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TikTok Appoints New CEO in Disney Executive Kevin Mayer

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Wow, TikTok must have offered Kevin Mayer a lot of money to take on this role.

Today, The New York Times has reported that Disney executive Kevin Mayer, who recently helped oversee the successful, global launch of the company’s new Disney+ platform, has taken on the role of TikTok CEO, while he’ll also serve as the COO of parent company Bytedance, which is based in China.

Well, technically – according to NYT:

“A TikTok spokesman on Monday stressed that TikTok was not owned by a Beijing-based company. Instead, its parent company, ByteDance Ltd., is incorporated in the Cayman Islands, though he could not say how many people are based there. That entity owns TikTok and all of the businesses in China, he said.”

So ByteDance is actually now based in the tax haven that is the Cayman Islands, which will maybe serve as another tool for TikTok to distance itself from its Chinese Government associations. But that probably won’t work.

But either way, Mayer, who was on a base salary of more than 1.25m at Disney, will now move to TikTok. No financial details of the appointment were provided, but given the challenges Mayer will now face, it’s pretty safe to assume it was a substantial package.

Those challenges have started pretty much immediately, with US senator Josh Hawley noting that TikTok now has a local, US-based executive to front up to a Congressional hearing over if and how TikTok gathers and shares data with the Chinese Government.

TikTok has repeatedly noted that it doesn’t store any US user data in China, though many security officials remain unconvinced. The UK Ministry of Defence issued an internal directive last month that TikTok is not to be used by staff, citing the app’s likely exposure to the Chinese regime, while both the US and Australian military have initiated similar bans on the app.

Late last year, the Australian Strategic Policy institute published a report in which it suggested that TikTok is “using its global scale to advance Beijing’s political agenda”, among other security-based criticisms of the app.

Those concerns look set to hamper TikTok’s expansion moving forward, which is why it’s so keen to shake them off – but the existing regulations still suggest that TikTok, under Chinese-owned Bytedance, is required to provide user data to the Chinese Government on request.

The regulation is part of China’s cybersecurity laws, which state that all Chinese-owned companies must furnish Chinese government requests for user data on demand, without question. Again, TikTok will say that it doesn’t store US user data in China – but that may not matter. If TikTok owns the data, and Bytedance is asked to provide it, it seems likely that it would need to do so, regardless of where such data might, technically, be kept.

TikTok’s incoming Chief Information Security Officer Roland Cloutier was actually very careful in how he worded this element in his introductory post, in which he outlined his immediate priorities.

“Although we already have controls in place to protect user data, we will continue to focus on adding new technologies and programs focused on global data residency, data movement, and data storage access protections worldwide. Our goal is to minimize data access across regions so that, for example, employees in the APAC region, including China, would have very minimal access to user data from the EU and US.”

“Very minimal” is a relative term. How much access does someone, or something, need for it to be a concern?

But then again, as noted, maybe TikTok’s working to get off on a technicality – maybe Mayer will be coming into a situation where TikTok is actually based in the Caymans, which will mean that there’s no case to answer. It’s not a Chinese company, see? It’s a Cayman Islands business.

Maybe. Either way, it’s going to be a tough sell, and Mayer will be walking into a role that has both business and political implications, especially given the tenuous US-China trade situation, and accusations over the origin of the current COVID-19 outbreak.

It could end up being a particularly hot seat to be in.

Will it help improve TikTok’s position in western markets? Possibly. It certainly needs someone like Mayer to help bolster its approach.

Socialmediatoday.com

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The Most Visited Websites in the World – 2023 Edition [Infographic]

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The Most Visited Websites in the World - 2023 Edition [Infographic]

Google remains the most-visited website in the world, while Facebook is still the most frequented social platform, based on web traffic. Well, actually, YouTube is, but YouTube’s only a partial social app, right?

The findings are displayed in this new visualization from Visual Capitalist, which uses SimilarWeb data to show the most visited websites in bubble chart format, highlighting the variance in traffic.

As you can see, following Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the next most visited social platforms, which is likely in line with what most would expect – though the low numbers for TikTok probably stand out, given its dominance of modern media zeitgeist.

But there is a reason for that – this data is based on website visits, not app usage, so platforms like TikTok and Snapchat, which are primarily focused on the in-app experience, won’t fare as well in this particular overview.

In that sense, it’s interesting to see which social platforms are engaging audiences via their desktop offerings.

You can check out the full overview below, and you can read Visual Capitalist’s full explainer here.

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Cheeky branding wins (and missteps)

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Cheeky branding wins (and missteps)

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Branding and rebranding is getting more fun, here we look at some of cheekiest brands that have caught our eye – for the right and wrong reasons.



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Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

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Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

Over the past year, Google has repeatedly noted that a China-based group has been looking to use YouTube, in particular, to influence western audiences, by building various channels in the app, then seeding them with pro-China content.

There’s limited info available on the full origins or intentions of the group, but today, Google has published a new overview of its ongoing efforts to combat the initiative, called DRAGONBRIDGE.

As explained by Google:

In 2022, Google disrupted over 50,000 instances of DRAGONBRIDGE activity across YouTube, Blogger, and AdSense, reflecting our continued focus on this actor and success in scaling our detection efforts across Google products. We have terminated over 100,000 DRAGONBRIDGE accounts in the IO network’s lifetime.

As you can see in this chart, DRAGONBRIDGE is by far the most prolific source of coordinated information operations that Google has detected over the past year, while Google also notes that it’s been able to disrupt most of the project’s attempted influence, by snuffing out its content before it gets seen.

Dragonbridge

Worth noting the scale too – as Google notes, DRAGONBRIDGE has created more than 100,000 accounts, which includes tens of thousands of YouTube channels. Not individual videos, entire channels in the app, which is a huge amount of work, and content, that this group is producing.

That can’t be cheap, or easy to keep running. So they must be doing it for a reason.

The broader implication, which has been noted by various other publications and analysts, is that DRAGONBRIDGE is potentially being supported by the Chinese Government, as part of a broader effort to influence foreign policy approaches via social media apps. 

Which, at this kind of scale, is a concern, while DRAGONBRIDGE has also targeted Facebook and Twitter as well, at different times, and it could be that their efforts on those platforms are also reaching similar activity levels, and may not have been detected as yet.

Which then also relates to TikTok, a Chinese-owned app that now has massive influence over younger audiences in western nations. If programs like this are already in effect, it stands to reason that TikTok is also likely a key candidate for boosting the same, which remains a key concern among regulators and officials in many nations.

The US Government is reportedly weighing a full TikTok ban, and if that happens, you can bet that many other nations will follow suit. Many government organizations are also banning TikTok on official devices, based on advice from security experts, and with programs like DRAGONBRIDGE also running, it does seem like Chinese-based groups are actively operating influence and manipulation programs in foreign nations.

Which seems like a significant issue, and while Google is seemingly catching most of these channels before they have an impact, it also seems likely that this is only one element of a larger push.

Hopefully, through collective action, the impact of such can be limited – but for TikTok, which still reports to Chinese ownership, it’s another element that could raise further questions and scrutiny.

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