China Roundup: Beijing is tearing down the digital ‘walled gardens’

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.

This week, China gets serious about breaking down the walled gardens that its internet giants have formed for decades. Two major funding rounds were announced, from the newly established autonomous driving unicorn Deeproute.ai and fast-growing, cross-border financial service provider XTransfer.

Tear down the walls

The Chinese internet is infamously siloed, with a handful of “super apps” each occupying a cushy, protective territory that tries to lock users in and keep rivals out. On Tencent’s WeChat messenger, for instance, links to Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace and ByteDance’s Douyin short video service can’t be viewed or even redirected. That’s unlike WhatsApp, Telegram or Signal that offer friendly URL previews within chats.

E-commerce platforms fend off competition in different ways. Taobao uses Alibaba’s affiliate Alipay as a default payments option, omitting its arch rival WeChat Pay. Tencent-backed JD.com, a rival to Alibaba, encourages its users to pay through its own payments system or WeChat Pay.

But changes are underway. “Ensuring normal access to legal URLs is the basic requirement for developing the internet,” a senior official from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said at a press conference this week. He added that unjustified blockages of web links “affect users’ experience, undermine users’ rights, and disrupt market orders.”

There is some merit in filtering third-party links when it comes to keeping out the likes of pornography, misinformation and violent content. Content distributors in China also strictly abide by censorship rules, silencing politically sensitive discussions. These principles will stay in place, and MIIT’s new order is really to crack anticompetitive practices and wane the power of the bloated internet giants.

The call to end digital walled gardens is part of MIIT’s campaign, started in July, to restore “orders” to the Chinese internet. While crackdowns on internet firms are routine, the spate of new policies announced in recent months — from new data security rules to heightened gaming restrictions — signify Beijing’s resolution to curb the influence of Chinese internet firms of all kinds.

The deadline for online platforms to unblock URLs is September 17, the MIIT said earlier. Virtually all the major internet companies have swiftly issued statements saying they will firmly carry out MIIT’s requirements and help promote the healthy development of the Chinese internet.

Internet users are bound to benefit from the dismantling of the walled gardens. They will be able to browse third-party content smoothly on WeChat without having to switch between apps. They can share product links from Taobao right within the messenger instead of having their friends copy-paste a string of cryptic codes that Taobao automatically generates for WeChat sharing.

Robotaxi dream

Autonomous driving startup Deeproute.ai said this week it has closed a $300 million Series B round from investors including Alibaba, Jeneration Capital, and Chinese automaker Geely. The valuation of this round was undisclosed.

We’ve seen a lot of publicity from Pony.ai, WeRide, Momenta and AutoX but not so much Deeproute.ai. That in part is because the company is relatively young, founded only in 2019 by Zhou Guang after he was “fired” by his co-founders at the once-promising Roadstar.ai amid company infighting.

Investors in Roadstar.ai reportedly saw the dismissal of Zhou as detrimental to the startup, which had raised at least $140 million up to that point, and subsequently sought to dissolve the business. It appears that Zhou, formerly the chief scientist at Roadstar, still commands the trust of some investors to support his reborn autonomous driving venture.

Like Pony.ai and WeRide, Deeproute is trying to operate its own robotaxi fleets. While the business model gives it control over reams of driving data, it’s research- and cash-intensive. As such, major Chinese robotaxi startups are all looking at faster commercial deployments, like self-driving buses and trucks, to ease their financial stress.

Cross-border trade boom

The other major funding news this week comes from Shanghai-based XTransfer, which helps small-and-medium Chinese exporters collect payments from overseas. The Series C round, led by D1 Partners, pulled in $138 million and catapulted Xtransfer’s valuation to over $1 billion. The proceeds will go towards product development, hiring and global expansion.

Founded by former executives from Ant Group, XTransfer tries to solve a pain point faced by small and medium exporters: opening and maintaining bank accounts in different countries can be difficult and costly. As such, XTransfer works as a payments gateway between its SME customer, the party that pays it, and their respective banks.

As of July, XTransfer’s customers had surpassed 150,000, most of which are in mainland China. The company of over 1,000 employees is also expanding into Southeast Asia.

While business-to-business export is booming in China, more and more products are also being directly sold from Chinese brands to consumers around the world. Some of the most successful examples, like Shein and Anker, use a different set of payments processors for their direct-to-consumer sales, which tend to be in bigger volume but smaller in average ticket value.

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #alipay, #ant-group, #asia, #beijing, #bytedance, #china, #china-roundup, #geely, #jack-ma, #jd-com, #momenta, #online-payments, #robotaxi, #shanghai, #shein, #southeast-asia, #taobao, #tc, #tencent, #wechat, #xtransfer

Microsoft acquires video creation and editing software maker Clipchamp

Video editing software may become the next big addition to Microsoft’s suite of productivity tools. On Tuesday, Microsoft announced it’s acquiring Clipchamp, a company offering web-based video creation and editing software that allows anyone to put together video presentations, promos or videos meant for social media destinations like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. According to Microsoft, Clipchamp is a “natural fit” to extend its exiting productivity experiences in Microsoft 365 for families, schools, and businesses.

The acquisition appealed to Microsoft for a few reasons. Today, more people are creating and using video, thanks to a growing set of new tools that allow anyone — even non-professionals — to quickly and easily perform advanced edits and produce quality video content. This, explains Microsoft, has allowed video to establish itself as a new type of “document” for businesses to do things like pitch an idea, explain a process, or communicate with team members.

The company also saw Clipchamp as an interesting acquisition target due to how it combined “the simplicity of a web app with the full computing power of a PC with graphics processing unit (GPU) acceleration,” it said. That makes the software a good fit for the Microsoft Windows customer base, as well.

Clipchamp itself had built a number of online tools in the video creation and editing space, including its video maker Clipchamp Create, which offers features for trimming, cutting, cropping, rotating, speed control, and adding text, audio, images, colors, and filters. It also provides other tools that make video creation easier, like templates, free stock video and audio libraries, screen recorders, text-to-speech tools, and others for simplifying a brand’s fonts, colors and logos for use in video. A discontinued set of utilities called Clipchamp Utilities had once included a video compressor and converters, as well as an in-browser webcam recorder. Some of this functionality was migrated over to the new Clipchamp app, however.

After producing the videos with Clipchamp, creators can choose between different output styles and aspect ratios for popular social media networks, making it a popular tool for online marketers.

Image Credits: Clipchamp

Since its founding in 2013, Clipchamp grew to attract over 17 million registered users and has served over 390,000 companies, growing at a rate of 54% year-over-year. As the pandemic forced more organizations towards remote work, the use of video has grown as companies adopted the medium for training, communication, reports, and more. During the first half of 2021, Clipchamp saw a 186% increase in video exports. Videos using the 16:9 aspect ratio grew by 189% while the 9:16 aspect ratio for sharing to places like Instagram Stories and TikTok grew by 140% and the 1:1 aspect ratio for Instagram grew 72%. Screen recording also grew 57% and webcam recording grew 65%.

In July, Clipchamp CEO Alexander Dreiling commented on this growth, noting the company had nearly tripled its team over the past year.

“We are acquiring two times more users on average than we did at the same time a year ago while also doubling the usage rate, meaning more users are creating video content than ever before. While social media videos have always been at the forefront of business needs, during the past year we’ve also witnessed the rapid adoption of internal communication use cases where there is a lot of screen and webcam recording taking place in our platform,” he said.

Microsoft didn’t disclose the acquisition price, but Clipchamp had raised over $15 million in funding according to Crunchbase.

This is not Microsoft’s first attempt at entering the video market.

The company was recently one of the suitors pursuing TikTok when the Trump administration was working to force a sale of the China-owned video social network which Trump had dubbed a national security threat. (In order to keep TikTok running in the U.S., ByteDance would have needed to have divested TikTok’s U.S. operations. But that sale never came to be as the Biden administration paused the effort.) Several years ago, Microsoft also launched a business video service called Stream, that aimed to allow enterprises to use video as easily as consumers use YouTube. In 2018, it acquired social learning platform Flipgrid, which used short video clips for collaboration. And as remote work became the norm, Microsoft has been adding more video capabilities to its team collaboration software, Microsoft Teams, too.

Microsoft’s deal follows Adobe’s recent $1.28 acquisition of the video review and collaboration platform Frame.io, which has been used by over a million people since its founding in 2014. However, unlike Clipchamp, whose tools are meant for anyone to use at work, school, or home, Frame.io is aimed more directly at creative professionals.

Dreiling said Clipchamp will continue to grow at Microsoft, with a focus on making video editing accessible to more people.

“Few companies in tech have the legacy and reach that Microsoft has. We all grew up with iconic Microsoft products and have been using them ever since,” he explained. “Becoming part of Microsoft allows us to become part of a future legacy. Under no other scenario could our future look more exciting than what’s ahead of us now. At Clipchamp we have always said that we’re not suffering from a lack of opportunity, there absolutely is an abundance of opportunity in video. We just need to figure out how to seize it. Inside Microsoft we can approach seizing our opportunity in entirely new ways,” Dreiling added.

Microsoft did not say when it expected to integrate Clipchamp into its existing software suite, saying it would share more at a later date.

 

#biden-administration, #bytedance, #ceo, #collaboration-software, #computing, #exit, #facebook, #instagram, #ma, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #microsoft-windows, #mobile-software, #online-tools, #productivity-tools, #software, #technology, #tiktok, #trump, #trump-administration, #united-states, #video, #web-app, #webcam

China roundup: Beijing wants tech giants to shoulder more social responsibilities

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.

This week, the gaming industry again became a target of Beijing, which imposed arguably the world’s strictest limits on underage players. On the other hand, China’s tech titans are hastily answering Beijing’s call for them to take on more social responsibilities and take a break from unfettered expansion.

Gaming curfew

China dropped a bombshell on the country’s young gamers. As of September 1, users under the age of 18 are limited to only one hour of online gaming time: on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 8-9 p.m.

The stringent rule adds to already tightening gaming policies for minors, as the government blames video games for causing myopia, as well as deteriorating mental and physical health. Remember China recently announced a suite of restrictions on after-school tutoring? The joke going around is that working parents will have an even harder time keeping their kids occupied.

