The dark side of TikTok, the chinese king of the videos lightning

When clicked, the screen of the phone becomes an endless succession of videos, most less than 15 seconds. The application (app) is called TikTok and it is likel

The dark side of TikTok, the chinese king of the videos lightning

When clicked, the screen of the phone becomes an endless succession of videos, most less than 15 seconds. The application (app) is called TikTok and it is likely that you will be one of the 500 million users —more than Twitter and Snapchat, a little less than the sum of both— spread all over the world. 2019 has done TikTok a global phenomenon. It is the first platform in china to achieve it, a further sign of the dizzying speed at which it progresses the technological innovation of the country. Your nationality is also the reason that, in parallel to its success, to begin to wake up voices that are concerned about the security of their data and the freedom of its contents.

Just last year, TikTok had been downloaded over 750 million times, according to data from the consulting firm Sensor Tower. This means several tens of millions more that Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat in the same period of time. The app is available in over 150 countries and 75 languages. In India, its first market, almost a third of the population has been downloaded. The same percentage applies to the united STATES. Of those 500 million users, whose average age ranges between 16 and 24 years, 90% visit the social network more than once a day, completing an average of 52 minutes, or, what is the same, 1,000 million videos viewed every 24 hours.

All of the above has made the TikTok in a machine of making money: the same agency to figure the annual increase of their revenue by 521%. It is only possible to resort to third-party data because the company “does not make public its trade figures”. Advertising is the basis of your business model. “An elaborate scheme”, explains Jeffrey Towson, professor in the MBA program at the University of Beijing, “because in order to obtain benefits it is necessary a volume of huge traffic, thousands of millions of visits”. TikTok has them.

The app is available in over 150 countries and India is its principal market

The rise of the platform, in addition, underlines the robust technology of the asian giant. “All the innovation is in the business of consumption comes from China, not Silicon Valley. Almost 10 years after the death of Steve Jobs, the only thing that Apple can offer are their AirPods: you headphones! Meanwhile, the great project for the future of Facebook is a payments platform for digital, something that Ant Financial [subsidiary of Alibaba, the owner of AliPay] has already been years in the making”, points to Towson. “Here, in contrast, appear new apps each month. If you look at the 100 most downloaded in the Google Store of India, for example, at least 40 are chinese. TikTok is only the first that has earned the attention of the West.” Jeongwen Chiang, professor of marketing at the school of business China-Europe (CEIBS), has no doubt: “China is, by far, the most advanced country in digital matters”.

The success of TikTok has made ByteDance, his company, one of the start-ups more attractive in the world: its latest round of funding, held in August of 2018, and raised his value to 67,000 million euros. The latest rumors speak of a possible ipo in Hong Kong in the first quarter of this year. ByteDance he began his career with an aggregator of news, Jinri Toutiao, which was used by the artificial intelligence to adapt its contents to the user. But its director-general, Zhang Yiming, soon reoriented its interests. “In the sector of the contents, the text and photos have evolved into the video. Increasing content generated by the users themselves,” he said then. With this idea in mind, in 2016 launched Douyin, an application of short videos that got 100 million users in less than a year.

A year later, ByteDance bought by 1000 million dollars Musical.ly, an app that is similar and very popular among american teens. In the opinion of Chiang, this movement was key. “Although they were both chinese companies with a similar product, Music.ly had been very well received in the overseas while Douyin dominated the domestic market,” he says. This synergy emerged TikTok.

In December, the us Army forbade its soldiers to open an account in this social network

But Douyin not disappeared. TikTok and Douyin, similar platforms, coexist —bringing together 1,000 million users— in a parallel manner. The first, accessible only abroad. The second, inside China, to comply with the censorship policy imposed by the Communist Party. This link is the source of many concerns, related to both the security of their users ' data as with respect to freedom of expression.

last December, the Army of the USA forbade his soldiers to have account in the app, arguing that their use could pose a threat to national security. Senators Tom Cotton and Chuck Summer called the intelligence services to assess the activity of TikTok, claiming that might be forced to “support and cooperate with intelligence operations controlled by the party” because “the chinese companies have no legal means to reject the demands of the Government.” ByteDance responded with a press release in which it stated that their servers are located in the countries in which the app is available. The directors of the company, however, refused to appear before a committee of congress in charge of examining the links in the technology industry with China.

The suspicions find support in the precedent: this year, TikTok agreed to pay a fine of 5.7 million dollars for the capture of illegally personal data of minors on their platform. Also, in an open letter published in 2018, its director-general pledged to “deepen cooperation” with the Communist Party, with a view to promoting its policies. The application has already had to deal with vetoes temporary in India, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

Blocks controversial

A second reason for distrust is the policy that applies to the management of its contents. TikTok has blocked videos denouncing the violation of human rights in China, in particular with regard to the situation of the uighur in the Xinjiang province, where more than a million people are victims of mass incarceration. It is very well known the case of Feroza Aziz, an american teenager whose account was blocked in November after sharing a video on the subject, disguised as a tutorial of makeup, which soon became viral. The platform argued then that it had been a human error related to a previous publication.

“The strength of this type of social networking is that it is very easy to scale the content because they are created by the users themselves. But that creates a problem of supervision,” says Towson, “because if there is no control over these contents, the quality will decrease and the users will end up leaving”. This intervention is particularly difficult when the content consists of videos “because, unlike the text, the algorithms may not operate in an autonomous way”.

The key, in your opinion, is the thin line that separates caution from censorship. “Twitter does it, YouTube does it: they all do. The question is whether the user trusts the person who does it. If you aspire to be an international company that oversees content for all the world, you must leave your office, make yourself known and win the confidence of the people. The biggest problem of TikTok is, in short, the transparency”. On the screen of 500 million phones, meanwhile, continue to play short videos.

Updated Date: 18 January 2020, 04:00

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