TikTok updates policies to ban deepfakes, expand fact-checks, and flag election misinfo

As uncertainty swirls around TikTok’s future in the U.S., the company this morning announced new Community Guidelines focused on helping keep misleading and deceptive content off its platform. The new rules aim to better clarify what’s allowed and not allowed on TikTok, broaden the app’s fact-checking partnerships ahead of the U.S. election, and ban the use of “deepfakes” (manipulated content) designed to deceive. In addition, TikTok has added an in-app reporting option for election misinformation. It also claims to have worked with experts, including the Countering Foreign Influence Task Force (CFITF), run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to help counter the threat of foreign influence on elections.

That latter item is a particularly clever spin on TikTok’s current situation, given that it’s the foreign interference of TikTok itself that the Trump Administration is concerned about, along with the potential security risk that comes from the possibility of China’s authoritarian government collecting massive amounts of data on TikTok’s American users.

TikTok, however, says it has worked with CFITF and other experts to help stop the dangers of foreign influence on U.S. elections. The task force shares insight about possible disinformation campaigns across the industry and connects local election officials with online platforms and law enforcement. TikTok didn’t clarify the extent of its work in this area, but CFITF has only existed since 2018 so these would be fairly recent efforts.

The company also says it’s expanding its relationships with PolitiFact and Lead Stories to fact check potential misinformation related to the 2020 U.S. election. The organizations were previously focused on other fact-checks, like those related to COVID-19 and climate change.

However, fact-check organizations’ ability to actually find and fact-check misleading content can be difficult as much of this content is framed by users as “just my opinion.” A quick search on TikTok this morning for “climate change hoax,” for example, pulled up videos with dissenting user opinions on the topic with no fact-check applied. This isn’t a problem unique to TikTok, of course. Social media platforms in general struggle the line between free speech and misinformation, especially when content goes viral that shares a viewpoint not held by a majority of the scientific or academic community.

TikTok also says today it will roll out an election misinformation option to its in-app reporting feature in the “coming weeks.” But it didn’t offer a clear launch date, despite elections now being months away.

The company says it’s clarifying its policy to ban the use of “synthetic or manipulated content,” too. This will now include deepfakes meant to deceive or distort the truth. The policy continues to be questionably enforced. For example, TikTok easily pulled up the recent viral video that claims to show House Speaker Nancy Pelosi drunk — a video that has been manipulated from the original where she speaks normally. There is no fact-check applied. Facebook, by comparison, labeled the video “partly false,” given the digital slowing down of the original video.

None of these problems around fake content or attempts to deceive are unique to TikTok, of course. U.S. companies don’t have things under control, either.

TikTok, in addition, notes it releases Transparency Reports and recently added new Transparency webpage with information for lawmakers and users alike.

Its policy around “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” has also been restated to be clearer, TikTok says.

The new policy reads:

Do not engage in coordinated inauthentic activities (such as the creation of accounts) to exert influence and sway public opinion while misleading individuals, our community or the larger public about the account’s identity, location or purpose

The Trump administration has put the TikTok ban on hold for at least 45 days for now, ostensibly so TikTok could work out a deal with Microsoft. The U.S. government wants the company to spin out its U.S. operations to distance itself from China.

TikTok users, naturally, have their own theories about why Trump is coming down so hard on their prefered social app. Some number of TikTok teens pranked the Trump campaign over the rally in Tulsa, for starters. Other TikTok users pointed out that Trump’s real concern is that TikTok doesn’t allow political ads — and microtargeting voters on Facebook helped Trump win the last election.

These theories are interesting to debate (may not be entirely wrong!), but the reality is that the concerns over TikTok’s connection to China have some bipartisan support.

Hollywood’s Triller sets its own rhythm even as it gains from TikTok troubles

Triller, the short video app backed by a Hollywood mogul and music celebrities, is rapidly ballooning in both user size and valuation. It’s now seeking a new funding round of $250 million that will push its valuation to over $1 billion, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

That’s a leap from its $130 million valuation reported last October. Triller’s founder and CEO Mike Lu declined to comment, although another executive confirmed the funding with Dot.la.

The app has emerged as what many see as a TikTok replacement, but it has been around since 2015, two years before TikTok’s debut, and has its own “identity and ecosystem,” the founder insisted.

According to Lu, Triller was already recording “significant growth” even before the Trump administration began mulling a ban or a forced sale of TikTok, although he also admitted the app is getting a boost from the TikTok backlash. 35 million new active users joined Triller just within the last few days. The app has so far collected 250 million downloads worldwide.

