CDC removes updated guidelines around COVID-19 aerosol transmission, but this expert explains why it should reverse the reversal

Last week at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020, I got the chance to speak to Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economists who is a Senior Fellow of the Federation of American Scientists. Dr. Feigl-Ding has been a frequent and vocal critic of some of the most profound missteps of regulators, public health organizations and the current White House administration, and we discussed specifically the topic of aerosol transmission and its notable absence from existing guidance in the U.S.

At the time, neither of us knew that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) would publish updated guidance on its website over this past weekend that provided descriptions of aerosol transmission, and a concession that it’s likely a primary vector for passing on the virus that leads to COVID-19 – or that the CDC would subsequently revert said guidance, removing this updated information about aerosol transmission that’s more in line with the current state of widely accepted COVID research. The CDC cited essentially an issue where someone at the organization pushed a draft version of guidelines to production – but the facts it had shared in the update lined up very closely with what Dr. Feigl-Ding had been calling for.

“The fact that we haven’t highlighted aerosol transmission as much, up until recently, is woefully, woefully frustrating,” he said during our interview last Wednesday. “Other countries who’ve been much more technologically savvy about the engineering aspects of aerosols have been ahead of the curve – like Japan, they assume that this virus is aerosol and airborne. And aerosol means that the droplets are these micro droplets that can float in the air, they don’t get pulled down by gravity […] now we know that the aerosols may actually be the main drivers. And that means that if someone coughs, sings, even breathes, it can in the air, the micro droplets can stay in the air from anywhere from, for stagnant air for up to16 hours, but normally with ventilation, between 20 minutes to four hours. And that air, if you enter it into a room after someone was there, you can still get infected, and that is what makes indoor dining and bars and restaurants so frustrating.”

Dr. Feigl-Ding points to a number of recent contact tracing studies as providing strong evidence that these indoor activities, and the opportunity they provide for aerosol transmission, are leading to a large number of infections. Such studies were featured in a report the CDC prepared on reopening advice, which was buried by the Trump administration according to an AP report from May.

“The latest report shows that indoor dining bars restaurants are the leading leading factors for transmission, once you do contact tracing,” he said, noting that this leads naturally to the big issues around schools reopening, including that many have “very poor ventilation,” while simultaneously they’re not able to open their windows or doors due to gun safety protocols in place. Even before this recent CDC guideline take-back, Dr. Feigl-Ding was clearly frustrated with the way the organization appears to be succumbing to politicization of what is clearly an issue of a large and growing body of scientific evidence and fact.

“The CDC has long been the most respected agency in the world for public health, but now it’s been politically muzzled,” he said. “Previously, for example, the guidelines around church attendance – the CDC advised against church gatherings, but then it was overruled. And it was clearly overruled, because we actually saw it changed in live time. […] In terms of schools, gatherings, it’s clear [that] keeping kids in a pod is not enough, given what we know about ventilation.”

SmartNews’ Kaisei Hamamoto on how the app deals with media polarization

Six years ago, SmartNews took on a major challenge. After launching in Japan in 2012, the news discovery app decided that its first international market would be the United States. During Disrupt, co-founder Kaisei Hamamoto talked about how SmartNews adapts its app for two very different markets (the video is embedded below). Hamamoto, who is also chief operating officer and chief engineer of the startup, which hit unicorn status last year, also dove into how the company deals with media polarization, especially in the United States.

At Disrupt, SmartNews announced a roster of major new features for the U.S. version of the app, including sections dedicated to voting information and articles related to local and national elections. Hamamoto said the SmartNews’ goal is to make the app a “one-stop solution for users’ participation in the election process.”

The media landscape has changed a lot since SmartNews was founded in 2012. In the U.S., SmartNews is tackling the same issues as many journalists are: increasing polarization, especially along political lines, and monetization (SmartNews currently has more than 3,000 publishing partners around the world and splits ad revenue with them). And, of course, it’s up against a host of new competitors, including Apple News and Google News.

