TikTok, WeChat and the growing digital divide between the U.S. and China

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Over the past decade, the dynamic between Chinese and United States tech companies has undergone dramatic shifts. Once seen as a promising market for American companies, that narrative flipped as China’s tech innovation and investment power became increasingly evident, and the expanding reach of the Chinese Communist Party’s cybersecurity regulations fueled concerns about data privacy. For years, however, there still seemed to be room for a flow of ideas between the two countries. But that promise has eroded, against the backdrop of the tariff wars and, most recently, the Trump administration’s executive orders against TikTok and WeChat.

The U.S. Commerce Department was set to enforce the shutdown of TikTok and WeChat in the United States last weekend, but both apps got reprieves. In WeChat’s case, a U.S. district court judge issued a temporary stay against the ban, while TikTok owner ByteDance is in the process of finalizing a complicated deal with Oracle.

The TikTok and WeChat imbroglios underline how much America’s perception of Chinese tech has evolved. Not only is TikTok the first consumer app by a Chinese company to gain a major foothold in the United States, but it’s also had a significant impact on popular culture there. This would have been almost unimaginable just ten, or even five, years ago.

China as a target for expansion

For a long time, China, with its population of 1.4 billion people, was seen as a lucrative market by many foreign tech companies, even as government censorship began to expand. In 2003, China’s Ministry of Public Security launched the Golden Shield Project, commonly referred to as the Great Firewall of China, the apparatus that controls what overseas sites and apps Chinese internet users have access to. At first the Great Firewall mainly targeted access to Chinese-language sites with anti-Chinese Communist Party content. Then it began blocking more services.

A laptop computer screen in Beijing shows the homepage of Google.cn, 26 January 2006, a day after its debut in mainland China where the US online search engine launched a new service after agreeing to censor websites and content banned by the Beijing authorities (AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN)

A laptop computer screen in Beijing shows the homepage of Google.cn, 26 January 2006, a day after its debut in mainland China where the US online search engine launched a new service after agreeing to censor websites and content banned by the Beijing authorities (AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN)

Even as the Communist Party’s online censorship became more stringent, many American internet companies were still keen to expand into China. Perhaps the most prominent example from that era is Google, which added Chinese support to Google.com in 2000.

Though access to the search engine was spotty (according to a 2010 timeline from the Financial Times, this may have been because of “extensive filtering” by China’s licensed internet service providers) and it was briefly blocked in 2002, Google continued launching new services targeted to users in China, including a simplified Chinese language version of Google News.

Then in 2005, the company announced plans to set up a research and development center in China. The next year, it officially launched Google.cn. In order to do so, Google agreed to exclude search results on sensitive political topics, causing controversy.

Despite its concessions to the Chinese government, Google’s relationship with China began deteriorating, foreshadowing what other foreign tech companies, particularly those offering online services, would deal with when they tried to enter China. After being blocked on and off, access to YouTube was completely cut off in 2009 after footage was uploaded that appeared to show the brutal beatings of Tibetan protestors in Lhasa. That year, China also blocked access to Facebook and Twitter.

In January 2010, Google announced it was no longer willing to censor searches in China and would withdraw from the country if necessary. It also began redirecting all search queries on Google.cn to Google.com.hk.

But the company continued its R&D operations there and maintained a sales team. (In 2018, an investigation by The Intercept found that Google had started to work on a censored search engine for China again, code-named “Project Dragonfly”). Other big U.S. tech companies also continued courting China, even though their services were blocked there.

For example, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg made several trips to China in the mid-2010s, including a 2015 visit to Tsinghua University, a leading research university. Zuckerberg had joined the university’s board the previous year, and delivered several public talks in Mandarin. Speculation mostly focused on Facebook’s efforts to get a version of its service into China, but China-based companies were, and continue to be, one of Facebook’s most important sources of advertising revenue.

Chinese government policies designed to help domestic companies become more competitive also began to have an impact and by 2015, many American tech firms needed to find a local partner to enter China. The narrative that China needed American tech innovation began to turn on its head.

A shifting dynamic

Since Google Play was also blocked in China, that led the way for the rise of third-party Android app stores, including Chinese internet giant Tencent’s My App.

But Tencent’s most influential product is WeChat, the messenger that launched in 2011. Two years later, Tencent added mobile payments by integrating it with TenPay. In less than five years, WeChat became a vital part of daily life for hundreds of millions of users in China. WeChat Pay and Alibaba’s Alipay, its main competitor, have revolutionized payments in China, where about one-third of consumer payments are now cashless, according to research by think tank CGAP.

BEIJING, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 19: A Chinese customer uses his mobile to pay via a QR code with the WeChat app at a local market on September 19, 2020 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

BEIJING, CHINA – SEPTEMBER 19: A Chinese customer uses his mobile to pay via a QR code with the WeChat app at a local market on September 19, 2020 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

In 2017, Wechat launched “mini-programs,” that allows developers to create “apps within an app” that run on WeChat. The program took off quickly, and within less than two years, Tencent said it had reached one million mini-programs and 200 million daily users. Even Google quietly launched its own mini-program in 2018.

