TikTok has been accused of turning into a veritable Chinese social media “sleeper cell” – just in the business sense, of course – as far as anybody can reasonably prove – and one that's come alive around the world without many people noticing what's going on.
That might be because everyone is by now used to big startups and other global tech successes habitually coming from the west (i.e., the United States) – the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. And in this context, there may also be a degree of desensitization when it comes to privacy/personal data violations. The prevailing mood is – “it happens.”
But TikTok – a viral short-video sharing platform operated by China's ByteDance – has entered that very market, capitalizing on what every artificial intelligence-driven social media network nowadays is trying to do: use that user data to probe deep into their habits and interests, and then serve them more and more of the same content, to keep them locked in on the platform.
That's TikTok for you – winning in this game at this time, with multiple brand and server identities – one for mainland China, another for the rest of the world. On Google Play alone, TikTok (that's the brand for users outside of China) has 15+ million downloads and an impressive 4.6-star average star rating at this time.
But ByteDance doesn't seem to be resting on any of these laurels, nor is it oblivious to any potential future setbacks. Once the userbase there is – it's time to bring in advertisers, and keep them there.
And as London-based AM Media writes, TikTok is aware that advertisers might be scared off by “harmful material” on the platform.
“Harmful” here means that the now almost forgotten Isis (“Islamic State”) terrorists might have been using TikTok to “spread propaganda videos.” And then there were other users blocked for “posting a video criticizing China’s repression of Uighur Muslims.”
In addition, Israel's Check Point security firm only last week said there may have been “major vulnerabilities” in TikTok that could allow hacker to gain control of user accounts. And then, there are perennial fears of Beijing's censorship and surveillance habits spreading out west.
TikTok's response? Set up “a new stream that would contain carefully vetted content from creators or videos from professional publishers” – while “sharing higher advertising rates to premium brands.”
AM Media bases its report on a Financial Times article citing three people familiar with the matter – in other words, sources that wouldn't be named.
TikTok had no comment as of press time.