Almost a third of Britons are concerned that TikTok might share their personal data with the Chinese government, according to a book on the social network, despite the app’s popularity across the nation.
And a third of Britons aged between 18 and 34, the key demographic for the app, are more than just worried: they believe TikTok would hand over their data on request from China.
The findings, based on polling from Opinium, show that TikTok still has reputation problems, even if they are no longer serious enough to hold back the app’s phenomenal growth.
Chris Stokel-Walker, the author of TikTok Boom, said: “TikTok has denied in the strongest terms any allegations that it would share data with the Chinese state, and has spent the last two years trying to prove its transparency, but my book shows that the public just don’t buy it.
“As we’ve seen with battles over its global headquarters, successive parliamentary select committee hearings and its fight for survival in the United States, the app has become embroiled in a battle bigger than TikTok’s success alone,” said Stokel-Walker. “It’s caught up in a geopolitical dogfight between China and the rest of the world – and events outside its control are cutting through to shape public perceptions of how it operates in the most damaging way.”
Despite the concerns, TikTok has continued to grow. According to data from AppAnnie, the mobile analytics company, the average British user of the Android version spent almost 25 hours on it in the month of May this year, almost twice the amount of time measured in December 2019. YouTube, by contrast, has stayed flat at about 17 hours a month, showing why Google has invested significant effort in YouTube Shorts, its homegrown competitor.
TikTok is particularly popular among girls, according to a recent Ofcom report. Six per cent of British girls aged between seven and 12 described it as their favourite app, putting it third after YouTube and Roblox. Among teens, 12% said it was their favourite, bringing it to the number one slot, with Instagram and Snapchat in second and third. Among boys the app stood at positions 7 for the younger group and 10 for teens, with 3% saying it was their favourite app.
Even the nature of TikTok’s corporate ownership is contested: according to Stokel-Walker, half of Britons describe it as “a Chinese-owned app” and 5% disagree. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bytedance, which describes itself as headquartered in the Cayman Islands. But Bytedance is one of China’s largest startups, with 100,000 employees and annual revenue of almost $40bn (nearly £29bn).