The Los Angeles-based startup still has a long way to catch up with TikTok, which crossed 2 billion downloads in April. The rivals both tout their capability to let users match videos with music, a defining feature for their success. In fact, Triller recently filed a lawsuit accusing its Chinese rival for infringing its patent for “creating music videos synchronized with an audio track.”

Triller attributed part of its achievement to majority investor Proxima Media, the Hollywood studio founded by Ryan Kavanaugh. Lu said his company has spent zero in marketing to reach its size, something that “has never happened in technology history.” But Ryan, the film producer and financier behind hits like The Fast and the Furious and The Social Network, has no doubt brought unmatched media exposure, celebrity connections, and naturally, their fans who convert to Triller users.

Triller has also secured deals with major record labels, clearing the way for users to make music-centered videos. Its roster of angel investors include Snoop Dogg, The Weekend, Marshmellow, Lil Wayne, among other big names.

“Ryan is second to none in Hollywood, entertainment and media,” said Lu. “I give [Proxima Media] a ton of credit for helping us get to this stage, this massive growth. I don’t think we could have done it without them.”

Celebrity-quality content is one thing that sets Triller apart from TikTok, said Anis Uzzaman, general partner of Pegasus Tech Ventures, which invested in Triller in a strategic round.

“TikTok tries to grow its own celebrities. Triller already has all the big celebrities,” the investor said, refering to videos shared by Alicia Keys, Cardi B, Marshmellow, and Eminem via Triller, which is now a popular place for releasing songs. TikTok has also become a testing ground for artists to test new works.

Meanwhile, the app strives to keep its ordinary users engaged, one thing TikTok has done very well. For example, it boasts of AI-powered editing features that enable users to make professionally looking music videos. It’s also lanched a Billboard chart that ranks the biggest Triller songs, leveling the playing field between emerging creators and celebrities.

“It gives the young people a feeling that they are close to celebrities,” observed Uzzaman.

The investor also believes there’s room for multiple players in the short video space, akin to how Uber and Lyft co-exist. Indeed, China has seen TikTok’s Chinese version Douyin going head to head with Kuaishou in recent years.

For Lu, Triller’s identity is anchored in music, especially hip hop music in the early days, with a demographic of 18-25.

Triller’s App Store images.

TikTok, in comparison, can be everything from light-hearted dance videos to goofy skits. One gets a hint of their differences from the visuals they picked for their App Store pages.

TikTok’s App Store images.

The TikTok alts

The fate of TikTok could still change dramatically in the coming weeks, although so far, there’s a decent chance that Microsoft may scoop up the Chinese-owned app. Some startups are betting that their US identity will help them win over users from TikTok, but a survey done by California-based Creative Digital Agency suggests that may not be the case.

65% of the hundreds of TikTok users it asked said they won’t feel more comfortable with their data policies even if TikTok were an American company, and 84.6% believe the proposed ban is motivated by political concerns.

“The vast majority believe that all American social media platforms are doing exactly the same thing in mining personal data, which is the big privacy concern,” the agency’s managing director Kevin Almeida suggested.

That said, TikTok’s growth has slowed down recently, as some creators hedge the risk of losing followers in the case of a ban. The app’s installs in the US last week were down 7% compared to the four-week average, shows data from analytics firm Sensor Tower. Its total downloads in the US are close to 190 million.

Triller is hardly the only US startup thriving against the backdrop of TikTok’s uncertain future. At least three other micro-video apps have seen new downloads in the hundreds of thousands in the US over the past week, according to Sensor Tower, and two are rooted in China.

They are Byte, Dom Hofmann’s new app after Vine was shuttered by Twitter; Zynn, which is run by Kuaishou, TikTok’s Chinese homegrown rival; and Likee, operated by Bigo, a Singapore-based company acquired by China’s YY. These apps totaled downloads of 2.9 million, 6.4 million, and 16.3 million in the US, respectively.

Growth of TikTok’s old rival Dubsmash isn’t as remarkable but the app has the most US installs among the competitors, reaching 41.6 million recently.

In comparison, Triller has accumulated 23.8 million downloads in the US. The app has seen a surge in downloads in India following the country’s TikTok ban, but it has also ranked among the top photo and video apps across multiple European and African countries where TikTok remains accessible.

The company operates a global team of 350 employees, most of whom are in the US and work on content operation and engineering.

Trump calls TikTok a hot brand, demands a chunk of its sale price

Today the president appeared to bless the budding Microsoft-TikTok deal, continuing his evolution on a possible transaction. After stating last Friday that he’d rather see TikTok banned than sold to a U.S.-based company, Trump changed his tune over the weekend. TikTok is owned by China-based company ByteDance, which owns a portfolio of apps and services.

