TikTok pile-on boils over with Trump executive order – Politico

With help from Jeremy B. White, John Hendel and Eric Geller

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— TikTok’s tough, tough week: This rollercoaster stretch for the video app — ban? acquisition? ban? acquisition? — was capped late Thursday with a presidential executive order prohibiting transactions with TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance.

— Paging Sheryl: Days after a manipulated video of Nancy Pelosi went viral on Facebook, the House Speaker and Democratic Women’s Caucus led some 100 female legislators in calling on the company’s COO Sheryl Sandberg to do more to address the abuse of women on the platform.

— On the move: The State Department’s top cyber official, Rob Strayer, is leaving the government to lead policy for the Information Technology Industry Council.

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TRUMP HITS TIKTOK WITH EXECUTIVE ORDER — President Trump issued an executive order Thursday night prohibiting transactions with ByteDance, the Beijing-based parent company of TikTok, over national security concerns. (A separate executive order setting the same rules was issued for the Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat.) The order is set to take effect on Sept. 20; Trump told reporters this week he would ban TikTok on Sept. 15 if the company didn‘t negotiate a deal to sell its assets to Microsoft or another U.S. company.

“The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” Trump said in the Thursday order. “At this time, action must be taken to address the threat posed by one mobile application in particular, TikTok.”

— What this means for everyone else: While the scope of the order is murky, the tech world is already seeing the effects of U.S. government action on TikTok. In the week since President Trump said he planned to ban the platform, apps billing themselves as TikTok successors or safer alternatives have surged in popularity. Triller, Zynn, Byte and Dubsmash have together seen some 1.5 millions downloads in the past week or so — a cumulative jump of more than 360 percent from the week prior, according to data analytics firm SensorTower. Triller led that spike, and on August 1, the day after news of a likely ban emerged from the White House, it became the top free iPhone app in 50 markets, including the U.S. (If I was making Trillers in early 2016, does that make me an influencer?) All of this is also unfolding against the backdrop of Facebook’s launch this week of Instagram Reels, which is already sinking its teeth into TikTok.

— If India is any indicator of what may happen in the U.S. if the administration stops Americans from using the app, these competitors are only going to keep climbing. After India, TikTok’s biggest market outside China, banned the app in June, Dubsmash and other rivals there saw their audiences soar, SensorTower found. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week shared the U.S. government’s plans to boot more Chinese firms from U.S. app stores, a whack-a-mole that could theoretically knock out Chinese-owned Zynn and Likee. Triller and Byte are American-owned.

— Meanwhile: TikTok’s seeing brighter days in Europe.

SO MANY LAYERS: SENATE GREEN-LIGHTS ANTI-TIKTOK BILL — The Senate earlier Thursday unanimously passed legislation to ban TikTok on government devices because of national security concerns. The No TikTok on Government Devices Act, S. 3455, was introduced this spring by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.).

— The ban is likely to be signed into law, now that both the Senate and the House voted to ban the app on federal devices. The House measure in July took the form of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, led by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.).

U.S. LAWMAKERS TO SHERYL SANDBERG — A hundred female lawmakers (past and present) from the U.S. and around the world are trying to enlist Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s help to crack down on misogynistic content and disinformation targeting women on the platform. Leaders of the Democratic Women’s Caucus and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a letter to Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday outlining various forms of gendered abuse on social media — ”impersonation, humiliation, doxing, stalking, electronic surveillance, and threats of violence,” to name a few — and demanded the executives do more to prevent online attacks that they say have deterred many women from careers in public service.

— “Sandberg is a well-known feminist,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a co-chair of the caucus, said Thursday at a virtual GWU forum on misogyny in social media. “She has got to appreciate the power that Facebook has in terms of being the purveyor of misogynistic comments. I’m hopeful she in particular will take this on as a campaign within Facebook.”

— The letter urges Facebook to swiftly take down posts threatening violence against female candidates, kick repeat offenders off the site, and “remove manipulated images or videos misrepresenting women public figures.” (That last ask hits home for Pelosi days after a manipulated video that made her appear intoxicated went viral on the platform.)

— Facebook on Thursday announced a new hire who will focus on women’s safety and efforts to crack down on platform issues that disproportionately affect women.

