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Trump Signs Executive Order Banning TikTok, WeChat in 45 Days

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On Thursday, President Trump signed two executive orders, which take effect in 45 days, banning TikTok and WeChat from operating in the United States, a move that escalates pressure on the Chinese-owned apps to sell to an American company.

What We Know:

  • The executive orders, which were signed late Thursday night, cite national security concerns with two popular Chinese social media networks, TikTok and WeChat. The orders take effect in 45 days and bar any transactions between WeChat or TikTok and “any person or involving any property subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.”
  • The order has essentially set a 45-day deadline for both companies to be sold by their Chinese-owned parent companies and acquired by American companies. While the full scope of the ban remains unclear, it appears to have more severe consequences for WeChat as TikTok was in talks earlier this week with Microsoft about its acquisition. These newest restrictions represent a further fragmentation of the global internet, as some nations begin to cut off foreign technology companies from their own markets.
  • Tensions have continued to escalate between the United States and China in recent months, and most recently, Trump has focused his attention on technology companies with connections to the Chinese government. In his order, Trump accused WeChat, made by Tencent, and TikTok, made by ByteDance, of “providing a channel for the Chinese Communist Party to obtain Americans’ proprietary information, keep tabs on Chinese citizens abroad and carry out disinformation campaigns to benefit China’s interest.”
  • TikTok has become a widely popular social media app in the United States, but WeChat is lesser-known. WeChat, which is mainly used by individuals of Chinese descent, is used widely around the world to communicate with friends, read the news, and carry out business transactions. A ban has the potential to effectively cut off a majority of informal communication between people in China and the United States.
  • At a daily news briefing early Friday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin called the executive orders a “nakedly hegemonic act” and added, “on the pretext of national security, the U.S. frequently abuses national power and unreasonably suppresses relevant enterprises.”
  • For many in China, the ban of WeChat will have a more significant impact as TikTok does not operate in China, and there are few alternatives to WeChat as most other international messaging apps are blocked. The order appears to be aimed at stopping transactions between American companies and parent company Tencent, but such a block would hurt American firms in China as they use the app to do marketing, advertising, and after-sales service. Tencent also widely invested in American gaming and social media companies, including Snap, Activision Blizzard, and the makers of Fortnite, Clash of Clans, and League of Legends. It’s unclear how the order might affect these other investments.
  • Critics of the order, including those in the national security community, have doubts about how successful this ban will be in cutting off ties with networks and technologies from China, noting that a good number of communications will run over Chinese-controlled computers and networks no matter what the U.S. government does. “While TikTok is being singled out in this executive order, their data collection and sharing practices are fairly standard in the industry,” said Kirsten Martin, a professor on technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame’s business school. “In fact, many fitness apps were banned from use in the military for tracking location data, but we did not ban them from all U.S. citizens.”
  • In a release on their website, TikTok said it is “shocked” by the order and will pursue all remedies available, including the U.S. courts. Tencent said it is reviewing the executive order to get a full understanding.

It is unclear how this ban would be enforced in the United States, but is believed that both apps would be removed from Apple and Google’s app stores.

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Mercedes-Benz Says it will Go All-Electric in 2030, but with a Major Caveat

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Mercedes-Benz plans on selling all-electric cars by 2030, joining rival companies General Motors, Stellantis, and Renault.

What We Know:

  • Daimler, the makers of Mercedes-Benz, stated they would invest over $47 billion between 2022-2030 to create battery-electric cars…having only all-electric cars by 2030. They will build about eight battery plants and have the electric model of every car they make. There will be three battery plants in Europe, four in Asia, and one in the US.
  • The luxury car makers will produce eight electric vehicle models by 2022. They will be producing them on three continents in various locations. Chief Executive Ola Källenius said that the company’s “spending on traditional combustion-engine technology would be close to zero by 2025.” He truly sees the company being all-electric by the end of the decade and competitive with Tesla. Källenius believes that Mercedes-Benz’s initiative will allow them to get 600 miles to a charge, beating Tesla’s longest-running car by 50%.
  • As a part of the Paris Agreement, countries have made a pact to make changes to their carbon emission levels. The US and European Union both decided to target their international import ties. The EU declared that they would “effectively ban new cars with internal combustion engines in 2035,” while Britain and Norway both set expiration dates for any car that runs on fossil fuels.
  • The only caveat to Mercedes-Benz’s plan is that they will produce and sell their electric cars “where market conditions allow.” The automobile company understands that some countries may not have car charging capabilities by 2030, and thus they wouldn’t need an electric car. Because of this possibility, Mercedes-Benz will still make “combustion-engine vehicles” as long as demand is high and needed.

