Twitter will delete dormant accounts – TechCrunch

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1. Twitter will free up handles by deleting inactive accounts

“As part of our commitment to serve the public conversation, we’re working to clean up inactive accounts to present more accurate, credible information people can trust across Twitter,” the company said.

Sounds like a smart move, with one big catch: If someone with a Twitter account died more than six months prior and no one else has their login, their account will be deleted. So hopefully, Twitter will come up with a way to memorialize these accounts.

2. Facebook buys VR studio behind Beat Saber

Virtual reality doesn’t have many hit games yet, but Facebook is buying the studio behind one of the medium’s biggest titles. It says Beat Games will join Oculus Studio but will continue to operate independently.

3. Indian scooter rental startup Bounce raises $150M

Bounce, formerly known as Metro Bikes, allows customers to rent a scooter for as little as Rs 1 (0.1 cents) per kilometer and Rs 1.5 per hour. Sources told us the new financing round values the startup “well over $500 million.”

4. Netflix leases New York’s Paris Theatre

Netflix is expanding its theatrical presence by signing a long-term lease for a historic single-screen venue in New York City. This follows reports that the streaming company is also working to buy the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles.

5. Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince is coming to Disrupt Berlin

Back in 2010, web performance and security company Cloudflare launched on-stage at our Disrupt SF Battlefield. And as Prince loves to remind us, the company came in second.

6. Gift Guide: STEM toys for your builders-in-training

Yep, it’s gift guide season. Here’s our updated roundup of the latest wares clamoring to entice and inspire kids with coding tricks and electronic wizardry.

7. We’re democratizing information about startups with Extra Crunch

The Daily Crunch includes links to Extra Crunch stories just about every day. But if you’re still wondering what exactly TechCrunch’s premium membership program offers, here’s a 45-second video explaining everything you need to know.

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Chirp debuts a faster, feature-filled Twitter app for Apple Watch – TechCrunch

Chirp, a Twitter client preferred by hundreds of thousands of Apple Watch users, is getting its biggest upgrade since its arrival last year. Now redesigned for watchOS 6, the new version of Chirp includes a rebuilt timeline feature that allows you to endlessly scroll through tweets much more quickly than before, along with other enhancements, like support for iOS 13’s dark mode and a way to add colors to your Twitter username.

The app was first introduced to fill the void created when Twitter pulled its own Apple Watch app back in 2017 in favor of using Apple Watch’s notifications platform instead.

Chirp, meanwhile, lets users access a real Twitter client from their Watch’s small screen, which included a way to view your Home Timeline, Twitter Trends, @ Mentions, Direct Messages and more. Some features — like the ability to Direct Message or compose tweets from your Apple Watch — are only available to Chirp Pro paying users, though.

Chirp Pro is a user-friendly “pay what you want” feature that lets you chip in at either $4.99, $5.99 or $7.99 to upgrade the app and doesn’t require a subscription. To date, Chirp has around 200,000 installs, according to data from Sensor Tower. Conversions are much smaller.

The new version, Chirp 2.0, hopes to encourage more upgrades as it enhances the Twitter-on-your-wrist experience with a redesigned timeline that endlessly scrolls faster and more reliably than before, and includes an improved video player, image grids and more.

“The inspiration for rewriting the timeline came from when I was fortunate enough to attend WWDC 2019 as a scholar,” explains Chirp developer Will Bishop. “During the keynote, Apple announced SwiftUI, a new framework that allowed developers to develop their user interfaces much faster than ever before. However, not only did it increase the speed, it opened up a whole new way to create apps for the Apple Watch,” he explains.

“Prior to SwiftUI, all user interface on Apple Watch was drag-and-drop, which, while convenient, has some major drawbacks. So feeling inspired from this announcement, I left the keynote hall and immediately began working on reimplementing the timeline with SwiftUI,” he says.

Direct messages were updated, too, and now include images and tweets that were shared through the private messaging feature.