While many Japanese startups focus on other Asian markets when expanding internationally, SmartNews decided to enter the United States because it is home to some of the most influential media companies in the world. On the engineering side, Hamamoto said the company also wanted to tap into the country’s AI and machine learning talent pool.

“The U.S. is not only an attractive market, but also an important development center for SmartNews,” he said.

The Japanese and American versions of SmartNews share the same code base and its offices in both countries work closely together. While the company’s machine learning-based algorithms drive the bulk of news discovery and personalized recommendations, publishers are first screened by SmartNews’ content team before being added to its platform. The company’s vice president of content is Rich Jaroslovsky, a veteran journalist who wrote for publications like Bloomberg News and the Wall Street Journal.

While AI-based algorithms can perform tasks like filtering out obscene images, “it does not have the ability to evaluate how each publisher meets certain standards,” Hamamoto said. “We are doing everything we can to ensure that our users can read the news with trust every day thanks to efforts led by our team of journalism experts.”

Breaking readers out of information bubbles

In addition to their code base, the two versions of the app share some of the same features. For example, each has SmartNews’ COVID-19 channel, with continuous updates about the pandemic. In the States, this includes visualizations of confirmed cases by county or state, and information about local closing or reopening orders.

In terms of adapting the apps’ user experience, Hamamoto said Japanese readers prefer to have a lot of news displayed on one screen, so it uses a layout algorithm that deliberately increases the density of information presented in its Japanese app. But testing showed Americans prefer a simpler, cleaner layout with more white space.

But the differences go beyond the apps’ user interface. In 2016, members of the U.S. and Japanese team spent three weeks traveling across 13 states, including Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas, to talk to people they met through Craiglist postings or in diners and cafes. SmartNews’ leaders decided to do this after the Japan team realized that most of their U.S. trips were to their offices in New York and the Bay Area.

“We knew we couldn’t get a get a true sense of America by only visiting the East Coast and West Coast,” he said.

Hamamato said one of his biggest takeaways from the 2016 trip was that “we tend to categorize people into just two segments, our side or the other side, and we tend to think of the other side as the enemy, but in reality the world is not that simple.”

In a bid to tackle political polarization in American media, the company launched a “News from All Sides” feature last year, that displays articles about one topic from publications displayed on a slider from “most conservative” to “most liberal.” The U.S. app also has a stronger emphasis on local news. Based on users’ locations, this can be as specific as information from county or even city news outlets.

Hamamoto added that one of SmartNews’ guiding principles is a belief that “having a willingness to listen to other people and not easily label them will help solve the division of our society.”

After lockdowns lead to an e-bike boom, VanMoof raises $40M Series B to expand globally

E-bike startup VanMoof, has raised a $40 million investment from Norwest Venture Partners, Felix Capital and Balderton Capital. The Series B financing comes after a $13.5 million investment in May. The funding brings VanMoof’s total raised to $73 million and furthers the e-bike brand’s ultimate mission of getting the next billion on bikes.

The Series B funding will be used to meet the increased demand, shorten delivery times and build a suite of rider service solutions. It also aims to boost its share of the e-bike market in North America, Europe and Japan.

Partly driven by the switch of commuters away from public transport because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the e-bike craze is taking off.

Governments are now investing in cycling infrastructure and the e-bike market is set to surpass $46 billion in the next six years, according to reports.

Ties Carlier, co-founder VanMoof commented: “E-bike adoption was an inevitable global shift that was already taking place for many years now but COVID-19 put an absolute turbo on it to the point that we’re approaching a critical mass to transform cities for the better.”

VanMoof says it realized a 220% global revenue growth during the worldwide lockdown and sold more bikes in the first four months of 2020 than the previous two years combined.

Stew Campbell, Principal at Norwest said: “Taco, Ties and the VanMoof team have not only built an unparalleled brand and best-selling product, but they’re reshaping city mobility all over the world.”

