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ByteDance asserts control of TikTok and contests $5 billion fee



By: Bloomberg |

September 21, 2020 10:20:11 am

tiktok, tiktok ban, US tiktok ban, donald trump, donald trump tiktok, us tiktok fight, trump tiktok fightByteDance said the promised tax payment had nothing to do with the deal (File Photo)

ByteDance Ltd. emphasized it will remain in control of a hived-off TikTok Global business, appearing to contradict President Donald Trump’s statements about how the new entity will be directed by Americans and pay an unusual $5 billion fee to the U.S. government.

The world’s most valuable startup sought to play down speculation it’s giving up control of valuable Chinese technology and assets after striking a deal with Oracle Corp. and Walmart Inc. to create TikTok Global. ByteDance will retain full control of its prized social media algorithms and allow Oracle only limited access to view source code for “safety” purposes, the company said in a statement posted to its domestic news service Toutiao Monday.

Walmart Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon will join TikTok’s board. But ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming and the Chinese company’s current directors — which include Sequoia China’s Neil Shen and General Atlantic’s William Ford — will reprise their roles. The statement made no mention of Oracle getting a seat, even though ByteDance said Larry Ellison’s company is slated to own 12.5% after a round of funding before TikTok Global goes public within a year. Walmart and Oracle have said American citizens will take up four of the five board seats for TikTok Global.

In a blog post entitled “clarifying groundless rumors about TikTok,” ByteDance contested Trump’s assertions his government will get $5 billion as part of the deal. It said that figure was just an estimate of the amount of taxes TikTok Global would pay over several years if the business proved successful.

TikTok has emerged as a top target in Trump’s effort to crack down on China ahead of the November U.S. elections. Tensions between Washington and Beijing are escalating as his administration wages a campaign that’s also ensnared Tencent Holdings Ltd., whose WeChat app faces a similar ban.

ByteDance’s statement raises more questions over an arrangement cobbled together over just a few weeks to prevent the banning of the popular social video platform, which the White House accuses of spying on Americans and potentially influencing the elections. The Chinese company is seeking a valuation of $60 billion for TikTok Global, in which ByteDance may end up owning as much as 80% after Oracle and Walmart invest.

Trump has previously said the White House deserves a cut of the deal for making it possible. On Saturday, he said the companies agreed to pay $5 billion to bankroll an education fund that would teach American children “the real history of our country.” TikTok will pay more than $5 billion in “new tax dollars to the U.S. Treasury” and develop an AI-driven online video curriculum, according to a joint announcement from Oracle and Walmart.

But ByteDance said the promised tax payment had nothing to do with the deal.

“As for the so-called $5 billion tax to the U.S. Treasury, that refers to an estimate of the corporate income tax and other taxes TikTok will have to pay in coming years as part of its business development,” ByteDance added. “TikTok is confident in its future but the actual tax amount will have to be determined in accordance with the actual state of the business and American tax structures.”

While Trump is portraying the agreement as a victory, the business remains under Chinese control. ByteDance said Monday Oracle — which won the right as part of the transaction to review TikTok’s source code for security threats — will only review the software in a controlled environment. ByteDance cited past examples such as Microsoft Corp.’s transparency center in China, which lets experts review code in a designated location only.

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Top gamers set to lead new generation of marketing stars, Tech News News & Top Stories




LOS ANGELES • Hollywood talent agencies are wooing video-gaming stars like never before, betting that they can lead a new generation of celebrity endorsers for mainstream brands.

A few years ago, top agencies represented just a handful of players, but now they see an opportunity to turn them into household names.

As the gaming industry grows, players will develop projects for television, podcasts or animation, according to Mr Conor Beesemyer, an agent at William Morris Endeavor (WME), part of Endeavor Group Holdings.

“We’re going to see more and more gamers become the faces of brands,” Mr Beesemyer said, adding that the industry is attracting large advertisers not typically associated with popular titles such as Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Call Of Duty.

His company’s clients include Fortnite pro Nate Hill.

While many players are represented by small, gaming-specific agencies across the world, large businesses find it easier to strike advertising deals with top firms.

The four largest agencies – Creative Artists Agency (CAA), WME, United Talent Agency and ICM Partners – have been building up their gaming divisions for years, aiming to sign competitive e-sports athletes and streamers who play on major platforms such as Amazon’s Twitch or Google’s YouTube.

