×

Get access to Source Code

Want your finger on the pulse of everything that’s happening in tech? Sign up to get David Pierce's daily newsletter.

I’ve already subscribed

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

Where should we send your daily tech briefing?

×
Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

New TikTok, new boss?

Image: Lil Squid / Protocol
TikTok countdown

Good morning! This Friday, we're (probably) in the last days of the TikTok and WeChat sagas, companies need internal moderators, and Google gets a win in Australia.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day.)

The Big Story

The deadline for TikTok and WeChat is coming

Another day, another series of wrinkles in the collision of tech and geopolitics.

The latest details on TikTok, in addition what we already knew:

  • The new TikTok will be 20% owned by Oracle, and Walmart is expected to get a minority stake and a board seat as well, The Wall Street Journal reported. (Impressive that Walmart slid into this deal, as well as being involved in Microsoft's.) TikTok is also expected to IPO in the U.S. in about a year.
  • The newly independent TikTok will have a board of directors that is approved by the U.S. government, and made up of U.S. citizens, Bloomberg reported. Which is … bonkers. Also, the board will have an "independent security director," who will be in frequent touch with CFIUS on all things TikTok.
  • But nothing's set in stone until both Beijing and the White House have signed on the dotted line. (CNBC reported that Trump is likely going to make a decision today.) And honestly, nothing's set in stone then either.

We've also got some more detail on WeChat, which was supposed to be banned in the U.S. from Sept. 20. But the Department of Justice softened the government's stance a bit:

  • "At present, activity involving the WeChat app is not prohibited," the DoJ wrote in a legal filing. Instead, it's just concerned with "a range of transactions, including those that could directly or indirectly impact use of the WeChat app." That doesn't make particularly clear what the government cares about, but does seem to mean that people in the U.S. will still be able to send and receive messages in WeChat.
  • That should make Tencent breathe easier, given that most of the app's use in the U.S. is for people and companies to communicate with those in China. Cutting off WeChat's other features in the U.S. won't hurt it too much, because nobody really uses them anyway.
  • The WeChat users who sued the government, though, said this wasn't enough, and that the DoJ still hadn't provided "clarity about what the Secretary will or won't do on September 20."

It's harder and harder to think of this whole saga as anything other than pure politics, on all sides. Bans that aren't bans; acquisitions that aren't acquisitions. Everybody's just looking for something that feels like a win.

  • But there's one seemingly intractable problem: It's hard to imagine an outcome that both DC and Beijing would consider a win. And both have veto power anytime they want.

More TikTok

New TikTok, new boss?

The biggest TikTok revelation yesterday came from The New York Times, which reported that Kevin Systrom has had talks about being the company's new CEO. As always, "had talks" could mean someone sent him an email and he responded "lol no thanks," so don't read too much into this. But it's hard to imagine a more fun twist than "guy who created Instagram takes over TikTok to try to kill Instagram."

But who exactly would be the dream TikTok chief? I asked around, and here's a few names the company should be looking into:

  • Other social and entertainment folks: Cindy Holland, Netflix's longtime content chief who's now looking for something new. Sima Sistani, Houseparty's well-liked CEO. Imran Khan, Snap's ex-CSO who's now running a fashion-commerce biz that sounds like it would fold neatly into TikTok. Tom Conrad, who has run product at both Snap and Quibi.
  • Other CEOs: Jeff Weiner needs a new job post-LinkedIn, and would be a good cultural middle ground between Oracle and TikTok. Ginni Rometty skews more Oracle, but also has a long track record. Eric Huggers, Vevo's ex-CEO, knows the video landscape better than most. Tina Sharkey, the founder of Brandless, is a social-commerce whiz. Tim Armstrong's seen every side of this business, and definitely has reasons to want to stick it to Facebook.
  • Or maybe other Kevins? Because given Kevin Mayer's short tenure, apparently that's a job requirement now. So how about Kevin Rose (founded Digg, knows his way around social), Kevin Lynch (TikTok for Apple Watch, anybody?), or Kevin Durant (excellent investor record, and I think his Achilles is still injured).

But to me there's one obvious choice who both has big-tech-company CEO experience while also perfectly fitting the TikTok energy and aesthetic: John Legere.

  • He knows how to make a splash, loves a viral video and really enjoys picking fights with big companies. He's also experienced in testifying in front of Congress, which feels like a key part of this gig. Plus, according to his Twitter, he's just hanging out on the Cape right now, so he doesn't seem too busy.

Given the way this whole thing has gone, though, I assume the ultimate CEO choice will be, like, Matthew McConaughey. But I'm curious: If you were hiring for the role, who would you pick? And would you want the job? I promise to only pass your email along to the Oracle recruiters if you tell me to.

Big Tech

The intranet is messy, too

Big Tech companies have always prided themselves on giving employees a voice. It's the same spirit behind everyone getting equity, or the phrase "individual contributor": the notion that companies should be flat and open, not ruthlessly hierarchical.

Internal message boards were pivotal in creating openness inside tech companies, allowing people to share everything from code and snack tips to political opinions and thoughts about the future of their company.

