The decision to ban TikTok from all UK Government devices may not exactly be a bolt from the blue – it joins officials in the European Commission, US Congress, Canada and Belgium in outlawing the app – but it does create a serious headache for marketers over whether they should be investing so heavily in the platform.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, TikTok owner ByteDance has said it is “disappointed with this decision”, adding that the bans have been based on “fundamental misconceptions and driven by wider geopolitics, in which TikTok, and our millions of users in the UK, play no part”.
But the issue has been further compounded by a cross-party group of MPs and peers calling on the Information Commissioner’s Office to investigate whether the Chinese-owned company’s handling of personal information is in breach of UK GDPR.
The letter from the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) believes TikTok could ultimately be forced to shut operations in the UK if it cannot find a way of complying, amid escalating concerns over the security of the data of its millions of users.
However, the ICO first started investigating TikTok way back in 2019 and in September last year warned the company that it faces a £27m fine after finding that it “may have” breached UK data protection law by failing to protect children’s privacy when using the platform.
But since publishing this “notice of intent” it has been all quiet on the western front and the ICO has not commented publicly on whether the action is still ongoing.
Ironically, the fresh controversy coincides with a new WARC Media report which predicts TikTok will reach $15.2bn in global advertising revenue in 2023, with all product categories to increase their advertising investment.
Each of the top five spending categories – technology & electronics ($2bn), toiletries & cosmetics ($1.8bn), retail ($1.7bn), clothing & accessories ($1.7bn) and telecoms & utilities ($1.5bn) – are forecast to see their combined annual spend on TikTok surpass $8.5bn in 2023.
According to VaynerMedia the top brands buying ads on TikTok in the US in 2023 are Amazon, Booking.com, DoorDash, Peacock, Disney+, Capital One, Uber, Mondelez, Chipotle and Mailchimp, while in the UK the top spending brands are Samsung, Mercedes, KFC, P&G, Under Armour, EE, Hilton, Uber and The North Face.
Thomas Walters, Europe CEO and co-founder of influencer agency Billion Dollar Boy, reckons the UK Government ban could have a ripple effect for consumers and brands as unease over the platform’s future grows, which could significantly shake up the social media landscape in the UK.
He added: “TikTok is one of the most popular platforms in the country, with approximately 9 million users in the UK. It’s a hub for creativity, with its spontaneous, raw, low production, unfiltered content formats enabling consumers and brands to express themselves. Its algorithm is also effective in promoting the most popular content, regardless of follower size, making it easier for creators and brands to spark cultural moments and drive engagement.
“The concern is that this ban could spook some consumers and brands, reducing the amount of time and investment they put into the platform. That presents a challenge for brands and content creators who have amassed large followings on TikTok, and whose content doesn’t translate across to other platforms perfectly.”
Even so, marketers rarely seem concerned with such matters – Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal proved that – and TikTok’s phenomenal growth has not been stifled by numerous data protection investigations on both sides of the Atlantic.
And, Nigel Jones, co-founder of The Privacy Compliance Hub, reckons brands will simply continue to ignore the issue. He said: “The lack of meaningful regulation from privacy regulators of much of the online advertising sector has encouraged marketers to avert their gaze.”
If TikTok continues to bring in the audiences, it seems unlikely marketers will end up killing the goose that lays the golden eggs – at least until something better comes along.
ICO takes cautious approach as TikTok faces £27m fine
TikTok rocked by fresh claims of 18 violations of GDPR
‘Super-regulator’ puts TikTok, AI and adtech on notice
TikTok in the dock again as privacy complaints mount
Government balks at TikTok plans to build British HQ
TikTok whacked again over abuse of kids’ personal data
Clock ticking on TikTok as EU probes data compliance