A weekend phone call between Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, and the American prime appeared to change his mind, leading to the software company sharing publicly on Sunday that it was pursuing a deal.

Then today the president, endorsing a deal between an American company and ByteDance over TikTok, also said that he expects a chunk of the sale price to wind up in the accounts of the American government.

The American president has long struggled with basic economic concepts. For example, who pays tariffs. But to see Trump state that he expects to receive a chunk of a deal between two private companies that he is effectively forcing to the altar is surreal.

To fully grok his take, we’ve roughly transcribed the pertinent few minutes of his explanation from this morning, when asked about the weekend call with Microsoft’s Nadella. It’s worth a read (bold highlights are TechCrunch’s):

We had a great conversation, uh, he called me, to see whether or not, uh, how I felt about it. And I said look, it can’t be controlled, for security reasons, by China. Too big, too invasive. And it can’t be. And here’s the deal. I don’t mind if, whether it’s Microsoft or somebody else — a big company, a secure company, a very American company — buy it.

It’s probably easier to buy the whole thing than to buy 30% of it. ‘Cause I say how do you do 30%? Who’s going to get the name? The name is hot, the brand is hot. And who’s going to get the name? How do you do that if it’s owned by two different companies? So, my personal opinion was, you are probably better off buying the whole thing rather than buying 30% of it. I think buying 30% is complicated.

And, uh, I suggested that he can go ahead, he can try. We set a date, I set a date, of around September 15th, at which point it’s going to be out of business in the United States. But if somebody, whether it’s Microsoft or somebody else, buys it, that’ll be interesting.

I did say that if you buy it, whatever the price is, that goes to whoever owns it, because I guess it’s China, essentially, but more than anything else, I said a very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the Treasury of the United States. Because we’re making it possible for this deal to happen. Right now they don’t have any rights, unless we give it to ’em. So if we’re going to give them the rights, then it has to come into, it has to come into this country.

It’s a little bit like the landlord-tenant [relationship]. Uh, without a lease, the tenant has nothing. So they pay what is called “key money” or they pay something. But the United States should be reimbursed, or should be paid a substantial amount of money because without the United States they don’t have anything, at least having to do with the 30%.

So, uh, I told him that. I think we are going to have, uh, maybe a deal is going to be made, it’s a great asset, it’s a great asset. But it’s not a great asset in the United States unless they have the approval of the United States.

So it’ll close down on September 15th, unless Microsoft or somebody else is able to buy it, and work out a deal, an appropriate deal, so the Treasury of the — really the Treasury, I suppose you would say, of the United States, gets a lot of money. A lot of money.

“Made in America” is on (government) life support, and the prognosis isn’t good

Intel and Boeing, two of the pillars of American industry.

Intel makes some of the most impressive chips in the world and has for decades, driving high-performance computing to its limits while supporting a company with a market cap today of $200 billion and supporting more than 110,000 employees. Meanwhile, Boeing remains a global leader in aviation despite retiring the 747, with $66 billion in revenue backing a market cap of $90 billion and hosting more than 153,000 workers.

Like pillars of classic Rome though, they exist merely as a shell of their former function. They are weathered, tired, and crumbling, and it doesn’t seem likely that they can hold up the American economy the way they have over the past generation, nor keep the country on the frontier of innovation any longer in their critical industries.

Deindustrialization has swept through the United States for decades of course. It started with the easy stuff — textiles, consumer widgets, appliances — but the sophistication of export-driven economies like Korea, Germany, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Turkey and others has pushed more and more of the manufacturing stack overseas.

Now, even the absolute finest pillars of American exceptionalism in industry are under deep threat. Intel is in the worst position between the two. The company’s bombshell announcement that it is delaying its next-generation 7nm node and would also begin outsourcing some of its manufacturing caused waves on Wall Street, with the stock down nearly 20% in just two weeks. Analysts increasingly believe that Taiwan contract fab TSMC is taking a multi-year lead over Intel’s technology.

Meanwhile, Boeing had and continues to have that whole 737 MAX debacle since the plane model’s first crash in October 2018. That was debilitating enough, but then you add coronavirus and the global collapse of travel on top of it, and the company’s very prospects are looking quite a bit more endangered than anyone could have anticipated two years ago.

For the United States, the first step in ameliorating these slow-motion train wrecks has been the classic policy crisis tool of the bailout. Intel is maybe the most prominent example of America’s death in semiconductors, but it is hardly alone. So Congress is targeting the industry for heavy incentives to try to bridge the gap. Two weeks ago, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) got widespread bipartisan support for his amendment to this year’s defense budget bill that would appropriate billions of dollars of funding and incentives to propel American chipmaking.

