AGAINST the backdrop of a global pandemic that has kept millions of people inside with nothing but their phones for company, the short-form video-sharing app TikTok has quietly ascended to the top ranks of tech.
TikTok was the world’s most downloaded app last year and, according to App Annie, a mobile analytics company, in March 2020 alone users spent as much time on it as there has been since the Stone Age: 2.8bn hours, or nearly 320,000 years.
Last month, TikTok became the first app not owned by Facebook to cross the 3bn download mark. For context, there are 5.3bn mobile phone users worldwide.
By now, you’ll almost certainly know the name TikTok, even if you’ve never used it, perhaps through word of mouth from nagging children or grandchildren, or the sheer bombardment of TV adverts over the past year.
Parent company ByteDance turned over $34bn (€29bn) in revenue in 2020, and clearly isn’t shy about spending it to acquire new users. At the Euros this summer, for instance, TikTok’s logo was emblazoned on every advertising hoarding in sight.
The new Facebook
If it all reminds you of the rise of another app more than a decade ago, that’s for good reason. With its 732m monthly active users, TikTok is the app of the moment, and likely the app of the future. It’s the new Facebook.
Facebook’s shadow has loomed large over internet history, from the ubiquitous, quick logins, to prompting us to change our profile picture to show we’ve been vaccinated. It’s wangled a position in the tech firmament that ensures it provides access to everything from dating apps to airlines and takeaway delivery services.
Mark Zuckerberg has spent the past decade pursuing every available option in a bid to keep us using his apps. He’s bought Instagram and WhatsApp, and turned what was a simple app —where you’d post pictures and short missives to friends — into something that tries to serve every interest.
Want to list an old sofa for sale on Facebook? You can do that. Want to host a work meeting? You can. Want to play games? Facebook’s got you.
However, Zuckerberg has recognised the rise of a competitor — and its risk to his power. When people spend longer on TikTok, they spend less time on competitors, including Facebook and Instagram, which has tried to replicate TikTok’s success with Instagram Reels.
TikTok is shaping tech in its image. It may seem easy to dismiss it as a quirky, short-form video-sharing app, but TikTok is an augury of the tech future. Just as Facebook has shaped the internet, the ways we interact, and our approaches and attitudes to personal data for the past two decades, so TikTok has the potential to do the same for the next 20 years.
Its videos were once no more than 60 seconds long. Now they can last up to three minutes. Until February, TikTok was predominately a mobile app. Now you can watch videos through your web browser or even your smart TV. It once had a single video format; then it incorporated live streaming.
It allows you to buy products through the app and to tip your favourite creators. It has even started ripping off other apps’ best features, an art pioneered by Facebook that ByteDance is taking to another level. TikTok Stories was announced this month.
However, the biggest tell that TikTok is the new Facebook is a little-noticed policy shift in May — the release of the TikTok login kit. It permits third-party app developers to allow users to log in to their apps using their TikTok account. In other words, TikTok is set to become a portal to the rest of the internet.
While we can log in to Tinder, Spotify, and hundreds of other apps and websites using our Facebook account, soon we could be able to do the same with TikTok.
Origins in an authoritarian state
However, TikTok’s origins in an authoritarian state leave some concerned about the wider ramifications of its rising influence. For one, the Chinese app’s design and approach to things such as content moderation are a legacy of its early development in the country’s highly controlled digital space.
TikTok makes much of the fact that it removed 91.3% of videos that infringed its community guidelines or terms of service before a user reported them. That’s the result of highly trained computer vision technology in the censorious Chinese digital ecosystem. While it’s hiring a large engineering team outside China, its coding is still largely conducted inside the country.
Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister app, has long offered many features that we can expect to see on TikTok soon: Better live-streaming and the ability to buy products direct from within the app through e-commerce features.
However, there is one feature unlikely to cross over to the West. Douyin’s “positive energy” tab, a feature front and centre in the Chinese app, promotes propaganda to keep the regime onside. Flick sideways in Douyin, rather than down as you would to get more videos, and a more carefully monitored feed of pro-China content appears.
The willingness to accommodate China’s whims at home means the prospect of a TikTok-led tech landscape abroad is one that worries the likes of Neil O’Brien, co-founder of the China Research Group of Tory MPs, along with one-third of Britons and half of Americans.
It seems fearing TikTok is a natural extension of the dramas around Huawei and a worry that we’re replacing Silicon Valley libertarianism with Chinese state control. The reality is more prosaic: this isn’t a tussle that will throw the world on to a new axis, but it has multibillion dollar ramifications for whoever wins the superpower race for social media.
We’ve grown used to, and in some cases have been manipulated by, living in Facebook’s world; now we may be shaped by TikTok.
- Chris Stokel-Walker is the author of ‘TikTok Boom — China’s Dynamite App and the Superpower Race for Social Media’
Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey
Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.
Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.
However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.
On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.
Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal
In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.
In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.
Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws
It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.
Russian social media laws
As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.
Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses
Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.
The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.
With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.
Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.
Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to email@example.com.