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The US is “Looking at” a Potential TikTok Ban, Pompeo Says as the Company Pulls Out of Hong Kong

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  • Early Monday, TikTok announced that it would be leaving the Hong Kong market over fears regarding China’s new national security law, which would require the company to hand over user data.
  • Later in the day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News that the U.S. is “looking at” banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok.
  • The Chinese-owned app has long been accused of giving data to the Chinese Communist Party, which it has repeatedly denied.
  • If put in place, an American ban would just be the latest national-restriction against TikTok. India banned the app on July 1 over similar fears that it gave away user data to Chinese authorities.

Could TikTok Face an American Ban?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News Monday night that the United States was “looking at” banning Chinese social media apps, including the popular video-sharing app TikTok.

When speaking to host Laura Ingraham about potential plans to restrict the app, Pompeo said, “We’re taking this very seriously, but we’re certainly looking at it. We’ve worked on this very issue for a long time.”

“With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cellphones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too,” he added.

Despite his claims, there haven’t been any concrete efforts made public yet. Still, when asked if he’d recommend for people to download TikTok, the Secretary of State replied, “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”

TikTok has adamantly claimed that despite its parent company ByteDance being based in China, TikTok itself isn’t controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor does it have deep ties with the party.

The app claims that the executives and managers who actually make decisions about its business and make its content rules are all outside of China. The company also states that Chinese authorities have no say in what is and isn’t allowed on the app, and lastly, that user data isn’t stored in China.

American authorities doubt these claims, as the company is owned by ByteDance, which is based in China and like most large Chinese companies, is thought to have close ties to the ruling Communist Party. Adding to the fuel that TikTok complies with Chinese authorities is the fact that ByteDance also owns its sister company, Douyin, which is essentially a Chinese version of TikTok.

A U.S. ban would be a massive loss for the company, which is home to some of its biggest creators. The app has also faced hurdles in India, where a ban went into effect on July 1 that blocked TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps. The nation of over 1 billion is among its largest markets.

Australia has also floated the idea of banning the platform over concerns it inappropriately shares data with the Chinese government.

Pulling Out of Hong Kong

Aside from promising that it isn’t controlled by Chinese authorities, TikTok has also made recent moves to distance itself from the country. Hours before Pompeo spoke to Fox News, TikTok announced that it would be pulling out of the Hong Kong market over fears about a sweeping national security law imposed on the city by China on June 29.

According to TikTok, the app would be inoperable within Hong Kong in a few days. Additionally, it wouldn’t process data requests from China or Hong Kong police, although some current residents already say they can’t download the app.

Hong Kong authorities used the new national security law to release strict new rules regarding online posts. If police suspect an “electronic message” endangers “national security,” they can ask the publisher, platform, host, or network provider to remove or restrict access to it. Those who publish messages and don’t comply face a $100,000 fine and upwards of six months in jail.

Users who actually make the posts face a similar fine and up to a year in jail.

According to multiple reports, the rules explicitly allow authorities to jail employees at internet companies that don’t reply, regardless if they’re based in Hong Kong or not. It should be noted that punishment would only be applicable if one was to actually travel to Hong Kong or China, as most nations wouldn’t comply with another country claiming extraterritorial authority.

However, it still puts companies in an awkward position; comply with Chinese authorities and face backlash for caving on free speech, or disregard the rules and potentially risk employee safety and losing market access.

It wasn’t just TikTok that responded to the new rules, other tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Twitter all said they would temporarily halt data requests from Hong Kong authorities as they decide what to do in the long run. All three had spokespeople and statements that were remarkably similar.

A Facebook spokesperson told Reuters, “We are pausing the review of government requests for user data from Hong Kong pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts.”

“We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions,” the statement continued.

Even though at face value it may seem like a hollow gesture, considering the fact that these companies are banned in China, it’s actually a big risk to a massive revenue stream. All three of those companies have major advertiser programs in China.

