Goodbye TikTok, Hello Instagram

The Saint's Blog

President Trump has issued an executive order that would ban the social media app TikTok & WeChat from operating in the US in 45 days if they are not sold by their Chinese-owed parent companies. Although Saint Financial Group try to focus on the UK market, this ban is going to be so impactful on TikTok it will have global repercussions, this does not mean that TikTok will be banned in the UK, but there is not evidence to suggest it will not.

The order regarding TikTok prohibits after 45 days "any transaction by any person, or with respect to any property, subjected to the jurisdiction of the United States, with ByteDance Ltd".

"As far as TikTok is concerned, we're banning them from the United States" Trump said to reporters while aboard Air Force One.

Trump states that he could use emergency economic powers or an executive order. it was not immediately clear what such an order would look like and what legal challenges it might face, however he said "Well, I have the authority".

The justification behind such a ban is vague, but is targeted toward China's approach to privacy and data policies, which have been abused not in line with the users intent. Within TikTok privacy policy, the company states that they reserve the right to share user information with other members of its corporate group. This include the parent company ByteDance Ltd, which could then theoretically share user data with Beijing, according to ProtonMail

What sensitive information does TikTok collect?

Pretty much everything they can get their hands on, which is very common with just about every social media platform. According to its privacy policy, even of you just downloaded the app and never created an account, TikTok will collect your:

  • IP address
  • Browsing History (content in which you have search for on TikTok)
  • Mobile Carrier provider
  • Location data (GPS Coordinates, mobile & WiFi data)
  • Information on the device you used to access TikTok

Once you sign up to TikTok, not only do they now have your date of birth, email address or phone number, TikTok goes on to ask for permission to access your other social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc), your phones contact list and GPS data.

Now that you are on the app, TikTok continues to record sensitive information such as:

  • Every video you upload
  • How long you watch videos
  • Which videos you like
  • Which videos you share
  • Any messages you exchange in the app
  • Payment details (if you purchase coins which is an in-app currency used to support creators)

TikTok does claim that, on deletion of your account, the data stored will be deleted entirely within 30 days, this claim is impossible to independently verify, as is the case with most social media companies.

The lawsuits that TikTok face.

A group of TikTok users located in California filed a class action lawsuit against TikTok and ByteDance, saying that the TikTok app "includes Chinese surveillance software". This claim means that every video that TikTok collects, published , non-published or even the ones in which have not been saved are taken in order to collect biometric data (data such as facial recognition) without user permission and that even after you close the app, TikTok continues to collect biometric data. There are multiple of these lawsuits which have been filed against TikTok & ByteDance for collecting biometric data without clear consent.

TikTok sharing data with the Chinese government

TikTok is the only social media giant which is held and operated in China. ByteDance (the company who owns TikTok) are located in Beijing and is worth over $100 billion. Chinese domestic laws and regulations, along with internal party politics makes it difficult to decide whether the company is independent if they are coordinating with the Chinese Communist Party. Even if ByteDance was independent it would have little control over the collected information regardless due to China's National Intelligence Law passed in 2017 which allows the government to compel any Chinese company to provide practically any information that it requests, this includes data on those not residents of China. However, Chinese law also can be forced to be kept secretive and not disclosed via transparency reports. Therefore, even if ByteDance was independent, they would have little to no control on the information that they could withhold from the Chinese Government. Now some of you might know that ByteDance has repeatedly said that all information collected on behalf on TikTok is not stored nor is available in China, this is rather misleading, as in TikTok's privacy policy they clearly state that they reserve the right to share information with other members of its "corporation group" (I.e ByteDance).

As one US lawmaker said to the Wall Street Journal, “all it takes is one knock on the door of their parent company [ByteDance], based in China, from a Communist Party official for that data to be transferred [from TikTok] to the Chinese government’s hands, whenever they need it.”

Microsoft are in the talks to acquire TikTok

The pressure is on for TikTok with a enormous amount of its users being based in the US, Trump has said that TikTok must find a buyer within the US by the 15th September 2020 deadline, failing to do so, he said, would lead him to shut down the app for the entire country. Trump has also said any deal which is formed will lead for a "substantial amount of money" coming to the US Treasury.

Microsoft has said they are pushing forward with the talks to acquire TikTok, following a conversation with between CEO Satya Nadella and President Trump. The price tag of such a purchase is unknown, but Microsoft would probably pay around the value of $50 billion, which is the estimated value of TikTok as a standalone business. TikTok is the fastest growing social media platform with an estimated valuation of $200 billion within just a few years. There is not finalisation as of yet between the two companies, but time is ticking and Microsoft is committed to acquire TikTok with plans to a "complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United Stated, including the US Treasury", the company said, adding that it will "move quickly" to talk with ByteDance "in a matter of weeks"

Goodbye TikTok, Hello Instagram

As TikTok are currently in the ropes, Instagram has jumped into the ring by launching Instagram Reels, in attempt to gain a percentage of the market, if not over take during these uncertain times. Similar to TikTok, Reels lets people create short-form videos which is played along side music which can be shared among friends and followers. This is a huge opportunity for Instagram, bringing new users in, increasing time spent on the platform and establishing itself as a video entertainment platform and moving forward from is very image orientated identity.

Reels allows users to record video clips for up to 15 seconds while adding popular music in a very similar fashion to TikTok, also including a vast range of filters and effects. Instagram has also taken the opportunity to revamp its explore page to create a specific sport for Reels at he top of your screen which can be vertically scrolled through, this concept is very similar to the "For You Page" offered by TikTok.

Does this truly mean goodbye to TikTok, nobody knows, If TikTok does not find a US buyer it will be banned on the 15th September 2020. This ban will drastically affect the market of TikTok with a large percentage of its audience being pushed into other platform (hence the opportunity in which Instagram has snatched). Microsoft are very committed to the purchase of the social media platform, but then again ByteDance may be considering other moves to further insulate itself from the US - China fight, with reports being produced that ByteDance are considering London for a new TikTok headquarters, ByteDance is "committed to becoming a global company" to better serve their users.

Written by:

Michael O'Rourke

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