Nov 21, 2019

China's invisible brands

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

American consumers are quite familiar with many of the big-name foreign products — Toyota, Samsung, to name a couple — but brands from China are virtually invisible.

The big picture: Chinese companies doing business in the U.S. are doing their best to hide where they come from. If they're not actively masking their home country, they're certainly not leading with it.

Driving the news: The first publicly Chinese-owned company to make its way into the minds and hearts of American consumers is TikTok. And it’s dealing with headache after headache due to its China ties.

  • The viral social video-sharing app has been downloaded about 80 million times in the U.S., and its skyrocketing popularity has made it the target of a federal probe.
  • TikTok, which is based in the U.S., is desperately trying to distance itself from Bytedance, its Chinese owner. CEO Alex Zhu told the New York Times he'd go as far as to reject a user data request from Chinese President Xi Jinping himself.

Chinese brands have been trying to fly under the radar for years.

  • Take Volvo, one of the most prominent Chinese-owned brands to crack the U.S. market. Volvo is a Swedish subsidiary of Chinese automaker Geely. But how many Americans who buy a Volvo think they're buying a Chinese car?
  • Other Chinese brands hiding in plain sight include TCL, the hardware giant that sells in the U.S. under the names of Alcatel and Blackberry, and Lenovo, notes Axios' Ina Fried.

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TikTok looks to downplay its China ties

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As lawmakers and regulators zero in on issues around Chinese tech companies and U.S. tech companies' ties to China, the longstanding low U.S. profile of Chinese tech brands is beginning to change.

The big picture: Our devices are made in China but our software and services, for the most part, aren't. TikTok is a big exception — and now the video-sharing network is under fire amid concerns over its Chinese ownership and the potential for censorship or risks to user data.

Go deeperArrowNov 20, 2019

Hawley bill targets Apple and TikTok ties to China

Josh Hawley. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, a prominent big tech critic, will introduce legislation Monday meant to protect Americans' online data from flowing to China and other countries that raise national security concerns.

How it works: Hawley's bill takes aim Apple and TikTok by prohibiting American companies from storing user data or encryption keys in China, and preventing Chinese companies from collecting more information on American users than necessary to provide service here.

Go deeperArrowNov 18, 2019

TikTok apologizes after deleting post on China's Uighur Muslims

A TikTok logo on a mobile device. Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

TikTok apologized on Wednesday for temporarily deleting a viral TikTok post that compared China's mass detention of Uighur Muslims to the Holocaust, citing a "human moderation error."

Why it matters: TikTok is trying to distance itself from its Chinese ownership amid recent reports that moderators have been told to censor videos that reference topics deemed off-limits by the Chinese Communist Party, and U.S. lawmakers' interest in probing the app for censorship.

Go deeperArrowNov 28, 2019