Despite its ubiquity in China, WeChat’s international presence is relatively small, especially when compared to other messengers like WhatsApp. WeChat claims more than one billion monthly active users in total, but only an estimated 100 million to 200 million are international users. Many are members of the Chinese diaspora who use it to keep in touch with family and associates in mainland China since many other popular messengers, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Line, are blocked there.

In the meantime, another company was gaining ascendancy, and would eventually succeed where Tencent hadn’t.

Founded in 2012 by Microsoft veteran Zhang Yiming, ByteDance had its own early run-ins with the Chinese government. The first app it launched, a social media platform called Neihan Duanzi that reached 200 million users by 2017, was shut down the next year after the National Radio and Television Administration accused it of hosting inappropriate content. Despite that early setback, ByteDance continued to grow, releasing apps like Toutiao, one of China’s top news aggregators.

But the product it is best known for launched in 2016. Called Douyin in China, ByteDance always planned to expand the short video-sharing app overseas. In an interview with Chinese tech news site 36Kr, Zhang said, “China is home to only one-fifth of the world’s internet users. If we don’t expand globally, we are bound to lose to our peers eyeing the rest of the world” — both echoing and contravening the viewpoint of U.S. internet companies that had seen China as a crucial market.

TikTok, the international version of Douyin, was launched in 2017. That year, ByteDance also bought Musical.ly, a lip-syncing app popular with teens, in a deal worth between $800 million to $1 billion. ByteDance merged Musical.ly with TikTok, consolidating their audiences.

By early 2019, TikTok had become popular among teens and people in their early 20s, though many older people still struggled to understand its appeal. But as TikTok was turning into a mainstay of Gen Z culture, it also began to face scrutiny by the U.S. government. In February 2019, the Federal Trade Commission fined TikTok $5.7 million for violating children’s privacy laws.

Then a few months later, the U.S. government reportedly began a national security review of TikTok, marking the first in a chain of events that led to Trump’s August executive order against the company, and ByteDance’s new, but confusing, agreement with “trusted technology partner” Oracle.

The impact of China’s 2017 cybersecurity law

The United States is not the only country where TikTok has been deemed a national security threat. In June, it was among 59 apps developed by Chinese companies banned in India for threatening the country’s “national security and defence.” It’s also under investigation by French data security watchdog CNIL over how it handles user data.

While some cybersecurity experts believe that TikTok’s data collection practices are similar to other social media apps that depend on targeted ads for revenue, the heart of the issue is a Chinese law, implemented in June 2017, that requires companies to comply with government requests for data stored in China. ByteDance has insisted repeatedly it would resist attempts by the Chinese government to access U.S. users’ data, which it says is stored in the United States and Singapore.

“Our data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law,” TikTok wrote in a October 2019 statement. “Further, we have a dedicated technical team focused on adhering to robust cybersecurity policies, and data privacy and security practices.”

In the same post, TikTok also addressed concerns that it censors content, including videos about the Hong Kong protests and China’s treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim groups. “We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period,” the company said.

WeChat and TikTok’s uncertain future in the U.S.

But as a Chinese company, ByteDance is ultimately still beholden to Chinese laws. Earlier this week, ByteDance said it will retain an 80% stake in TikTok, after selling a total of 20% to Oracle and Walmart. Then Oracle executive vice president Ken Glueck said that Oracle and Walmart would make their investment upon the creation of a new entity called TikTok Global. He added that ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.

This creates more questions, but doesn’t answer the most pressing one: how close will the U.S. version of TikTok remain to ByteDance, and will it still be subject to the Chinese cybersecurity regulations that cause so much concern?

Around the same time that ByteDance’s proposed deal with Oracle and Walmart was announced, a U.S. district court judge temporarily stayed the nationwide ban on WeChat, as part of a case brought against the U.S. government by the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, a nonprofit organization initiated by attorneys who want to preserve access to WeChat for users in America. In her opinion, Judge Laurel Beeler wrote, “while the government has established that China’s activities raise significant national-security concerns—it has put in scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all U.S. users addresses those concerns.”

On its site, the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance said it believes Trump’s August 6 executive order against WeChat “violates many provisions of the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act.” Furthermore, the group argued that a WeChat ban would “severely affect the lives and the work of millions of people in the U.S.” who use WeChat to talk to family, friends and business associates in China.

While WeChat is heavily censored, users have often found ingenious ways to bypass bans on topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese government. For example, people used emojis, PDFs and fictional languages like Klingon to share an interview with Ai Fen, the director of Wuhan Central Hospital’s emergency department and one of the first whistleblowers to sound the alarm about COVID-19 even as the government attempted to stifle information about the disease.

The growing divide

The U.S. government’s actions against TikTok and WeChat are taking place against an increasingly fraught political landscape. Huawei and ZTE were first identified as potential threats to U.S. national security in a 2012 bipartisan House committee report, but legal actions against Huawei, one of the world’s biggest telecom equipment suppliers, escalated under the Trump administration. These include criminal charges brought against Huawei by the Department of Justice, and the arrest and indictment of chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.

