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By Michelai Graham
Boardroom's Tech Reporter
March 17, 2024
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Tech Talk is a weekly digest by Boardroom’s Michelai Graham that breaks down the latest news from the world’s biggest tech companies and the future of industry-shaping trends like AI.

All eyes have been on TikTok’s fate in the US this week, but I was also intrigued to see that Apple hinted at releasing generative AI tech via its popular voice assistant, Siri. I’m eager to see what the Big Tech giant cooks up.

A peek into today’s edition:

  • The download on TikTok‘s possible US ban
  • Tech Talk Reviews: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
  • Reddit eyes $6.4 billion valuation

Everything You Need to Know About TikTok's Potential Ban in the US

The clock is ticking on TikTok’s fate in the United States after the House of Representatives voted in favor of a bipartisan bill that could ban the platform if it doesn’t get new ownership.

But there is a lot of information to understand and dissect around this ordeal, so I’m here to break it down for you.

How the TikTok Ban Bill Ended Up in Congress

TikTok, which China-based ByteDance owns, launched in the US in September 2016. The company splits its headquarters between LA and Singapore. TikTok’s app didn’t gain noticeable traction until October 2018, when it became the most downloaded app in the US. The US government has always been critical of the video-sharing app since its parent company is based in China, where the government has a stronger influence over local businesses, even if they have an international reach.

Congress is most concerned about national security risks and data privacy since the Chinese government can decide at any moment to instill laws that would require ByteDance to share sensitive information about its users. Still, ByteDance’s leadership said it would never do that, and the tech company has even made strides to build trust in the US. Back in 2022, TikTok agreed to move all US user data to American soil through a partnership with Texas-based tech giant Oracle. This relocation was to make sure only the US-based security team could access the data. Additionally, the US government will have the ability to monitor the operation regularly.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew spoke about this relocation, dubbed Project Texas, in detail during his first testimony before the House in March 2023. The testimony lasted more than six hours, and I watched the entire thing. Here are some key takeaways from the hearing. Chew’s testimony came at a time when sweeping TikTok bans hit the nation. In February 2023, the Biden administration banned TikTok from federal devices, even though the president’s re-election campaign made an account last month. In May 2023, Montana became the first state to ban TikTok after signing a bill that would have gone into effect in January 2024 before a federal judge blocked the decision in November. A slew of states across the US have instilled similar TikTok bans on federal devices, and some universities have restricted the app on school devices and campus Wi-Fi.

The Vote in the House

The noise around a nationwide TikTok ban was quiet for some time, but that was the plan all along. Bipartisan lawmakers kept the bill under wraps until last week when a House committee unanimously voted to put the legislation to a larger vote. Chew quickly traveled to the US to speak with lawmakers ahead of the vote on Wednesday. TikTok also pushed messages to its US users urging them to contact their Congressional representatives to kill the bill. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, as the bill was passed, with 155 Democrats and 197 Republicans voting in favor of it.

Chew responded to the vote on the bill in a TikTok video, emphasizing how much a TikTok ban in the US would negatively impact small businesses and content creators.

What’s Next?

If the bill goes to a vote in the Senate and it is passed, President Joe Biden already agreed to sign it into law. The bill would require ByteDance to sell its ownership in TikTok within 165 days, or the app will be blocked from US app stores indefinitely.

TikTok has grown to attract an estimated 170 million users in the US, which is nearly half of our population, so it’s understandable why there are bigger concerns at play here. It’s unclear if the Senate will bring a bill to a vote.

Personally, I don’t think TikTok is leaving the US anytime soon. Refer to my Bet of the Week for more.

Still, TikTok is in a tough spot since the Chinese government has also told ByteDance it will oppose a sale of the app in the US.

For more on my thoughts on a potential TikTok ban, check out this video.

Tech Talk Reviews: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Electronics leader Samsung debuted its newest line of smartphones in January with new AI tools. The Galaxy S24 Ultra is the first Samsung device to feature a titanium frame, reducing the smartphone’s weight. I’ve been playing around with the Galaxy S24 Ultra for the past six weeks. Take a look at what I learned.

  • Reddit announced that it plans to raise $748 million at a $6.4 billion valuation from the 22 million shares it filed to offer for its IPO. The social media platform is launching a subreddit (/RDDT) for users to ask questions about its public offering. Stay tuned; I’ll have more on Reddit IPO next week.
  • Bitcoin hit a new all-time high again on Wednesday when it briefly surpassed the $73,800 threshold. For context, Bitcoin was trading at around $26,500 this time last year.
  • A new bill in Illinois called the Journalism Preservation Act will soon be put to a vote. If passed, it would require tech companies to pay local news outlets for work viewed by residents on their platforms. Meta says it will pull news from its platform in the state if the bill passes.
  • A group of authors is suing Nvidia for alleged copyright infringement. The authors are claiming that Nvidia trained its AI platform NeMo using their books without their consent.
  • Spotify is beta testing a new feature with Premium subscribers that allows them to access music videos for select songs via the Now Playing screen. The feature is available across 11 markets.
  • OpenAI announced a new board of directors that includes eight members, including OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Instacart CEO Fidji Simo, and Nicole Seligman, former Sony Entertainment President.
  • Elon Musk agreed to release the code and open up access to Grok, an AI chatbot that was previously only accessible to X Premium+ subscribers, following his lawsuit against OpenAI that alleges the AI company is keeping its tech too private. Fun fact: In one of my Bet of the Week editions last year, I predicted this would happen in Q1 of 2024. Check it out here.
  • Speaking of Musk, Don Lemon said the troubled tech tycoon canceled his content deal on X’s platform hours after they filmed the debut episode of his new show. Lemon said the episode will still air on YouTube, which will be the primary home for The Don Lemon Show moving forward.

If Congress fully passes the TikTok bill in the US, I’m going to bet that ByteDance will let TikTok spin out as its own company and maintain its HQ offices in Singapore and LA.