GIG ECONOMY SPLITSCREEN — As Uber’s CEO touted earnings to investors Thursday, company lawyers fought in court to preserve the rideshare giant’s business model, POLITICO’s Jeremy B. White reports from California.

— Oral arguments commenced Thursday in California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s misclassification lawsuit against Uber and Lyft an existential issue for those companies that could scramble the financial picture that Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi painted on the earnings call the same day. If Becerra and city attorneys prevail, compelling the companies to treat their drivers as employees rather than independent contractors under the state’s labor law known as AB 5, that could mean enormous new costs in the form of unemployment benefits, minimum wage, overtime and the like.

— Gig tech companies are looking to the November ballot to escape that mandate via Proposition 22, which would maintain that contractor status while offering limited wage and benefit guarantees. As the Prop 22 campaign appealed in a separate court fight over official ballot language, Uber lawyers argued Thursday that they don’t really employ those drivers; they just provide the platform for them to work. That might sound like an arcane technical distinction, but it has seismic economic and political implications. Presiding Judge Ethan Schulman sounded unconvinced: “Their business is providing rides to people for compensation,” he said. “In plain English, that’s what they do.”

— But the critical question Thursday was whether courts should immediately compel the companies to change, and we’ll know in the coming days what Schulman decides. However Schulman rules, in less than three months voters will determine Prop 22’s fate — and to a significant extent, that of these companies.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR ANOTHER FCC AIRWAVES SALE — FCC Chair Ajit Pai is targeting “the first half of 2021” for holding a sale of 2.5 GHz airwaves, he noted during Thursday’s brief monthly commission meeting. Although he’s faced pressure to extend a special window of time for tribal entities to apply beyond the 30-day extension the agency just granted, he says it’s important to get the airwaves sale moving and cited 280 applications received as part of the Rural Tribal Priority Window so far.

— But an election-year grain of salt: Will Pai even be at the commission next year? He won’t hold the gavel if Democratic contender Joe Biden wins the White House and may depart even if Trump wins re-election.

ON THE MOVE: BIG GET FOR THE TECH WORLD — The State Department’s top cyber official, Rob Strayer, is leaving the government to lead policy work for a prominent tech trade group, dealing a major setback to the Trump administration’s cyber diplomacy program. Strayer announced Thursday that he’s joining the Information Technology Industry Council as executive vice president of policy.

— Strayer on tech, telecom: Strayer has pushed hard to create a secure 5G supply chain and advance the U.S.’s view of an open internet. As deputy assistant secretary of state for cybersecurity and international communications policy, Strayer oversaw efforts to constrain Chinese telecom giant Huawei in the nascent 5G marketplace; establish digital norms with longtime allies and emerging nations; and deter malicious cyber activity by Russia and other adversaries. Strayer, who spent five years as general counsel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined State in September 2017, taking charge of the three “special envoy” offices handling cyber, telecom and IT diplomacy.

Privacy and data specialist Johnny Ryan, former chief policy and industry relations officer for the privacy web browser Brave, has joined both the Open Markets Institute as a senior Open Markets fellow and the Center for Journalism & Liberty as an advisory member on the group’s trans-Atlantic board. … TheBridge co-founders Allie Brandenburger and Dave Toomey, most recently of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, are joining TechCongress as advisors and mentors to incoming fellows.

The i2Coalition, which represents web hosting companies, data centers, domain registrars and related tech, has merged with the nonprofit Domain Name Association, which represents the domain name industry, to become “the largest Internet infrastructure advocacy group in North America.”

Eyeballs watching emoji: Twitter announced it would start labeling the accounts of media outlets affiliated with the governments of countries on the U.N. Security Council, POLITICO reports — including China Daily, Russia Today and Sputnik.

Meddling attempt: Facebook said Thursday it had removed several Romanian Facebook pages and Instagram accounts pretending to be American in an attempt to influence the U.S. election, POLITICO reports.

Telecom talk: “Will Congress save America from its monthly internet bill?” Read John’s latest dispatch.

It’s complicated: “The man the Trump administration is trying to install as acting CEO of the government-funded Open Technology Fund, James Miles, was linked to two multilevel marketing companies that drew legal scrutiny from multiple state attorneys general,” POLITICO reports.

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