Colin Hanna, Principal at Balderton: “As the COVID-19 crisis hit supply chains worldwide, VanMoof’s unique control over design and production was a key advantage that allowed the company to react nimbly and effectively. Moreover, VanMoof’s direct to consumer approach allows the company to build a close relationship to their riders, one that will be strengthened by new products and services in the years to come.”

VanMoof launched the new VanMoof S3 and X3 in April of this year. I reviewed the S3 here and checked out the earlier X2 version here.

Homage announces strategic partnership with Infocom, one of Japan’s largest healthcare IT providers

Homage, a Singapore-based caregiving and telehealth company, has taken a major step in its global expansion plan. The startup announced today that it has received strategic investment from Infocom, the Japanese information and communications technology company that runs one of the largest healthcare IT businesses in the country. Infocom’s solutions are used by more than 13,000 healthcare facilities in Japan.

During an interview with TechCrunch that will air as part of Disrupt tomorrow, Homage co-founder and chief executive Gillian Tee said “Japan has one of the most ageing populations in the world, and the problem is that we need to start building infrastructure to enable people to be able to access the kind of care services that they need.” She added that Homage and Infocom’s missions align because the latter is also building a platform for caregivers in Japan, in a bid to help solve the shortage of carers in the country.

Homage raised a Series B earlier this year with the goal of entering new Asian markets. The company, which currently operates in Singapore and Malaysia, focuses on patients who need long-term rehabilitation or care services, especially elderly people. This makes it a good match for Japan, where more than one in five of its population is currently aged 65 or over. In the next decade, that number is expected to increase to about one in three, making the need for caregiving services especially acute.

The deal includes a regional partnership that will enable Homage to launch its services into Japan, and Infocom to expand its reach in Southeast Asia. Homage’s services include a caregiver-client matching platform and a home medical service that includes online consultations and house calls, while Infocom’s technology covers a wide range of verticals, including digital healthcare, radiology, pharmaceuticals, medical imaging and hospital information management.

In a statement about the strategic investment, Mototaka Kuboi, Infocom’s managing executive officer and head of its healthcare business division, said, “We see Homage as an ideal partner given the company’s unique cutting-edge technology and market leadership in the long-term care segment, and we aim to drive business growth not only in Homage’s core and rapidly growing market in Southeast Asia, but also regionally.”

SoftBank could make, gasp, a profit on its expected sale of Arm for $40B

While the big deal we have been tracking the past few weeks has been TikTok, there was another massive deal under negotiation that mirrors some of the international tech dynamics that have plagued the consumer social app’s sale.

Arm Holdings, which is the most important designer of processor chips in smartphones and increasingly other areas, has been quietly shopped around as SoftBank works to shed its investments and raise additional capital to placate activist investors like Elliott Management. The Japanese telco conglomerate bought Arm outright back in 2016 for $32 billion.

Now, those talks look like they are coming toward a conclusion. The Wall Street Journal first reported that SoftBank is close to locking in a sale to Nvidia for cash and stock that would value Arm at $40 billion. The Financial Times this afternoon further confirmed the outlines of the deal, which could be announced as early as Monday.

A couple of thoughts while we wait for official confirmation from Nvidia, Arm, and SoftBank.

First, Arm has struggled to turn its wildly successful chip designs — which today power billions of new chips a year — into a fast-growth company. As we discussed back in May, the company has ploddingly entered new growth markets, and while it has had some notable brand successes including Apple announcing that Arm-powered processor designs would be coming to the company’s iconic Macintosh lineup, those wins haven’t translated into significant profits.

SoftBank took a wild swing back in 2016 buying the company. If $40 billion is indeed the price, it’s a 25% gain in roughly four years. Given SoftBank’s recent notorious investing track record, that actually looks stellar, but of course, there was a huge opportunity cost for the company to buy such a pricy asset. Nvidia, which SoftBank’s Vision Fund bought a public stake in, has seen its stock price zoom more than 16x in that time frame, driven by AI and blockchain applications.