Earlier this month, video-game pro Ninja joined CAA, becoming one of several players to align with the firm this year.

His longstanding sponsorships with Adidas and Red Bull are examples of where the industry is headed over the next five to 10 years, according to Mr Morris Garrard, a research analyst at Futuresource Consulting.

“These are the kind of deals that become possible with the larger multi-industry agencies, as opposed to the e-sports-specific agencies,” Mr Garrard said.

All parties – gamers, advertisers and talent agencies – are eager to lock up higher-dollar deals.

Ninja’s multi-year deal to perform on Microsoft’s Mixer platform was negotiated by Loaded, a gaming-focused talent agency, and was worth more than US$20 million (S$27 million), CNN Business reported. He rejoined Twitch last month after Mixer shut down.

Forbes recently estimated that the top 10 highest-earning players collected more than US$120 million last year, much of it from endorsements and brand partnerships, though no single gaming star made the magazine’s top 100 list of celebrity earners.

Advertising within the gaming world itself still has plenty of room to grow, even before its most popular players blossom into globally recognisable celebrities like movie stars or major sports figures.

Streamers often focus on small deals that casually promote gaming products, such as headsets or chairs.

But it is not difficult to understand why big companies see an opportunity. The industry is growing fast, and its legions of young viewers are loyal and engaged with popular streamers or competitions for games such as Overwatch and League Of Legends.

Gaming already rivals professional sports and music in terms of the power of its stars, according to Mr David Freeman, co-head of digital at CAA, which has more than 35 clients in the industry.

“Having these massive audiences allows us to treat them and think of them as just talent – no different from other talent that we have in sports, music, TV and film,” he said.

“It’s a natural move for us to be doubling down our efforts over the last two to three years.”

The agencies have expanded into gaming in a few ways – by picking off major stars from smaller firms, allying with speciality outfits and sometimes even buying them.

“We’re just in the first few innings of how gaming and e-sports are really evolving globally,” Mr Freeman said. “So us planting a flag, and going big with who we believe are some of the best gamers in the world, is something that we strategically very much believe in.”

The smaller agencies do not necessarily view that as a threat.

According to Mr Ryan Morrison, founder of Evolved Talent Agency, three of his clients left for major agencies but came back within six months.

“There’s so much bureaucracy and red tape to an agency that size, and it slowed down the deal flow,” he said.


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Tesla Autopilot ‘Distant Second’ Consumer Reports




More bad news for Tesla Autopilot system after Consumer Reports testing found it is ‘distant second’ to similar system from GM

American testing organisation Consumer Reports has delivered another knock for the Telsa Autopilot driver assistance system.

Consumer Reports evaluated 17 vehicles equipped with active driving assistance systems and it concluded that Tesla Autopilot (in a Tesla Model Y) finished “a distant second” to a Cadillac CT6 equipped with Super Cruise.

It comes after Tesla Autopilot was recently found to have been surpassed by rival driver systems from the likes of Mercedes, BMW, and Audi in research by European New Car Assessment Program (NCAP).

Distant second

“Even after two years, Cadillac’s Super Cruise remained our top-rated system because, when turned on, it uses direct driver monitoring to warn drivers that appear to have stopped paying attention to the road,” stated CR on Wednesday.

“General Motors told CR that Super Cruise will be on 22 GM vehicles by 2023,” it added. “Of the other systems we tested, we saw minor improvements in lane keeping performance for the Tesla and Volvo.”

“Systems that didn’t give clear warnings to the driver to pay attention, such as Volvo’s, or that failed to keep the vehicle within its lane, even on fairly straight roads, such as systems from Buick, Mazda, and Land Rover, didn’t fare well in our overall scoring,” CR stated.

“Even with new systems from many different automakers, Super Cruise still comes out on top due to the infrared camera ensuring the driver’s eyes are looking toward the roadway,” said Kelly Funkhouser, CR’s head of connected and automated vehicle testing.

The CR test found that the Cadillac scored 69 points out of a possible 100, while the Tesla scored 57.

The issue of driver assistance systems has been growing in importance after a number of fatal accidents in recent years.

Matters are also not helped with cases such as when a Canadian man in September was charged by Alberta police after he and his passenger slept in fully reclined seats (see above picture) whilst their Tesla drove along a highway in autonomous mode at speeds of more than 140kph (86mph).

