Will TikTok Security Concerns Cause it to Follow Snapchat’s Trajectory?
TikTok may be responsible for many of the latest fashion and purchasing trends, but its very existence is controversial. In fact, many countries have banned government employees from using TikTok due to potential data security risks, and many other countries, including the U.S., are considering banning the app entirely.
Do these bans signal the end of the popular app?
TikTok Security Concerns
In March 2023, TikTok announced that it reached a milestone of 150 million users in the US. According to Statista, it’s also popular in Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, and other countries around the world. Despite its worldwide popularity, many countries have banned government use of it, while others have banned it completely.
Why has TikTok been singled out for such negative attention?
TikTok is owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance Ltd. This is concerning for many countries on two counts. First, they fear that the company will share private user information with the Chinese government. Whether it does so willingly or unwillingly is irrelevant — as far as Western countries are concerned, the power of the Chinese authoritarian government is total, and it can collect information from its native companies whether they agree or not.
The second issue with Chinese ownership is government interference. Not only may the Chinese government have access to private user information, but it may also be able to manipulate the actual app for international espionage and other nefarious purposes. In fact, FBI Director Chris Wray raised these specific concerns in December 2022 and urged the U.S. government to act with caution.
While there is no proof that any of these security threats have come to fruition, governments around the world have banned employee and staff use of TikTok on government devices. In March 2023, US president Joe Biden threatened TikTok with a nationwide ban if the Chinese stakeholders didn’t sell their stakes in TikTok. According to ByteDance, 60% of TikTok shares are owned by non-Chinese stakeholders, but that hasn’t prevented more governments from banning the app.
Is TikTok Headed in SnapChat’s Direction?
Sweeping bans of TikTok among worldwide governments beg the question — where is TikTok headed? Will it be able to weather the storm of international scrutiny, or will it go the way of Snapchat, popular for a few years and then virtually disappearing?
Snapchat was founded in 2011 (pre-TikTok) and hit its peak popularity in 2015. In 2016, Instagram introduced its Stories feature, offering social media users an engaging alternative. The next year, Facebook launched its own Stories feature to compete with other apps. In 2018, the Snapchat Android app experienced technical difficulties that led to immense user frustration. The combination of faulty technology, competition, and C-suite changes led Snapchat stock to plunge from $27 in 2017 to less than $6 a share by the end of 2018.
Despite the setbacks, the company did not disappear. In 2020, it rallied and released its Spotlight feature, designed to compete with TikTok. It has also been focusing more on AR experiences. In 2022, Snapchat users engaged with AR 250 million times a day and played with AR lenses six billion times a day.
As of October 2022, there were 576 million Snapchat users worldwide and it was the 12th most popular social media app. Its demographics are on the younger side, to be sure. 39% of its advertising audience is between the ages of 18 and 24. The next largest group is 25 to 34, followed by 13 to 17. Therefore, it’s safe to say that Snapchat isn’t the most popular social media app in the world, but tends to be used more by people under the age of 35.
How Does TikTok Compare?
Like Snapchat, TikTok has mainly a younger audience. 71.3% of adult TikTok users are between the ages of 18 and 34. That puts TikTok in direct competition with Snapchat.
However, the similarities in terms of trajectory stop there. Snapchat’s story is one of immense popularity, followed by heavy competition and internal mistakes, and a slow climb back towards relevance. Whether it will ever regain its old popularity is hard to say, though its AR work seems promising.
TikTok peaked during the pandemic and is still going strong. Other social media apps may offer alternatives, but there is no direct rival to its popularity. The main issue with TikTok stems not from competition or tech issues, but from its Chinese ownership.
This also puts TikTok in a different arena than other social media apps. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. have been scrutinized by governments, with many calls for regulation. The fear there is based on the incredible power these platforms possess. The issue with TikTok, while its power may also need to be reigned in, is not what’s bothering governments. What’s bothering them is the power of the Chinese government and the potential security threats the app poses.
A TikTok Ban Will Disappoint Users
So will TikTok continue to grow, or will the fear of security threats cause its popularity to decline? Ultimately, each country will decide for itself. In the US, a Pew Research survey conducted in March 2023 shows that half the population supports a ban, while 22% opposes it. (The rest are unsure.) The opposition comes largely from the younger demographic, unsurprisingly, as they are the main users of the app.
While we have been able to follow the organic ups and downs of Snapchat, a ban on TikTok means that we’ll never really know if the app could have remained popular for another 10 years. We will have many disappointed TikTok fans, who will likely be waiting for a newer, edgier app to take its place. They probably won’t have to wait long.