Indonesia unblocks Tumblr following its ban on adult content

Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country by population, has unblocked Tumblr nine months after it blocked the social networking site over pornographic content.

Tumblr — which, disclaimer, is owned by Oath Verizon Media Group just like TechCrunch — announced earlier this month that it would remove all “adult content” from its platform. That decision, which angered many in the adult entertainment industry who valued the platform as an increasingly rare outlet that supported erotica, was a response to Apple removing Tumblr’s app from the iOS Store after child pornography was found within the service.

This impact of this new policy has made its way to Indonesia where KrAsia reports that the service was unblocked earlier this week. The service had been blocked in March after falling foul of the country’s anti-pornography laws.

“Tumblr sent an official statement regarding the commitment to clean the platform from pornographic content,” Ferdinandus Setu, Acting Head of the Ministry of Communication and Informatics Bureau, is reported to have said in a press statement.

Messaging apps WhatsApp and Line are among the other services that have been forced to comply with the government’s ban on ‘unsuitable’ content in order to keep their services open in the country. Telegram, meanwhile, removed suspected terrorist content last year after its service was partially blocked.

While perhaps not widely acknowledged in the West, Indonesia is a huge market with a population of over 260 million people. The world’s largest Muslim country, it is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and its growth is tipped to help tripled the region’s digital economy to $240 billion by 2025.

In other words, Indonesia is a huge market for internet companies.

The country’s anti-porn laws have been used to block as many as 800,000 websites as of 2017so potentially over a million by now — but they have also been used to take aim at gay dating apps, some of which have been removed from the Google Play Store. As Vice notes, “while homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, it’s no secret that the country has become a hostile place for the LGBTQ community.”

As adult content ban arrives, Tumblr clarifies and refines rules

Let’s talk about the grown-up stuff — the adult content that Tumblr says it’s banning starting today. The wording of the company’s initial plans was admittedly confusing, upsetting both artists and sex workers who have begun to rely on the platform as a kind of safe place for self-expression.

The site issued a blog post today clarifying what had initially appeared to be a scorched earth approach to the explicit content as Tumblr frantically attempted to work its way back into Apple’s good graces. The note is a bit of a retread of earlier statements, while offering a much clearer vision of what things will look like on Tumblr’s end.

Of course, for some, this clarification might be coming too late. Many have already abandoned Tumblr for greener — or at least less family-friendly pastures. That’s due in no small part to the fact that it went on a kind of banning spree, following the reports of child pornography that caused it to be pulled from Apple’s App Store.

Tumblr relied on a machine algorithm that flagged posts at a rapid clip, resulting in frustrating and sometimes hilarious misfires. “[T]his is a complex problem,” the company writes, “and over the coming weeks we will gradually, and carefully, flag more adult content. (Yes, we will still make mistakes, but hopefully fewer and fewer.)”

The service also clarifies its appeals process, wherein users can protest posts they believe were incorrectly flagged. Content that is flagged will be hidden from view, but not deleted, according to the company.

Tumblr also correctly notes the important role the LGBTQ+ community has played in buoying the service over the past several years. Communities like this have found a home on the service and many now feel threatened by what appears on the face of it to be a bit of a Draconian new ruling.

Per Tumblr:

LGBTQ+ conversations, exploration of sexuality and gender, efforts to document the lives and challenges of those in the sex worker industry, and posts with pictures, videos, and GIFs of gender-confirmation surgery are all examples of content that is not only permitted on Tumblr but actively encouraged.

And just to drive the point home, it offers a few examples of images that ought not be flagged by the service, ranging from life drawings to medical procedures to topless protesting. Of course, under its current algorithm, many of these have already been flagged.

It’s a nice gesture, but more to the point, it’s a site finally acknowledging a core audience that feels betrayed by the new rules. Tumblr’s own approach to them now feels fluid because it has to be. The company is toeing a difficult line between the openness users have come to expect and regulations put in place to please walled content gardens from the likes of Apple and the strict structures of its (and, for that matter, TechCrunch’s) corporate owner, Verizon.

It’s going to be a hard line to walk, but the future of Tumblr might very well depend on it.

This post may contain sensitive media

It’s the end of an era. Earlier this month, Tumblr announced that it would delete all adult content from its platform on December 17. That day, friends, is today.

The blogging platform has been furiously flagging posts as explicit since announcing the ban on December 3. Starting today, all of those flagged posts will be hidden from view. The site has been relying on computers to flag the content.

“Computers are better than humans at scaling process—and we need them for that—but they’re not as good at making nuanced, contextual decisions,” Tumblr notes. “This is an evolving process for all of us, and we’re committed to getting this right. That’s why we will always notify you if your content has been flagged as adult so that you have the opportunity to review it and take any additional action that may be needed.”

