ZeroDown, valued at $150M, plans to take on Zillow

Days out of Y Combinator, venture capitalists valued ZeroDown, a financial and real estate technology startup, at $150 million, the company has confirmed. The startup had the perfect match of experienced founders and eye-popping ambitions to carve a new path to home ownership.

“I think we will be known as a company that makes it easier to buy a home in every single aspect,” ZeroDown co-founder and chief executive officer Abhijeet Dwivedi tells TechCrunch.

The startup, which has raised $30 million in total equity funding and more than $110 million in debt financing to help Bay Area residents make down payments on homes, now plans to take on Zillow and Redfin with its new home search engine.

The business, founded by former Zenefits chief operating officer Dwivedi, Laks Srini, Zenefits’ former chief technology officer, and Hari Viswanathan, a former Zenefits staff engineer, was founded last year and quickly landed backing from Sam Altman, followed by consumer technology venture capital fund Goodwater Capital. Targeting those in the Bay Area, where costs of home ownership are amongst the highest in the country, ZeroDown charges $10,000 to purchase your home outright and front your entire down payment.

That is, however, if your home is priced between approximately $550,000 and $1,750,000 and you have an individual or combined salary of more than $200,000, stock options and some money put away (or some variation of this). If you meet these criteria, ZeroDown will purchase your home and lease it to you. The goal is to eliminate one of the largest pain points of home-buying, the down payment, and facilitate more real estate purchases.

The company says it intends to expand the service outside the greater San Francisco area to cities like Denver, Seattle and Austin, but given the $10,000 price tag and large population of wealthy tech workers in the Bay, the business could flourish in this area without expanding.

With the launch of its home search engine, Dwivedi says users will be able to learn about more than just the square footage of a home. The tool tells users whether a potential home is naturally lit, if it has a large backyard, if it has a decent commute to your work and to various schools and, most importantly, whether it’s dog friendly.

ZeroDown has also partnered with a number of San Francisco-based tech companies, including Pinterest, Postmates and Square, to provide their employees a rebate if they choose to purchase a home using ZeroDown.

“We know first-hand what companies need to support a great quality of life and keep their employees in the Bay Area,” Dwivedi said. “A part of that is loving where you live — feeling part of a local community.”

NASA’s new Artemis spacesuits make it easier for astronauts of all sizes to move on the Moon

NASA revealed new spacesuits, specifically created for the Artemis generation of missions, which aim to get the first American woman and the next American man to the surface of the Moon by 2024. The new design’s toppling feature is greater mobility and flexibility, in basically every respect. NASA unveiled both a full suit designed for use in extra-vehicular activities on the surface of the Moon, and a flight suit for use while in transit to lunar orbit.

Guided by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the agency first demonstrated the suit that astronauts will use on the surface of the Moon (and, with modifications, eventually on Mars). It’s called the “xEMU” variant, and it looks a lot like what you might think of when you imagine “space suit” in your mind. But it’s quite different in many respects from what astronauts used to visit the surface of the Moon during the Apollo program.

It allows you to actually moonwalk, for instance: The original suit used for Moon-based activities actually only offered enough range of motion for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to be able to essentially “bunny hop” on the lunar surface, in Bridenstine’s own words. This new design allows them to move around much more dynamically, including actually walking, and offers plenty of range of motion for their arms. Combined with new gloves that actually allow astronauts to freely move their fingers, they can do things like pick up rocks off the lunar surface with relative ease.

NASA Artemis spacesuits

The new spacesuit design is also designed to work with virtually everyone who could want to become an astronaut, with inclusive sizing that can accommodate anyone from the “first percentile female to the 99th percentile male,” according to Kristine Davis, an Advanced Space Suit Engineer at NASA and the person who demonstrated the xEMU variant of the suit onstage at the event on Tuesday.

“We want every person who dreams of going into space to be able to say to themselves, that yes, they have that opportunity,” Bridenstine added, regarding the suit’s inclusive design.

Because NASA is also looking to ensure that this time when they return to the Moon, they do so sustainably (meaning with the intent of eventually setting up shop and staying), they also designed this suit with a much higher range of temperature variances to ensure it can serve at both the North and South poles of the Moon, as well as around the equatorial region. This xEMU suit is designed to survive temperature ranges from between -250 and +250 degrees Fahrenheit.

