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Hillicon Valley: TikTok CEO resigns amid battle with White House | Walmart joins Microsoft in pursuing TikTok deal | Voting rights groups sue Trump over order targeting social media groups

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Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

BYE BYE BYE: TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer resigned on Wednesday amid mounting uncertainty over the Chinese-owned video app’s future in the United States.

Mayer, who had only been with the company since May, said in a note to employees, which was obtained by The Hill, that a series of changes to TikTok’s structure had prompted him to step down from his post. The move comes just weeks after President Trump signed an executive order that would effectively ban the wildly popular social media app from operating in the U.S. unless it finds a U.S.-based owner. 

“In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for,” Mayer said in the note. “Against this backdrop, and as we expect to reach a resolution very soon, it is with a heavy heart that I wanted to let you all know that I have decided to leave the company.”

“I understand that the role that I signed up for — including running TikTok globally — will look very different as a result of the U.S. administration’s action to push for a sell off of the U.S. business,” he added. 

The Financial Times first reported on Mayer’s resignation. Vanessa Pappas, general manager of TikTok in North America, will move into his role on an interim basis, Mayer said in his note.

TikTok said in a statement to The Hill that it appreciated “the political dynamics of the last few months have significantly changed what the scope of Kevin’s role would be going forward, and fully respect his decision.” 

Read more here.

WALMART STEPS INTO THE RING: Walmart announced Thursday that it is joining Microsoft in a joint effort to secure a deal with TikTok.

Microsoft has been exploring a deal with the short-form video app for some time now, a process that has been accelerated by President Trump signing an executive order that would effectively ban TikTok from operating in the U.S. unless its parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, divests.

The order from Trump, signed earlier this month, claims that because ByteDance is based out of China, the app poses a national security risk.

“The way TikTok has integrated e-commerce and advertising capabilities in other markets is a clear benefit to creators and users in those markets,” a Walmart spokesperson told CNBC on Thursday.

“We believe a potential relationship with TikTok U.S. in partnership with Microsoft could add this key functionality and provide Walmart with an important way for us to reach and serve omnichannel customers as well as grow our third-party marketplace and advertising businesses,” they continued. “We are confident that a Walmart and Microsoft partnership would meet both the expectations of U.S. TikTok users while satisfying the concerns of US government regulators.”

A spokesperson for TikTok declined to comment on “market rumors.” A spokesperson for Microsoft also declined to comment.

Trump’s executive order, signed Aug. 6, would ban transactions with TikTok within 45 days. He signed another order the following week giving ByteDance 90 days to divest, a tight time frame given the logistical issues in spinning off one portion of the app.

Read more here.

VOTING RIGHTS GROUP VS. TRUMP: A set of voting rights groups and advocacy organizations is suing the Trump administration over the president’s executive order from May targeting the liability protections for social media platforms.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in California, the coalition claimed that President Trump’s order represented an unlawful retaliation for Twitter’s decision to fact-check his false tweets about mail-in voting. They also say the order threatens their constitutional rights to receive curated information without government interference.

The complaint asks the court to declare the order unconstitutional and to block administration officials from implementing or enforcing any part of it. 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Protect Democracy Project and Cooley LLP filed the suit on behalf of the groups Common Cause, Free Press, Maplight, Rock the Vote and Vote Latino. It represents the second legal complaint challenging the president’s order, which the administration said stemmed from “online censorship.”

Trump in May signed an executive order aimed at rolling back protections social media companies have over the posts shared by its users, as well the good-faith efforts they make to moderate content. The order called for the Commerce Department to petition the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to craft and enforce rules narrowing the scope of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

A petition was filed in July, which was followed by an invitation from the FCC for public comment.  

Read more here.

TWITTER VS. A DIFFERENT TRUMP: Twitter has removed a video posted by Eric Trump Wednesday night for a copyright violation.

The video in question featured the faces of President Trump and his allies superimposed over Roy Williams and University of North Carolina basketball players.

“Per our copyright policy, we respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorized representatives,” a Twitter spokesperson told The Hill Thursday.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, social media platforms can be held liable if they do not remove infringing content.

According to Harvard’s Lumen database, which keeps track of and analyzes DMCA notices, the University of North Carolina Athletics filed a complaint over the video earlier Thursday.

Read more here.

JUSTICE DEPT MAKES ITS MOVE: The Justice Department filed forfeiture charges Thursday against 280 cryptocurrency accounts for assisting in laundering millions of dollars stolen during two North Korean hacking incidents.

The U.S. alleges that the cryptocurrency accounts were used to launder $272,000 in cryptocurrency stolen in June 2019 from a virtual currency exchange by a hacker with ties to North Korea, with the funds then converted into other forms of cryptocurrency and funneled through some of the accounts. 

An additional 100 cryptocurrency accounts were allegedly used to launder $2.5 million in virtual currency stolen by North Korean hackers during an attack on a U.S. company in September 2019, according to the Justice Department.

The accounts used to launder the money were controlled by Chinese hackers and are tied to earlier sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department in March. Those sanctions were imposed on two Chinese nationals for laundering previously stolen cryptocurrency.