Chirp 2.0 also introduces support for live complications on Apple Watch. That means you can see recent tweets right on the watch face, and tap on them to be redirected back to the Chirp app to reply, like or retweet. This feature is also available only to Pro users.

Another enhancement lets you add a little flair to your Twitter username by making it colorful — a feature that was inspired by a user’s request. Included as a one-off in-app purchase, it’s $1 for Pro users or $2 for non-Pro users to take advantage of this option. Bishop attributes the pricing decision to the backend work required to implement the feature on his part. It also makes for an additional revenue stream, by being available to those who don’t want to pay for the Pro version of the app.

However, Bishop notes that the option will be available for free during Pride month (June) so everyone can make their username rainbow-colored, if they choose.

In addition, Chirp 2.0 is now available in a number of languages, besides English, including Chinese (simplified), Danish, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish (Latin America).

The app itself is a free download from the iOS or Apple Watch App Store. 

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New tweet generator mocks venture capitalists – TechCrunch

“Airbnb’s unit economics are quite legendary — the S-1 is going to be MOST disrupted FASTEST in the next 3 YEARS? Caps for effect.”

Who tweeted that? Initialized Capital’s Garry Tan? Homebrew’s Hunter Walk? Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham? Or perhaps one of the dozens of other venture capitalists active on Twitter .

No, it was Parrot.VC, a new Twitter account and website dedicated to making light of VC Twitter. Brother-sister duo Samantha and Nick Loui, the creators of the new tool, fed 65,000 tweets written by some 50 venture capitalists to a machine learning bot. The result is an automated tweet generator ready to spew somewhat nonsensical (or entirely nonsensical) <280-character statements.

According to Hacker News, where co-creator Nick Loui shared information about their project, the bot uses predictive text to generate “amazing, new startup advice,” adding “Gavin Belson – hit me up, this is the perfect acquisition for Hooli,” referencing the popular satirical TV show, “Silicon Valley.” 

This isn’t the first time someone has leveraged artificial intelligence to make fun of the tech community. One of my personal favorites, BodegaBot, inspired by the Bodega fiasco of late 2017, satirizes Silicon Valley’s unhinged desire to replace domestic service with technology.



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Twitter launches a Privacy Center to centralize its data protection efforts – TechCrunch

Twitter today is launching a new resource that aims to serve as the central place for everything related to the company’s efforts around privacy and data protection. The new site, the Twitter Privacy Center, will host information about Twitter’s initiatives, announcements and new privacy products, as well as other communication about security incidents. Related to these changes, Twitter is setting up a new company, Twitter International Company, to manage its service in the EU.

The company says it wanted to create a centralized resource so it would be easier to find all the information about Twitter’s work in this area. However, the impacts of Europe’s data protection regulation, GDPR, likely also spurred Twitter’s efforts on this front, along with other data laws.

For its own purposes, Twitter now needs to have a more organized approach to consumer data privacy. As a result, it makes sense to put Twitter’s work and announcements onto a consumer-facing site that’s easy to navigate and use.

The new Twitter Privacy Center splits information between what’s aimed at users and what’s for partners. On the latter front, it has dedicated pages for GDPR, CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) and Global DPA (Data Processing Addendum), for example.

The users’ section, meanwhile, directs visitors to Twitter’s Terms, Privacy Policy, Account Settings, Service Providers and more.

In its newly updated policies, Twitter says the entity serving the EU, or European Economic Area, is Twitter International Company, not Twitter. This change gives Twitter the ability to test features and settings and provide users with a different set of controls outside of its main product.

For example, Twitter says it may test additional opt-in or opt-out preferences, prompts or other requirements for advertisements. Some of this work may make its way back to Twitter eventually.

Twitter’s new Terms also clarify that its intellectual property license says that the content users provide may be curated, transformed and translated by Twitter.

Plus, Twitter’s Privacy Policy has been modified with clarifications around how Twitter processes data, how tweets are shared with developers and other changes.

In its announcement, Twitter spins its history a bit by saying how privacy has been its focus since the service’s creation in 2006. That’s a funny stance, given its product has been that of a public social media platform, not a private one — a sort of public SMS, in fact.

