China built a village in territory also claimed by the kingdom of Bhutan, echoing its aggressive tactics at the border with India and in places much farther away.
The emergence of vaccines has taken the edge off the worst fears, but a meaningful economic recovery probably remains distant.
Hard-to-trace clusters, along with pandemic fatigue, have forced officials in Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan to keep recalibrating their responses.
The coronavirus is not a shape shifter like the flu virus, but it could become vaccine resistant over time. That prompts researchers to urge vigilance.
As China fights to end extreme poverty while also recovering from the economic damage of the coronavirus, the supposed wisdom of building huge statues in poorer areas to grow tourism is coming under harsh scrutiny.
TikTok’s rise in the West is unprecedented for any Chinese tech company, and so is the amount of attention it has attracted from politicians worldwide. Below is a timeline of how TikTok grew from what some considered another “copycat” short video app to global dominance and eventually became a target of the U.S. government.
2012-2017: The emergence of TikTok
These years were a period of fast growth for ByteDance, the Beijing-based parent company behind TikTok. Originally launched in China as Douyin, the video-sharing app quickly was wildly successful in its domestic market before setting its sights on the rest of the world.
Zhang Yiming, a 29-year-old serial engineer, establishes ByteDance in Beijing.
Chinese product designer Alex Zhu launches Musical.ly.
ByteDance launches Douyin, which is regarded by many as a Musical.ly clone. It launches Douyin’s overseas version TikTok later that year.
2017-2019: TikTok takes off in the United States
TikTok merges with Musical.ly and and launches in the U.S., where it quickly becomes popular, the first social media app from a Chinese tech company to achieve that level of success there. But at the same time, its ownership leads to questions about national security and censorship, against the backdrop of the U.S.-China tariff wars and increased scrutiny of Chinese tech companies (including Huawei and ZTE) under the Trump administration.
ByteDance buys Musical.ly for $800 million to $1 billion. (link)
TikTok merges with Musical.ly and becomes available in the U.S. (link)
TikTok surpassed Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube in downloads. (link)
Facebook launches TikTok rival Lasso. (link)
TikTok reaches one billion installs on the App Store and Google Play. (link)
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission fines TikTok $5.7 million over violation of children privacy law. (link)
TikTok tops the App Store for the fifth quarter in a row. (link)
TikTok is found censoring topics considered sensitive by the Beijing government. (link)
TikTok taps corporate law firm K&L Gates for advice on content moderation in the U.S. (link)
U.S. lawmakers ask intelligence chief Joseph Maguire to investigate if TikTok poses a threat to national security. (link)
TikTok says it has never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and would not do so if asked. (link)
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States reportedly opens a national security probe into TikTok. (link)
Instagram launches TikTok rival Reels. (link)
TikTok apologizes for removing a viral video about abuses against Uighurs. (link)
The U.S. Navy reportedly bans TikTok. (link)
The first half of 2020: Growth amid government scrutiny
The app is now a mainstay of online culture in America, especially among Generation Z, and its user base has grown even wider as people seek diversions during the COVID-19 pandemic. But TikTok faces an escalating series of government actions, creating confusion about its future in America.
Revived Dubsmash grows into TikTok’s imminent rival. (link)
TikTok lets outside experts examine its moderation practices at its “transparency center.” (link)
Senators introduce a bill to restrict the use of TikTok on government devices. (link)
TikTok brings in outside experts to craft content policies. (link)
TikTok introduces parental controls. (link)
TikTok tops two billion downloads. (link)
TikTok discloses how its content recommendation system works. (link)
YouTube launches TikTok rival. (link)
Facebook shuts down TikTok rival Lasso. (link)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the U.S. is looking to ban TikTok. (link)
TikTok announced a $200 million fund for U.S. creators. (link)
Trump told reporters he will use executive power to ban TikTok. (link)
The second half of 2020: TikTok versus the U.S. government
After weeks of speculation, Trump signs an executive order in August against ByteDance. ByteDance begins seeking American buyers for TikTok, but the company also fights the executive order in court. A group of TikTok creators also file a lawsuit challenging the order. The last few months of 2020 become a relentless, and often confusing, flurry of events and new developments for TikTok observers, with no end in sight.
Reports say ByteDance agrees to divest TikTok’s U.S. operations and Microsoft will take over. (link)
Trump signals opposition to the ByteDance-Microsoft deal. (link)
Microsoft announces discussions about the TikTok purchase will complete no later than September 15. (link)
Trump shifts tone and says he expects a cut from the TikTok sale. (link)
TikTok broadens fact-checking partnerships ahead of the U.S. election. (link)
August 7: In the most significant escalation of tensions between the U.S. government and TikTok, Trump signs an executive order banning “transactions” with ByteDance in 45 days, or on September 20. (link). TikTok says the order was “issued without any due process” and would risk “undermining global businesses’ trust in the United States’ commitment to the rule of law.” (link)
August 9: TikTok reportedly plans to challenge the Trump administration ban. (link)
Oracle is also reportedly bidding for the TikTok sale. (link)
August 24: TikTok and ByteDance file their first lawsuit in federal court against the executive order, naming President Trump, Secretary of State Wilbur Ross and the U.S. Department of Commerce as defendants. The suit seeks to prevent the government from banning TikTok. Filed in U.S. District Court Central District of California (case number 2:20-cv-7672), it claims Trump’s executive order is unconstitutional. (link)
TikTok reaches 100 million users in the U.S. (link)
August 27: TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer resigns after 100 days. (link)
Walmart says it has expressed interest in teaming up with Microsoft to bid for TikTok. (link)
August 28: China’s revised export laws could block TikTok’s divestment. (link)
China says it would rather see TikTok shuttered than sold to an American firm. (link)
September 13: Oracle confirms it is part of a proposal submitted by ByteDance to the Treasury Department in which Oracle will serve as the “trusted technology provider.” (link)
September 18: The Commerce Department publishes regulations against TikTok that will take effect in two phases. The app will no longer be distributed in U.S. app stores as of September 20, but it gets an extension on how it operates until November 12. After that, however, it will no longer be able to use internet hosting services in the U.S., rendering it inaccessible. (link)
On the same day as the Commerce Department’s announcement, two separate lawsuits are filed against Trump’s executive order against TikTok. One is filed by ByteDance, while the other is by three TikTok creators.
