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Trump Approves Oracle/TikTok Deal, Securing the App’s Future in the US

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It looks like TikTok will live to fight another day after all.

Last Thursday, a consortium group, lead by enterprise computing giant Oracle, submitted its proposal on a takeover of the US operations of Chinese-owned TikTok, in order to address concerns raised by the US Government that TikTok could be sharing data with the Chinese government. The White House said that it would respond to the deal within 36 hours. 

On Saturday, US President Donald Trump said that he had agreed to the terms outlined in the Oracle-lead deal:

I have given the deal my blessing, if they get it done that’s great, if they don’t that’s okay too. I approved the deal in concept.”

That’s not exactly the final sign-off required, but it was enough for TikTok to put out an official statement on the new arrangement.

As noted by TikTok, the new deal will see Oracle become the ‘trusted technology provider’ for the app, which will include hosting all US user data, and ensuring that such remains separate from Chinese parent company ByteDance. How, exactly, that will work is not clear – theoretically, while TikTok remains under ByteDance ownership, it’s just as likely to share data with the Chinese regime as it was previously. But the technical details have reportedly been laid out in the full proposal, including the separation arrangements.

The full documentation also reportedly states that TikTok will have its own, separate board in the US, which would be approved by the US Government, and that that board will likely include “a former NSA or CIA official with a high-level security clearance”.

Essentially, Oracle will become the secure cloud provider for the app, while also taking a 12.5% stake in the company. Walmart is also included in the Oracle deal, and will take an 8% stake in the newly formed ‘TikTok Global’ entity. TikTok Global, which will operate separate from ByteDance, but will be licensed from the Chinese company, will list for an IPO early in 2021. 

Again, the specifics of how it will all work are not clear, but it appears that TikTok Global will be able to utilize all of TikTok’s current algorithms and systems, while operating a completely separate user database. 

Walmart’s interest is in eCommerce and on-platform selling, which has become a key component of the Chinese version of the app.

Douyin eCommerce

If Walmart can become the facilitator of the platform’s in-app purchase flow, that could help it establish a stronger link into the rising eCommerce sector – which has accelerated significantly in 2020 due to the COVID-19 lockdowns.

For Oracle, the deal will help to further establish it as a key provider of cloud infrastructure. Oracle already provides cloud services to Zoom and other web entities, and through further investment enabled as part of the TikTok deal, it’ll not only be able to better showcase its capacity for such, but also boost its capability in line with increased need.

As noted by TikTok, the deal also includes a commitment from TikTok Global to establish a new US base of operations, which will employ 25,000 staff. President Trump says that deal will also include a $5 billion contribution toward an education fund.

Trump had initially called for the US Government to receive some form of payment for facilitating the takeover deal, but was dismayed to find that this was not possible under US law. The $5 billion education fund, however, essentially caters to the same purpose, all be it in a less direct manner. At the same time, Trump has also touted a new ‘patriotic education commission’ to help re-establish national pride and identity, which will likely be enabled by this new allocation.

So what does that mean for TikTok? 

Originally, TikTok was set to be removed from US app stores on Sunday, in line with the initial Executive Order, but in light of the latest developments, the Department of Commerce has now extended the timeline for the ban, giving it till September 27th to finalize details of the Oracle deal.

That means TikTok will likely continue to operate as normal, with users seeing no change as a result of the negotiations, at least at this stage.

In terms of what it means for the future of the app, as noted, it looks like the new ownership group has also avoided another key concern, with the deal seemingly allowing it to continue using TikTok’s algorithms, despite the introduction of a new Chinese law which stops the export of technological advancements in foreign trade deals. Licensing the algorithms from ByteDance appears to meet the CCP’s requirements, so TikTok should, more or less, continue on as it has been, with theoretically limited disruptions.

But then again, the new investment group will be looking to recoup its costs. That could see a bigger push on ads in the app, while the eventual separation of TikTok Global could see the new ownership group faced with challenges of content moderation and management, with limited assistance from the experienced leadership of ByteDance. 

That, eventually, could see TikTok lose momentum, and Walmart’s eCommerce push could also change the user experience. 

Potentially.

Mostly, these are all ‘what ifs’ at the moment, and no one really knows what’s going to happen once the full separation is in effect.

So, did the process achieve its intended goals?

In the initial Executive Order, the Trump administration raised concerns that TikTok could:

  • “Allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information – potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.”
  • “Censor content that the Chinese Communist Party deemed politically sensitive, such as content concerning protests in Hong Kong and China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.”