Twitter notes how users are able to be anonymous on its platform, a feature it says was built with privacy in mind. In reality, Twitter’s creation was inspired by SMS, but Twitter remained an ambiguous product for years, until its user base grew and figured out what they wanted Twitter to be. Much of what Twitter is today — even its conventions like the @ mention and the retweet — grew organically, not by design.

The company’s announcement today also states its privacy and data protection work going forward will be focused on three key areas: 1) to fix Twitter’s technical debt — meaning upgrading older systems to support their current uses; 2) to build privacy into all new products it launches; and 3) accountability.

Products now go through reviews by Twitter’s Information Security, Product and Privacy Counsel teams and its independent Office of Data Protection ahead of launch. In addition, Twitter’s Data Protection Officer, Damien Kieran, will provide to Twitter’s board of directors every quarter an independent assessment of all privacy and data protection-related work to ensure Twitter remains on track.

“It’s so common to hear tech companies say: ‘Privacy is not a privilege; it is a fundamental right’ that those words have become a cliche. People have become desensitized to hearing companies say, ‘we value your privacy,’ and are worn out from being asked to accept privacy policies that they rarely, if ever, even read,” read Twitter’s announcement about the launch of the new Twitter Privacy Center, jointly authored by both Kieran and Twitter Product Lead, Kayvon Beykpour.

“Many companies make these declarations without even showing people what actions they are taking to protect their privacy. And let’s be honest, we have room for improvement, too,” it stated.



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Twitter tests new conversation features from twttr prototype, rollout planned for 2020 – TechCrunch

Twttr, the prototype app Twitter launched earlier this year, has been testing new ways to display conversations, including through the use of threaded replies and other visual cues. Now, those features have been spotted on Twitter.com, giving the service a message board-like feel where replies are connected to original tweeter and others in a thread by way of thin, gray lines.

As you may recall, the goal with twttr was to give Twitter a place outside of its main app to publicly experiment with more radical changes to the Twitter user interface, gain feedback, then iterate as needed, before the changes were rolled out to Twitter’s main user base. Since its arrival in March, the prototype twttr app has focused mainly on how threaded conversations would work, sometimes including different ways of labeling the posters in a thread, as well.

Currently, for example, twttr labels the original poster — meaning the person who started a conversation — with a little microphone icon, similar to Reddit. It’s also testing a way to view the tweet details in a card-style layout you can activate with a tap.

But its main focus continues to be on the display of the threads themselves.

Following its launch, the work on twttr slowed as did the excitement over its exclusive, invite-only Twitter experience. Instead of being a continual testbed of new ideas, twttr mostly rolled out small tweaks to threads. And it never branched out beyond conversation redesigns to test entirely new features, like Twitter’s recently launched Topics, for example.

In August, Sara Haider, who had been heading up the design of Conversations on Twitter — a role that included running twttr — announced she would be moving to a new team at the company. Meanwhile, Suzanne Xie, who had just joined Twitter by way of the Lightwell acquisition, stepped in to lead Conversations instead. She confirmed at the time that part of her role would be working with the twttr team to bring its best parts to the main Twitter app.

That work now appears to be underway.

Noted reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong spotted a conversation tree layout being developed on Twitter.com, identical to the one found on twttr.

And just this week, the feature was tweaked a bit more to include the ability to focus on a specific tweet, even from a permalink — also similar to twttr’s card-style layout, which highlights tweets you tap within a thread in the same way.

Wong wasn’t opted into an A/B test on Twitter.com to view this feature but rather found it through her investigative techniques, we understand.

Twitter confirmed what she found is part of the company’s broader plan to bring twttr’s features to Twitter — a rollout that will take place next year, a spokesperson said.

In addition, the company is considering how to use the twttr app to experiment with other features going forward, it says.

 



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You can take my Dad’s tweets over my dead body – TechCrunch

Editor’s note: Drew is a geek who first worked at AOL when he was 16 years old and went on to become a senior writer at TechCrunch. He is now the VP of Communications for venture equity fund Scaleworks.

