- On Friday, the United States Commerce Department issued an order that would ban U.S. downloads of TikTok and WeChat starting Sunday night.
- The order for TikTok was delayed for one week on Saturday after President Donald Trump gave his preliminary approval on a deal between TikTok and the software company Oracle.
- A federal judge also issued a temporary injunction Sunday against the WeChat ban, which would have largely destroyed the app’s functionality.
- Oracle and Walmart have since released more details of the deal, including that TikTok Global will likely pay $5 billion in U.S. taxes. This does not seem to be the same as a commission from the deal, even though Trump suggested such.
- On Monday, Chinese state media called the deal “unfair” on ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company. However, it also described it as “reasonable,” suggesting the Chinese government may approve the deal.
U.S. and China Signal Support for Deal
What began as a tumultuous weekend for TikTok ended with both the U.S. and Chinese governments potentially signaling approval of its deal with Oracle.
Last week, TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, struck a deal with Oracle to avoid a U.S. ban. On Monday, Chinese state media called the deal “more reasonable to ByteDance,” and said it’s less costly than a shutdown.
“The plan shows that ByteDance’s moves to defend its legitimate rights have, to some extent, worked,” it added.
While not officially confirmed, this seems to suggest that the Chinese government may approve the deal.
It also came off the heels of Saturday, when President Donald Trump, after having suggested unhappiness with the deal last week, said he has given his approval “in concept.” He will still need to officially sign off on it before the deal is set into motion.
Because of that, the U.S. Commerce Department staved off a download ban that was set for Sunday, now pushing it back to this coming Sunday, Sept. 27.
Some Republicans, such as Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), have still expressed concern because ByteDance won’t be handing over its secretive algorithm as part of the deal.
What’s in the Deal?
On Saturday, Oracle released more details of its deal with TikTok. Under it, Oracle and Walmart would take a combined 20% stake in TikTok Global.
Still, there’s been much back and forth over how much control ByteDance, will have under the agreement. For his part, Trump has claimed that TikTok Global will “be a brand new company… It will have nothing to do with China.”
However, ByteDance has maintained that it will retain 80% of the stake. The discrepancy here seems to be because 40% of ByteDance is owned by U.S. venture capital firms. Therefore, Trump could technically claim that TikTok Global will be majority-owned by U.S. money.
Trump doubled down Monday and said that he would not approve the deal if ByteDance retained ownership. He added that the Chinese-owned company will “have nothing to do with it, and if they do, we just won’t make the deal.”
Later, Oracle announced that ByteDance will not have any stake in TikTok Global, though this statement heavily conflicts with what is being reported in China.
“Upon creation of TikTok Global, Oracle/Walmart will make their investment and the TikTok Global shares will be distributed to their owners, Americans will be the majority and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global,” the company said.
According to Walmart and Oracle, if this deal goes through, TikTok Global will pay $5 billion in new tax dollars to the U.S. Treasury over the next few years. As both companies noted, this is just a projection of future corporate taxes, and that estimate could change.
The water around that $5 billion figure was later muddied as Trump claimed that TikTok Global would be donating “$5 billion into a fund for education so we can educate people as to [the] real history of our country — the real history, not the fake history.”
To be clear, Trump is referring to his plans to establish a “patriotic education” commission.
On Sunday, ByteDance said in a statement that this was the first it had heard about a $5 billion education fund.
In fact, TikTok Global never promised to start an education fund. Instead, it promised to create an “educational initiative to develop and deliver an AI-driven online video curriculum to teach children from inner cities to the suburbs a variety of courses from basic reading and math to science, history and computer engineering.”
That initiative doesn’t seem to have anything to do with that $5 billion tax figure. Since he began pursuing a ban, Trump has vowed that the U.S. will receive some form of commission from a deal with TikTok. As far as it is known, this $5 billion figure is also not that commission.
As previously reported, this deal will allow Oracle to host TikTok’s user data on its cloud service and review TikTok’s code for security. According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, it would also shift TikTok’s global headquarters from China to the U.S.
On top of that, TikTok’s board members would reportedly have to be approved by the U.S. government, with one being an expert in data security. That person would also hold a top-secret security clearance.
Commerce Department Announces Download Ban
Friday seemed like the beginning of the end for TikTok. That morning, the Commerce Department issued an order that would ban U.S. downloads of not only TikTok but also WeChat starting Sunday night.
