Axios Login

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July 09, 2020

I know some of you are probably bummed about all the places you can't go. Just think how I feel as an email newsletter. The only places I get to go are inboxes and, just to mix it up, the occasional spam folder.

Today's Login, meanwhile, is 1,396 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: TikTok caught in a U.S.-China vise

Illustration of a giant yellow star and white star holding up and pinching a Tik Tok app logo.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

TikTok, the short-video platform popular among teens for sharing funny moments and dance moves, is getting pulled into the deadly serious geopolitical conflict between China and the U.S, Axios' Scott Rosenberg, Margaret Harding McGill and Sara Fischer report.

The big picture: More than any other Chinese-owned app, TikTok has found success outside of its homeland. But as the U.S. sounds security alarms and China turns the legal screws on Hong Kong, the company is fighting to prove that it's not beholden to Beijing and forestall a threatened ban by the Trump administration.

Driving the news:

1. President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are both talking about banning TikTok.

  • Pompeo went first in a Monday Fox News interview.
  • Trump said "it's something we're looking at" in a Tuesday interview.
  • Concerns include charges that TikTok's Chinese parent company, ByteDance, has ties to China's government and military, along with criticisms about the firm's violations of children's privacy.
  • If the U.S. were to adopt a ban, it would be following in the footsteps of India, which banned the app last month as part of a broad retaliation against China after a border dispute.

2. China's crackdown on Hong Kong puts TikTok in a bind.

  • A new security law that China has imposed on the formerly semi-autonomous territory requires companies to cooperate with authorities in data-gathering and censorship.
  • That's a quandary for every major tech platform, and most have paused their sharing of information with government authorities while they figure out what to do.
  • TikTok announced Monday night it would pull its app completely from Hong Kong rather than navigate the tricky new waters.
  • Yes, but: TikTok doesn't operate inside China at all. ByteDance, TikTok's Chinese parent company, offers a separate but similar app to Chinese customers.

3. TikTok released a new transparency report today (see item below), covering content takedowns requested by governments around the world, as part of its recent campaign to show the world that it's not under Beijing's thumb.

  • India and the U.S. top the list of countries asking TikTok for user information, and India made the most requests for content removal.
  • China isn't on the list at all. (Like we said: TikTok doesn't operate in China.)

For the record: TikTok says it doesn't store U.S. user data in China and doesn't share such data with its Chinese parent company.

Catch up quick: TikTok emerged as a popular service in the U.S. in 2017 when ByteDance acquired U.S. app and combined it with the similar TikTok.

  • The platform grew popular both virally and with the help of roughly $1 billion in ad spending by ByteDance.
  • Late last year it surpassed Facebook in popularity among young teenagers and this year it became a serious business challenge to Facebook and Snapchat.
  • Its rise also offered Facebook and other U.S. tech giants facing antitrust scrutiny convenient evidence showing that there's still room in the social media market for newcomers and upstarts.

Between the lines: TikTok would rather not deal with politics at all.

Why it matters: Many U.S. online services, including Facebook and Google, aren't available in China because of its intrusive laws and censorship. A U.S. ban on TikTok would close that circle, hanging a "No Chinese-owned apps welcome here" sign over the U.S. market.

  • It could also tick off millions of American users. Many of them, however, are too young to vote.

Our thought bubble: If you're wondering, "Why such a fuss over such a frivolous app?", remember that today's frivolous app becomes tomorrow's essential communications infrastructure. Facebook, too, was a plaything for youth a little over a decade ago — and just look at it now.

Go deeper: The TikTok economy at risk

2. TikTok shares content moderation stats

Amid pressure over its Chinese ties, TikTok offered a detailed look at its removal of videos around the globe Thursday, Margaret reports.

Driving the news: TikTok removed more than 49 million videos globally for violating its policies between July 2019 and December 2019, according to a transparency report released Thursday. That's less than 1% of the videos TikTok users uploaded during that time, according to the company.

  • TikTok removed the most videos in India — more than 16 million.
  • The U.S. came in second, with nearly 4.6 million.

