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TikTok Announces Full Merger of US User Data to US-Based Systems, Amid New Reports of Chinese Access

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TikTok Expands Test of Downvotes for Video Replies, Adds New Prompts to Highlight its Safety Tools

After years of scrutiny over the potential for TikTok to be used as a surveillance tool by the Chinese Government, the company has today announced that it’s completed its migration of US user data to servers at Oracle, which will ensure that US info remains separate from its Chinese parent company.

As explained by TikTok, its US user data has thus far been stored in data centers in both the US and Singapore.

“Our Virginia data center includes physical and logical safety controls such as gated entry points, firewalls, and intrusion detection technologies. It’s also important to maintain backup data storage locations to guard against catastrophic scenarios where user data could be lost, and our data center in Singapore serves as the backup data storage location for our US users.”

But now, as part of an agreement with Oracle, US user info will remain solely in the US.

“For more than a year, we’ve been working with Oracle on several measures as part of our commercial relationship to better safeguard our app, systems, and the security of US user data. We’ve now reached a significant milestone in that work: we’ve changed the default storage location of US user data. Today, 100% of US user traffic is being routed to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.”

TikTok says that it will still use its US and Singapore data centers for backup, but US user data will soon be deleted from its own data centers, as part of a full pivot to Oracle cloud servers located in the US.

The update comes at a critical time, with BuzzFeed News today publishing a new report which suggests that TikTok is still potentially sharing US user data with Chinese authorities, via data review practices defined by its parent company ByteDance.

As per BuzzFeed:

According to leaked audio from more than 80 internal TikTok meetings, China-based employees of ByteDance have repeatedly accessed nonpublic data about US TikTok users — exactly the type of behavior that inspired former president Donald Trump to threaten to ban the app in the United States.

According to the BuzzFeed News report, China-based ByteDance engineers repeatedly accessed US user data between September 2021 and January 2022, at the very least. That potentially contradicts sworn testimony from TikTok’s head of US public policy Michael Beckerman, who appeared before a Congressional Hearing in October last year, and stated that TikTok does not share information with the Chinese government.

Technically, that could be true, in a direct sense. But these new findings suggest that TikTok may still be sharing US user data with its Chinese parent business, which is beholden to China’s strict cybersecurity laws that would compel it to share such information with CCP officials on request.

There’s no evidence to suggest that this has happened, but the new findings do suggest that TikTok’s US team has been disingenuous in how it’s presented the current situation on potential data sharing and exposure.

Maybe, with TikTok user data now being fully merged across to US-based data storage, that will help to alleviate such concerns, and ensure that TikTok can continue its meteoric rise unimpeded. But it could also open the platform up to new regulatory scrutiny in the US, which may, eventually, lead to new calls to ban the app.

Much of this also depends on the diplomatic situation between the US and China, which is not going great right now.

American authorities have repeatedly clashed with China over its expansion into the South China Sea, which has led to several conflicts with US-allied countries. China has also indirectly backed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while additionally continuing to offer military support to smaller nations in the Pacific, as a means to broader its global influence.

All of these actions increase tensions with the US, which doesn’t bode well for ongoing business relationships. The distrust between the nations seeds ongoing suspicion over Beijing’s intentions, which is why TikTok has become a focal point for data security concerns.

As such, you can bet that these new revelations will prompt US authorities to take another look at TikTok, which could once again put its US business in jeopardy. And if the US were to ever move to block the app (as India has done due to its own conflicts with the CCP), you can bet that other regions would follow, which would be a disaster for the app.

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Pinterest Focuses on Travel Inspiration and Education for Black History Month

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Pinterest Focuses on Travel Inspiration and Education for Black History Month

Pinterest is taking a unique approach to Black History Month, with a new ‘Find Your Routes’ Black Travel Hub initiative, which aims to highlight places that have strong connections to Black history, while also showcasing Black-owned businesses.

As explained by Pinterest:

“Find Your Routes” is inspired by The Negro Motorist Green Book aka “The Green Book”. The Green Book was a guidebook for Black travelers during the Jim Crow era that provided a list of accessible hotels, boarding houses, taverns, restaurants, service stations and other establishments throughout the country that served Black Americans patrons.”

