Home Tech No WhatsApp in China, no TikTok in the US and the return of Llama

No WhatsApp in China, no TikTok in the US and the return of Llama

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No WhatsApp in China, no TikTok in the US and the return of Llama

TOAnother day, another set of problems for Apple’s App Store. This time, the company had given in to the orders of the Chinese State to eliminate WhatsApp and Threads, two of the last meta-applications that were still available in the country.

From our history:

Apple confirmed that it had removed the two apps, both owned by Meta, which also owns Facebook, following instructions from the Cyberspace Administration of China, which regulates and censors China’s highly restricted internet and online content.

“The Cyberspace Administration of China ordered the removal of these apps from the China store based on its national security concerns,” Apple said in a statement emailed to Reuters. “We are obliged to follow the laws of the countries where we operate, even when we do not agree.”

The reader, perhaps, intends to infer a final clause in that statement and conclude that Apple does not indeed agree with the order. It seems unlikely that the company would be happy to subject itself to high-profile censorship once again, even if it meant removing the apps of one of the company’s most formidable competitors.

But it’s worth noting what Apple hasn’t done this time: repeat its playbook with the European Union. The company has not published a 12 page report detailing the changes it has been forced to make and explaining in detail why it believes being forced to make them is likely to harm Apple’s customer experience and be counterproductive to the regulator’s goals. It has not pursued a so-called “malicious enforcement” strategy, following the letter but not the spirit of the law. And he certainly hasn’t stated that his interpretation of the law differs from that of regulators, and he has vowed to fight in court.

Of course, it may be unfair to expect this to be the case. Fighting the Chinese state in Chinese courts would be an exercise in futility, to the extent that it was possible. However, the difference is marked. When an authoritarian regime tells Apple what it can do with the App Store, the company’s response is a short paragraph. When a democratic union tries to do the same, the response is vociferous and negative.

The comparison does not favor the European Union, without a doubt. No proponent of the Digital Markets Act would be too happy to look Apple in the eye and demand to be treated like the Chinese Communist Party. It’s an observation I feel compelled to make every time the topic comes up. There’s a world government that can control Apple with barely a public outcry, and it’s not the one you’d want.

Time is up for TikTok

‘Foreign adversary’… TikTok could be closed in the US Photograph: Given Ruvić/Reuters

China is not the only government that bans things. From the Guardian US:

The House of Representatives voted 360 to 58 on updating the divestment or ban. [TikTok] bill that could lead to the first time the US government passes a law to shut down an entire social media platform.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week and Joe Biden has said he will sign the legislation.

I’m not a legislator, but the bill itself doesn’t seem like much of a law. To avoid the appearance of passing a bill (a law directed specifically at an individual, generally disparaged in the English legal tradition from which the American government descends), it covers TikTok and any other service “controlled by” a “foreigner.” adversary” considered a security risk at the decision of the president. There is a lot of room to ban things at will, given the apparent imprecision in the claim that something is “controlled by” the state. The term “foreign adversary” is more narrowly defined in other legislation and currently covers Iran, China, Russia and North Korea.

But that is a debate for lawyers. What interests me is: what will TikTok be like without the Americans? The domination of the English-speaking Internet by the United States is a reality. The “world wide web” is not a misnomer, and while geographic differences remain in which services are popular, as a general rule, American voices will dominate.

It seems unlikely that American TikTok will be eliminated by a ban: the number of compulsive users willing to hack their devices, use web apps, or simply never uninstall the service means there will always be cartels in the United States. But any substantial friction will likely lead to many less die-hard TikTok users switching to Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube Shorts, all of which have benefited from TikTok’s restrictions in other regions, particularly India.

In the short term, that can’t help but make the TikTok experience worse for all its users, wherever they live. Some of the content they would have liked to see will no longer be there, and much of the rest will be in reruns, arriving late and without connection to their original creators.

However, what makes me curious is the medium and long-term result of such a change. Is the rest of the English-speaking world steadily declining as well, following American users back to the places where they started posting? Or is there a genuine divergence, as the culture on TikTok begins to reflect a fundamentally different cross-section of the world from the broader internet?

I still think the most likely outcome is that we never know, and some combination of money, lobbying, and protest means that a deal is reached that maintains access to TikTok. But if all else fails, what a fascinating experiment we may witness.

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Flame 3 released

Three real llamas, who are not loose, in Russia. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The second summer of AI has begun. Smaller versions of Facebook’s large language model, Llama 3, have been released and have changed the landscape for what probably won’t be the last time this year. From our history:

The social media giant equipped Llama 3 with new computer coding capabilities and this time provided it with images as well as text, although for now the model will only produce text, Chris Cox, Meta’s chief product officer, said in an interview.

More advanced reasoning, such as the ability to make longer, multi-step plans, will follow in later versions, he added. Versions scheduled for release in the coming months will also be capable of being “multimodal,” meaning they will be able to generate both text and images..

Llama is the local Facebook competitor of GPT, Gemini and Claude. Unlike those three systems, however, Llama was released with a comparatively open license, with the core models available for users to download. If you want to build your own AI system, especially if you want to run it locally, rather than relying on a server farm, Llama is a good place to start.

The first version of Llama was released to the public accidentally, while the second made it official. The advantage for Facebook is obvious: if you create the core technology behind the rise of AI, you have a lot of power. Llama is open enough to build on top of, but not open enough to fork away from Facebook entirely; Most importantly, without the data and specific details of how the system was built, you will never be able to redo that initial training run, even if you could afford the huge IT expense.

But the disadvantage is equally clear. Facebook makes money from people who use its services, but it can’t directly make money from training Llama. That means it’s not incentivized to invest as much as its competitors to stay at the absolute frontier, and as a result, Llama has historically been far from the forefront.

At the moment, however, that is not the case. It took more than a year, but a free-licensed model from Facebook is now at least competitive with GPT4, and the company says an even better, or at least bigger, version is yet to come.

Of course, the border doesn’t stay still for long. OpenAI is expected to release GPT-5 sometime this summer, and if it represents the progression that experts have been hinting at, everything will change, again.

The Broadest TechScape

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