Migrant Workers, Hong Kong Wave, TikTok: Your Tuesday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering a devastating time for hundreds of millions of migrant workers, designers getting creative with face masks and a vacation ritual canceled this year.

As the coronavirus destroyed paychecks, migrant workers are sending less money home, threatening an increase in poverty from South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to Eastern Europe and Latin America. The World Bank estimates that the remittances are likely to plunge by one-fifth this year — the most severe contraction in history.

The drop heightens the near-certainty that the pandemic will produce the first global increase in poverty since the Asian financial crisis of 1998.

Quotable: “It’s very tough times,” said Flavius Tudor, a worker in England who could no longer send money to his mother in Romania. “I’m lost.”

Details: Last year, the payments sent home totaled $554 billion — more than three times the amount of development aid dispensed by wealthy countries, according to the World Bank. Over all, the pandemic has damaged the earning power of 164 million migrant workers who support at least 800 million relatives, according to an estimate from the United Nations Network on Migration.

As the virus continues to spread, consumers are starting to demand more of the coverings, and companies are responding with upgraded versions of the common throwaway surgical mask.

In Japan, where masks were widespread even before the pandemic, there has been a big push to innovate. Inventors have dreamed up masks with motorized air purifiers, Bluetooth speakers and even sanitizers that kill germs.

In South Korea, the electronics giant LG has created a mask powered with fans that make it easier to breathe. One company is trying to build a mask with a translator.

Historical context: Masks were first used in epidemics in the early 20th century, when Wu Lien-teh, a doctor of Chinese descent, began promoting simple gauze masks to battle an outbreak of pneumonic plague. During the 1918 flu, the practice went global.

For many French citizens of Algerian descent, summer holidays in Algeria are a deep-rooted tradition. Thousands every year go to what is called the “bled,” an Arabic word that refers to the countryside.

But Algeria is keeping its borders tightly closed in the pandemic, and many stuck at home are feeling a loss. Our reporter talked to families in Toulouse, above, where the Algerian travel ban has been acutely felt.

1MDB scandal: The verdict expected Tuesday in the first corruption trial of Malaysia’s former leader Najib Razak in the financial scandal could have implications for the current prime minister.

Ukraine misinformation: Facebook hired a Ukrainian group battling Russian disinformation to flag misleading posts flowing into Ukraine. But critics say the fact checkers’ work veers into activism — and the group has been battling accusations of ties to the far right.

Lebanon border fighting: The Israeli military said Monday that it had thwarted a raid by Hezbollah in a disputed area along its northern border with Lebanon, resulting in an exchange of fire. Israel had been bracing for retaliation from Hezbollah since the killing of one of its operatives in a strike in Syria last week that was attributed to Israel.

Google: The tech giant has told its employees they would not be expected back at the office until mid-2021, reflecting the reality that no one can be sure how long the pandemic will last in the U.S.

In memoriam: Kansai Yamamoto, the fashion designer whose love of color, imagination and exploration of genderless dressing shaped the look of Ziggy Stardust, the alter ego of David Bowie, died in Japan on July 21. He was 76.

Snapshot: Above, Chang Wan-ji and Hsu Sho-er, the octogenarian owners of a laundry shop in central Taiwan. The couple has become Instagram stars for posing in garments left behind.

What we’re listening to: This podcast from New Naratif about the role of young people in Malaysian politics. It gives context about how nonprofit organizations and community organizers are leading efforts to engage young people, through cultural and systemic changes.

Cook: These curry chicken breasts with chickpeas and spinach are an entire dish built for flavor — and ease.

Dance: Do you have itchy feet after all these months of lockdown? Here are eight cultural dances that you can learn at home through online tutorials or mobile dance apps. Take a look (or a spin).

Watch: In an era when viewers are re-evaluating cop shows, “Columbo,” the detective series starring Peter Falk, still stands out. You can catch the disheveled, cigar-smoking homicide detective free on several streaming channels.

At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do.

Some U.S. officials worry that TikTok, the app owned by an internet giant based in Beijing, could let China’s government spy on users or spread propaganda. Shira Ovide, host of our On Tech newsletter, discussed those concerns with Kevin Roose, a technology columnist. Here’s an excerpt from their conversation.

Shira: Let’s start with TikTok. What are the legitimate concerns about it?

Kevin: Because TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, it could be compelled to give the data it collects on people watching videos to the Chinese government and abide by its censorship laws.

And let’s be real, TikTok has done things in the past that contributed to the sense of suspicion — temporarily removing a viral video that criticized the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims, for example.

Well, if TikTok is potentially dangerous because it’s Chinese, then isn’t the solution to ban it or sell it to non-Chinese owners?

An American-owned TikTok could still legally sell user data to a third-party data broker, who could then sell it to the Chinese government.

What you really need is a federal privacy law that applies to all internet platforms operating in the United States, no matter whether they’re Chinese or American. If a big worry is data security, then this is a useful moment to impose more rules for TikTok and everyone else on how they’re collecting and using information about us.

TikTok also plays an important role in American technology. It’s Facebook’s only real competitor, and the creative culture there would be a shame to lose.

Yes to more data regulation! What else?

Another thing that makes TikTok powerful — and potentially dangerous — is that the videos served to us are based on opaque algorithms that we can’t see or inspect. The U.S. government could demand more transparency as a condition of allowing TikTok to continue operating.

Ideally, this should also apply to Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. These algorithms shape our culture, politics and personal beliefs, and we know basically nothing about how they work.

Why all this talk about TikTok now? What changed?

Right, we’ve been getting technology hardware from China for many years with few complaints from regulators. I think what’s new here is the Trump administration’s desire to appear tough on China.


That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Melina


Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach the team at briefing@nytimes.com.

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about mistakes made in New York at the height of the pandemic there.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Puccini opera set in Rome in 1800 (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• “In “Finish the Fight!,” excerpted here, New York Times journalists tell the stories of lesser-known women of color who were part of the battle to give women the right to vote.

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