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Apple has taken two steps forward this week to help stop it looking like the bad guy in its App Store stand-off with developers, publishers and advertisers.

On Monday, it told developers that bug fixes for their apps would no longer be delayed while they were in breach of App Store guidelines. Also, as well as appealing decisions against them, they could now suggest changes to the guidelines.

More significantly, Apple said on Thursday it was delaying until early next year a change that would require apps to get users’ permission, via a pop-up window, before gathering data that allows tracking and ad targeting. Facebook had warned last month that the proposed changes could halve some app makers’ ad revenue. 

Morgan Stanley analysts said today the change was due this month with the release of the iOS 14 operating system, but the delay would now reduce its impact, with platforms and advertisers having more time to build, test and scale alternative solutions.

“This delay is an important statement by Apple about its willingness to respond to community feedback and its commitment to app developers,” they said.

It’s worth pointing out though that Apple has been largely motivated by giving its users greater control over the use of their data. It led off its Thursday announcement with “At Apple, we believe that privacy is a fundamental human right.”

It has made another important statement on this issue in a four-page document entitled “Our Commitment to Human Rights”. As Patrick McGee in San Francisco points out this is the first time it has published a human rights policy that commits to respecting “freedom of information and expression”, following years of criticism that it bows to demands from Beijing and carries out censorship in China.

So Apple is definitely playing the good guy here, although the commitment comes seven months after two-fifths of its shareholders defied management and supported a proposal that would have compelled it to uphold freedom of expression globally. 

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. SoftBank is tech derivatives ‘whale’
The Japanese conglomerate has been revealed as the “Nasdaq whale” that has stoked the rally in tech stocks by buying billions of dollars in options. Financial experts say it is making a dangerous bet and will have been hurt by tech’s slide on Thursday, which has continued today. Richard Waters comments it’s hard not to see excess in current tech ratings, although John Thornhill highlights the differences from the dotcom bust in 2000.

2 . . . and SoftBank may buy India’s TikTok
SoftBank is exploring assembling a group of bidders for TikTok’s India assets and has been actively looking for local partners, according to Bloomberg. Evan Spiegel, the chief executive of Snap, told the FT Weekend festival that any US company will find TikTok “really challenging” to digest.

3. Techmark and Computacenter do boringly well
While the Nasdaq is diving, the UK’s 21-year-old Techmark index is still doing rather well — less than 12 per cent below a record high hit in January. Bryce Elder reports it reflects a very good year for unglamorous domestic tech stocks such as Computacenter, which hit a two decade high this week.

4. Battery maker has no IPO range anxiety
QuantumScape, a battery start-up backed by Volkswagen and Bill Gates, is to go public on the New York Stock Exchange via a Special purpose acquisition company (Spac) as it seeks to commercialise a solid-state technology it says could almost double the range of an electric car. Meanwhile, Richard Waters has taken an in-depth look at Silicon Valley’s Palantir, which last week took the wraps off its plans for a direct listing of its shares on the NYSE.

5. No stars for Amazon’s five-star reviewers
Amazon is investigating the most prolific reviewers on its UK website after a Financial Times investigation found evidence that they were profiting from posting thousands of five-star ratings. The number one-ranked reviewer on Amazon.co.uk reviewed £15,000 worth of products in August alone, from smartphones to electric scooters to gym equipment, giving his five-star approval on average once every four hours.

Tech tools — Twitch Sings

Leo Lewis in Tokyo has been exploring karaoke Covid-19 innovations. In bars, the large chains have introduced apps that turn your smartphone into a remote control to avoid touching communal buttons or screens. The really nervous self-isolator can sing alone in a room but be linked online to any other rooms in their nationwide network to form a virtual group.

Arguably the most helpful of all in terms of coaxing people back to the microphone has been Joysound’s flagship offering: a series of settings that adjust the tone and clarity of your output to compensate for singing through a mask. At home, Amazon’s Twitch Sings puts the user in a virtual, global karaoke room wherever they happen to be.

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