02 Apr 2023 By theguardian
Sitting at the heart of youth culture, TikTok is beloved of its more than 1 billion users worldwide.
With a range of compelling content that extends from viral dances to comedy skits, cleaning hacks, BookTok, music and the Gen Z melancholy of the corecore trend, it is the app of the 21st century.
As a consequence, TikTok faces a serious threat of deletion, with the US leading the charge.
In the first quarter of 2022 in the UK, 73% of 15- to 24-year-olds had used the app, vastly outstripping peers such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. Comparable stats for 2023 are not yet available but every indication suggests that usage has risen further. This combination of attention span and demographics makes the app very appealing to advertisers, who spent more than $10bn (£8.1bn) on the platform last year, according to industry estimates.
But that uncanny algorithm is also driving the very suspicion that could kill the app.
If ByteDance refuses, or tries to spin off a diminished version of TikTok, then Americans could wake up one day to find their favourite app no longer exists.
TikTok says it is pushing ahead with a data security plan that appears to have been rejected by the US government, which involves user data being stored on third-party servers owned by the US tech firm Oracle, with that same company vetting app updates that are sent to the Apple and Android app stores. It has also announced a similar plan for the storage of European data.
For instance, last year an EU-backed study by academics and clinicians on young people and internet-related mental health set out some of the problems. The study interviewed a British 17-year-old girl with a history of binge-eating disorders and suicidal behaviours, who said she was able to access content teaching people how to become anorexic via typing in a hashtag.