There are a few ways that people use Twitter, but for the most part the ones who have pushed the social platform into the national lexicon are regular users who like to communicate with each other using the thing. They’re the ones who use it a lot. They’re the ones who make Twitter go.

Now, mind you, I’m an extreme case. I share a lot. I’ve shared my cancer diagnoses, my stem cell treatment, new jobs, my wedding. And the loss of my father Barry.

Today, Twitter announced that it will reclaim dormant accounts. That is, if you haven’t logged into yours for a long time, it is considered inactive and will be included in the reclamation process.

At first I thought that was pretty cool. There are a ton of accounts that get squatted on, forcing new users to use crappy AOL-like names, such as Joe583822. No fun at all. And these accounts aren’t even in use! As in not active.

No big deal.

But then I saw this:

My heart sank. And I cried. You see, I didn’t think about this. It is a big deal.

My father’s Twitter account isn’t active. He passed away over four years ago. My Dad was a casual tweeter at best. He mostly used it because I, well, overused it. And it was charming. Once in a while he’d chime in with a zinger of a tweet and I’d share it humbly with the folks who kindly follow me.

He got a kick out of that, and so did I. I still do. I still read his tweets, and from time to time I still share them with you. It’s my way, odd or not, of remembering him. Keeping his spirit alive. His tweets are timestamped moments that he shared with the world.

And Twitter is sweeping them up like crumpled-up paper and junk in a dustbin.

Surely, my father isn’t the only person who has passed away and left a Twitter account unkept — or, as the company puts it, “inactive.” I can think of a few others. And I get even more upset at the thought of their thoughts disappearing. I might not remember everyone we’ve lost, but not being able to recall something they’ve said or shared in the past is depressing.

When people ask me why I use Twitter so much, it’s mostly because I see the platform as a living organism. It’s not perfect. In fact, it’s awful sometimes. Lately, a lot of times.

During events and during holidays it’s almost as if that tiny little app on my phone has a pulse. And a heart. Because of course it does: It’s full of human beings with feelings and real thoughts. That’s what makes Twitter Twitter.

And just because someone’s pulse no longer beats doesn’t mean their thoughts no longer matter.

I sincerely hope that Twitter didn’t think about this first and reverse course. Perhaps they’ll offer a way to memorialize an account. I don’t have my dad’s login. I can’t “wake up” his account to keep it safe. I am truly sad at the thought of losing some of his quirky nerdy tweets.

Especially this one:

My dad thought I was the only person on the damn site and I never corrected him or schooled him on Twitter. He used it the way he wanted to, and that reminds me of the person he was. If you take that away from me, then what is Twitter anyway?

Facebook allows you to memorialize someone’s page and that’s pretty great. Unfortunately, my father’s page was deactivated and deleted without my having been consulted. By the time I realized it was gone, Facebook told me there was nothing it could do. It was really traumatizing for me and my other family members. So many interactions there, thoughts, smiles. A timeline. No, a time capsule.

Just gone. Like my dad.

Big tech companies are good at a lot of things, but what they seem to lack is collective empathy and heart. When humans use the things you build and you stop treating them like humans, but rather like bits and bytes and revenue dollars, you’ve given your soul away. And maybe it’s just me getting older, but I’ve had about enough of it.

To quote the late great Barry Olanoff:

Think about it, Twitter. Do better. Because every time you make me question your humanity, I’m one step closer to not being that whale of a user that helped get you here in the first place.



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Twitter will free up handles by deleting inactive accounts – TechCrunch

Those who’ve attempted to snag their preferred Twitter handle know what a pain the process can be. Users can squat on an account for years, holding onto handles in spite of long stretches of inactivity. As spotted by a BBC reporter, Twitter looks to finally be getting proactive about the situation.

The service confirmed the move in an email to TechCrunch:

As part of our commitment to serve the public conversation, we’re working to clean up inactive accounts to present more accurate, credible information people can trust across Twitter. Part of this effort is encouraging people to actively log-in and use Twitter when they register an account, as stated in our Inactive Accounts Policy. We have begun proactive outreach to many accounts who have not logged into Twitter in over six months to inform them that their accounts may be permanently removed due to prolonged inactivity.