The Black Travel Hub, which you can find here, will present a range of travel options, along with their history, with creators from the US, Colombia, Jamaica, Brazil and more, all taking part in presenting their city.

It could be a good way to provide education alongside inspiration in the app, while also helping people to connect, and support highlighted communities.

Pinterest will also be showcasing Black-owned businesses on Pinterest TV, while internally, it’s also hosting a company-wide event ‘to help employees gain knowledge about the history, present, and future of Black travel through the lens of Black Pinployees’.

As noted, it could be a good way to both spark important conversations, and inspire new travel journeys, which include an extra level of cultural understanding and education, along with a leisure break.

It’s an interesting take on the celebration either way, and it’ll be worth noting what sort of reaction the initiative gets, and whether it inspires more travel as a result.

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Snap Tumbles On Weak Revenue, Gloomy Outlook

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Snap Tumbles On Weak Revenue, Gloomy Outlook

Snap shares plunged after missing analyst expectations in Q4, while forecasting a year-over-year revenue decline.

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Snapchat Adds 12 Million Users in Q4, Posts Lower Than Expected Revenue Result

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Snapchat Adds 12 Million Users in Q4, Posts Lower Than Expected Revenue Result

Snapchat added 12 million more active users in Q4 2022, and Snapchat+ subscriptions continue to rise, but company revenue missed market estimates, in another mixed result for the private social app.

First off, on users – as noted, Snap added 12 million more actives, taking it to 375 million DAU.

As you can see, North American user growth is still flat, while European users saw a slight uptick. But it’s the ‘Rest of the World’, specifically India, which is driving Snap growth.

Which is helping to boost the overall usage numbers, and expand opportunity. But on the revenue side, it’s not pushing things forward in a significant way.

Snap Q4 2022

As you can see in this chart, Snapchat’s revenue has increased, but a key problem here is that it’s still reliant on the US and Canada for the majority of that spend, with other markets trailing well behind on the revenue front.

Snap Q4 2022

In this chart, you can see that Snap’s Revenue Per User has actually declined year-on-year – so while it is growing, it’s not bringing in revenue at equivalent scale, and it’s even going backwards in some respects.

Which is why its stagnant growth in North America is a problem – though Snap has also seen take-up of its Snapchat+ subscription service increase.

“In Q4, our subscription service Snapchat+ reached over 2.0 million paying subscribers. Snapchat+ offers exclusive, experimental, and pre-release features, and in Q4 we launched new features such as Custom Story Expiration and Custom Notification Sounds, providing subscribers with over 12 exclusive features.”

That’s a handy additional revenue stream, but as with all social media subscription services (including Twitter Blue), take-up is generally limited, and at 2 million subscribers, that’s still only 0.5% of Snapchat’s active user base that’s been willing to pay extra for these add-on elements.

Snap has also faced challenges in rebuilding its ad business, in the wake of Apple’s iOS 14 update, which has impacted data collection, and Snap CEO Evan Spiegel says they still have some way to go on this yet:

“We continue to face significant headwinds as we look to accelerate revenue growth, and we are making progress driving improved return on investment for advertisers and innovating to deepen the engagement of our community.”

Snap has seen improvement in its commerce integrations, which includes digital items for Bitmoji avatars which Snap is eventually looking to translate into real-world item sales as well. Snap also says that it’s facilitated over than 161 million product trials by over 35 million Snapchatters for Walmart, leveraging its Catalog-Powered Shopping Lenses at-scale.

Snapchat AR shopping

Those point to bigger opportunities, but right now, amid the broader economic downturn, and restrictions on data collection and targeting, Snapchat is in a tough spot, and will be for some time yet.

Essentially, then, you’re banking on Snap’s future, and its advanced tools that could help it better align with expanded AR and VR use. And Snap is seemingly in a good position on this front – though again, the impacts of the last year, which also forced Snap into lay-offs, will also have some effect.

Really, then, the results here are relative to your perspective.

For advertisers, more Snap users means more potential reach – but most of Snap’s growth is coming from outside the US. More advanced AR activations could become a bigger deal in future, but it depends on how you’re looking to connect, and product fit.

Investors won’t be overly happy with the numbers, but there are positive signs on the horizon. It’s just that the horizon, in this respect, remains well in the distance at this stage.

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