Meanwhile, Boeing sought a $60 billion government bailout, before finding a debt consortium of private investors to fund operations. Yet, Boeing gets a different kind of support from the U.S. government, given that a third of its revenues from defense sales, which is obviously heavily driven by the Pentagon. A government bailout for the manufacturer this year is still not out of the question.

Smothering dollars on these companies isn’t going to change the rot that is spreading within. Both companies have transformed engineering-focused cultures to profit-driven maximization, while facing keen global competition that has chipped away at their advantages. Boeing is again safer than Intel — Airbus hasn’t been much better when it comes to innovation and bad strategic decisions like the A380, and China’s airframe manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China isn’t really ready for primetime although it is certainly progressing.

It’s not that industrial policy fails, it’s that American industrial policy seems flagrantly incompetent.

Taiwan has made semiconductor excellence a critical aspect of its national economy. Korea has made cultural productions like K-pop and K-drama a top government priority, now a massive growing global industry. China has perhaps most notoriously made supporting flagship industries a key bedrock of its economic development, to much success over the past three decades. And the list continues.

What’s the difference? In one word: strategy. In each of these successful cases, governments spurred the creation of new industries through incentives and policy changes, while ensuring that these industries built up differentiated intellectual property that would pay back those incentives in spades.

The United States on the other hand always jumps in with the handouts at precisely the wrong time. Rather than incentivizing the creation of new industries, it runs to the industries in decline and sprays that cash fertilizer across the weeds and deadwood.

While Congress spends billions to try to salvage the chip industry, the Trump Administration announced a $75 million quantum computing initiative aimed at spurring America to the frontiers of advanced computing. While China is investing billions in 5G wireless technologies, America is offering hundreds of thousands of dollars to start rural testbeds.

As an economic superpower, the United States has lived in a world where it was simply, by default, the best at whatever it and its citizens wanted to be. Industries could be fragmented, government policy could be out-of-whack, schools and universities could be horrifically inefficient in training, but none of that mattered since few other countries could compete across such a breadth of industry.

Today, plenty of countries can compete in manufacturing and cultural production. And not only can they compete, but they are willing to go all-in to ensure that they succeed in these endeavors. Taiwan is not great at semiconductors because of a random constellation of factors, it’s great because it pushed its entire economy, education system, and government to prioritize its excellence on top of changes like the opening of the global economy and the rise of China.

Intel and Boeing still have a chance of course, they are still massive companies with cash and talent. Yet, one can’t help look at the history of every other collapsed manufacturing company in the U.S. and not feel a startling sense of déjà vu. We didn’t get it right those times — do we have it in us to do it right this time?

Chinese internet users brand ByteDance CEO a ‘traitor’ as TikTok seeks US buyer

ByteDance is not backing down from its ambitions to become a global technology powerhouse, even as TikTok loses its largest market India and faces insurmountable challenges in the US. But some in China are blasting the Beijing-based company as too accommodating and yielding to US demands.

ByteDance said it will “remain committed to our vision to become a globalized company” despite the flurry of challenges thrown at it, it said in a statement posted late Sunday.

Following months of efforts to sway US regulators and the public, TikTok reluctantly arrived at two concessions: “We faced the real possibility of a forced sale of TikTok’s US business by CFIUS or an executive order banning on the TikTok app in the US,” ByteDance founder and CEO Zhang Yiming wrote to employees in a letter on Monday.

The TikTok saga is evolving on an hourly basis. As of writing, Microsoft has confirmed it’s in talks with US officials to pursue a TikTok purchase. Trump previously said he would not support the purchase of the Chinese-owned app by an American company.

On the China end, Zhang told his staff that the company has “initiated preliminary discussions with a tech company to help clear the way for us to continue offering the TikTok app in the U.S.” The message corroborates reassurance from the app’s US general manager Vanessa Pappas that TikTok is “not planning on going anywhere.”

Zhang is unabashed about his frustration in the letter: “We disagree with CFIUS’s conclusion because we have always been committed to user safety, platform neutrality, and transparency. However, we understand their decision in the current macro environment.”

Angry netizens

But ByteDance’s responses clearly have not won favor with some people in China. On Weibo, a popular microblogging platform in China, hundreds of anonymous users joined in under a post about Zhang’s letter, cursing him as a traitor of China, an American apologist, a coward, among many other labels.

“Zhang Yiming used to praise the US for allowing debate, unlike in China, where opinions are one-sided. Now he got a slap in the face, why doesn’t he go argue with the US?” Chastised one of the most popular comments with over 3,600 likes.

