Roundup: The latest developments on TikTok

Background: TikTok is the biggest and most popular social media platform—with 1 billion monthly active users—and leads on all social media platforms on engagement by US adult users with 45.8 minutes per day.

No escaping layoffs: TikTok began its global restructuring this week, leading to layoffs including some of its US staff, per Wired. Employees in Europe were informed their jobs were at risk, and UK employees were told that job cuts were coming to various departments.

  • The layoffs are expected to affect fewer than 100 employees. The company employs 10,000 people in the US and Europe.
  • TikTok also abandoned plans to expand into online shopping earlier this month.

Our take: Hiring freezes and layoffs have become the norm as the tech sector wrestles with a down economy. TikTok’s restructuring could be an adjustment to its frenetic growth. 

Data harvesting accusations intensify: TikTok users have been warned about the company’s data practices and its links to China. US FCC commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove the TikTok app from their app stores last month, noting national security concerns surrounding the company’s China-based parent company ByteDance.

  • Carr cited a BuzzFeed news report indicating that ByteDance’s Chinese staff had accessed US user data numerous times. TikTok said it grants access to US user data on “an as-needed basis under strict controls.”
  • Australian cybersecurity experts warned users that the Chinese government could use the popular app to harvest personal information from in-app messages, including precise location information.
  • The warnings follow a report by Internet 2.0 that revealed that TikTok is collecting “excessive” amounts of user information. The report states TikTok’s data-collection  methods include the ability to collect user contact lists and scan hard drives, including external ones.

Security officer resigns: Roland Cloutier, TikTok’s global chief security officer, announced his departure last week, saying he was leaving in September, per The Wall Street Journal.

The company framed Cloutier’s departure as the first step toward more cohesive user data protection. CEO Shou Zi Chew said the company aimed to “minimize concerns about the security of user data in the US, including the creation of a new department to manage US user data for TikTok.” 

Our take: Mounting government scrutiny and a heightened focus on privacy and security could result in regulation from various countries, neutralizing innovation and growth.

TikTok still has the advantage of being a popular service with unprecedented growth. In context, TikTok will grow its net ad revenues in the US by 184.4% this year to hit $5.96 billion

Dive deeper: For detailed insights on TikTok and social video, check out our US Social Media Usage 2022 report.