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Influencers Fight to #SaveTikTok Amid Data Concerns

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  • As privacy concerns over TikTok grow, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said officials were considering a ban of the app.
  • TikTok users and creators like Michael Le are trying to fight against this using the hashtag #SaveTikTok, arguing that the app has been a light in dark times for many people.
  • On the other hand, big companies like Wells Fargo are telling their employees to delete the app from their work devices, while the DNC and RNC have both warned their staffers about the app.
  • Gamer and streamer Ninja announced that he has deleted the app as well, saying he hopes a “less intrusive company” can recreate the successful concept.

TikTok Users Try to Save the App

TikTok creators are fighting to save the video-sharing app from a potential United States ban as security concerns over the platform continue to grow.

In early July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the U.S. is “looking at” banning the app, which is owned by Chinese-based company ByteDance. India banned the app over security concerns in June. Since then, users of the app have been left to wonder where they would go if they lost access to TikTok.

Michael Le, a creator on TikTok who has garnered a following of 33.8 million users, posted a video encouraging people to #SaveTikTok. 

@justmaiko

Comment #SaveTiktok to be apart of this petition and spread the word. Lets FIGHT for what we love💙

♬ SaveTiktok – justmaiko

“I’m starting a petition with hashtag #SaveTikTok,” Le said in a video that has now been viewed nearly 9 million times and liked by over 2 million people. “2020 has had so many tragedies, and TikTok has been one of the most positive outlets for us all whether it’s watching or creating content,” he continued.

TikTok has been a popular app for a while, but since lockdown measures began in response to the coronavirus pandemic, its popularity has grown even more. It’s become the social media platform of choice for many, particularly Generation Z, as many parts of the world continue to isolate.

According to Sensor Tower, the app has been downloaded 2 billion times. 165 million of those downloads have come from the U.S.

Le said that while the app has “flaws” it has inspired people in hard times and lifted spirits during the pandemic. He asked that people comment #SaveTikTok on his video to create the social petition. As of Monday morning, his video has received over 460,000 comments, many of which use the hashtag. Some of those comments came from other popular creators like Tony Lopez, Jon Klaasen, and Justin Vibes. The #SaveTikTok hashtag has received a total of 311 million views throughout the app. 

Concerns Remain Strong

However, not everyone is working to save the app. Some large companies and prominent figures have advocated for deleting TikTok.

Wells Fargo has asked that all its employees delete the app from their work devices because of security concerns. The Democratic and Republican National Committees have even warned that their staffers about the app.

Amazon sent out a memo asking their employees to delete it but quickly backtracked the order, explaining it was sent in error. 

On top of all that, popular gamer and streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins announced that he deleted the app and hopes a “less intrusive company” can recreate the successful concept. 

As for why so many people are wary of TikTok, many believe that the app is sending user information to China. TikTok has repeatedly denied this, claiming that user safety is their top priority and that they have not and will not share information with China.

Geoffrey Fowler, a technology columnist for the Washington Post, has explained that the app does collect a substantial amount of information of its users. It is not exactly clear whether or not that information makes its way to China, though it is possible. In a Monday morning piece, Fowler wrote that the app collects information on the content you consume, in-app messages you send, as well as location information, your phone contacts, age and other social network connections. 

While this is likely not more than the information Facebook might be grabbing from its users, it is still a sturdy haul. To find out what happens with that information, Fowler worked with Patrick Jackson, the chief technology officer at a privacy company called Disconnect to watch data flow out of TikTok. While they did not see it make its way to servers known to be in China, they believe it is possible, and even likely, that data could be transmitted to other locations that they could not verify. 

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Verge) (Wall Street Journal)

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Robinhood Crypto Trading Crashes Twice as Dogecoin Multiplies in Value, Enraging Users

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  • Robinhood users found themselves unable to buy or sell cryptocurrency Thursday night, an issue reminiscent of the app’s decision to restrict GameStop trades earlier this year.
  • While Robinhood resolved the problem within a matter of hours, it came amid a massive rally on Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that started out as a joke. The app’s crypto services briefly went down again Friday morning as the rally continued.  
  • Robinhood has denied that its crypto trading outages were an intentional effort to drive down Dogecoin prices and instead blamed the outages on “unprecedented demand for Robinhood Crypto services.”
  • By Friday morning, Dogecoin briefly soared to $0.45, more than 400% of the value it had at the beginning of the week and more than 4,500% of the value it had at the beginning of the year.

