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《经济学人》抖音海外版 TikTok 面临监管挑战

2019 年 11 月 10 日 • 经济学人,商业

本期经济学人杂志【商业】板块这篇关于抖音海外版 TikTok 的标题为《TikTok’s silly clips raise some serious questions》的文章关注的是随着抖音海外版 TikTok 越来越火,美国政客开始以国家安全为由开始找茬。

The Economist, November 9th-15th 2019.

抖音海外版 TikTok 逐渐在国外获得成功,在过去 12 个月中被下载超过 7.5 亿次,超过 Facebook, Instagram 和 WhatsApp 的下载总和。TikTok 在青少年中流行的同时,美国政府也以数据安全为由展开国家安全调查,即使 TikTok 的母公司字节跳动表明不会把任何用户数据发送到中国。

不同于 Facebook 等西方社交媒体通过用户在网络上的社交活动来推荐内容,TikTok 依靠算法观察用户浏览过的内容来决定下一个播放的视频。TikTok 成功的部分原因要归功于持续地在 Facebook 等竞争对手的服务上打广告,据估计 2018 年的广告费达到了 10 亿美元。但许多用户在下载 TikTok 后很快就对平台上无休止的数字兴奋 (digital sugar-rush) 感到厌倦。

文章最后认为无论 TikTok 在美国发展的速度快一点或慢一点都无法避免美国政客的阻挠。

TikTok’s silly clips raise some serious questions

TikTok time-bomb

TikTok’s silly clips raise some serious questions

About geopolitics of data, internet incumbents and the perils of online information

Print edition | Business
Nov 7th 2019 | SAN FRANCISCO

IF THIS ARTICLE were a TikTok video, it would already be almost over—and you would be smiling. TikTok’s 15-second clips are all the rage among teenage netizens. The app was downloaded more than 750m times in the past 12 months, more than Facebook plus its sister services, Instagram and WhatsApp, combined. Fun aside, TikTok raises serious questions—about data geopolitics, the power of internet incumbents and who sees what online.

TikTok is YouTube on steroids. It bombards users with self-repeating clips. It forms a genre of quick-hit entertainment: a prank, a dare, a teenager looking pretty. Most are produced by adolescents, with easy-to-use editing tools. The app makes money from adverts and commissions on digital tips. It may one day generate revenue from e-commerce, like its Chinese sister app, Douyin. Both are owned by ByteDance, a Beijing firm valued at $75bn, more than any other private startup.

The China connection has Washington in a tizzy. On November 1st it emerged that America’s government has opened a national-security review of ByteDance’s takeover in 2017 of Musical.ly, an app developed in China, which later became TikTok. On November 5th congressmen lambasted ByteDance for not showing up to a hearing.

Hawks argue that TikTok gives the government in Beijing access to data on millions of Americans and that it censors content the regime does not like. If America’s sanctions on Huawei, a maker of telecoms gear, are about disentangling electronics supply chains, its assault on ByteDance is an attempt to keep the data flows of America and China separate. ByteDance rejects these accusations, saying that non-Chinese user data sit on non-Chinese servers, and that decisions about what not to show American users are made in America.

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.

Slowing growth may not stop politicians from hobbling the app. They could decide to bar it from America altogether. For once, Mr Zuckerberg would be cheering them on.■

This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline"TikTok time-bomb"

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