Second, assuming a deal is consummated, it’s a somewhat quiet denouement for one of the truly category-defining companies that has emanated out of the United Kingdom. The chip designer, which is based in Cambridge and has deep ties to the leading British university, has been seen as a symbol of Britain’s long legacy at the frontiers of computer science, in which Alan Turing played a key role in the development of computability.

Arm’s sale comes just as the UK government gears up for a fight with the European Union over its industrial policy, and specifically deeper funding for precisely the kinds of technologies that Arm was developing. Arm of course isn’t likely to migrate its workforce, but its ownership by an American semiconductor giant versus a Japanese holding company will likely end its relatively independent operations.

Third and finally, the deal would give Nvidia a dominant position in the semiconductor market, bringing together the company’s strength in graphics and AI processing workflows along with Arm’s underlying chip designs. While the company would not be fully vertically integrated, the combination would intensify Nvidia’s place as one of the major centers of gravity in chips.

It’s also a symbol of how far Intel has fallen behind its once diminutive peer. Intel’s market cap is about $210 billion, compared to Nvidia’s $300 billion. Intel’s stock is practically a straight line compared to Nvidia’s rapid growth the past few years, and this news isn’t likely to be well-received in Intel HQ.

Given the international politics involved and the sensitivity about the company, any deal would have to go through customary antitrust reviews in multiple countries, as well as potential national security reviews in the UK.

For SoftBank, it’s another sign of the company’s retrenchment in the face of extreme losses. But at least for now, it has a likely win on its hands.

DNX Ventures launches $315 million fund for U.S. and Japanese B2B startups

DNX Ventures, an investment firm that focuses on early-stage B2B startups in Japan and the United States, announced today that it has closed a new $315 million fund. This is DNX’s third flagship fund and along with supplementary annexed funds, brings its total managed so far to $567 million.

Founded in 2011, with offices in San Mateo, California and Tokyo, Japan, DNX has invested in more than 100 startups to date, and has thirteen exits under its belt. The firm, a member of the Draper Venture Network, focuses on cloud and enterprise software, cybersecurity, edge computing, sales and marketing automation, finance and retail. The companies it invests in are usually raising “seed plus” or Series A funding and DNX’s typical check size ranges from $1 million to $5 million, depending on the startup’s stage, managing director Q Motiwala told TechCrunch.

DNX isn’t disclosing the names of its third fund’s limited partners, but Motiwala said it includes more than 30 LPs, including financial institutions, banks and large conglomerates. DNX began working on the fund last year, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Motiwala says DNX is optimistic about the outlook for B2B startups, because past macroeconomic crises, including the 2008 global financial crisis and the 2001 dot-com burst, showed founders continue innovating as they figure out how to make their businesses more efficient while building urgently-needed solutions.

For example, DNX has always focused on sectors like cloud computing, cybersecurity, edge computing and robotics, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made those technologies even more relevant. For example, the massive upsurge in remote work means that companies need to adapt their tech infrastructure, while robots like the ones developed by Diligent Robotics, a DNX portfolio company, can help hospitals cope with with nursing shortages.

“Our overall theme has always been the digitization of traditional industries like construction, transportation or healthcare, and we’ve always been interested in how to make the reach to the customer much better, so sales and marketing automation, for example,” said Motiwala. “Then the last piece of this is, how do you make society or businesses function better through automation, and those might take things like robotics and other technology.”

The differences and similarities between U.S. and Japanese B2B startups

A graphic featuring DNX Ventures' team members

A graphic featuring DNX Ventures’ team members

One of the reasons DNX was founded nine years ago was because “Japan has very strong spending on enterprise,” Motiwala said. The firm launched with offices in the U.S. and Japan and has continued to focus on B2B while growing the size of its funds. The firm’s debut fund was $40 million and its second one, announced in 2016, was more than $170 million. Motiwala said the $315 million DNX raised for its third fund was more than the firm expected.

