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Power

TikTok says it isn’t the enemy – Facebook is

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the State Department and the White House have all made it clear that they are mulling ways to ban TikTok over concerns that it shares data with China.

The TikTok app

The argument serves a dual purpose for TikTok.

Photo: Kon Karampelas

In a letter to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning, TikTok's top lobbyist, Michael Beckerman, said the company hopes to "set the record straight" about its ties to China, whether it poses a national security threat to the U.S. and how its existence counteracts the massive power of dominant social media companies like Facebook.

"Without TikTok, all that users would be left with is copycats offered by the same players who already dominate the online landscape," wrote Beckerman in a thinly veiled jab at Facebook, which is working to spin up a TikTok copycat called Reels.

TikTok sent the letter hours before Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai are set to appear before the committee to address questions around their market dominance. The tech executives, and particularly Zuckerberg, are likely to call out TikTok by name, claiming the mega-popular video app's rise is a sign of a healthy, competitive online marketplace.

For the most part, Beckerman made it clear that he agrees TikTok is a serious competitor — but that the company is concerned that Facebook is attempting to wield its market power to crush it.

The argument serves a dual purpose for TikTok: It both frames Facebook as a monopolist strangling an upstart competitor and discourages lawmakers from moving forward with plans to push TikTok out from U.S. markets over their concerns that TikTok is excessively cozy with the Chinese government. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the State Department and the White House have all made it clear that they are mulling ways to ban TikTok over concerns that it shares data with China (which Beckerman insists it does not do.)

In addition to the letter, TikTok's new CEO, Kevin Mayer, on Wednesday morning posted his first public remarks, which mainly revolve around how TikTok helps keep competition alive in the U.S., despite Facebook's alleged efforts to quash the company,

"At TikTok we welcome competition," Mayer wrote. "To those who wish to launch competitive products, we say bring it on."

"TikTok has become the latest target," he wrote. "But we are not the enemy."

Read Beckerman's full letter her (PDF):

TikTok_Letter_re_House_Antitrust_Hearing_2020.07.29_FINAL.pdf

People

Expensify CEO David Barrett: ‘Most CEOs are not bad people, they're just cowards’

"Remember that one time when we almost had civil war? What did you do about it?"

Expensify CEO David Barrett has thoughts on what it means for tech CEOs to claim they act apolitically.

Photo: Expensify

The Trump presidency ends tomorrow. It's a political change in which Expensify founder and CEO David Barrett played a brief, but explosive role.

Barrett became famous last fall — or infamous, depending on whom you ask — for sending an email to the fintech startup's clients, urging them to reject Trump and support President-elect Joe Biden.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Politics

'Woke tech' and 'the new slave power': Conservatives gather for Vegas summit

An agenda for the event, hosted by the Claremont Institute, listed speakers including U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The so-called "Digital Statecraft Summit" was organized by the Claremont Institute. The speakers include U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, as well as a who's-who of far-right provocateurs.

Photo: David Vives/Unsplash

Conservative investors, political operatives, right-wing writers and Trump administration officials are quietly meeting in Las Vegas this weekend to discuss topics including China, "woke tech" and "the new slave power," according to four people who were invited to attend or speak at the event as well as a copy of the agenda obtained by Protocol.

The so-called "Digital Statecraft Summit" was organized by the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank that says its mission is to "restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life." A list of speakers for the event includes a combination of past and current government officials as well as a who's who of far-right provocateurs. One speaker, conservative legal scholar John Eastman, rallied the president's supporters at a White House event before the Capitol Hill riot earlier this month. Some others have been associated with racist ideologies.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Politics

Silicon Valley is cracking down on Congress

Big Tech's pause on PAC contributions highlights how powerful it's become.

Democrats are particularly frustrated by Facebook, Google and Microsoft's decision to halt PAC contributions altogether, rather than targeting particular Republican lawmakers.

Photo: Tobias Hase/Getty Images

Congress has failed to act on every opportunity it had to seriously rein in the power of Big Tech over the last several years. Negotiations over a federal privacy bill fell apart last year, antitrust reform hit partisan headwinds and every debate over content moderation since 2016 has devolved into a theatrical yelling match that left the parties more divided over solutions than ever.

And now, the bigger-than-ever Silicon Valley is flexing its muscles with impunity as companies cut off violent extremists and wield the power of their political donations, acting more like a government than the U.S. government itself. They're leaving Republicans and Democrats more frustrated and powerless than ever in their wake.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Politics

The other reason Facebook silenced Trump? Republicans lost power.

Yes, the president's acts were unprecedented. But Facebook is also preparing for a new Washington, controlled by Democrats.

Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook's head of public policy Joel Kaplan have spent four years bending to conservatives' demands. Now, Facebook is bending in a new direction.

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

In his post announcing that President Trump would be blocked from posting on Facebook until at least Inauguration Day, Mark Zuckerberg wrote that the president's incitement of the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday was "fundamentally different" than any of the offenses he's committed on Facebook before. "The risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great," he wrote on Thursday.

That may be true. But there's another reason why — after four years spent insisting that a tech company has no business shutting up the president of the United States, no matter how much he threatens to shoot protesters or engages in voter suppression — Zuckerberg finally had a change of heart: Republicans just lost power.

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Power

Pressure mounts on tech giants to ban Trump, as rioters storm Capitol

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube removed a video in which Trump expressed love for the rioters, but none of the companies have banned him outright — yet.

Twitter locked President Trump's account.

Image: Twitter

Twitter, Facebook and YouTube took action against several of President Trump's posts Wednesday, labeling the posts, limiting reshares and removing a video in which President Trump expressed his love for rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol building, leading to the evacuation of the Senate, the deployment of the National Guard and to one person being shot and killed. Twitter locked President Trump's account, requiring him to remove three tweets and saying that his account would remain locked for 12 hours after those tweets were removed. Twitter also warned that any future violations would get him banned. Facebook also locked his account for 24 hours, citing "two policy violations." These actions followed a day of calls from tech investors, academics and others to kick Trump off of their platforms once and for all.

In an early tweet, University of Virginia law professor Danielle Citron implored Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to take action. "As someone who has served on your Trust and Safety Board since its inception and counseled you since 2009, time is now to suspend President Trump's account," Citron wrote. "He has deliberately incited violence, causing mayhem with his lies and threats."

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
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