On the first point, it’s possible that a separate TikTok Global could ensure database separation and keep US user info out of the reach of the CCP. Without knowing the full technical details, it’s difficult to say, but some have already suggested that while it remains under Chinese ownership, the threat level remains here the same.

On the second, if TikTok Global utilizes the same algorithms, there’s the same potential for censorship – or potentially, similar censorship by the US Government, which will, as noted, have newfound influence over how the app works. 

But again, it’s mostly speculative. What we do know, right now, is that President Trump has given the green light to the basis of the deal. Once its officially in place, we should have more insight into its workings.

There are also further questions left unanswered as yet – will TikTok Global be allowed back into the Indian market? Did the fact that Oracle’s CEO served in the Trump transition team have anything to do with the deal? Will military personnel be able to use TikTok again?

There’s more to come, but it looks like we’re moving into the next stage of the process.

Interim TikTok CEO Vanessa Pappas also posted this video clip:

Socialmediatoday.com

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These Guys Are Stupid, And I'm Being Charitable

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These Guys Are Stupid, And I'm Being Charitable

Why do some organizations still solicit funds the way they did in the 1960s? You need to take a smarter marketing approach, or you’ll waste money like they do. I’m still getting about two bucks a month in cash from stupid, misguided charities that insist on sending me actual money in the mail. I get …

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Internal Documents Reveal That the New Twitter Blue Has Fewer Than 300k Subscribers at Present

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Internal Documents Reveal That the New Twitter Blue Has Fewer Than 300k Subscribers at Present

Look, I know people have strong opinions about Elon Musk, and I realize that any criticism is going to be viewed as political commentary, even if it’s not (because I’m not American, I can’t vote, I don’t care about Hunter Biden, etc.). But Elon’s paid verification program is dumb, the dumbest move that he’s made at Twitter to date.

And I understand the logic – Elon says that when he came on, the company was losing $4 million per day, which lead to mass lay-offs, and a scramble for revenue generation options.

Paid verification, then, makes sense, while Elon also extrapolated the need for immediate cash into a pathway to combat bots, by using verification as a means to ‘verify all the real humans’ – i.e. bots won’t pay, and bot peddlers won’t be able to afford such at scale.

I get all the moving parts, and optimistically, they may sense.

But realistically, which is the more important ‘ally’ of the two, it just doesn’t.

Because most people won’t pay, especially when you’re offering nothing much in return, other than a graphic of a tick next to their username, while the very act of selling verification ticks erases their only perceptual value, that being exclusivity.

Now, everyone can buy one, so the tick is meaningless, at least as a status marker of some form.

My perspective on this been vindicated, at this early stage at least, by a new report from The Information, which says that, according to internal documents:

Around 180,000 people in the US were paying for subscriptions to Twitter, including Twitter Blue, as of mid-January, or less than 0.2% of monthly active users […] The U.S. number is about 62% of Twitter’s global subscriber total, the document says, which implies Twitter has 290,000 global subscribers.”

That’s consistent with the findings of researcher Travis Brown, who’s been posting regular updates on Twitter Blue subscriber numbers, based on searches of users that show up as ‘blue_verified’ in the back-end.

At present, based on Brown’s figures, the new Twitter Blue program looks to have around 300,000 subscribers, very close to the data The Information has seen.

That would mean that Twitter’s currently bringing in an extra $2.4 million per month via the program, or $7.2 million per quarter. Which is pretty good, that’s extra income at a time when Twitter desperately needs it. But it’s still way, way off from where Twitter wants its subscription revenue intake to be.

To reiterate, when initially outlining his Twitter 2.0 reformation plans, Elon said that he wants to make subscription revenue around 50% of Twitter’s overall intake. That would align somewhat with the aforementioned revenue and bot-battling potential – but in order to do this, Twitter needs to increase Twitter Blue take-up 81x its current state.

300k sign-ups is also only 0.12% of Twitter’s active user base – so to reiterate, revenue-wise, it’s not close to meeting goals, and as a bot disincentive, it’s nowhere near meeting its aims. And while Twitter has just this weekend rolled out Twitter Blue to more regions, there’s just no way that it’s ever going to reach the levels required to make it a viable consideration in either respect.

Which means that all the mucking around, all the impersonation issues, all the gold checks and gray ticks and square profile images and brand logos. All of this has, on balance, been a waste of time.