U.S. B2B startups tend to think about global expansion at an earlier stage than their Japanese counterparts, but that has started to change, he said, and many Japanese B2B companies launch with an eye on expanding into different countries. Instead of the U.S. or Europe, however, they tend to focus on Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, or Taiwan. Another difference is that U.S. startups make heavier initial investments in their technology or IP, while in Japan, companies focus on getting to revenue and breaking even earlier. Motiwala said this might be because the Japanese venture capital ecosystem is smaller than in the U.S., but that attitude is also changing.

Examples of DNX portfolio companies that have successfully entered new countries include Cylance, a U.S. company that develops antivirus software using machine learning and predictive math modeling to protect devices from malware. DNX helped Cylance establish operations in Europe and Japan. On the Japan side, software testing company Shift, an investment from DNX’s first fund, has done “phenomenally well” in Southeast Asia, Motiwala said.

In terms of going global, DNX doesn’t push its portfolio companies, but encourages them to expand when the timing is right, especially if a U.S. startup wants to enter Japan, or vice versa. “We like to use the fact that we have teams in both regions. What we’ve seen more is the U.S. companies entering channel partnerships for Japanese distribution,” Motiwala said. “It has been more difficult to show the same thing to Japanese companies, but at the same time what we’ve realized is that instead of saying they should come into the U.S., they’ve done amazing stuff going into the Philippines or Singapore.”

Committing to a fully zero-emission fleet by 2040, Uber is dedicating $800 million to electrifying its drivers

Ride hailing giant Uber is committing to become a fully zero-emission platform by 2040 and setting aside $800 million to help get its drivers using electric vehicles by 2025.

The company said that it would invest further in its micro-mobility options as well with the goal of having 100 percent of its rides take place on electric vehicles in the US, Canada, and European cities in which the company operates. Uber also said it would commit to reaching net-zero emissions from its own corporate operations by 2030.

If the company can hit its timeline, Uber would achieve necessary milestones in its operations a decade ahead of the Paris Climate Agreement targets set for 2050.

The keys to the company’s efforts are four new and expanding initiatives, according to a statement.

The first is the launch of Uber Green in 15 US and Canadian cities. For customers willing to spend an extra dollar, they can request an EV or hybrid electric vehicle to pick them up. By the end of the year, Uber Green will be available in over 65 cities around the world. Riders who choose the green option will also receive three times the Uber Rewards points they would have received for a typical UberX ride, the company said.

Uber’s second step toward making the world a greener place is to commit $800 million to transition its fleet to electric vehicles. Part of that transition is being subsidized by the $1 surcharge for riders who choose to go green and from fees that the company collects under its London and French Clean Air Plans. Those are 15 cent (or pence) surcharges that Uber has been collecting since January of last year to pay for the electrification of its drivers’ cars in European cities.

Dara Kowsrowshahi, chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc., speaks during an event in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. During his Japan trip, Khosrowshahi has made it clear the ride-hailing company isnt scaling back its ambitions in certain Asian markets, despite speculation of a retreat. Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

To incentivize drivers to go green, Uber’s doling out an extra 50 cents per trip in the US and Canada for every “Uber Green” trip completed to be paid out by riders. Drivers using EVs will also get another dollar from Uber itself, amounting to $1.50 more per trip for each EV ride completed.

Other enticements include partnerships with GM in the US and Canada and Renault -Nissan in Europe to offer discounts on electric vehicles to Uber drivers. Working with Avis, Uber is planning to offer more electric vehicles for rental to US drivers. Meanwhile, the company said it would also expand electric vehicle charging by working to develop new charging stations in conjunction with companies like BP, EVgo, Enel X, Izivia by EDF, and Power Dot.

Uber’s also working to revive the vision of robotic battery swapping to enable customers to forget about their concerns when it comes to charging a new vehicle. It’s working with the San Francisco-based startup, Ample, as the young company develops its battery-swapping tech — and Lithium Urban Technologies, an electric fleet operator out of India.

