Apple’s Tim Cook wants to make the news

The best way to read news on your Mac? Maybe.

Apple News, Apple Music and other services may see some interesting feature enhancements if we can read anything at all into company CEO, Tim Cook’s visit to Chinese startup, ByteDance.

Siphoning out fake news

Only six year’s old, China’s hot start-up, ByteDance began by developing an artificial intelligence system that could personalize content for users.

It uses this AI in news aggregator Toutiao and the Tik Tok (Douyin in China) short form video apps.

This use of AI aims to deliver more relevant content to users.

“AI technology is at the heart of all of ByteDance’s content platforms,” the company says on its website.

“We build intelligent machines that are capable of understanding and analyzing texts, images and videos using natural language processing and computer vision technology, then we use large-scale machine learning and deep learning algorithms to serve users with the content that they will find most interesting.”

The technology learns about your interests and preferences by seeing how you interact with content — what you tap, swipe, or how long you spend reading an article; or the time of day you read it, and things like comments, dislikes and more.

It then delivers a personalized and high-quality content feed created specifically for you each time you look at the app.

The implications are that a service like this could work well as a way to democratically siphon out fake news, no matter its source. Though I do worry about small little sites, like mine. (I could use an investor, too, by the way).

Given Apple’s track record around privacy, it would be interesting to learn how much of the machine learning that drives such a platform can take place on the device — and to what extent data shared elsewhere can be anonymised.

Product design

It is interesting to note that company has had problems with local regulators in China, particularly in a recent crackdown against vulgar content. This is thought to be driving it to focus on international roll out plans.

The start up develops news aggregator Toutiao and the Tik Tok short form video apps

Toutiao is interesting. A report on DragonSocial explains:

“The slogan of the company is ‘The only true headlines are the things you care about.’ It pushes information users like to their homepage, using a complex algorithm to determine user interests to ensure the experience more personal and distinct than competitors.”

The platform already has over tens of millions of users who spend on average 76-minutes on the platform. It also works to make content engaging to younger audiences and integrates well with big Chinese social networks.

The company has also made several strategic investments of its own, including in U.S. video firm, Flipagram, Music.aly and Chinese app, News Republic.

Big data is big interest

The technology has attracted a lot of interest.

The company is now number 16 on Fast Company’s list of the most innovative companies in 2018 (Apple was at number one), and is currently trying to raise around $3 billion from investors including Apple ally, SoftBank. This level of funding makes the company more valuable than Uber and the world’s biggest start-up.

(Don’t forget, Apple has at least a billion in SoftBank’s investment fund).

Cook’s visit to the company has seen the Apple CEO receive a hero’s welcome. Images online show him striding through the company and in deep discussion with Bytedance founder Zhang Yiming.

The event calls to mind Cook’s visit to Did Chuxing, after which the company took a billion-dollar stake in the firm, and another visit to bike sharing firm, Ofo.

Appe’s interest in the Chinese firm seems logical.

Apple recently invested $1 billion in the purchase of Shazam; earlier this year it acquired Texture, and has been vociferous in insisting companies have a responsibility to curate content distributed on their services.

Apple is also known to be investing in its own internal editorial talent and to be reaching deals for a media service (a la Texture) for future expansion of its services. It already offers a bunch of services the would benefit from improved personalisation.

Why wouldn’t it be interested in investing a smaller firm that has a unique technology that could enhance these services and plans?

We should wait and see what transpires, I suppose — but I find it hard to believe a big deal visit like Cook’s would take place without reason.

Finally, a little trivia I came across — a 2016 holiday video from ByteDance.

Jonny Evans

Watching Apple since 1999. I don't say what they should do. I say what they might do. They sometimes do.

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