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Politics

TikTok chief says Trump’s threats are crushing the app — before a ban even begins

In a new legal filing, Vanessa Pappas, TikTok's interim head, lays out exactly how the threat of a ban is hurting the company's advertising, its workforce and its bottom line.

TikTok chief says Trump’s threats are crushing the app — before a ban even begins

TikTok is already feeling the pain from the Trump administration's ongoing threats.

Image: Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via Getty Images

TikTok may not be banned from the United States yet, but it says the Trump administration's continued threats have already had a devastating impact on the company's ability to land advertisers, hire new talent and hold on to content creators.

In a new court filing, TikTok's interim head, Vanessa Pappas, shared concrete data about the losses TikTok has experienced over the last few months, hoping to persuade the court to issue an injunction against the Commerce Department's forthcoming ban, which is set to take effect on Sept. 27.

According to Pappas, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo first announced that President Trump was considering banning TikTok in the United States, the app's user base fell by 500,000 daily active users. In the month of August, after President Trump issued his executive order barring transactions with TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, TikTok lost $10 million in revenue, as a dozen brands canceled or delayed their advertising plans. That includes "some of the largest consumer goods companies in the United States," Pappas wrote.

The threats have also interrupted TikTok's hiring spree, according to Pappas. "Since July 1, 2020, 52 candidates have declined offers of employment with ByteDance and TikTok Inc. specifically due to the perceived uncertainty caused by the government's investigation of and threats against TikTok," Pappas wrote, not mentioning that TikTok's former CEO, Kevin Mayer, quit among the chaos and confusion after only a few months on the job.

TikTok has also watched its most popular creators get poached by other platforms. Pappas pointed specifically to TikTok's biggest star, Charli D'Amelio, who recently signed with Triller, a competing app. "Because of the halo effect associated with major personalities on the TikTok app, the departure of even one top creator can lead thousands of members of their fan base to the next platform as well," Pappas wrote.

According to Pappas, until July 1, TikTok was adding around 424,000 new daily U.S. users every day. Even a temporary ban could demolish that growth, according to TikTok's models, which estimate that 40% to 50% of TikTok's daily active users wouldn't return to the app even if the ban lasts only two months. "If the ban is in place for six months, 80 to 90% of daily active users will not return," Pappas wrote. Those estimates are based on what TikTok saw in India when the app was banned for two weeks in 2019.

And because U.S. content creators are so popular in other countries, Pappas argues that "banning TikTok in the United States will result in a massive decrease in content available globally, which will decrease business and impact both our new users and core user base worldwide."

For TikTok, the purpose of releasing these painful stats is to convince the court that it's suffering real harm as a result of the Trump administration's actions. Earlier this week, a district court blocked the Commerce Department's ban of WeChat. Now, TikTok is seeking the same.

Last weekend, the Commerce Department delayed its ban on new TikTok downloads from U.S. app stores, citing "recent positive developments" — namely, the fact that President Trump signaled his approval of a deal that would have given Oracle and Walmart minority stakes in the company and would have given Oracle control of U.S. user data.

But the president and the companies involved have since cast doubt on that deal. On Monday, during an interview with "Fox & Friends," the president claimed that Oracle and Walmart would control the new company, TikTok Global. "And if we find that they don't have total control, then we're not going to approve the deal," he said. Meanwhile, TikTok and Oracle have given their own mixed signals, contradicting each other's statements on the future company's ownership structure.

TikTok has until mid-November to work out the specifics of the deal before the Commerce Department cuts the company off from crucial services like internet hosting in the U.S. But Pappas' court filing makes clear that even if a deal is reached, whoever ends up owning TikTok in the end will be inheriting a once ascendant company that's already lost a lot.

TikTok vs Trump filing.pdf

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.

Power

These ByteDance apps stored U.S. user data in China – until they disappeared

TikTok may keep U.S. user data out of China, but other ByteDance apps downloaded hundreds of thousands of times in the U.S. play by a different set of rules.

ByteDance has several apps with U.S. users that have been storing data in China, according to their privacy policies.

Getty Images

Over the last year, TikTok's leaders have repeatedly sworn both in court and in the court of public opinion that they don't share any U.S. user data with China, where their parent company, ByteDance, is based.

But the same can't be said for several other ByteDance apps, which also have a sizable audience in the United States and abroad.

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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.
People

Adobe wants to use AI to make you a better dancer

The company's new tech demo could improve everyone's TikTok videos — and hints at the potential for AI to democratize video editing and visual effects.

The technology can also be used to take clips and adjust movements to a different song, or take multiple clips from different sources and adjust all of them to the piece of music.

Image: Adobe

Can't dance? You're not alone.

"Syncing up music and dancing can be hard," said Adobe Research Scientist Jimei Yang during a recent interview. Not only can holding the beat be challenging for some people, but using consumer-grade recording equipment can also introduce additional delays that make the result look off-beat. "It isn't that trivial," Yang said.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

People

How the pandemic has changed tech business travel to China

In 2020, visiting China for business can be a bit like playing the lottery.

After concluding his 14 days in isolation, startup adviser Kevin Yang was free to continue his business trip.

Photo: Kevin Yang

Kevin Yang has traveled to China countless times. As a former Huawei and Oppo executive, he used to visit the country almost every quarter. However, when Yang recently got ready to visit a Chinese startup he is advising, he quickly realized that the pandemic would make this a very different trip.

Yang has been documenting his trip in a series of LinkedIn posts, which offer some fascinating insights into the state of business travel during COVID, the ever-growing importance of WeChat in a country recovering from the pandemic, and shifts in the Chinese tech industry as it adapts to a rapidly changing world.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Politics

The DOJ sues Google for monopoly practices — and says there’s more to come

Google's response: 'People use Google because they choose to – not because they're forced to or because they can't find alternatives.'

The DOJ's case revolves around some of Google's antitrust weak spots, including the exclusive, billion-dollar agreements that require mobile-phone manufacturers to keep Google as their default search engine.

Photo: Future Publishing/Getty Images

The Department of Justice sued Google for antitrust violations on Tuesday, setting off what is likely to be a yearslong battle that will indelibly shape the future of the tech industry.

The case, which was filed in federal court in Washington, marks the most aggressive action by the U.S. government against a tech company in decades. The DOJ accuses Google of leveraging its dominant position in search and search-advertising to elbow out rivals and disadvantage competitors.

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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.

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