While they debate whether to comply with the law or not, it’s interesting to note that TikTok went further than the rest by actually pulling services out of the city. That might be because Hong Kong wasn’t a huge market for the company.

It consistently lost them money and only about 150,000 Hong Kongers used the app. Another facet that may limit the impact of “losing” Hong Kong is that TikTok’s sister app, Douyin, is still usable and popular in Hong Kong, despite not officially being available in the city.

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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Black Mirror or Reality? Microsoft Granted Patent for Tech That Lets It Create Chatbots of Dead People

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  • Microsoft has been granted a patent that would allow it to create artificial intelligence chatbots of dead people using “voice data, social media posts, electronic messages, written letters, etc.”
  • As Microsoft noted in its patent proposal, chatbots could also be created to imitate living people — opening the door for users to train a digital version of themselves to be used after they die. 
  • In the patent filing, Microsoft also suggested creating 2D or 3D models of chatbot subjects by studying images and videos of them.
  • Online, many noted the similarities between Microsoft’s patent and a 2013 episode of Black Mirror in which a woman creates an AI version of her deceased boyfriend. 

Microsoft Granted Controversial Patent

The United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted Microsoft a patent for technology that would allow it digitally revive dead people.

If implemented, Microsoft would use information like “voice data, social media posts, electronic messages, written letters, etc.,” to create artificial intelligence chatbots meant to replicate the person.

In its filing, Microsoft noted that the person could be “a friend, a relative, an acquaintance, a celebrity, a fictional character, a historical figure, a random entity, etc.”

Microsoft also noted, “the specific person may also correspond to oneself (e.g., the user creating/training the chat bot), or a version of oneself (e.g., oneself at a particular age or stage of life).”

As The Independent pointed out, that opens up the door for living users to be able to “train a digital replacement in the event of their death.”

But it doesn’t stop there. Microsoft has also suggested creating 2D or even 3D models of the person by studying images and videos of them.

Has Life Finally Become an Episode of Black Mirror?

Online, many noted the similarities between Microsoft’s patent and a 2013 episode of Black Mirror in which a character, played by Hayley Atwell, revives her recently-deceased boyfriend through an AI chatbot. As the episode progresses, that AI — played by Domhnall Gleeson — eventually becomes an exact replica android of her boyfriend. 

“More people that need to remember Black Mirror is a warning sign, not a product manual,” said Tama Leaver, an internet studies professor at Curtin University in Australia. 

Indeed, many critics have interpreted the episode, which focuses on the grief felt by Atwell’s character because of her loss, as an examination of “our own mortality and our desire to play God.” 

“It shines a spotlight on our desperate need to reverse a natural and necessary part of life without considering the consequences on our emotional well-being,” Roxanne Sancto said in a review for Paste Magazine.

In fact, series creator Charlie Brooker said part of his direct inspiration for writing the episode was based on Twitter and the question: “What if these people were dead and it was software emulating their thoughts?”

See what others are saying: (The Independent) (IGN) (Indie Wire)

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JoJo Siwa Fans Caution Against Labeling the Star’s Sexuality

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  • JoJo Siwa was featured in two TikTok videos Wednesday that many felt signaled her as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • One showed her dancing and lip-syncing to Paramore’s “Aint It Fun,” along with members of the TikTok group Pride House LA. Siwa specifically mouthed the lyric “Now you’re one of us,” which is also the caption of the post. 
  • The second video showed her lip-syncing to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” a song that has long been heralded as an LGBTQ+ anthem.  
  • The 17-year-old entertainer has not directly addressed speculations about her sexuality, prompting many to caution against labeling her.

JoJo Siwa TikToks Trigger Sexuality Speculations

JoJo Siwa fans are urging the public not to label the 17-year-old entertainer’s sexuality, especially when she has not explicitly done so herself.

The request came after Siwa became a trending topic Wednesday when many speculated that she had come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

The speculations stem from two TikTok videos she was featured in. The first was posted on choreographer Kent Boyd’s account. It features him and other members of the TikTok group Pride House LA, which includes several stars from Disney Channel’s “Teen Beach Movie.”