The U.S. government’s actions in the name of national security doesn’t just affect the Chinese government or China’s biggest companies. It also impacts individuals, as in the case of increasingly stringent visa restrictions for Chinese students.

At the same time, the Great Firewall has become more restrictive under President Xi Jinping’s regime and China’s cybersecurity laws are becoming increasingly invasive, granting the government even more access to citizens’ data. Increasingly sophisticated surveillance technology has been used to monitor Uighurs and other ethnic minorities, and a crackdown on VPN services that began escalating in 2017 is making it harder for people in China to circumvent the Great Firewall.

When compared to these social issues, the future of a video-sharing app might seem relatively minor. But it underscores one of the most unsettling developments in the relationship between U.S. and China over the past ten years.

In a prescient 2016 Washington Post article titled “America wants to believe China can’t innovate. Tech tells a different story,” Emily Rauhala wrote “China’s tech scene is flourishing in a parallel universe.” TikTok’s deep cultural impact gave a glimpse of what is possible when two parallel universes connect. Along with geopolitical tensions, the furore over TikTok and WeChat uncovers something else: that the exchange of ideas and information between people in two of the world’s most powerful countries is becoming increasingly restricted due to circumstances beyond their control.

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Pure Watercraft ramps up its electric outboard motors with a $23M series A

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Electric power only started making sense for land vehicles about ten years ago, but now the technology is ready to make the jump into the water. Pure Watercraft hopes that its electric outboard motor can replace a normal gas one for most boating needs under 50 HP — and it just raised $23.4M to hit the throttle.

Pure’s outboard works much like a traditional one, but runs on a suitcase-sized battery pack and is, of course, almost silent except for the sound of the turbulence. It’s pretty much a drop-in replacement for an outboard you’d use on a 10-20 foot boat meant for fishing or puttering around the lake, though the price tag looks a little different.

Founder and CEO Andy Rebele started the company in 2011, and it turns out they had shown up a bit early to the party. “The Model S had not yet been released; the plan of making boats electric was not really fundable,” he told me.

Rebele kept the company going with his own money and a bit of low-key funding in 2016, though he admits now that it was something of a leap of faith.

“You have to bet that this small market will become a big market,” he said. “We developed our entire battery pack architecture, and it took — it’s obvious at this point — millions of dollars to get where we are. But our investors are buying into a leader in the electrification of an entirely new sector of transportation that hasn’t gotten the same attention as cars and trucks.”

A boat with an electric outboard motor cruising on a lake.

Image Credits: Pure Watercraft

They haven’t been wasting time. Pure claims an energy density — how much power is packed into every kilogram — of 166 watt-hours per kilogram, meeting industry leader Tesla and beating plenty of other automotive battery makers. Users can easily add on a second pack or swap in a fresh one. The cells themselves are sourced from Panasonic, like Tesla’s and many others are, but assembling them into an efficient, robust, and in this case waterproof pack is something a company can still do better than its competition.

Having plenty of power is crucial for boats, since they use up so much of it to fight against the constant resistance of the water. The amount of power it takes to go a kilometer in a car is a fraction of what it takes to do so in a boat. Even boats designed for electric from the ground up, like those from Zin, face fundamental limits on their capabilities simply because of physics.

Rebele is aiming for the allure of simplicity. “The most popular outboard motor in the world is 40 horsepower,” he pointed out, and a replacement for that type of motor is exactly what Pure makes. “The mistake car companies made was saying, here’s the electric car market; it’s small, we tried it,” he said. Then Tesla came along with a great car that just happened to be electric.

It’s the same with boating, he suggested — sure, there are lots of different kinds of boats, and motors, and hull materials, and so on. But if Pure offers a motor that’s just as good or better than what powers a huge number of small boats, and just happens to be electric, it starts to sell itself.

Pure Watercraft's battery box.

Image Credits: Pure Watercraft

“We can’t count on people picking our product to save the world,” Rebele said. “The tipping point comes when you have a critical mass of people for whom a good selfish choice is to go electric.”

The benefits, after all, are easy to enumerate: It’s silent, which is great for fishing or social boating; It fills up for a buck or two at any outlet; It’s extremely low maintenance, having vastly fewer parts than a tiny gas engine; And of course it doesn’t spew fumes and particulates into the water and air like most of the depressingly dirty motors currently in use.

The only real advantage left to gas is initial cost and range. If you’re willing to spend some money for a better product, then cost isn’t as much of an issue. And if like most boaters you’re only going to ever go a few miles per trip, the range isn’t an issue. If you’re fishing or just cruising around a lake, it’ll last you all day. The people for whom electric isn’t an option will quickly realize that, while the others will find it increasingly hard to resist the idea.

Pure Watercraft's electric outboard motor lifted out of the water

Image Credits: Pure Watercraft

There’s still a good amount of sticker shock. A good new outboard in the 20-50 HP range runs a few thousand dollars to start, and marine gas costs add up quick; the Pure motor comes in a combo deal with the charger system and one battery pack for $16,500 (additional packs cost about $8,000). They’re working with some boat manufacturers to do complete boat deals for 30 grand or less, but it’s still firmly in the high end for the “outboard on a 2-6 person boat” crowd.

