So after all the efforts of the US Government to force TikTok to detach itself from its Chinese roots, after the threats of a full ban on the app unless it was sold into US ownership, after various court cases challenging and defending the US Government’s ruling.
After all of this, the single outcome of that entire process, the only thing that’s actually happened in response, is that TikTok has lost a US-based CEO and appointed a Chinese one instead.
Which seems somewhat ironic, really.
Today, TikTok has announced that current ByteDance CFO Shouzi Chew has been appointed as the new CEO of TikTok. Chew will succeed former Disney exec Kevin Mayer, who lasted around 3 months in the role, before leaving in August last year in the midst of the platform’s stoush with the Trump Administration.
At the time, it seemed as though Mayer wanted to avoid the potential negative fallout from the company’s ongoing battle with the US Government, but Mayer has since explained that he left because it did indeed seem that a full sale of TikTok was imminent.
As explained by Mayer (to CNBC):
“It did look as if that was a serious ruling by the CFIUS guys, that it had to be divested, and it was going to be divested. The fact is, the job that I signed up for was going to be gone, and I didn’t want to go run a division of Microsoft or Oracle.”
Microsoft and Oracle, of course, were the leading candidates to acquire TikTok at that time, but the deal, in the end, didn’t end up going ahead. TikTok managed to delay a final ruling through repeated (and costly) legal challenges to the US Government’s order, which meant that the final decision was pushed back till after the US Election. Which then put TikTok’s fate largely in the hands of US voters. If Trump was returned, there was a good chance that he would continue to push for TikTok’s full separation from China.
But with a Biden victory, that meant a fresh set of eyes to look at the TikTok deal. And while the Biden admin is still, reportedly, weighing if and how it tackles security concerns related to TikTok, and the potential that it could share data on US citizens with the CCP, right now, it seems like the push to separate TikTok from its Chinese ownership is off the cards. Which, as noted means that the company has continued unimpacted by the challenge.
And now, it’s appointed a ByteDance exec into the top job at the company.
That also, of course, will mean a change in role for current CEO Vanessa Pappas, who stepped into the top job to replace Mayer in an interim capacity. Recognizing her efforts, Pappas will now become the COO of the company, advancing from her previous title as general manager before the acquisition saga.
Pappas has helped guide the company through an incredibly challenging transition period, which has also incorporated the COVID-19 pandemic, and many legal and regulatory challenges, in several regions, as the app expands throughout the world.
Now Pappas moves into a role more aligned with her skills and experience, with Chew taking on the more CEO-type responsibilities involved with expansion of the app.
And for clarity, while Chew is currently the CFO at ByteDance, he is actually based in Singapore, so that could lessen the concerns around ongoing linkage with the Chinese Government.
But probably not. The issue that regulatory authorities have is that under China’s cybersecurity laws, any Chinese-owned company has to share user data with the CCP, on request. Whether such a request has been, or will ever be made, we don’t know, but if a request for such did come through, under the law, as it’s constructed, TikTok would, theoretically, have to comply, putting all of TikTok’s user info, on millions of people around the world, into the Chinese Government’s hands.
TikTok has tried to reassure authorities that this won’t happen, repeatedly noting that it would not share foreign user data with the Chinese Government, while ByteDance also, at one stage, tried to say that it was now ‘a Cayman Islands-based business‘, not a Chinese one, as it was now incorporated in the tax haven.
But it does still seem that its links to China remain strong, which will maintain those concerns.
And as the Chinese regime continues to exert its power, in various global conflicts and relations, those tensions, and issues, will remain.
Whether that will be enough for the new US administration to take a harsher view of TikTok itself, we’ll have to wait and see.