What will happen to TikTok in the US? China is showing its teeth

What is going to happen to TikTok? The tension over the future of the popular app in the US is increasing, especially now that China has also become involved in the sales process.

Trump considers the app a security risk as long as it is part of the Chinese company ByteDance; the user data could end up in the hands of the government in Beijing. The company contradicts this. Yet the Trump government‘s app must be sold to an American party. Only then can TikTok remain active in the US.

Next week there will be two sales deadlines: Tuesday one mentioned by Trump and Sunday one confirmed by decree by the President. Which one is unclear. The expectation is that TikTok will not meet the sales deadlines and Trump does not want to delay.

First successful in the West

It is the first social media app from China with great success in the West. In the Netherlands, the app – on which users share dances or other acts in short films – has about 3.5 million users. In America 100 million.

ByteDance doesn’t really want to sell the app at all, but thinks it has no choice. There are two potential buyers: Microsoft together with supermarket chain Walmart and Oracle in cooperation with investors.

The fact that there is so much uncertainty now is due to the fact that China intervened in the process at the last minute. A deal seemed a matter of days at the end of August, but then the government in Beijing decided to change the export rules for technology. As a result, TikTok has to ask permission for a sale because the app‘s algorithm has been labelled ‘sensitive‘. The question is whether the company will get that permission: China would prefer the app to be closed in the US, rather than a sale going ahead.

I did not expect this step, but it suits China, says China expert Frans-Paul van der Putten of Clingendael Institute. The country has been tightening its export control rules for a few years now. In doing so, China is mirroring the American approach. These kinds of rules were therefore on their way

China is showing its teeth firmly, says Julia Krauwer, technology sector specialist at ABN Amro. And I understand that too. It has put a lot of effort into artificial intelligence in recent years and into the underlying algorithms and models. So in that context of imminent sales, their position is not weird

The likelihood of TikTok disappearing in the US already led to unrest among users in August. TikTokker Sara Dol (2.5 million followers) responded to this news at the CCeit:

The big question now hanging over the market is whether a potential buyer in a deal will get his hands on the algorithm. According to sources from Reuters press agency, there are four options: Buy TikTok without an algorithm, ask permission from China, license the algorithm from ByteDance and ask the US for a transition period. All these options have drawbacks.

The companies involved have become completely dependent on the political dynamics between the US and China, says Van der Putten. According to him, China is showing with the step that it is done with Trump’s rhetoric. China’s interest is its own. It does not want to appear to be the defenceless plaything of the US administration

The negotiations are now much more complicated, sees Jian Lin, who is doing research at the University of Groningen on TikTok, among other things. I suspect that China does not want the takeover to go ahead as the US sees it now

No ban in Europe

The unrest surrounding the app in the US also raises the question of what is going to happen in Europe. Europe is always looking critically at how users’ privacy is handled. Privacy watchdogs in various EU member states, including the Netherlands, are now investigating TikTok.

Commissioner Thierry Breton said at the beginning of this month that the Trump government rightly wants to retain control over American user data. The same applies to Europe, he said. Something that is going to happen because TikTok has announced the construction of a data centre in Ireland. An app banned? That is not what the Commissioner wants.