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Nobody knows what to do with TikTok

Nobody knows what to do with TikTok

Good morning! This Wednesday, nobody knows what to make of TikTok, everybody wants to deliver internet connections from space, and some people are going to ride scooters really, really fast.


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People Are Talking

Facebook execs met with the #StopHateForProfit organizers, and Color of Change's Rashad Robinson was not impressed with the conversation:

  • "They showed up to the meeting expecting an A for attendance. Attending alone is not enough."
  • We'll have more on this on Protocol in a couple of hours, and in this newsletter tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Peacock boss Matt Strauss thinks an ad-based streaming service is exactly what the world needs right now:

  • "There were already signs of subscription fatigue. And there was this belief in the industry that people didn't want advertising or didn't like advertising. That just isn't true."

A group of writers, professors and thinkers published a letter in Harpers basically saying the world is devolving into cancel culture and needs to stop:

  • "Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal."

Digital and real-world privacy are the same thing, head of WhatsApp Will Cathcart told TED:

  • "It's so important that we match the security and privacy you have in person digitally and not say, hey, this digital world is totally different, we should change all the ways human beings communicate and completely upend the rules. No."

Donating money is a good thing right now, but not the only thing, Salesforce philanthropy chief Ebony Beckwith said:

  • "It's dollars plus action. Philanthropy alone is not going to solve it."

The Big Story

Nobody knows what to do with TikTok

Pretty much the only thing I can tell you with certainty about TikTok is that a lot of people really like it. Beyond that, figuring out what to make of the app is like reading tea leaves through a telescope.

I bring this up because two seemingly mutually exclusive things happened yesterday: TikTok pulled out of Hong Kong over concerns about the Chinese government, and the U.S. threatened to kick TikTok out of America … over concerns about the Chinese government.

  • TikTok said it's leaving Hong Kong because of the Chinese government's involvement in the country and push to acquire more user data. That's an even bigger step than Google, Facebook and Twitter have taken in the last few days.
  • Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. is "looking at" banning Chinese-made apps like TikTok, similar to India's move last week. He said on Fox News that you should only download TikTok "if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party." Cool cool cool.
  • FBI Director Chris Wray also upped the rhetoric against China. He said in a speech that "If you are an American adult, it is more likely than not that China has stolen your personal data," and that China's aim is to be the "world's only superpower by any means necessary." Which seems aggressive, but what do I know?

That's the thing about TikTok: Who does know? It's owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, but doesn't operate in China, has an American CEO in Kevin Mayer, and swears up and down that it doesn't share data with the Chinese government. "Our data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law," it said last year.

  • It's not all that different from what's happening with Huawei, in that officials say that private data could be shared with the Chinese government, and that that risk alone isn't worth it.
  • Besides, when all parties on all sides have reason to obfuscate and a history of not telling the truth, it's near impossible to know what's real and what's bluster.
  • (I should note, though, that Reuters reported the U.S. is also investigating TikTok for failing to protect children's privacy, which is a separate but obviously extremely serious issue.)

In a way, TikTok's popularity might be its downfall. Tech is politics now, and so when Huawei became a global force, it got huge international pushback. Now TikTok's getting the same. (You'll notice the U.S. isn't particularly worried about WeChat, which is much more popular and collects much more data, but nobody in the U.S. really uses it.)

  • It helps, too, when there's a homegrown company that stands to gain from your government's fury at a foreign app. As soon as Pompeo's comments aired, Snap's stock shot up.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Facebook drops some sustainability numbers

As Facebook has gone from "social network for chatty college kids" to effectively powering a version of the internet with data centers and offices all over the world, the company's begun to think a lot more about sustainability. Good for the world, good for the bottom line, everybody wins!

This year should be a big milestone in its sustainability efforts. Facebook has said its goal is to have its own operations be 100% sustainable by 2020, and to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 75% compared to 2017 levels. On Tuesday, Facebook put out its most substantive sustainability report yet, with a look into how all that was going as of the end of 2019. (Luckily not much has changed since then, eh?)

First, the numbers. Facebook's reduced its GHG emissions by 59% since 2017, up from the 44% reduction it had achieved by the end of 2018. It's still short of the 75% goal, but getting closer. It's also up to having 86% of operations powered by renewable energy, compared to 75% in 2018.

  • To that second number: Facebook's now one of the world's largest buyers of renewable energy, but its overall electricity use spiked almost 50% in 2019 alone, its biggest jump in years. It spent 2017 and 2018 massively ramping up its data center footprint, and it looks like that's showing up in the electric bill.