Building on its existing micro-mobility network, the company is going to integrate bikes and scooters from Lime even closer into its networks and expanding its shared ride programs as soon as its safe to do it. The company is also intent on expanding its Journey Planning feature to enable users to see pricing options, schedules, and directions to and from transit stations. Uber also now offers in-app ticketing in more than ten cities, so people can buy public transit passes in the app itself. As a coup de grace, Uber’s also unveiling a new feature that allows users to plan their trips in Chicago and Sydney using cars and public transit to get where they need to go.

Finally, the company has released its first Climate Assessment and Performance Report analyzing emissions from the company’s operations in the United States and Canada from 2017 through 2019. Unsurprisingly, Uber found that it was more efficient than single-occupant driving, but the company did reveal that its carbon intensity is higher than that of average-occupancy personal cars. Meaning when there’re two people using a personal car, their footprint is lower than that of an Uber driver looking for passengers.

Although arguably, Uber shouldn’t be having its customers foot so much of the bill for its electric transition, these are all positive steps from a company that still has a long road ahead of it if it’s looking to reduce its carbon footprint.

Revolut launches its financial app in Japan

Fintech startup Revolut is expanding to Japan. After testing the service with 10,000 users, anybody can now sign up and open an account. The company originally obtained its authorization to operate from Japan’s Finance Service Agency in 2018.

When you open an account, you get an electronic wallet and a Visa debit card. You can top up your account and spend money with your card, a virtual card, Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc. Revolut sends you instant notifications and lets you freeze and unfreeze your card from the app.

You can also send money to other Revolut users or a bank account. Like in other countries, Revolut lets you exchange money in the app and send money in other currencies. Many users have taken advantage of the service to travel and pay less in foreign exchange fees.

Users in Japan will also be able to create vaults and put some money aside by rounding up transactions and creating recurring transactions. And that’s about it for now.

The company has already launched premium plans in Japan, but it doesn’t give you a lot of benefits other than lower fees on foreign exchange, different card designs, better support and the ability to buy airport lounge access with LoungeKey Pass.

Unlike in the U.K. and Europe, you won’t be able to buy cryptocurrencies, trade stocks, buy insurance products, create Revolut Junior accounts for your children, etc. Revolut is really trying to build a super app in its home country and has massively expanded its feature set over the years.

The company promises that some features, such as cryptocurrency and stock trading, will be available globally. But there’s no release date just yet. So let’s see how the product evolves in the coming months.

Revolut is currently available in the U.K., Europe, the U.S., Singapore and Australia. It currently has 13 million customers.

Image Credits: Revolut

Tokyo-based collaboration platform BeaTrust lands $2.8 million seed round

BeaTrust co-founder Masato Kume, co-founder and chief executive officer Kunio Hara and Ryo Nagaoka, vice president of engineering


Founded just four months ago, Tokyo-based BeaTrust has raised a JPY 300 million (about USD $2.83 million) seed round for its enterprise collaboration platform. The startup’s ambitious goal is to change corporate culture at large Japanese companies before expanding into other countries.

The round came from CyberAgent Capital; DNX Ventures; ITOCHU Technology Ventures; STRIVE; One Capital; Delight Ventures; PKSHA/SPARX Algorithm 1st; and Mizuho Capital, along with undisclosed individual participants.

BeaTrust’s platform allows employees at large companies to discover colleagues in different departments with similar interests and skills, and gives them tools to work together on projects.

The startup’s co-founders, Kunio Hara and Masato Kume, met while working at Google in Japan. Before Google, Hara held positions in Tokyo and Silicon Valley at Sumitomo Corporation, Softbank, Silicon Graphics and Microsoft, while Kume worked at Asatsu-DK. During their time at Google, the two focused on helping Japanese startups scale by using Google’s tools.

