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What is Meerkat? The latest social media craze garnering controversy and funding

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Meerkat is the latest social media craze – Mar 25, 2015

TORONTO – Move over Snapchat – the Internet has chosen a new favourite social media craze.

Meet Meerkat, the live streaming video service that allows users to host a live broadcast from their smartphones. If you haven’t heard of this new app don’t feel too bad – it’s only been around for about two weeks.

But that hasn’t stopped it from garnering an estimated 300,000 active users, US$12 million in funding and even a few controversies.

What is Meerkat?

Meerkat allows users to stream live video directly from their smartphones to their Twitter followers – a practice that has now been dubbed “Meerkating.”

To use the app you must log in with your Twitter account. Once you start a stream, the app automatically sends out a link to the stream to your followers.

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But here’s the catch – anyone with a Twitter account can watch your stream. There are no privacy controls for who sees the stream. Anyone watching can follow along and comment on the live stream.

Streams can only be watched in real time – you can’t replay them. However, the video can be saved to your phone, so you could upload it to YouTube later.

Meerkat became the most talked-about app at the South by South West (SXSW) Interactive festival earlier this month – a festival known for thrusting social media apps into the limelight.

In 2007, the festival helped launch a little thing called Twitter.  Two years later, Foursquare became the obsession of festival goers. Now it’s Meerkat’s turn.

How do people use it?

In the two weeks since its debut, Meerkat has been used for everything from streaming tech conferences, to mundane views of people sitting on their couch.

On Wednesday, One Direction fans were using the app to broadcast their heartbreak over Zayn Malik leaving the UK pop group. Meanwhile, tech enthusiasts were broadcasting live feeds from Facebook’s F8 developers conference.

Global News camera man Jason Scott used the app to live stream the scene of a shooting in Toronto earlier this week.

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“It doesn’t matter if you’re holding your phone portrait or landscape it streams the same – which is portrait and it’s horrible to watch on a desktop,” said Scott. “It’s amazing how the interface works with Twitter. It’s revolutionary – and really fun.”

Popularity doesn’t come without controversy

But the app has already hit a few snags.

Two weeks ago, Twitter cut off Meerkat’s access to its social graph, which allows users to “auto-follow” the same people they do on Twitter.

Twitter made the move shortly before announcing it had acquired Periscope, a similar live video app.

While many speculated the move would slow down Meerkat from onboarding new users, the app’s creators claimed its user base grew 30 per cent in the days following the Twitter crackdown, according to reports.

Later, a flaw in Meerkat’s code that would have allowed hackers to hijack livestreams and replace them with any recorded video was discovered.

Meerkat has since fixed the flaw, but many have pointed out that there could be more cracks in the app’s code since it’s still so new.

Of course, the app also brings up a few privacy concerns.

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Any user could decide to broadcast from a public space – meaning bystanders who may not want to appear on camera could be captured.

Users may also try to live stream events they don’t have licensing for – for example, sporting events or concerts.

Meerkat’s terms of use read:

“You may NOT post Content that:

Impersonates another person or entity in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others;

Violates the rights of a third party, including copyright, trademark, privacy, and publicity rights;

Is a direct and specific threat of violence to others;

Is furtherance of illegal activities; or

Is harassing, abusive, or constitutes spam.”