A few aspects of the new regulation are worth unpacking. For one, the new rule was instituted by the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA), the regulatory body that approves gaming titles in China and that in 2019 froze the approval process for nine months, which led to plunges in gaming stocks like Tencent.

It’s curious that the directive on playtime came from the NPPA, which reviews gaming content and issues publishing licenses. Like other industries in China, video games are subject to regulations by multiple authorities: NPPA; the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s top internet watchdog; and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which oversees the country’s industrial standards and telecommunications infrastructure.

As analysts long observe, the mighty CAC, which sits under the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission chaired by President Xi Jinping, has run into “bureaucratic struggles” with other ministries unwilling to relinquish power. This may well be the case for regulating the lucrative gaming industry.

For Tencent and other major gaming companies, the impact of the new rule on their balance sheet may be trifling. Following the news, several listed Chinese gaming firms, including NetEase and 37 Games, hurried to announce that underage players made up less than 1% of their gaming revenues.

Tencent saw the change coming and disclosed in its Q2 earnings that “under-16-year-olds accounted for only 2.6% of its China-based grossing receipts for games and under-12-year-olds accounted for just 0.3%.”

These numbers may not reflect the reality, as minors have long found ways around gaming restrictions, such as using an adult’s ID for user registration (just as the previous generation borrowed IDs from adult friends to sneak into internet cafes). Tencent and other gaming firms have vowed to clamp down on these workarounds, forcing kids to seek even more sophisticated tricks, including using VPNs to access foreign versions of gaming titles. The cat and mouse game continues. 

Prosper together

While China curtails the power of its tech behemoths, it has also pressured them to take on more social responsibilities, which include respecting the worker’s rights in the gig economy.

Last week, the Supreme People’s Court of China declared the “996” schedule, working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week, illegal. The declaration followed years of worker resistance against the tech industry’s burnout culture, which has manifested in actions like a GitHub project listing companies practicing “996.”

Meanwhile, hardworking and compliant employees have often been cited as a competitive advantage of China’s tech industry. It’s in part why some Silicon Valley companies, especially those run by people familiar with China, often set up branches in the country to tap its pool of tech talent.

The days when overworking is glorified and tolerated seem to be drawing to an end. Both ByteDance and its short video rival Kuaishou recently scrapped their weekend overtime policies.

Similarly, Meituan announced that it will introduce compulsory break time for its food delivery riders. The on-demand services giant has been slammed for “inhumane” algorithms that force riders into brutal hours or dangerous driving.

In groundbreaking moves, ride-hailing giant Didi and Alibaba’s e-commerce rival JD.com have set up unions for their staff, though it’s still unclear what tangible impact the organizations will have on safeguarding employee rights.

Tencent and Alibaba have also acted. On August 17, President Xi Jinping delivered a speech calling for “common prosperity,” which caught widespread attention from the country’s ultra-rich.

“As China marches towards its second centenary goal, the focus of promoting people’s well-being should be put on boosting common prosperity to strengthen the foundation for the Party’s long-term governance.”

This week, both Tencent and Alibaba pledged to invest 100 billion yuan ($15.5 billion) in support of “common prosperity.” The purposes of their funds are similar and align neatly with Beijing’s national development goals, from growing the rural economy to improving the healthcare system.

#alibaba, #asia, #beijing, #bytedance, #china, #china-roundup, #didi, #gaming, #github, #government, #jd-com, #kuaishou, #ministry-of-industry-and-information-technology, #netease, #tc, #tencent, #xi-jinping

Apple’s dangerous path

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review.

Last week, we dove into the truly bizarre machinations of the NFT market. This week, we’re talking about something that’s a little bit more impactful on the current state of the web — Apple’s NeuralHash kerfuffle.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny


the big thing

In the past month, Apple did something it generally has done an exceptional job avoiding — the company made what seemed to be an entirely unforced error.

In early August — seemingly out of nowhere** — the company announced that by the end of the year they would be rolling out a technology called NeuralHash that actively scanned the libraries of all iCloud Photos users, seeking out image hashes that matched known images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). For obvious reasons, the on-device scanning could not be opted out of.

This announcement was not coordinated with other major consumer tech giants, Apple pushed forward on the announcement alone.

Researchers and advocacy groups had almost unilaterally negative feedback for the effort, raising concerns that this could create new abuse channels for actors like governments to detect on-device information that they regarded as objectionable. As my colleague Zach noted in a recent story, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week it had amassed more than 25,000 signatures from consumers. On top of that, close to 100 policy and rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also called on Apple to abandon plans to roll out the technology.”

(The announcement also reportedly generated some controversy inside of Apple.)

The issue — of course — wasn’t that Apple was looking at find ways that prevented the proliferation of CSAM while making as few device security concessions as possible. The issue was that Apple was unilaterally making a massive choice that would affect billions of customers (while likely pushing competitors towards similar solutions), and was doing so without external public input about possible ramifications or necessary safeguards.

A long story short, over the past month researchers discovered Apple’s NeuralHash wasn’t as air tight as hoped and the company announced Friday that it was delaying the rollout “to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.”

Having spent several years in the tech media, I will say that the only reason to release news on a Friday morning ahead of a long weekend is to ensure that the announcement is read and seen by as few people as possible, and it’s clear why they’d want that. It’s a major embarrassment for Apple, and as with any delayed rollout like this, it’s a sign that their internal teams weren’t adequately prepared and lacked the ideological diversity to gauge the scope of the issue that they were tackling. This isn’t really a dig at Apple’s team building this so much as it’s a dig on Apple trying to solve a problem like this inside the Apple Park vacuum while adhering to its annual iOS release schedule.

illustration of key over cloud icon

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch /

Apple is increasingly looking to make privacy a key selling point for the iOS ecosystem, and as a result of this productization, has pushed development of privacy-centric features towards the same secrecy its surface-level design changes command. In June, Apple announced iCloud+ and raised some eyebrows when they shared that certain new privacy-centric features would only be available to iPhone users who paid for additional subscription services.

You obviously can’t tap public opinion for every product update, but perhaps wide-ranging and trail-blazing security and privacy features should be treated a bit differently than the average product update. Apple’s lack of engagement with research and advocacy groups on NeuralHash was pretty egregious and certainly raises some questions about whether the company fully respects how the choices they make for iOS affect the broader internet.

Delaying the feature’s rollout is a good thing, but let’s all hope they take that time to reflect more broadly as well.

** Though the announcement was a surprise to many, Apple’s development of this feature wasn’t coming completely out of nowhere. Those at the top of Apple likely felt that the winds of global tech regulation might be shifting towards outright bans of some methods of encryption in some of its biggest markets.

Back in October of 2020, then United States AG Bill Barr joined representatives from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India and Japan in signing a letter raising major concerns about how implementations of encryption tech posed “significant challenges to public safety, including to highly vulnerable members of our societies like sexually exploited children.” The letter effectively called on tech industry companies to get creative in how they tackled this problem.


other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

LinkedIn kills Stories
You may be shocked to hear that LinkedIn even had a Stories-like product on their platform, but if you did already know that they were testing Stories, you likely won’t be so surprised to hear that the test didn’t pan out too well. The company announced this week that they’ll be suspending the feature at the end of the month. RIP.

FAA grounds Virgin Galactic over questions about Branson flight
While all appeared to go swimmingly for Richard Branson’s trip to space last month, the FAA has some questions regarding why the flight seemed to unexpectedly veer so far off the cleared route. The FAA is preventing the company from further launches until they find out what the deal is.

Apple buys a classical music streaming service
While Spotify makes news every month or two for spending a massive amount acquiring a popular podcast, Apple seems to have eyes on a different market for Apple Music, announcing this week that they’re bringing the classical music streaming service Primephonic onto the Apple Music team.

TikTok parent company buys a VR startup
It isn’t a huge secret that ByteDance and Facebook have been trying to copy each other’s success at times, but many probably weren’t expecting TikTok’s parent company to wander into the virtual reality game. The Chinese company bought the startup Pico which makes consumer VR headsets for China and enterprise VR products for North American customers.

Twitter tests an anti-abuse ‘Safety Mode’
The same features that make Twitter an incredibly cool product for some users can also make the experience awful for others, a realization that Twitter has seemingly been very slow to make. Their latest solution is more individual user controls, which Twitter is testing out with a new “safety mode” which pairs algorithmic intelligence with new user inputs.


extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

Our favorite startups from YC’s Demo Day, Part 1 
“Y Combinator kicked off its fourth-ever virtual Demo Day today, revealing the first half of its nearly 400-company batch. The presentation, YC’s biggest yet, offers a snapshot into where innovation is heading, from not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators….”

…Part 2
“…Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out to us. We even podcasted about it! Today, we’re doing it all over again. Here’s our full list of all startups that presented on the record today, and below, you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of Day Two. The ones that, as people who sift through a few hundred pitches a day, made us go ‘oh wait, what’s this?’

All the reasons why you should launch a credit card
“… if your company somehow hasn’t yet found its way to launch a debit or credit card, we have good news: It’s easier than ever to do so and there’s actual money to be made. Just know that if you do, you’ve got plenty of competition and that actual customer usage will probably depend on how sticky your service is and how valuable the rewards are that you offer to your most active users….”


Thanks for reading, and again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny

Lucas Matney

#american-civil-liberties-union, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-music, #artificial-intelligence, #australia, #bryce-durbin, #bytedance, #canada, #china, #computing, #electronic-frontier-foundation, #encryption, #extra-crunch, #facebook, #federal-aviation-administration, #icloud, #india, #ios, #iphone, #japan, #linkedin, #new-zealand, #pico, #richard-branson, #siri, #spotify, #tech-media, #technology, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #virgin-galactic, #virtual-reality, #y-combinator

TikTok adds educational resources for parents as part of its Family Pairing feature

TikTok is expanding its in-app parental controls feature, Family Pairing, with educational resources designed to help parents better support their teenage users, the company announced morning. The pairing feature, which launched to global users last year, allows parents of teens aged 13 and older to connect their accounts with the child’s so the parent can set controls related to screen time use, who the teen can direct message, and more. But the company heard from teens that they also want their voices to be heard when it comes to parents’ involvement in their digital life.