Both bans were a result of concerns the Trump administration has that ByteDance and WeChat’s parent company, Tencent, are either already giving or could give U.S. user data to the Chinese government.
The Trump administration has repeatedly said that both apps pose a national security threat.
TikTok and ByteDance have consistently denied these claims, saying that U.S. user data is stored domestically with a backup in Singapore. WeChat, for its part, has also made similar statements.
The download ban was announced in response to two Aug. 6 executive orders from Trump. Those orders ban any U.S.-based transactions with TikTok and WeChat starting on Sept. 20, which is why the Commerce Department set the deadline for this past Sunday.
While this ban would have been much more restrictive for WeChat because a large part of its functionality relies heavily on in-app transactions, for TikTok at least, it would only affect new downloads and updates to the app.
“So if that were to continue over a long period of time, there might be a gradual degradation of services, but the basic TikTok will stay intact until Nov. 12,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business on Friday.
“If there’s not a deal by Nov. 12, under the provisions of the old order, then TikTok would also be, for all practical purposes, shut down.”
What Happens on Nov. 12?
Ross is referring to another executive order, this one signed on Aug. 14. Notably, it gives ByteDance 90 days to divest from its American assets and any data that TikTok had gathered in the U.S. As Ross pointed out, that requirement could be satisfied if a deal is reached before the deadline.
If that doesn’t happen, the TikTok app could begin to see lags, lack of functionality, and sporadic outages.
However, it’s not just the U.S. One of the big questions that loomed after Oracle and ByteDance confirmed their deal last week was whether or not China would also need to approve it. ByteDance later confirmed that it will need the confirmation of the Chinese government, despite the deal not involving a technology transfer.
Downloads Soar and TikTok Sues
On Friday, downloads for both apps soared. TikTok was downloaded nearly a quarter of a million times that day, up 12% from the previous day. WeChat was downloaded 10,000 times, up 150%.
The same Friday, TikTok as a company criticized the Commerce Department order, saying it had already committed to “unprecedented levels of additional transparency.”
TikTok added that the order “threatens to deprive the American people and small businesses across the US of a significant platform for both a voice and livelihoods.”
Later Friday, TikTok sued the Trump Administration to stop the download ban.
On Sunday, a federal judge also halted the download ban for WeChat with a preliminary injunction. The injunction additionally blocks the Commerce Department’s attempt to bar transactions on the app.
The Commerce Department responded by saying that it’s preparing for a long legal battle.
TikTokers: “Scared, angry, and confused”
“I’ve mostly just been feeling scared, angry, and confused,” TikToker Isabella Avila, known online as onlyjayus, told Rogue Rocket on Monday. “Those are just the main things.”
Avila has amassed a following of 8.7 million followers on TikTok in a relatively short amount of time. She’s also gained about half a million followers on YouTube and Instagram each.
A couple of months ago, Avila said she thought a potential ban was all just talk; however, as the situation progressed, she said she became more worried.
While she said that she personally thought her career could survive a TikTok ban (thanks in part to a Netflix podcast deal), she added, “The people in-between a 100,000 to a million [followers], they have a platform right now, and if TikTok’s were to be gone, their platform’s pretty much gone if they haven’t built an audience on anything else.
“This is where we go to express ourselves,” she said. “This is where we go to make videos. I don’t know, TikTok gave everybody a chance to kind of get famous and have a following. That’s what people liked about it. YouTube, it’s really hard to get followers and subscribers. TikTok was a lot easier.”
Avila also expressed that a ban wouldn’t just be detrimental to creators.
“I feel like my generation needed an app,” Avila said. “There was Instagram and Twitter, but it was kind of like for the millennials. Gen Z didn’t really have an app, and TikTok kind of fit that spot, so if TikTok’s gone, I don’t know, I feel like Gen Z isn’t really going to have a place.”
Avila now says she is largely hopeful that TikTok will not be banned in the U.S.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (Axios)
Black Mirror or Reality? Microsoft Granted Patent for Tech That Lets It Create Chatbots of Dead People
- 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)
JoJo Siwa Fans Caution Against Labeling the Star’s Sexuality
- 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.
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.”
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)
Google Investigates Top AI Researcher Who Was Looking Into a Previous Firing
- 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.