It showed them all lip-syncing and dancing along to Paramore’s hit song “Ain’t It Fun.” Siaw specifically mouthed the lyric “Now you’re one of us.” That lyric was also the caption of the post.

@kentboyd_

Now your one of us!! @itsjojosiwa @molleegray @garrettclayton91 @jekajane #pridehousela

♬ now ur one of us – Mia Mugavero

Later in the day, Siwa posted a video on her personal TikTok account that featured her lip-syncing to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” a song that has long been heralded as an LGBTQ+ anthem. 

Part of the lyrics she sang along to were: “No matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian transgender life / I’m on the right track baby, I was born to survive.” 

Reactions

These posts really started all the rumors online, and things picked up when influencers like James Charles, Bretman Rock, and others expressed their support.

Many fans also left comments on the videos saying they were proud of her, and journalist Yashar Ali tweeted, “This feels like a big deal if it is what I think it is…JoJo Siwa is hugely popular with kids.”

“And as someone just pointed out, if it is what I think it is, she’s doing it at the height of her fame when she’s selling out arenas,” he continued.

Despite the wave of praise, other fans feel that it’s inappropriate and harmful to make speculations about anyone’s sexuality.

Many have even shared their own experiences coming out, reminding people not to label Siwa as anything until she explicitly chooses to share that information herself. 

While Siwa hasn’t directly addressed any of the responses as of yet, she has retweeted a post that features her video, the pride flag emoji, and the caption, “@itsjojosiwa is on the right track, she was born this way.”

Still, others also noted that she has publicly asked Lady Gaga to collaborate with her in the past, so perhaps this is a signal about that happening soon.

Others believe it could also be Siwa’s way of signaling that she is an ally of the LGBTQ+ community.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (Metro) (Teen Vogue)

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Google Investigates Top AI Researcher Who Was Looking Into a Previous Firing

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  • Google is investigating the co-leader of its Ethical AI team, Margaret Mitchell.
  • While Mitchell has not been fired, her account has been locked because Google said she “exfiltrated thousands of files” and shared them with people outside of the company. 
  • In a tweet, Mitchell indicated that she had been “documenting current critical issues” related to the firing of another Google AI Ethicist in December.
  • Sources reportedly told Axios that Mitchell had been specifically looking for messages that showed discriminatory treatment of that fired researcher.

Google Investigates Margaret Mitchell

On Tuesday, Google stated that it is now investigating the co-leader of its Ethical Al team, Margaret Mitchell.

Mitchell has reportedly not been fired, but her company email account has been locked.

According to Google, its security systems automatically lock employee accounts “when they detect that the account is at risk of compromise due to credential problems or when an automated rule involving the handling of sensitive data has been triggered.”

In this case, Google said Mitchell “exfiltrated thousands of files” and then shared them with people outside of the company. 

Why Did Mitchell Begin Looking Through Files?

Mitchell’s investigation is related to the ousting of another top AI ethicist at Google, Timnit Gebru, who was fired at the beginning of December. 

Before Gebru was fired, managers reportedly instructed her to withdraw an unpublished research paper upon her return from vacation. In an email to the internal listserv Google Brain Women and Allies, Gebru then voiced frustration at managers for allegedly making the decision without her input. 

“You are not worth having any conversations about this, since you are not someone whose humanity (let alone expertise recognized by journalists, governments, scientists, civic organizations such as the electronic frontiers foundation etc) is acknowledged or valued in this company,” Gebru said in a critique of the decision. 

Gebru’s firing led to such a massive outcry from Google employees that Google CEO Sundar Pichai pledged to investigate the situation. 

On Friday, Mitchell indicated in a tweet that she was also looking into Gebru’s firing, saying that she was “documenting current critical issues from [Gebru’s] firing, point by point, inside and outside work.”

According to Axios, sources have said that Mitchell used automated scripts to siphon through messages that potentially document discriminatory treatment against Gebru.

See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Verge) (Bloomberg)

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