The Computer Society of Kenya

Since 1986


Tuesday August 04,2020

I must start with some disclosure from the outset. I did not have a TikTok account until recently when US President Donald Trump announced his intention to ban it.

Obviously, I had heard of TikTok, the video sharing mobile app that is driving teens and young adults below the age of 25 crazy, but had no intention of signing up since I was born way before Google (bG).

The ‘bG’ group rarely finds pleasure in taking one or two minute videos of themselves dancing, cooking, laughing or showering and sharing it with millions of others.

But Trump's anticipated ban of this little mobile app from China piqued my curiosity. My mind was blown away and its not just about the numbers, which are by themselves fairly impressive.

In less than eight years, TikTok has signed up one billions users, most of them outside China.  Indeed the majority of new subscribers are signing up from the US.

My mind was blown away by the amount of digital commerce going on beneath the otherwise random if not silly three-minute clip by a so-called celebrity shaking her waist as she danced along the latest music soundtrack.

This so called celebrity would have half a million followers, others would have a million and the bigger ones could attract upto a hundred million followers on their accounts.

These are eye-balls that advertisers would die for. But rather than die for the eyeballs, advertisers are paying these youngsters real money to push their products in a very subtle but deep way.

Imagine a three-minute dance by a celebrity wearing a certain brand of watch, clothes or sport shoes and viewed many times by a million teens across the globe. There is no better cost-effective marketing.

Teens and young adults are at the heart of the consumerism culture. The culture of buying things that you do not actually need, but rather what you want your peers to see you wearing, eating or carrying out.

Essentially this category of citizens born after Google are at the heart of any economy and TikTok seems to be at the centre of it all.

Data Mining

Indeed, beyond the individual celebrity video-clips, lies a bigger treasure called data-mining.

Previously under the monopoly of US-based companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and others, TikTok has come in and rocked the data-mining boat in a big away.

All the user data in their billions which includes American citizen personal data that ranges from names, age, location, clicks, views among others sits in China and for some reason that worries Trump.

And as someone who knows how Cambridge Analytica abused Facebook user data to influence the US elections one way or the other, he has every reason to worry.

But is banning TikTok in US territory the best way to go around the data privacy challenge?

Definitely not.  

Perhaps, that is why Microsoft is frantically trying to buy and operate TitTok's US branch – if only to provide some assurance on the domestic front and pre-empt what would clearly be the beginning of another trade war between China and the US.

Long live TikTok and the post-Google generations!

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