To create the new educational content, TikTok partnered with the online safety nonprofit, Internet Matters. The organization developed a set of resources in collaboration with teens that aim to offer parents tips about navigating the TikTok landscape and teenage social media usage in general.

Teens said they want parents to understand the rules they’re setting when they use features like Family Pairing and they want them to be open to having discussions about the time teens spend online. And while teens don’t mind when parents set boundaries, they also want to feel they’ve earned some level of trust from the adults in their life.

The older teens get, the more autonomy they want to have on their own device and social networks, as well. They may even tell mom or dad that they don’t want them to follow them on a given platform.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the teen is up to no good, the new resources explain to parents. The teens just want to feel like they can hang out with their friends online without being so closely monitored. This has become an important part of the online experience today, in the pandemic era, where many younger people are spending more time at home instead of socializing with friends in real-life or participating in other in-person group activities.

Image Credits: TikTok

Teens said they also want to be able to come to parents when something goes wrong, without fearing that they’ll be harshly punished or that the parent will panic about the situation. The teens know they’ll be consequences if they break the rules, but they want parents to work through other tough situations with them and devise solutions together, not just react in anger.

All this sounds like straightforward, common sense advice, but parents on TikTok often have varying degrees of comfort with their teens’ digital life and use of social networks. Some basic guidelines that explain what teens want and feel makes sense to include. That said, the parents who are technically savvy enough to enable a parental control feature like Family Pairing may already be clued into best practices.

Image Credits: TikTok

In addition, this sort of teen-focused privacy and safety content is also designed to help TikTok better establish itself as a platform working to protect its younger users — an increasingly necessary stance in light of the potential regulation which big tech has been trying to ahead of, as of late. TikTok, for instance, announced in August it would roll out more privacy protections for younger teens aimed to make the app safer. Facebook, Google and YouTube also did the same.

TikTok says parents or guardians who have currently linked their account to a teen’s account via the Family Pairing feature will receive a notification that prompts them to find out more about the teens’ suggestions and how to approach those conversations about digital literacy and online safety. Parents who sign up and enable Family Pairing for the first time, will also be guided to the resources.

#apps, #bytedance, #computing, #digital-privacy, #facebook, #family, #online-safety, #parental-controls, #parents, #privacy, #safety, #social-media, #social-networks, #software, #teens, #tiktok

TikTok’s new Creator Marketplace API lets influencer marketing companies tap into first-party data

TikTok is making it easier for brands and agencies to work with the influencers using its service. The company is rolling out a new “TikTok Creator Marketplace API,” which allows marketing companies to integrate more directly with TikTok’s Creator Marketplace, the video app’s in-house influencer marketing platform.

On the Creator Marketplace website, launched in late 2019, marketers have been able to discover top TikTok personalities for their brand campaigns, then create and manage those campaigns and track their performance.

The new API, meanwhile, allows partnered marketing companies to access TikTok’s first-party data about audience demographics, growth trends, best-performing videos, and real-time campaign reporting (e.g. views, likes, shares, comments, engagement, etc.) for the first time.

They can then bring this data back into their own platforms, to augment the insights they’re already providing to their own customer base.

TikTok is not officially announcing the API until later in September, but it is allowing its alpha partners to discuss their early work.

One such partner is Capitv8, which tested the API with a NRF top 50 retailer on one of their first TikTok campaigns. The retailer wanted to discover a diverse and inclusive group of TikTok creators to partner with on a new collaboration and wanted help with launching its own TikTok channel. Captiv8 says the branded content received nearly 10 million views, and the campaign resulted in a “significant increase” in several key metrics, which performed about the Nielsen average. This included familiarity (+4% above average), affinity (+6%), purchase intent (+7%) and recommendation intent (+9%).

Image Credits: TikTok Creator Marketplace website

Capitv8 is now working with TikTok’s API to pull in audience demographics, to centralize influencer offers and activations, and to provide tools to boost branded content and monitor campaign performance. On that last front, the API allows the company to pull in real-time metrics from the TikTok Creator Marketplace API — which means Capitv8 is now one of only a handful of third-party companies with access to TikTok first-party data.

Another early alpha partner is Influential, who shared it’s also leveraging the API to access first-party insights on audience demographics, growth trends, best-performing videos, and more, to help its customer base of Fortune 1000 brands to identify the right creators for both native and paid advertising campaigns.

One partner it worked with was DoorDash, who launched multiple campaigns on TikTok with Influential’s help. It’s also planning to work with McDonald’s USA on several new campaigns that will run this year, including those focused on the chain’s new Crispy Chicken Sandwich and the return of Spicy McNuggets.

Other early alpha partners include Whalar and INCA. The latter is currently only available in the U.K. and its integration stems from the larger TikTok global partnership with WPP, announced in February. That deal provided WPP agencies with early access to new advertising products marketing API integrations, and new AR offerings, among other things.

Creator marketplaces are now common to social media platforms with large influencer communities as this has become a standard way to advertise to online consumers, particular the younger generation. Facebook today offers its Brands Collabs Manager, for both Facebook and Instagram; YouTube has BrandConnect; while Snapchat recently announced a marketplace to connect brands with Lens creators. These type of in-house platforms make it easier for marketers to work with the wider influencer community by offering trusted data on metrics that matter to brands’ own ROI, rather than relying on self-reported data from influencers or on data they have to manually collect themselves. And as campaigns run, marketers can compare how well their partnered creators are able to drive results to inform their future collaborations.

TikTok isn’t making a formal announcement about its new API at this time, telling TechCrunch the technology is still in pilot testing phases for the time being.

“Creators are the lifeblood of our platform, and we’re constantly thinking of new ways to make it easy for them to connect and collaborate with brands. We’re thrilled to be integrating with an elite group of trusted partners to help brands discover and work with diverse creators who can share their message in an authentic way,” said Melissa Yang, TikTok’s Head of Ecosystem Partnerships, in a statement provided to select marketing company partners.

 

#advertising-tech, #alpha, #api, #apps, #articles, #bytedance, #developer, #doordash, #elite, #head, #partner, #software, #tiktok, #united-kingdom, #wpp

TikTok owner ByteDance buys a top virtual reality hardware startup

TikTok parent company ByteDance seem to be looking to one-up Facebook anywhere it can. After taking over the mantle of most-downloaded social media app in the world with TikTok, ByteDance is coming for Facebook’s moonshot, buying up its own virtual reality headset maker called Pico.

The deal first reported on by Bloomberg last week was confirmed by the company on Monday, though ByteDance didn’t disclose a price tag for the deal. Pico had raised some $62 million in venture funding from Chinese firms including a $37 million Series B in March. Like Oculus, they create both hardware and software for their VR devices. Unlike Oculus, they have a substantial presence in China. Pico may not hold the same name recognition as Oculus or HTC, but the company is a top VR hardware maker, selling to consumer audiences in China and enterprise customers in the Western world.

With Pico finding its home now at ByteDance, two of the world’s largest virtual reality brands now reside inside social media companies. Ironically, many of the company’s North American customers I’ve chatted with over the years seem to have at least partially opted for Pico headsets over Oculus hardware due to general weariness of Facebook’s data and ads-dependent business models which they fear Oculus will eventually become a larger part of.

It’s no secret that the virtual reality market has been slow out of the gate, but Facebook has blazed the trail for the technology dumping billions of dollars into an ecosystem that traditional investors have largely seemed uninterested in, in recent years.

Without knowing broad terms of the deal (I’m asking around), it’s hard to determine whether this is a moment of resurgence for VR or another sign of a contracting market. What seems most likely to me is that ByteDance is indeed interested in building out a consumer VR brand and is aiming to follow in Facebook’s footsteps closely while learning from their missteps and capitalizing on their contributions to the ecosystem. Whether the company solely focuses on the consumer markets in China or loosely pursue enterprise clients stateside as well is a big question ByteDance will have to address.

#bytedance, #china, #companies, #display-technology, #facebook, #mixed-reality, #oculus, #oculus-rift, #social-media, #social-media-app, #software, #technology, #tiktok, #virtual-reality, #virtual-reality-headset, #vr

China Roundup: Beijing takes aim at algorithm, Xiaomi automates electric cars

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.

The biggest news of the week again comes from Beijing’s ongoing effort to dampen the influence of the country’s tech giants. Regulators are now going after the exploitative use of algorithm-powered user recommendations. We also saw a few major acquisitions this week. Xiaomi is acquiring an autonomous vehicle startup called Deepmotion, and ByteDance is said to be buying virtual reality hardware startup Pico.

Algorithmic regulation

Beijing has unveiled the draft of a sweeping regulation to rein in how tech companies operating in China utilize algorithms, the engine of virtually all lucrative tech businesses today from short videos and news aggregation to ride-hailing, food delivery and e-commerce. My colleague Manish Singh wrote an overview of the policy, and here’s a closer look at the 30-point document proposed by China’s top cyberspace watchdog.

Beijing is clearly wary of how purely machine-recommended content can stray away from values propagated by the Communist Party and even lead to the detriment of national interests. In its mind, algorithms should strictly align with the interest of the nation:

Algorithmic recommendations should uphold mainstream values… and should not be used for endangering national security (Point 6).

Regulators want more transparency on companies’ algorithmic black boxes and are making them accountable for the consequences of their programming codes. For example:

Service providers should be responsible for the security of algorithms, create a system for… the review of published information, algorithmic mechanisms, security oversight… enact and publish relevant rules for algorithmic recommendations (Point 7). 

Service providers… should not create algorithmic models that entice users into addiction, high-value consumption, or other behavior that disrupts public orders (Point 8).

The government is also clamping down on discriminative algorithms and putting some autonomy back in the hands of consumers:

Service providers… should not use illegal or harmful information as user interests to recommend content or create sexist or biased user tags (Point 10).

Service providers should inform users of the logic, purpose, and mechanisms of the algorithms in use (Point 14).

Service providers… should allow users to turn off algorithmic features (Point 15).

The regulators don’t want internet giants to influence public thinking or opinions. Though not laid out in the document, censorship control will no doubt remain in the hands of the authorities.

Service providers should not… use algorithms to censor information, make excessive recommendations, manipulate rankings or search results that lead to preferential treatment and unfair competition, influence online opinions, or shun regulatory oversight (Point 13).

