London, Feb 9 (AP/UNB) — Instagram has agreed to ban graphic images of self-harm after objections were raised in Britain following the suicide of a teen whose father said the photo-sharing platform had contributed to her decision to take her own life.
Instagram chief Adam Mosseri said Thursday evening the platform is making a series of changes to its content rules.
He said: "We are not where we need to be on self-harm and suicide, and we need to do more to protect the most vulnerable in our community."
Mosseri said further changes will be made.
"I have a responsibility to get this right," he said. "We will get better and we are committed to finding and removing this content at scale, and working with experts and the wider industry to find ways to support people when they're most in need."
The call for changes was backed by the British government after the family of 14-year-old Molly Russell found material related to depression and suicide on her Instagram account after her death in 2017.
Her father, Ian Russell, said he believes the content Molly viewed on Instagram played a contributing role in her death, a charge that received wide attention in the British press.
The changes were announced after Instagram and other tech firms, including Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter, met with British Health Secretary Matt Hancock and representatives from the Samaritans, a mental health charity that works to prevent suicide.
Instagram is also removing non-graphic images of self-harm from searches.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, said in a statement that independent experts advise that Facebook should "allow people to share admissions of self-harm and suicidal thoughts but should not allow people to share content promoting it."
San Francisco, Feb 8 (AP/UNB) — Apple has released an iPhone update to fix a software flaw that allowed people to eavesdrop on others while using FaceTime.
The bug enabled interlopers to turn an iPhone into a live microphone while using Group FaceTime. Callers were able to activate another person's microphone remotely even before the person has accepted or rejected the call.
Apple turned off the group-chat feature last week, after a 14-year-old boy in Tucson, Arizona, discovered the flaw. The teenager, Grant Thompson, and his mother said they unsuccessfully tried to contact the company about the problem for more than a week. Apple has been criticized for the delay in responding and has promised to improve procedures.
The FaceTime repair is included in the latest version of Apple's iOS 12 system, which became available to install Thursday.
Although the FaceTime bug has now been addressed, its emergence is particularly embarrassing for Apple. The bug exposed Apple customers to potential surveillance at a time that CEO Tim Cook has been repeatedly declaring that personal privacy is a "fundamental human right."
Cook also has publicly skewered Facebook and Google, two companies that collect personal information to sell advertising, for not doing enough to protect people's privacy.
Apple credited Thompson for discovering the FaceTime bug as part of its software update, nearly a week after thanking him for reporting the bug in the first place.
As often occurs when people flag software flaws, Thompson will be rewarded for his sleuthing. Apple plans to contribute to Thompson's college fund in addition to paying a bounty to him and his family for reporting the bug. The company, which has $245 billion in cash, isn't disclosing the amounts.
Michele Thompson, Grant's mother, told The Associated Press in a text that the family intends to use all of the Apple money help cover his college expenses.
New York, Feb 7 (AP/UNB) — Spotify is making a bigger bet on podcasts as it looks to bring a Netflix-like model of original programs to the audio world. The music-streaming pioneer gobbled up two podcasting companies, Gimlet and Anchor, on Wednesday.
Although streaming is becoming an increasingly popular way to listen to music, Spotify and other services such as Pandora have struggled to make money because of the royalties and other fees that they have to pay recording labels, songwriters and performers.
The acquisitions are about "expanding our mission from just being about music to being about all of audio and being the world's leading audio platform," CEO Daniel Ek said in an interview on CNBC on Wednesday.
The company didn't disclose terms, but The Wall Street Journal cited people familiar with the transactions as saying Anchor, a podcast production and hosting platform, was valued at more than $150 million and Gimlet at more than $200 million. Gimlet produces high-end podcasts and was co-founded by Alex Blumberg, a veteran of the NPR radio show "This American Life."
Spotify, which is based in Stockholm and went public in April 2018 , charges $10 a month for its "premium" ad-free music service. It also offers a free ad-supported service.
Apple has become Spotify's primary rival since the tech giant launched its own music streaming service in 2015. But although it has been outgunned financially, Spotify has been able to stay a step ahead of Apple in terms of subscribers. It counted 96 million subscribers in the fourth quarter, up 36 percent from a year ago.
Meanwhile, Apple's music-streaming service has more than 50 million subscribers, according to CEO Tim Cook. Pandora, YouTube, IHeartRadio, Google, Amazon and others also offer music streaming and podcasts.
In a blog post Wednesday, Ek said that Spotify has become the second-biggest podcasting platform in less than two years.
"The format is really evolving and while podcasting is still a relatively small business today, I see incredible growth potential for the space and for Spotify in particular," he wrote.
