In another concerning sign for TikTok, the US House of Representatives voted on Monday to have the app banned from all Government-issued devices, due to concerns around data collection and potential spying by Chinese authorities.
As reported by Politico:
“Lawmakers voted 336-71 to pass the proposal, offered by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), as part of a package of bipartisan amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act. The prohibition would extend to members of Congress and congressional staff.”
Rep. Buck, in his speech announcing the proposal, called TikTok a “serious national security threat”, once again underlining the app’s precarious position in the eyes of US authorities, which could, eventually, lead to a full ban of the platform in the US.
That would be a major blow – already, TikTok has lost its biggest user market outside China, with Indian authorities banning the app late last month amid ongoing border clashes between Chinese and Indian military. The US, which is also engaged in various trade disputes with China, has hinted that it too is considering a full ban of the app, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telling Fox News that it is “looking at it” and considering its options.
US President Donald Trump Donald Trump has additionally noted that the US is considering a TikTok ban as punishment for the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It’s a big business. Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they have done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful.”
Trump said that banning TikTok was one of many options he’s considering to punish China over the pandemic.
Banning TikTok outright would be a big step, but it’s increasingly looking like it could happen, and if the US were to move to block the app, other nations would likely follow in-step. That could be a death blow for the rising video app.
In order to counter the swell of negative sentiment, TikTok has announced that it plans to add 10,000 jobs in the US over the next three years in order to further separate its operations from China, and manage its explosive US user growth.
As reported by Axios:
“TikTok’s US job growth has already nearly tripled this year, going from almost 500 employees Jan. 1st to just under 1,400. The company plans to hire for jobs in engineering, sales, content moderation and customer service, with a focus on growing workforces in California, New York, Texas, Florida and Tennessee.”
A key element within its current jobs growth has been lobbyists – as additionally reported by The New York Times, TikTok has already hired more than 35 lobbyists, who have been tasked with convincing the Trump administration and lawmakers that the company operates independently of China.
That push, given this latest announcement from the House, is not working as yet – while as noted by tech analyst Ben Thompson, beyond the threat of stealing user data, and sharing it with the Chinese regime, TikTok could also be a concern with respect to distributing pro-China propaganda, and silencing controversial stories or opinions.
As noted by Thompson:
“TikTok’s algorithm, unmoored from the constraints of your social network or professional content creators, is free to promote whatever videos it likes, without anyone knowing the difference. TikTok could promote a particular candidate or a particular issue in a particular geography, without anyone – except perhaps the candidate, now indebted to a Chinese company – knowing.”
Thompson’s observations align with a report published by The Australian Strategic Policy Institute late last year, which labeled TikTok “a vector for censorship and surveillance”.
The combined concerns around the app threaten to derail its meteoric growth, and while TikTok itself continues to scramble for new ways to demonstrate its independence, many platform influencers are already diversifying their reach into other apps, as they look to protect their investment in building their audiences.
It’s difficult to say, based on what we know, whether TikTok will actually be banned, but the noise around the app is rising, and with it now banned on all Government and military-issued devices in the US, the concern is clearly very real.
How that influences your view of the platform will come down to personal perspective, but we would advise against building any significant reliance on TikTok for your promotions, at least at this stage.