India and the U.S. also topped TikTok's list for total government requests for information.

  • The company said it produced data in response to 90% of the 302 requests it received in India and 82% of the 100 requests in the U.S.
  • TikTok said it also received 45 requests from government agencies in 10 countries to remove or restrict content, with India accounting for 30 of those requests.

By the numbers: TikTok is also sharing more details on why videos were removed, after rolling out a content moderation tool at the end of last year that enables it to provide a breakdown of the policy category violations for videos removed in December.

  • 25.5% of the removed videos violated policies related to adult nudity and sexual activities.
  • 24.8% violated minor safety policies such as showing dangerous or illegal behavior by minors (think drug or alcohol use) and more serious infractions that could lead to reports to law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
  • Less than 1% violated policies on hate speech, disinformation or inauthentic content, and dangerous individuals and organizations.

3. Facebook bans accounts tied to Roger Stone

Roger Stone

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Facebook announced Wednesday it removed nearly 100 social media accounts and pages with links to Trump associate Roger Stone and the Proud Boys, a far-right group, for posting misinformation, Axios' Rashaan Ayesh reports.

Why it matters: The move comes as Facebook faces a boycott from advertisers as well as continued criticism from civil rights groups over, among other things, the spread of hate speech and false information. Earlier on Wednesday, a civil rights audit commissioned by Facebook also found its efforts have fallen short.

Details: Facebook began looking into the accounts as part of an investigation into the Proud Boys' attempt to return to Facebook following a 2018 ban. The accounts posed as Florida residents and shared misinformation about local politics, as well as misinformation about Stone's trial, books and media appearances.

  • The network of accounts consisted of 50 Facebook pages, 54 Facebook accounts and four Instagram accounts.
  • Nearly 260,000 people followed more than one of the removed Facebook pages, and 61,500 people followed one or more of the Instagram accounts.
  • The groups and individuals behind the accounts spent about $308,000 on advertising.

Context: Stone was sentenced to prison for three years for crimes uncovered by the Mueller investigation that include obstruction of justice, lying to Congress and witness tampering. He is due to report this month.

Go deeper: I spoke more on Facebook’s challenges for the Axios Today podcast, available here or you can subscribe here.

4. Twitter's online summer camp for employees' kids

For children of employees, Twitter has been offering "Camp Twitter" — an eight-week online summer camp that offers cooking lessons, yoga classes and music sessions among other activities, per Human Resource Executive magazine.

Why it matters: Companies throughout the tech industry are trying to deal with the fact that not only are employees working remotely, but they are in many cases also trying to entertain and care for kids.

The big picture: Tech companies have taken a variety of approaches to trying to help working parents. Microsoft, for example, has been offering 12 weeks of paid parental leave to workers who need it to deal with school closures.

Go deeper: Tech firms pledge to support working parents during coronavirus crisis

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Oh, so close. Actually, it's only Thursday.

Trading Places

  • Intellectual Ventures is announcing today it has hired Arvin Patel as COO of its Invention Investment Fund, which helps companies monetize their patents, Axios has exclusively learned. Patel was previously chief intellectual property officer at TiVo.
  • Former federal magistrate judge Paul Grewal is joining Coinbase as chief legal officer. Grewal was most recently a deputy general counsel at Facebook.
  • FinTech startup Earnest has hired Victoria Hughes as chief people officer. Hughes most recently held the same position at, a non-profit organization focused on women in technology.


  • Sensor Tower reports that roughly 90% of those who signed up to try Quibi have not become paying customers. (Protocol)
  • Amazon is the latest company to stop selling merchandise featuring Washington's controversially named NFL team amid renewed criticism over its racist mascot. (Axios)
  • A new report uncovered thousands of previously unreported contracts between big tech firms and government agencies. (NBC News)
  • Australian and U.K. regulators have opened a joint investigation into the data handling practices of controversial facial recognition startup Clearview AI. (U.K. Information Commissioner's Office)
  • Amateur traders have lost large sums of money on risky and uninformed investments on stock trading app Robinhood, whose business model encourages a high volume of trades. (New York Times)

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