By Reuters | Updated: 15 September 2020
Walmart said it is pressing ahead with its goal to invest in TikTok as Oracle takes the lead in a partnership with the Chinese video-sharing app.
On Sunday, Oracle beat Microsoft in the battle for the US arm of TikTok with a deal structured as a partnership rather than an outright sale to try to navigate geopolitical tensions between Beijing and Washington.
Walmart had teamed up with Microsoft on the unsuccessful bid.
ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese owner, had been in talks to divest the US business of its hugely popular short-video app to Oracle or a consortium led by Microsoft after US President Donald Trump ordered the sale last month and said he might otherwise shut it down.
After Microsoft said it had been informed by ByteDance that the Chinese firm would not be selling it TikTok’s US operations, Walmart said it would talk further with ByteDance and “other interested parties.”
Asked on Monday whether the other parties include Oracle, a Walmart spokesman declined to comment.
For Walmart, a relationship with TikTok could supercharge the world’s largest retailer’s battle against Amazon in e-commerce and online advertising.
But transforming TikTok from a platform where some 50 million US daily users share short-form videos of people dancing and lip-synching into a shopping powerhouse will be a challenge for the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company, analysts say.
In the United States, TikTok advertisers currently place video ads for merchandise such as headphones or fast foods in-between user-uploaded videos. They can also pay for promoted “hashtag challenges,” where users post videos about the brands’ products.
In June, TikTok courted advertisers with a new program called “TikTok For Business,” which lets brands buy ads that appear when users first open the app. “Don’t make ads, make TikToks,” the company told advertisers, which now include Nike, eBay and Colgate-Palmolive among others.
While TikTok is already on its way to building a robust advertising business, it has yet to articulate a comprehensive plan to sell goods on the app.
Rivals are far ahead. Facebook has prioritised building out shopping and payments products in recent years across its suite of apps, which include fast-growing Instagram and WhatsApp as well as its namesake “blue” app, suggesting ambitions to emulate do-it-all Chinese super apps like WeChat.
If Walmart seeks inspiration on how to narrow the gap between TikTok and other big digital platforms and also catch up to Amazon, it need look no further than TikTok’s Chinese counterpart.
Douyin, the ByteDance-owned app that resembles TikTok but is available only in China, started selling merchandise in 2017 and now operates a growing e-commerce operation where more than 400 million daily users shop.
Users can watch short videos and livestreams and make purchases directly through the store on the app or click on links to other e-commerce platforms from the videos. Creators are also encouraged to create shops within Douyin.
While Douyin has relied on and brought new business to China’s big e-commerce platforms such as Alibaba, TikTok’s e-commerce ambitions could be underpinned by Walmart.
The retailer has already accelerated e-commerce plans since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Walmart has explored new ways to court shoppers who make fewer trips to their stores. It has invested in curbside pickup and next-day and two-day deliveries.
But it could do much more, say analysts. Walmart could expand into so-called social commerce by hosting TikTok influencers’ online storefronts, and enable shopping directly from the videos and livestreams, said Scott Smigler, president of e-commerce marketing agency Exclusive Concepts.
A partnership with TikTok, Smigler said, “would give Walmart a compelling edge over both Amazon and Google, who struggle to help consumers discover new products they didn’t know they needed. That’s the true power of social commerce.”
All this could go a long way toward attracting a broader and younger audience. The average age of Walmart shoppers is 47, according to data provider Kantar.
“TikTok is valuable because it’s used every day by kids … so as long as they (Walmart) gear their ads towards the audience on TikTok, it will be a success and they could be a real leader in advertising and e-commerce,” said Randy Hare, portfolio manager at Huntington Private Bank. “If they start advertising yard tools and things like that, I don’t think they’ll get much traction.”
© Thomson Reuters 2020
Twitter Aims to Label More State-Affiliated Accounts Worldwide
By Reuters | Updated: 26 September 2020
Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said on Friday the social media platform plans to expand its labelling of state-affiliated accounts worldwide, even as he defended its policy of allowing leaders of countries like Iran and China to use Twitter.
During the virtual Oslo Freedom Forum, hosted by New York-based nonprofit the Human Rights Foundation, Dorsey said Twitter would label accounts in more countries to give users more context for information tweeted by state-affiliated accounts and “if there’s an agenda behind it.”
Twitter first announced the labelling last month, but only initially applied it to accounts from China, France, Russia, the UK and the United States.
Twitter has been used widely by activists, sometimes using pseudonyms, to broadcast human rights abuses from countries like Saudi Arabia and China, but has been criticised for failing to prevent bad actors from using so-called “bot” accounts to spread disinformation.
Dorsey said the company is using signals such as when batches of new accounts are created, and how quickly they begin tweeting about certain topics, to crack down on disinformation campaigns, while protecting activists under pseudonyms.