NASA also talked about how this is an improvement from the spacesuit currently used on the International Space Station. For one, this one has usable legs, where the legs on the ISS suits are essentially just for protection since you aren’t using them in zero and microgravity. The bearing designs used to connect the arms here also mean you have greater range of motion for reaching and grabbing, as mentioned.

The other suit, called the “Orion Crew Survival Suit,” is a much lighter suit that’s designed to be worn during take-off and landing. It’ll generally be depressurized when in use, but can provide protection in case of accidental depressurization. It was demonstrated by Dustin Gohmert, project manager on the Orion crew suit, who explained that it also has thermal protection and radiation protection, though not to the level of the xEMU.

The larger xEMU suit is also intentionally designed to be upgradeable, somewhat like a PC motherboard, and it’s designed so that it can be upgraded and worked on in space by the astronauts to adopt new and improved technologies as they become available, rather than having to be round-tripped back to Earth for updates.

Bridenstine re-iterated that NASA is also working with commercial partners on sourcing the production of the Artemis suits, as the agency announced earlier this month. It’s also looking to these companies to provide advice and input about what to do in terms of future evolutions and upgrades for the technology used in the suit.

Overall, Bridenstine was obviously eager to talk about commercialization, and NASA’s eagerness to work with commercial partners on the Artemis program, and on space in general.

“What NASA has already done is invested in commercial resupply of the International Space Station […] We have invested now in commercial crew. And in the first part of next year, we’re going to once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil for the first time since the retirement of the Space Shuttles in 2011,” he said. “That’s going to be a really positive development for our country, but it’s going to be commercial […] And of course, we want to see a lot of robust commercial habitats in low-Earth orbit as well. Ultimately, what that enables us to do is then take the resources that the taxpayers give us, and go to the Moon and on to Mars, always keeping an eye on commercialization even there. The goal here is to expand humanity further into space than ever before.”

Walmart launches in-home grocery delivery in three cities: Kansas City, Pittsburgh & Vero Beach

Walmart will bring your groceries to you and put them away in the fridge, with the launch of its new service, InHome. The retailer is today debuting its new in-home grocery delivery service in three cities: Kansas City, (Missouri and Kansas); Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Vero Beach, Florida. Customers in these markets can subscribe to InHome for $19.95 per month, then receive free, unlimited deliveries where Walmart associates enter their home and put the groceries away while live-streaming the delivery in real time.

The retailer had previously detailed its plans to offer in-home grocery delivery earlier this year, saying that it would make it easier for customers to shop for groceries online.

Unlike with traditional e-commerce orders, groceries can’t sit outside on the doorstep for hours. Using insulated coolers to work around this problem can be costly, and it only buys a little more time. Instead, InHome delivery solves the problem of dealing with fresh and frozen groceries by simply putting them away at the time of delivery.

At launch, Walmart is partnering with Level Home for its front door smart entry technology and Nortek Security & Control for its garage door smart entry technology. Level Home also today announced $71 million in funding, which included a strategic investment from Walmart.

From the InHome website, customers can select either device for $49.95 and receive free, professional installation. This is cheaper than if bought directly. When the lock goes on sale, it will retail for $250 next year when made available to the public.

Once customers begin their InHome subscription, they are able to try it for free to see if the service works for them. (The trial converts to a subscription if not canceled).

While deliveries won’t have other fees beyond the $19.95 per month InHome subscription, there is a $30 minimum order to use the service. In other words, it’s meant to be used in place of a real grocery shopping trip, not just for a few items for dinner.

When it’s time for delivery, the Walmart associate uses a one-time code to unlock the door or garage using the InHome app, which pairs with the supported smart entry device.

And to assuage customers’ concerns about strangers entering their home when they’re not there to supervise, Walmart came up with the pretty wild idea to record the delivery in real time so customers can watch it take place from afar.

On the associates’ vest, they’ll wear a proprietary, live-streaming camera that sends video of the delivery right to the customer’s device. And if the camera doesn’t turn on, the door or garage door won’t unlock, Walmart says.

Walmart first rolled out InHome in a pilot in New Jersey for six months and has been running pilots in Kansas City and Pittsburgh for the last two months. It won’t say how many people have been using it during these tests.

In the three markets live today, Walmart says InHome will be available across more than 20 total stores.