The $23.4 million A round, led by L37 and a number of individuals (including some Amazon execs and , is aimed squarely at spinning up production. After implementing the changes to the “beta” product they’ve been testing with, the first thousand Pure motors will be built in Seattle, where the company is based. The company has essentially finished R&D, so there’s little question of putting off customers for a few years while the product is engineered — and Rebele said they had no intent to build another for now.

“We make this product, at this power level, and that’s all,” he said. The company’s focus makes for good engineering and, hopefully, good margins. Pure should be shipping its motors in time for the 2021 boating season.

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Mark Cuban, Marc Benioff, Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi are investing in toilet paper

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A slew of big name entrepreneurs and celebrities are really circling the drain with their latest investment.

Led by Greycroft Partners, a who’s who of celebrity investors including: Mark Cuban, Marc Benioff, Iron Man and Pepper Potts (er… Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow), Uber’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary’s Sound Ventures, and  Code.org founder Hadi Partovi are investing $3 million into the new toilet paper brand Cloud Paper. (Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Ciara, serial-entrepreneur Grant Ries, Muse Capital, Ashley and Marc Merrill and The Chainsmokers’ Mantis Ventures are also backing the company)

Why? Because they’re hoping to save the environment.

Founded by Ryan Fritsch and Austin Watkins, two former employees of Khosrowshahi’s at Uber who went on to take roles at the logistics startup Convoy, Cloud Paper is one of several companies trying to get consumers to make the switch to bamboo-based toilet paper. But it may be the only one to get such high profile investors to flush it with wads of cash.

A year-and-a-half in the making, Cloud Paper began when the two colleagues started talking about launching their own business, but one that could have an immediate impact on the climate crisis they saw as the most pressing societal issue.

Image Credit: Cloud Paper

They settled on toilet paper because of its massive contribution to deforestation, a key contributing factor to climate change. According to statistics provided by the company 15% of deforestation is due to toilet paper production alone and roughly 40,000 trees are cut down for US consumers to wipe up (with toilet paper and paper towels. The company estimates that an average household could save over 250 trees by switching to bamboo based toilet paper (ideally theirs).

“We wanted Cloud Paper to be a force for good in the world,” said Watkins. “We wanted to find something similar to taxis and trucking in terms of the size of the market and something that could have a really big impact onthe community and the environment from day one.”

To ensure that impact the company is offsetting twice the amount of carbon emissions that are generated from its business operations and has done so since day one, the founders said.

Currently, the company sells directly to businesses, which were its initial market, and has recently launched a direct to consumer service where its sells its bamboo toilet paper at a cost of $28 for 24 rolls. A price point roughly in line with the industry’s going rate for rolls.

“We have been investing in several companies over the last five to ten years that have been in this vein,” said Greycroft venture partner Alison Lange Engel. What compelled the firm to back Fritsch and Watkins was the background in logistics and consumer products and the business-to-business focus that the two entrepreneurs initially went to market with, Engel said.

And the selection of bamboo as the source product was no accident. “Bamboo sequester more carbon and releases more oxygen,” said Fritsch. “It’s a magical plant to keep growing and harvesting… especially when the alternative is an old growth forest.”

 

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Sadiq Khan’s 15-point plan for curbing Covid hike in London

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Sadiq Khan

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Mayor to discuss proposals with PM as new data shows infection rates in much of city top those in other areas already in lockdowns

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Sadiq Khan

Mayor to discuss proposals with PM as new data shows infection rates in much of city top those in other areas already in lockdowns


In Depth

Gabriel Power

Tuesday, September 22, 2020 – 12:25pm

London Mayor Sadiq Khan is meeting with Boris Johnson to discuss tough new lockdown restrictions aimed at tackling a steep hike in coronavirus infections in the capital.

In a statement yesterday, Khan announced that he had “just met with local council leaders from all parties and public health experts to agree a new London plan to slow the spread of the virus and save Londoners’ lives”.

This morning, the mayor tweeted that he would “be speaking to the prime minister shortly” to discuss “the measures we need in London to protect our city” and would update residents “on the next steps as soon as I can”. 

How bad are London infection rates?

Khan warned on Friday that the introduction of new social distancing measures in London was becoming “increasingly likely”, adding that he was “extremely concerned” by the latest evidence from public health experts about the rising rate of Covid cases in the capital.

The i news site reports that the number of cases per 100,000 people “has jumped from 18.8 to around 25” in just a week, and “is thought to be above 30 in at least a dozen boroughs”.

According to HuffPost, new modelling shown to the mayor “suggests that London is no longer two weeks behind hotspots like the Northeast and greater Manchester”, but is instead just “two or three days behind”.

Indeed, data from Public Health England’s most recent watchlist indicates that London should already be under lockdown. The list shows that the authority in England with the lowest case rate per 100,000 that is still considered an “area of intervention” – the highest degree of concern – is Ribble Valley, with a rate of 18.3.