“Pseudonymity is a built identity, and that’s what we want to value and protect,” he said.
Asked if it was hypocritical of Twitter to allow leaders from Iran and China to use the platform despite the governments blocking access to citizens, Dorsey said there was value in “understanding how they’re thinking.”
“It’s important … to know how the story of the regime is being told to the rest of the world,” he said.
© Thomson Reuters 2020
Facebook Critics Launch Rival Oversight Board
By Reuters | Updated: 26 September 2020
Critics of Facebook, including the organisers of an advertising boycott against the company, on Friday launched their own oversight board to review the company’s content moderation practices.
The launch comes a day after Facebook’s officially-mandated Oversight Board said it would start work in mid-late October, nearly a year behind schedule.
The new group, which bills itself as the “Real Facebook Oversight Board,” counts among its initial members the heads of three US civil rights groups, the former president of Estonia and the former head of election integrity at Facebook.
The delay of the launch of the official Facebook-funded board means it is unlikely to review cases related to the November 3 US election, which has generated some of the most contentious issues faced by the world’s biggest social network.
The rival board plans to move faster, it said in a statement. It will hold its first general meeting next week, and focus squarely on election topics, including voter suppression, election security and misinformation, it said.
Facebook “responds to criticism with bad faith statements and cosmetic changes,” said board member Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook who turned critical of its leaders over their handling of misuse of the platform in the 2016 election.
“The Real Oversight Board will act as a watchdog, helping policymakers and consumers defend against a renegade platform.”
Members of the rival board plan to broadcast their meetings in weekly shows on Facebook Live, according to the statement.
A Facebook company spokesman hit back in a statement on Friday.
“We ran a year-long global consultation to set up the Oversight Board as a long-lasting institution that will provide binding, independent oversight over some of our hardest content decisions,” he said. “This new effort is mostly longtime critics creating a new channel for existing criticisms.”
The new group said it was being funded by Luminate, a philanthropy backed by The Omidyar Group, but did not disclose a funding amount.
Facebook has committed $130 million to its Oversight Board project, which it said would cover operational costs for at least six years.
© Thomson Reuters 2020
Facebook Suspends Fake Russian Accounts, Warns of US Election Hack-and-Leak Threat
By Reuters | Updated: 25 September 2020
Facebook said on Thursday it has dismantled three networks of fake accounts which could be used by Russia’s intelligence services to leak hacked documents as part of efforts to disrupt the upcoming US election.
The company said the accounts, which it suspended for using fake identities and other types of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour,” were linked to Russian intelligence and people associated with a St. Petersburg-based organisation accused by US officials of working to sway the 2016 presidential vote.
The Russian foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment after normal working hours in Moscow. Russia has repeatedly denied allegations of election meddling and says it does not interfere in the domestic politics of other countries.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said there was no immediate evidence that hacked documents were about to be leaked, but by suspending the accounts Facebook hoped to prevent them being used in any subsequent operation.
“Our team watches for the threats and trends that we need to be ready for, and one that we are very aware of … is a hack-and-leak operation, particularly in the next 6-8 weeks,” he told Reuters.
“We want to make sure that the accounts are down to prevent their ability to pivot them to facilitate a hack-and-leak around the US election.”
Facebook said the networks were small with only a handful of accounts on its website and photo-sharing service Instagram, some of which posed as independent media outlets and think tanks. The accounts had a combined total of around 97,000 followers.
While some of the activity did target audiences in Britain and the United States, the networks were predominantly focused on countries in the Middle East and bordering Russia, such as Syria, Turkey, Ukraine and Belarus, Facebook said.
Twitter said it had worked with Facebook to identify and remove 350 accounts operated by state-linked organisations in Russia.
Both companies said one of the networks had been identified following a tip from the FBI, which warned on Tuesday that foreign actors and cybercriminals were likely to spread disinformation about the results of the November 3 election.
The warnings follow an alert by Microsoft earlier this month that hackers linked to Russia, China, and Iran are trying to spy on people tied to both US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.
Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, worked with Facebook to analyse the suspended accounts. He said the activity showed Russia was continuing efforts to exacerbate political tensions in the United States and elsewhere.
“That doesn’t dismiss the fact that the scale and scope of domestic disinformation is far greater than what any foreign adversary could do,” he said. “But Russia’s efforts remain an extremely serious national security vulnerability.”
© Thomson Reuters 2020
Facebook, Twitter Arbitrarily Censuring ‘Nationalistic’ Content: Tejasvi Surya
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 24 September 2020
BJP member Tejasvi Surya on Wednesday raised the issue of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook allegedly arbitrarily censuring content posted by users, especially those with a “nationalistic approach” and sought government intervention for protection of such content.
