As 2023 begins, open the most-downloaded charts for free apps on iOS and Google. TikTok battle is where it always is: at the top. In both stores, the video-centric social app is currently ranked third overall, trailing only a shopping app and mood diary (on Android) and a to-do app and video editor (on iOS). By the way, that video editing app is CapCut, which ByteDance also develops; CapCut is a TikTok video app.
Downloads are a crude metric for measuring an app’s cultural impact, but there’s no denying that TikTok remains the dominant social app as the year begins. It’s where new trends emerge, pop stars appear, and young people spend a disproportionate amount of their time.
TikTok Battle: Origin in the US
While American teenagers were busy installing TikTok on their brand-new iPhones over the holidays, US government officials were sceptical of the app and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance. A movement to ban the app, which began with Republican state governors, quickly spread to Congress, and TikTok is now prohibited from being installed on federal government devices.
According to Reuters, 19 of the 50 states now restrict TikTok access on government computers, with most bans enacted over two weeks last month. This restriction is in addition to the limits imposed by school districts and other parts of the government.
These negative sentiments raise a question that has mostly been resolved since Trump’s departure: could TikTok be banned entirely in the United States?
TikTok Battle Counterplan
TikTok has attempted to provide new layers of oversight to the US government to overcome the TikTok Battle. According to the sources, Oracle’s role has been expanded to ensure that TikTok’s technology infrastructure is separate from ByteDance.
According to the sources, Oracle will review both app codes, which determine the look and feel of TikTok, and server codes, which provide functions such as search and recommendations. According to one of the sources, the reviews will take place at dedicated “transparency centres” that will be visited by Oracle engineers, with the first one set to open in Maryland in January.
According to the sources, TikTok Battle has also proposed forming a “proxy” board to run the [US Data Security] division independently of ByteDance. Andrew Bonillo, a former US Secret Service agent, is serving as interim head of this division until a security agreement with the US is reached.
TikTok Battle: Spying Scandal
According to materials reviewed by Forbes, ByteDance tracked multiple Forbes journalists as part of this covert surveillance campaign, which was intended to uncover the source of leaks within the company in the aftermath of a barrage of stories exposing the company’s ongoing ties to China.
ByteDance fired Chris Lepitak, its chief internal auditor who led the team responsible for the surveillance tactics, due to the investigation. Song Ye, the Chinese executive to whom Lepitak reported and who reports directly to ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang, resigned.
It’s difficult to overstate how much the TikTok spying scandal has eroded the goodwill the company has spent the last few years cultivating through transparency centres, open research APIs, and other industry-leading initiatives.
For years, executives have openly dismissed the possibility that their app could be used to spy on Americans. However, it was ultimately used for that purpose. Worse, it was used against the Americans attempting to decipher the relationship between ByteDance and TikTok.
EU, A No Fan of the Tiktok battle
Fears about children’s safety, as well as reports that TikTok spied on journalists using their IP addresses, are fueling a backlash against the video-sharing app, which more than 250 million Europeans use.
As TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew travels to Brussels on Tuesday to meet with top digital policymaker Margrethe Vestager, his company faces a slew of legal, regulatory, and security challenges in the EU, as well as a growing chorus of public criticism.
French President Emmanuel Macron has been one of the most vocal critics, calling TikTok “deceptively innocent” and a source of “real addiction” among users and Russian disinformation. Such remarks have coincided with aggressive media coverage in France, with the front page of Le Parisien on December 29 calling TikTok “a real danger for the brains of our children.”
TikTok is also under investigation for suspected violations that have already occurred. Suppose Ireland’s data regulator, which conducts studies on behalf of other EU states, determines that TikTok violated the EU’s privacy rules. In that case, in the General Data Protection Regulation, fines could amount to up to 4% of the company’s global revenue. Penalties could be even harsher under the EU Digital Service Act, which goes into effect for major platforms in mid-2023.
TikTok Battle is being investigated for sending data on EU users to China as part of one of two investigations led by Ireland. Reports that TikTok employees in China used TikTok data to track the movements of two Western journalists heightened fears of spying, particularly in privacy-conscious Germany.
India, First to Ban Tiktok
The Indian government banned Tik Tok and 58 Chinese-developed apps in June 2020, citing concerns that these apps were engaging in activities that threatened “India’s national security and defence, ultimately impinging on India’s sovereignty and integrity.” Thus ended India’s TikTok Battle.
FCC commissioner Brendan Carr said India set a “significant precedent” by banning TikTok two and a half years ago.
Way to go forward after the Tiktok Battle
“TikTok is spying on you” was the rare conspiracy theory that was true for a handful of reporters. However, as the TikTok Battle to ban TikTok gains momentum, the company will no longer be able to plead innocent to charges of targeted surveillance. And as 2023 progresses, the US President, EU regulators, and global governments may have every reason to complete what India began.