While there’s no doubting the popularity of TikTok, as reflected in the apps rapid, ongoing growth around the world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to know what the future holds for the app, with various investigations and considerations in play that threaten to stop the platform in its tracks, and relegate it to the history books with various other short-term hits.
And while questions over TikTok’s Chinese ownership, and its potential links to the Chinese Government, have always been present, they do seem to have gained momentum recently, with global tensions rising, and nations looking at ways in which they can hit back over economic sanctions, and even military incursions, putting TikTok, once again, in the firing line.
The latest significant blow on this front is news that TikTok has decided to pull back on its plan to establish a new global headquarters in London, due to ongoing disagreement between the UK Government and China over the development of 5G infrastructure in Britain.
As reported by The Guardian, earlier this month, the UK Government banned Chinese firm Huawei from developing its 5G network, which has sparked a new trade dispute between the UK ad China. That’s now forced TikTok to reconsider its plans in the nation. TikTok had reportedly been negotiating with the UK Government for months on the possible expansion of its operations in the nation.
As noted, this is just the latest example of how TikTok’s future is tied to global disputes. Already, TikTok has been banned in India, the app’s second-largest user market, due to border disputes between India and China, while TikTok itself recently pulled out of Hong Kong amid rising tensions sparked by Chinese intervention in the region.
And it doesn’t end there – the Australian Government recently cited rising global tensions as a reason for it to boost its defence spending, which has also sparked new questions in that nation about whether TikTok should be allowed to operate, and potentially gather data on Australian citizens. The US has also raised similar concerns, with President Donald Trump additionally noting that the US Government is considering a TikTok ban as punishment for the COVID-19 outbreak.
Trump has also taken personal credit for prompting other nations to re-consider allowing Huawei to develop their 5G projects, while his campaign has also been using a potential ban on TikTok in a rallying effort among supporters via Facebook ads.
The various concerns mean that TikTok’s future hangs in the balance, and is dependent on diplomatic efforts which are entirely out its hands. If a western nation ends up following India’s lead, and does indeed move to ban TikTok, it seems likely that the others will follow – which is why TikTok’s been spending big on lobbyists and other efforts as it tries to convince the world that it’s not beholden to the Chinese regime, and that it is working to separate its operations, and improve its moderation systems and processes in line with expectation.
That’s also been a key issue – as reported by Reuters, last week, TikTok was recently fined $154,320 by South Korean officials for “collecting personal information of children under 14 years of age without consent from guardians, and failing to disclose or notify when sending personal information overseas”.
TikTok was fined a record $5.7 million by the US FTC for similar violations early last year.
Given its various issues, on various fronts, it seems like something has to give, something, at some stage, will need to change, whether that’s through TikTok being sub-licensed into separate regional entities, or by the app being banned outright in many nations. Already, TikTok users are campaigning to keep the app alive, and platform influencers are migrating across to other platforms as they seek to protect themselves, and the presences they’ve built, from any impacts.
It seems, at some stage, that TikTok will have to deal with some level of impact. What exactly that will be is not clear, but as the Chinese Government contends with other nations, on various fronts, that puts increased pressure on all Chnese-owned businesses and their dealings in other nations.
TikTok, because it gathers user data, will likely come under even more scrutiny in this respect, which could see it face even bigger impacts, as tensions continue to simmer.
There’s nothing definitive, and millions of users are still logging in and scrolling through their TikTok feeds every day. But the challenges are clearly stacking up, which could make it harder to TikTok to continue, at least in its current formulation.