The commentator appears to be referring to some of Zhang’s Weibo posts from the early 2010s, which can be seen by some as liberal-leaning, putting the entrepreneur in the rank of “public intellectuals.” The term has in recent years been thought of as derogatory, as internet patriots see the group as ignorant and worshippers of Western values.

“The general view among Chinese social media users is that this is a tit-for-tat measure as part of the ongoing US-China trade war. They also believe that these steps are being taken due to TikTok’s success and because it has now become a threat to US platforms such as Facebook and Twitter,” said Rich Bishop, CEO of AppInChina, which helps international apps and games publish in China.

Zhang’s Weibo account is currently suspended, presumably to prevent armies of angry patriots from flooding his posts.

It’s hard to gauge how representative the online sentiment is of the Chinese public, or whether the discourse is orchestrated by government-paid commentators. Compared to the internet fury, though, Beijing appeared relatively resigned, with a Foreign Ministry spokesperson merely denying US allegations against TikTok as fabricated “out of nothing” during a regular presser. (There’s no concrete evidence publicly presented by the US government yet to support its claims that TikTok is a national security threat.)

After all, the Chinese government can’t do much to retaliate, given there are scant examples of American internet giants with a considerable business in China.

Sympathy from peers

Startups and investors in China are more sympathetic toward ByteDance. Many agree that if the Microsoft deal goes through, it could be the least bad outcome for TikTok.

“They are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said William Bao Bean, general partner at Chinaccelerator, a cross-border accelerator backed by SOSV. “We are in a fast-changing regulatory environment. I think the consumers would probably want to continue using the service, and this is one potential way to make that happen. Obviously, I don’t think it’s what ByteDance really wants.”

AppInChina’s Bishop reminded us of Microsoft’s non-confrontational attitude towards Beijing. “I think it’s a good outcome for all sides. Microsoft of course benefits hugely from getting into social media. Bytedance gets a good payout, and Bytedance and the Chinese government are relatively friendly towards Microsoft.”

The tech community is well aware that TikTok is a rarity. Although the backlash will have a chilling effect on Chinese companies expanding to the US, and potentially other Western markets, there simply aren’t many internet companies going from China to the West in the first place.

“Most solutions that are built for China don’t solve problems that people have in the West,” observed Bao Bean.

Chinese games probably have the best shot in conquering the West, as WeChat parent Tencent, through aggressive acquisitions and numerous smash-hits, has demonstrated. Smaller developers resort to the strategy of “laying low” about their Chinese origin.

“We simply don’t take media interviews,” said CEO of a US-listed Chinese internet firm on condition of anonymity.

“It’s not about the chilling effect. The problem is there won’t be opportunities in the US, Canada, Australia, or India anymore. The chance of succeeding in Europe is also becoming smaller, and the risks are increasing a lot,” a former executive overseeing an American giant’s Chinese business lamented, asking not to be named.

“From now on, Chinese companies going global can only look to Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America.”

Pompeo says U.S. may take action against TikTok and other Chinese tech companies “shortly”

Days after President Donald Trump announced he could use an executive order to ban TikTok from the United States, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the administration is “closing in on a solution and I think you’ll see the president’s announcement shortly.”

In an interview on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” host Maria Bartiromo, Pompeo also said that the Trump administration may take action against other Chinese tech companies doing business in the U.S., claiming that some are “feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party.”

Beijing-based ByteDance, TikTok’s owner, is currently in talks with Microsoft to sell its TikTok business in the U.S. and several other countries to the U.S. tech giant. The negotiations have taken on more urgency over the last two weeks as U.S. scrutiny of TikTok increased.

Microsoft said on Sunday that it is in discussions to buy TikTok’s operations in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand by September 15, and that its chief executive officer, Satya Nadella had talked to Trump about the president’s security concerns.

Reuters reported last week that ByteDance will completely relinquish control to Microsoft, even though it had previously wanted to hold onto a minority stake in the U.S. TikTok business.

Notably, Microsoft didn’t mention India in its statement, even though TikTok was banned there in June, along with 58 other apps developed by Chinese companies that the Indian government deemed potential threats to national security.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last Wednesday that TikTok is under review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS). This follows an earlier investigation by the CFIUS into whether ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly in 2018, which it merged with TikTok, constitutes a national security threat. A decision on the TikTok-Musical.ly review still hasn’t been released.

When asked by Bartiromo if a sale would be enough to placate the U.S. government, Pompeo said the Trump administration would “make sure that everything we have done drives us as close to zero risk for the American people.”

