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December 28, 2022


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Louise Matsakis
Louise Matsakis

Hi, and welcome to Semafor Tech, a twice-weekly newsletter from Reed Albergotti and me that gives an inside look at the struggle for the future of the tech industry. We hope you’re having a lovely winter break so far. Today, we look at Amazon’s growing advertising business and an Israeli startup that claims it can hack into surveillance cameras and alter the footage. We will be back with scoops and smart takes next week.

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➚ Buy: Temu. The Chinese-owned e-commerce site had a great holiday season, racking up almost 11 million downloads in the United States between November and mid-December, making it the most popular app in the country overall.

➘ Sell: TikTok. The U.S. government still hasn’t finalized an agreement with the video app to address concerns over its Chinese ownership, and now some officials are reportedly pushing for TikTok’s U.S. operations to be sold instead.

Reuters/Dado Ruvic
Semafor Stat

Share of the U.S. online advertising market captured by Google and Meta this year, according to Insider Intelligence, down from 54.7% in 2017. The two tech giants are facing stiff competition from rivals like Amazon, which is expected to command 12.7% of the U.S. ad market by 2024, while Meta will account for just 17.9%.


The U.S. government is finally cracking down on the predatory prison phone call industry. A new law passed in Congress last week would give the Federal Communications Commission the authority to ensure incarcerated people pay “just and reasonable” rates for phone calls and other communications services (like video chats). The Prison Policy Initiative estimates it cost about $3 on average for a 15-minute phone call behind bars in 2021.


As TikTok rose in popularity, it started receiving more content requests from government agencies around the world. In the first half of 2022, the company attributed the increase partially to “markets experiencing conflict,” like Russia, where the number of requests sent to TikTok surged.

Staff Picks
Reuters/Dado Ruvic
  • Elon Musk started another controversy earlier this month when he suspended @ElonJet, a Twitter bot that tracked the location of his private plane, as well as a number of journalists who posted about it. Musk argued that @ElonJet violated his privacy, but real-time flight data has helped researchers find missing aircraft, track Russian oligarchs, and even expose secret CIA programs, WIRED reports.
  • Who is still going to crypto conferences? After a disastrous few months for the industry, Curbed went to a “Future of Crypto” event organized by the finance news site Benzinga to find out. One attendee admitted they “could probably have chosen a better time” to open a new law firm specializing in crypto.
  • An Israeli cybersecurity firm called Toka claims it can hack into surveillance cameras and alter footage without leaving a trace, according to a pitch deck obtained by Haaretz. The Andreeseen Horowitz-backed startup says it only works with the U.S. government and its closest allies, but it’s not hard to see similarities between Toka and NSO Group, another Israeli security firm accused of helping authoritarian regimes spy on human rights activists and dissidents.
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