The one filed by TikTok and ByteDance is in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (case number 20-cv-02658), naming President Trump, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and the Commerce Department as defendants. It is very similar to the suit ByteDance previously filed in California. TikTok and ByteDance’s lawyers argue that Trump’s executive order violates the Administrative Procedure Act, the right to free speech, and due process and takings clauses.
The other lawsuit, filed by TikTok creators Douglas Marland, Cosette Rinab and Alec Chambers, also names the president, Ross and the Department of Commerce as defendants. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (case number 2:20-cv-04597), argues that Trump’s executive order “violates the first and fifth amendments of the U.S. Constitution and exceeds the President’s statutory authority.”
September 19: One day before the September 20 deadline that would have forced Google and Apple to remove TikTok from their app stores, the Commerce Department extends it by a week to September 27. This is reportedly to give ByteDance, Oracle and Walmart time to finalize their deal.
On the same day, Marland, Rinab and Chambers, the three TikTok creators, file their first motion for a preliminary injunction against Trump’s executive order. They argue that the executive order violates freedom of speech and deprives them of “protected liberty and property interests without due process,” because if a ban goes into effect, it would prevent them from making income from TikTok-related activities, like promotional and branding work.
September 20: After filing the D.C. District Court lawsuit against Trump’s executive order, TikTok and ByteDance formally withdraw their similar pending suit in the U.S. District Court of Central District of California.
September 21: ByteDance and Oracle confirm the deal but send conflicting statements over TikTok’s new ownership. TikTok is valued at an estimated $60 billion. (link)
September 22: China’s state newspaper says China won’t approve the TikTok sale, labeling it “extortion.” (link)
September 23: TikTok and ByteDance ask the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to grant a preliminary injunction against the executive order, arguing that the September 27 ban removing TikTok from app stores will “inflict direct, immediate, and irreparable harm on Plaintiffs during the pendency of this case.” (link)
September 26: U.S. District Court Judge Wendy Beetlestone denies Marland, Rinab and Chambers’ motion for a preliminary injunction against the executive order, writing that the three did not demonstrate “they will suffer immediate, irreparable harm if users and prospective users cannot download or update” TikTok after September 27, since they will still be able to use the app.
September 27: Just hours before the TikTok ban was set to go into effect, U.S. District Court Judge Carl J. Nichols grants ByteDance’s request for a preliminary injunction while the court considers whether the app poses a risk to national security. (link)
September 29: TikTok launches a U.S. election guide in the app. (link)
Snapchat launches a TikTok rival. (link)
TikTok says it’s enforcing actions against hate speech. (link)
TikTok partners with Shopify on social commerce (link)
October 13: After failing to win their first request for a preliminary injunction, TikTok creators Marland, Rinab and Chambers file a second one. This time, their request focuses on the Commerce Department’s November 12 deadline, which they say will make it impossible for users to access or post content on TikTok if it goes into effect.
October 30: U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone grants TikTok creators Marland, Chambers and Rinab’s second request for a preliminary injunction against the TikTok ban. (link)
November 7: After five days of waiting for vote counts, Joe Biden is declared the president-elect by CNN, followed by the AP, NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox News. With Biden set to be sworn in as president on January 20, the future of Trump’s executive order against TikTok becomes even more uncertain.
November 10: ByteDance asks the federal appeal court to vacate the U.S. government’s divestiture order that would force it to sell the app’s American operations by November 12. Filed as part of the lawsuit in D.C. District Court, ByteDance said it asked the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States for an extension, but hadn’t been granted one yet. (link)
November 12: This is the day that the Commerce Department’s ban on transactions with ByteDance, including providing internet hosting services to TikTok (which would stop the app from being able to operate in the U.S.), was set to go into effect. But instead the case becomes more convoluted as the U.S. government sends mixed messages about TikTok’s future.
The Commerce Department says it will abide by the preliminary injunction granted on October 30 by Judge Beetlestone, pending further legal developments. But, around the same time, the Justice Department files an appeal against Beetlestone’s ruling. Then Judge Nichols sets new deadlines (December 14 and 28) in the D.C. District Court lawsuit (the one filed by ByteDance against the Trump administration) for both sides to file motions and other new documents in the case. (link)
November 25: The Trump administration grants ByteDance a seven-day extension of the divestiture order. The deadline for ByteDance to finalize a sale of TikTok is now December 4.
This timeline will be updated as developments occur.
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a lot of big questions about the basic properties of SARS-CoV-2: how quickly did it spread, could it spread from asymptomatic people, what was the typical mortality rate, and so on. We quickly started getting answers on some of these, but they were all imperfect in various ways. We could trace all the cases in controlled environments, like a cruise ship or aircraft carrier, but these probably wouldn’t reflect the virus’s spread in more typical communities. Or, we could trace things in real-world communities, but that approach would be far less certain to capture all the cases.
Over time, we’ve gotten lots of imperfect records, but we’ve started to build a consensus out of them. The latest example of this—a paper that describes contact tracing all cases that originated in Hunan, China—provides yet another set of measures of the virus’s behavior and our attempts to control infection. Papers like this have helped build the consensus on some of the key features of things like asymptomatic spread and the impact of contact tracing, so we thought it was a good chance to step back and look at this latest release.
Trace all the cases
The new work, done by an international team of researchers, focuses on the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Hunan Province during the first outbreak after its origins in nearby Hubei. During the period of study, health authorities started by identifying cases largely by symptoms, and they then switched to a massive contact tracing effort and aggressive isolation policies. These efforts shut the outbreak down by early March. And, thanks to them, we have very detailed information on viral cases: 1,178 infected individuals, another 15,648 people they came in contact with, and a total of nearly 20,000 potential exposure events.
The democracy movement may be quiet. But it is alive and it will survive.
The Federal Communications Commission has rejected ZTE’s petition to remove its designation as a “national security threat.” This means that American companies will continue to be barred from using the FCC’s $8.3 billion Universal Service Fund to buy equipment and services from ZTE .
The Universal Service Fund includes subsidies to build telecommunication infrastructure across the United States, especially for low-income or high-cost areas, rural telehealth services, and schools and libraries. The FCC issued an order on June 30 banning U.S. companies from using the fund to buy technology from Huawei and ZTE, claiming that both companies have close ties with the Chinese Communist Party and military.
