Aside from the little joys that short videos on TikTok bring to hundreds of millions of children and teenagers around the world, the Chinese app continues to make headlines – and spur suspicion.
The latest news on the latter comes from Forbes, which reported on Wednesday that a platform storing TikTok’s corporate secrets was inspected by Chinese government officials.
That incident occurred just over a year ago, prior to the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th National Congress, which was an important event, where the party elected its leadership and outlined its strategy for the next five years.
The review covered a swathe of internal information related to Feishu, a ByteDance product similar to Google Docs or Microsoft Office with TikTok employee documents and records on security, personal information and daily operations, it said.
This was “the first report revealing a direct level of access by Chinese government officials to a product that hosts some of TikTok’s most secret information, and the documents show that — at least for now — TikTok remains reliant on its parent company ByteDance’s systems, which are subject to Chinese regulatory control,” Forbes said.
So the company had to open its doors for a “routine” inspection by officials from state entities overseeing communication and cyberspace.
For months, a public debate has been raging over the privacy of user data – of about 150 million Americans, and many more in other countries – and whether it can be accessed by Chinese officials.
TikTok has made moves in both the US and Europe to reduce access by employees on the mainland to users’ data in those to areas.
A draft deal between ByteDance and the US government, yet to be agreed on, would require ByteDance to destroy all US user data.
The question is whether the US and EU officials trust the company running the world’s most downloaded app to do that, given the fact Bytedance must adhere to Beijing and its ramped-up security focus.
There is also serious concern about China ‘weaponizing’ the massively popular app with misinformation and other contentious content.
Indonesian ban hits TikTok hard
The short-video boom has become a huge business. TikTop is estimated to have generated revenue of $9.4 billion in 2022 and expected to have over 2 billion users by the end of 2024.
But the company keeps hitting rocky water. The app has been partly or fully banned in at least a dozen countries; many governments don’t allow the app on state officials’ phones.
And in September, Indonesia banned transactions on TikTok and other social media platforms to protect user data and ensure “fair and just” competition.
That was a big blow to TikTok Shop – a thriving marketplace that was set up in 2021 and allegedly eyeing gross sales of about $6 billion in the country this year.
Indonesia was the first and biggest market for TikTok Shop and was considered a model that could be copied in other parts of Southeast Asia, as well as the West.
The sudden move by Jakarta has left TikTok wondering how to save its e-commerce business in Indonesia, via a partnership with local companies, or creating a new app, the FT has said.
And so, the TikTok turbulence drags on.
- Jim Pollard