Hara told TechCrunch that BeaTrust was inspired by his experience working at companies in the United States and Japan, and by the co-founders’ time at Google, where they found cross-department collaboration was an intrinsic part of the culture. The two began to think about how they could bring the same qualities to large Japanese corporations.

“From the standpoint of employees at Google, working there is like a lifestyle. We work together and think about how to facilitate cross-cultural innovation among employees, and that needs a communication and digital infrastructure to support those ideas,” said Hara.

BeaTrust wants to transform Japanese corporate culture, which Hara described as “very siloed and top-down, with very strict rules,” making it harder for people in different teams or departments to communicate or even get to know one another. “There are a lot of initiatives to hire talented people, but it’s not an environment that helps people connect with one another and ask each other for help, which is what leads to new projects,” he added.

The platform is currently in closed beta stage, testing with three late-stage startups that have about 100 to 200 employees each. Its first feature is employee profiles that list skills and experience. Next, BeaTrust will launch tools for users to visualize how teams at their company are organized and modules to enable collaboration on different kinds of projects, including software development.

BeaTrust’s founders said as the platform grows, its target audience will be large enterprises with thousands of employees. The platform is not meant to be a replacement for Slack, which launched in Japan three years ago, or other enterprise communication tools like Microsoft Teams or ChatWork, but serve as a complement, Kume said. Slack and its competitors are meant to enable individual teams within large companies to collaborate, while BeaTrust is designed to help employees discover and strike up working relationships with colleagues they don’t know yet.

While its initial goal is to reshape corporate culture in Japan, BeaTrust founders are also eyeing expansion into European and Asian countries, and markets where large companies are continuing to mandate or encourage remote work because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That’s becoming imperative for us because what we hear from a lot of large enterprises is that employees are not used to working remotely, so they need to think about how to shift their lifestyle and continue employee innovation,” Kume said.

After India and US, Japan looks to ban TikTok and other Chinese apps

A group of Japanese lawmakers is seeking to restrict the use of TikTok and other apps developed by Chinese firms, following the footstep of India, which has already blocked dozens of Chinese apps, and the U.S., which is floating the idea of a ban.

The decision was first reported by the Japanese national broadcaster NHK. The lawyers shared the same concern as officials in the U.S. and India that their domestic user data could end up in the hand of Beijing, and planned to submit the proposal to the Japanese government as early as September.

Japan was one of TikTok’s first overseas success cases despite being considered a tough nut for foreign internet firms to crack. The nascent localization team went all out to attract celebrity users and made its breakthrough with Kinoshita Yukina, a TV personality, after holding “six or seven rounds of discussions” with her studio. Kinoshita’s participation ushered in other stars, who brought with them flocks of fans to the platform.

In the Japanese iOS store, TikTok has consistently ranked at the top among entertainment apps and is the fifth-most downloaded app across all categories in the country as of this writing, according to research firm App Annie.

In response to scrutiny coming from Japan, a TikTok spokesperson reiterated the app’s distance from Chinese control in a statement to TechCrunch:

“There’s a lot of misinformation about TikTok out there. TikTok has an American CEO, a Chief Information Security Officer with decades of industry, U.S. military and law enforcement experience, and a U.S. team that works diligently to develop a best-in-class security infrastructure. Four of our parent company’s five board seats are controlled by some of the world’s best-respected global investors. TikTok U.S/ user data is stored in the U.S. and Singapore, with strict controls on employee access.”

Other Chinese tech giants have their eyes locked on Japan for years. Baidu, for instance, operates Simeji, one of the most popular input methods among Japanese. Line is the main chat app in the country, but WeChat is essential to Japanese businesses with Chinese ties — which there are many given China is Japan’s main trade partner. While the Indian ban is certainly a debacle for Chinese developers coveting the fastest-growing internet market, the country’s ARPU, or average revenue per user, also remains low compared to numbers in the West. Japan, on the other hand, is a much more lucrative market.