InHome is Walmart’s answer to Amazon’s Key by Amazon service, which involves both in-home and in-car delivery of Amazon purchases. But unlike Key, which focuses on Amazon packages, InHome is for Walmart Grocery orders only, not Walmart.com merchandise.

The service is one of several ways Walmart has been expanding its online grocery business in recent months.

It also last month expanded its Delivery Unlimited service, an Instacart rival, across the U.S. At $12.95 per month, it’s the better choice for anyone who was already getting delivery from Walmart Grocery at least twice per month, given the $9.99 per delivery fee.

And now, for a few dollars more, InHome makes sense for those who want even less hassle when it comes to online grocery shopping.

There’s an un-touted environmentally friendly aspect to this service, as well. First, grocery delivery can end up being more efficient than everyone shopping for themselves, as drivers can often deliver a couple of orders on the same trip, when the customers are near each other. And the drivers could use larger cooler bags and other reusable containers, like crates, instead of plastic bags, for example, because they’re putting items away instead of handing them over. (Typically, grocery delivery services today bring your order in tons of plastic bags.)

Of course, individual stores may not enforce the use of reusable bags — that remains to be seen.

Walmart says the public launch of InHome will help it gain insights before it rolls out the service more broadly.

 

Up close with Google’s budget Chromebook, the Pixelbook Go

The Chromebook has been a marked hit for Google — well, for Google’s hardware partners, at least. Low-cost devices have flooded the market, with a stranglehold on the educational category in particular. Google’s own first-party offerings, on the other hand, have been a bit more curious.

Devices like the Pixelbook and Pixel Slate have pushed the $1,000 price point in an attempt to demonstrate Chrome OS’s viability in a more premium tier. With the Pixelbook Go, on the other hand, Google’s playing much more to the cloud-based operating system’s strengths, with a far more accessible price point.

Starting at $649 (albeit configurable all the way up to ~$1,400), the Go is an attempt to play to Chrome OS’s base: users looking for a more affordable entry point. After all, hasn’t that always kind of been the point of Chromebooks?

CMB 8477

Of course, affordability comes with compromises. From a design perspective, that means losing some of the things that made the original Pixelbook so interesting. Top of the list are the convertible lid, which helps it double as a laptop and a tablet. Turns out 360-degree hinges are pretty cost-prohibitive (though admittedly we’ve seen them on some fairly cheap systems). And since the hinge is gone, Google also opted to drop pen input, while retaining the touchscreen.

As with the original Pixelbook, there are still only two USB-C ports on-board (one on either side). That limits flexibility quite a bit. Of course, the company opted not to add more due, in part, to pricing constraints. The company also tells me that most core Chromebook users should find two sufficient. Perhaps that’s the case with a majority of users.

Otherwise, the design is pretty nice, down to the colorful, ribbed bottom, which is designed to make the device easier to hold in one hand. Ditto for the lighter weight. It’s an easier laptop to port around or toss in a bag on the go.

CMB 8475

The keyboard has been improved, as well. It’s quiet, as advertised (though admittedly I was using it in a fairly loud environment), and while the keys are on the soft side (especially compared to the MacBook, which is a bit like typing on Chiclets), it has a pretty good feel to it. I could certainly see using this as my primary computer on that front, at least.

While Chrome OS has been vastly improved since its earliest days (thanks to, among other things, Android app compatibility), it’s still limited for those looking to get more serious work done. The lower-cost Go makes that gulf even more pronounced. On a personal note, I’ve run into issues trying to do things like, say, audio editing on the product.

The lower price point also means that the device starts from a lower-power processor, with the m3 and 8GB of RAM. You can bump it to 16GB and a Core i5 or i7, but that, naturally, will cost you. At a certain point you’re starting to get into original Pixelbook territory.

CMB 8467

The original model is sticking around, by the way. No spec changes to speak of, however, in spite of the fact that it’s a two-year-old product. That one seems overdue for a bump, especially with another new model in the line.

It seems safe to assume that Google’s going to move significantly more Gos than original Pixelbooks, based on price alone. It’s an interesting slice of the market, targeted primarily at consumers looking for a cheaper entry point. The company isn’t really targeting the education market here, in spite of the Chromebook’s success in the space. Google tells me that the product is simply priced too high for K-8 students.

