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Everybody wants to buy TikTok

Image: Vectors Point / Protocol
Everybody wants to buy TikTok

Your five-minute guide to what's happening in tech this Monday, from TikTok's many, many suitors to the crazy weekend for the chip world.

Good morning! This Monday, everybody wants to buy TikTok, the chip industry is in turmoil, and there's a better way to network digitally.

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The Big Story

Hi, I'd like to buy your TikTok

Honestly, at this point are you even a tech company if you haven't kicked the tires on TikTok? (Also how is "Kicking the tires" not a TikTok dance craze set to an auto-tuned version of the "I'd buy that for a dollar!" guy? I digress.) We already knew Microsoft was deep in acquisition talks, there was that quickly-shot down Apple rumor, and now The Wall Street Journal has reported that Twitter at least had "preliminary talks" about a tie-up.

  • It's clear that a lot of companies have at least inquired about what's going on at TikTok HQ. From what I've heard, calls started coming in early July, but Microsoft is still by far the most likely buyer.
  • Twitter would be a deeply ironic suitor, given that it gave up on Vine so quickly, and thus missed the whole social-video boat.

If you didn't have "preliminary talks" with TikTok, you should have. This is a rare opportunity to get a product that is somehow simultaneously mind-blowingly popular, culture-defining, and likely to go for pennies on the dollar. Though I guess you're excused if just calling Kevin Mayer would be seen as a move worthy of a dozen new antitrust hearings. (Looking at you, Mark.)

The WSJ also reported that investors from Sequoia and other firms are working with the Trump administration to find ways to keep TikTok in the U.S. And as Scott Galloway pointed out, the Twitter possibility opens up a whole new idea: TikTok essentially merging with (and becoming) an American company, in a deal where the other company is essentially a SPAC.

In the spirit of Anything Could Happen, and in part because I also read that CNBC story about how Netflix should buy TikTok and thought it was surprisingly … not crazy, here are my four favorite wild TikTok-acquisition ideas:

  • TikTok merges with Spotify and becomes the future of music videos, because TikTok is where all music gets discovered now anyway.
  • Tesla acquires TikTok, and the only way you can watch TikToks going forward is on the screen in your car. They're the perfect length for red lights!
  • WeWork acquires TikTok and turns all its office spaces into TikTok houses. In the future, all content is fueled by on-tap kombucha.
  • Facebook acquires TikTok and shuts it down. DO IT FOR THE 'GRAM.

It's probably going to be Microsoft, but until September 20 the sky's the limit. What's your favorite Anything Could Happen TikTok scenario? Send me all your wildest ideas: david@protocol.com.

In related news: NPR reported that TikTok is planning to sue the Trump administration, and could file as soon as tomorrow.

Chips

The processor industry's wild weekend

All this geotechpolitics is creating some interesting alliances.

Over the weekend, Chinese media made it clear that Huawei is feeling the burn of the U.S. sanctions against working with the company, and may have to stop making its flagship Kirin chips altogether because it can't get access to necessary components.

Predictably, the ripples spread beyond Huawei. Qualcomm, which wants to sell components for 5G phones to Huawei, is now publicly lobbying the Trump administration to roll back its sanctions, saying that all they'll really do is open up huge business to Qualcomm competitors outside the U.S.

  • Qualcomm's point is an important one. Huawei is certainly hurting because it can't work with Qualcomm, but can it more easily replace a supplier than Qualcomm can replace the world's largest smartphone manufacturer as a client? In an interconnected industry like tech, cutting off one company tends to hurt others.
  • "If Qualcomm is subject to export licensing, but its foreign competitors are not, U.S. government policy will cause a rapid shift in 5G chipset market share in China and beyond," Qualcomm told the WSJ.

But there's more semiconductor controversy! Researchers revealed flaws in Qualcomm's chips, right as a hacker was leaking 20GB of engineering data from Intel with reportedly more to come. And new research suggests that chips from all over the industry are more vulnerable than we thought. So that's fun.

  • Look at all this against the backdrop of the ongoing Arm sale and TSMC's complicated situation, and you've got a crucial industry in total turmoil.
And you know who's just quietly capitalizing on the situation? MediaTek.

Video

Virtual networking gets an upgrade

Shakeel Hashim writes: One of the biggest complaints people have with virtual conferences is the lack of serendipity: It's all panels, no chit-chat. Thanks to an open-source project from MIT researchers, though, that might change.

Minglr is an app designed to enable spontaneous networking alongside video conferences. You log on, see a list of other logged-in people, and click their names to request to speak to them. They'll see that you want to talk, and can hit a button to put you both in a video call.

  • Originally, the team planned to build on top of Zoom — but because of a lengthy approval process, they decided to go with open-source alternative Jitsi instead. And when they tested it at a conference last month, 86% of users said they want future virtual conferences to include a similar tool.
  • Part of the system's potential, MIT professor Thomas Malone said, is that some things are easier to do virtually than in-person: pairing people up at random, for instance, or matching people based on their interests. Both of those features have been requested by users, and could be particularly helpful for shy people — a key focus for the team.

