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By Michelai Graham
Boardroom's Tech Reporter
November 19, 2023

SpaceX was granted a license for its second Starship rocket launch, and for the atmosphere’s sake, I hope this trip goes better than its first, which ended in an explosion.

A peak into today’s edition: 

  • Nepal officially bans TikTok
  • Updates on Google in the courtroom
  • Meta rolls out new features across Instagram and Threads

TikTok Ban Takes Effect in Nepal; Byte Dance Rakes in $29B in Revenue

Nepal has officially banned TikTok for the platform’s apparent reluctance to halt hate content that disrupts “social harmony” and “family structure” across the country. TikTok had 2.2 million users in Nepal, but its app will go offline across the country soon after Nepal’s government felt like TikTok’s content was promoting religious hate, violence, and sexual abuse. The news comes after Nepal implemented a rule that requires social platforms to register with the local government.

Several countries have implemented partial TikTok bans, including the US, Britain, and New Zealand, which don’t allow the app on government devices. There are some US state-specific bans in the works that may go into effect next year. Nepal’s ban comes as TikTok’s parent company, Byte Dance, reported $29 billion in second-quarter revenue, a surge of more than 40% year-over-year.

I think it’s time I start building out a TikTok ban tracker. Stay tuned for updates on that.


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Google vs. Epic Games: New Revenue-sharing Info Comes to Light

A couple of weeks ago, during Google’s antitrust trial with the SEC, we learned that the Big Tech leader paid Apple somewhere between $18 billion and $20 billion to be the default search engine on iPhone and other Apple devices. It doesn’t help that another big secret slipped during Google’s antitrust trial with Epic Games, this time by University of Chicago professor Kevin Murphy, who told a federal court that Google pays Apple 36% of its revenue from search advertising through Apple’s Safari browser. Professor Murphy wasn’t supposed to disclose this information, especially since his testimony was supposed to be in Google’s defense.

Alphabet CEO and Google chief Sundar Pichai confirmed Google and Apple’s revenue-sharing agreement is true when he took the stand for a second time for a 90-minute testimony in the Epic Games antitrust trial.

More news updates from Google’s world:

  • Google is suing a group of scammers based in Vietnam who are running social media malware ads disguised as download referrals for its Bard AI service.
  • Google will start deleting inactive Gmail accounts and photos that haven’t been touched in the past two years starting Dec. 1.
  • Research published in Science found that Google DeepMind’s weather AI model, GraphCast, can predict extreme weather faster and more accurately than other models currently on the market.
  • Google is in talks to ink an investment deal with AI chatbot developer Character.AI.

Sam Altman Suddenly Ousted as CEO of OpenAI

On Friday, OpenAI’s board of directors announced in a blog post that its CEO Sam Altman is exiting the company. In the interim, Mira Murati, who previously served as chief technology officer, will assume the position.

“Mr. Altman’s departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities,” the company said in the post. “The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”

After helping to found OpenAI in 2015, Altman has become a high-profile tech executive in the last year following the company’s release of ChatGPT. Open AI is currently exploring a new round of funding that would put its value at more than $80 billion and will help to fuel GPT-5.

YouTube Teases New Music AI Features for Select Artists, Creators

YouTube dropped a sneak peek of how its platform is experimenting with AI and music alongside Google DeepMind. The music platform announced Dream Track in YouTube Shorts, which allows artists and creators to create up to 30-second soundtracks featuring music from nine renowned artists who agreed to collaborate on the experiment. Those artists include Alec Benjamin, Charlie Puth, Charli XCX, Demi Lovato, John Legend, Papoose, Sia, T-Pain, and Troye Sivan. The new feature is only available to a select group of artists and creators for now, who will help inform and help YouTube fine-tune its offerings for future products and tools. YouTube is also working closely with artists, songwriters, and producers in its Music AI Incubator to build out a set of music AI tools.

As YouTube leans into AI more, it’s working to do it in the right way, which is why the platform is also implementing AI-generated content labels. The new tags will come as a requirement for creators when they publish content that depicts real people and events. AI-generated animations are exempt from this requirement.

  • Meta added a new feature to Instagram that allows users to publish reels and feed posts only for their close friends, and it looks like hashtags are on the way over at Threads. The Big Tech company also added some new filters on Instagram along with more creative tools.
  • Apple will adopt the RCS messaging standard in 2024, creating a better experience between iPhone and Android users. While iMessage will stay exclusive to Apple, some of the features like read receipts and typing indicators will be available when iPhone and Android users communicate.
  • Microsoft made a slew of announcements during its Ignite 2023 event, most notably that it’s developing its own AI computing chips to compete with Nvidia and launching an AI tool that lets users generate avatar-based videos by uploading photos of people they want the avatars to resemble.
  • Amazon cut more than 180 jobs from its games division and shut down parts of its gaming business overall. Elsewhere, Amazon is ramping up its security robot patrol biz with the launch of Astro for Business, and the e-commerce giant inked deals with Meta and Snap to run shopping ads and facilitate purchases within Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
  • OpenAI chief Sam Altman announced that the AI startup is pausing new sign-ups for its premium subscription service, ChatGPT Plus, due to a surge in usage following its first developer conference earlier this month. Elsewhere, Altman confirmed that GPT-5 is on the way as OpenAI seeks new funding from Microsoft.
  • Disney is partnering with NBA Top Shot developer Dapper Labs to launch Disney Pinnacle, a platform for fans to buy, sell, and trade verified Disney collectibles and digital pins.

Indie studio A24 was granted the rights to make a movie based on Walter Isaacson’s biography of Elon Musk. I can’t pinpoint who I think will play the controversial tech tycoon, but I am going to bet that Musk will put his bid in to play himself in the highly-anticipated film.