Thirty-one women who ‘run the world’ and what can be learned from them

Today, a new book called “Girls Who Run the World” hits real and virtual bookshelves, and for anyone with a middle-school aged kid or looking to inspire a high-schooler, it might be worth checking out. Featuring 31 women who are the CEOs of companies that they have created themselves — think Spanx, Glossier, Caribou Sciences and Stitch Fix — each of their stories underscores that dreams sometimes can be made into reality when you want something badly enough.

We talked yesterday with the book’s author, Diana Kapp, a longtime essayist (with an MBA from Stanford) who authored the book in part to encourage her own teenage daughter to pursue her passions while making clear there will be obstacles, always, to overcome.

TC: You have an interesting and fairly broad mix of powerful women in this book. How did you choose who to profile?

DK: I went after stories that are compelling and innovative, while trying to ensure that not every woman has a degree from either Stanford or MIT.  I picked Anne Wojcicki because she’s a pioneer in the field of DNA testing. Nina Tandon of Epibone is working on growing artificial bones that can be put into the body. Christina Stembell of Farmgirl Flowers grew up on a farm and never went to college. Tracy Young was a construction project engineer who wound up selling her company to Autodesk. I could have written about 200 more women; there are so many good stories that are just not told.

TC: How much time did you spend with each of them?

DK: It really varied. I met some in person, like Tina Sharkey of Brandless and Christina (Stembell) and Kara Goldin of Hint Water. I interviewed a lot of them on the phone. I really wanted to tell the story of them taking an idea and having the guts to trust their own instincts and go after that idea, despite a lot of naysaying and difficulty fundraising. People thought Stitch Fix was an inventory nightmare, for example. At Minted, founder and CEO Mariam Naficy opened her online stationary store and not a single box sold for the first 40 days.

TC: Of the women you interviewed, who overcame the most?

DK: I love the story of Jesse Genet of Lumi, who became obsessed with screen printing in high school and would use every birthday to ask for some esoteric piece of printing equipment, finding out along the way about some light-activated agent that you could use for printing and driving six hours to get this product out of someone’s basement. Today, her company provides packaging to a growing number of consumer companies, from Rockets of Awesome to Blue Bottle Coffee, and I think she’s just brilliant.

Jennifer Hyman and Jenny Fleiss bought 100 dresses in their own sizes in case [Rent the Runway] didn’t work. Katrina Lake similarly bought clothes on her credit card, then sent them to friends and used paper and pencil to mark down feedback before hiring a TaskRabbit to help track that data. What’s important about all of these stories is that these women took steps that others can take, too. They started with tiny pilot programs. They aren’t the kids of entrepreneurs. They weren’t preordained to start companies. And while I might read about them in Fast Company or listen to podcasts about them, my 14-year-old doesn’t. I think it’s important for kids to learn about people who would not take no for an answer, who got turned down by 40 VCs and kept pitching.

Girls Who Run the World 31 Ceos Who Mean Business 2 16

TC: You mentioned that you tried featuring women of different backgrounds. What were some of the unifying threads between them?

DK: One thing that does connect them is parents who ditched the idea of perfectionism. They let their girls take their own path. [PopSugar founder and president] Lisa Sugar’s parents let her stay up because she was obsessed with late-night TV, and that’s how she got into being a pop culture critic and wound up launching a blog that had a million readers within a year. Sara Blakely of Spanx told me her dad didn’t care what other people thought of him, which was a powerful idea for a kid to be marinating in; it gave her more freedom to be herself and to take her own path. Jesse [Genet] realized if she took two classes after the summer of her junior year in high school, she could graduate early and take her T-shirt printing business to LA, where she had data on the number of shops per block, and when she pitched her parents on these ideas, they listened to her. They let her take a non-traditional path.

TC: Did any or many of these founders take time off to raise their children?

DK: I don’t know that they took time off, but 18 of the 31 have children, and 10 of them have three or four children, so they’re managing to have big families. Katia Beauchamp ran Birchbox while on bedrest with her fourth child. SoulCycle’s founders brought their daughters to the studios they were opening up and had them pitch in. Kara Goldin, who was inspired to start her company after working in the software industry and gaining weight and drinking too much Diet Coke, really wanted to get [sales] going in Whole Foods before getting induced with her second child, so she brought bottles over to a local store [en route to the hospital]. When the stock guy called the next day to tell her all the cases were gone, she thought they’d been stolen.