Safety issues

It should be noted that Tesla’s Autopilot has also previously been criticised by the US National Transportation Safety Board for allowing drivers to turn their attention from the road.

American safety regulators have investigated 15 crashes since 2016 involving Tesla vehicles equipped with Autopilot.

In March last year, a US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report concluded that a fatal Tesla crash in March found that Autopilot was engaged for 10 seconds before the crash.

The roof of the Tesla Model X was sheared off and its 50-year-old driver was killed when the vehicle drove under the trailer of a semi truck that was crossing its path in March 2019.

Are we ready for ready for driverless transport?

That March incident had similarities to a May 2016 crash in which a Model S also drove under the trailer of a semi truck crossing its path. That crash found that autopilot had failed to detect the white trailer against a bright sky.

Autonomous driving

Yet despite these concerns, the battle over driver assistance systems and autonomous driving is heating up.

In July this year, Elon Musk said that Tesla is “very close” to achieving level 5 autonomous driving technology.

For those that don’t know, level 5 is the holy grail of autonomous driving technology, as level 5 vehicles will not require human intervention, and need for a human drivers is eliminated.

Indeed, it is said that level 5 cars won’t even have steering wheels or acceleration/braking pedals.

These cars will be free from geofencing, and will be able to drive anywhere, and do anything that normal car with a human driver can do.

Tesla cars currently operate at a level-two Autopilot, which requires the driver to remain alert and ready to act, with hands on the wheel.

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How Voice Control is Coming to Your Enterprise




According to research from, over 20% of UK households now have a smart speaker. Germany has 11% smart speaker penetration. Households in Ireland are nearing 10% while France trails at 7.4%. These figures contrast with Loup Ventures’ estimate that between 28% – 33% of US households have a device today. Voice control at work also looks set to massively expand over the next few years.

In Western Europe for IDC, Antonio Arantes, a senior research analyst for Smart Home devices, said last year: “Google had a stellar quarter and was the clear winner in the first quarter, reaching an important milestone in Europe. Google continues to expand to new countries and support new native languages at a faster pace than Amazon.

“This is also contributing to strengthening its position in voice assistant platforms. Google Assistant was present in 49.2% of all smart speakers sold in Europe in the first quarter of 2019. Meanwhile, Amazon faced supply issues, with the Amazon Echo Dot being out of stock in some countries for several weeks, leaving space for Google Home products to grow.”

Smart speaker household penetration by EU country.
Smart speaker household penetration by EU country. [Source:]

The familiarity that the general public now has with voice assistants in their homes – and more importantly – on their smartphones, is a solid foundation onto which voice can enter the workplace.

Businesses are also increasing understanding of how conversational interfaces can deliver a new communications channel to their customers. Research from Capgemini concluded: “Our research found that over three-quarters of organizations (76%) have realized measurable benefits from voice and chat assistants. In addition, on average, 58% said that benefits met or exceeded expectations.”

“Conversational interfaces have helped organizations make more efficient use of human team members and generate efficiencies. ‘The time to resolve a query or give a response back has reduced drastically because it is automated at first level,’ says a senior executive from one of India’s large private sector banks. “And, with the increase in our customer base, there is obviously an increase in the number of queries we receive. However, we didn’t have to scale up our teams.’”

There is little doubt the use of voice assistants will grow exponentially over the next few years. Interestingly, whether voice will also become an essential business communications services that can enhance team collaboration and literally bring a new voice to how companies approach their communications tools on-site and, of course, for their remote teams.

James Poulter, CEO and Co-Founder of Vixen Labs.
James Poulter, CEO and Co-Founder of Vixen Labs.

Speaking to Silicon UK, James Poulter, CEO and Co-Founder of Vixen Labs – a leading strategy consultancy and app development studio for voice assistants and conversational AI, said: “We are seeing an increasing interest in deploying voice assistants and voice control into offices and workspaces in response to COVID-19. In particular, in clinical settings where the likes of apps like UMA is being used to detect occupancy of rooms and spaces and using voice and chatbots to book meeting rooms and desks.”

Voice control in the office

Voice assistants are just one manifestation of the revolution taking place in the office. Gartner predicts that, by 2023, 25% of employee interactions with applications will be via voice, up from under 3 percent in 2019. Although most chatbots and VAs are still text-based, AI-enabled speech-to-text and text-to-speech hosted services are improving rapidly. As a result, the deployment of voice-based solutions will grow. The interface to interact with their assistant is likely to be voice. Already SAP’s CoPilot allows voice interactions within their applications.