Like many other aspects of the tech business, certain algorithms are to obtain approval from the government. Tech firms must also hand over their algorithms to the police in case of investigations.

Service providers should file with the government if their recommendation algorithms can affect public opinions or mobilize civilians (Point 20).  

Service providers… should keep a record of their recommendation algorithms for at least six months and provide them to law enforcement departments for investigation purposes (Point 23). 

If passed, the law will shake up the fundamental business logic of Chinese tech companies that rely on algorithms to make money. Programmers need to pore over these rules and be able to parse their codes for regulators. The proposed law seems to have even gone beyond the scope of the European Union’s data rules, but how the Chinese one will be enforced remains to be seen.

Lei Jun bets on autonomous cars

In Xiaomi’s latest earnings call, the smartphone maker said it will acquire DeepMotion, a Beijing-based autonomous driving startup, to aid its autonomous driving endeavor. The deal will cost Xiaomi about $77.3 million, and “a lot of that will be in terms of stock” and “a lot of these payments will be deferred until certain milestones are hit,” said Wang Xiang, Xiaomi president on the call.

Xiaomi’s founder Lei Jun earlier hinted at the firm’s plan to enter the crowded space. On July 28, Lei announced on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, that the company is recruiting 500 autonomous driving experts across China.

Automation has become a selling point for China’s new generation of electric vehicle makers, often with companies conflating advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) with Level 4 autonomous driving. Such overstatements in marketing material mislead consumers and make one question the real technical capability of these nascent EV players.

Xiaomi has similarly unveiled plans to manufacture electric cars through a separate car-making subsidiary. The ADAS capabilities brought by DeepMotion are naturally a nice complement to Xiaomi’s future cars. As Wang explained:

We believe that there’s a lot of synergies with [DeepMotion’s ADAS] technology with our EV initiatives. So I think it tells you a couple of points. Number one is, we will roll out EV business. And I said in our prepared remarks, we’ve been very focused on hiring the right team for the EV business at this point in time, formulating our strategy, formulating our product strategy, et cetera, et cetera. But at the same time, we are not afraid to apply it and integrate other teams if we find that those will help us accelerate our plan right.

It’s noteworthy that DeepMotion, founded by Microsoft veterans, specializes in perception technologies and high-precision mapping, which puts it in the vision-driven autonomous driving camp. A number of major Chinese EV makers rely on consumer-grade lidar to automate their cars.

ByteDance goes virtual

ByteDance is said to be buying Beijing-based VR hardware maker Pico for 5 billion yuan ($770 million), according to Chinese VR news site Vrtuoluo. ByteDance could not be immediately reached for comment.

Advanced VR headsets are often expensive due to the cost of high-end processors. Experts observe that most VR hardware makers are yet to enter the mass consumer market. They are hemorrhaging cash and living off generous venture money and corporate deals.

ByteDance might be buying a money-losing business, but Pico, one of the major VR makers in China, provides a fast track for the TikTok parent to enter VR manufacturing. As the world’s largest short video distributor and an aggressive newcomer to video games, ByteDance has no shortage of creative talent. We will see how it works on producing virtual content if the Pico deal goes through.

#asia, #bytedance, #china-roundup, #government, #tc, #transportation, #xiaomi

China proposes strict control of algorithms

China is not done with curbing the influence local internet services have assumed in the world’s largest populous market. Following a widening series of regulatory crackdowns in recent months, the nation on Friday issued draft guidelines on regulating the algorithms firms run to make recommendations to users.

In a 30-point draft guidelines published on Friday, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) proposed forbidding companies from deploying algorithms that “encourage addiction or high consumption” and endanger national security or disrupt the public order.

The services must abide by business ethics and principles of fairness and their algorithms must not be used to create fake user accounts or create other false impressions, said the guidelines from the internet watchdog, which reports to a central leadership group chaired by President Xi Jinping. The watchdog said it will be taking public feedback on the new guidelines for a month (until September 26).

The guidelines also propose that users should be provided with the ability to easily turn off algorithm recommendations. Algorithm providers who have the power to influence public opinion or mobilize the citizens need to get an approval from the CAC.

Friday’s proposal comes at a time when Beijing is increasingly targeting companies for the way they have handled consumer data and the monopolistic positions they have assumed in the nation.

Earlier this year, Beijing-backed China Consumers Association said local internet companies had been “bullying” users into purchases and promotions and undermining their privacy rights.

Beijing’s recent data-security crackdown and tightening regulations around tutor services have spooked investors and wiped hundreds of billions of dollars.

Friday’s guidelines appear to target ByteDance, Alibaba Group, Tencent, and Didi and other companies whose services are built on top of proprietary algorithms. Shares of Alibaba and Tencent fell slightly on the news.

In recent years, several governments including those in the U.S. and India have attempted — to little to no success — to get better clarity on how these big tech companies’ algorithms work and put checks in place to prevent misuse.

#alibaba, #asia, #bytedance, #china, #didi, #government, #tencent

Equity Monday: Stocks up, cryptos up, regulation up

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here. I also tweet.

Today’s show was good fun to put together. Here’s what we got to:

Woo! And that’s the start to the week. Hugs from here, and we’ll chat you on Wednesday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#bytedance, #china, #equity, #equity-monday, #fundings-exits, #india, #shelf-io, #spac, #space, #startups, #tc, #tencent, #virgin, #zetwerk

China roundup: Beijing takes stake in ByteDance, Amazon continues China crackdown

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.

This week, investors’ concerns mount as news came that the Chinese government has taken a stake ByteDance, TikTok’s parent and one of the world’s largest private internet firms. Meanwhile, Amazon’s crackdown on Chinese sellers continues and is forcing many traders in southern China out of business, and the government passed a sweeping data protection law that will take effect in November.

A state stake

The Chinese government’s grand plan to assert more control over the country’s internet behemoths continues. This week, The Information reported that a domestic entity of ByteDance sold a 1% stake to a government affiliate in April. The deal was also recorded on Tianyancha, a database of publicly available corporate information, as well as the official enterprise registration index.

The move didn’t come abruptly. Beijing was mulling over small shares in private tech firms as early as 2017. The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that internet regulators discussed taking 1% stakes in companies including WeChat operator Tencent, Twitter-like Weibo and YouTube-like Youku.

In April 2020, WangTouTongDa, a subsidiary of China Internet Investment Fund, which is in turn controlled by China’s top internet watchdog, acquired a 1% stake in Weibo for 10 million yuan, according to Weibo’s filing to the U.S. securities regulator. Weibo did not mention WangTouTongDa’s relationship with the state in its filing.

Similarly, ByteDance sold a 1% stake to three entities set up by top regulatory bodies: China Internet Investment Fund; China Media Group, controlled by the Communist Party’s propaganda department; and the Beijing municipal government’s investment arm.

In response to Beijing’s move on ByteDance, Republican senator Marco Rubio urged President Joe Biden this week to block TikTok in the U.S.

Exactly how much power Beijing gains over ByteDance from taking the small stake remains fuzzy, but Weibo’s disclosure to investors offers some clues.

It’s critical to note that the government holds stakes in the domestic operating entity of both Weibo and ByteDance. Internet companies in China often set up offshore entities that are entitled to the financial benefits of their mainland Chinese operations through contractual agreements. The framework is called a variable interest entity or VIE. While the structure allows Chinese firms to seek overseas funding due to China’s restrictions on foreign investments, it has come under increasing scrutiny by Beijing.

Weibo said in the filing that WangTouTongda, its state-owned investor, will be able to appoint a director to the three-member board of its Chinese entity and veto certain matters related to content and future financings.

ByteDance likely has a similar arrangement with its state investor. The government did not obtain a stake in TikTok, which is a subsidiary of a separate offshore entity incorporated in the Cayman Islands, The Information pointed out. This should provide some reassurance to U.S. regulators, though concerns about Beijing’s sway in Chinese companies abroad probably won’t go away.

Indeed, the Biden administration in June replaced the Trump-era orders to ban ByteDance and WeChat with a more measured policy requiring the Commerce Department to review apps with ties to “jurisdiction of foreign adversaries” that may pose national security risks.

TikTok has been fighting accusations that it hands over user data to Beijing. ByteDance is the fourth-largest lobbying spender in the U.S. so far this year, just after Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet. Beijing’s investment is going to cost it more campaign efforts.

Beleaguered Amazon sellers

In May, I reported that Amazon shuttered some of its largest sellers from China over violations of platform rules, including using fake reviews and incentives to solicit positive reviews from customers. The crackdown drove China’s online exporters into a panic, and as it turned out, it wasn’t a one-off ambush from Amazon but a prolonged war. While the exact number of Chinese stores affected is not disclosed, industry observers such as Marketplace Pulse said “hundreds of” top Chinese sellers had been suspended as of early July.

Punished accounts are suspended, with their goods withheld and deposits frozen by Amazon. Companies in Shenzhen, home to the majority of the world’s Amazon sellers, laid off thousands of staff in recent months. The owner of a sizable seller in Shenzhen recently died by suicide due to the debacle, according to an acquaintance of the owner.

To sellers that have survived the crackdown, the attack by Amazon “would have happened sooner or later.” Most of the exporters I talked to came to the same conclusion: The Seattle-based titan now wants quality and design over generic products that compete solely on price and manipulation of ranking.

The Chinese government has taken note of the incidents. An official from the Ministry of Commerce compared the wave of store closures as Chinese exporters being “fish out of water” during a press conference in July.

“Due to differences in laws, culture and business practices around the world, [Chinese] companies are facing risks and challenges as they go overseas,” said Li Xingqian, director of foreign trade at the Commerce Ministry.

“We will help companies improve their risk control and comply with international trade standards.” Meanwhile, the official called for “the platform/platforms to cherish the important contribution from various companies and fully respect different trade entities.”

Data protection

And finally, China passed a sweeping data protection law this week that will strictly limit how tech companies collect user information, but the rules won’t likely have an impact on state surveillance. The regulation, which was proposed last year, will take effect on November 1. Read more about the rules here:

#amazon, #beijing, #bytedance, #china, #china-roundup, #tc, #tiktok

TikTok confirms pilot test of TikTok Stories is now underway

Twitter may have shut down its Stories features known as Fleets, but the Stories format will continue to invade other social platforms. TikTok today confirmed it’s piloting a new feature, TikTok Stories, which will allow it to explore additional ways for its community to bring their creative ideas to life.