I’m sure that like every parent, they feel the pull to spend time with their kids, but they are so turned on by what they are doing. You don’t [start a company] unless you have incredible passion for your idea because it’s so hard. And I love that they are having children but still chasing after something that’s meaningful to them and that they think society really needs. I think that’s a fantastic model for children.

TC: Were the people you’ve profiled helped by other women along the way? Is that an important piece of their stories?

DK: There is a lot of support going on; they definitely have a network. Many sit on each other’s boards or advisory committees. Katrina Lake is on Emily Weiss’s board [at Glossier]. Some of them sit on the board of [former model] Christy Turlington’s organization, Every Mother Counts.

Leslie Blodgett, who sold her company Bare Escentuals to Shiseido [in 2010 for $1.7 billion] is funding other women. She’s also now a student at Stanford and writing a book. She wants to have another chapter.

How Lockheed Martin Ventures manages its early-stage $200M fund

In niche markets like aerospace, where the traditional VC model might not yield an abundance of available funding, corporate venture funds can offer entrepreneurs an interesting alternative.

Unlike traditional VCs, firms like Lockheed Martin Ventures are in constant contact with internal business units about challenges they need solved, or improvements they’re seeking that cannot be sourced internally or through existing vendors. 

Lockheed Martin Ventures Executive Director and General Manager J. Christopher Moran explains that while in the past that has traditionally meant the company’s in-house VC sought out later-stage investments in companies with more “mature” technology, the fund recently shifted its focus to early-stage companies.

“[Lockheed’s venture arm] was actually established in 2007, as a fund called the ‘Emerging Technologies Funds,” Moran said in an interview. “And it was a vehicle for the business areas to look for and find small startups […] They were using it to look for sort of leading edge, but more mature technology. We started realizing that what we wanted to do was focus more on commercial tech, with a dual-use capability for aerospace, then that made us think that we should probably be looking at much earlier stage companies.”

Aerospace has always spun out dual-use technologies like GPS and satellite imaging, but today’s startups are solving larger problems; autonomous technologies like machine learning, computer vision, neural networks and artificial intelligence have tremendous potential for application in Lockheed’s aerospace and defense businesses — but most of the startups working on these challenges are geared towards automakers and mobility, since they offer a clearer and more immediate path to revenue.

Moran accordingly shifted the focus of the fund, aiming its investments at much earlier stage companies, and looking instead for leading edge or “visionary” startups. Once identified, they look to establish partnerships with areas of Lockheed’s business to help inform the startups’ work at an earlier stage in the process.

Lockheed Martin Ventures now has $200 million committed, and Moran says it has returned around $80 million on its first $100 million invested already in its first decade of operation. It’s an ‘evergreen’ fund by design, meaning that returns generated by the fund go back into funding more startups through the venture wing exclusively.

Kabuto is building smart suitcases for geeks

French company Kabuto is launching a Kickstarter campaign today for the second generation of its smart carry-on suitcase. The company was previously known as Xtend.

If you think about smart suitcases, chances are you picture a suitcase with a battery pack in it and that’s it. In other words, they are not that smart. Kabuto is packing a bunch of electronics to add some more features.

At the top of the suitcase, you’ll find a fingerprint reader. You can unlock the suitcase with your fingerprint or use a key in case your suitcase battery is dead — yes, a smart suitcase means you have one more thing to charge in your life.

The suitcase comes with a 10,000 mAh battery that you plug to various USB-A and USB-C cables. This way, you can charge a device using a USB-A or USB-C cable from the top of the suitcase.

The pocket at the back of the suitcase is removable. For instance, you can store a laptop and a book in it in order to take it with you on a flight. The company uses a magnetic connection between the pocket and the suitcase, which means that you can plug the included USB-C cable to your laptop and then attach the pocket to the suitcase to charge your laptop when you’re not using it.

charging connection

The suitcase features an expandable structure, four wheels with metallic bearings and tires and a strap to attach another bag to the large handle on top of your suitcase. It costs $435 on Kickstarter and it will cost $595 after the Kickstarter campaign.

People who like to pack things exactly the right way will think the Kabuto suitcase offers a lot of options. It’s not a suitcase for everyone, but it’s an interesting take. The company promises to ship all suitcases by the end of the year. The startup has previously raised $1 million (€900,000) from Frédéric Mazzella, Michel & Augustin, Bpifrance, Fabien Pierlot and others.

