So, you heard TikTok’s being banned? Here’s what’s *actually* happening.
TikTok, the widely popular social media app, has been making headlines lately as lawmakers and users debate its potential ban in the United States. The app, which allows users to create and share short videos, has been accused of posing security risks due to its ownership by ByteDance, a Chinese-based company.
The debate over a TikTok ban centers around concerns that the Chinese government could use the app to access and gather user data. Or, it could be ordered to push certain kinds of content, like propaganda or disinformation, on American users.
At this point, there’s no evidence that any of this has actually occurred. But there is a possibility, assuming ByteDance even has access to TikTok’s U.S. user data and algorithms. TikTok has been working hard to convince everyone that it has protections in place that wall off U.S. user data from ByteDance and, by extension, the Chinese government. The U.S. government has already banned TikTok from federal devices.
However, with 150 million U.S. consumers and creators on TikTok and numerous brands using it as a major part of their customer acquisition strategy, many are keeping a close eye on this conversation. In 2022, brands spent more than $5 billion on ads alone on TikTok, not including influencer marketing investments.
TikTok CEO Denies the Use of User Data to Track or Target U.S. Citizens
While TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew vehemently denied any cooperation with the Chinese government in a recent congressional hearing, the company has had a long history of lawsuits over privacy issues, including a $92 million settlement to U.S. users. The 2021 federal lawsuit alleged that TikTok violated Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act by unlawfully collecting biometric information and privacy data from users and then disclosing it to third parties without telling them. (FYI: Illinois is the only state with a law that allows people to seek monetary damages for such unauthorized data collection.) In addition to the cash settlement, TikTok agreed to create data privacy measures, including a training and compliance program for new employees and contractors, as well as instituting annual privacy training for all employees.
The platform has also emphasized its commitment to protecting user data. In December 2022, it announced its Trust and Safety team, which includes 40,000 professionals dedicated to keeping the platform safe. And TikTok’s U.S.-based team has also stated they are committed to complying with national security reviews and raising their standards accordingly.
Existing Laws May Address Privacy Concerns
Excluding the most serious allegations leveled at TikTok, lawmakers’ privacy concerns during a recent hearing could be addressed by existing legislation supporting a national privacy law, the American Data and Privacy Protection Act. Nevertheless, banning TikTok is more complex than flipping a switch and deleting the app from every American’s phone, even if new legislation is passed. It’s a complex knot of technical and political decisions that could have consequences for U.S.-China relations and impact over a billion users worldwide.
The Impact on TikTok Users and Influencers
TikTokers who have built their careers and followers on the app are worried about losing their audience, potential financial impact, and social capital. Some established TikTokers have already diversified their online presence, but many are still concerned about losing their audience and the potential financial impact of a ban.
Building an audience takes time, but seasoned influencers should be aware of the constant ebbs and flow of social media platforms and be prepared with a backup plan.
What can you do to protect yourself as a TikTok user or influencer? One option is to focus on building your own platform –– your website –– and using social media platforms like TikTok to promote your message. This can help ensure that you have more control over your content and audience, regardless of what happens with TikTok.
What Does the TikTok Ban Mean for Brands?
Despite the buzz around a potential “TikTok ban,” it remains just a headline for now. A total ban is pure speculation until more information becomes available. Breaking off the U.S. portion of the company or making changes to its security team are options that TikTok could explore to address security concerns. Brands that rely on TikTok as part of their customer acquisition strategy should keep an eye on the situation and be prepared to adjust their marketing strategies if necessary.
If you have any questions about TikTok, or what your brand should do about its presence, get in touch with one of our marketing specialists to figure out how to move forward.