May 17, 2022

Has time been called on TikTok?

Unless you have been living in a cave you will know that TikTok is a social video app that allows users to share short videos. The app was launched outside of mainland China by Beijing-based ByteDance to reach a global audience. Over the last three years the app has experienced massive growth. It’s been downloaded more than two billion times. Has time now been called on TikTok?

Tik Tok is a Chinese international tech company and in the current political and economical climate this may not necessarily be a great combination. The social media giant has come under scrutiny from the USA and other countries because of concerns it could share user data with Chinese authorities.

A spokesman for the app, said earlier this month that TikTok might come under a new business structure.

“As we consider the best path forward, ByteDance is evaluating changes to the corporate structure of its TikTok business,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement.

TikTok said in a statement:

“We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked,”

Mike Pompeo (US Secretary of State) has recently suggested the app needs more scrutiny over its data and privacy policies. Why? The headquarters are in China. He has gone on to ban state department employees from downloading the app and suggested the app could also be banned in the USA.

However, Tik Tok has denied that it represented a security risk.

But around the world, and not just in the US, TikTok is facing a backlash.

By far its largest market, India, banned TikTok last week, along with 58 other Chinese apps.

Officially security concerns were given as the reason, but there may be more to the story than this.

Two weeks before, there was a border skirmish on India’s northern frontier with China which left 20 Indian soldiers dead. It’s not known how many Chinese troops were killed.

Distancing from China

This may have made TikTok extremely nervous, and may explain its attempts to distance itself from China.

After a new National Security Law was introduced in Hong Kong, TikTok announced it would quit the country “within days” .

The announcement came after Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp said they would not hand over data to the Hong Kong government.

It’s a strategy (distancing itself from China) that TikTok has been following for a while.

Earlier this year it hired an American chief executive, Kevin Mayer.

TikTok is also keen to emphasise the localised nature of the platform, by highlighting that is has large offices in cities such as London and Los Angeles.

On Friday, Mr Mayer wrote a letter to the Indian government.

“I can confirm that the Chinese government has never made a request to us for the TikTok data of Indian users,” he said.

“If we do ever receive such a request in the future, we would not comply.”

Already though the vultures are circling. Facebook is pushing its Instagram Reels feature , which lets you post fun 15-second videos, in India and elsewhere. Hmm! I wonder what this sounds similar to?

Indian companies with similar platforms to TikTok have seen a spike in downloads since the ban.

In his interview with Fox News, Mr Pompeo made the direct comparison between TikTok and Huawei.

“With respect to Chinese apps on peoples’ cellphones, I can assure you the US will get this right too,” he said.

TikTok is not Huawei. It’s not building the infrastructure of 5G, it’s a social media company.

But its links to China means that they are often mentioned together.

Hurting China

It would appear that this is the reason behind India’s TikTok ban. A decision that is officially based around security which is also designed to punish China.

With US and Chinese relations currently strained if the USA is looking to hurt China too, focusing on its tech sector may be the route it decides to take to achieve this.

At the moment it is TikTok that is firmly in the spotlight. Frozen out of its biggest market, India, it now faces the prospect of losing the USA, another huge market for the company.

Hostility is picking up in other countries too. In Australia earlier this month, the deputy chairman of the foreign Interference through social media inquiry, said TikTok might be “a data collection service disguised as social media”.

TikTok may be designed for fun and laughter, but there are politicians who are extremely serious about banning the app. As long as China and the West’s relationship remains unsettled, I cannot see this changing in the short term.

Sources: Reuters Economic Times BBC Business Insider

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