China’s TikTok: Harmless App Or Insidious Chinese Threat To America?

China’s TikTok: Harmless App Or Insidious Chinese Threat To America?

Claude Barfield

Technology, Asia

The app is posing a serious national security challenge.

The developing TikTok chronicle actually consists of two linked developments: First, the aggressive plans of TikTok (and parent company ByteDance) to expand its current business, while also pushing rapidly into other social media business opportunities; and second, the implications, both businesswise and politically, of the current national security investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

Globally, ByteDance and TikTok are targeting their growth in East and South Asia, particularly large countries such as India and Indonesia. India is a rapidly developing success story, as TikTok downloads over the past two years have exceeded 400 million users in the country (four times as many as in the US). Unemployed teenagers form a major cohort of users, as they have few outlets for entertainment and tend to avoid English language outlets such as Facebook and Instagram. Since they enjoy little privacy in their lives, they do not worry about security. There has been some backlash from governments in Asia, but largely stemming from issues of lax security against child predators and violations of Hindu norms.

ByteDance has pledged to invest $1 billion in India over the next few years “through expansion and the construction of a data center.” As a number of outside observers have recently noted, TikTok’s success in emerging markets such as India and Indonesia will determine its future even if it encounters major obstacles in the US.

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