Daimler executives have yet to release the location for the US battery plant, but many suspect it will be near the company’s manufacturing plant in Tuscaloosa, AL. The company has yet to release any information regarding ending sales and production of their fossil fuel cars.

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Blue Origin’s Bezos Reaches Space on 1st Passenger Flight

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Billionaire Jeff Bezos successfully made it to space in his first-ever launch of New Shepard‘s rocket ship.

What We Know:

  • Bezos, along with his brother Mark, 82-year-old space race pioneer Wally Funk, and 18-year-old student Oliver Daemen launched into space on Tuesday. Daeman is considered the first paying customer, as his wealthy father purchased his ticket. The four-person crew took a rocket ship that was owned by Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin. The rocket had a smooth takeoff, made it to about 60 miles above Earth, experienced 3 to 4-minutes of weightlessness, and safely landed back on Earth. The flight lasted a little over 10 minutes.
  • Blue Origin is meant to be used for “space tourism” and is a part of the “billionaire space race”  that is happening between various billionaires. Bezos and other billionaires plan on capitalizing on the space market and make it like a “Disney park ride” for the rich.
  • Richard Branson, billionaire and founder of Virgin Galactic, was the first billionaire to launch into space, as his crew took flight nine days prior to Bezos’. Branson’s launch has been called into question since he didn’t reach the Kármán line- the international boundary of space. Many believe he did not reach space, as his spacecraft only reached a little over 50 miles above Earth and the Kármán line is 60. According to CNN, America states that “demarcation altitude” is above 50, and therefore Branson is the “first billionaire” in space.
  • Bezos believes the future is space and his environmental vision revolves around it. He stated that “we need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry and move it into space, and keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is.” The Amazon founder and former owner believe that his sub-orbital tourism mission will allow the country to achieve a world where people can eat, sleep, and work in space in order to clean Earth.
  • Some have criticized Bezos launched, as well as his comments made post-launch. In his post-interview, Bezos thanked Amazon employees and consumers for funding the $5.5 billion space launch. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) tweeted that Bezos needs to thank American workers who “actually paid taxes” and brought up the country’s need for a “wealth tax,” as Amazon pays nothing in taxes. Stars and Stripes journalist David Choi retweeted the post-interview video and stated his response to the billionaire.

Bezos has already sold close to $100 million worth of tickets for future Blue Origin launches, despite not releasing the prices for seats yet. Those interested in taking a trip to space are asked to email the company as demand is high. There will be at least two more human flights conducted by Blue Origin before the end of the year.

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Black Widow’s Debut on Disney+ Earned $60 Million

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Black Widow became the third highest-grossing Marvel origin story during its opening weekend, following Black Panther and Captain Marvel.

What We Know:

  • Deadline reported that the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film garnered $60 million in sales on Disney+ in two years. Alongside this, Black Widow also earned $80 million domestically and $78 million internationally. Overall, the film produced $218.8  million worldwide.
  • Disney+ released the long-awaited Marvel film on the same day it premiered in theatres through its Premiere Access option. Customers could access the title by paying $30; unlike other streaming devices, like HBO Max, which place new films on their service for a limited time, Disney+ users can access the movie whenever they’d like. Since Marvel could not release any movies in 2020 due to the pandemic, fans did not hesitate to pay the fee.
  • Black Widow enthusiasts waited for the film for seventeen years. Lionsgate began developing the film in 2004 but did not move forward with the project, as Marvel regained the character’s film rights in 2006. Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow) then entered the MCU in 2010’s Iron Man 2, and actress Scarlett Johansson began talks of a solo film with Marvel. Despite this, Marvel only included her as a supporting character in other movies, most notably the Avengers series. It was not until 2017 that Marvel made her origin story a priority.
  • Marvel originally planned to release the film in May 2020. However, they pushed the date to November 2020, then to May 2021, and once again to July 2021. Although Marvel delayed the creation and issuing of Black Widow, it did not disappoint viewers. Audiences and critics alike praised the film for its strong performance and themes.
  • Disney+ began streaming movies the same day they appeared in theatres in 2020; they initiated the Premiere Access option by delivering the live-action remake of Mulan to users. The service continued Premiere Access by releasing Raya and the Last Dragon and Cruella. Premiere Access gives movie lovers the chance to watch popular films without leaving the comfort of their homes.

Marvel will also take out three new additions to the MCU later this year. Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, and Spider-Man: No Way Home are all set to come out at the end of 2021. Disney+ has not announced if they will provide the films through Premiere Access yet.

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