Assistant Attorney General John Demers, who heads the department’s national security division, said in a statement Thursday that the case was an example of prosecutors working to attribute cyber incidents to malicious hackers.

“Although North Korea is unlikely to stop trying to pillage the international financial sector to fund a failed economic and political regime, actions like those today send a powerful message to the private sector and foreign governments regarding the benefits of working with us to counter this threat,” Demers said. 

Read more here.

LOVE IS BLIND: The Democratic National Committee (DNC) on Thursday sent an alert to campaign staffers warning them to be vigilant against attempts by opposition groups to gain information on campaigns through dating apps. 

The alert, first reported by CNN, was sent by the DNC to staffers nationwide and told them to “trust but verify” facts around who they were matching with on dating apps, including through Googling individuals. 

“We’re received reports that opposition groups may be trying to ‘sting’ or infiltrate Democratic campaigns or organizations through dating sites,” the email from the DNC, obtained by CNN, warned.

The DNC cautioned staffers to be careful with what they posted online, warning them to not “put anything out there that you wouldn’t mind the opposition seeing” and to imagine content from video calls, text messages, emails and photos was “on the front page of the NYTimes.”

The DNC also pointed out factors that might indicate a match was attempting to dig for information on the campaign, including asking pointed questions around the campaign or the candidate. 

Read more here.

DC SUES INSTACART: Washington, D.C., sued Instacart on Thursday, alleging that the grocery delivery company charged District residents millions in deceptive fees and avoided local sales taxes.

The lawsuit, filed by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine (D) in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, alleges that Instacart tricked users into thinking they were tipping shoppers while they were actually paying hidden fees.

“Instacart tricked District consumers into believing they were tipping grocery delivery workers when, in fact, the company was charging them extra fees and pocketing the money,” Racine said in a statement.

The lawsuit claims that the default 10 percent “service fee” that Instacart charged between September 2016 and April 2018 would appear to users to be a tip. The fee went directly to Instacart.

Instacart told users at the time that 100 percent of the fee went to shoppers, but in reality the money was just used to cover the company’s costs, according to Thursday’s complaint.

The company changed its service fee system in April 2018, but declined to refund users who were deceptively charged the fees.

Read more here.

FUN DAY FOR BEZOS: Protesters calling for higher wages at Amazon set up a guillotine outside of CEO Jeff Bezos’s Washington, D.C., home on Thursday. 

About 100 demonstrators gathered outside of the CEO’s home requesting at least $30 per hour pay for Amazon workers among other demands, the Washington Examiner reported. The demonstrations came one day after Bezos became the first man to be worth $200 billion in the world, according to Forbes

The guillotine was used to behead nobility during the French Revolution in the late 18th century. 

Former Amazon employee Chris Smalls led the protest after he had been fired for walking out of the Staten Island shipping center to speak out against long hours, low pay and people infected with COVID-19 coming into work. 

“Hey, Jeff Bezos. I’m going to let you know something today: We are just getting started,” he said during the demonstration, according to the Examiner. “We’re going to go to every single location you’ve got across the country and set up shop until you meet our demands as workers.”

Smalls, a co-founder of The Congress of Essential Workers (TCOEW), then led a chant of “If we don’t get it, we shut it down.” 

TCOEW was created after various strikes took place on International Workers’ Day on May 1 to demonstrate against how companies including Amazon treated their workforce amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The group has protested outside of Bezos’s properties before, including outside his New York residence on Aug. 9 and his D.C. home in June, according to Fox 5 D.C. The June visit also featured a guillotine. 

Read more here.

AMAZON CAN SEE YOUR HALO: Amazon on Thursday unveiled its first wearables product: a wristband for health and fitness tracking along with a subscription service and smartphone app. 

The Halo Band includes several new features not seen on other fitness tracking devices, like the ability to track wearer’s emotional state by listening to changes in tone and to create a 3D rendering of their bodies.

The band is set to cost $99.99 while the the subscription service will cost $3.99 a month.

The band and six months of free membership is currently available for an early special access price of $64.99.

While this is Amazon’s first foray into wearables, the company has been making moves into the health care space for years.

The e-commerce giant purchased online pharmacy service PillPack in 2019. It also launched a health care project along with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan.

The Halo Band will likely end up competing directly with the Apple Watch and Fitbit’s devices. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, announced a deal to acquire Fitbit last year, but is still awaiting regulatory approval.

Read more here.



Lighter click: This platform would easily sweep 40+ states

An op-ed to chew on: Technology fails to deliver quality higher education


Instacart shoppers say they face unforgiving metrics: ‘It’s a very easy job to lose’ (LA Times / Johana Bhuiyan)

Silicon Valley could get an easy ride on child privacy if Markey is elected out (Protocol / Emily Birnbaum)

TikTok is said to wrestle with two competing offers (New York Times / Mike Isaac)

Facebook allows ads to be served to mainland China users (Bloomberg / Sarah Frier)

Tags Donald Trump Eric Trump Jeff Bezos

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