Many smaller carriers rely on Huawei and ZTE, two of the world’s biggest telecom equipment providers, for cost-efficient technology. After surveying carriers, the FCC estimated in September that replacing Huawei and ZTE equipment would cost more than $1.8 billion.
Under the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, passed by Congress this year, most of that amount would be eligible for reimbursements under a program referred to as “rip and replace.” But the program has not been funded by Congress yet, despite bipartisan support.
In today’s announcement about ZTE, chairman Ajit Pai also said the FCC will vote on rules to implement the reimbursement program at its next Open Meeting, scheduled to take place on December 10.
The FCC passed its order barring companies deemed national security threats from receiving money from the Universal Service Fund in November 2019. Huawei fought back by suing the FCC over the ban, claiming it exceeded the agency’s authority and violated the Constitution.
TechCrunch has contacted ZTE for comment.
On Monday, China successfully sent the latest in its Chang’e missions on its way to the Moon. Chang’e 5 is the most ambitious to date and, if successful, will make China just the third country to return samples from the lunar surface (after the Soviet Union and the US). While the mission is quite complex with lots of potential for things to go wrong, it’s also happening on a short schedule, so we’ll have a good idea of how things are going within three weeks.
There and back again
China’s Chang’e program, named after a goddess of the Moon, started back in 2007 with the launch of the Chang’e 1 orbiter. Over time, the missions have gotten increasingly complex. Chang’e 3 saw the deployment of a rover on the lunar surface, and Chang’e 4 made history with the first landing on the far side of the Moon. Already, the missions have produced exciting scientific data and lots of photos of previously unexplored areas of the Moon.
Now, China plans to get something back from the Moon that can’t be distilled down to a string of ones and zeroes. As with two earlier missions, once Chang’e 5 reaches lunar orbit, it will deploy a lander to the surface. But this time, the lander will be accompanied by a sample return vehicle. After using a drill and scoop to load that up with up to two kilograms of material, the sample return vehicle will lift off from the lunar surface and rendezvous with the vehicle that brought it to the Moon.
India is not done banning Chinese apps. The world’s second largest internet market, which has banned over 175 apps with links to the neighboring nation in recent months, said on Tuesday it was banning an additional 43 such apps.
Like with the previous orders, India cited cybersecurity concerns to block these apps. “This action was taken based on the inputs regarding these apps for engaging in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order,” said India’s IT Ministry in a statement.
The ministry said it issued the order of blocking these apps “based on the comprehensive reports received from Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Center, Ministry of Home Affairs.”
The apps that have been banned include popular short video service Snack Video, which had surged to the top of the chart in recent months, as well as e-commerce app AliExpress, delivery app Lalamove, and shopping app Taobao Live.
More to follow…
A former vice foreign minister of China proposes a way forward for the world’s two leading powers.
The Chinese Uber for trucks Manbang announced Tuesday that it has raised $1.7 billion in its latest funding round, two years after it hauled in $1.9 billion from investors including SoftBank Group and Alphabet Inc’s venture capital fund CapitalG.
The news came fresh off a Wall Street Journal report two weeks ago that Manbang was seeking $1 billion ahead of an initial public offering next year. The company declined to comment on the matter, though its CEO Zhang Hui said in May 2019 that the firm was “not in a rush” to go public.
Manbang said it achieved profitability this year. Its valuation was reportedly on course to reach $10 billion in 2018.
The company, which runs an app matching truck drivers and merchants transporting cargo and provides financial services to truckers, was formed from a merger between rivals Yunmanman and Huochebang in 2017. It was a time when China’s “sharing economy” craze began to see consolidation and shakeup.
The latest financing again attracted high-profile backers, including returning investors SoftBank Vision Fund and Sequoia Capital China, Permira and Fidelity, a consortium that co-led the round. Other participants were Hillhouse Capital, GGV Capital, Lightspeed China Partners, Tencent, Jack Ma’s YF Capital and more.
The company has other Alibaba ties. Its CEO Zhang, who founded Yunmanman, hailed from Alibaba’s famed B2B department where Manbang chairman Wang Gang also worked before he went on to fund ride-hailing giant Didi’s angel round.
Manbang claims its platform has over 10 million verified drivers and 5 million cargo owners. The latest funding will allow it to further invest in research and development, upgrade its matching system, and expand its service capacity to functions like door-to-door transportation.
Sequoia is quite bullish about truck-hailing as it made its sixth investment in Manbang. For Permira, a European private equity fund, the Manbang investment marked the China debut of its Growth Opportunities Fund.
AMP Robotics, the recycling robotics technology developer backed by investors including Sequoia Capital and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, is close to closing on as much as $70 million in new financing, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the company’s plans.
The new financing speaks to AMP Robotics’ continued success in pilot projects and with new partnerships that are exponentially expanding the company’s deployments.
Earlier this month the company announced a new deal that represented its largest purchase order for its trash sorting and recycling robots.
That order, for 24 machine learning-enabled robotic recycling systems with the waste handling company Waste Connections, was a showcase for the efficacy of the company’s recycling technology.
That comes on the back of a pilot program earlier in the year with one Toronto apartment complex, where the complex’s tenants were able to opt into a program that would share recycling habits monitored by AMP Robotics with the building’s renters in an effort to improve their recycling behavior.
The potential benefits of AMP Robotic’s machine learning enabled robots are undeniable. The company’s technology can sort waste streams in ways that traditional systems never could and at a cost that’s far lower than most waste handling facilities.
As TechCrunch reported earlier the tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.
AMP’s robots already have been deployed in North America, Asia and Europe, with recent installations in Spain and across the U.S. in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.
At the beginning of the year, AMP Robotics worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that provided residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits. Sidewalk Labs is transporting the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash is sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics.
Once the waste is categorized, sorted and recorded, Sidewalk communicates with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.
It was only last November that the Denver-based AMP Robotics raised a $16 million round from Sequoia Capital and others to finance the early commercialization of its technology.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is pursuing a strategy to make the country’s economy more self-sufficient, while making other places more dependent on it than ever.
Against overwhelming state violence, poetry might appear to offer little recourse. But for many Uighurs, it’s a powerful form of resistance.
In a much-anticipated move, California-based gaming firm Roblox filed to go public last week. One aspect driving the future growth of the children- and community-focused gaming platform is its China entry, which it fleshes out in detail for the first time in its IPO prospectus.