The fairly aggressive flagging process has already led to some hilarious mix ups. While it’s instituted a review process for site owners, pages that have been autoflagged will continued to be blocked by a content filter.

Tumblr’s decision to blog content was spurred on when Apple removed it from the App Store over child pornography concerns. The service opted to take a kind of scorched earth approach to the issue of explicit content, a decision that has concerned artists and sex workers alike. Many have also speculated that the end of porn could also spell the end of Tumblr (which, for the record, is owned by the same company that owns TechCrunch).

In spite of that concern, however, Tumblr’s bid appears to have worked, with the service having since returned to the App Store. Blog owners, meanwhile, have scrambled to find more adult-friendly content platforms.

Tumblr’s back in the App Store following porn ban announcement

Tumblr is back. Sort of. The social blogging platform reappeared on Apple’s App Store this week, some three weeks after being pulled over child pornography concerns. Ten days ago, the company adopted a scorched earth response to the issue, announcing a blanket ban on adult material as part of a “better, more positive Tumblr.”

The move appears to have paid off on one front, at least. The iOS version has returned to Apple’s hallowed halls with a version history noting that “this particular update[…]includes changes to Tumblr’s Community Guidelines, which prohibit certain kinds of content from being shown on Tumblr.”

I.E. the dirty stuff.

The app is still listed as “17+” for “Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes/Frequent Intense Sexual Content or Nudity.” The ban is intended to go into full effect on December 17, but the ploy appears to have had the intended effect. Tumblr has already begun flagging adult material via an algorithm, leading to some pretty hilarious misfires.

On a more serious side, however, the company’s plans have been a source of consternation among artists and sex workers who have thrived on the platform. It has also led many to speculate that the kinder, gentler, more sanitized Tumblr could ultimately spell doom for the service, moving forward.

Tumblr is owned  by the same parent company as TechCrunch. We’ve reached out to representatives for comment on the new version of the app.

Tumblr’s porn ban is going about as badly as expected

This image carefully avoids any "female-presenting nipples" which would otherwise land it on Tumblr's naughty list.

In the run up to its total ban on pornography, Tumblr is using “algorithms” to determine if current posts are pornographic at all.

For some reason, the blogging site hopes that people running porn blogs will, after the December 17th ban, continue to use the site, but restrict their postings to the non-pornographic. As such, it isn’t just banning or closing blogs that are currently used for porn; instead, it’s analyzing each image and marking those it deems to be pornographic as “explicit.” The display of explicit content will be suppressed, leaving behind a wasteland of effectively empty porn blogs.

This would be bad enough for Tumblr users if it were being done effectively, but naturally, it isn’t. No doubt using the wonderful power of machine learning —a thing companies often do to distance themselves from any responsibility for the actions taken by their algorithms—Tumblr is flagging non-adult content as adult content, and vice versa. Twitter is filling with complaints about the poor job the algorithm is doing.

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Why Oath keeps Tumblring

I dig on my employer Oath, and then Tencent Music notes and a major loss for the NYC ecosystem and what it means for open source.

TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. This is a rough draft of something new – provide your feedback directly to the author (Danny at danny@techcrunch.com) if you like or hate something here.

My three word Oath? I’m with stupid

It goes without saying that this piece about my employer is my work alone, doesn’t reflect management’s views, and is done under the auspices of TechCrunch’s independent editorial voice. No usage of internal information is assumed or implied.

This is a piece about TechCrunch’s parent company, formerly known as “Oath:” (okay just Oath, but who am I to flout a mandatory colon?) and now ReBranded™ as Verizon Media Group / Oath (See what they did there? They literally slashed Oath. Poetic).

Oath is essentially the creature of Frankenstein, a middle-school corporate alchemy experiment to fuse the properties of the companies formerly known as AOL and Yahoo into the larger behemoth known as Verizon. You can feel the terrible synergy emanating from the multiple firewalls it takes to get to our corporate resources.

Oath has a problem:* it needs to grow for Wall Street to be happy and for Verizon not to neuter it, but it has an incredible penchant for making product decisions that basically tell users to fuck off. Oath’s year over year revenues last quarter were down 6.9%, driven by extreme competition from digital ad leaders Google and Facebook.

The solution apparently? Drive page views down. If that logic doesn’t make sense, well then, maybe you should fill out a job application.

The kerfuffle is over Tumblr, which is among Oath’s most important brands, in that people actually know what it is and kind of still like it. Tumblr, which Yahoo notably acquired under Marissa Mayer back in 2013, has been something of a product orphan — one of the few true software platforms left in a world filled with editorial content like TechCrunch and HuffPost (Oath sold off Flickr earlier this year to SmugMug — which also seems to be going through its own boneheaded product decision phase).