But are those numbers good or not? I looked at other sustainability reports, and it turns out Facebook's doing pretty well! Amazon, for instance, runs 42% of its (obviously much more complicated) operations on renewable energy. Though Apple says it's already at 100% renewable energy, and has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 64%.

  • We're going to have to wait another year to see what the pandemic, the recession and the general global upheaval do to these corporate efforts. I don't think "Acting Greener" will be the most-talked about thing on Facebook in 2020 in the way it was last year, and big tech companies have a lot of other things on their plates at the moment. But climate change isn't going away, and neither should these projects.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger Care ... from anywhere, to anywhere

At Philips, we're pioneering stronger care networks with technologies we've spent decades innovating. With connected care solutions from telehealth to at-home monitoring, today's healthcare workers can face today's greatest challenges with smarter virtual tools. See how our telehealth technologies help doctors and nurses deliver care from anywhere, to anywhere.

Learn more.

CONNECTIVITY

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's … my router?

Google's balloon-internet service is finally online. The Loon fleet of 35 balloons, floating about 12 miles up in the air, is providing service to a wide swath of Kenya that includes the city of Nairobi. It's not super fast — reportedly just shy of 19Mbps down and 5Mbps up — but then nor is my Comcast connection most of the time.

It's interesting timing, this launch, coming right after the U.K. government bought up the remnants of OneWeb, which was trying to launch a satellite-internet product and basically just ran out of money.

  • The U.K. is working with Bharti Global, a telecom giant in India, to spend $1 billion bringing the company back to life.
  • And, of course, SpaceX's Starlink plans are coming along nicely. The company's planning to launch 57 more satellites this week, and it's planning to start a private beta for the service later this summer.

These kinds of data connections are not a new thing. I'm assuming that through all the Starlink news, someone at Viasat is sitting at their desk saying, "Hi, yes, hello, we've been doing this for like two decades."

But we've seen just how underserved many people are by existing internet infrastructure over the last several months, and also how hard it is to convince ISPs to dig trenches out to rural areas.

  • Whether it's balloons, satellites, or those drones Facebook gave up on, this is going to be a big, important business. Maybe not so much for those of us in tiny apartments in crowded cities, but definitely for everyone else.

Making Moves

Peggy Johnson is the new CEO of Magic Leap. She was Microsoft's head of bizdev, and makes perfect sense as the leader of the newly enterprise-focused company. Magic Leap needs deals, and Johnson is by all accounts a great dealmaker.

Microsoft has hired a bunch of designers and engineers from a Finnish company called Movial, which, the company told ZDNet, is a way "to boost Windows and Android development efforts." Not really an acquihire, but not not an acquihire?

In Other News

  • On Protocol: House Republicans say they're being shut out of this month's big tech CEO hearing. And they want to have their chance to talk.
  • Apple is "assessing" what to do about Hong Kong and the Chinese data-request situation, but hasn't made any changes to its policies yet.
  • Walmart+ is coming this month. The company's long-in-the-works Amazon Prime competitor will cost $98 a year, Recode reported, and come with an assortment of perks almost as weird as those included with Amazon Prime.
  • Mark your calendars for July 27, when Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg will appear before the House Judiciary Committee to talk antitrust.
  • The cool new app of the day is Mmhmm, which just raised $4.5 million to turn videochat into something more like an impromptu live presentation tool. Definitely better than your average share-my-screen experience.
  • Zoom is (sort of) getting into the hardware game. U.S. customers will now be able to get all the gear they need to set up Zoom-based systems in their offices, all maintained and upgraded for a single monthly fee.
  • Anybody else notice #ripjeffbezos was trending on Twitter last night? (He's still alive, for the record.) Weird, but also hands-down the baldest thread I've ever seen on Twitter.

One More Thing

Lights out and away the scooters go!

Friends, I will not lie to you: I am outrageously excited about eSkootr, the new electric scooter racing series that's set to debut next year. Imagine motocross racing, plus Tron aesthetics, on scooters that can hit 60 mph. (Going, like, 19 mph on a scooter feels death-defyingly fast, so this is going to be insane.) We don't know much of anything about how it'll work, but I've now watched the teaser video about 10 times, and have graduated to Googling things like "how to hack a Bird scooter to go faster." The championship starts next year, but training starts now.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger Care ... from anywhere, to anywhere

At Philips, we're pioneering stronger care networks with technologies we've spent decades innovating. With connected care solutions from telehealth to at-home monitoring, today's healthcare workers can face today's greatest challenges with smarter virtual tools. See how our telehealth technologies help doctors and nurses deliver care from anywhere, to anywhere.

Learn more.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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