facebook, and publisher Axel Springer.

Facebook warned investors of “increased ad targeting headwinds in 2021” during its earnings call this week, mainly because of the new version of iOS and its launch of ATT. It also sent a memo to advertisers that detailed how ATT would restrict the availability of ad targeting and analytics tools, and impact audience engagement.

Augmented reality

Image Credits: Apple

Apple updated its Clips app (ver 3.1) to allow users to scan spaces using the LiDAR Scanner on iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models in order to apply video effects to their recordings.

Fintech

Google Pay announced a series of updates for its recently revamped payments app, which include new options for grocery savings, paying for public transit and categorizing your spending. With its redesign, the app is being positioned as a key way for brands and businesses to reach customers with offers at a time when Apple is cracking down on third-party tracking.

MetaMask, the Ethereum wallet app and browser extension, said its MAUs grew 5x since October 2020 to reach 5 million monthly active users.

Social

Image Credits: Instagram

Facebook turns Instagram toward the Clubhouse threat. The company this week announced Instagram Live users could now mute their mics and turn off their videos, which gives the live experience a more casual — and yes, Clubhouse-like, appeal.

Social networking app for women, Peanut, adds live audio rooms. The feature is somewhat like Clubhouse, but without a “stage” or clout-chasing and with topics that appeal to women.

Snapchat now has more Android users than iOS, the company noted during earnings. In Q1 2021, Snapchat reached 280M DAUs, up 22% YoY.

TikTok said it’s opening a “transparency center” in Europe that will allow outside experts to see how TikTok approaches content moderation and recommendations, as well as security and privacy. The company opened a center like this in the U.S. last year following censorship allegations.

TikTok formally announced its new CEO and COO, in a strategic reorg. ByteDance’s CFO Shouzi Chew will now also become CEO of TikTok. Vanessa Pappas, who has served as interim CEO after Disney vet Kevin Mayer’s departure, will take the role of TikTok COO, and continue with her current responsibilities.

Messaging

Telegram says it will add group video calls next month. It has also now added the ability for merchants to natively accept credit card payments in any chat through integrations with eight third-party providers, including Stripe, as well as scheduled voice chats, mini profiles for voice chats and new web versions.

Facebook disclosed there are now 1 million businesses using WhatsApp’s “click to WhatsApp” ads, and announced a new feature that will allow businesses to turn items in the WhatsApp Business Catalogs into Facebook or Instagram ads, saving steps.

Streaming & Entertainment

Image Credits: Pandora

Pandora finally has an iOS home screen widget. What took it so long? The widget comes in three sizes and lets users view and play as many as seven of their most-recently played songs, albums, stations, playlists or podcasts.

The Bally Sports app, which is replacing Fox Sports GO, has now arrived. The app offers livestreamed games, tracks scores, states and standings, and offers game previews and highlights from games.

Dating app S’More is pivoting to become more of a “lifestyle brand” by adding a new feature called S’More TV which will stream dating-related interviews with celebs, like WWE and reality TV stars. The video content could then serve as a conversation starter — something Tinder has done in the past with its interactive series “Swipe Night.”

Clubhouse partners with the NFL for draft week programming. This is the first sports partnership for the audio app and saw the NFL creating a series of draft-themed rooms throughout the week.

Spotify says it will rename Locker Room service (the live audio app and Clubhouse rival it just acquired) “Spotify Greenroom.” The company told investors live audio could mean more than spoken word content — it could also include early previews of new albums, too.

Spotify redesigns “Your Library.” The new version ditches the big tabs at the top for “Music” and “Podcasts” each with their own subsections, for a scrollable horizontal row that places all the content sections on one screen. These work as dynamic filters, allowing you to narrow down your searches. There’s also a grid view available and better sorting options.

Image Credits: Spotify

Health & Fitness

Uber is offering its app to allow customers to schedule their COVID-19 vaccine appointments at nearby Walgreens in the U.S. Uber had previously introduced free and discounted rides to vaccine appointments with the goal of getting essential workers inoculated.

Security

A popular Android app for writing JavaScript code, DroidScript, had its Google advertising suspended and was then removed from the Google Play Store for ad fraud. The founder of the nonprofit DroidScript.org behind the app asked Google for an explanation and got no response, he said. The app was used by over 100K developers, students and professionals.

Researchers said that hundreds of preinstalled apps on Android devices would have access to a log on users’ phones where the sensitive contract tracing information was stored. Google didn’t offer a reward payout for the finding, saying that system logs haven’t been readable by unprivileged apps since the early days of Android.

Funding and M&A

Image Credits: Current

💰 Mobile bank Current raised $220 million in Series D funding after growing its user base to nearly 3 million. The funding was led by a16z and tripled Current’s valuation from the end of last year to now $2.2 billion.

💰 Teen banking app Step raised $100 million in Series C funding led by General Catalyst, after growing to 1.5 million users in six months post-launch. The company also announced Steph Curry as an investor.

💰 Kid-focused fintech Greenlight raised $260 million in Series D funding, doubling its valuation to $2.3 billion. Its round was also led by a16z, which backed Greenlight’s rival, Current.

💰 Vivid Money raised $73 million in Series B funding (€60 million) led by Greenoaks to build a European financial super app.

🤝 Snap acquired 3D mapping developer Pixel8earth for $7.6 million. The small team will build out tools that will work with Snapchat’s location-based augmented reality experiences.

💰 Kaia Health raised $75 million in Series C funding led by an unnamed growth equity fund for its digital therapeutics service that offers virtual therapy via an app for musculoskeletal conditions, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and osteoarthritis.

🤝 Family tracking app Life360 will acquire wearable location device Jiobit for $37 million. The figure is primarily in stock and debt, but if Jiobit can maintain its existing triple growth rates over the next two calendar years following the deal’s close, the deal price could increase to $54.5 million. The wearable will be added to Life360’s service to allow tracking of those without phones, including pets.

🤝 Zynga, via its subsidiary Rollic, acquired Uncosoft, the Turkish game developer behind the hit title High Heels, which has been downloaded over 60M times since its January debut, thanks in part, to TikTok. Deal terms were not available.

💰 Montreal-based Botpress raised $15 million in Series A funding from Decibel and Inovia Capital to help developers build more conversational apps.

Downloads

OnMail

Image Credits: OnMail

The makers of a popular email app Edison Mail have now launched another email app, OnMail. This new iOS app is designed to solve more difficult email problems, like handling overloaded inboxes and mail that spies on you. The app will automatically block tracking pixels (read receipts), suggest emails to unsubscribe from, index your entire history for faster searches, stop ad targeting, and more. Like Basecamp’s Hey, users can also decide who can or cannot enter their inbox, too. And when you want to see your promotions, they’re provided in a visual feed that’s more engaging.

The service, which is also available on the web, works with OnMail email addresses, as well as other accounts like those from Microsoft, Google and others. It will later introduce an Android app, calendar support, Yahoo and Microsoft Exchange support, and two-factor. The company says your name and email is never shared, but it does use anonymized data as part of its Edison Trends (digital commerce) research — users are opted in, but an opt out is available.