All was well and good — well, at least quiet — in the Tumblr world until Apple pulled the plug on Tumblr’s app in the App Store a few weeks ago over claims of child porn. Now let’s be absolutely clear: child porn is abhorrent, and filtering it out of online photo sharing sites is a prime directive (and legally mandated).

But Oath has decided to do something equally obnoxious: it intends to ban anything that might be considered “adult content” starting December 17th, just in time for the holidays when purity around family gatherings is key.

In Tumblr’s policy, “Adult content primarily includes photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content—including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations—that depicts sex acts.” You’ll notice the written legerdemain — “primarily” doesn’t exclude the wider world of adult-oriented content that almost invariably is going to be subsumed under this policy.

Obviously, adults (and presumably teens as well) are pissed. As users are starting to see what photos are getting flagged (hint: not the ones with porn in them), that’s only making them more angry.

Oath is attempting to compress the content moderation engineering and testing of Facebook down to a span of a few weeks. And Facebook hasn’t even figured this one out yet, which is why people are still being murdered across the world from viral messages and memes it hosts that incite ethnic hatred and genocide.

I get the pressure from Apple. I get the safety of saying “just ban all the images” à la Renaissance pope. I get the business decision of trying to maintain Tumblr’s clean image. These points are all reasonable, but they all are just useless without Tumblr’s core and long-time users.

What flummoxes me from a product perspective is that it’s not as if banning all adult content is the singular solution to the problem. There is an entire spectrum of product, policy, legal, and product cultural ingredients that could be drawn upon. There could be more age verification, better separation of “safe for children” and “meant for adults content,” and more focus on messaging to users that moderation was meant to help the product and focus audiences rather than to puritanically filter.

Or you can just kill the photos, the somehow still loyal core user base, a safe space for expression via nudity and sexuality and, well, traffic along with it. And then you look at -6.9% growth and think: huh, I wonder if there is a connection.

*Mandatory colon

Tencent Music reintroduces its IPO

Tencent Music. Photo by Zhan Min/VCG via Getty Images

Maybe the IPO markets are thawing a bit after the crash of the last few weeks and…tariffs. From my colleague Catherine Shu:

Tencent Music Entertainment’s initial public offering is back in motion, two months after the company reportedly postponed it amid a global selloff. In a regulatory filing today, the company, China’s largest streaming music service, said it plans to offer 82 million American depositary shares (ADS), representing 164 million Class A ordinary shares, for between $13 to $15 each. That means the IPO will potentially raise up to $1.23 billion.

My colleague Eric Peckham wrote a deeper dive behind the lessons of Tencent Music for the broader music industry:

At its heart, Tencent Music is an interactive media company. Its business isn’t merely providing music, it’s getting people to engage around music. Given its parent company Tencent has become the leading force in global gaming—with control of League of Legends maker Riot Games and Clash of Clans maker Supercell, plus a 40 percent stake in Fortnite creator Epic Games, and role as the top mobile games publisher in China—its team is well-versed in the dynamics of in-game purchasing.

Tencent Music has staked out a very differentiated business model from Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, etc. It has used an engagement-based product model to make live-streaming and virtual gifts huge business lines, without dealing with the product marketing logistics of subscription. Where the West always asks you to pay for access, Tencent is asking you essentially to pay to have fun and be part of an experience.

Eric asks I think a deep question: why hasn’t this model (which seems particularly obvious in music given the overall events component of that business) been back-ported from China to the Western world? He sees a world where Facebook buys Spotify (I don’t) but I think there is absolutely a gap in the market for a music platform to really own this model.

NYC loses an open-source superstar

Photo: Amanda Hall / robertharding / Getty Images

Wes McKinney is a major open-source star and the engineer behind pandas, which is one of the fundamental Python data libraries, as well as a founding engineer of Apache Arrow, which is an in-memory data structure specification.

So it is big news that he has decided to decamp from New York City, where has has lived for ten years, to Nashville. Writing on his personal blog:

I’ve increasingly felt that open source development is at odds with the values that are driving a large portion of the corporate world, particularly in the United States. Many companies won’t fund open source work because there is no “return on investment”. This is deeply frustrating, and being surrounded by people whose actions align with profit-motive can be pretty discouraging. It’s not necessarily that people who work in NYC or SF are greedy or amorally concerned with making money. In many cases they are just responding to incentives coming from pretty low on the hierarchy of needs.

And

Full-time open source developers in many cases will make less money than their peers who work at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, or another major tech company. If we are to enable more people to do open source development as a full-time vocation, we need to grow supportive tech communities in places that are more affordable. (emphasis his).

