This Week in Apps: Google battles KakaoTalk, Twitter deal in jeopardy, FTC asked to investigate TikTok – TechCrunch

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 continues to grow, with a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports.
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 was up 27% year-over-year.
This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and much more.
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The bird app buyout could be off, if Elon Musk has his way.
On Friday, Musk’s legal team informed Twitter the Tesla and SpaceX exec would be terminating the merger agreement because, as their letter alleges, Twitter made false and misleading claims about the health of its business. This, of course, refers to the drama Musk had been stirring up over the percentage of bots on the service, which Twitter says is estimated to be less than 5%. Upon Musk’s earlier pressing for more information on this figure, Twitter provided Musk’s team with API access to make their own determinations. The letter, however, states that this API access was capped and limited, preventing the team from being able to accurately analyze Twitter’s data with regard to bots. (Which makes Musk’s claims that the bot count is higher than Twitter said it was a bit hard to prove!) Musk’s lawyers also allege Twitter included known fake and bot accounts in its mDAUs and didn’t have a standard process for calculating its mDAUs or the percentage of bots. Even if the arguments were valid — and that’s not able to be determined at this time — they don’t allow Musk to simply walk away.
Musk has already legally agreed to this deal, which means the battle will now move to court where Twitter says it plans to enforce the agreement at the price and terms agreed upon. And even if both parties agree to terminate, Musk will have to pay out a billion dollars as a termination fee.
The real reason Musk is trying to terminate is not likely “bots.” It’s because he knows he overpaid. What looked like a decent deal earlier (@ $54.20 per share) quickly became an overpriced deal in a macroeconomic environment that’s led to tech stocks tanking. Since announcing the deal, Twitter’s stock hadn’t again hit the negotiated price, and in fact, was recently down as much as 28% below Musk’s offer price. By forcing the deal to go to the courts, Musk could be hoping for a shot at negotiating a better price. But that’s far from being a certain outcome.
The Twitter Board is committed to closing the transaction on the price and terms agreed upon with Mr. Musk and plans to pursue legal action to enforce the merger agreement. We are confident we will prevail in the Delaware Court of Chancery.
— Bret Taylor (@btaylor) July 8, 2022

Image Credits: Jon Russell (opens in a new window) / Flickr (opens in a new window)
Google this week demonstrated it plans to enforce its new Play Store terms over in-app purchases, even if the developer is a $1.5 billion tech giant and leading app in its region. The Korean company behind the KakaoTalk mobile messenger popular in South Korea was prevented from issuing updates to its app over its failure to comply with Google Play’s terms, according to local media reports. This would be the first time Google has enforced its new Play Store rules over how apps can point users to their own websites for alternative methods of payments.
South Korea’s in-app payment law, better known as the “anti-Google law,” permits Android app developers to add third-party payment options in their app, but only if they offer them alongside Google’s own billing system. It doesn’t permit developers to add links to their app that allow users to bypass Google’s billing system entirely, however. That’s what KakaoTalk is continuing to do.
According to Google’s rules, failure to comply with its rules could see apps removed from the Play Store altogether. Google hasn’t gone that far just yet — instead, it’s only blocked the company from issuing updates. But this is still a serious punitive action and one designed to prompt the app to take action.
Companies aren’t happy with how Google complied with the country’s new law, as Google is only offering a discount on commissions paid for those using third-party payments, instead of allowing them to avoid commissions as they had hoped. On April 1, Google said all apps must either use Google’s own payments system and pay the usual 15-30% in commissions, or the apps could offer a third-party system for a discount of 4% on those fees.
The Korea Communications Commission (KCC) met with Google and Kakao on Thursday about the matter. Afterward, Kakao relented and chose to remove the web link to the third-party payments system as required by Google’s rules to come into compliance. Analysts speculated Kakao’s earlier refusal to remove the link was to simply bring the issue to regulators’ attention — that is, it aimed to demonstrate how Google had complied with the letter of the law, but not with the spirit. The KCC had been investigating how the law was being implemented but since most apps were already in compliance, Google hadn’t yet taken any punitive actions.
The Kakao Talk messaging app today is used by some 53 milllion+ people monthly, making it one of the biggest social apps in the country.

TikTok found to fuel disinformation, political tension in Kenya ahead of elections

Image Credits: TikTok

Image Credits: TikTok
Senate Intelligence Committee members have asked the FTC to investigate whether TikTok misled lawmakers about ByteDance employees’ ability to access U.S. users’ data. Democrat Senator Mark Warner and Republican Marco Rubio, the chair and ranking member of the committee, respectively, wrote a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan requesting a further investigation into whether TikTok may have lied in its testimonies to Congress over how it handles user data.
This demand follows a BuzzFeed News report that revealed that ByteDance employees in China were regularly accessing U.S. data into early 2022, despite TikTok’s prior assurances to the contrary. Last weekend, timed alongside the BuzzFeed scoop, TikTok wrote to Republican Senators to assure them it’s working on a program called “Project Texas” aimed at improving data security for U.S.-based users.
“In light of this new report,” the letter stated, “we ask that your agency immediately initiate a Section 5 investigation on the basis of apparent deception by TikTok, and coordinate this work with any national security or counter-intelligence investigation that may be initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice.”
Pressure on TikTok has been increasing as of late. Six senators sent a letter to the Treasury Department on June 24, asking for details about the negotiation between TikTok and CFIUS, which would have prompted Trump’s EO to ban the TikTok app in the U.S. An FCC Commissioner, Brendan Carr, also wrote to Apple and Google on June 28, requesting the companies remove TikTok from their app stores for “its pattern of surreptitious data practices.”

Image Credits: Apple

Image Credits: Apple

Image Credits: Pinterest

Image Credits: Pinterest

Image Credits: The Met/8th Wall

Image Credits: The Met/8th Wall

Image Credits: Reddit

Image Credits: Reddit
Reddit is launching a new NFT avatar marketplace

Planning your pizza order for movie night but forgot how many people want pepperoni versus veggie? If you're using Android, you can now tap the speech bubble icon next to a message to pull up all replies to that message and never lose the thread (or under-order on toppings)!
— Signal (@signalapp) July 7, 2022

Congress probes period tracking apps and data brokers over abortion privacy concerns

Apple says Lockdown Mode in iOS 16 will help block government spyware attacks

? Mobile marketing firm Moburst acquired digital studio Layer, which offers web, mobile and app development services. Layer, launched in 2015, has worked with clients like Nissan, Renault and others. Deal terms weren’t disclosed. The two companies had previously worked together on multiple projects and will now allow Moburst to expand its services and offer a full-stack solution.
? Digital banking app YAP, based in the United Arab Emirates, raised $41 million as part of a Series A round expected to close at year-end. The company aims to expand its services into Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and Ghana.
Has anyone else noticed this in iOS 16 Beta 3?
— Jack Roberts (@jacklroberts) July 6, 2022

Autocorrect comes for everyone sooner or later…
— Steve Riggins (@steveriggins) July 8, 2022

I worked on iOS 7, and I can tell you for sure that none of the push toward flatness was about making things better for people. Banishing skeuomorphism was all about how the software looked, not how it worked.
— Ken Kocienda (@kocienda) July 7, 2022



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