Like all gaming companies entering China, Roblox must work with a local publishing and operations partner. And like Riot Games, Supercell, Epic Games, Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft, Nintendo and many more, Roblox chose Tencent, the world’s largest gaming firm by revenue, according to Newzoo.
The partnership, which began in 2019, revolves around a joint venture in which Roblox holds a 51% controlling stake and a Tencent affiliate called Songhua owns a 49% interest. The prospectus notes that Tencent currently intends to publish and operate a localized version of the Roblox Platform (罗布乐思), which allows people to create games and play those programmed by others.
User-generated content is in part what makes Roblox popular amongst young gamers, but that social aspect almost certainly makes its China entry trickier. It’s widely understood that the Chinese government is asserting more control over what gets published on the internet, and in recent times its scrutiny over gaming content has heightened. Industry veteran Wenfeng Yang went as far as speculating that games with user-generated content will “never made [their] path to China,” citing the example of Animal Crossing.
Roblox says it believes it’s “uniquely positioned” to grow its penetration in China but its “performance will be dependent on” Tencent’s ability to clear regulatory hurdles. It’s unclear what measures Roblox will take to prevent its user-generated content from running afoul of the Chinese authorities, whose appetite for what is permitted can be volatile. Tencent itself has been in the crosshairs of regulators over allegedly “addictive” and “harmful” gaming content. It also remains to be seen how Roblox ensures its user experience won’t be compromised by whatever censorship system that gets implemented.
At the most basic level, Roblox claims it works to ensure user safety through measures designed “to enforce real-world laws,” including text-filtering, content moderation, automated systems to identify behaviors in violation of platform policies, and a review team. The company expresses in its filing optimism about getting China’s regulatory greenlight:
“While Tencent is still working to obtain the required regulatory license to publish and operate Luobulesi [Roblox’s local name] in China, we believe the regulatory requirements specific to China will be met. In the meantime, Luobu is working towards creating a robust developer community in China.”
The company is rightfully optimistic. China is the world’s largest gaming market and Tencent has a proven history of converting its social network users into gamers. Roblox’s marketing focus on encouraging “creativity” might also sit well with Beijing’s call for tech companies to “do good,” an order Tencent has answered. Roblox’s Chinese website suggests it’s touting part of its business as a learning and STEM tool and shows it’s seeking collaborations with local schools and educators.
Nonetheless, the involvement of Tencent is the elephant in the room in times of uncertain U.S.-China relations. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. or CFIUS, which is chaired by the Treasury Department, was inquiring about data practices by Tencent-backed gaming studios in the U.S. including Epic and Riot, Bloomberg reported in September.
Roblox isn’t exempt. It notes in the prospectus that CFIUS has “made inquiries to us with respect to Tencent’s equity investment in us and involvement in the China JV.” It further warns that it “cannot predict what effect any further inquiry by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. into our relationship with Tencent or changes in China-U.S. relations overall may have on our ability to effectively support the China JV or on the operations or success of the China JV.”
The other obstacle faced by all foreign companies entering China is local clones. Reworld, backed by prominent Chinese venture firms such as Northern Light Venture Capital and Joy Capital, is one. The game is unabashed about its origin. In a Reddit post responding to the accusation of it being “a ripoff of Roblox,” Reworld pays its tribute to Roblox and admits its product is “built on the shoulders of Roblox,” while claiming “it did not take any code from Roblox Studio.”
The Beijing-based startup behind Reworld has so far raised more than $50 million and had about 100 developers working on Reworld’s editing tool and 50 other operational staff, its co-founder said in a June interview. In comparison, Roblox had 38 employees in China by September, 38 of whom were in product and engineering functions. It’s actively hiring in China.
Roblox cannot comment for the story as it’s in the IPO quiet period.
It has been four decades since lunar samples were brought to Earth, and the Chang’e-5 spacecraft’s bounty could have great scientific value.
Intel and Nvidia chips power a supercomputing center that tracks people in a place where government suppresses minorities, raising questions about the tech industry’s responsibility.
Starting a new phone brand in 2018 might seem too late in an already crowded market, but Sky Li was convinced that consumers between 18-25 years old were largely under-served — they needed something that was both affordable and cool.
A few months after Li founded Realme in May that year, the smartphone company organized a product launch at a college campus in India, the world’s second-largest smartphone market. It brought its own production crew, built a makeshift stage and invited local rappers to grace the event.
“I was amazed. No one was sitting down and it felt like a carnival, a big disco party,” Chase Xu, Realme’s 31-year-old chief marketing officer, told me at the firm’s headquarters in Shenzhen.
“No foreign company had ever entered the campus. They didn’t think it was possible. Why would a university let you do a launch event there?” Xu, clad in a minimalist, chic black jacket from a domestic brand, recounted with enthusiasm and pride.
“Realme became widely known thanks to the event. People found it very interesting that it was mixing with students. It didn’t just launch a product. It was showing off a youthful, flamboyant attitude.”
Within nine quarters, Realme has shipped 50 million handsets around the world with India as its biggest market, even larger than China. The target this year is to double last year’s target to 50 million units, a goal that’s “nearly complete” according to Xu. It’s now the world’s 7th biggest smartphone brand, trailing only after those who have been around for much longer — Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, Apple, Oppo and Vivo, according to a Q3 report from research firm Canalys.
Realme didn’t accomplish all that from scratch. It’s yet another smartphone brand rooted in BBK Group, the mystic electronics empire that owns and supports some of the world’s largest phone makers Vivo, Oppo, OnePlus, and now Realme.
In 2018, former Oppo vice president and head of overseas business Sky Li announced he was resigning from Oppo to start Realme as an independent brand, similar to how OnePlus started in 2013. Today, Realme, OnePlus and Oppo all belong to the same holding group. That entity, together with Vivo, sits under BBK, which started out in 1998 selling electronic dictionaries in south China and has been diversifying its portfolio ever since.
While Realme and OnePlus operate independently, they get access to Oppo’s supply chain, a model that has allowed them to have lighter assets and consequently fewer costs.
“Realme has an advantage because we share a supply chain with Oppo. We are able to get very good resources from the supply end, stay ahead globally and obtain what we should have,” said Xu.