“But Kensington and Chelsea, Enfield and Southwark, among others, have infection rates higher than that,” says the Daily Mail, which reports that “Redbridge (34.2), Hounslow (32.5) and Barking and Dagenham (29.3) are the three worst-hit parts of the capital”. 

The new data reveals that infection rates in a total of 20 London boroughs are higher than areas of England already hit by restrictions. 

In his statement on Monday, Khan said that “without adequate testing or contact tracing in London, we have no choice but to look at other measures to slow the spread of the virus”. A “mayoral source” told HuffPost that such measures could “potentially prevent the need for a fuller lockdown like we saw in March, which could seriously damage the economy once again”.

So what are Khan’s proposals?

The mayor has reportedly suggested 15 measures to curb the outbreak in London, including the use of face masks in more settings, further restrictions on weddings and funerals, and encouraging more people to work from home.

Speaking to Sky News after meeting with council leaders and health experts on Monday, Khan also hinted that limitations on the times that bars and restaurants can be open, such as a 10pm curfew, should be brought in –  a rule that is now set to be imposed nationwide, under measures being announced by Boris Johnson today.

The broadcaster adds that the London mayor has “suggested face masks could be used by all staff members and customers in hospitality under the potential restrictions”.

However, Khan said the new package of measures did not include more limitations on households mixing with each other, although there could be changes relating to the ban on social gatherings of more than six people.

“What we know in London, the way it’s spread in our city is different to how it’s spread in other parts of the country,” he explained.

As Khan prepares to fully outline his plans, he is urging the government to “learn from the mistakes of the first wave”.

In his statement yesterday, the mayor said: “I know that many Londoners, like me, will be deeply frustrated at the likelihood of imminent new restrictions. Londoners have shown incredible resolve by steadfastly following the rules and doing the right thing – at great cost.

“However, taking firm action now to prevent a deeper and longer lockdown in the future is without a doubt the best thing to both save lives, and protect jobs and our economic recovery.”



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TikTok says it removed 104M videos in H1 2020, proposes harmful content coalition with other social apps

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As the future of ByteDance’s TikTok ownership continues to get hammered out between tech leviathans, investors and government officials in meeting rooms, the video app today published its latest transparency report. In all, over 104.5 million videos were taken down; it had nearly 1,800 legal requests; and received 10,600 copyright takedown notices for the first half of this year.

Alongside that, and possibly to offset the high numbers of illicit videos and to also coincide with an appearance today in front of a parliamentary committee in the UK over harmful content, TikTok also announced a new initiative — potentially in partnership with other social apps — against harmful content.

The figures in the transparency report underscore an important aspect around the impact of the popular app. The government may want to shut down TikTok over national security concerns (unless ByteDance finds a new non-Chinese controlling structure that satisfies lawmakers).

But in reality, just like other social media apps, TikTok has another not-insignificant fire to fight: it is grappling with a lot of illegal and harmful content published and shared on its platform, and as it continues to grow in popularity (it now has more than 700 million users globally), that problem will also continue to grow.

That’s something TikTok sees will be an ongoing issue for the company, regardless of how its ownership unfolds outside of China. While one of the big issues around TikTok’s ownership has been related to its algorithms and whether these can or will be part of any deal, the company has tried to make other efforts to appear more open with regards to how it works. Earlier this year it opened a transparency center in the US that it said would help experts observe and vet how it moderates content.

TikTok said that the 104,543,719 total videos that TikTok removed globally for violating either community guidelines or its terms of service made up less than 1% of all videos uploaded on TikTok, which gives you some idea of the sheer scale of the service. 

The volume of videos that are getting taken down have more than doubled over the previous six months, a reflection of how the total volume of videos has also doubled.

In the second half of 2019, the company took down more than 49 million videos, according to the last transparency report published by the company (I don’t know why exactly, but it took a lot longer to publish that previous transparency report, which came out in July 2020.) The proportion of total videos taken down was roughly the same as in the previous six months (“less than 1%”).

TikTok said that 96.4% of the total number were removed before they were reported, with 90.3% removed before they received any views. It doesn’t specify if these were found via automated systems or by human moderators, or a mix of both, but it sounds like it made a switch to algorithm-based moderation at least in some markets:

“As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we relied more heavily on technology to detect and automatically remove violating content in markets such as India, Brazil, and Pakistan,” it noted.

The company notes that the biggest category of removed videos was around adult nudity and sexual activities, at 30.9%, with minor safety at 22.3% and illegal activities at 19.6%. Other categories included suicide and self harm, violent content, hate speech and dangerous individuals. (And videos could count in more than one category, it noted.)

The biggest origination market for removed videos is the one in which TikTok has been banned (perhaps unsurprisingly): India took the lion’s share of videos at 37,682,924. The US, on the other hand, accounted for 9,822,996 (9.4%) of videos removed, making it the second-largest market.

Currently, it seems that misinformation and disinformation are not the main ways that TikTok is getting abused, but they are still significant numbers: some 41,820 videos (less than 0.5% of those removed in the US) violated TikTok’s misinformation and disinformation policies, the company said.

