Featured Article : TikTok Termination?

A recent US congressional vote means that TikTok and its parent company’s alleged ties with the Chinese Communist Party must be severed within six months or the popular TikTok app must be sold, thereby banning it in the US.

The Vote  

The unanimous Energy and Commerce Committee vote (50-0) in favour of forcing TikTok’s parent company ByteDance to divest itself or sell the app could see 170 million American users no longer able to use TikTok. There is now a wait to see whether the US Senate approves the measure before it becomes law. The stated purpose of the bill (as it stands) is to “protect the national security of the United States from the threat posed by foreign adversary controlled applications.” 

Chinese Links 

The worries that ByteDance’s links to the Chinese state make TikTok’s usage in the US a threat to national security date back to the Trump presidency. Back in 2020, (then) President Donald Trump tried to ban the app but was blocked by the courts. It was part of a wider trade and political war with China which is still carrying on. Other apps with links to China banned by Trump in 2021, for example, included the Ant Group’s Alipay mobile payment app, QQ Wallet, WeChat Pay, CamScanner, SHAREit, Tencent QQ, VMate (published by Alibaba Group subsidiary UCWeb), and Beijing Kingsoft Office Software’s WPS Office.

Bans In Many Countries 

The ban on TikTok was extended to number of other institutions and countries including:

– The European Commission, the UK government (and the BBC), the US government banned the TikTok app from staff devices, to protect sensitive personal data, increase cybersecurity, protect against misinformation, and to protect national security.

– In June 2020, India banned TikTok and around 300 other Chinese apps from government devices.

– In 2023, the TikTok app was banned from government devices in Australia and Canada.

– Other countries with a government device TikTok ban also include Taiwan, Ireland, Denmark, and Belgium.

Many may also remember how, in March last year, the CEO of TikTok, Shou Chew, had to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the US to discuss concerns about TikTok’s consumer privacy, data security practices, its impact on children, and the app’s alleged links to China.

This Time 

This time, however, rather than facing just a government device ban, TikTok is facing a whole country ban. Worse than that, it’s the country with TikTok’s largest audience, with estimates ranging around 113.3 million to 116.5 million users.

The stark choice facing ByteDance is to now either sell the TikTok app within 6 months (thereby severing alleged links with the Chinese state) or face removal from mobile app stores in the US, effectively wiping out its biggest audience, threatening the app itself.

What Would A Ban Mean? 

Looking at the broader picture, Banning TikTok in the US completely could have a significant impact on several fronts, given the app’s massive user base and economic influence in the country. Some of the potential effects could include :

– Massive user impact (businesses and home users). With millions of active users in the US, a ban would abruptly cut off access for a large community of creators and viewers. It would affect the way people consume and create short-form video content, potentially shifting these users to alternative platforms.

– A blow to the creator economy. Many US-based content creators rely on TikTok for income through brand partnerships, sponsored content, and the app’s creator fund. A ban could disrupt this economy, affecting the livelihood of thousands of influencers and content creators.

– A significant effect on market competition and innovation. For example, TikTok’s absence could create a vacuum in the social media landscape, encouraging competitors like Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, and Snapchat to fill the gap. This could lead to innovations within these platforms as they vie for the TikTok audience.

– Trouble for advertisers (brands). Brands that leverage TikTok for marketing and customer engagement would need to pivot their strategies to other channels. This could reshape digital marketing trends and impact the effectiveness of social media campaigns.

– More regulations. Heightened awareness and concerns over data privacy and security issues related to social media, could lead to more stringent regulations and policies affecting all platforms, not just TikTok.

– Effects on international relations. Given the geopolitical tensions underlying concerns about TikTok’s Chinese ownership, a ban could have diplomatic repercussions, influencing US-China relations (making them even worse) and possibly affecting American companies operating in China. Some commentators have already suggested we are witnessing a kind of ‘cold war’ with China now anyway, with the US restricting things like microchips and other components in a bid to perhaps stifle the growth of what it sees as a more powerful and growing economy.

– Legal and political ramifications. Implementing a ban would likely involve legal challenges and a complex regulatory process. It could set a precedent for how the U.S. government addresses concerns about foreign-owned technology companies in the future.

All in all, therefore, the impact of a TikTok ban in the US would extend well beyond the app itself, affecting the social media ecosystem, the digital economy, and even international relations. However, the specific outcomes would depend on a variety of factors, including how such a ban is implemented and the response from users, creators, businesses, and other stakeholders.

User Revolt Reported In The US 

Not surprisingly, there have been reports in the US of congressmen being inundated with calls from TikTok users objecting to a ban. It’s also been reported that TikTok encouraged its users to call their representative to vote against the measure.