For instance, the nascent phone maker was among the first to get Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 865 chips and put four cameras into a handset. Priority isn’t always guaranteed, however, because “there is definitely competition between us and our peers to fight to be the first,” Xu admitted. “Of course, it also depends on the progress of each team’s research and development.”
The light-asset strategy also means Realme is able to offer competitive technologies at relatively low prices. In India, its 8GB RAM, 128GB phone cost less than 1,000 yuan ($152) and its notch screen one was under 1,500 yuan ($228).
Realme isn’t concerned about increasing margin in the “growth stage,” Xu said, and the firm has “been profitable from the outset.” On the other hand, the phone maker is also introducing a slew of IoT gadgets like smart TVs and earphones, categories with higher markups.
The smartphone-plus-IoT strategy is certainly not unique, as its siblings in the BBK family, as well as Xiaomi and Huawei, have the same vision: smartphones and smart devices from the same brand will form a nicely interconnected ecosystem, driving sales and data collection for each other.
Another way to cut costs, according to Xu, is to avoid extravagant outdoor advertising. The company prefers more subtle, word-of-mouth promotion like working with influencers, throwing campus music festivals and fostering an online fan community. And the strategy seems to be clicking with the young generation who like to interact with the brand they like and even be part of its creative process.
The most enthusiastic users would sometimes message Xu with pencil sketching of what they envisioned Realme’s next products should look like. “They have very interesting and excellent ideas. This is a great generation,” the executive said.
Chinese brands go global
Realme’s India chief executive Madhav Sheth is equally adored by the country’s young consumers. A former distribution partner of Realme, he made an impression on Realme founder Li, who “understands the Indian market very well despite not speaking fluent English,” according to Xu.
“Sheth is very charismatic and good at public speaking. He knows how to excite people,” Xu spoke highly of Sheth, who is an avid Twitter user and has garnered some 280,000 followers since he joined in the spring of 2018.
The Indian boss’s job is getting trickier as India becomes warier of Chinese influence. In June, the Indian government banned TikTok and dozens of other Chinese apps over potential national security risks, not long after it added more scrutiny on Chinese investments. Anti-China sentiment has also soared as border tensions heightened recently.
Against all odds, Realme is seeing robust growth in India. In Q3, it grew 4% from the previous quarter and currently ranks fourth in India with a 10% market share, according to research firm Counterpoint.
“During the start of the quarter, we witnessed some anti-China consumer sentiments impacting sales of brands originating from China. However, these sentiments have subsided as consumers are weighing in different parameters during the purchase as well,” the researcher wrote in the report.
“Of course the India-China conflict is not something we want to see. It’s a problem of international relationships. Realme doesn’t take part in politics,” Xu assured. “There will always be extremist users. What we can do is to expand our fan base, give them what they want, and leave the extremists alone.”
Next year, Realme is looking to ramp up expansion in Europe, Russia and its home market China. None will be a small feat as they are much-coveted markets for all major phone makers.
Part of Realme’s effort to associate itself with what Gen-Z around the world considers “cool” is to work with prominent designers. Xu’s eyes lit up, raising his hand in the air as if he was holding a ball. He was mirroring Naoto Fukasawa, the renowned Japanese industrial designer who came up with the onion-inspired color and pattern of the Realme X model.
“The afternoon sunlight slanted through the large windows. [Fukasawa] gave me a playful look, took an onion from beneath the table, and told me that was his inspiration,” Xu recalled. “He slowly turned the onion in the sun. I was dumbfounded. The veins, the pink, gold color, the texture. It was so beautiful. You wouldn’t think it was an onion. You’d think it was craftwork.”
Increasingly allied, the American far right and members of the Chinese diaspora tapped into social media to give a Hong Kong researcher a vast audience for peddling unsubstantiated pandemic claims.
Restrictions on dogs are common in China. But one county’s plans to uniformly ban dog walking and kill the pets of rule-breaking owners has shocked the internet.
South Korea-based PUBG Corporation, which runs sleeper hit gaming title PUBG Mobile, announced last week that it plans to return to India, its largest market by users. But its announcement did not address a key question: Is India, which banned the app in September, on the same page?
The company says it will locally store Indian users’ data, open a local office and release a new game created especially for the world’s second-largest internet market. To sweeten the deal, PUBG Corporation also plans to invest $100 million in India’s gaming, esports and IT ecosystems.
But PUBG’s announcement, which TechCrunch reported as imminent last week, is treading in uncharted territory and it remains unclear if its efforts allay the concerns raised by the government.
Since late June, the Indian government has banned more than 200 apps — including PUBG Mobile, TikTok and UC Browser, all of which identified India as their biggest market by users — with links to China.
New Delhi says it enforced the ban over cybersecurity concerns. The government had received complaints about the apps stealing user data and transmitting it to servers abroad, the nation’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said at the time. The banned apps are “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India,” it added.
KRAFTON, the parent firm of PUBG Corporation, inked a deal with Microsoft to store users’ data of PUBG Mobile and its other properties on Azure servers. Microsoft has three cloud regions in India. Prior to the move, PUBG Mobile data concerning Indian users was stored on Tencent Cloud. In addition, PUBG said it is committed to conducting periodic audits of its Indian users’ data.
In India, PUBG has also cut publishing ties with Chinese giant Tencent, its publisher and distributor in many markets. This has allowed PUBG Corporation to regain the publishing rights of its game in India.
At face value, it appears that PUBG Corporation has resolved the issues that the Indian government had raised. But industry executives say that meeting those concerns is perhaps not all it would take to return to the country.
Here’s where things get complicated.
Not a single app India has blocked in the country has made its comeback yet. Some firms such as TikTok have been engaging with the Indian government for more than four months and have promised to make investments in the country, but they are still not out of the woods.
PUBG Corporation, too, has not revealed when it plans to release the new game in India. “More information about the launch of PUBG Mobile India will be shared at a later day,” it said in a statement last Thursday. According to a popular YouTuber who publishes gameplay videos on PUBG Mobile, the company has privately released the installation file of the new game and has hinted that it plans to release the game in India as soon as Friday. (There’s also a big marketing campaign in the works, which could begin on Friday, people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.)
If you want to know what the future of finance looks like, head east, where it’s already been laid down in China. Digital payments through mobile phones are ubiquitous, and there is incredible innovation around lending, investments and digital currencies that are at the vanguard of global financial innovation.
