Technology also took centre stage this year in geopolitics with the micro-video streaming platform TikTok becoming the bone of contention between China and few other countries, including India.
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In a pandemic affected year, nothing has received as much limelight as technology. It enabled people to connect with each other via videoconferencing apps, even as several countries asked their citizens to stay indoors. Governments and healthcare providers used technology to identify and track people infected with coronavirus to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
2020 also saw lawmakers tighten their grip over Big Tech firms with the U.S. Congress grilling heads of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook over their monopolistic practices. The congressional hearing highlighted power wielded by large technology corporations.
Within India, Google’s brief removal of a PaytM app trigged a backlash from the wallet company. Globally, clashes between small-scale developers and app marketplaces led to changes in both Play Store and App Store’s policies.
Technology also took centre stage this year in geopolitics with the micro-video streaming platform TikTok becoming the bone of contention between China and few other countries, including India. The app was knocked off from app stores in India, and took several hits in U.S. as the Trump administration tightened measures to remove the app from stores in the U.S.
Here we look at some of the top developments in the world of technology that defined the year.
1.Rise of video conferencing apps
The stay at home orders led to a surge in usage of video conferencing apps for remote working, online classes, virtual medical consultation and other forms of social networking.
Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams apps were downloaded by users globally, and these apps had their biggest week in March, crossing 62 million downloads, according to App Annie, an App intelligence firm.
2. Big Tech backlash
CEOs of Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook were grilled by U.S. lawmakers in a congressional antitrust hearing in July. The tech giants were questions for over five hours.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) pointed to the companies’ growing influence size and reach. The duo accused Big Tech of abuse of power, violation of anti-trust law, and anti-competitive practices.
3. App wars
India banned several Chinese apps citing national security concerns. The removal happened a few weeks after clashes broke out between India and China in the Galwan valley near Ladakh. In June, India removed 59 apps, including TikTok, ShareIt, UC Browser and CamScanner. Later, in September, PUBG and 117 other apps were removed from the stores. India was one of the largest markets for the multiplayer gaming app.
4.China tightens grip over Internet companies
China introduced a new regulations targeted at anti-competitive practices in the country’s internet industry. The move aimed at controlling how companies shared consumer data, formed alliances and subsidised services at below cost.
China seeks to curb the rising influence of companies like Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance. In a separate move, Shanghai Stock Exchange suspended a $35 billion initial public offering (IPO) by Alibaba’s Ant Group saying it was concerned about the parent’s growing power. Alibaba’s chief Jack Ma criticised the country’s regulators for controlling financial risks, while overlooking development.
5. Facebook’s oversight board gets started
Facebook launched its oversight board, a 25-member panel consisting of external experts, to hear appeals from users over taking down posts or groups from the platform.
As of December, the board has announced six cases it will be reviewing to pass a judgement on whether the removal was fair or not. Facebook noted in its blog that over 20,000 cases were referred to the board since October, and that the board is prioritising cases based on the size of impact it will have on a large number of users.
6. Contact tracing apps
Countries around the world adopted contact tracing technology to contain the spread of coronavirus. The Bluetooth LTE-based technology helps to know who have been exposed to a person who has contracted COVID-19. The app’s usage raised privacy concerns as it has the ability to track user location.
Google and Apple jointly created an Exposure Notifications System allowing users to share data through Bluetooth transmissions, without using GPS data to track physical location. The partnership between the two tech giants enabled health authorities to identify and trace COVID-19 infections among both iOS and Android users.
7. App store pricing and small developers
Developers criticised Apple for taking 30% cut from in-app purchases and first-time subscriptions, and for unreasonable app store policies.
Following the backlash, Apple halved commission to 15% for developers earning up to $1 million. The company said it was a move to help small developers have more resources for investment and business growth.
8. Google and Facebook’s secret deal under probe
Ten states in the U.S. sued Google last week, accusing the search giant for teaming up with Facebook and making a secret deal in 2018 to divide the market for ads on websites and apps among them and manipulate auctions for online advertising.
They complained that Facebook agreed to not compete with Google over online advertising tools, and that in return, Google would place more ads of Facebook’s clients than clients of other Google partners.
9. Apple and Facebook spar over App Tracking Transparency tool
Apple is updating its iOS to give its users more control over what an app can track. This means that an iOS user can limit apps from tracking them.
Apple has delayed the feature’s rollout to early next year after facing heat from AdTech firms, primarily in the EU. Separately, Facebook also slammed Apple’s new policy for being more about the iPhone maker’s own profit, and not privacy.
Zuckerberg-owned company argued that the new policy of giving users a choice whether apps can track them for personalised ads will force developers to charge for subscriptions or in-app purchases. These purchases are subject to Apple’s App Store commissions, which will increase the iPhone maker’s profit.
10. Digital Currency and Facebook’s Diem
Facebook renamed its digital payment venture as ‘Diem’ to gain regulatory approval by stressing on its simpler structure. It is said to operate as a digital currency, providing an alternative to the U.S. dollar and other currencies. ‘Diem’ is slated for a 2021 launch, provided regulators approve.
Facebook announced the launch of digital currency ‘Libra’ in June 2019. However, several countries including the U.S. and the European Union (EU) are opposed to it, citing lack of regulations and user-data protection measures, and risk to the monetary sovereignty of governments.