  • "I think this is what helped Facebook to grow so fast," Julien Codorniou, who runs Facebook's Workplace tool, told me a few weeks ago. "We've been able to reduce the distance, to keep the culture, to scale, and to make people feel … that they are part of the same company, the same culture. Almost sitting next to each other."

But message boards may be getting out of hand at some of the Big Tech companies. Both Google and Facebook are reportedly increasing their moderation of internal content, cracking down on conversations about politics, race and more.

  • From an internal Google blog, per CNBC: "Our world is going to get more complicated as the year continues. Tensions continue specifically for our Black+ community with Black Lives Matter, and our Asian Googlers with coronavirus and China/Hong Kong. All of this is compounded by the additional stress of working from home, social isolation, and caregiver responsibilities — to name a few. This new world creates urgency to keep work a welcoming place."
  • And Facebook's doing more to keep testy subjects out of people's Workplace feeds, per Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne speaking to Fox Business: "What we've heard from our employees is that they want the option to join debates on social and political issues rather than see them unexpectedly in their work feed. We're updating our employee policies and work tools to ensure our culture remains respectful and inclusive."

Most of the same debates we have about the broader internet — privacy versus openness, free speech versus moderation, challenging people versus making them feel comfortable and safe — are just as important inside your company. If you're not already thinking about how to moderate and manage internal communications, what the rules and norms need to be, you should start.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from more efficient operations

In a defining moment for healthcare, it's even more crucial to deliver patient-centered care efficiently. At Philips, we are committed to providing intelligent, automated workflows that seek to improve patient care. More efficient healthcare means stronger, more resilient healthcare.

Learn more.

People Are Talking

Getting your news on Twitter and Facebook is a mistake, FBI director Chris Wray said:

  • "We're trying to make sure Americans know [that] to get information about where, when and how you vote, you need to go to your local election official's website. Don't take it from social media."

The problem with the app store duopoly isn't just the commissions, Fred Wilson said, it's the rules:

  • "There are a number of reasons that decentralized crypto apps (dapps) have not gone mainstream, but certainly one of them is that the Apple and Google app stores don't allow a number of important features that decentralized apps require."

Making Moves

Sukumar Rathnam is Uber's new CTO, a job that has been open since May. Rathnam joins from running a big chunk of Amazon's commerce systems.

James Emmett is the new managing director of Libra Networks. He was previously CEO of HSBC Europe.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: Big Tech's struggling to close California's digital divide. Supply chain issues and infrastructure problems mean many of the devices donated by Big Tech haven't actually made their way to students. Meanwhile, Comcast has said it will give free Wi-Fi to community centers in low-income areas.
  • Twitter boosted security on "high-profile, election related" accounts, requiring them to use a strong password and strongly encouraging two-factor authentication. It also said it's improving its detection of suspicious activity.
  • On Protocol: Sumo Logic's IPO went off pretty smoothly, demonstrating investors' appetite for cloud monitoring solutions.
  • Unity priced its IPO above its range, valuing the company at almost $14 billion. We'll have full coverage of its IPO and unusual pricing process in our Index newsletter later today: Subscribe now to make sure you get it.
  • Facebook's app merge continues: It launched Facebook Business Suite yesterday, which allows businesses to manage their Facebook, Instagram and Messenger profiles all from one place.
  • Amazon announced its first Climate Pledge Fund investments. They include Redwood Materials, Tesla co-founder JB Straubel's metal recycling company, and Rivian, the electric vehicle manufacturer.
  • Australia's tweaking its plans to make Facebook and Google pay for news. The country's fair trade regulator said the "core" of the draft legislation would remain, but it would be adjusted to clarify that news publishers wouldn't be able to interfere with the platforms' algorithms.
  • The EU may require Apple to let competitors offer NFC payments on iPhones, Bloomberg reports. It's reportedly considering new laws that would prevent manufacturers from limiting access to NFC chips.
  • On Protocol: Sony's plan with the PlayStation 5 is simple: Be the best. It's positioning the new console as a premium experience with the best games, while Microsoft goes down a more "something for everyone" route.
  • Google pulled Paytm from the Play Store, saying that it violated its gambling rules. Paytm promotes a fantasy sports service in its app, which was set to become particularly popular ahead of the Indian Premier League kickoff tomorrow.
  • NS8 CEO Adam Rogas was arrested by the FBI in Las Vegas. He's been accused of defrauding investors with his antifraud startup.

One More Thing

What a rainbow fart!

Sure, we all occasionally rofl and frequently smdh. But internet slang is a delightfully varied thing, and Rest of World has a fun roundup of the best from around the globe. Including "esquerdmoacho," one of those words with no direct English equivalent but oh so many good uses. So, are you going to start using these? Rada?

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger care … from more efficient operations

In a defining moment for healthcare, it's even more crucial to deliver patient-centered care efficiently. At Philips, we are committed to providing intelligent, automated workflows that seek to improve patient care. More efficient healthcare means stronger, more resilient healthcare.

Learn more.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your weekend, see you Sunday.

Recent Issues