The team decided not to charge for Minglr: "It would be very hard to compete with companies that already had a very serious video conferencing system," Malone said, noting that Zoom and Teams could just implement the feature. So instead they've made it open source, and hope that Zoom and Teams will implement it.

  • Malone presented Minglr at a conference sponsored by Microsoft last week, and an employee seemed to be paying attention. "I got the impression that they were potentially interested in it," Malone said. Time to move to Teams, everybody.

A MESSAGE FROM ITI

ITI

In 2020, it feels like the world is changing faster than ever before. Join us for conversations during the 2020 National Political Conventions on the policies and practices needed to build the future. Protocol's Issie Lapowsky and Emily Birnbaum will lead dynamic discussions on tech's role in enabling a diverse future workforce and enabling the economy of our future. Our first event on August 19 will host conversations with Representative Langevin (D-RI), former Pete for America investment chair Swati Mylavarapu, and TechEquity co-founder and former Obama campaign organizer Catherine Bracy, as well as many more policy and industry leaders. This event series is hosted in partnership with ITI.

Register here.

People Are Talking

Silicon Valley built a new stock exchange, but founder Eric Ries said it's hard to get companies to list:

  • "You have double uncertainty. You have to be real enough for companies to take you seriously. And then the timing of their going public, IPO, or direct listing has to be such that they would want to do that."

When Apple tried to get her to change her logo, Prepear CEO Natalie Monson said it was ridiculous that she's not even the first to have received such a demand:

  • "The CRAZY thing is that Apple has done this to dozens of other other small business fruit logo companies, and many have chosen to abandon their logo, or close doors."

In the midst of a lot of anger about the COVID response, Bill Gates did offer a tiny bit of hope:

  • "You have to admit there's been trillions of dollars of economic damage done and a lot of debts, but the innovation pipeline on scaling up diagnostics, on new therapeutics, on vaccines is actually quite impressive."
  • He's also preparing for his role in a Microsoft-owned TikTok: "Yeah, my critique of dance moves will be fantastically value-added for them."

Waymo engineer Paul Roales is running for city council in Mountain View, and his plan is to speed up the government:

  • "Having worked at Google and now at Waymo gives me a lot of perspective on high-performing organizations and I hope it's the start of a trend that we see more people in tech get more involved in their local government."

Coming up this week

We'll try not to talk about Trump vs. China all week, but it's still the biggest story out there. And pay particularly close attention to how broadly the White House intends to actually go after Tencent and WeChat.

And there's another big week of earnings reports, including Tencent, Baidu, Lyft, Foxconn, Cisco and others.

In Other News

  • Don't miss this Tim Cook profile from The Wall Street Journal. It's a really interesting look at how companies and cultures change, and why CEOs tend to change companies more than companies change CEOs.
  • On Protocol: Notion is going international. One of the hottest startups in Silicon Valley, it's expanding to South Korea. We dug into what that takes, and why translating an app isn't as easy as it looks.
  • Amazon is looking into using closed Sears and JC Penney stores as fulfillment centers, which would put them in prime locations with huge footprints. Bit on the nose, though, given the whole "Amazon is killing the mall" thing.
  • The U.S. government has a new hacker. ZDNet reported that "a group of elite hackers associated with the Iranian government" has been attacking both private companies and the government, under names like Fox Kitten and Parasite.
  • Here's a fun story from Wired about how a former Google engineer helped a random stranger recover $300,000 in Bitcoin after he locked his private keys in a password-protected zip file. And then forgot the password. There's a lesson in here somewhere.
  • WarnerMedia is going through another restructuring, under new CEO Jason Kilar. Kilar said it's all a move to focus on HBO Max and streaming, which only underscores how important the service is. Now if only it would show up on my Roku.

One More Thing

Ta-dum!

Close your eyes and picture the Netflix sound: the Ta-Dum that's quickly becoming as recognizable as the HBO static screen. Did you know that sound almost included a goat? Or that Hans Zimmer made a longer, cooler version of it for in-theater Netflix experiences? Or that the Zimmer sound is now my alarm clock? All this and more comes up in the great new episode of the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast, but most importantly: Watch the Zimmer Cut.

A MESSAGE FROM ITI

ITI

In 2020, it feels like the world is changing faster than ever before. Join us for conversations during the 2020 National Political Conventions on the policies and practices needed to build the future. Protocol's Issie Lapowsky and Emily Birnbaum will lead dynamic discussions on tech's role in enabling a diverse future workforce and enabling the economy of our future. Our first event on August 19 will host conversations with Representative Langevin (D-RI), former Pete for America investment chair Swati Mylavarapu, and TechEquity co-founder and former Obama campaign organizer Catherine Bracy, as well as many more policy and industry leaders. This event series is hosted in partnership with ITI.

Register here.

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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