Some 321,786 videos (around 3.3% of US content removals) violated its hate speech policies.

Legal requests, it said, are on the rise, with 1,768 requests for user information from 42 countries/markets in the first six months of the year, with 290 (16.4%) coming from US law enforcement agencies, including 126 subpoenas, 90 search warrants and 6 court orders. In all, it had 135 requests from government agencies to restrict or remove content from 15 countries/markets.

TikTok said that the harmful content coalition is based on a proposal that Vanessa Pappas, the acting head of TikTok in the US, sent out to nine executives at other social media platforms. It doesn’t specify which, nor what the response was. We are asking and will update as we learn more.

Social media coalition proposal

Meanwhile, the letter, published in full by TikTok and reprinted below, underscores a response to current thinking around how proactive and successful social media platforms have been in trying to curtail some of the abuse of their platforms. It’s not the first effort of this kind — there have been several other attempts like this one where multiple companies, erstwhile competitors for consumer engagement, come together with a united front to tackle things like misinformation.

This one specifically is identifying non-political content and coming up with a “collaborative approach to early identification and notification amongst industry participants of extremely violent, graphic content, including suicide.” The MOU proposed by Pappas suggested that social media platforms communicate to keep each other notified of the content — a smart move, considering how much gets shared across multiple platforms, from other platforms.

The company’s efforts on the harmful content coalition is one more example of how social media companies are trying to take their own initiative and show that they are trying to be responsible, a key way of lobbying governments to stay out of regulating them. With Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others continue to be in hot water over the content that is shared over their platforms — despite their attempts to curb abuse and manipulation — it’s unlikely that this will be the final word on any of this.

Full memo below:

Recently, social and content platforms have once again been challenged by the posting and cross-posting of explicit suicide content that has affected all of us – as well as our teams, users, and broader communities.

Like each of you, we worked diligently to mitigate its proliferation by removing the original content and its many variants, and curtailing it from being viewed or shared by others. However, we believe each of our individual efforts to safeguard our own users and the collective community would be boosted significantly through a formal, collaborative approach to early identification and notification amongst industry participants of extremely violent, graphic content, including suicide.

To this end, we would like to propose the cooperative development of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will allow us to quickly notify one another of such content.

Separately, we are conducting a thorough analysis of the events as they relate to the recent sharing of suicide content, but it’s clear that early identification allows platforms to more rapidly respond to suppress highly objectionable, violent material.

We are mindful of the need for any such negotiated arrangement to be clearly defined with respect to the types of content it could capture, and nimble enough to allow us each to move quickly to notify one another of what would be captured by the MOU. We also appreciate there may be regulatory constraints across regions that warrant further engagement and consideration.

To this end, we would like to convene a meeting of our respective Trust and Safety teams to further discuss such a mechanism, which we believe will help us all improve safety for our users.

We look forward to your positive response and working together to help protect our users and the wider community.

Sincerely,

Vanessa Pappas
Head of TikTok

More to come.

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Future of aviation: Airbus to develop world’s first zero-emission aircraft

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Airbus ZEROe concept aircraft

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European aerospace giant aims to launch the hydrogen-fuelled passenger planes by 2035

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Airbus
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Airbus ZEROe concept aircraft

European aerospace giant aims to launch the hydrogen-fuelled passenger planes by 2035


One-Minute Read

Mike Starling

Tuesday, September 22, 2020 – 10:41am

Airbus has announced ambitious plans to develop the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft. 

Unveiling the designs of the three ZEROe concept planes, the European aerospace giant set a target date of 2035 for the hydrogen-fuelled carriers to take to the skies.

The hi-tech trio of aircraft are all hydrogen-hybrids. “This means they are powered by modified gas-turbine engines that burn liquid hydrogen as fuel,” says Airbus in a statement on the multinational’s website.

“At the same time, they also use hydrogen fuel cells to create electrical power that complements the gas turbine, resulting in a highly efficient hybrid-electric propulsion system.”  

Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury says the ZEROe concepts mark a “historic moment” for the commercial aviation sector, the BBC reports. And the use of hydrogen had the potential to “significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact”, by reducing carbon emissions, he added. 

The combination of the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and jet fuel price hikes has seen the aviation sector hit a turbulent patch in recent years.  

In late June, after calculating the economic costs of what the Financial Times describes as this “difficult time”, Airbus announced plans to cut around 15,000 jobs – including 1,700 in the UK – from its commercial aircraft division by mid-2021. 

But despite the many challenges facing the sector, Airbus engineers are focusing on developing their new “greener” aircraft. 

Presenting the new designs, Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus VP Zero-Emission Aircraft, said: “As recently as five years ago, hydrogen propulsion wasn’t even on our radar as a viable emission-reduction technology pathway. Today, we’re excited by the incredible potential hydrogen offers aviation in terms of disruptive emissions reduction.” 

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Video of Introducing #ZEROe
Development and prototypes

To meet the ambitious 2035 target, Airbus will need to launch the ZEROe aircraft programme by 2025, to give the company’s engineers enough time to mature all of the required hydrogen technologies. 