Take the cover photo of this article: At Alibaba, facial recognition software identifies customers at the employee cafeteria, while visual AI identifies foods on their tray and calculates a total bill — all pretty much instantly.
Given some of the big news stories emanating out of the sector the past two weeks, I wanted to get a deeper view on what’s happening in China’s fintech market and what that portends for the rest of the world moving forward. So I called up Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics who is writing a book on the development of China’s fintech sector to get his take on what’s happening and what it all means.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
TechCrunch: Why don’t we start with the big news from earlier this month about Ant Group and how its world-record shattering IPO was pulled at the last minute by Chinese financial regulators. What was your take and why were so many people trying to pile into the IPO?
Martin Chorzempa: I think there’s been surprise at how much interest there is in the company, and I think that’s just really an indication of the market for fintech in China. It’s certainly the world’s largest market for financial technology, and even though in the payments space things look pretty saturated between Ant and Tencent’s WeChat, there are so many areas that they’re expanding into, like credit and insurance, where there’s still a lot of room to run for these kinds of financial technologies to take over a much larger share of the financial system than they do now.
So even just considering the domestic market, it’s huge and it’s just going to get larger. Then, the big question mark is expanding abroad and whether these companies can become truly global financial technology giants. Today, nobody except Chinese people outside of China uses Alipay or WeChat Pay to pay for anything. So that’s a big unexplored side that I think is going to come into a lot of geopolitical risks.
So on globalization, who do these companies need to globalize? China has 1.3 billion people — isn’t that enough of a market to stay focused on?
Well, I don’t think anything’s ever enough for firms this ambitious. And if you think about it, if you have this really unique experience and data, that has a lot of applicability to other countries. So at the very least, it would be kind of a deadweight loss not to have that technology and experience applied to building out digital financial solutions in other countries.
Prior to the pandemic, Chinese people were going abroad in large numbers. So if you want to keep serving even the domestic market you have to have your payment methods accepted abroad.
Plus, if you want to facilitate and grow with China’s e-commerce businesses and other kinds of international trade, then having networks of merchants abroad and being able to use Alipay, for example, is something that could be really important to future growth. The domestic market is huge, but eventually you do run into diminishing returns if everybody already has your app and they’re already borrowing and investing.
It’s less about foreign policy than the culture wars.
Tech companies around the world are still identifying the “next big thing” enabled by 5G connections. Some, such as Oppo, are betting it will be augmented reality.
The Chinese smartphone firm showcased its progress in AR at a Tuesday event swarmed by hundreds of reporters, analysts, and partners in Shenzhen. Green strobe light, the color of its brand, beamed as vice president Liu Chang unveiled the Oppo AR Glass 2021, a lightweight headset slightly chunkier than regular glasses.
Still in the concept phase, the headset comes with fisheye cameras, tracks hands in milliseconds, and can supposedly simulate the experience of watching a 90-inch screen from three meters away.
The concept product is the result of Oppo’s three-year-plan, unveiled last year, to spend 50 billion yuan ($7.62 billion) on futuristic tech including AR.
Smartphone makers from Xiaomi to Huawei are embracing AR as they design headsets that can tether to smartphones, taking advantage of the latter’s computing power. The Oppo AR Glass 2021, for instance, is designed to link to the Oppo Find X2 Pro which contains a Snapdragon 865 chipset.
It’s unclear when Oppo’s AR glasses will hit the shelf, but the firm is actively building the ecosystem needed for mass-market adoption, from working with content providers like video streaming site iQiyi to launching a developer initiative next year to make development tools widely available.
At the same event, Oppo also flaunted a concept phone with a “scrolling” OLED screen that could make an alternative to existing foldable phones. Oppo declined to disclose who the display maker is.
Simon Han’s “Nights When Nothing Happened” exposes the tedium and tension of life as a foreigner in America.
Many say they are reassured because politicians and executives have been inoculated. But experts say the risks outweigh the benefits.
The Taiwanese chain RT-Mart apologized for a measurement chart in a store in the Chinese mainland that described bigger sizes as “Rotten,” “Extra Rotten” and “Rotten to the Core.”
AMP Robotics, the manufacturer of robotic recycling systems, has received its largest purchase order from the publicly traded North American waste handling company, Waste Connections.
The order, for 24 machine learning enabled robotic recycling systems, will be used on container, fiber and residue lines across numerous materials recovery facilities, the company said.
The AMP technology can be used to recover plastics, cardboard, paper, cans, cartons and many other containers and packaging types reclaimed for raw material processing.
The tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells, and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.
So far, AMP’s robots have been deployed in North America, Asia, and Europe with recent installations in Spain, and across the US in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.
In January, before the pandemic began, AMP Robotics worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that would provide residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits.
Working with the building and a waste hauler, Sidewalk Labs would transport the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash will be sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics. Once the waste is categorized, sorted, and recorded Sidewalk will communicate with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.
Sidewalk says that the tips will be communicated through email, an online portal, and signage throughout the building every two weeks over a three-month period.
For residents, it was an opportunity to have a better handle on what they can and can’t recycle and Sidewalk Labs is betting that the information will help residents improve their habits. And for folks who don’t want their trash to be monitored and sorted, they could opt out of the program.
Recyclers like Waste Connections should welcome the commercialization of robots tackling industry problems. Their once-stable business has been turned on its head by trade wars and low unemployment. About two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries. The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively.
At the same time, low unemployment rates are putting the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where humans are basically required to hand-sort garbage into recyclable materials and trash.
AMP Robotics is backed by Sequoia Capital, BV, Closed Loop Partners, Congruent Ventures and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, a spin-out from Alphabet that invests in technologies and new infrastructure projects.
Baidu said on Monday it is acquiring Joyy’s live streaming service YY Live in China for $3.6 billion in an all-cash deal as the Chinese internet giant makes further push to diversify beyond its core search business.
The announcement, which Baidu shared on the sidelines of its quarterly earnings, is the Chinese firm’s biggest foray into the growing market of video streaming. It comes at a time when the company has been struggling to fight new comers such as ByteDance.
YY has amassed over 4 million paying subscribers who watch influencers perform and sell a range of items on the video app. The streaming service last year bought stake worth $1.45 billion in Bigo, a Singapore-based startup that operates streaming apps Bigo Live and Like in a push to expand outside of China.