Criticisms 

The vote and proposed ban have led to other criticisms, including that from The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which pointed to the app’s value to many Americans for information and communication, and describing the ban as a “cheap” political point scoring measure in an election year.

What Does TikTok Say? 

TikTok has said (on the ‘X’ platform) that it amounts to “an outright ban” and that “This legislation will trample the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans and deprive 5 million small businesses of a platform they rely on to grow and create jobs”. 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The potential total ban of TikTok in the US represents a pivotal moment not only for the app’s parent company (ByteDance) but also for a broad spectrum of stakeholders ranging from individual creators to large corporations. For ByteDance, the forced sale or severance of its largest international market could significantly impact its valuation, strategic direction, and global influence.

The loss of the US market (TikTok’s largest) would not only diminish its advertising revenue but could also deter potential investors and partners concerned about the platform’s stability and future growth prospects.

For businesses and creators that rely on TikTok, the ramifications could be profound. The US, for example, is home to a significant creator economy where individuals and businesses leverage TikTok for brand building, audience engagement, and revenue generation. A ban would necessitate a strategic move to alternative platforms, which may not offer the same level of engagement or demographic reach as TikTok. This could disrupt marketing strategies, content distribution plans, and income streams for countless users.

The competition within the social media landscape would most likely intensify in the wake of a TikTok ban. Rivals such as Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, and Snapchat stand to gain the most, absorbing TikTok’s displaced user base – the US may not be too unhappy about US-based company apps taking TikTok’s place. This shift could spark a wave of innovation as platforms vie to capture and retain these new audiences, potentially reshaping the social media ecosystem.

From a broader economic perspective, a TikTok ban could have ripple effects beyond well the tech industry. The platform has become an integral part of digital marketing strategies for many businesses of all sizes. The disruption to these strategies could have downstream effects on sales, customer engagement, and brand loyalty across various sectors.

Also, the ban could bring about stricter regulatory scrutiny over social media platforms, leading to increased compliance costs and operational challenges. This heightened regulatory environment could stifle innovation and deter investment in the tech sector, impacting the wider economy.

The implications of a US-wide TikTok ban could, therefore, extend way beyond the app itself, affecting the livelihoods of creators, the strategies of businesses, the dynamics of social media competition, and the broader digital and national economies. Stakeholders will now, most likely, closely monitor developments and prepare should the worst happen. TikTok has held firm and denied any Chinese state links before. Nevertheless, the US is making a powerful statement with the unanimous vote and bill proposing a possible total ban which reflects the strength of resolve now in the US. It also reflects their willingness to pile-on the pressure in what is also a political battle with what they consider as a major rival.

Tech News : TikTok Trend : AI-Enhanced Profile Photos For LinkedIn Job Seekers

It’s been reported that a TikTok video has started a trend of people using AI to enhance their appearance in their LinkedIn profile photos with a view to improving their chance of getting a job via the platform.

The TikTok Video 

The short TikTok video that’s been attributed to inspiring the trend was posted during the summer and has since been watched more than 50 million times. The video shows the face of a young woman being enhanced by AI and refences the Remini AI photo and video enhancer app.

Remini 

The Remini app, which claims to have 40 million monthly active users, says that it uses “innovative, state-of-the-art AI technology to transform your old photos into HD masterpieces” and that using its app you can “Turn your social media content into professional-grade images that engage your audience”.

By uploading 8 to 10 selfies (from different angles), the app offers generative AI so users can create hyper-realistic photos or alter ego versions of themselves or can enhance “ordinary” photos of themselves. The app lets users enhance the detail, and adjust the colour, face glow, background, and other details to create a more flawless look and improve photos, e.g. for use on social media profiles.

Why? 

With so much competition in the job market for young adults (among whom the AI photo trend is most popular), and with others having access to the same technology, it may seem that enhancing a photo (within reason) to get a competitive edge seems fair to many, particularly if it’s easy and cheap to do (as it can be with AI tools).

Also, research has shown that better profile photos can yield positive results in the labour market. For example, the results of a 2016 research study by Ghent University (Belgium) found that employment candidates with the most favourable Facebook profile picture received around 21 per cent more positive responses to their application than those with the least favourable profile picture, and that their chances of getting an immediate interview invitation differed by almost 40 per cent.

Psychology

In terms of human psychology, it’s known that people tend to form more favourable judgments of individuals who appear more attractive or have a better photographic representation of themselves due to a combination of psychological factors. These include:

– The psychology of first impressions. Grounded in our instinctual ability to quickly gauge and categorise new information, this trait that was historically essential for survival. Seeing an enhanced photo, within seconds, could potentially appeal to this trait and lead to an employer making a more positive judgement about trustworthiness, competence, and likability.

