TikTok time-bomb | The Economist (07/09/2019)
For his part, Mark Zuckerberg is less worried about data sovereignty and more about competition from TikTok, China’s first runaway web success in America. Facebook is pulling out the big guns it deploys against fast-growing upstarts. In late 2018 it launched Lasso, a TikTok clone. An independent developer recently unearthed a feature hidden in Instagram’s code that apes TikTok’s editing tools. It is cold comfort to Mr Zuckerberg that should his defences fail, Big Tech’s critics will have to concede that digital monopolies are not that invincible after all.
Critics of artificial intelligence are also watching the Chinese app closely. What users see on Facebook and other Western social media is in part still down to who their friends are and what they share. TikTok’s main feed, called “For You”, is determined by algorithm alone: it watches how users behave in the app and uses the information to decide what to play next. Such systems create the ultimate filter bubble.
All these worries would be allayed if TikTok turns out to be a passing fad. In a way, the app is only riding on other social networks. It relies on people’s Facebook or Twitter accounts for many sign-ins. TikTok owes part of its success to relentless advertising on rival services. According to some estimates, it spent perhaps $1bn on social-media ads in 2018. At the same time, many who download TikTok quickly tire of its endless digital sugar-rush.