But TikTok’s success — and its status as the first Chinese-owned social media platform to garner widespread adoption outside its home market — is looking increasingly tenuous.
“One of the things that troubles me about it is, it’s something that is counter to the spirit of the internet,” said Mark Lemley, a law professor at Stanford who teaches internet law.
“I think something significant is lost there if the only apps we get are US apps or apps from approved countries. We lose out as consumers on technology that people like … but in the long run the US also loses out economically, because we have been the great driver of the Internet.”
Possible trouble ahead
TikTok has already lost access to one of the world’s largest digital markets.
Now, Trump administration officials are considering a similar measure.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham earlier this month that the White House is “looking at” banning Chinese apps, including TikTok, and said US officials are “taking this very seriously.” Pompeo added that people should only download TikTok “if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
On Wednesday, Pompeo said, “we hope to have a set of decisions shortly” with regards to the app.
“We’re working through a process where all the relevant agencies and the private sector are getting to say their piece,” Pompeo said in a live interview with The Hill. “Whether it’s TikTok or any of the other Chinese communications platforms, apps, infrastructure, this administration has taken seriously the requirement to protect the American people from having their information end up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
“Due to concerns about TikTok’s privacy and security controls and practices, and because corporate-owned devices should be used for company business only, we have directed those employees to remove the app from their devices,” a statement from a Wells Fargo spokesperson said.
Forced to address security concerns
For its part, TikTok says it operates separately from ByteDance.
The company is also quickly expanding its presence in Washington DC. Beckerman said the company is creating so-called “Transparency Centers” in the nation’s capital and in Los Angeles “so that lawmakers and invited experts can see for themselves how we moderate content and keep our users’ data secure.”
“We remain fully committed to protecting our users’ privacy and security as we build a platform that inspires creativity and brings joy for hundreds of millions of people around the world,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement to CNN last week.
Stanford’s Lemley said the app’s dedicated teen fanbase could also end up proving helpful.
“Is there a revolt among the teenagers of the world?” Lemley said. “I say that jokingly, but only half jokingly. If a bunch of congressmen go to their teenagers and say they’ve banned their favorite app, there might be a lot of pushback and that could matter.”
Competition ready to pounce
Indian companies are also looking to benefit. One homegrown video-sharing app, Roposo, said that before the TikTok ban was announced, it had recorded 50 million downloads since its 2014 launch. After the announcement, the company said it received another 22 million downloads in just two days.
And while TikTok is still fully functional in the United States, some creators on the app are already trying to transition their audiences to other platforms, including Instagram and YouTube, in anticipation of a ban.