The latest threat of TikTok bans have caused marketers to raise an eyebrow

In the past week alone, three western governments (the US, the EU and Canada) have ordered the app removed from government devices. While some, like the UK, have said they will not follow suit, the overall message is clear: more lawmakers around the world are taking bold steps to ban TikTok over vaguely articulated concerns about the threat of future data breaches to restrict the United States.

“We appreciate that some governments have wisely chosen not to implement such bans given the lack of evidence that there is such a need, but it is disappointing to see other government agencies and institutions adopting TikTok on employee devices.” prohibit without deliberation or evidence. ‘ said a TikTok spokesman for comment.

Of course, the data breaches in question stem from fears that the platform’s parent company, ByteDance, could share TikTok user data with China’s authoritarian government, posing a national security risk.

The TikTok spokesman went on to say that the bans were based on “fundamental misinformation” and that he was willing to meet with officials to clear the air. “We share a common goal with governments concerned about user privacy, but these bans are misguided and do nothing to improve privacy or security,” the spokesman said.

Despite these assurances from TikTok, there have been significant ones Government pushback in a very shortened period of time. No wonder this has raised eyebrows in marketing circles.

Marketers tend to keep their TikTok spending as the channel is particularly appealing to Gen Z users who wholeheartedly embraced the app as their main place to share, connect and build online communities. So much so that agencies have shifted strategies to become TikTok-first, while news publishers have formed specialist teams to tap into audiences.

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Hannah Petts, social media director at Dewynters, said her agency is already exploring more deserving media options to reach Gen Z and believes others are likely to do the same given the recent wave of bans. The rationale of the strategy of reaching people via earned media or organic content is rooted in the ability to be less reliant on advertising, which could mean data is shared with the app.

In fact, it’s fair to say that TikTok’s current hot spot has breathed new life into concerns that have been brewing for some time.

For example, some New Engen clients are still refusing to implement TikTok’s tracking pixel over security concerns, said Kevin Goodwin, VP Performance Marketing at the agency, without naming names. And that was a tactic they’ve continued to use since the last time Digiday spoke to the team last October in order to feel reasonably comfortable on the platform.

Despite these concerns, advertisers are unlikely to invoke their own ban on TikTok. That would be unthinkable in the current climate as there is no clear evidence that the app poses a privacy issue. However, there is evidence that the app is one of the most important ways marketers can reach many younger people at once. That’s a big deal to give up in any context – let alone one based on the risk of data breaches in the future, not now.

“Marketers remain unfazed as this isn’t their first encounter with a social media platform that raises privacy concerns, and they know that will eventually settle down,” said Rob Jewell, chief growth officer at Power Digital.

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And he’s right. Remember Facebook and Cambridge Analytica? This was probably one of the earliest examples of a privacy and advertising hotspot – yet the social network managed to escape fairly unscathed. In fact, until relatively recently, the advertising business was going from strength to strength.

“The lack of meaningful regulation by privacy regulators for much of the online advertising sector has encouraged advertisers to avert their eyes,” said Nigel Jones, co-founder of The Privacy Hub’s Experience.

For now, it’s a matter of wait and see for many marketers. And they’ve been doing it for some time — actually before the Biden administration.

Since former President Donald Trump tried to crack down on the app in 2020, the social platform has been at the center of a series of controversial headlines over concerns about national security risks.

Of course, TikTok has always maintained that the platform poses no risk.

In 2020, Project Texas was created to appease US officials about handling Americans’ data, with the view that Oracle Cloud would host TikTok in the US. By June 2022, TikTok announced that it had stopped all US user traffic being forwarded to Oracle – with the sub-clause that the platform had long stored US user data in its own data base in the US and Singapore and continued to use these centers “for backups.” ” be used.

TikTok also opened a physical transparency and accountability center as an open forum for interested parties to learn how the company’s app and associated algorithms work.

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And in light of that recent nationwide threat of a ban, TikTok tweeted that it is “disappointed that this rushed law is moving forward” because it believes a US ban on the app will have “adverse effects on the free speech rights of millions of Americans” who use the platform.

But as Anna Otieno, Head of Research, Strategy & Insights at New Engen, noted, with these growing security concerns, TikTok needs to do more to be transparent.

But it seems until either some meaningful regulation enforcing behaviors comes into play or Gen Z flocks to another trending social platform, marketers will continue to look the other way. And those security concerns approaching TikTok will continue to burn very slowly.


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