Robinhood Crashes Amid Dogecoin Rally

The joke cryptocurrency Dogecoin has surged more than 400% this week alone, but around 10 p.m. EST Thursday night, the free-to-trade app Robinhood tweeted that it was “experiencing issues with crypto trading.” In turn, that caused many of the app’s users to find themselves unable to execute trades.

Dogecoin first began to spike Tuesday ahead of the market debut of the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, which raised $86 billion in its first day of trading. That morning, one Dogecoin amounted to about $0.07. By midnight, it had doubled in value. Those gains continued Thursday evening when Dogecoin spiked to around $0.33.

That may not seem like much, but if a person invested $1,000 in Dogecoin when it was selling for around $0.01 at the beginning of the year, by Thursday evening, that person would be sitting on a small fortune of around $33,000 before taxes. 

Robinhood Users Angry Yet Again 

Many Robinhood users found themselves frustrated when they were unable to sell off their existing dogecoins, especially since the cryptocurrency’s value was rapidly falling. 

In fact, within the matter of just over an hour, it had dipped to around $0.25. Using the last example above, that would mean thousands of dollars of missed opportunity.

“Are you going to cover my account?!?” one user asked Robinhood when she found herself unable to sell her dogecoins. “This is a technical error, not my own risk. Ive been trying to execute this transaction for almost two hours! None of my crypto comes up!” 

This is not Robinhood’s only bout with controversy. Earlier this year, the company infamously blocked its users from buying GameStop stock during a frenzy that sent shares from under $20 to nearly $500 at one point; however, Robinhood still allowed users to sell their existing shares — a move that even if it lacked the intention, had the effect of attempting to drive share prices for GameStop down. 

Though CEO Vlad Tenev later argued that the company “had no choice” but to restrict buying, Robinhood’s decision nonetheless sparked the ire of its users and even prompted Congressional investigations.

Many Robinhood users were quick to point that out Thursday when they once again found themselves unable to execute trades. Some even accused the company of more nefarious intentions. 

Service Restored… Until It Went Down Again 

At 11:46 p.m. Thursday night, Robinhood tweeted that crypto trading had been “fully” restored.

“Like others, we were experiencing unprecedented demand for Robinhood Crypto services, which created issues with crypto trading,” the company said. “We’ve resolved the issue and apologize for the inconvenience.

Multiple times since Thursday evening, the company has denied that it intentionally halted crypto trading to affect Dogecoin prices. 

“Unprecedented demand for Robinhood Crypto services created temporary issues with crypto trading,” a Robinhood spokesperson told the New York Post Friday. “That’s it, plain and simple.” 

On Friday morning, Dogecoin went on to spike at a current 52-week high of $0.45; however, it soon dipped back into the mid- to upper-thirty-cent range, where it remained around 3 p.m. EST.

Meanwhile, amid the surging demand, Robinhood experienced yet another crypto outage around 10:30 a.m. EST Friday. Just before 11 a.m., it said that trading had been restored for most customers. 

See what others are saying: (New York Post) (Business Insider) (Coindesk)

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Child Safety Advocates Urge Facebook To Scrap Plans for Instagram Kids

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  • Nearly 100 child safety experts and international organizations sent a letter to Facebook Thursday criticizing its plans to develop an Instagram app for children under 13.
  • Facebook claims the app will offer parental controls and is meant to create a safer space for kids, who are often lying about their age to access the normal version of Instagram.
  • Still, critics point out that children already on Instagram are unlikely to switch to a kids version. Many also cited concerns about screen time, mental health, and privacy, arguing that younger children are not ready for such a platform.
  • U.S. Lawmakers expressed similar concerns earlier this month, saying, “Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation.”