Over the coming months, several hydrogen demonstrator programmes, which will test hydrogen fuel cell and hydrogen combustion technologies, are expected to be launched. A full-scale aircraft prototype is scheduled to arrive by the late 2020s.

Jean-Brice Dumont, Airbus executive vice president engineering, said: “The ZEROe will be the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft. As an engineer, I can’t think of working on anything more exciting than that.”

Airbus ZEROe infographic

In pictures: ZEROe concept aircraft

Airbus Turbofan ZEROe concept aircraft

Turbofan

Two hybrid hydrogen turbofan engines provide thrust. The liquid hydrogen storage and distribution system is located behind the rear pressure bulkhead. The Turbofan is designed to carry up to 200 passengers and have a range of more than 2,000 miles.

Airbus Turboprop ZEROe concept aircraft

Turboprop

Similar to the turbofan aircraft, this concept’s liquid hydrogen storage and distribution system is located behind the rear pressure bulkhead. However, two hybrid hydrogen turboprop engines, which drive the six-bladed propellers, provide thrust. The aircraft will carry 100 passengers and have a range of more than 1,000 miles. 

Airbus Blended-Wing Body (BWB) ZEROe concept aircraft

Blended-Wing Body (BWB)

This configuration features an exceptionally wide interior, which opens up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution. In this example, the liquid hydrogen storage tanks are stored underneath the wings. Like the Turbofan aircraft, two hybrid hydrogen turbofan engines provide thrust. The BWB will carry up to 200 passengers and have a range of more than 2,000 miles. 

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UK can avoid lockdowns by ‘outsmarting’ Covid, says top German virologist

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NHS coronavirus

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Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images
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NHS coronavirus

Leading expert calls for end to ‘alarmism’ as death rates fall despite spikes in infections


One-Minute Read

Joe Evans

Tuesday, September 22, 2020 – 9:52am

One of Germany’s most senior virologists is claiming that the UK can curb a second spike in coronavirus cases without a nationwide lockdown.

Professor Hendrik Streeck, director of Germany’s Institute of Virology at Bonn University, has called for end to “all this alarmism” over rising infections, adding: “We can outsmart the virus using all our knowledge.”

In other words, his “trenchant advice” to the public and government ministers is to “hold your nerve, and don’t succumb to the pervasive mood of mass hysteria”, The Telegraph says.

“We have to realise that Covid-19 is going to be with us for a long time and we must learn to live with it. We can’t keep shutting down our daily lives and paralysing everything,” Streeck, who supported Germany’s first lockdown, told the newspaper.  

“I neither trivialise the virus, nor do a dramatise it. We must find a proper balance,” he added. “I am convinced that changes in behaviour have had a huge impact on the disease.”

Streeck says that social distancing, better hygiene regimes and face masks mean “people are getting infected with a lower dose” and have “brought down the viral load”. Citing low death rates in countries that have reported recent increases in cases, he argues that “you have to look at what is happening in the medical wards and intensive care beds. That is a much better guide to this pandemic.”

The top virologist’s intervention came as Christian Drosten, the professor who led coronavirus-test research at Berlin’s Charite Hospital, told the German Press Agency that he believes Germany could and would also avoid another nationwide lockdown, “because we already know some things better”.

However, “Drosten believes that some areas of work and personal life could face new restrictions, adding that Germany should not think it will escape a rise in infections like other EU countries”, Yahoo! News reports.

Germany, which has been heralded as a pandemic success story, has reported 276,665 coronavirus cases to date, with 9,400 deaths, according to latest figures.

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Vlogger ‘spots giant robots at Area 51’

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Area 51, Nevada

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The infamous military test site is around 150 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada

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Getty Images
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Area 51, Nevada

And other stories from the stranger side of life


One-Minute Read

Chas Newkey-Burden

Tuesday, September 22, 2020 – 6:32am

An Area 51 fanatic claims that scientists have built an army of giant robots at the secretive base. UFO vlogger Scott C. Waring said he could see the arms and legs of the 53ft tall “giant robot” in Area 51 using Google Earth. One viewer was convinced, saying: “They’re getting ready to fight the giants.” However, another said that what Waring was seeing was “just shadows”.

Human footprints from 120,000 years ago found

Sets of 120,000-year-old human footprints have been discovered in Saudi Arabia. Researchers believe that the set of seven human footprints, found around an ancient dry lake in the northern region of Tabuk, belong to at least two people. They also think they belong to modern humans, rather than Neanderthals, who aren’t known to have been in the region at the time.

Man sues Starbucks for stinging genitals  

A California man is suing Starbucks, saying his genitals, stomach and hands were severely burned by scalding tea after a lid fell off a cup. Tommy Piluyev’s lawsuit claims that he suffered “partial-thickness burns with blistering across the lower left abdomen, thighs, penis, scrotum, peritoneum and buttocks” by the time he arrived at hospital.