“We believe that the popularity of connected speakers in the home, such as the Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, and Google Home, will increase pressure on businesses to enable similar devices in the workplace,” said Van Baker, vice president at Gartner. “While there are limitations on the actions that VPAs can perform, employees will readily expand the actions allowed as capabilities improve.”

Two years ago, Apple began working with Salesforce to integrate Siri into their services. “If you look at enterprise in general, voice has not been used as much as in consumer,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told Reuters in an interview. “We’re going to be able to provide the sales rep instant access to things using your voice instead of clicks and going through different apps. We’re changing the way people work, and that’s always been at the heart of what Apple is about – changing things for the better.” We have yet to see any announcement, but the tools are available with the SiriKit SDKs available today.

In the Microsoft camp, the company continues to expand the capabilities of Office 365. The Seattle giant, of course, does not have smart speaker hardware of its own. The Cortana skills kit for enterprise [] has been available since last year, but we await any dedicated applications businesses can buy off-the-shelf.

A spokesperson from Aculab commented: “Convincing the business’s customers that the system will work for them and is managed in an ethical manner. Here “ethical” means not just keeping voice recordings private, but also not exploiting knowledge gained from them. Customers need to be assured that information given to a business that uses Google Duplex (for example) will not be logged by Google or used to influence options they are presented with for future purchases through Google Shopping. Even if stored data is anonymized, it can still be used for profiling and other purposes that may be deemed unethical by society at large. Even worse, given sufficient contextual information, it is possible to de-anonymize most such data.”

Give your business a voice

Businesses are already exploring how advanced AI, coupled with voice assistants on mobile devices, could be used in an office environment. The commercial real estate business JLL has created JiLL. Users can use voice or text to converse with the app and simplify time-consuming daily tasks such as setting up meetings, locating colleagues, looking up lunch menus or shuttle schedules, filing service requests, or finding a desk or conference room.

Built on Google Cloud, JiLL is the first product launched by JLL Labs, JLL’s in-house, a global network of software engineers and product experts developing innovative and commercially strategic proptech products.

“Consumers feel empowered in centrally managing their digital experiences at home and on the go. However, at work, simple tasks are siloed and can be frustrating,” said Vinay Goel, Chief Digital Product Officer, JLL. “JILL leverages JLL’s vast datasets about buildings, user interactions and transactions with physical spaces to provide a personalized and intelligent conversational interface that matches employees’ consumer experiences. Over time, we expect JILL to become an essential platform for hundreds of skills that help employees improve their daily productivity.”

At the end of last year, Google also announced their partnership with Suki, an AI-powered, voice-enabled digital assistant that lifts the administrative burden from doctors. Suki provides assistive, invisible support, and gets smarter with use, learning the doctor’s preferences to quickly and accurately complete administrative tasks, from clinical notes to retrieving patient lab results.

“Google’s AI and cloud offerings are already advancing innovative, new clinical solutions across the health care system,” said Punit Soni, founder, and CEO of Suki. “As a partner of Google Cloud, we hope to provide even greater value to enterprise health systems by improving clinical workflows, relieving physician burnout, and, most importantly, help more doctors in more specialties remain focused on delivering high-quality car.”

One of the most powerful aspects of voice communications is its ability to personalize these conversations. Businesses understand that personalizing how their customers interact with their website delivers a commercial advantage. Today, using audio can make even close connections with consumers, as they are already showing they value the audio channels businesses are developing.

Capgemini also commented in their report: “Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable engaging with conversational assistants. Simultaneously, they are also developing clear expectations on where they want the bot to come in when they want the human to come in, and for what sort of queries. When they are used in the appropriate situation, voice and chat assistants have significant potential to transform the customer experience landscape.

“However, our research shows that many organizations do not have a mature approach to these technologies, lacking both customer centricity and organizational capabilities when it comes to deployment. As a result, they are missing the opportunity to build deeper, more valuable relationships with customers.”

More than half of global consumers say yes to personalization.
More than half of global consumers say yes to personalization. [Source: Capgemini]

Vixen Labs’ James Poulter explained: “The key to getting voice into your business strategy is to see it as an eco-system. While many of us are using our smart speakers more than ever, we use our voices on our mobile phones, in our cars, and on our headphones to get things done. We see voice as being a complement to existing digital channels, rather than trying to replace it. There are many small tasks, routines, and habits we can help our customers using their voice that they wouldn’t download an app or visit a website for. As more of us are searching for information with our voices, we need to make sure our businesses have optimized content to be the right answers for our customer’s needs.”