As noted, the service has an inactive account policy in place, though it traditionally hasn’t done much to enforce it. The company encourages users to, at the very least, log in and tweet every six months. Now it’s taking the added measure of reaching out to inactive users, prompting them to log in prior to December 11, or risk being deleted.

As for the timeline of opening up those accounts, Twitter’s not saying. And the fine print on the inactive account policy page still notes that the service does not “generally accept requests for usernames that seem inactive,” short of perceived trademark infringement. A spokesperson noted in an email to TechCrunch that the accounts “may” become available, though the process of removing old accounts will likely take a number of months. 

Update: Twitter wrote back to clarify that freeing up handles is a “byproduct” of its work to “present more accurate, credible information,” rather than the primary goal of the move.



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Watch Sacha Baron Cohen skewer Zuckerberg’s ‘twisted logic’ on hate speech and fakes – TechCrunch

Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has waded into the debate about social media regulation.

In an award-acceptance speech to the Anti-Defamation League yesterday, the creator of Ali G and Borat delivered a precision take-down of what he called Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s “bullshit” arguments against regulating his platform.

The speech is well worth watching in full as Cohen articulates, with a comic’s truth-telling clarity, the problem with “the greatest propaganda machine in history” (aka social media platform giants) and how to fix it: Broadcast-style regulation that sets basic standards and practices of what content isn’t acceptable for them to amplify to billions.

“There is such a thing as objective truth,” said Cohen. “Facts do exist. And if these internet companies really want to make a difference, they should hire enough monitors to actually monitor, work closely with groups like the ADL and the NAACP, insist on facts and purge these lies and conspiracies from their platforms.”

Attacking social media platforms for promulgating “a sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threaten our democracy and to some degree our planet,” he pointed out that freedom of speech is not the same as freedom of reach.

“This can’t possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind,” he said. “I believe that’s it’s time for a fundamental rethink of social media and how it spreads hate, conspiracies and lies.”

“Voltaire was right. Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities — and social media lets authoritarians push absurdities to billions of people,” he added.

Cohen also rubbished Zuckerberg’s recent speech at Georgetown University in which the Facebook founder sought to appropriate the mantle of “free speech” to argue against social media regulation.

“This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. This is about giving people — including some of the most reprehensible people in history — the biggest platform in history to reach a third of the planet.”

“We are not asking these companies to determine the boundaries of free speech across society, we just want them to be responsible on their platforms,” Cohen added.

On Facebook’s decision to stick by its morally bankrupt position of allowing politicians to pay it to spread lying, hatefully propaganda, Cohen also had this to say: “Under this twisted logic if Facebook were around in the 1930s it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his solution to the ‘Jewish problem.’ ”

Ouch.

YouTube also came in for criticism during the speech, including for its engagement-driven algorithmic recommendation engine which Cohen pointed out had single-handedly recommended videos by conspiracist Alex Jones “billions of times.”

Just six people decide what information “so much of the world sees,” he noted, name-checking the “silicon six” — as he called Facebook’s Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Alphabet’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.

“All billionaires, all Americans, who care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy. This is ideological imperialism,” he went on. “Six unelected individuals in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world, unaccountable to any government and acting like they’re above the reach of law.

“It’s like we’re living in the Roman Empire and Mark Zuckerberg is Caesar. At least that would explain his haircut.”

Cohen ended the speech with an appeal for societies to “prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference, and experts over ignoramuses” and thereby save democracy from the greed of “high tech robber barons.”

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Twitter rolls out its ‘Hide Replies’ feature to all users worldwide – TechCrunch

Twitter’s radical “Hide Replies” feature, one of the biggest changes to how Twitter works since the invention of the Retweet, is now available to Twitter’s global user base. The company says the feature will roll out to all Twitter users across platforms by today, with only one slight tweak since earlier tests.

