HEATHER CREAMER WRITES — While Chinese-based social media app Tik Tok is changing the social media landscape, world leaders are growing concerned about the effect it may have on national security. Even as the app was under almost constant threats of banishment by the former U.S. president due to the fact that it is a product of China, Tik Tok has grown exponentially in popularity over the past few years, and especially since the pandemic began in early 2020.
Many TikTok users credit the algorithm for TikTok’s success and admit that the way the content on their “For You” page is curated by the algorithm is impressive. This may be why Forbes values the free app at approximately $50 billion. TikTok is projected to make $1 billion dollars in revenue in 2020, just short six years after its first version (then called Musical.ly) went live.
There’s a catch, though. To create this algorithm capable of curating content so specifically, data from its millions of users must be mined. That includes information such as users’ location, shopping tendencies, internet search history, phone contacts, media subscriptions and so on. Corporations such as Amazon and Wells Fargo have already issued orders advising employees to keep the TikTok app off of company devices.
And this concern extends beyond the United States, with leaders of other nations such as India and Australia. India already went so far as to ban TikTok and other China-based apps back in June of 2020.
While some may argue that these fears are rooted in xenophobic rhetoric and Western idealization, there does seem to be real merit to the argument, especially when you take into account China’s laws surrounding business data. Andrew Hastie, the Chair of Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security said “China’s National Intelligence Law of 2017 means the Chinese Government can compel businesses to share information with them.” This certainly causes concern, as ownership of the data of 500 million users could threaten the national security of nations around the world, not only the United States.
Due to mounting pressure from various government officials globally, TikTok was about to be sold to in December 2020 with a strict deadline but with a new U.S. administration, things have changed. In November, CNN reported that ByteDance’s proposed solution was to strike a deal with Walmart and Oracle that would reorganize Tik Tok as a new global company headquartered in the United States, with US investors taking majority ownership. Former President Trump tentatively approved that deal in September, but the arrangement was never finalized. Now, with President Joe Biden in office, the deal has been shelved indefinitely pending further review.
Ultimately, TikTok is still live as of February 2021 and still growing in its number of users as well as popularity. Although the social media landscape and reach have changed greatly in just the past few years, current numbers and data still show that TikTok is a force to be reckoned with and is not about to fade into the sunset of the ever-changing social media scene.