Instagram for Kids

An international group of 35 organizations and 64 experts, coordinated by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, released a letter Thursday urging Facebook to abandon its plans to release an Instagram app for kids under 13-years old.

Plans for Instagram Kids have been public for about a month after Buzzfeed News obtained emails about the app in mid-March. Since then, there have been widespread concerns about how such an app could affect children.

Thursday’s letter argues that a version of Instagram targeting under-13-year-olds raises concerns about privacy, screen time, mental health, self-esteem, and commercial pressure. Stephanie Otway, a spokesperson for Facebook, said the company understands the concerns presented by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“We agree that any experience we develop must prioritize their safety and privacy, and we will consult with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates to inform it,” she said.

“The reality is that kids are online. They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate. We also want to find practical solutions to the ongoing industry problem of kids lying about their age to access apps,” Otway added, noting the reality of how many children interact with age-gated apps.

Unlikely To Stop Children From Joining Regular Instagram

The idea that children would just switch to Instagram Kids received pushback from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. In fact, the group’s executive director, Josh Golin, pointed out that most kids who are currently on Instagram are between 10 and 12-years-old, and they likely wouldn’t migrate over to Instagram Kids because it will be perceived as “babyish and not cool enough.”

The children this will appeal to will be much younger kids,” Golin explained. “So they are not swapping out an unsafe version of Instagram for a safer version. They are creating new demand from a new audience that’s not ready for any type of Instagram product.”

It’s unknown exactly how the app would work, but it would feature content similar to what is allowed in other age-appropriate apps, such as YouTube Kids. One of the few details given out so far is that Instagram Kids will be ad-free and feature parental control options.

Concerns over Instagram Kids has also come from lawmakers. On April 5th Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), alongside Representatives Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressing concerns that “children are a uniquely vulnerable population online, and images of kids are highly sensitive data.”

“Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation.”

See what others are saying: (TechCrunch) (BBC) (NBC News)

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Retail Sales Jump Amid Stimulus Spending, Unemployment Claims Plunge To Pandemic Low

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  • The Commerce Department released a report Thursday recording a 9.8% spike in retail sales for the month of March.
  • That surge was largely driven by stimulus check spending, with restaurant, sporting goods, clothing and accessory, and auto sales all being among the top-performing sectors in retail for the month. 
  • Coupled with that news, the Labor Department reported that 576,000 unemployment claims were filed last month — a pandemic low. 
  • That figure is still significantly higher than the roughly 200,000 weekly unemployment claims filed before the pandemic. 

Retail Sales Spike

U.S. retail sales for the month of March jumped 9.8% from February, according to a Thursday morning report from the Commerce Department.

That spike is largely thanks to the most recent round of stimulus checks from Congress.

March was the best month of retail spending since May of last year, which at the time saw an 18.3% gain following the first wave of stimulus checks.  

Sales in the bar and restaurant industry rose 13.4%, making them among the retail sectors that saw the biggest spikes last month. That’s largely a result of relaxed lockdowns stemming from the country’s current pace of around three million vaccinations a day. Meanwhile, sporting goods spending rose 23.5%, clothing and accessory sales rose 18.3%, and motor vehicle parts and dealer sales rose 15.1%.

“Spending will almost certainly drop back in April as some of the stimulus boost wears off,” wrote Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, “but with the vaccination rollout proceeding at a rapid pace and households finances in strong shape, we expect overall consumption growth to continue rebounding rapidly in the second quarter too.” 

Unemployment Hits Pandemic Low

The retail sales data came around the same time that the Labor Department released this past week’s unemployment figures, which dropped to a new pandemic low of 576,000 claims. 

That’s a massive difference from almost exactly a year ago when 6 million people filed for unemployment in a single week. It’s also a significant decline from the 769,000 people that filed jobless claims last week, especially since some analysts had predicted there would be around 700,000 jobs lost with this week’s report.

That said, unemployment claims are still much higher than the around 200,000 a week that were being filed prior to pandemic closures.

“You’re still not popping champagne corks,”  Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton, said according to The New York Times. “I will breathe again — and breathe easy again — once we get these number[s] back down in the 200,000 range.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (Fox Business)

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