In a short amount of time, TikTok has taken the world by storm. The video-sharing social media app enjoys over 800 million active users around the world, despite launching in just 2016. But the future doesn’t look so bright for the Beijing-owned and run app.
Intelligence agencies worldwide have long been aware of TikTok’s roots with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the potential risk that poses to national security. In China, every large company must employ an officer of the Chinese Communist Party within its ranks to report back to the central government and ensure the company cooperates with the whims of the party.
That makes a popular app with a presence in every major market like TikTok a large concern when it comes to the sharing of personal data and espionage. Many have questioned why countries even allow Chinese apps access to global markets when China itself has banned most foreign apps and websites, such as Google and Facebook, from their own market. It’s long been a one-way street with no reciprocity.
But that’s about to change.
Following an intense border dispute with its neighbor India where 20 Indian troops were confirmed to have been killed (China still has not publicly confirmed any casualties on its side), India swiftly implemented a ban on TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps, citing security concerns.
The Australian government has been looking into a similar TikTok ban. And even more recently, it seems the US government may follow suit. After the app’s algorithm was found to be interfering with America’s 2020 election by targeting a Trump rally, US Secretary of State confirmed the United States is considering banning TikTok due to privacy concerns.
Even more telling, Pompeo said he wouldn’t go into more detail about the final decision because he didn’t “want to get out in front of the president.”
President Trump later indicated the administration was indeed looking at a potential ban of TikTok.
For its part, despite still touting CCP values by deleting content deemed critical of the Chinese government, TikTok has put some effort into changing its image abroad. The app’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, plucked up Disney’s former streaming chief Kevin Mayer and placed him in TikTok’s CEO role.
TikTok also vowed to shutter its Hong Kong offices after China began enforcing its national security law in the territory. But so far seemingly neither overture has been enough to distract other governments from taking a further look into the app’s potentially less-than-clandestine intentions.
And it’s not just TikTok that is under the microscope. Chinese telecom firm HuaWei has also seen its fortunes reverse this year. Following a ban on its products in the US, HuaWei subsequently lost its plum role in the construction of the United Kingdom’s 5G infrastructure (and may face further scrutiny in Britain).
Perhaps even more surprising was HuaWei losing a lucrative telecommunications deal in Singapore, which opted to partner with Nokia and Ericsson instead.
Indeed, Chinese companies on the whole, especially tech-related ones, have a lot to be worried about right now as foreign markets are beginning to treat them similarly to how their home country treats outside competition.