The company notes the new feature will be another option, in addition to its existing storytelling tools like videos, Duets, Stitch, and LIVE — it’s not meant to replace them.

TikTok didn’t say how long the pilot test would run or whether it would result in a public launch. However, we understand the test has been running for several days, not weeks or months, and is available in a small handful of non-U.S. markets for the time being, with the goal of gaining insight and feedback from TikTok users.

The current set of features may or may not make it to the public product, either, we should warn.

The feature was discovered by social media consultant Matt Navarra, who is often among the first to find new features in social apps. In this case, he tells us that several tipsters brought screenshots of TikTok Stories to him, but it was initially unclear whether or not it was a hoax.

The timing, of course, was somewhat suspect —  Twitter had just shut down Fleets in what was a fairly high-profile example of a failure to make Stories work on a social platform, despite their popularity on other popular apps, like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and even, as of late, Pinterest.

From the screenshots and videos of TikTok Stories in action, we see a product that appears to be, for the most part, something that looks familiar to users of Stories on other platforms.

Users can tap a camera button from the new navigation bar on the left side of the screen to create their first Story, then use common tools like those to add text or stickers, insert sounds, and even use effects on their content. Like other platforms, users can either record videos or upload photos — the latter which opens up TikTok to take advantage of users’ larger camera rolls, rather than relying only on video.

Where TikTok’s version of Stories differentiates itself is that it allows users to comment publicly on the creator’s content. These comments are public, the app explains, as mutual friends can see each other’s comments. There is also another tab where you can see how many people viewed a given Story, and whether or not you’re following those users. A button will allow you to click to follow people back, if you choose.

TikTok’s Stories are also ephemeral and disappear in 24 hours, the app’s tutorial explains.

To view Stories from other creators, you can scroll through the new sidebar and tap on the creator’s avatar to watch their content. (This almost looks like a vertical version of Twitter’s Fleets bar, even down to the blue rings around creator’s profile photos.)

The addition of Stories offers TikTok users who don’t post with regularity (or at all), an easier way to start engaging with TikTok’s tools by getting started with a more comfortable and familiar format. It can also provide creators with a way to interact casually with fans in between their more polished and edited TikTok video posts.

But it also gives TikTok a much larger surface where it could eventually run advertisements, assuming it can first properly moderate the inevitable attempts at skirting its community guidelines that result from launching an “ephemeral” feature.

The feature is also a direct shot across Instagram’s bow, following the Facebook-owned app’s direct attempt to copy TikTok with Reels.

TikTok declined to say which markets, specifically, can try out TikTok Stories. Screenshots show the feature described in English and on Android phones, however.

Though Stories may have failed on Twitter, the platform isn’t known for being a home for rich, creative tools, like TikTok. Meanwhile, TikTok believes in exploring any creative tool that could allow its users to express themselves — whether that’s through video, live streaming, interacting with others, or now, through ephemeral, short-form content.

#apps, #bytedance, #creative-tools, #mobile-applications, #social, #stories, #tiktok

ByteDance rival Kuaishou is shutting down controversial app Zynn

Kuaishou Technology, a Chinese firm perceived as a ByteDance rival by many, said on Wednesday it will shut down its controversial short video app Zynn later this month. The app was only available in the U.S.

The firm, which last month said it had amassed 1 billion monthly active users, didn’t offer an explanation for why it was shutting down the app, which was mired in controversy ever since it launched in May last year.

An investigation last year found that Zynn was paying users to watch videos to superficially improve its ranking on the US iOS App Store. The app, a clone of TikTok, was also pulled from the Play Store after reports found the platform was riddled with videos that were stolen from other apps. It was then pulled from the Apple App Store following similar complaints.

In a statement, a Kuaishou spokesperson said the decision to stop services of Zynn won’t affect users in any other market. Kuaishou also operates similar apps in many other markets including South America (as Kwai) and the South Asian region (as Snack Video).

“Our strategy for the international markets remains unchanged,” said the firm, which raised $5.4 billion in its Hong Kong IPO early this year.

Zynn app failed to attract users in the U.S. The app had just 200,000 monthly active users in June of this year, down from about 3 million in August 2020, according to mobile insight platform App Annie (data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch.)

#apps, #bytedance, #china, #kuaishou, #social

Instagram now supports 60-second videos on Reels, its TikTok clone

Haven’t you heard that Instagram is no longer a photo-sharing app? Today, Instagram announced that users can now upload 60-second videos on Reels, the platform’s TikTok competitor.

This update also adds functionality for a captions sticker on Reels, which transcribes audio to text. Instagram previously teased this sticker for Reels when they added it to Stories, making the platform more accessible for Deaf or hard of hearing users, as well as people who want to use the app without sound. Right now, the caption sticker is only available in a handful of English-speaking countries, but Instagram says they plan to expand to additional countries and languages soon. TikTok already has a similar feature.

Previously, Instagram only supported Reels of up to 30 seconds, while TikTok recently made it possible for users to create videos up to three minutes long. Still, the ability to post 60-second reels is especially useful for creators who want to re-post their existing content from TikTok or other competitor apps to grow their following across multiple platforms. More creators are making a living on social media than ever, but with so many platforms available to them (even Pinterest is investing in short-form video), it’s smart to cross-post content. So, this feature benefits Instagram creators who also have a following on TikTok, but it makes sense for the platform itself as well — the more eyes on Reels, the better. Instagram’s algorithm doesn’t promote content with a TikTok watermark, but savvy users have figured out how to recycle their videos without it.

Currently, YouTube Shorts and Snapchat’s Spotlight also support videos of up to 60 seconds. In May, YouTube Shorts launched a $100 million creator fund to distribute among top Shorts creators over the course of 2021 and 2022; Snapchat distributed $1 million per day to viral Spotlight creators between its launch at the end of November through the end of 2020. Facebook and Instagram have also committed to investing in digital creators.

To access this feature, navigate to create a new Reel, then press the down button on the left side of the screen to reveal the menu. Tap “length” to toggle among options to create a 15-second, 30-second, or 60-second Reel. Not all creators have access to 60-second Reels just yet, but it should roll out to all users soon.

#apps, #bytedance, #computing, #instagram, #mobile-applications, #pinterest, #snapchat, #social-media, #software, #tiktok, #video-hosting, #youtube

China Roundup: What’s going on with China’s data security clampdown?

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.

A tectonic shift is underway in how Beijing regulates and accesses the troves of citizen data collected by its tech giants. More details of China’s new cybersecurity rules have recently come to light as Didi, the SoftBank-backed ride-sharing dominator in China, became the target of the Chinese government’s latest effort to heighten data protection. This week, we look at what this changing landscape means to Chinese tech firms wooing investors in the United States.

Data sovereignty

The new wave of discussion around China’s cybersecurity rules started with the bombshell dropped on Didi. Just two days after its $4 billion IPO in New York, the ride-hailing giant was hit with a probe by China’s Cybersecurity Review Office on July 2. Two days later, the same government agency ordered the Didi app, which has amassed nearly 500 million annual users, to be yanked because it was “illegally collecting user data.”

The Cybersecurity Review Office is an agency within the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s top internet regulator. It has existed for a few years but its roles were only made clear in April 2020 when China put forward its rules on internet security reviews.

Didi appears to be the first target of the department’s enforcement actions. A memo of an “expert meeting” shared among Didi’s investors, which TechCrunch reviewed, said the ride-hailing firm had failed to assure Beijing its data practices were secure before going public in New York. A major concern was that Didi’s data, if unguarded by Chinese laws, could be subject to scrutiny by U.S. regulators. But a Didi executive claimed that the firm stored all its China data locally and it is “absolutely not possible” that it passed data to the U.S.

Before long, the Cybersecurity Review Office was onto other players that could similarly compromise the data security of Chinese users. On July 5, it put SoftBank-backed truck-sharing platform Full Truck Alliance and recruiting site Boss Zhipin — both of which recently IPO’ed in the U.S. — under the same review process as it did with Didi.

The probes were just the beginning. On July 10, the Cybersecurity Review Office unveiled the draft of a revised version of the data security review rules passed last year. One of the major changes is that any business commanding over one million users is subject to security checks if it is seeking an overseas IPO.

Just as the U.S. government frets over Chinese companies commanding Americans’ data, as in the case of TikTok, China is now making sure that its citizen data stays onshore and protected from U.S. authorities. Foreign players operating in China have to comply, too. Giants like Apple and Tesla have pledged and moved to store their Chinese user data within the country.

The new data rule is no doubt a stumbling block for Chinese companies that want to list abroad. TikTok owner ByteDance indefinitely put on hold its plans of a U.S. listing after Chinese officials told it to address data security risks, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. But how about incumbents like Alibaba that have traded their stocks on Wall Street for years? And do the revised rules apply to companies listing in Hong Kong, which is being increasingly integrated with mainland China?

Also in the news

  • Tencent and Alibaba may tear down their “walled gardens.” According to The Wall Street Journal, the archrivals are considering opening their services to each other. This means users may be able to pay via Alipay on the WeChat app, which currently excludes Alibaba-affiliated Alipay. China has recently been working to rein in its tech darlings and already slapped anticompetition penalties on a cohort of tech firms. Jack Ma’s fintech behemoth Ant Group has been put on the spot and forced to restructure into a financial holding company that would potentially curb its profitability and subject it to more regulatory oversight.
  • TikTok tops 3 billion downloads from the App Store and Google Play, according to Sensor Tower. This makes the hit video platform the only app not owned by Facebook to cross the milestone across the two app stores, said the research firm, and it’s only the fifth one after WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook and Instagram to achieve that. TikTok is also generating big bucks for ByteDance. Globally, it has made more than $2.5 billion in consumer spending since its launch.
  • Tencent ups its stake in food delivery giant Meituan to 17.2%The deal cost Tencent, a longtime patron of Meituan, $400 million. The proceeds will allow Meituan to invest further in “cutting edge tech” such as unmanned delivery cars and drones, an area where other tech firms have also made similar promises to automate parcel and food deliveries.
  • The smart vehicle craze continues. These days, hardly a week goes by without a major announcement by an autonomous driving or smart car company in China. The news last week came from Banma, which was set up by Alibaba and state-owned carmaker SAIC Motor to make internet-connected cars. It just raised $460 million from Alibaba and SAIC Motor, among others and claimed its technology now serves three million users. It raised its first round in 2018 with 1.6 billion yuan (around $250 million) and was already valued at over $1 billion at the time.