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Ferrari Portofino M: a fresh start for the Prancing Horse

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Ferrari Portofino M

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Ferrari
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Ferrari Portofino M

The upgraded drop-top GT is sportier than its predecessor, with more power and a new gearbox


One-Minute Read

Mike Starling

Tuesday, September 22, 2020 – 9:13am

Ferrari made history last week when the Portofino M became the first ever car to be premiered entirely online by the Italian marque. 

The new drop-top, which is an upgraded version of the Portofino GT spider, marks a fresh starting point for the Prancing Horse and is the first Ferrari to be unveiled in the wake of the company’s temporary closure amid the Covid-19 crisis. 

The “M” in its moniker stands for “Modificata”, which in Ferrari terms refers to cars that have undergone an evolution that has significantly boosted their performance.

The Italian marque says there is “no shortage of technical innovation” in the new Portofino. The most notable include a redesigned powertrain, a brand-new eight-speed gearbox, and a five-position Manettino dial that includes a Race mode – a first for a Maranello GT spider. 

Those changes aside, the latest update of Ferrari’s Portofino GT Spider is a fairly “mild one”, says The Luxe Review, but “nobody really needs a second excuse to gaze upon one of the most beautiful two-seaters on the planet”.

How much will it cost?

The Portofino M is priced from €206,000 (£188,000), which is “just under £24,000 more expensive than the standard Portofino it will replace”, says Autocar. Deliveries will commence in mid-2021.

Video of A voyage of rediscovery: the Ferrari Portofino M is unveiled
Engine and performance

The biggest changes to the convertible grand tourer are under the skin, with the power of the 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 boosted to 612bhp (up from 592bhp). While that “gentle boost in power is always welcome”, the Portofino M “sprints no faster” than its predecessor, covering 0-62mph in 3.45 seconds and 0-124mph in 9.8 seconds, with a top speed of 198mph says Car magazine

The eight-speed gearbox is completely different from the previous seven-speed version, however. By contrast to the SF90 Stradale’s eight-speed transmission, the Portofino M unit has longer gear ratios and gets a mechanical reverse gear. The new layout and integration of its components have also optimised the gearbox’s size and its installation in the car.

Meanwhile, the five-position Manettino dial, located on the steering wheel, is intended to make the new model’s handling and grip “even more accessible by extending the setting ranges further with the introduction of the Race position”, according to Ferrari.

The Manettino’s five positions and performance goals are: Wet (maximum stability and control); Comfort (normal use on dry roads); Sport (sporty driving); Race (maximises driving pleasure); ESC-Off (VDC and F1-TCS both deactivated).

Video of Behind the wheel of the Ferrari Portofino M

Exterior and design

The Ferrari Styling Centre’s designers has made very precise, targeted adjustments to highlight the new model’s sporty character.

The wraparound front bumpers incorporate sculptural air intakes that lend an aggressive look to the front, and also feature a new air vent at wheel arch height in order to reduce the car’s overall drag. 

At the rear, the new exhaust system has allowed the removal of the silencer assembly, making the Ferrari Portofino M’s tail more compact. The result is rear bumpers that are more streamlined and sculptural.

2021 Ferrari Portofino M

Inside the cabin

The Portofino M’s HMI (human-machine interface) centres on a digital cluster with dual thin-film-transistor (TFT) displays arranged around the analogue rev counter in a generous circular, anti-glare binnacle. 

Located on exactly the same axis as the multifunctional steering wheel, this cluster allows the driver to interact with the car more easily and intuitively, both visually and physically, by delivering optimal driving feedback. 

The infotainment system functions are controlled via the touchscreen located at the centre of the dash within easy reach of both driver and passenger. The system includes a full HD multi-touch capacitive screen with split view to allow different types of content to be viewed simultaneously. Both Apple Car Play and Android Auto are also available. 

The passenger also gets an optional dedicated capacitive display on the dashboard that is directly linked to the main screen providing all information relating to car speed, rpm and gear engaged. 

This 7in colour full HD and full touch display also allows the passenger to interact with the car’s on-board systems. They can, for instance, play music, view satnav information or select a new point of interest (POI), such as a restaurant, which is then automatically integrated into the route. “Essentially, the passenger becomes a co-driver,” Ferrari says.

2021 Ferrari Portofino M

2021 Ferrari Portofino M specifications

Engine: 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8  
Horsepower: 611bhp @ 7500 rpm  
Transmission: 8-speed automatic 
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive 
0-62mph: 3.45secs 
0-124mph: 9.8secs  
Top speed: 198mph

2021 Ferrari Portofino M

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Top 5 Makeup Forums, Discussions and Message Boards You Must Follow in 2020

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Top 5 Makeup Forums Contents [show] ⋅About this list & ranking Makeup Forums Specktra Makeuptalk.com | Makeup forums and reviews Makeup Forum Chemist Corner » Cosmetic Science Talk PurseForum » Make-Up Submit Blog Do you want more traffic, leads, and sales? Submit your blog below if you want to grow your traffic and revenue. Submit Your Blog […]

The post Top 5 Makeup Forums, Discussions and Message Boards You Must Follow in 2020 appeared first on Feedspot Blog.

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