But several Republican lawmakers have said that a sale would not be enough. Marc Rubio, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Financial Times last week that TikTok still needs to answer questions about where its data is store and how it is protected.

“Until TikTok’s owners—regardless of who that might be—can answer these basic questions and get its story straight, I remain concerned about the company’s activities and reported ties to China,” Rubio said.

Beyond TikTok

The day before Pompeo’s Fox News interview, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News that the Trump administration is also reviewing “any kind of software that sends the information for Americans back to servers in China.”

Pompeo also suggested that the U.S. government may take action against more Chinese technology companies.

“These Chinese software companies doing business in the United States, whether it’s TikTok or WeChat—there are countless more, as Peter Navarro said, are feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party, their national security apparatus, could be their facial recognition pattern, information about their residence, their phone numbers, their friends,” he alleged.

Pompeo added that Trump will “take action in the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party,” but did not elaborate on what that will entail or what companies might be affected.

The U.S. government said last month that it may restrict WeChat in China, even though the version of WeChat available in the U.S. has far less features than the one in China, where it is used for payments, bookings e-commerce and other functions in addition to messaging.

While WeChat is ubiquitous in China, its user base in the U.S. is much smaller, and it is primarily used by members of the Chinese diaspora and foreign businesses that have operations or a connection in China.

As threats to the company mount, TikTok pushes back

As TikTok’s existential rollercoaster ride continues to rattle on, the company is trying to sway regulators and the public with a flood of dollars and arguments wrapped in free enterprise and free speech to ensure that its parent company Bytedance can retain control of its operations.

The push to validate its business comes as reports swirl around a potential Presidential ban and bid from Microsoft to take over the company’s business in the U.S.

As it confronts domestic competitors and political attacks, TikTok and its parent company Bytedance have picked up some defenders from the American civil rights movement.

Late last night, the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted its objections to the proposed ban by President Trump.

“With any Internet platform, we should be concerned about the risk that sensitive private data will be funneled to abusive governments, including our own,” the ACLU wrote in a subsequent statement. “But shutting one platform down, even if it were legally possible to do so, harms freedom of speech online and does nothing to resolve the broader problem of unjustified government surveillance.”

Meanwhile, the sentiment in China seems resigned to the U.S. forcing Bytedance to divest of its US interests. In a survey by Sina Technology on the social media platform, Weibo asking what people think of Bytedance potentially selling TikTok to Microsoft, 36.7k of the total 75.3k respondents saw it as “a reluctant and helpless solution that’s understandable,” while 35.1k said they are “disappointed and hope [the company] can hold up for a bit more”.  https://m.weibo.cn/1642634100/4533238409991735
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Even as ownership of the service remains an open question, the company moved quickly to reassure its users that TikTok would continue to operate in the U.S.

The company is also redoubling its efforts to appeal to creators even as it faces defections over its potential mishandling of user data.

On Tuesday, a clutch of the company’s largest celebrities, with a collective audience of some 47 million viewers, abandoned the platform for its much smaller competitor, Triller.

Founded in 2015, two years before TikTok began its explosive rise to prominence, Triller is backed by some of the biggest names in American music and entertainment including Snoop Dogg, The Weeknd,  Marshmello, Lil Wayne, Juice WRLD, Young Thug, Kendrick LamarBaron Davis, Tyga, TI, Jake Paul and Troy Carter. 

Now, TikTok stars Josh Richards, Griffin Johnson, Noah Beck and Anthony Reeves are joining their ranks as investors and advisors. Richards, Johnson, Beck and Reeves are also being compensated by Triller, but the reason they cited for leaving the service are the security concerns from governments.

Triller is compensating Richards, Johnson, Beck, and Reeves, though the details of the deals are undisclosed. Despite that, the creators say they’re leaving TikTok because they’ve grown wary of the Chinese-owned company’s security practices.

“After seeing the U.S. and other countries’ governments’ concerns over TikTok—and given my responsibility to protect and lead my followers and other influencers—I followed my instincts as an entrepreneur and made it my mission to find a solution,” Richards, who’s assuming the title of chief strategy officer, told the LA Times. 

TikTok has responded by announcing a dramatic increase in the company’s creator fund. Initially set at $200 million, in a blog post earlier this week, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer announced that the fund would reach $1 billion over the next three years.

TikTok’s charm offensive may stave off the assaults, but the company will need to address concerns around user data. It’s the most pressing threat to the company and the one it’s least equipped to deal with.

China’s electric SUV maker Li Auto raises $1.1 billion in U.S. IPO

Trade tensions between China and the U.S. have not stopped Chinese companies from eyeing to list on American stock exchanges. Li Auto, a five-year-old Chinese electric vehicle startup, raised $1.1 billion through its debut on Nasdaq on Thursday.

