Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Opinion | America’s TikTok anxiety

The video-posting app, majorly popular with teenagers, has a vast consumer base in the US

Just as word was in the air that Chinese social media firm ByteDance was thinking of ringfencing its TikTok app amid intensifying US scrutiny, the firm’s chief put to rest such talk. Till recently, the company was reportedly considering a TikTok stake sale. But the plan appears to be shelved for now, even as American legislators turn more and more suspicious of the app. ByteDance has been keen to assure the US that TikTok is not a Chinese espionage tool. To that end, it had begun to structure its US operations in a way to assure US regulatory officials that any personal data held by the app is safely stored in America, and thus inaccessible to Beijing. Whether this is still the goal has turned hazy.

The video-posting app, majorly popular with teenagers, has a vast consumer base in the US. Almost 60% of TikTok’s 26.5 million monthly active users belong to the age group of 16-to-24, according to company data. By the look of it, that is enough users for US authorities to worry about its reach. Besides, TikTok recently snapped up an American social media app, Musical.ly, and this acquisition is currently under official review. The app also drew the attention of US lawmakers after reports emerged on its censorship policy and attempts to cull videos of protests in Hong Kong.

The TikTok episode suggests that commercial relations between the US and China, seen to be on the mend since mid-December, are likely to stay frayed for a while yet. What worsens ties is the fact that the two are global rivals for technological dominance this century. The US has always assumed it is numero uno. China wants to prove it wrong.

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