‘Do you think TikTok will be around this time next year?’ It’s the question on many of our clients’ lips right now – and, frankly, it’s a bit of a hard one to answer.

On one hand, TikTok seems to be in hot water almost everywhere you look – from the grilling its CEO got at a full Congressional hearing in the US to partial TikTok bans implemented by multiple nations (including New Zealand, which no longer allows TikTok to be used on Government devices). But, on the other hand, it’s one of the world’s fastest growing social networks, with more than a billion users globally… that’s going to be hard to shut down!

While no one can say definitively what will happen, here’s a quick summary of the issues at play and our take on what will happen next.

First up, what’s behind the big concern about TikTok?

The main concern that governments like that of the USA have about TikTok is the potential for the data that the app collects to be accessed by the Chinese Government. This CNN article by Brian Fung sums it up nicely:

“The US government has said it’s worried China could use its national security laws to access the significant amount of personal information that TikTok, like most social media applications, collects from its US users. The laws in question are extraordinarily broad, according to western legal experts, requiring “any organization or citizen” in China to “support, assist and cooperate with state intelligence work,” without defining what “intelligence work” means.”

For those wondering why TikTok’s critics are so worried about the Chinese government’s influence (as opposed to, say, the US government’s influence over Facebook owner, Meta), it’s important to note that operating a business in China is very different to many other parts of the world. In the same CNN article, Fung notes that:

“TikTok doesn’t operate in China. But since the Chinese government enjoys significant leverage over businesses under its jurisdiction, the theory goes that ByteDance (a China-based business which owns TikTok), and thus indirectly, TikTok, could be forced to cooperate with a broad range of security activities, including possibly the transfer of TikTok data…”

So, the issue for governments isn’t so much the data that’s being collected but rather the potential for that data to be requested by the Chinese government for whatever it deems to be ‘state intelligence work’. But that’s not to say that collection of data isn’t an issue as well – which brings us to another important point:

Please remember – ALL social media apps collect data about you.

Regardless of which social media platform is your preference, it’s important to know that every social media app collects your data.

For example, much has been made of the fact that TikTok collects the location data of its users… but so do Instagram, SnapChat, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest. In fact, according to a November 2022 report by cybersecurity experts Clario, one of the biggest offenders in terms of location data collection is not even a social site – it’s Apple.

“Apple consistently tracks your location and contact information across apps like Safari, Photos, Weather, Maps, and Messaging. While your location is necessary for some features like tagging your photo location or checking the weather, it raises some eyebrows to hear Apple tracks where you send your texts from,” writes Clario senior content manager Andriy Slynchuk.

Side note – if you’re interested in how various social (and other!) apps are tracking you, Andriy’s article is well worth a read – you can find it here.

Location aside, there are plenty of other data sets that you should think carefully about – from facial and voice recognition to where you like to shop and what your marital status is. The point is your data is being collected by many of the apps you use, which is something you need to think about and proactively address.

What can I do to stop apps from collecting my data?

Knowing that apps, including social media sites, will actively collect your data if allowed can feel scary. But rest assured, there are steps you can take to control of what you share.

Whether you’re an iPhone or Android user, you can quickly and easily adjust what you allow apps to access by visiting the Settings section on your phone. For every app, you’ll be able to see what is currently being accessed (for example your photos, location, microphone and contacts) – simply toggle off the information that you don’t want to make available. Be aware that this may limit your experience when using the app.

It’s also a good idea to do a quick stocktake of which apps you’ve got running on your phone every few months, and to delete those that you don’t need. And, if you’re given the option to sign into a website using your social media login – don’t! Doing so enables the social media platform to share your data with the other app or website, which can leave you open to privacy breaches or the risk of being hacked.

So, what’s going to happen with TikTok?

Based on what we know right now, we don’t see TikTok going anywhere in the short-term. It’s simply too big and too popular to be taken down without significant resistance from its 1 billion plus active monthly users. It’s also currently working on two major projects (one in the USA and another in Europe) to localise data storage, which may go some way to alleviating the political concerns we’ve seen to date.

Having said that, proof of a mass data breach would definitely change the game… but for now, watch this space!

For businesses wondering whether they should steer clear of Marketing on TikTok (or any data collecting social platform) it comes down to a simple risk vs reward equation. Like other social platforms, TikTok offers you the ability to get in front of a highly targeted audience for less cost than traditional mediums. Whether you need eyes on your new product or are looking for like-minded individuals to engage with your business you can probably find them on TikTok . But, like any social platform, be aware that your audience could be there one minute and gone the next. Moving audiences off platform and into your mailing list, sales leads, or loyalty programme mitigates the risk of building your community in a platform that could well disappear in the future.

Need advice about how to create a social strategy that integrates with your broader marketing efforts? The team at Matter keeps across all developments on behalf of our clients, so reach out if you want the latest intel.