Hello and welcome to the post-Bastille day edition of Trending, Business Insider’s weekly look at the world of tech. I’m Alexei Oreskovic, Business Insider’s West Coast Bureau Chief and Global Tech Editor. If you want to get Trending in your email inbox every Wednesday, just click here.This week: TikTok, the disruption Silicon Valley never saw coming
Teens pose for a TikTok video
NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images
After the coronavirus, TikTok has emerged as the great transnational obsession of 2020, captivating teens, business chiefs, pundits, political parties, and world leaders — all for different reasons.
President Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have now both floated the idea of banning the Chinese social media app in the US, though the rationale ranges from national security concerns to privacy to some sort of a coronavirus retaliatory strike, depending on who’s talking.But: Unlike in India, where new downloads of TikTok were recently banned, a US president can’t actually make an internet app disappear by fiat. Still, there are various things a Trump administration could do to make it very difficult for most American to use TikTok (and those things, by the way, would be welcome news for American internet companies suddenly sweating the upstart rival).In the corporate realm, some companies are already moving ahead to block TikTok on their own. Companies like Amazon and Wells Fargo recently banned (and in Amazon’s case, subsequently unbanned) the app among employees.TikTok users meanwhile had a collective freak out last week when a technical glitch briefly caused their video views and like counts to reset to zero. But after K-pop loving TikTokers took credit for Trump’s Tulsa rally fiasco, few would be foolhardy enough to dismiss the TikTok demographic right now.Social media competitors like Instagram and YouTube certainly take TikTok users seriously — the two internet companies have recently rolled out products and features that mimic TikTok.And then there’s the Republican and Democratic party national committees, which both put themselves in the awkward position of telling campaign staffers they’re not allowed to use the very app through which they need to reach a coveted slice of the electorate.It’s all very bizarre. But then again, the US has never really been in a position before when an app from China, and not Palo Alto or Seattle, is setting the agenda and conquering the world (even though Musical.ly, the app TikTok is built on, was originally a Silicon Valley startup before it was acquired by China’s ByteDance).Expect to see a lot of Kevin Mayer in the coming months. Mayer is a former Disney exec, most recently overseeing the launch of the Disney+ streaming service, who took over as TikTok’s CEO in June. Mayer remains in LA in his new job, thousands of miles away from the headquarters of TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, in Beijing.
That’s no accident of course. Mayer’s job is to convince the world that TikTok is a company that happens to be from China, and not a company that is part of the Chinese state apparatus. How successful he is at that task is anyone’s guess.According to Ben Thompson, of the influential Statechery blog, the best option for TikTok to avoid the wrath of the US government would be for it to be sold to a non-Chinese owner. There’s probably no shortage of interested buyers — in tech and in the media realm that Mayer hails from — but I’m not so sure there’s a motivated seller.In the meantime, TikTok is likely to continue to grow the size of its audience and its staff. As the chart below shows, TikTok more than doubled its number of global employees between December 2019 and June 2020.
Shayanne Gal/Business Insider
Snapshot: Doctor Roboto says ‘Open Wide’Depending on where you live, getting a coronavirus test can be a bit of a process. If you’re in Egypt though, you may be lucky enough to get your throat swabbed by the physician of the future. Created by 26-year-old mechanical engineer Mahmoud El Komy, this remote controlled robot can collect oral swabs, take temperatures, and even recognize when people are wearing masks.
The droid picture below is the second version. The third prototype, which El Komy is currently working on, will be able to take nasal swabs!
Coronavirus testing robot in Egypt.
Tech earnings season kicks off on Thursday, with Netflix, followed by the usual cast of characters, including Alphabet, Apple, and Microsoft, through the end of the month. If you’re the type that likes to read up on companies before the numbers hit the tape, here’s a nice overview of who’s who at the streaming giant. READ: We mapped out Netflix’s 56 most powerful executives and their roles in an exclusive interactive chart, including its new CMO
Netflix; Amy Sussman/Getty; Shayanne Gal/Business Insider
Special event: Join Business Insider and Salesfore on Tuesday, July 28 at 12:00 p.m. ET for “Digital Optimization: How manufacturers can take small steps for big wins,” a free digital event. The session will explore how manufacturers can pivot to digital to create a customer-first experience, enhance relationships, and build trust. Click here to register.Recommended Readings:LEAKED: A decade before Postmates was acquired by Uber for $2.65 billion, its founder used this 13-slide pitch deck to sell his idea for the new delivery service
When colleagues accused Mark Zuckerberg’s personal security chief of racism and harassment, the family said there was no evidence. In sworn declarations, 3 workers said otherwise.The top 20 most valuable venture-backed AI companies, including Palantir, UiPath, and Databricks — valued at over $120 billion totalA former Apple TV designer built a livestreaming startup to challenge Twitch, and he’s betting the key to winning will be live rap battlesG2, a software review startup that raised $100 million, spent lavishly on things like a $1 million office staircase. Then it had layoffs and filed for a PPP loan. It shows the challenge of giving startups a coronavirus bailout.Here’s how Google re-made its famous summer internships so that they could go on while the coronavirus forced everyone to work from homeNot necessarily in tech:What it’s like when one of your oldest friends becomes a conspiracy theoristOK then, thanks for reading. And remember, if you like this newsletter, tell your friends and colleagues they can sign up here to receive it.
Disclosure: Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Business Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer, is a Netflix board member.
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