What Happens If TikTok Actually Gets Banned?

Matthew Dennis
August 12, 2020

Barring any major changes to the app or it’s ownership, on September 15, TikTok will be banned from the United States due to an executive order issued by the president last Thursday. This order is a result of the app’s ability to collect valuable data from its users such as location, browser history, and search history. 

According to this article from CNN: 

TikTok “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users,” such as location data and browsing and search histories, which “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.” 

The app created by the Chinese-owned tech company ByteDance currently has over 2 billion downloads, 800 million active users, and spreads across 155 different countries.

Upon hearing the news of the executive order, TikTok appeared to be caught off guard and offended in a statement they released the following day: 

We are shocked by the recent Executive Order, which was issued without any due process. For nearly a year, we have sought to engage with the US government in good faith to provide a constructive solution to the concerns that have been expressed. What we encountered instead was that the Administration paid no attention to facts, dictated terms of an agreement without going through standard legal processes, and tried to insert itself into negotiations between private businesses.

While TikTok may have been shocked by this executive order, nationwide bans of their app are becoming somewhat of a trend. Countries such as Japan, Australia, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan have either placed bans or are considering a ban of the app. Even Hong Kong “passed a sweeping security law earlier this year that caused TikTok to discontinue operating there.” 

So…maybe this is something we should be taking seriously.

Whether you believe TikTok is a security threat or not, you can’t deny the impact of the social media platform and the hole it will create if the ban goes into effect. TikTok’s easy-to-use interface and algorithm-inspired For You Page (FYP) keeps users on the app for long periods of time, which is perfectly tailored for a society that has an ever-diminishing attention span. 

But to me, and anyone else who works in marketing, the real value in the app is that it has the attention of the ever-so-coveted Gen Z. With the majority of users (41%) falling within the ages of 16-24, we have seen advertisers and influencers FLOOD the platform, all bidding for the youth’s attention: 

Screenshots via TikTok

As someone who loves a good ad, I’ll be upset to see this platform go. The opportunity it provides brands for storytelling, creative trends, and “thumb-stopping” content is unlike anything we are seeing on other platforms right now, which leads me to the big question: Where do we go from here?

From what i’ve read, there are three probable outcomes as a result of this executive order: 

Outcome 1: A buyout

Microsoft has been linked to a possible purchase of the app’s operations in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This does not come without a hefty price tag, as Microsoft would have to pay some portion of the $50 billion at which the app’s value has been estimated. Keep in mind that Microsoft is no stranger to big investments towards social platforms—in 2016 the company acquired LinkedIn for $26 billion

Outcome 2: The Zuckerberg effect

We’ve seen this before: A tech company or social platform comes up with a great idea, then months (or even weeks) later, Facebook launches a similar feature that mimics the idea. This effect is already in the works, as last week Instagram launched Reels, a feature almost identical to TikTok. We see you, Mark.

Outcome 3: A new platform

The last probable outcome is that another (American-owned) platform emerges that contains a similar feel to TikTok and is able to grab the attention of Gen z, brands, and influencers. I believe that this is the least likely outcome, however…I know of an app…one that has been waiting in the winds to remerge…one that some call the inspiration for TikTok…that’s right…Vine.

Where are the creators of Vine in all of this? If there was ever a time for them to make a comeback, now would be their best shot.

If this ban really goes through, I’ll be sad to see TikTok go. I love exploring the app, and I hate that politics have to get in the way of content creators making awesome stuff for their audiences. However, I understand that we live in a world where personal data is the new gold rush, and as our lives continue to become less private, protecting personal data should be something we all think about. 

Until then, I have not deleted the app yet. Have you?