YY today is only selling its China business to Baidu. The closing of the transaction is subject to certain conditions and is currently expected to occur in the first half of 2021, Baidu said.
“This transaction will catapult Baidu into a leading platform for live streaming and diversify our revenue source.” said Robin Li, co-founder and chief executive of Baidu, in a statement.
“YY Live stands to benefit from Baidu’s large traffic and thriving mobile ecosystem, while Baidu will receive immediate operational experience and knowhow for large-scale video-based social media development, as well as an enviable creator network that will further strengthen Baidu’s massive content provider network. Together with the team from YY Live, Baidu hopes to explore the next-generation livestreaming and video-based social media that can expand beyond entertainment into the diversified verticals on Baidu platform.”
More to follow…
Ride Vision, an Israeli startup that is building an AI-driven safety system to prevent motorcycle collisions, today announced that it has raised a $7 million Series A round led by crowdsourcing platform OurCrowd. YL Ventures, which typically specializes in cybersecurity startups but also led the company’s $2.5 million seed round in 2018, Mobilion VC and motorcycle mirror manufacturer Metagal also participated in this round. The company has now raised a total of $10 million.
In addition to this new funding round, Ride Vision also today announced a new partnership with automotive parts manufacturer Continental .
“As motorcycle enthusiasts, we at Ride Vision are excited at the prospect of our international launch and our partnership with Continental,” Uri Lavi, CEO and co-founder of Ride Vision, said in today’s announcement. “This moment is a major milestone, as we stride toward our dream of empowering bikers to feel truly safe while they enjoy the ride.”
The general idea here is pretty straightforward and comparable with the blind-spot monitoring system in your car. Using computer vision, Ride Vision’s system, the Ride Vision 1, analyzes the traffic around a rider in real time. It provides forward collision alerts and monitors your blind spot, but it can also tell you when you’re following another rider or car too closely. It can also simply record your ride and, coming soon, it’ll be able to make emergency calls on your behalf when things go awry.
As the company argues, the number of motorcycles (and other motorized two-wheeled vehicles) has only increased during the pandemic, as people started avoiding public transport and looked for relatively affordable alternatives. In Europe, sales of two-wheeled vehicles increased by 30% during the pandemic.
The hardware on the motorcycle itself is pretty straightforward. It includes two wide-angle cameras (one each at the front and rear), as well as alert indicators on the mirrors, as well as the main computing unit. Ride Vision has patents on its human-machine warning interface and vision algorithms.
It’s worth noting that there are some blind-spot monitoring solutions for motorcycles on the market already, including those from Innovv and Senzar. Honda also has patents on similar technologies. These do not provide the kind of 360-degree view that Ride Vision is aiming for.
Ride Vision says its products will be available in Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, France, Greece, Israel and the U.K. in early 2021, with the U.S., Brazil, Canada, Australia, Japan, India, China and others following later.
New Kim, a Belgian racing bird, set an auction record after a bidding war between two Chinese buyers.
Relations between Britain and China are tense, but Stephen Ellison, the British consul general in Chongqing, was hailed as a hero for saving a drowning woman.
For years, founders and investors in China had little interest in open source software because it did not seem like the most viable business model. Zilliz‘s latest financing round shows that attitude is changing. The three-year-old Chinese startup, which builds open source software for processing unstructured data, recently closed a Series B round of $43 million.
The investment, which catapults Zilliz’s to-date raise to over $53 million, is a sizable amount for any open source business around the world. Storied private equity firm Hillhouse Capital led the round joined by Trustbridge Partners, Pavilion Capital, and existing investors 5Y Capital (formerly Morningside) and Yunqi Partners.
Investors are going after Zilliz as they increasingly recognize open source as an effective software development strategy, Charles Xie, founder and CEO of Zilliz, told TechCrunch at an open source meetup in Shenzhen where he spoke as the first Chinese board chairperson for Linux Foundation’s AI umbrella, LF AI.
“Investors are seeing very good exits for open source companies around the world in recent years, from Elastic to MongoDB,” he added.
“When Starlord [Xie’s nickname] first told us his vision for data processing in the future digital age, we thought it was a crazy idea, but we chose to believe,” said 5Y Capital’s partner Liu Kai.
There’s one caveat for investing in the area: don’t expect to make money in the first 3 to 5 years. “But if you’re looking at an 8 to 10-year cycle, these [open source] companies can gain valuation at tens of billions of dollars,” Xie reckoned.
After six years as a software engineer at Oracle, Xie left the U.S. and headed home to start Zilliz in China. Like many Chinese entrepreneurs these days, Xie named his startup in English to mark the firm’s vision to be “global from day one.” While Zilliz set out in Shanghai, the goal is to relocate its headquarters to Silicon Valley when the firm delivers “robust technology and products” in the next 12 months, Xie said. China is an ideal starting point both for the cheaper engineering talents and the explosive growth of unstructured data — anything from molecular structure, people’s shopping behavior, audio information to video content.
“The amount of unstructured data in a region is in proportion to the size of its population and the level of its economic activity, so it’s easy to see why China is the biggest data source,” Xie observed.
On the other hand, China has seen rapid development in mobile internet and AI, especially in terms of real-life applications, which Xie argued makes China a suitable testing ground for data processing software.
So far Zilliz’s open source product Milvus has been “starred” over 4,440 times on GitHub and attracted some 120 contributors and 400 enterprise users around the world, half of whom are outside China. It’s done so without spending a penny on advertising; rather, user acquisition has come from its active participation on GitHub, Reddit, and other online developer communities.
Going forward, Zilliz plans to deploy its fresh capital in overseas recruitment, expanding its open source ecosystem, as well as research and development in its cloud-based products and services, which will eventually become a revenue driver as it starts monetizing in the second half of 2021.
The grisly death of a farmer, whose attack was streamed online, has shocked China, with many asking why the legal system failed to protect her.
The deal sealed on Sunday stands as a potent symbol of Beijing’s growing economic sway in Southeast Asia at a time of uncertainty over Washington’s economic ties with the region.
Trump shuffles the Pentagon leadership, raising anxieties more.
The U.S.-China relationship is at its lowest point in a half century, but there are also converging interests on global warming.