I think this is a very interesting trend to watch in the coming years. It’s not just the small business and art types who want to move to lower cost locales to match their lifestyle spending to the (economic) value of their work. Software developers who want to work on more meaningful projects outside of advertising and finance will also increasingly need to consider these sorts of geographical adjustments.

As I wrote a few months ago about digital nomads:

From cryptocurrency millionaires in Puerto Rico to digital nomads in hotspots like Thailand, Indonesia, and Colombia, there is increasingly a view that there is a marketplace for governance, and we hold the power as consumers. Much like choosing a cereal from the breakfast department of a supermarket, highly-skilled professionals are now comparing governments online — and making clear-headed choices based on which ones are most convenient and have the greatest amenities available.

Economic migration — whether from cost-of-living, ecosystem or governance culture, or just for new horizons — is the watchword of this century. It’s a huge loss for NYC that people like McKinney can no longer find their work compatible with the city.

What’s next

I am still obsessing about next-gen semiconductors. If you have thoughts there, give me a ring: danny@techcrunch.com.

Thoughts on Articles

Imagined Communities – a major classic book of social science thought, it’s amazing how well it has held up, and the lessons it holds for us in the cyber age. Intending to write a review of it for this weekend, so expect more notes later.

Quietly, Japan has established itself as a power in the aerospace industry – I love industrial policy and national economic development, and Eric Berger has done a great job on both fronts with his dispatch in Ars Technica. Japan is roaring back into space, increasing its launch capabilities and also preparing to deploy its own GPS infrastructure. An important contextual read for those who follow SpaceX.

Why we stopped trusting elites — a compelling deep dive by William Davies in The Guardian into how populism is animated by the failures of elites. Couldn’t agree more that elites have lost significant trust over the last few decades, mostly from hubris, corruption, and outright fraud (the financial crisis being just the largest). Elites need to hold themselves to much higher standards if we want to ask our fellow citizens for their support.

Reading docket

What I’m reading (or at least, trying to read)

  • Huge long list of articles on next-gen semiconductors. More to come shortly.

Verizon takes aim at Tumblr’s kneecaps, bans all adult content

Verizon takes aim at Tumblr’s kneecaps, bans all adult content

Oath, the Verizon subsidiary that owns the Yahoo and AOL digital media brands, has announced that as of December 17, all adult content will be banned from the Tumblr blogging site. Any still or moving images displaying real-life human genitals or female nipples and any content—even drawn or computer-generated artwork—depicting any sexual acts will be prohibited.

Genitals and female nipples will only be permitted within the context of breastfeeding, childbirth, and in health-related subjects such as gender confirmation surgery. Written erotica will also remain on the site.

Nowadays, pornography represents a substantial element of Tumblr’s content. A 2013 estimate said that around 11 percent of the site’s 200,000 most-visited domains were porn, and some 22 percent of inbound links were from adult sites.

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Tumblr will delete all porn from the platform

Tumblr, a microblogging service that’s impact on internet culture has been massive and unique, is preparing for a massive change that’s sure to upset many of its millions of users.

On December 17, Tumblr will be banning porn, errr “adult content,” from its site and encouraging users to flag that content for removal. Existing adult content will be set to a “private mode” viewable only to the original poster.

What does “adult content” even mean? Well, according to Tumblr, the ban means the removal of any media that depicts “real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content—including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations—that depicts sex acts.”

This is a lot more complicated than just deleting some hardcore porn from the site, over the past several years Tumblr has become a hub for communities and artists with more adult themes. This has largely been born out of the fact that adult content has been disallowed from other multimedia-focused social platforms. There are bans on nudity and sexual content on Instagram and Facebook, though Twitter has more relaxed standards.

Why now? The Tumblr app was removed from the iOS app store several weeks ago due to an issue with its content filtering that led the company to issue a statement. “We’re committed to helping build a safe online environment for all users, and we have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to media featuring child sexual exploitation and abuse,” the company had detailed. “We’re continuously assessing further steps we can take to improve and there is no higher priority for our team.”

We’ve reached out to Tumblr for further comment.

The imminent “adult content” ban will not apply to media connected with breastfeeding, birth, or more general “health-related situations” like surgery, according to the company.

Tumblr is attempting to make aims to minimize the impact on the site’s artistic community as well, but this level of nuance is going to be incredibly difficult for them to enforce uniformly and will more than likely lead to a lot of frustrated users being told that their content does not qualify as “art.”

Tumblr is also looking to minimize impact on the more artistic storytelling “such as erotica, nudity related to political or newsworthy speech, and nudity found in art, such as sculptures and illustrations, are also stuff that can be freely posted on Tumblr.”

I don’t know how much it needs to be reiterated that child porn is a major issue plaguing the web, but a blanket ban on adult content on a platform that has gathered so many creatives working with NSFW themes is undoubtedly going to be a pretty controversial decision for the company.