We began this week talking about TikTok, and inevitably, we’re ending it the same way – and it’s still unclear how this story will play out. So much is happening at once that it’s easy to miss developments, and difficult to parse it all into a definitive conclusion.
The platform continues to launch a host of new features, as it aims to solidify its position (and, perhaps, to ensure any purchase price is as high as possible.) This week alone saw TikTok integrate with Teespring to enable in-app merch sales, a new Marketing Partner programme, to enable ad measurement and optimisation, and a brand new creator feature, Stitch, that allows users to use snippets of other users’ videos in their own posts.
Meanwhile, a potential sale of the US, Canadian, and Australasian TikTok businesses rumbles on. TikTok claims 100 million monthly active users in the US alone, which is a remarkable figure: nearly a third of the entire population. Access to this vast set of users makes TikTok an appealing purchase, of course, but the truly valuable part of TikTok is its algorithmically-driven “For You” Feed, which has deep, personalised data on each user.
And it’s this piece of technology that China won’t allow to be sold without ByteDance – TikTok’s parent company – getting, at the very least, approval from the Chinese government. It’s hard at this point not to use chess analogies: TikTok has become a valuable pawn in a larger geopolitical game.
The Chinese government is strategically putting pressure on President Trump, who has already kicked the mooted US TikTok ban into the future once to allow a sale – possibly to Oracle, or the Microsoft/Walmart duo – to happen. His deadline has put pressure on the buyers – and the Chinese government are prepared to wait. Potential suitors are now gearing up for a much longer negotiation period, according to the Washington Post’s source. Trump, meanwhile, may be hesitant to extend the deadline again.
The final sign of a TikTok feeding frenzy taking place also arrived this week in the form of more pressure from the US-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), who warned that any purchaser would be buying a, “treasure trove of ill-gotten, sensitive children’s data.”
In May, the CCFC filed an Federal Trade Commission complaint against the platform, claiming that the app’s central algorithm – once again the sticking point – “collects and uses [children’s] data in ways that violate the law.” In 2019, TikTok paid $5.7m to settle allegations by the FTC that it illegally collected personal information from children.
The TikTok story develops at such a dizzying pace, and has dragged in so many geo-political, ethical and sociological issues, that it’s easy to lose focus on what’s at the centre of it all: from the perspective of an average user it’s a short-video platform that enables fun, creativity and connectivity. Young people love it, artists have flocked to it to connect with fans, and TikTok is working hard to give users the music they want via the experience they crave.
Whatever happens in the next weeks, it’s a reminder that the apps we use for artist communication, sharing music, building marketing strategies, and growing fanbases – the lifeblood of the industry – are giant, shifting, unpredictable, internationalised beasts. One logical conclusion might be that any strategic use of these platforms should be done with this in mind.