Raising the issue during Zero Hour in Lok Sabha, Surya said for a long time there have been many “credible” allegations made against Twitter, Facebook and their affiliates of “arbitrary and unilateral regulation and censuring” of content posted by third party users, especially those with a “nationalistic approach”.
“This poses a significant constitutional challenge not only on the grounds of unreasonable restriction of free speech but also amounts to illegal interference during elections,” he said.
The MP said Facebook, Twitter and similar platforms claim themselves to be intermediaries within the meaning of the term under the IT Act, 2000.
He said the key element of this definition is that the role of the said intermediaries is limited to processing, storing and transmitting data of third party users and does not include intervention on content of the users.
Therefore, Section 79 of the Act provides these intermediaries exemption from liability. An intermediary receives protection that a regular publisher does not receive, he said.
Article 19(2) of the Constitution authorises the government to impose, by law, reasonable restrictions upon the freedom of speech and expression “in the interests of… public order”, whereas section 69 of the IT Act allows the government to intercept any information and ask for information decryption.
Surya said the guidelines essentially empower private party intermediaries to remove on the basis of user complaints or suo moto any content deemed to be in violation of its guidelines.
He said these guidelines are not only ultra vires the parent statute but also unconstitutional as the grounds they provide are too wide and will fail the standards of constitutionality set out by the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal case while striking down Sec 66A of the IT Act (which provided police the power to arrest a person for posting “offensive” content online).
The guidelines are problematic because they empower private enterprises performing essentially a public function to act as censors of free speech without government oversight, thus effectively and severely impacting safeguards of the fundamental right to free speech, he said.
“I therefore urge the government to repeal such unconstitutional guidelines and issue new ones to govern social media platforms, thereby protecting the fundamental right to free speech of our citizens and protect our democracy from foreign interference,” he said.
Twitter Restores ‘Mistakenly’ Locked, Limited Accounts
By ANI | Updated: 24 September 2020
Twitter on Wednesday said it has restored accounts that were mistakenly locked or limited, hours after some users reported delay in tweets showing up on timelines as well as accounts being locked “by mistake.”
“The accounts that were mistakenly locked or limited have been restored. We are sorry this happened in the first place,” Twitter Support tweeted.
We’re seeing a number of accounts that have been locked or limited by mistake and not because they Tweeted about any particular topic. We’re working to undo this and get those accounts back to normal.— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) September 23, 2020
A few hours back, Twitter said it is seeing a number of accounts that have been locked or limited by mistake and not because they tweeted about any particular topic.
“We are seeing a number of accounts that have been locked or limited by mistake and not because they tweeted about any particular topic,” Twitter Support tweeted. “We are working to undo this and get those accounts back to normal.”
According to a report by CNET, the accidental locking or limiting of accounts comes amid the lead-up to the 2020 US presidential election, as the micro-blogging site seeks to crack down on false and misleading information spreading via the social network and is ramping up the removal of accounts and tweets that violate its rules.
TikTok Parent ByteDance Applies for Tech Export Licence in China Amid US Deal Talks
By Reuters | Updated: 24 September 2020
ByteDance has applied for a tech export licence in China as it races to seal a deal with Oracle and Walmart that it hopes will end US government plans to ban its TikTok video-streaming app on security grounds.
The Beijing-based firm submitted the application to Beijing’s municipal commerce bureau and is awaiting a decision, it said in a statement on its Toutiao online news platform on Thursday, without referring to ongoing talks over its US operations.
The application comes about a month after China revised its list of technologies subject to export bans or restriction for the first time in 12 years, in a manner which experts said gave the government a say over any TikTok deal.
ByteDance has said its deal with Oracle and Walmart will see the creation of a standalone US company and does not involve any transfer of technology though Oracle will be able to inspect TikTok US source code.
It has also said the deal needs approval from both China and the United States.
However, the companies have issued conflicting statements over the terms of the agreement they reached with the White House, casting doubt over whether it will hold.
ByteDance said it will establish a US subsidiary called TikTok Global of which it will own 80 percent.
Oracle and WalMart, however, said majority ownership of TikTok Global would be in American hands, complying with an August 14 executive order by US President Donald Trump that ByteDance relinquish ownership of TikTok within 90 days.
Chinese state media outlets China Daily and the Global Times this week said they see no reason for China to approve the deal that Oracle and Walmart said they have struck with ByteDance, calling it based on “bullying and extortion”.
TikTok’s experience is “a textbook example of the United States’ modern-day piracy and tech bullying,” Chinese state news agency Xinhua said in an English-language commentary on Thursday, adding that national security concerns that Washington has expressed over TikTok are “nothing but a fig leaf”.
“It is time that other countries saw through the outrageous farce of the TikTok drama, knew what is really at stake, and joined hands to oppose such blatant robberies and maintain a fair global business environment,” it said.
© Thomson Reuters 2020
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