TikTok removed an account that was promoting secret large, indoor parties as COVID-19 surges across the US

Screen Shot 2020 12 29 at 6.27.28 PM
  • Vybe Together, a New York City-based “secret party app,” used TikTok to promote a large New Year’s Eve event that appear to break CDC-recommended COVID-19 safety protocol.
  • TikTok removed the Vybe Together account for violating community guidelines. 
  • “We are aware that large gatherings are not okay and we do not promote them. If we see events are popular we take them off!” a Vybe Together spokesperson told Business Insider in an email. 
  • Immunologists and healthcare workers worry New Year’s Eve parties could cause COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths to spike
  • Fellow party promotion company Eventbrite removed two large party listings in San Francisco, per SF Gate, but has kept up hundreds of other invitations.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

TikTok said it has removed the account for Vybe Together, a “secret party app,” which used social media to promote large New Year’s Eve gatherings in New York City that appear to break COVID-19 safety protocols.

A Vybe Together video promoting “secret gatherings” in New York City every weekend with videos of crowds of people indoors without wearing masks was viewed nearly 11,000 times before TikTok removed the account for violating its community guidelines. New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz first spotted the app’s TikTok account.

 

“We are like Eventbrite, but way cooler,” a Vybe Together spokesperson said in an email to Business Insider. “Vybe’s can be anything from playing board games to bachata with your neighbors. A lot of people have been isolated and lonely and we wanted to enable them to meet. We are aware that large gatherings are not okay and we do not promote them. If we see events are popular we take them off!”

Vybe Together allows users to find and create private parties. Only members approved by Vybe Together can use the app.

After facing criticism, Vybe Together removed its FAQ page, contact page, and careers page from its website. The only post remaining on the app’s Instagram reads “blown out of proportion by the media. We DO NOT CONDONE LARGE GATHERINGS!!!” The Vybe Together website still asks users, “Miss playing beer bong, flirting with strangers, and generally having a blast with the crew?” and invites them to, “Get your rebel on.”

vybe together

According to LinkedIn, Alexander Dimcevski, a Baruch college alum, cofounded an app called Trendies in January 2020, which appears to have rebranded as Vybe Together. The vybetogether.com domain was registered on September 14, 2020. Vybe Together did not respond to inquiries regarding the company’s founding date, headquarters, or investors.

According to its website, Vybe Together is owned by Chaparone Corporation, which Dimcevski registered as a New York City business to a Manhattan address on January 24, 2019.

A post shared by Vybe Together (@vybetogether)

 

The Vybe Together app, first posted to the App Store four months ago, but was quickly removed after Business Insider inquired about it with Apple. An Apple representative did not respond to a request for comment. 

Immunologists and other experts worry New Year’s Eve parties could cause COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths to spike. More than 63,000 people have died of COVID-19 in December, marking the month the deadliest of the pandemic. Gov. Gavin Newsom placed a stay-at-home order in California as ICU capacity reached critical lows this month, causing overflowing hospitals to place patients in gift shops.

Read more: Meet the 19 key scientists, executives, and leaders responsible for pushing coronavirus vaccines across the finish line

Researchers and infectious diseases experts have found evidence that COVID-19 spreads faster indoors among maskless people, which can make small gatherings risky.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended staying home for New Years Eve. If Americans choose to gather, the CDC said to wear masks, stay six-feet apart, avoid crowds, and avoid alcohol and shouting.

Fellow party promotion company Eventbrite removed two large party listings in San Francisco, per SF Gate, but has kept up hundreds of other invitations. Critics on social media have called for Eventbrite to remove more listings due to the danger of COVID-19 transmission.

Eventbrite laid off 45% of its staff in April, Billboard reported, due to the pandemic’s impact on the live events industry. Eventbrite reported 73% less net revenue in the third quarter of 2020 than in the same period last year.

“The COVID-19 global pandemic is a very dynamic situation for everyone, including event creators, who are the hosts, facilitators and owners of the experiences on Eventbrite’s platform,” an Eventbrite spokesperson said in an email to Business Insider. “Our Community Guidelines have always prohibited events that promote or contain illegal behavior and our community plays an essential role in reporting any concerning event listings or content.”

Read more: Check out the pitch deck John Hopkins University spinout Emocha used to win $6.1 million in funding to help doctors make sure patients take their meds

Healthcare workers recently told Business Insider they expect COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to climb after Christmas and New Year’s Eve, which could exacerbate burnout among doctors and nurses.

“I’m pretty worried about the surge after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays,” San Francisco-based emergency room nurse Jason Harrison told Business Insider. “I’ve seen no indication that the population is going to modify or reduce its travel.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Apple and Google have reportedly banned a major data broker from collecting location data from users’ phones amid scrutiny over its national security work

tim cook sundar pichai apple google
  • Apple and Google have banned X-Mode, a major data broker, from collecting location from users whose mobile devices run iOS and Android, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
  • The tech giants told developers they must remove X-Mode’s tracking software or risk being cut off from their app stores — and therefore the vast majority of mobile devices globally.
  • The move by Apple and Google follows recent reports by The Wall Street Journal and Vice News about X-Mode’s national security contracts and congressional scrutiny over how government agencies purchase Americans’ location data from private companies.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Apple and Google have banned X-Mode Social, a major data broker, from collecting mobile location data from iOS and Android users following criticism of its national security work, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The tech giants are requiring developers to remove X-Mode’s tracking software from their apps or they could get cut off from Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store, according to The Journal. Apple has given developers two weeks to comply, the newspaper reported.

In a statement to Business Insider, a Google spokesperson said: “We are sending a 7-day warning to all developers using the X-Mode SDK. Apps that need more time due to the complexity of their implementation can request an extension, which can be up to 30 days (including the initial 7-days). If X-Mode is still present in the app after the timeframe, the app will be removed from Play.”

Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile operating systems power nearly all smartphones worldwide, effectively forcing developers to ditch X-Mode, and the policies mark one of the most direct actions against a specific data broker.

“X-Mode collects similar mobile app data as most location and advertising SDKs in the industry. Apple and Google would be setting the precedent that they can determine private enterprises’ ability to collect and use mobile app data,” an X-Mode spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement.

X-Mode is still trying to get information from Apple and Google on why its tracking software is different than what other location data companies – or even Apple and Google themselves – collect, the spokesperson added.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

The moves by Apple and Google follow recent reports about how X-Mode sells users’ location data to US defense contractors, and by extension US military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies – contracts that have drawn scrutiny from lawmakers who argue it undermines Americans’ privacy rights by allowing the government to avoid having to obtain search warrants.

Both Apple and Google disclosed their new policies banning X-Mode to investigators working on behalf of Sen. Ron Wyden, according to The Wall Street Journal. Wyden has been investigating how private companies collect and sell Americans’ mobile location data to the government, often without their knowledge, and has proposed legislation that would ban the practice.

Vice News reported in November that X-Mode collects location data from users via as many as 400 apps, including Muslim prayer and dating apps, weather apps, and fitness trackers, and then sells that data to contractors that work with the US Air Force, US Army, and US Navy. X-Mode CEO Josh Anton told CNN Business in April the company tracks 25 million devices in the US every month.

The Wall Street Journal also reported last month that the US Air Force is indirectly using location data from X-Mode to monitor internet-of-things devices.

Other private data brokers have faced pushback in recent months for similar sales of Americans’ location data to US government agencies and contractors. Lawmakers are investigating Venntel for selling data to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, who reportedly used the data to surveil illegal immigrants, as well as the IRS for buying data from Venntel.

Read the original article on Business Insider