TikTok: Navigating Security Concerns for Small Biz Marketing

TikTok and Your Business: Addressing Security Concerns and Moving Forward

TikTok and Your Business: Addressing Security Concerns and Moving Forward

Key Takeaways:

Increase your understanding of the current concerns with TikTok, both here in the U.S. and abroad.

Gain perspective on what would be involved with a ban and if it’s really in the best interest of American small businesses.

Learn two ways you can safeguard your TikTok business profile so you can feel more confident using it despite the current insecurities about this platform.

TikTok’s ever-growing audience makes it a popular social channel for small businesses to add to their marketing mix. Per Statista, the platform is set to reach 2.25 billion users in 2027. But security concerns over TikTok have many Americans feeling anxious. Many of our clients here at TTG are expressing worries over a potential TikTok ban here in the States. Join us as we examine the current concerns with TikTok and share our take on where TikTok is headed and whether small businesses should continue to use it in their marketing.

An Overview of TikTok’s Data Privacy and Security Concerns 

TikTok’s popularity has brought its data privacy and security practices under intense scrutiny, particularly with regard to its potential ties to the Chinese government. China’s stringent regulatory environment is evidenced by the National Intelligence Law of 2017. This law mandates all organizations and citizens within China to “support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts.” Under this legislation, there’s the possibility of TikTok’s parent company ByteDance being compelled to surrender user data if the Chinese government requests it.

Americans are especially nervous about Article 7 of this law, which could force businesses operating in China to divulge information to Chinese intelligence agencies while keeping such actions concealed. Article 10 allows this law to operate beyond China’s borders, obligating Chinese companies abroad to submit user data to the government. This impacts technology firms, as well as their international operations.

The United States houses a distinct legal framework concerning data privacy and national security, which typically offers more explicit protection for personal information than China. U.S. laws like the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act), the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), alongside various state-level laws, provide a structured oversight mechanism for government access to data.

The disparity between the Chinese and American legal systems was spotlighted during TikTok’s congressional hearings in March 2023, where bipartisan criticism underscored the high level of distrust towards the app’s data handling practices. A focal point of the hearings was the acknowledgment that ByteDance engineers in China could access U.S. user data. This amplified concerns over the Chinese government’s potential access to this information.

As TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s pointed during his defense, however, America has its own issues with data risks and breaches. He highlighted the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal as just one example. Rigorous data protection measures are needed regardless of the company’s country of origin, so that TikTok shoppers and business leaders on the platform feel safe.

The Mental Health Debate

Data security isn’t the only thing that has Americans concerned, however. There’s also the worry about TikTok’s unsafe digital environment for child and teen users. According to recent research from Amnesty International, TikTok content follows a “recommender system” that frequently suggests mental health-related content via the platform’s “For You” page for young users. The organization’s research involved setting up 30 accounts representing 13-year-olds in Kenya and the U.S. Within 5-6 hours of platform use, nearly 50% of the videos shown were mental-health related and potentially harmful. And within a single hour, the researchers reported that more than 50% of the videos in the “For You” feed depicted mental health struggles like depression, anxiety, and self-harm.

This type of TikTok content is highly concerning for all children and teens on the platform, particularly for those who already have mental health challenges that the content could exacerbate. Per the World Health Organization, 1 in 7 individuals in the 10-to-19-year age range experience a mental disorder.

This group is one of the key demographics that use TikTok on a regular basis. According to a recent study from Common Sense and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, the 11- to 17-year-olds surveyed spent nearly two hours a day on the app.

Where the U.S. and Other Countries Stand on the Ban

Currently, the U.S. House passed a bill that would force TikTok to sever with parent company ByteDance or face the consequences of a U.S. ban. At the time of writing, it’s uncertain whether the Senate will pass the bill. TikTok is currently banned on government phones in many states and at the national level. These bans will probably stay unless there are major changes in the laws about data privacy and security.

