Controversial video app TikTok is poised to reach more than 8.5million users in the UK this year despite growing fears about the Chinese-owned platform.
The rise in users means the app – which is hugely popular among younger people and embraced by celebrities including Amanda Holden – has reached more than one fifth of social network users in this country.
Details of TikTok’s astonishing growth, just two years after its UK launch, suggests young social media fans are ignoring the political storm surrounding the app.
Finger on the pulse: Critics of the app – including Donald Trump’s administration – argue that the Chinese state could get its hands on user data
Chinese parent ByteDance is racing to avoid a ban in the US. President Donald Trump has set the company a deadline of next Sunday to either find a buyer for its US operation or split it off into a separate firm. Failure to comply would mean TikTok will be banned from the US due to security concerns.
Critics of the app – including the Trump administration – argue that the Chinese state could get its hands on user data because internet companies based there are legally obliged to hand over such information if their government demands it.
TikTok denies it is a security risk and says it would refuse to give user data to the Communist Party if asked. The company has sued the Trump administration over what it calls a ‘heavily politicised’ executive order.
The potential for the Chinese state to access sensitive user data is also causing concern among British officials. A group of Tory MPs has voiced objections to the company and has opposed a plan by TikTok to set up its international headquarters in London.
The Mail on Sunday reported in July that TikTok’s proposal to open a British base had been thrown into doubt by the US threat of a ban.
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has claimed the app poses ‘as much threat as Huawei’ – the Chinese telecoms giant which was barred from operating large parts of the UK’s 5G mobile network in July.
Fans: Amanda Holden and daughter Lexi, 14
He told the MoS last month that it would be a ‘grave mistake’ to allow TikTok to establish a British HQ. But the company is continuing to win more users in the UK despite the growing concerns. The app is on target to reach 8.5million users this year, up from 4.9million in 2019. The number is expected to rise to almost 11million next year.
Rini Mukhopadhyay, eMarketer analyst at Insider Intelligence, which produced the forecasts, said the lockdown had increased the app’s appeal.
‘Kids and teens are spending more time at home which has further propelled TikTok’s popularity,’ she said. ‘Users are flocking to the platform. Its short video format captures and retains the interest of the audience – particularly those aged 18 to 24.’
Bill Fisher, eMarketer senior analyst at Insider Intelligence, said TikTok’s continued UK success depends on the platform ‘steering clear of political interference’.
He said: ‘Though TikTok isn’t facing quite as much hostility as it is in the US, there’s still a rocky road ahead.
‘Though a blanket ban on the app looks unlikely, such negative connotations could negatively impact its image in the UK.’
Trump said on Friday he would not extend the deadline further. American software giant Oracle and a joint bid from Microsoft and US retailer Walmart were the main contenders for a takeover.
However, a deal has been complicated by new Chinese restrictions on technology exports that mean TikTok may now require official approval to sell its algorithm, which is seen as key to the app’s success.