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How the creators of ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ showed two sides to life online

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Six years after the Oscar-winning success of Wreck-It Ralph, its creators delivered a full-blown satire in the shape of its sequel. Their target? The monetization of the web and its contrasting effects on two childlike video-game characters, best friends Ralph and Vanellope. In a bid to save Vanellope’s arcade racing game, the BFFs venture into the internet to buy a new steering wheel on eBay (where else?), only to lose their way in a sea of distractions. We’ve all been there.

“To put these [two] naive characters who don’t even know what money is on to the internet allowed us to shine a light on the fact that… it’s hard to avoid commerce [online],” said Johnston. “Without being terribly barbed in our satire, it was something we were interested in commenting on.”

To do so, Johnston and co-director Rich Moore brought the internet to life. Their world wide web is a sprawling metropolis with a skyline dominated by Google and Facebook’s big-tech skyscrapers (eBay, meanwhile, appears as a mega-mall). It’s a place where visitors ride self-flying shuttles to their next purchase… or discovery. On the ground, netizens — think email delivery men and security guards — go about their jobs, while pop-ups and spam with sallow-faced personas jostle for attention. A bespectacled search engine wearing a mortarboard completes everyone’s sentences. And a sassy female algorithm is the movie’s moral compass.

It’s enough to make a full-grown adult’s head spin. But as the film hurtles toward its King Kong-channeling climax, you have to wonder: Are kids in on the joke?

“The one thing children and adults can relate to is the idea that friendships change,” said Johnston. “And friendships go through difficult times.” A theme that’s at the heart of arguably the most-beloved CGI cartoon of all time, Toy Story.

Rich Moore and Phil Johnston

Here the internet helps it to take on new meaning. On the one hand, it amplifies Ralph’s insecurities, but for Vanellope, it helps realize her “one true dream.” Which just happens to be competing in a GTA Online clone called Slaughter Race. (Talk about subverting gender roles.) If only Ralph would quit holding her back.

“Insecurity as a literal monster was the big idea of the movie,” said Johnston. “We wanted Ralph’s insecurity and the toxic nature of that to be the antagonist of the film. Knowing that the internet can be a place where trolls and bullies… can prey on insecure people, it felt like a good thing to put Ralph through and a good conflict for our movie.”

It also sets up the most poignant moment in the film: When Ralph, basking in his newfound viral success on YouTube rival BuzzTube, stumbles upon the abusive comments left on his videos. It’s an all-too-real scene that confronts the duplicitous nature of the web.

“Social media can be a place where insecure adults could end up getting their feelings hurt,” said Moore. “And I could see where this could be something bad for children.” He continued: “But it does need to be a place where you can feel safe to let a young person use it. [The internet] is a great tool that should be open to anyone.

“I think like any invention, we will see it regulated in some way, so we don’t have to worry about young people, or even very sensitive adults, being hurt like they are now.”

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Respawn will premiere its ‘Star Wars’ game on April 13th

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After years of work, Respawn is nearly ready to show what its Star Wars game is all about. Lucasfilm has announced that EA and Respawn will formally reveal Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order at a Celebration Chicago panel on April 13th. The two are unsurprisingly shy about details, but you’ll meet a Padawan who survived Order 66 (the command to exterminate the Jedi) and experience what it’s like to live in an era where there are seemingly no Jedi left. You can expect “never-before-released” details of the game, Lucasfilm said, which isn’t hard when the game is largely a secret.

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Spotify launches in India – TechCrunch

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Spotify launches in India – TechCrunch

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Spotify launches its streaming service in India

Just for India, Spotify users who do not pay for a subscription can play any song on demand on mobile. There are also playlists for India and a “Starring…” feature that includes music from Bollywood movies.

“Not only will Spotify bring Indian artists to the world, we’ll also bring the world’s music to fans across India,” said Spotify CEO Daniel Ek.

2. FTC creates antitrust task force to monitor tech industry

This isn’t necessarily a precursor to some big action like breaking up a big company or imposing rules or anything like that. It seems more like a recognition that the FTC needs to be ready to move quickly and decisively in tech matters.

3. This is the Stanford thesis presentation that launched Juul

Against a backdrop of public backlash and looming federal regulations, the world’s biggest e-cigarette manufacturer has released video of the original thesis presentation that launched the company.

4. We’re ready for foldable phones, but are they ready for us?

After years of prototypes, the age of foldables has finally arrived.

5. D-Wave announces its next-gen quantum computing platform

With the latest improvements, developers can use the machine to solve larger problems with fewer physical qubits — or larger problems in general.

6. How Amazon took 50 percent of the e-commerce market and what it means for the rest of us

Some thoughts from the former SVP of Walmart’s global e-commerce supply chain.

7. Steam fights for future of game stores and streaming

Cracks are starting to appear in Steam’s armor, threatening to make it the digital equivalent of GameStop — a once unassailable retail giant whose future became questionable when it didn’t successfully change with the times. (Extra Crunch subscription required.)