TikTok taps corporate law firm K&L Gates to advise on its US content moderation policies

As TikTok continues its rapid U.S. growth, the company is being challenged to better explain its content moderation choices. Why, for example, is the short-form video app censoring the Hong Kong protests but not U.S. political content? Why is it banning political ads, but supports hashtags like #trump2020 and #maga, each with millions, or even hundreds of millions, of views? TikTok so far has struggled to answer these questions. Now, it’s hoping to change that with the formation of a new committee of experts who will help TikTok craft its content moderation policies and increase transparency around these topics and others that afflict popular social media platforms.

That is to say, the committee’s focus won’t only be on political censorship — that’s just the most important, hot-button issue facing TikTok in the U.S. today.

However, TikTok says the new committee will advise across a wider range of issues beyond censorship, including also child safety, hate speech, misinformation, bullying and other potential issues, both existing and those yet to come.

To aid in this, the company is working with a group from corporate law firm K&L Gates, including former Congressmen Bart Gordon and former U.S. House Rep., now government affairs counselor, Jeff Denham, who bring to the initiative their expertise in the technology sector.

K&L Gates was chosen for this initiative after TikTok talked to several firms for some time. It says that K&L Gates made the cut because it was considered to be a top-five public affairs firm with an outstanding reputation, and because Bart Gordon’s previous role as chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, in particular, offered TikTok strong expertise in the space.

TikTok says its committee, which has not yet been formed, will look to include outside and independent voices to help it better craft its policies. It couldn’t identify who else would be on the committee as those people haven’t been selected.

The committee will focus on helping TikTok strengthen its own internal moderation teams, moderation and content policies, and overall transparency, the company says.

“TikTok is beloved because it provides an outlet for creative expression and a uniquely genuine and inspiring app experience. It’s amazingly rewarding to know that we’re bringing joy to so many — but it also brings great responsibility on our part,” said TikTok U.S. General Manager Vanessa Pappas, in a statement. “We are committed to meeting this responsibility fully,” she added.

Initially, TikTok will create the committee of outside experts with the help of its new advisors at K&L Gates. It will then work to increase its transparency around content moderation and continue to build out a deeper bench of internal leaders in order to tackle the challenges caused by its rapid expansion.

Asked if an entirely new set of policies would be the result of this activity, a spokesperson couldn’t say, noting that a decision on that front will be the role of the committee.

This effort has been in the works for some time, and is not a result of the increasing amount of bad press about the censorship on TikTok’s platform.

Bytedance says that it’s censorship of HK protest content on #TikTok is simply consistent with their broader policy of censoring all political content.

And yet:#Trump2020: 115.1m views#maga: 83.4m views#blacklivesmatter: 16.4m views#antielab: 4735 views

I smell bullshit pic.twitter.com/TBTkFPcOUT

— Elliott Zaagman (@ElliottZaagman) October 14, 2019

But the decision to announce the news of a committee formation is an attempt by TikTok to help manipulate the narrative here. The reality, however, is that TikTok isn’t censoring all political content or just the “non-fun” stuff, as it would have you believe.

If that were true, then there would be no TikTok hashtags focused on U.S. politics — like #dumptrump or #trumptrain, for example. Nor would the app offer hashtags for causes like #blacklivesmatter or its controversial counterslogan with racist undertones, #alllivesmatter. All these and more are in the app today, with hundreds of millions of combined views.

TikTok’s announcement comes at a time when the company is again coming under the eye of the U.S. government and regulators. The app was already fined $5.7 million for children’s privacy law (COPPA) violations. And now, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Wednesday requesting that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States look into ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, for its 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly. The letter claims that there is “growing evidence” that TikTok’s U.S. platform is engaging in censorship.

TikTok, before today, had admitted its content guidelines were outdated and no longer used, and said it took a localized approach to its moderation choices. But a hashtag like #hongkong in TikTok shows “barely a hint of unrest,” The Washington Post recently reported.

With legal — and soon, independent — advice and strategic consulting in the works, TikTok hopes to figure out how a Chinese-owned app can participate in the democratic U.S. social media market, without becoming another mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party.

None of the controversies around TikTok seem to be impacting its growth in the U.S., however. TikTok in September was the No. 3 most-downloaded (non-game) app in the U.S., ahead of Facebook and Messenger, according to Sensor Tower. It was also the No. 1 social media app worldwide at that time.