It’s not nothing – again, Twitter needs all the extra money it can get right now, and a $29 million annual boost in intake will help. But functionally, it’s been a series of blunders and missteps, one after the other.

And now, Twitter wants brands to pay $1,000 a month for a gold tick?

Yeah, safe to say that’s not going to be a roaring success either. And while Twitter will likely get a few more Twitter Blue sign-ups when it removes legacy blue checks sometime in future, that’s still only 420k extra subscribers, max.

The churn rate will also be high – because again, a blue tick isn’t valuable anymore if everyone can buy one – and unless Elon and Co. have some magic updates to build into Twitter Blue in future, beyond Blue-only polls or paying to qualify for monetization, I don’t see how this becomes a significant element of Twitter’s overall intake or process.

But maybe I’m missing something. Maybe, because it’s Elon Musk, we’ve missed the point, or the process, and there is actually another pathway to winning on this front that’s not been revealed as yet.

I don’t see it, but I can’t imagine the logistics of flying to Mars either, so maybe there’s more to come.

But I doubt it.



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Housebound Jordanian football fan a social media star

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Amer Abu Nawas was born with osteogenesis, or brittle bone disease, a genetic condition hindering normal bone growth that has meant he rarely leaves his home

Amer Abu Nawas was born with osteogenesis, or brittle bone disease, a genetic condition hindering normal bone growth that has meant he rarely leaves his home – Copyright AFP Khalil MAZRAAWI

Kamal Taha

Having spent most of his life housebound due to a medical condition, Jordanian Amer Abu Nawas’s love of football has propelled him to social media stardom.

Offering analysis of matches from the leading European football leagues to almost a quarter of a million followers, his Facebook page — “HouseAnalyzer” in Arabic — has grown into what he describes as a “big family”.

The 27-year-old was born with osteogenesis, or brittle bone disease, a genetic condition hindering normal bone growth that has meant he rarely leaves his home in Zarqa, 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Jordan’s capital Amman.

“It is true that I have never played football in my life, and have never attended any match, but for me football is everything,” Abu Nawas told AFP.

With no schools in the country catering to his needs, Abu Nawas grew up spending much of his time watching football matches, analysing the teams and playing football video games.

“This always made me feel like it is taking me from this world to a different one,” he said.

His relatives noticed his passion and encouraged him to publish his match analyses online.

In 2017, he launched his Facebook account, which now counts more than 243,000 followers.

– ‘Reach people’ –

Filmed on a phone in his bedroom, Abu Nawas’s videos usually feature him wearing a football jersey, excitedly commenting on matches and news from the world of football.

Discussing leagues from England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, he sometimes uses a football pitch-shaped board to explain tactical nuances.

One of Abu Nawas’s latest videos reached more than 1.4 million viewers and he has started posting on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter.

He said he was grateful for modern technology allowing him to connect with so many people.

“From this room, from this small place isolated from the world, I was able to cross these walls, reach people, communicate with them, create content, and become what I am today,” he said.

He expressed sadness at sometimes seeing people attack each other in comments to his posts, and said his relationship with his followers was “like a family”.

“This family is growing day by day, and I hope it will reach as many followers as possible,” he added.

Abu Nawas’s own family do their best to provide him with a comfortable life.

He is the youngest of three brothers and his father is a doctor and his mother a pharmacist.

Inside his room are shelves with a PlayStation, a computer and plastic baskets keeping items he might need.

On his bed are phones, remote controls, headphones and a long stick used to reach distant items.

– ‘Not an obstacle’ –

“He has his own world, in a room with a temperature of 27 degrees to avoid cold and pneumonia. He can operate anything using the remote control,” his father Yussef told AFP.

He said his son has friends who occasionally visit.

“When he feels bad, they take him out for a tour in a minibus,” he said.

Abu Nawas lamented that in Jordan “nobody cares” about people with diseases like his, and said he wished he had had the opportunity to attend school.

“The conditions for people with special needs are catastrophic,” he said.

“I could not learn because there are no special schools for people like me.”

Last year, the organisers of the football World Cup invited him to attend the tournament in Qatar.

But due to travel difficulties linked to his condition, he arrived late and missed the matches he was scheduled to attend.

Even so, Abu Nawas said it was “the best 10 days of my life”.

“I know my condition, I learned to be content, and I will remain so,” he said.

“Disability need not be an obstacle to success.”

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