The Beijing-based company is targeting a growing Chinese middle class who aspire to drive cleaner, smarter, and larger vehicles. Its first model, sold at a subsidized price of 328,000 yuan or $46,800, is a six-seat electric SUV that began shipping end of last year.

Li Auto priced its IPO north of its targeted range at $11.5 per share, giving it a fully diluted market value of $10 billion. It also raised an additional $380 million in a concurrent private placement of shares to existing investors.

The IPO arrived amid a surge of investor interest in EV makers. Tesla’s shares have skyrocketed in the last few quarters. Li Auto’s domestic rival Nio, which raised a similar amount in a $1 billion float in New York back in 2018, also saw its stock price rally in recent months.

Li Auto is one step ahead of its Chinese peer Xpeng in planning its first-time sale. The six-year-old competitor said last year it may consider an IPO. Last month, a source told South China Morning Post that Xpeng was getting ready for the listing.

Founders of China’s emergent EV startups are often shrewd internet veterans who are well-connected in the venture capital and marketing world, attracting investment dollars in the billions. Li Auto, for instance, counts China’s food delivery mogul Wang Xing, boss of Meituan Dianping, as its second-largest shareholder after its CEO Li Xiang. TikTok parent ByteDance shelled out $30 million in its Series C round.

Investors are in part emboldened by Beijing’s national push to electrify China’s auto industry. The question, then, is whether these startups have the right talent and resources to pull things off in an industry that traditionally demands a much longer development cycle.

Wallace Guo, a managing partner at Li Auto’s Series B investor Taihecap, admitted that “the nature of auto consumption, unlike internet products evolving through trial and error, manufacturing a car, is a strategic move with sophisticated system, very long value chain, requiring huge investment and resources and any error can be fatal.”

Mingming Huang, chief executive of Future Capital, said that “it was a no brainer in 2015 to be the first investor” in Li Auto. The venture capitalist said Li, who ran a popular car-buying online portal before getting into manufacturing, “has the rare combination of being a relentless talent as well as a top-notch product manager that excels in creating value for all stakeholders.”

Customers testing Li Auto’s SUV in China. Photo: Li Auto

Both investors believed Li Auto has picked the right path of zeroing in on extended-range electric vehicles. EREVs come with an auxiliary power unit, often a small combustion engine, that ensures cars can still operate even when a charging station is not immediately available, a shortage yet to be solved in China.

As my colleague Alex pointed out, Li Auto is on a trajectory similar to that of its peer Nio, going public after a short history of delivering to customers. The startup only began shipping its first model last December and delivered just over 10,000 units as of June, its prospectus showed.

The startup is still deep in the red, losing 2.44 billion yuan ($350 million) in 2019, up from a net loss of 1.53 billion yuan in 2018. It did finish the first quarter of 2020 with a gross profit of $9.6 million after it began monetization.

Its annual revenue — which comprised mostly of car sales and a small portion from services like charging stalls — stood at 284 million yuan ($40.4 million) in 2019, a tiny fraction of Nio’s $1.12 billion. But Nio also amassed a greater net loss of $1.62 billion in the same year. In contrast, Tesla has been profitable for four straight quarters.

Li Auto’s investors are clearly bullish that the Chinese startup can one day match Tesla’s commercial success.

“Xiang has a deep understanding of the preferences and pain points of car owners and drivers in China. Li Auto is the first in China, to successfully commercialize extended-range electric vehicles, solving the challenges of inadequate charging infrastructure and battery technologies constraints,” Huang asserted.

“The company is able to get positive gross margin when selling the first batch of vehicles and thus with its growth in sales volume, its gross margin was well above competitors and can live long enough to become a ten billion-dollar company with this healthy business model,” said Guo.

China’s electric SUV maker Li Auto raises $1.1 billion in U.S. IPO

Trade tensions between China and the U.S. have not stopped Chinese companies from eyeing to list on American stock exchanges. Li Auto, a five-year-old Chinese electric vehicle startup, raised $1.1 billion through its debut on Nasdaq on Thursday.

The Beijing-based company is targeting a growing Chinese middle class who aspire to drive cleaner, smarter, and larger vehicles. Its first model, sold at a subsidized price of 328,000 yuan or $46,800, is a six-seat electric SUV that began shipping end of last year.

Li Auto priced its IPO north of its targeted range at $11.5 per share, giving it a fully diluted market value of $10 billion. It also raised an additional $380 million in a concurrent private placement of shares to existing investors.

