Contact Sales

All fields are required

Everything to Know About the Current TikTok Controversy | SignalWire

Everything to Know About the Current TikTok Controversy

If you’ve never used TikTok, you aren’t alone. 41% of users of the app are between 16 and 24 years old. But it has over 800 million users worldwide, putting it ahead of other popular social media platforms like LinkedIn, SnapChat, and even Twitter in terms of active users. Regardless of if you’ve used the app yourself, you’ve still probably heard bits and pieces of the controversy surrounding TikTok between the United States and China. So, here’s all you need to know to be up-to-date on the international drama surrounding this relatively new social media app.

What is TikTok? If you aren’t exactly familiar with its function, it’s simply an app made for sharing very short videos, with a 60 second limit per video. It was launched as Douyin in September 2016 in China. The following year, the app was released by ByteDance for markets outside of China. TikTok and Douyin both use the same software, but they each maintain separate networks in order to comply with Chinese censorship restrictions. The app has gotten a boost in popularity from the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, attracting young people looking to escape the boredom of quarantines and lockdowns.

Like many social media platforms, TikTok feeds are built using a recommendation algorithm. TikTok markets this as “videos #ForYou,” describing it as central to the user experience to have content delivered to the individual user, with each person’s feed completely unique and tailored to them. Users are guided to new content by diversifying their recommendations in ways that are also suited specifically to them. All of this is only possible by making use of an immense amount of user data.

Millions of American users of the app were horrified when in the summer of 2020, the White House spoke of banning the app. This was followed by reports of companies such as Microsoft discussing potential takeover of the app’s American operations. Due to TikTok’s ownership by the Chinese internet company ByteDance, there were concerns about the Chinese government gaining access to American user data, something TikTok itself has denied is even a possibility. As tensions heightened over the last couple of months, there was word that the White House would possibly even ban the app through executive order if need be.

The U.S. isn’t alone in its concerns about the app, either. India, which had the largest TikTok market, has already banned it. Australia, Japan, and Pakistan have all expressed desires to limit the app or ban it, too. The U.S. Army and Navy, the House of Representatives, and the Senate have all banned members from downloading the app to government-issued phones. Concerns originate in part from the perceived authority of China’s ruling party to access user data and the inability of Chinese companies to reject such requests.

TikTok has claimed that none of its data is subject to Chinese law, as U.S. data is stored separately. The social media app then attempted to address concerns directly by offering to sell its U.S. operations, which would stop the U.S. from banning the app outright, resulting in potential buyers as big as Microsoft. TikTok also attempted to paint itself as an American brand, hiring thousands of U.S. employees, highlighting prominent U.S. investors, and hiring an American chief executive, Kevin Mayer, who used to work for Disney (as of late August, he has already resigned). Statements were also released about how U.S. data is stored with strict controls on employee access to information.

In September, ByteDance abandoned the sale of TikTok in the U.S. to pursue a partnership with Oracle Corporation. The goal is to spare the app of an American ban while appeasing the Chinese government. Reports were released that the Chinese government would rather the app shut down in the U.S. than be part of a forced sale. Under the newest proposed deal, Oracle would take over management of U.S. data, perhaps also taking a stake in TikTok U.S. assets.

Currently, there is a November 12 deadline for the sale of TikTok before the app gets banned, however that happens and what it looks like. ByteDance would also have to delete any data obtained through U.S. users. Assuming a ban does occur, it will be extremely tricky to enforce. Even if the app disappears from stores, Android devices can still download apps outside the Google Play Store. There are also difficulties around making an app illegal for everyday use for average people. Tech communities have expressed hesitance to go along with an app ban, too, as it sets a precedent for the government to ban other apps or even for other global apps to be inaccessible to the U.S. market. As an example, India banned over 50 Chinese apps following its TikTok ban.

TikTok has sued the U.S. government, accusing the Trump administration of depriving the company of due process. ByteDance was given a 90 day deadline to sell U.S. assets of TikTok, meaning there’s still around two months of controversy to unfold. Just after the U.S. general election, we’ll know for sure if the app is going to be banned, or if it will continue spiking in popularity through the remainder of the global pandemic.