Voice control will become increasingly commonplace as businesses embrace how digital assistants can improve their workforces’ efficiency. The issue of noise in an office environment will need to be resolved. However, all enterprises now use a voice component to expand the collaboration tools, which should be part of how companies construct their new support mechanism as they navigate the post-COVID-19 business landscape.

Silicon in Focus

Cathal McGloin, CEO of conversational AI platform company, ServisBOT.

Cathal McGloin, CEO of conversational AI platform company, ServisBOT.
Cathal McGloin, CEO of conversational AI platform company, ServisBOT.

What is the current state of voice control/assistants in business settings?

“Spiceworks surveyed 500 North American businesses that use voice control and found that 46% use voice to text dictation, 24% use voice to manage calendars, 26% use voice controls within team collaboration, 14% use voice controls within customer service, and 13% use voice control for IT helpdesk tasks.

“In healthcare settings, voice-activated bots such as Aiva and are being used by clinical staff to manage appointments and reminders for outpatients. There are also some interesting uses of voice assistants within HR, including handling holiday requests, ordering office inventory, or scheduling conference rooms.

“As businesses add conversational capabilities to their mobile apps, via both voice and messaging, they can engage with customers using a digital assistant in a more convenient channel than traditional phone, email or live chat channels. Banking customers can already use voice biometrics to be authenticated to request the status of their account within their mobile banking app and use digital assistants to access their customer details. Bank of America is using Erica within its mobile app, for example.”

What are the key challenges when implementing voice control/assistants at work?

“Typically, office spaces are busy and noisy, making it difficult for a voice-activated device to differentiate the user’s voice from background noise so that they can understand requests. Spiceworks found that 23% of businesses found that voice assistants could not distinguish the user’s voice. As a result, voice control tends to be confined to quieter areas such as meeting rooms, the helpdesk, or delivery vans.

“Other use cases include inventory management in the supply room, such as asking a digital assistant to re-order printer paper. Unless the AI has been trained using highly diverse data samples, voice assistants will struggle to understand regional accents, leading to potential frustration for some users.”

How has COVID-19 impacted the use of voice control systems for businesses?

“In March, China Daily reported that a voice-controlled elevator system had been installed in Haidian hospital in Beijing so that employees and visitors can control the lift without touching any buttons. The system recognizes Mandarin and eight local dialects.

“Amazon’s Alexa for Business enables voice-activated control of AV conferencing systems and services, which offers hygiene benefits in the post-COVID-19 workplace by reducing the need for devices to be touched by multiple employees. Voice control offers obvious benefits as a contactless interface that helps reduce cross-contamination in communal areas and can play an important role in allaying employees’ fears about contracting Coronavirus as they return to their workplaces.”

Are voice assistants meeting the security and privacy concerns businesses will have to contend with to make widespread use of this technology?

“The best use cases for voice interfaces are those that do not risk capturing sensitive company data. Whatever the application of voice technology, security and privacy will be the IT department’s top concerns.

“Some applications have already been implemented by businesses, such as using voice to search for specific information in a report or file. When blended with biometrics, this offers interesting access control benefits and could also be used to support more diversity in the workplace, with information being filtered based on user permissions and presented in a format that is most appropriate to that employee’s needs.”

What does the future of voice in business look like?

“We see the future being a blend of the voice and text channels. Rather than looking at voice-only use cases for a business, there are broader opportunities to take a voice interaction and shift it to a messaging or text channel where appropriate. This blended approach helps overcome some of the barriers that businesses have around privacy and expand how technology can effectively engage with employees and customers.

“With continuing advancements in speech recognition, authentication, and AI, the technology will become better and more suitable to a broader range and more complex use cases. There is still plenty of room for improvement in this area.

“Voice control is set to expand in terms of the number of languages that can be handled. This will allow global brands to communicate with international employees and customers in a consistent and efficient manner. Verbal communication has many nuances and can be highly complex. Advances in machine learning will continue to improve how devices can understand, not just words, but also the emotions that are expressed, which could lead to innovative use cases in HR, healthcare and marketing.”

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels.

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