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FTC ruling sees Musical.ly (TikTok) fined $5.7M for violating children’s privacy law, app updated with age gate – TechCrunch

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FTC ruling sees Musical.ly (TikTok) fined $5.7M for violating children’s privacy law, app updated with age gate – TechCrunch

A significant FTC ruling issued today will see video app TikTok fined $5.7 million for violating U.S. children’s privacy laws, and will impact how the app works for kids under the age of 13. In an app update being released today, all users will need to verify their age, and the under 13-year-olds will then be directed to a separate, more restricted in-app experience that protects their personal information and prevents them from publishing videos to TikTok .

In a bit of bad timing for the popular video app, the ruling comes on the same day that TikTok began promoting its new safety series designed to help keep its community informed of its privacy and safety tools.

The Federal Trade Commission had begun looking into TikTok back when it was known as Musical.ly, and the ruling itself is a settlement with Musical.ly.

The industry self-regulatory group Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) had last spring referred Musical.ly to the FTC for violating U.S. children’s privacy law by collecting personal information for users under the age of 13 without parental consent. (The complaint, filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the Commission, is here.)

Musical.ly, technically, no longer exists. It was acquired by Chinese firm ByteDance in 2017. The app was then shut down mid-2018 while its user base was merged into TikTok.

But its regulatory issues followed it to its new home.

According to the U.S. children’s privacy law COPPA, operators of apps and websites aimed at young users under the age of 13 can’t collect personal data like email addresses, IP addresses, geolocation information or other identifiers without parental consent.

But the Musical.ly app required users to provide an email address, phone number, username, first and last name, a short biography and a profile picture, the FTC claims. The also app allowed users to interact with others by commenting on their videos and sending direct messages. In addition, user accounts were public by default, which meant that a child’s profile bio, username, picture and videos could be seen by other users, the FTC explained today in its press release.

It also noted that there were reports of adults trying to contact children in Musical.ly, and until October 2016 there was a feature that let others view nearby users within a 50-mile radius.

“The operators of Musical.ly—now known as TikTok—knew many children were using the app but they still failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons, in a statement. “This record penalty should be a reminder to all online services and websites that target children: We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law.”

COPPA law, of course, becomes a bit complex to implement for apps like TikTok that sit in a gray area between being oriented toward adults and being aimed at kids. Specifically, apps preferred by tweens and teens — like Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok — are often clamored for by younger, under-13 kids, and parents often comply.

But some parents are caught off guard by these apps. The FTC says Musical.ly had fielded “thousands of complaints” from parents because their children under the age of 13 had created Musical.ly accounts.

In addition to the $5.7 million fine, the FTC settlement with Musical.ly includes an agreement that will impact how the TikTok app operates.

It says TikTok is now considered a “mixed audience” app, which means there needs to be an age gate implemented on the app. Instead of locking out under-13 users from the TikTok service, younger users will be directed to a different in-app experience that restricts TikTok from collecting the personal information prohibited by COPPA.

TikTok is also complying with the ruling by making significant changes to its app. It will now restrict under-13 kids from being able to film and publish their videos to the TikTok app. It will also take down all videos from kids under 13.

Instead, the under-13 crowd will only be able to like content and follow users. They will be able to create and save videos to their device — but not to the public TikTok network. Nor can they share videos on the app with their friends if they use TikTok via a private account.

As TikTok already has a large number of younger kids on its app, it will push an app update today that displays the new age gate to both new and existing users alike. Kids will then need to verify their birthday in order to be directed to the appropriate experience.

This is not likely going to have an impact on how many kids use TikTok, however. Kids today already know to lie to age pop-ups so they can enter a restricted app. That’s how they set up accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and elsewhere.

However, the move at least puts TikTok on a level playing field with other “mixed audience” apps instead of allowing it to pretend U.S. children’s privacy laws do not exist.

TikTok reportedly has been installed a billion times worldwide, according to recent data from Sensor Tower. The company doesn’t publicly disclose its figures, but the FTC says since 2014, more than 200 million users had downloaded the Musical.ly app worldwide, with 65 million accounts registered in the United States.

The Commission vote to authorize the staff to refer the complaint to the Department of Justice and to approve the proposed consent decree was 5-0. Commissioner Rohit Chopra and Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter issued a separate statement, shared below:

The Federal Trade Commission’s action to crack down on the privacy practices of Musical.ly, now known as TikTok, is a major milestone for our Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) enforcement program. Agency staff uncovered disturbing practices, including collecting and exposing the location and other sensitive data of young children. In our view, these practices reflected the company’s willingness to pursue growth even at the expense of endangering children. The agency secured a record-setting civil penalty and deletion of ill-gotten data, as well as other remedies to stop this egregious conduct. This is a big win in the fight to protect children’s privacy.

This investigation began before the current Commission was in place. FTC investigations typically focus on individual accountability only in certain circumstances—and the effect has been that individuals at large companies have often avoided scrutiny. We should move away from this approach. Executives of big companies who call the shots as companies break the law should be held accountable.

When any company appears to have a made a business decision to violate or disregard the law, the Commission should identify and investigate those individuals who made or ratified that decision and evaluate whether to charge them. As we continue to pursue violations of law, we should prioritize uncovering the role of corporate officers and directors and hold accountable everyone who broke the law.

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