On March 23, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before Congress to answer lawmakers' questions surrounding the popular social media app's connections to China and the potential risks of collected data being provided to the CCP. While some observers categorized the hearing as little more than individual representatives airing their personal grievances with TikTok, the impact and importance of the app in the United States can hardly be understated.
As a report from DataReportal shows, the U.S. had the biggest adult addressable ad audience out of all the countries analyzed, with advertising reaching around 113 million users aged 18 or older at the end of 2022. Looking at the ad audience numbers by region, Southeast Asia comes out on top with 272 million users, 200 million of which were reached in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines alone. Important to note: These numbers only give perspective on the impact of the app. They do not represent all registered accounts since TikTok can be used by anyone older than 13, and the ad audience aged 18 and older may be smaller than the total number of adults on the service.
Interestingly, many of the world's biggest economies are not included in the top 8, although the absences of China and India in particular are easily explained. China has a domestic version of the app called Douyin, which means Chinese residents are less likely to install the international variant of the app. The latter put out a ban on a slew of Chinese apps in the summer of 2020, including TikTok, to curb the alleged influence of the People's Republic amid rising geopolitical tensions.
When it comes to the opinion of some European and U.S. legislators, India won't be the only country with a blanket ban on the Chinese social media app in the future. The United States has already banned the app's usage on work devices in some states and for many federal government workers, threatening a wholesale ban if TikTok isn't split off from parent company ByteDance and rebuilt as a U.S.-based social media provider.
This would most likely not change its modus operandi, only who has access to the data of its users. Big tech companies like Meta or Alphabet operate on the same business model as the much-maligned TikTok, storing large quantities of sensitive user data and using it for advertising and other purposes. This is one of the chief reasons for critics of TikTok being under increased scrutiny by lawmakers labeling the recent proceedings as latently sinophobic and one of many symptoms of a new Cold War.