TikTok Explained – Spotlight #320

Good Monday morning. It’s December 9th. The Fed’s Open Market Committee meets for two days starting tomorrow. The entire financial world seems to expect interest rates to remain unchanged. 

Today’s Spotlight takes about 4 minutes to read. Want to chat about something you see here? Here is a contact form.

1. News To Know Now

1. Uber faces more scrutiny after an internal report released Thursday detailed nearly 6,000 incidents of sexual assault or misconduct for 2017-2018. The company is betting big that transparency and education will help it address the issue. Meanwhile Match Group, which owns 45 dating sites including Tinder, OK Cupid, and Plenty of Fish, acknowledged that it does not verify user information against a sex offender registry. 

Smart links: Uber safety report, ProPublica dating app investigation

2. Domain registration fees for dot org names are expected to climb next year for the first time in sixteen years. The companies that sell organizations those domains pay a capped $9.05 wholesale price, but the registry has been purchased by a venture capitalist. Various government agencies and NGOs report that they lack any authority to get involved with the deal. 

Our take: Expect but don’t worry about a price increase. Even if the price doubled, it’s probably not worth renewing all your domains now.

3. We told you this summerabout Samsung warning consumers about viruses on smart TVs. We even give you a link to check your TV and caught some flack from very cool tech friends who insisted that we move along because there was nothing to see here. Then the FBI’s Oregon office issued a news release last week that said an unsecured television can provide a path for hackers to reach your router. The bottom line is that this is still a long shot, but it’s possible. Aren’t you glad you’re a Spotlight reader?

Smart links:Our July 1 issue, FBI: Securing Smart TVs

2. TikTok Explained

Think of video app TikTok as a child of YouTube and Snapchat. Users can post video stories of up to one minute — a relative eternity in video. Arising from the roots of karaoke, lip syncing, and stupid human tricks, TikTok is enjoying its doubling phase when user growth each quarter makes year-over-year comparisons worthless.

TikTok has 800 million active monthly users. About 60% of those are in China. Another 26 million are in the U.S., and sixty percent of those users are between the ages of 16 and 24. The market share of the teen-to-24 group is remarkable. There are 43 million U.S. residents in that age bracket, and more than 15 million of them use TikTok.

You have probably heard about Congressional hearings where TikTok’s Chinese ownership and its perceived security threat make for great headlines. We have no knowledge that would suggest Chinese mind control is possible or that the Chinese government doesn’t already have ridiculously robust data about all Americans since it’s available all over the dark web. There are certainly more serious digital sercurity issues.

The app is fast-moving, often seeing memes and fads rise and dissipate within days. Users are spending a very long average of five minutes per session on the app and open the app multiple times per day. You’re not wrong if you think that sounds like your mother’s Candy Crush fix. U.S. General Manager Vanessa Pappas spent a big chunk of her career as a YouTube exec where she was also blessed with an app that has ubiquitous reach and great engagement. TikTok claims U.S. users spend a total of 46 minutes on the app each day.

Advertisers are rushing to reach this audience of young, addicted community members. Bytedance, TikTok’s parent company, booked more than $7 billion in revenue for the first half of 2019. The company had been using a traditional advertising model but is quickly moving to a self-service advertising platform like Google, Facebook, and other digital platforms use. The catch for now is that most advertisers — most adults, for that matter — still don’t have the understanding of the platform that would allow it to spend money wisely.

Congress aside, the waters are still choppy for TikTok. News came last week that a group of parents have filed a class action suit against the company regarding its data practices with minors. We also learned that moderator guidelines for the site instruct staff and contractors to restrict amplifying videos made by overweight, disabled, or LGBTQ contributors. Meanwhile growth at the company is creating an acute need for technical staff. The company has recently hired more than two dozen staffers from nearby Facebook and is reportedly paying salaries of 20% more.

Learn more:The leaked pitch deck at AdAge, revenues at CNBC, hiring at NBC, moderation guidelines screen out disabled, overweight people at Netzpolitik.

3. Google Search Updates

  • Continuing its quest to have searchers stay on Google’s search results pages instead of visit websites, Google is asking shippers to supply them with a feed of logistics data. Google can currently understand which carrier used which tracking number. Now it wants to give you the tracking information without sending you to the company. As a consumer, you won’t care. As a business leader, you may be starting to feel horror at the amount of non-Google information that Google is attempting to become the provider for.

  • Song lyrics are a popular fact-based item that has gotten Google in trouble before. Now lyrics site Genius is suing the search engine for allegedly taking the company’s transcriptions. Genius apparently seeded its song lyrics in a way that allows them to tell when they’ve been copied. Neither Genius nor Google own the song lyrics. This is a messy harbinger of the fights to come between search and organizations over what can appear in search results.

4. Debugged: The White Van Myth

CNN seemed incredulous when Baltimore Mayor Jack Young warned Monday that people should not park near a white van and should keep their phones handy in case they were abducted. The tip wasn’t from the FBI or the Baltimore police but the mayor said he saw it “all over Facebook.”

Here’s the debunking, if you really needed a fact check.

5. Also in the Spotlight: Don’t Romanticize Plantations

The Knot, Brides, and Pinterest are telling couples planning weddings that they will remove references to plantations on their websites. They also now prohibit content that romanticizes plantations. The sites are also working to remove existing content from appearing in search engines.

BuzzFeed broke the story early last week.

6. Great Data: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

Literature professors have long told people that Shakespeare likely had a collaborator of some sort. A Czech data scientist has written an algorithm that suggests a playwright named John Fletcher was that man. The algorithm is able to identify each author’s style and credits Fletcher with writing nearly half of Henry VIII.

MIT Technology Review has details.

7. Protip: Protect Your Health & Fitness Data

If you’re ready for a new fitness app or gadget during the holidays or hope to make some great resolutions this new year, then you’ll want to pay attention to how much of your health and fitness data is being shared.

Wired has step-by-step directions for each major platform.

8. Bizarre Bazaar: Fried Chicken Log

Oh, KFC, why you wanna hurt me like this? 

The food chain is selling an Enviro-Log made from recycled material that smells like fried chicken. It’s available for $18.99 (yes, really) exclusively at Walmart (insert your own joke here).

The copy cautions that the smell may attract bears or hungry neighbors.

9. ICYMI — Top links from the past 30 days

See how your web browser shares information about you — at Robin Linus

The funniest things photographed by street mapping cars — at Street View Fun

Learn how locals are fighting climate change — at Moms Clean Air Force

10. Coffee Break: That Pizza Commercial

Twenty-one years ago, Mikhail Gorbachev made a commercial for Pizza Hut. There were only eight leaders of the Soviet Union, including Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev, and the one who made this pizza commercial.

Yes, opportunity

When you’re done, click here for a free Spotlight subscription.

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