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #alipay, #ant-group, #asia, #beijing, #bytedance, #china, #didi, #food-delivery, #jack-ma, #meituan, #saic-motor, #smart-car, #tc, #tencent, #the-wall-street-journal, #tiktok

Equity Monday: Cybersecurity startups see deluge of capital as Microsoft looks to buy RiskIQ

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

It was a busy weekend for everyone, regardless of whether you were watching the technology, what Branson was up to, or the footie. I won’t take sides on the match, but I will say that it was gripping unto the very end and a great example of sport. Now, the news:

And don’t forget that earnings season is just around the corner. It’s a pretty important cycle. Why? Because startup valuations are hot, and could take a hit if earnings come up short. And the IPO market is pretty freaking active; poor earnings from major tech companies could crimp exit-prices for mature startups.

Ok! Talk to you on Wednesday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#bytedance, #china, #cybersecurity, #equity, #equity-monday, #flipkart, #fundings-exits, #india, #microsoft, #richard-branson, #riskiq, #startups, #tencent, #twitter, #virgin-galactic, #walmart

TikTok wants you to send video resumes directly to brands to land your next gig

A new pilot program from TikTok would inject a little LinkedIn into the youthful video-based social network.

TikTok announced that, starting today, it will invite users to submit video resumes to participating companies, including Target, Chipotle, Shopify, Meredith, NASCAR and the WWE. The company encourages applicants to show off their skills in a creative way while tagging the content with the hashtag #TikTokResumes.

The pilot program is TikTok’s latest effort to streamline the relationship between brands and creators, giving both even more reason to invest time and cash into the platform.

“#CareerTok is already a thriving subculture on the platform and we can’t wait to see how the community embraces TikTok Resumes and helps to reimagine recruiting and job discovery,” TikTok Global Head of Marketing Nick Tran said of the pilot.

TikTok resumes sample page

The new pilot program will be discoverable through the dedicated hashtag and on standalone site tiktokresumes.com, which also has some tips for applying and sample videos. On that site, anyone can browse job listings by employer and fill out a short questionnaire, attaching their video link. And yes, for better or worse, pointing potential employers to your LinkedIn profile is still encouraged.

TikTok views the new pilot as a “natural extension” of its college ambassador program, which recruits students to serve as on-campus representatives promoting the social network’s brand. The pilot program will accept TikTok resumes through July 31.

Of the participating brands listed on the new site, many openings are just for regular ol’ jobs, like NASCAR seeking a sales rep and Target hunting for hourly warehouse workers to cover the night shift. (Should we really be encouraging unemployed people to jump through more hoops to land gigs like this?)

Some listings are more tailored to the TikTok skill set, like an opening at All Recipes for on-camera talent to teach viewers how to make fluffy biscuits or a supervising social producer role at Popsugar.

The traditional resume hasn’t changed much over the years — list the stuff you did, keep it on one page — but any brand hiring a social media manager or any other kind of content creator could be well served by TikTok’s latest creator economy experiment.

#ambassador, #bytedance, #computing, #linkedin, #nascar, #pilot, #shopify, #social, #social-media, #social-network, #software, #target, #tc, #tiktok, #wwe

On TikTok, Black creators’ dance strike calls out creative exploitation

There’s a new Megan Thee Stallion music video out in time for triple digit temperatures. But instead of launching a fresh viral TikTok dance for summer, the single inspired an informal protest among Black creators tired of thanklessly launching trends into the social media stratosphere.

With the release of the video for “Thot Shit,” some Black TikTok creators began calling attention to that exploitation this week, inspiring others to refuse to choreograph a dance to the hit song. The idea behind the movement is that Black artists on the platform create a disproportionate amount of content and culture — much of which is re-packaged and monetized by popular white creators and culture at large.

The song choice probably isn’t a coincidence. The Megan Thee Stallion video is both a playful but important paean to essential workers — twerking grocery, food service and sanitation workers, in this case — and a biting commentary on the wealthy white establishment that exploits their labor without thinking twice.

The “strike” doesn’t have creators leaving the platform or even staying off of the app. Instead, Black creators who might normally contribute dances for the hot new song are sitting back and pointing to what happens when they’re not around. (Predictably: not a lot.)

On the sound’s page, some videos tease choreography but pivot into a statement about how Black creators don’t get their due on the app. In other videos, Black creators watch on in horror at awkward dance attempts failing to fill the void or laugh about how the song’s lyrics are instructional but non-Black TikTok still can’t figure it out. The eminently danceable “Thot shit” could build into Megan Thee Stallion’s biggest hit yet, but just looking on TikTok you wouldn’t know it.

When reached for comment on the phenomenon, TikTok praised Black creators as a “critical and vibrant” part of the community. “We care deeply about the experience of Black creators on our platform and we continue to work every day to create a supportive environment for our community while also instilling a culture where honoring and crediting creators for their creative contributions is the norm,” a TikTok spokesperson said.

Many TikTok accounts participating in the strike cite a recent explosion of white TikTokkers lip-syncing obliviously to a clip of Nicki Minaj’s 2016 song “Black Barbies” that specifically praises Black bodies (“I’m a fucking Black Barbie/Pretty face, perfect body…”). White TikTok inexplicably flocked to the sound, boosting its popularity and crowding out Black creators.

The episode is the latest beat in the ongoing conversation over who gets to cash in on the wellspring of creativity that pours out of a platform like TikTok. More broadly, some creators believe that TikTok’s economics are stacked against them, even compared to other major platforms like YouTube.

Black dancers on TikTok have long been left in the cold when their original moves explode and are picked up by non-Black creators, who also pick up the credit along the way. For Black creators tired of seeing their work appropriated, collectively refusing to gift the world a hot new TikTok dance is certainly one way to show just how vital they are to the online ecosystem — something even a quick glance at the desolate “Thot Shit” sound makes abundantly clear.

#black, #bytedance, #computing, #food-service, #social, #software, #spokesperson, #tc, #tiktok, #video-hosting, #youtube

Snap makes a deal with Universal Music Group, adding its catalog to Sounds

Snap today announced a multi-year deal with Universal Music Group, one of the largest music companies in the world. From Queen to Justin Bieber, users can clip songs from the expansive UMG catalog to use in their Snaps and on Spotlight, the app’s TikTok competitor. This announcement comes after Snapchat added its Sounds feature in October, which lets users enhance their Snaps with music that Snap has licensed. Snap says that since then, over 521 million videos have been created using Sounds, which have been viewed over 31 billion times.

Of course, Snapchat’s investment in music is a direct response to the growth of music on TikTok. Last year, Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album “Rumours” re-entered the Billboard charts after “Dreams,” a song on the record, went viral on TikTok. Dance trends also often go viral on TikTok, which can correlate with a boost in sales for the artist whose song is featured. So, the more music that’s licensed by apps like TikTok and Snapchat, the more opportunity there is for another Nathan Apodaca moment, which means free publicity for the platform.

Already, gen Z artists like Olivia Rodrigo have leveraged these social platforms to promote their new music. On Snap, over 10 million videos were created using her song “Driver’s License,” Snap reports. Rodrigo was also the first artist to use AR Lenses on Snapchat to promote her record-breaking debut “Sour,” but to be fair, she also shared AR effects on Instagram.

Olivia Rodrigo sings about “deja vu” on her new album, and you might also be getting deja vu from Snap’s announcement. TikTok also struck a deal with UMG in February. And before that, in November, TikTok announced a new licensing agreement with Sony. Meanwhile, Snap’s portfolio of music partners include Warner Music Group, Sony Music Publishing, and more. These deals aren’t exclusive — you can make a video with “deja vu” on Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram alike. When it comes to deals like these, it’s a constant battle of reactionary one-upmanship. If TikTok makes a deal with UMG, Snapchat needs to strike a deal with UMG as well to remain competitive, which is what we’re seeing today. As our friend Olivia would say, it’s brutal out here.

#apps, #bytedance, #fleetwood-mac, #justin-bieber, #mobile-applications, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #software, #tiktok, #universal-music-group, #warner-music-group

TikTok’s Chinese nemesis Kuaishou hits 1 billion monthly users worldwide

It’s a big day for Kuaishou, TikTok’s largest rival in China. The Chinese short video company, known overseas for one of its video apps Kwai, announced it has sailed past the one billion monthly active user (MAU) mark.

How big is that? Facebook’s MAUs stood at 2.85 billion as of March. TikTok was forecasted to surpass 1.2 billion MAUs this year, and its Chinese version Douyin said in September it had already amassed 600 million daily users. So there’s still room for Kuaishou to catch up.

China remains Kuaishou’s key market. Its overseas MAUs exceeded 100 million in the first quarter, during which it “moved forward with our strategy in South America and Southeast Asia,” and quickly jumped to 150 million MAUs by April, the firm noted on an earnings call.

Listed in Hong Kong, Kuaishou’s stock climbed more than 6% to nearly HK$200 ($25.7) a share on Wednesday, lifting its market cap to about HK$830 billion ($107 billion), though the price is well below its peak at HK$415 in February.

Kuaishou’s advancement around the world is a reminder that ByteDance isn’t the only Chinese internet company making significant inroads into foreign markets. Bigo, owned by China’s Joy, was a hugely popular live video app in India before getting banned by the local government.

“As a pioneer since 2011, Kuaishou has provided internet users globally the opportunity to record and share their life stories,” the firm’s founder and CEO Su Hua said at a press conference Wednesday where he announced the app had earned the official broadcasting rights to air the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

#asia, #bytedance, #china, #kuaishou, #kwai, #southeast-asia, #tiktok

TikTok launches Jump, a third-party integration tool

TikTok announced today the launch of its Jump program, which expands the app’s potential for third-party integrations. TikTok began beta-testing this feature in February with Whisk, a recipe-sharing app, though only select creators could use the feature. Now, Jump will start rolling out to all users with an expanded slate of partners.