There are many ways to listen to most podcasts — among them, streaming services, downloads and podcast-specific apps like Castbox and Stitcher for Podcasts. It wasn't clear if Spotify will distribute its new podcasts exclusively, make them widely available, or choose some intermediate step such as allowing other services to distribute them following a window of Spotify exclusivity. Spotify did not return a request for comment.
Spotify is seeking ways to become sustainably profitable. The company reported a surprise fourth-quarter profit on Wednesday, boosted by a strong holiday season and a promotion with Google Home. But it forecast a loss for 2019 even as it continues to invest in original content.
Spotify has already produced some original podcasts, including one series with comedian Amy Schumer and another with rapper and broadcaster Joe Budden.
Ek said people who listen to podcasts through Spotify spend twice as much time on the service than other users.
Spotify is hoping to emulate Netflix, which has poured billions into developing original shows and movies. So far, that strategy has produced some hits such as the series "Stranger Things" and the thriller "Bird Box."
The podcast industry is much smaller but growing. Podcasts broke into the mainstream with the success of "Serial," a 2014 investigative journalism series about a murder that became a cultural phenomenon, yielding not just tens of millions of downloads, but eventually also a new trial for the convicted killer.
U.S. podcast ad revenue jumped 86 percent in 2017 to $314 million, according to research from the Interactive Ad Bureau and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. That's dwarfed by digital video ad spending, which totaled $11.9 billion in 2017.
An estimated 73 million people tune in to some form of podcast on a monthly basis, according to Edison Research. They're particularly popular with the coveted "millennial" demographic.
The deals are expected to close in the first quarter. And Ek said the company is not done with acquisitions. Spotify plans to spend $400 million to $500 million on acquisitions in 2019.
Cape Canaveral, Feb (AP/UNB) — It turns out our Milky Way galaxy is truly warped, at least around the far edges.
Scientists in China and Australia released an updated 3D map of the Milky Way on Tuesday. They used 1,339 pulsating stars — young, newly catalogued stars bigger and brighter than our sun — to map the galaxy's shape.
The farther from the center, the more warping, or twisting, there is in the Milky Way's outer hydrogen gas disc. Researchers say the warped, spiral pattern is likely caused by the spinning force of the massive inner disc of stars.
"We usually think of spiral galaxies as being quite flat, like Andromeda, which you can easily see through a telescope," Macquarie University's Richard de Grijs, who took part in the study, said in a statement from Sydney.
Lead researcher Xiaodian Chen of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing said it's difficult to determine distances from the sun to the Milky Way's fringes, "without having a clear idea of what that disc actually looks like." The stars on which his team's map is based — known as classical Cepheids — provided substantial measuring accuracy.
At least a dozen other galaxies appear to have warped edges in a similar spiral pattern, so in that respect, we're hardly unique.
The study appears in the journal Nature Astronomy.
San Francisco, Feb 6 (AP/UNB) — Apple's top retailing executive is stepping down amid a slowdown in iPhone sales that has raised doubts about the company's future growth prospects.
The shake-up announced Tuesday ends Angela Ahrendts' five-year stint overseeing Apple's 506 retail stores and e-commerce operations. She is being replaced by Deirdre O'Brien, a longtime Apple executive who also runs the company's human-resources department. Ahrendts will remain with Apple until April.
During her 30 years at Apple, O'Brien also helped gauge product demand. That issue has become a problem now that customers are holding onto their current iPhones longer instead of buying the latest models. It's one reason Apple posted disappointing iPhone sales during the past holiday shopping season.
Although Apple sells iPhones and other products such as the iPad and Mac computer through a wide variety of merchants, its own elegantly designed stores have become a pivotal outlet, especially during the first few weeks after a new device hits the market.
"It was clear that Apple needed new strategies and a potential change on this front to catalyze demand in and outside the all-important retail stores," Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives.
Apple didn't give a reason for Ahrendts' departure, saying only that she is leaving "for new personal and professional opportunities."
Ahrendts, 58, joined Apple amid great fanfare in 2014 after CEO Tim Cook persuaded her to leave a glamorous job running the fashion brand Burberry. To lure her away, Apple gave Ahrendts company stock valued at $70 million in 2014. In her last full year at Apple, she received a compensation package valued at $26.5 million, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Ahrendts' arrival at the Cupertino, California, company coincided with the rollout of the Apple Watch, which the company designed to be a fashion statement in addition to a wearable piece of technology.
While at Apple, Ahrendts engineered renovations of high-profiles stores in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and other cities in an attempt to transform them into hip places to hang out while shoppers checked out the company's latest innovations. Her lofty description of the stores as the equivalent of "town squares" became the subject of derision among some analysts and media commentators.