Other countries have introduced similar measures of TikTok censorship. Nepal is currently under a complete ban of the platform for the sake of “social harmony.” Afghanistan’s Taliban group banned TikTok to avoid “misleading” the country’s youth. India has instituted a total TikTok ban for all citizens due to privacy and security concerns. Government devices in these countries are also adhering to a TikTok ban for government devices: Canada, UK, New Zealand, Australia, Belgium, and France.

Project Texas: TikTok’s Response to International Concerns 

Last year, TikTok unrolled “Project Texas,” an initiative aimed at quelling data privacy and security concerns by isolating U.S. user data from foreign access. Central to this effort is the creation of a U.S. Data Security division, operating with strict American oversight and utilizing Oracle’s cloud infrastructure to store all U.S. data domestically. Despite the substantial $1.5 billion investment in Project Texas, skepticism remains about its effectiveness in fully addressing privacy fears and regulatory scrutiny. The initiative is a critical test of TikTok’s commitment to securing user data and maintaining its operations in the U.S. amidst ongoing debates about data privacy and national security.

Navigating the Maze: The Challenges of a TikTok Ban

The prospect of banning TikTok in the U.S. faces significant legal, technical, and diplomatic challenges. On the legal front, the United States’ commitment to free speech makes outright banning a nuanced issue. A ban could only be legally justified if there was indisputable evidence of the app’s involvement in harmful activities or illegal operations, posing significant legal hurdles. Technically, enforcing such a ban presents its own set of difficulties. Users often bypass restrictions through VPNs and other means, making it hard to fully enforce a ban.

Economically, the repercussions could be significant for businesses and influencers who rely on TikTok as a source of income, potentially disrupting the digital marketing landscape and influencer economy. Diplomatically, a ban could escalate tensions between the U.S. and China, potentially impacting trade and political relations. Public opinion on the issue is divided, reflecting the complexity of the situation. Recent data from the Pew Research Center indicates a decline in support for a ban, with only 38% of U.S. adults in favor, down from 50% in March 2023. Opposition is notably strong among younger demographics and active TikTok users, highlighting the varied perspectives on the platform’s role in American society and the wider implications of a potential ban.

“38% of U.S. adults are in favor of a TikTok ban here in the States.”

Pew Research Center

TikTok’s Future for Small Businesses

The idea of banning TikTok presents numerous challenges, not least of which is the practicality of enforcement. Such an action would require a significant effort across various sectors and could drag on indefinitely due to legal complexities. More importantly, we must consider the impact on user behavior. Many people have integrated TikTok so deeply into their daily routines that they might seek alternative, potentially unsafe methods to access it, indicating its undeniable role in our digital lives.

Beyond entertainment, TikTok has proven itself as an invaluable educational and marketing tool. From learning new career skills to selling products on social, its benefits are bountiful. For many small businesses, TikTok isn’t just a platform. It’s a main revenue stream. (That’s true for so many of our clients here at TTG!) Dismissing TikTok’s value could jeopardize the livelihood of countless entrepreneurs who have built their businesses on its reach and influence.

“For many small businesses, TikTok isn’t just a platform. It’s a main revenue stream. Dismissing its value could jeopardize the livelihood of countless entrepreneurs who have built their businesses on its reach and influence.”

– Jennifer Shaheen, Founder and CEO, Technology Therapy® Group

The Importance of a Balanced Perspective

Here at TTG, we understand the concerns surrounding TikTok, particularly regarding data security. However, our team firmly believes in the power and necessity of TikTok for the small business community. Rather than pushing for a ban, we should focus on addressing these concerns through careful regulation and platform updates. This approach ensures we protect users’ privacy and mental health while keeping the digital marketing space vibrant and accessible for businesses that thrive on TikTok.

TikTok suggests two effective ways to enhance your business account’s security while using the platform for your marketing. First, implement 2-step verification for your business account. Second, use strong passwords and regularly change them.

As we continue to debate TikTok’s future, let’s prioritize solutions that protect both users and the entrepreneurial spirit that the platform has fostered among small biz owners. The goal is to ensure a safe yet flourishing digital marketplace for both consumers and entrepreneurs.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.

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