Designed to balance the conversation on Twitter by putting the original poster back in control of which replies to their tweets remain visible, Hide Replies has been one of Twitter’s more controversial features to date. While no replies are actually deleted from Twitter when a user chooses to hide them, they are placed behind an extra click. That means the trolling, irrelevant, insulting or otherwise disagreeable comments don’t get to dominate the conversation.

Twitter’s thinking is that if people know that hateful remarks and inappropriate behavior could be hidden from view, it will encourage more online civility.

However, the flip side is that people could use the “Hide Replies” feature to silence their critics or stifle dissent, even when warranted — like someone offering a fact check, for example.

The feature was first tested in Canada in July, then in the U.S. and Japan this September, across both web and mobile platforms.

Since its launch, Twitter found that most people hide the replies they find irrelevant, off-topic or annoying. It also found people were using this instead of harsher noise reduction controls, like block or mute. In Canada, 27% of surveyed users who had their tweets hidden said they would reconsider how they interacted with others in the future, which is a somewhat promising metric.

The feature is, however, getting a slight change with its global debut. Twitter says some people wanted to take further action after hiding a reply, so now it will check to see if they want to block the replier, too. It also heard from some users that they were afraid of retaliation because the icon remains visible. It’s not making a change on that front at this time, but is still considering how to address this.

Another concern that was often mentioned on Twitter as the new feature first rolled out was the large pop-up notification that appears when users encountered a tweet with hidden replies.

Some people found the notification was so large and disruptive that it actually encouraged people to pay more attention to the hidden replies than they would otherwise.

Twitter says this screen only displays the first time a Twitter user encounters a tweet with hidden replies, however. Afterward, an icon will show people replies are hidden — and those are hidden on another page, not below the tweet.

But even though that’s a one-time notification, the attention it demands from the user outweighs the information it’s trying to convey — essentially, that Twitter has launched a new feature and here’s where to find it. And if someone is engaged in trolling, being told that this particular Twitter user is hiding replies could enrage them even more.

In addition to the global rollout, Twitter says it will soon be launching a new hide replies endpoint in its API so developers can build additional conversation management tools.

And Twitter notes it will be testing other changes to conversations, including more options around who can reply or even see specific conversations, as well as engagement changes designed to encourage healthier conversations.

“Everyone should feel safe and comfortable while talking on Twitter,” writes Suzanne Xie, Twitter’s director of Product Management, who recently joined by way of an acquisition. “To make this happen, we need to change how conversations work on our service,” she says.

Twitter’s development in this area is interesting because it’s actively experimenting with ways to encourage civility on a platform that’s known for hot takes, sarcasm, snark and outrage. It’s willing to change and evolve its features over time as it learns what works and scrap changes that don’t. It has even been running a beta product (twttr) in parallel with Twitter, to try new ideas. If Twitter is ever able to turn things around by way of its feature set, it would be a marvel of product management.

The option to hide replies is rolling out globally on iOS, Android, Twitter Lite and twitter.com, starting today.



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Twitter will finally let you turn on two-factor authentication without giving it a phone number – TechCrunch

Two-factor authentication is good! SMS-based two-factor authentication? Not the best option. After countless tales of people having their phone numbers and inbound SMS hijacked by way of SIM swapping, its clear that SMS just isn’t the right solution for sending people secondary login codes.

And yet, for many years, it’s been the mandatory go-to on Twitter . You could switch to another option later (like Google Authenticator, or a physical Yubikey) — but to turn it on in the first place, you were locked into giving Twitter a phone number and using SMS.

Twitter is getting around to fixing this, at long last. The Twitter Safety team announced that you’ll be able to enable two-factor without the need for a phone number, starting sometime today.

This news comes just a few months after Jack Dorsey’s own Twitter account was hacked (seemingly by way of a SIM swap) and a few weeks after Twitter had to admit it was using phone numbers provided during the two-factor setup process for serving targeted ads.

Some users are reporting that the setup process still requests a phone number, so it seems like this change is being rolled out rather than launching for everyone immediately.



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