Jumps can only be built by third-party providers after being approved through an application process. Platforms like BreathwrkWikipediaQuizletStatMuse, and Tabelog participated in the beta test, and now, TikTok says providers like BuzzFeedJumpropeIRL, and WATCHA will begin implementing their own Jumps in the coming weeks. So, an educational creator could link to Quizlet flashcards to review a concept they explained in a TikTok, or a yoga instructor could share breathing exercises on Breathwrk. For a platform that doesn’t even let all users include a link in their bio yet, this expands the existing tools creators have to engage their audience.

Image Credits: TikTok

TikTok is positioning Jump as a feature that propels discovery. Sean Kim, Head of Product, TikTok US writes, “TikTok has become a destination both to be entertained and to learn; through TikTok Jump, we’re creating that ‘last mile’ of our community’s discovery journey and helping to spark action and deeper interaction both on and off the platform.”

Jump seems similar to competitor Snapchat’s Minis feature, which are lightweight, simplified versions of apps that live in the Chat section of the app. Both Minis and Jump integrations can be built using HTML5. WeChat facilitates over $250 billion dollars in annual transactions through its own mini apps – there were over a million mini apps on WeChat as of 2018.

While Instagram has been ramping up its e-commerce features on Reels, its TikTok competitor, it’s possible that Jump could later be used to sell items featured in a video. In December, Walmart piloted video shopping on TikTok, which performed well enough that they did it again in March. But for now, it seems like Jump is being used to improve user experience and deepen the platform’s relationships with third-party partners.

#apps, #buzzfeed, #bytedance, #computing, #head, #jumprope, #quizlet, #reels, #software, #tiktok, #video-hosting, #walmart

Hit game PUBG Mobile returns to India with scores of questions

Krafton, which filed for an IPO earlier this week, has built a gigantic gaming empire. If the firm is able to raise the target $5 billion from the IPO it will be the largest public offering in its home country, South Korea. The firm has something to celebrate elsewhere in the world, too.

On Thursday, it pulled off another feat that no other firm has been able to achieve: Its sleeper hit title, PUBG Mobile, has made a return to India, which banned the title more than nine months ago.

The world’s second-largest internet market banned over 200 apps last year citing national security concerns. All the apps New Delhi blocked in the nation had links to China. The move was seen by many as retaliation as tension between the two nuclear-armed neighboring nations escalated last year.

Every other app that has been banned by India — and pulled by Google and Apple from their respective app stores in the country in compliance with local government orders — remains in that state. ByteDance, whose TikTok app identified India as its largest market, has significantly downsized its team in the country. (ByteDance runs several businesses in India and many remain operational. Employees have been instructed to stay off the radar.)

Which is what makes PUBG Mobile’s return to India all the more interesting. The game, which has been rebranded to Battlegrounds Mobile India in the South Asia market, is available to download from the Play Store for any user in the country — provided they sign up for an early access before the imminent launch.

Even as PUBG Mobile is now using a different moniker, the game follows the same plot, and the identical home screen greets users with the familiar ecstatic background score.

Moreover, users are offered a quick and straightforward option to migrate their PUBG Mobile accounts to the new app.

Rishi Alwani, the quintessential gaming reporter in India who edits IGN India, told TechCrunch that the new game is “essentially PUBG Mobile with data compliance, green blood, and a constant reminder that you’re in a ‘virtual world’ with such messaging present as you start a game and when you’re in menus.”

The changes are likely Krafton’s attempt to assuage previous concerns from the local authorities, some of whom had expressed concerns about the game’s affect on youngsters.

Image Credits: TechCrunch / screen capture

But these on-the-surface changes raise a set of bigger questions that have been a topic of discussion among several startup founders and policy executives in India in recent months:

  • Did the government of India approve the new game?
  • If not, why has Google permitted the app on the Play Store?
  • Assuming the Indian government has approved the new game, what steps did Krafton take that adequately addressed the Indian government’s concerns?
  • Why has no other app been able to make a return to India so far?

Neither the Indian government nor Krafton have publicly said anything on this subject. Krafton, on its part, has taken steps to assuage India’s concerns. For instance, last year the South Korean firm cut ties with its publishing partner Tencent, the only visible Chinese affiliation — if the Indian government was indeed banning just Chinese apps. Krafton also publicly announced that it will be investing $100 million in India’s gaming ecosystem.

The Indian government’s order and the communication and compliance mechanism for concerned entities have been so opaque on this subject that it is unclear on what grounds Krafton has been able to bring the game back.

One explanation — albeit admittedly full of speculation — is that it’s a new app in the sense that it has a new app ID. In this instance, it happens to have a new developer account, too. Remember, India banned apps, and not the firms themselves. Several Tencent and Alibaba apps, for instance, remain available in India.

This would also explain how BIGO has been able to launch a new app — Tiki Video — under a new developer account and plenty of effort to conceal its connection. That app, which was launched in late February, has amassed over 16 million monthly active users, according to mobile insight firm App Annie. The app’s existence and affiliation with BIGO have not been previously reported.

But the question remains, are these simple workarounds enough to escape the ban? To be sure, some apps, including Battlegrounds Mobile India, are also hosting their data in the country now, and have agreed for periodic audits. So is that enough? And if it is, why aren’t most — if not all — apps making a return to India?

Regardless, the return of PUBG Mobile India is a welcome move for tens of millions of users in the country, many of whom — about 38 million last month, according to App Annie — were using workarounds themselves to continue to play the game.

#apps, #asia, #bytedance, #gaming, #india, #krafton, #mobile-gaming, #pubg-mobile, #tc, #tiktok

SiriusXM partners with TikTok on a new music channel, Pandora Playlists, and more

SiriusXM is leaning into TikTok. The satellite radio company and Pandora parent today announced a partnership with the social video platform to power several new initiatives, including a TikTok channel on SiriusXM, hosted TikTok playlists on Pandora, and re-airings of Pandora LIVE events on TikTok.

The hosted playlists on Pandora are the first of the new initiatives to launch.

Starting today, popular TikTok creators will curate, host and promote their own Pandora playlists to their fans on TikTok, starting with Bella Poarch. The TikTok influencer, who now has 69.6 million followers, is best-known for her viral lip-sync video to “M to the B,” which blew up to become the most-liked video on TikTok. She also makes videos featuring singing, dancing, and gaming content, among other things, and this month released her first single, “Build a B*tch,” which has broken into Spotify’s U.S. and Global Top 50 charts.

As of the time of writing, Poarch’s TikTok announcing her playlists, launched 4 hours ago, has 187.6K likes and 1 million views.

Image Credits: SiriusXM

Other “TikTok Tastemakers,” as SiriusXM has dubbed them, will release their own playlists in the months to come, including Christian Shelton and Nick Tangorra.

In addition, Pandora users will be able to tune into the TikTok Hits Playlist at any time, which features popular and trending songs from TikTok.

Pandora is not the first music streamer to tap into TikTok’s influence for its own ends. Today, TikTok’s trends are driving songs up the Billboard charts and delivering Spotify streams as younger users look for their favorite TikTok songs on their preferred streaming music app. Spotify is now curating TikTok hits across editorial playlists like Viral Hits, big on the internet, Teen Beats, and others. Apple Music also got in on the TikTok action when it introduced 10 new playlists last year aimed at younger, Gen Z users. This included its own Viral Hits playlist, which pulls in top tracks from TikTok and other social media channels.

Among the other SiriusXM initiatives is the soon-to-launch TikTok Radio, a full-time music channel featuring tracks trending on TikTok which will be presented by TikTok creators, influencers and D.J.s. The channel will debut later this summer, and will stream across SiriusXM, including in vehicles as well as in the SiriusXM app for desktop, mobile and connected devices.

TikTok fans will also later be able to watch selected re-airings of Pandora’s original events series, Pandora LIVE — a continuation of Pandora’s live events that went virtual during the pandemic. Pandora LIVE events feature artists from across genres, including country, rock, pop, R&B and more, and have typically been re-aired, in part, the day after on SiriusXM.

Recently, Pandora LIVE celebrated Women’s History Month with a virtual event that included performances by Gwen Stefani and Jazmine Sullivan, which was re-aired on TikTok.

More Pandora LIVE events will soon do the same. SiriusXM says it will announce which events will re-air on TikTok throughout the year.

“We are excited to collaborate with TikTok to create new content that brings the vibrancy of the leading social networking service to life on live radio and our streaming platforms,” said Scott Greenstein, SiriusXM President and Chief Content Officer, in a statement. “The effect TikTok has on music, and pop culture in general, is undeniable. Our platforms will provide a unique opportunity for TikTok creators to engage with our listeners with content experiences that have never been done before in audio,” he added.

@bellapoarch✨ Excited to help launch ##TikTokTastemakers on @pandora ✨ Listen exclusively on ##PandoraMusic

♬ Build a B*tch – Bella Poarch

SiriusXM’s move to partner more closely with TikTok could help it to attract a younger set of listeners and subscribers, who may follow their favorite fans over to Pandora to tune into their playlist content. However, it’s unable to benefit from the full impact that working with TikTok could bring as the integrations are split across its two services, instead of being focused on just one.

Plus, SiriusXM, like others, still faces the looming threat of Resso, TikTok owner ByteDance’s own music streaming app that could one day make its way to the U.S., as part of its global expansion efforts. It has the potential to more closely tie TikTok’s music discovery features with streaming, impacting demand for rival services.

For the time being, however, TikTok sees the potential in partnering with a U.S. music streamer.

“We are excited to work with SiriusXM on TikTok Radio and to bring TikTok creators to Pandora to make the trends, music, and creative influences that are playing such a defining role in modern culture even more accessible,” said TikTok’s Global Head of Music, Ole Obermann, in a statement. “We’re really excited to see this come to life and thank the SiriusXM team for being such an innovative and visionary collaborator,” he said.