Close examination of horse remains has clarified the timeline of when equestrianism helped transform ancient Chinese civilization.
“We respect the choice of the American people,” a spokesman for the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, ending days of conspicuous silence about the election result.
The fate of TikTok in the United States got even more confusing this week. The U.S. Justice and Commerce Departments sent conflicting messages today about TikTok’s future, which is now up in the air with the upcoming administration transition.
The Department of Commerce said Thursday it would abide by an injunction issued October 30 by the District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania that would have blocked TikTok from operating in the U.S. starting from today. In a statement, the department said it is complying with the court’s order and its prohibition against TikTok “HAS BEEN ENJOINED, and WILL NOT GO INTO EFFECT, pending further legal developments.”
But on the same day, the Justice Department appealed the Pennsylvania court’s ruling just as it was set to go into effect.
But wait! It gets even more convoluted: another court–the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington–just set new deadlines in December for ByteDance, TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company, and the Trump administration, to file documents in a case involving a divestment order that would force ByteDance to sell TikTok to continue operating in the U.S.
ByteDance reached an agreement with Oracle and Walmart in September, but the future of the deal is also uncertain.
The Justice Department’s appeal is part of a lawsuit filed against the U.S. government on September 18 by three TikTok creators, Douglas Marland, Cosette Rinab and Alec Chambers. Each has more than a million followers on TikTok, which has about 100 million users in the U.S., and argues that a ban would impact their ability to earn a living from brand collaborations on the app.
On Oct. 30, Judge Wendy Beetlestone issued an injunction against the U.S. government’s restrictions. In her ruling, Beetlestone wrote that the “government’s own descriptions of the national security threat posted by the TikTok app are phrased in the hypothetical.”
This case is separate from the one ByteDance filed against the U.S. government in a federal appeals court in Washington D.C. Earlier this week, ByteDance asked that court to vacate the U.S. order forcing it to sell the app’s American operations. ByteDance told TechCrunch in a statement that without an extension on the November 12 deadline, it “[had] no choice but to file a petition in court to defend our rights and those of our more than 1,500 employees in the U.S.”
The Commerce Department’s statement today, along with the Justice Department’s appeal and the new deadlines in the divestment case, underscore the confusion about the future of the Trump administration’s actions against TikTok after President-Elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20.
While some analysts believe the Biden administration may give Chinese tech companies that were targeted under the current administration, including Huawei and ByteDance, a chance to re-negotiate with the government, that may take second priority as Biden deals with domestic issues, including the resurgence of COVID-19 in the U.S.
The ban, which affects companies including Huawei, China Mobile and China Telecom, is the administration’s first major move toward decoupling American financial markets from China.
Establishment lawmakers were already discussing which policies they could fast-track, while the pro-democracy camp pondered its next move.
Amazon on Thursday announced a lawsuit against over a dozen bad actors, including online influencers and other businesses, who attempted to evade Amazon’s anti-counterfeiting measures by promoting luxury counterfeit products on social media sites, like TikTok and Instagram, as well as on personal websites, then using Amazon seller accounts to fulfill those orders.
The suit alleges that defendants, Kelly Fitzpatrick and Sabrina Kelly-Krejci, conspired with sellers to run a scheme that involved posting side-by-side photos of a generic, non-branded product which could be found on Amazon, and a luxury counterfeit product. The text on the posting would read “Order this/Get this.”
The “Order this” pointed to a generic product being falsely advertised on Amazon. “Get this,” meanwhile, was referencing the luxury counterfeit products the consumer would receive instead.
By only posting generic product photos on Amazon.com directly, the defendants and the sellers they worked with, were aiming to bypass Amazon’s anti-counterfeiting measures while making claims about the counterfeit goods elsewhere across social media and the web. They also promoted the high quality of their luxury counterfeit goods using videos on Instagram, TikTok, and personal websites, and sent users to Amazon and other e-commerce websites, like DHgate, to transact.
Of note in this case is the fact that Fitzpatrick had been a member of Amazon’s Influencer Program while the counterfeiting scheme was underway. From Nov. 23, 2019 through March 6, 2020, she participated in the program under the username Kellyfitz02-20. When Amazon detected her activities, she was banned from the program and it closed her Associates account.
She then attempted to open new Associate accounts and continued to advertise the counterfeit items on social media, where she directed her followers to her own website for purchases, as well as to other e-commerce sites.
Instagram had shut down Fitzpatrick’s prior accounts, but she would create new ones when that occurred.
Though Fitzpatrick made her current Instagram account private, her website is still online where it shows her promoting the so-called “hidden links” on Amazon where consumers could buy the counterfeits.
Similarly, Kelly-Krejci used her website to direct users to “hidden links” on Amazon where they could buy counterfeit products, saying in one video, she “know[s] some people feel weird ordering from hidden links but in this case you will get something fabulous.”
The lawsuit alleges the defendants ran their schemes from around November 2019 through the filing of the complaint.
Investigators working on Amazon’s behalf were able to confirm the scheme by placing orders through the links and receiving the advertised counterfeit goods. The court filing shows several examples of these items, which included wallets, purses, belts, and sunglasses, which were designer dupes of brands like Gucci and Dior.
Among the other defendants in the case are businesses and sellers in China who helped source the dupes. In some cases, the sellers took steps to hide their identities and whereabouts from Amazon by using fake names and contact information and unregistered businesses, Amazon says..
Amazon has been working over the past several years to take a harder stance on counterfeiting, having acknowledging the practice harms consumer trust in its online store. In 2017, it launched the Amazon Brand Registry, which gives a rights owner tools to proactively locate and report infringing items. The following year, it launch a product serialization service, Transparency, that helps to eliminate counterfeits for enrolled products.
And last year, Amazon launched Project Zero, a self-service counterfeit removal tool for brands to remove counterfeit product listings on Amazon in minutes. Over 10,000 brands are now enrolled.
The retailer has increasingly engaged in lawsuits against counterfeiters as well, to dissuade others from participating in counterfeiting schemes.
The current lawsuit asks the court to ensure the defendants are barred from ever advertising, promoting and selling on Amazon, opening Amazon Vendor, Selling, and Associate accounts, aiding or abetting counterfeiters, and pay damages, attorneys’ fees, and other relief.
The K-pop band was accused of putting the cub at risk after the group posted video of its antics at a South Korean zoo.