The IPO arrived amid a surge of investor interest in EV makers. Tesla’s shares have skyrocketed in the last few quarters. Li Auto’s domestic rival Nio, which raised a similar amount in a $1 billion float in New York back in 2018, also saw its stock price rally in recent months.

Li Auto is one step ahead of its Chinese peer Xpeng in planning its first-time sale. The six-year-old competitor said last year it may consider an IPO. Last month, a source told South China Morning Post that Xpeng was getting ready for the listing.

Founders of China’s emergent EV startups are often shrewd internet veterans who are well-connected in the venture capital and marketing world, attracting investment dollars in the billions. Li Auto, for instance, counts China’s food delivery mogul Wang Xing, boss of Meituan Dianping, as its second-largest shareholder after its CEO Li Xiang. TikTok parent ByteDance shelled out $30 million in its Series C round.

Investors are in part emboldened by Beijing’s national push to electrify China’s auto industry. The question, then, is whether these startups have the right talent and resources to pull things off in an industry that traditionally demands a much longer development cycle.

Wallace Guo, a managing partner at Li Auto’s Series B investor Taihecap, admitted that “the nature of auto consumption, unlike internet products evolving through trial and error, manufacturing a car, is a strategic move with sophisticated system, very long value chain, requiring huge investment and resources and any error can be fatal.”

Mingming Huang, chief executive of Future Capital, said that “it was a no brainer in 2015 to be the first investor” in Li Auto. The venture capitalist said Li, who ran a popular car-buying online portal before getting into manufacturing, “has the rare combination of being a relentless talent as well as a top-notch product manager that excels in creating value for all stakeholders.”

Customers testing Li Auto’s SUV in China. Photo: Li Auto

Both investors believed Li Auto has picked the right path of zeroing in on extended-range electric vehicles. EREVs come with an auxiliary power unit, often a small combustion engine, that ensures cars can still operate even when a charging station is not immediately available, a shortage yet to be solved in China.

As my colleague Alex pointed out, Li Auto is on a trajectory similar to that of its peer Nio, going public after a short history of delivering to customers. The startup only began shipping its first model last December and delivered just over 10,000 units as of June, its prospectus showed.

The startup is still deep in the red, losing 2.44 billion yuan ($350 million) in 2019, up from a net loss of 1.53 billion yuan in 2018. It did finish the first quarter of 2020 with a gross profit of $9.6 million after it began monetization.

Its annual revenue — which comprised mostly of car sales and a small portion from services like charging stalls — stood at 284 million yuan ($40.4 million) in 2019, a tiny fraction of Nio’s $1.12 billion. But Nio also amassed a greater net loss of $1.62 billion in the same year. In contrast, Tesla has been profitable for four straight quarters.

Li Auto’s investors are clearly bullish that the Chinese startup can one day match Tesla’s commercial success.

“Xiang has a deep understanding of the preferences and pain points of car owners and drivers in China. Li Auto is the first in China, to successfully commercialize extended-range electric vehicles, solving the challenges of inadequate charging infrastructure and battery technologies constraints,” Huang asserted.

“The company is able to get positive gross margin when selling the first batch of vehicles and thus with its growth in sales volume, its gross margin was well above competitors and can live long enough to become a ten billion-dollar company with this healthy business model,” said Guo.

China now accounts for nearly one-quarter of Tesla revenue

Tesla has been counting on China to maintain its sales momentum, and it seems to be on track with the plan.

In the three months ended June 30, the automaker’s revenue in China climbed 102.9% year-over-year to $1.4 billion, according to its latest SEC filing. That means China now makes up 23.3% of Tesla’s total revenues of $6 billion in the quarter, compared to just about 11% in the same period a year before.

To increase affordability for Chinese consumers, Tesla inked a 50-year lease from the Shanghai government to build a Gigafactory there, which keeps production costs down and allows it to reap local tax benefits and avoid tariffs. Under the terms of the agreement, the electric vehicle giant needs to pay 2.23 billion yuan ($320 million) in tax to China every year starting at the end of 2023. It must also sink 14.08 billion yuan in capital expenditure into the facility.

Tesla began shipping China-made Model 3 at the end of last year and is on course to add its Model Y, a mid-size electric SUV, to its production in the world’s biggest auto market, the filing shows. Earlier this month, it also started taking reservations in China for its futuristic Cybertruck, which won’t go into production until late 2022.

While shipment in China jumped in the second quarter, Tesla delivered 4.8% fewer vehicles overall in the period due to challenges prompted by COVID-19, including suspended production. The period marked the fourth straight quarter of profitability for the automaker.