#apps, #bytedance, #media, #mobile, #music, #pandora, #playlist, #playlists, #sirius-xm, #siriusxm, #streaming-music, #streaming-service, #tiktok, #united-states, #viral

ByteDance’s video editor CapCut is the latest to top the U.S. App Store

From time to time, we see a Chinese app climbing to the top of Google Play and App Store in a host of Western countries. It might be a utility tool like a selfie beautifier or some casual video game, which has universal appeal and require little localization effort. But most of them tend to be a blip on the radar.

The latest Chinese app to top the overseas charts is from TikTok owner ByteDance. Called CapCut, the video editing app allows users to not only add a trove of stickers, filters and effects, it also has a simple-to-use green screen function, a zooming feature that works like a Ken Burns effect, and many more — which make the app like an accessible Final Cut on the go.

Users won’t have to worry about paying for music, as CapCut has a library of licensed sound clips that they can use to spice up their content. Over the past year, TikTok has been beefing up its music arsenal through efforts like scouting for musicians and signing deals with major labels.

Chinese tech giants are adept at attracting a large user base first by offering their services for free, and then exploring monetization models after users become sticky to the products. CapCut appears to have the same playbook.

CapCut’s Chinese sibling Jianying has already had success among Douyin (TikTok for China) users. Now that pattern is repeating outside China, with TikTok users taking advantage of CapCut to make their videos look sleek and professional with a few taps on their phones. 

Since May 21, CapCut has been the No. 1 free app on the U.S. App Store, according to analytics company SensorTower, and it ranks 9th on Google Play in the U.S. as of writing. Across the globe, it comes in first among free iOS apps in 33 countries, according to App Annie.

All told, the app has exceeded 250 million installs globally to date from across the App Store and Google Play, and nearly 9.5 million from U.S. app stores, SensorTower says.

CapCut’s rise is reminiscent of the Chinese photo editor Meitu. The app was so popular that it became synonymous with a selfie beautifier in China, but it also had a solid base of loyal users abroad. The difference is CapCut’s rise is built on its sibling TikTok’s global dominance, whereas Meitu’s early attempt to foster a social network around its photo tool to increase user stickiness never really took off.

CapCut probably won’t be ByteDance’s last viral app. TikTok’s sprawling content empire will spawn more offshoots, whether it’s a video editor or an e-commerce service for creators to make money and for users to buy the products endorsed by their favorite influencers.

#app-store, #asia, #bytedance, #china, #entertainment, #freeware, #major, #meitu, #photo-editor, #social-network, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #video-editor, #video-hosting

Google updates its cross-platform Flutter UI toolkit

Flutter, Google’s cross-platform UI toolkit for building mobile and desktop apps, is getting a small but important update at the company’s I/O conference today. Google also announced that Flutter now powers 200,000 apps in the Play Store alone, including popular apps from companies like WeChat, ByteDance, BMW, Grab and DiDi. Indeed, Google notes that 1 in 8 new apps in the Play Store are now Flutter apps.

The launch of Flutter 2.2 follows Google’s rollout of Flutter 2, which first added support for desktop and web apps in March, so it’s no surprise that this is a relatively minor release. In many ways, the update builds on top of the features the company introduced in version 2 and reliability and performance improvements.

Version 2.2 makes null safety the default for new projects, for example, to add protections against null reference exceptions. As for performance, web apps can now use background caching using service workers, for example, while Android apps can use deferred components and iOS apps get support for precompiled shaders to make first runs smoother.

Google also worked on streamlining the overall process of bringing Flutter apps to desktop platforms (Windows, macOS and Linux).

But as Google notes, a lot of the work right now is happening in the ecosystem. Google itself is introducing a new payment plugin for Flutter built in partnership with the Google Pay team and Google’s ads SDK for Flutter is getting support for adaptive banner formats. Meanwhile, Samsung is now porting Flutter to Tizen and Sony is leading an effort to bring it to embedded Linux. Adobe recently announced its XD to Flutter plugin for its design tool and Microsoft today launched the alpha of Flutter support for Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps for Windows 10 in alpha.

#adobe, #alpha, #android, #bytedance, #caching, #chrome-os, #computing, #flutter, #google, #google-i-o-2021, #google-pay, #linux, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #operating-systems, #play-store, #samsung, #sony, #tc, #universal-windows-platform, #web-apps, #wechat, #windows-10

TikTok to open a ‘Transparency’ Center in Europe to take content and security questions

TikTok will open a center in Europe where outside experts will be shown information on how it approaches content moderation and recommendation, as well as platform security and user privacy, it announced today.

The European Transparency and Accountability Centre (TAC) follows the opening of a U.S. center last year — and is similarly being billed as part of its “commitment to transparency”.

Soon after announcing its U.S. TAC, TikTok also created a content advisory council in the market — and went on to replicate the advisory body structure in Europe this March, with a different mix of experts.

It’s now fully replicating the U.S. approach with a dedicated European TAC.

To-date, TikTok said more than 70 experts and policymakers have taken part in a virtual U.S. tour, where they’ve been able to learn operational details and pose questions about its safety and security practices.

The short-form video social media site has faced growing scrutiny over its content policies and ownership structure in recent years, as its popularity has surged.

Concerns in the U.S. have largely centered on the risk of censorship and the security of user data, given the platform is owned by a Chinese tech giant and subject to Internet data laws defined by the Chinese Communist Party.

While, in Europe, lawmakers, regulators and civil society have been raising a broader mix of concerns — including around issues of child safety and data privacy.

In one notable development earlier this year, the Italian data protection regulator made an emergency intervention after the death of a local girl who had reportedly been taking part in a content challenge on the platform. TikTok agreed to recheck the age of all users on its platform in Italy as a result.

TikTok said the European TAC will start operating virtually, owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But the plan is to open a physical center in Ireland — where it bases its regional HQ — in 2022.

EU lawmakers have recently proposed a swathe of updates to digital legislation that look set to dial up emphasis on the accountability of AI systems — including content recommendation engines.

A draft AI regulation presented by the Commission last week also proposes an outright ban on subliminal uses of AI technology to manipulate people’s behavior in a way that could be harmful to them or others. So content recommender engines that, for example, nudge users into harming themselves by suggestively promoting pro-suicide content or risky challenges may fall under the prohibition. (The draft law suggests fines of up to 6% of global annual turnover for breaching prohibitions.)

It’s certainly interesting to note TikTok also specifies that its European TAC will offer detailed insight into its recommendation technology.

“The Centre will provide an opportunity for experts, academics and policymakers to see first-hand the work TikTok teams put into making the platform a positive and secure experience for the TikTok community,” the company writes in a press release, adding that visiting experts will also get insights into how it uses technology “to keep TikTok’s community safe”; how trained content review teams make decisions about content based on its Community Guidelines; and “the way human reviewers supplement moderation efforts using technology to help catch potential violations of our policies”.

Another component of the EU’s draft AI regulation sets a requirement for human oversight of high risk applications of artificial intelligence. Although it’s not clear whether a social media platform would fall under that specific obligation, given the current set of categories in the draft regulation.

However the AI regulation is just one piece of the Commission’s platform-focused rule-making.

Late last year it also proposed broader updates to rules for digital services, under the DSA and DMA, which will place due diligence obligations on platforms — and also require larger platforms to explain any algorithmic rankings and hierarchies they generate. And TikTok is very likely to fall under that requirement.

The UK — which is now outside the bloc, post-Brexit — is also working on its own Online Safety regulation, due to present this year. So, in the coming years, there will be multiple content-focused regulatory regimes for platforms like TikTok to comply with in Europe. And opening algorithms to outside experts may be hard legal requirement, not soft PR.

Commenting on the launch of its European TAC in a statement, Cormac Keenan, TikTok’s head of trust and safety, said: With more than 100 million users across Europe, we recognise our responsibility to gain the trust of our community and the broader public. Our Transparency and Accountability Centre is the next step in our journey to help people better understand the teams, processes, and technology we have to help keep TikTok a place for joy, creativity, and fun. We know there’s lots more to do and we’re excited about proactively addressing the challenges that lie ahead. I’m looking forward to welcoming experts from around Europe and hearing their candid feedback on ways we can further improve our systems.”

 

#artificial-intelligence, #bytedance, #chinese-communist-party, #content-moderation, #dsa, #europe, #european-union, #ireland, #italy, #platform-regulation, #policy, #privacy, #recommendation-technology, #social, #social-media, #tiktok, #united-kingdom, #united-states

Engineered earworms on TikTok aren’t that far off from disinfo campaigns

Ever since I read this Bloomberg story about how songs are engineered to go viral on TikTok, I’ve had one thought in my head – if you can call it that – it’s more of a noise, or impression: 

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Yes, it’s the sound of internally screaming. Just when I thought I understood how deeply social media algorithms have hijacked our desires, tastes and preferences – WHAM! Another jab straight to the nose. I have to admit, I was blindsided by this one. It knocked me out.

Now, I understand that I work for a website called TechCrunch, emphasis on the tech, but if this story doesn’t make you feel at least a teensy bit like a Luddite, well, I don’t know what to tell you. You’re probably like that character in the Matrix, Cypher, who wants to be plugged in.

Is that harsh? I mean, companies are going to company, and partnerships with major record labels is a common sense move for a social media app all about honing the art of short, clever combinations of sound and video. And fair dues to the creators, many of them in college or high school, for jumping at the chance to make some money and get a little bit of fame.

But it’s probably not too harsh when you consider what else is possible when catchiness is weaponized. Here’s what we know: whether it’s internet memes or political slogans or Megan Thee Stallion’s Savage, what drives information dissemination is not the truthfulness of the content or the credibility of the speaker but 1) how easy it is to remember and 2) how quickly it sparks conversations. 

And would you look at that! Those are exactly the variables music producers optimize for today. What the Bloomberg story highlights, inadvertently or not, is how a #1 pop hit and a piece of political disinformation are not all that different, aesthetically. Everyone’s an entertainer.

Now read to the end of the Bloomberg story. Get to the part where it’s revealed that ByteDance (the Chinese company that owns TikTok), in response to threats of a U.S. ban on the app, recruited creators to orchestrate a seemingly grassroots lawsuit against the proposed ban. And I think: damn. Attention really is the most precious commodity in the world. And we’re just…giving it away.

(Cue the internal screams.)

#apps, #bytedance, #mobile, #social, #tc, #tiktok