Is TikTok in your future? Maybe not and for all the right reasons.

MTP readers will recall my posts three years ago warning of TikTok and the Chinese Communist Party’s national intelligence laws. I was also asked to host a panel for the Music Business Association in 2020 which had pretty stark warnings for our business concerning TikTok including a discussion of the Committee on Foreign Investments in the US (CFIUS). The company was then and to a certain extent still is a massive copyright infringer although the company has entered a number of “blind check” deals with some labels and some publishers. (No per-play accounting, however.)

The uptake by music marketers and frankly artists ignored the connection between the CCP and TikTok as an intelligence gathering resource for China’s Ministry of State Security. In their struggle to gain an audience in the streaming era, artists ignored these connections even when they were directly warned that music was a honeypot for TikTok’s expansion and data gathering. They were driving their fans directly into the arms of the same people who rule China with an iron fist.

I fully expected TikTok to grow massively because it was designed to be as addictive as crack. Why did I think that? Because the Chinese Communist Party prohibited TikTok from operating in China and only permitted their children to have access to a much more restricted version. Kind of like the sociopathic social media oligarchs keep their own children away from social media (as documented by Professor Adam Alter in his excellent book on social media addiction)

While TikTok is trying to buy its way out of copyright trouble, these multimillion dollar deals does put our business in the unfortunate position of being paid to turn a blind eye to TikTok’s worst problem: The CCP’s access to data from the app. Although the music business has long been in the business of driving users to data scraping platforms like Spotify and YouTube, those platforms have not been cutouts for the CCP (that we know of). TikTok has its own privacy problems, especially with the young children in America–the very age that the CCP prohibits from using TikTok in China. But we’re way beyond privacy now.

As Politico recently summarized:

U.S. national security officials [in the Biden Administration] and some lawmakers say TikTok’s operations in the U.S. pose a security risk, arguing the Chinese Communist Party can use the app — and the wide range of data it collects from users — to surveil Americans and various government institutions….Whether Washington orders divestment or a restructuring for TikTok, the move will mark one of the most aggressive actions yet from the federal government to curtail Chinese business interests in the U.S. on the grounds of national security.

If TikTok were determined to be a front for a foreign government (this time the Chinese Communist Party), Americans could be prohibited from working for TikTok and advertisers could be prohibited from doing business with the company under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act 50 U.S.C. § 1701. There are several different lanes that justify that prohibition from espionage to election meddling to compromising Hong Kong, Tibetan, Taiwan or Uyghur human rights.

If a TikTok shutdown is given effect under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, it’s likely that installed versions of the TikTok app would continue to work, but would gradually degrade in user experience as the U.S. installed base could not lawfully be supported.

How likely is TikTok to be shut down? The UK policy group Chatham House hosted a conference last week that strongly suggests this is a real possibility. Note the participation of Lisa Monaco, the Deputy Attorney General of the United States.

Lisa Monaco is a very serious person in a very serious job at the U.S. Department of Justice. Deputy Attorney General is the number two in command of the DOJ, a job that has been held by people like Eric Holder and Jamie Gorelick, both at the pinnacle of Washington elites. She previously was one of President Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor in the Department of Homeland Security. But now she’s got a badge. The fact that Lisa Monaco is focused on TikTok as the cat’s paw of Xi Jinping says that attention must be paid.

As she said in her Chatham House remarks announcing the Disruptive Technologies Strike Force, there is a growing concern that TikTok is a national security threat and is a manifestation of the CCP’s aggression to gain strategic dominance, all through the weaponization of data. “I spoke in my remarks about the perils of Chinese companies being subject to Chinese national-security laws, and American companies, any company doing business in China, for that matter, is subject to China’s national-security law, which requires turning over of data to the State. There is a reason we need to be very concerned. I don’t use TikTok, and I would not advise anybody to do so, because of these concerns.”

I’ll say it again–there’s no time like the present to begin distancing from TikTok. Or you could wait for the invasion of Taiwan and see how you like it then.