– The ‘Halo Effect,’ which is a cognitive bias that leads us to assume that individuals possessing one positive trait (e.g., physical attractiveness in a photo) must also possess other desirable qualities, even when no evidence supports these assumptions.

– Social Comparison Theory, which suggests that people tend to evaluate themselves by comparing themselves to others. This could mean that when a person’s photo exudes attractiveness, viewers may subconsciously compare themselves and feel admiration or envy, thereby influencing their judgments.

– Our human tendency of ‘confirmation bias’ means that we seek out and interpret information that aligns with our existing beliefs or stereotypes. In other words, if we believe that attractive people are more successful or competent, we may selectively notice and emphasise information in the photo that confirms this belief.

– Theories of ‘Psychological Attraction’ could also mean that a positive and happy looking profile photo could lead to an employer making a more favourable evaluation by associating the positive feelings with the person’s image.

– Other possible psychological influences that could result from an enhanced profile photo could potentially include evolutionary psychology. For instance, we may subconsciously favour those who appear more attractive as potential mates or allies, and cultural or social Influences. For example, cultural and societal norms play a significant role in shaping our perception of beauty, and a profile photo that displays popular beauty ideals could play to the biases of a potential employer looking at a profile photo.

Why Use Apps Like Remini? 

Apps such as Rimini offer many benefits for young adults (or anyone) looking to get a high quality, enhanced photo for a LinkedIn profile photo. For example:

– They’re cheap. Using an AI app (perhaps on a free trial basis) is less expensive than using professional photographic services, plus they don’t require any of the expensive equipment such as lighting, studio hire, etc.

– They’re fast, require minimal effort, and offer a better chance of satisfaction for the user. From just a few selfie uploads, with no need for any photographic knowledge or professional input or equipment, users can get great results in minutes with minimal difficulty.

– They produce high quality, professional looking results.

– They can be used on-demand and offer flexibility. For example, users can virtually try out different styles and looks that could even influence their own real look or could be used as a kind of split testing of response to their profile.

Other Apps Also Available 

It’s worth pointing out that Remini is not the only such AI photo/video enhancing app available. For example, others include Snapseed, iMyFone UltraRepair, VSCO, Pho.To, PicsArt, Photo Wonder, Pixlr, and many more.

Challenges

Obviously, choosing to present a photo that is not a true representation of yourself with the intention of using it to get a job could have its challenges. For example:

– LinkedIn and similar platforms are professional networks where credibility is essential. If you meet someone in person or on a video call and they realise you don’t look like your profile photo, it can set a negative first impression. They might question your authenticity in other areas if you’re willing to misrepresent your appearance.

– Integrity is paramount in professional settings and presenting picture that doesn’t genuinely represent you might be seen as a breach of trust or even deceptive. This perception could, of course, impact your relationships with potential employers, colleagues, or clients.

– Relying on an AI-enhanced image can also have psychological implications. It may suggest that you’re not confident in presenting your true self, which could translate to lower self-esteem or self-worth over time.

– Employers / employment agencies are likely to be more interested in experience and qualifications rather than appearance and also may be wise to the fact that candidates may be using AI-enhanced photos.

– AI-enhanced images, especially those overly refined, can sometimes be clearly identified as modified which could lead people to think you’re hiding something or are overly focused on superficial aspects.

– There could be cultural and ethical implications. For example, in some cultures or industries, authenticity and honesty are valued above all else. Misrepresenting yourself, even in something as seemingly trivial as a profile photo, could be deemed as unethical or unprofessional.

– While the intention behind using an enhanced photo might be to increase job opportunities, it might actually have the opposite effect. If employers or recruiters sense any deceit, they might choose not to engage with you.

– Using AI-enhancement tools, especially those online, could pose a risk to your privacy. There’s always a chance your photos might be used without your consent or knowledge.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Appearances are, of course, important in first impressions, in professional environments, and where there are certain expected or required appearance and dress codes to adhere to. Also, wanting a professional-looking photo that you can be happy with, that you think shows the best aspects of yourself as a candidate is understandable, as is thinking that it may help you overcome some known biases.

Having a low price/free way to obtain professional photos quickly is also an attractive aspect of these kinds of AI apps. However, a balance is needed to ensure that the photo is not too enhanced or too unlike what a potential employer may reasonably expect to see in front of them should they choose to invite you to interview. An overly enhanced photo could, therefore, prove to be counterproductive.

It should be understood, however, that for most employers and agencies, experience, qualifications, and suitability for the role are far more important than a photo in making fair and objective recruitment decisions. It’s also worth noting that even if a photo did contribute to getting an interview, the face-to-face, in-person interview is a challenge that AI can’t yet help with (yet). That said, many corporate employers are turning to AI to filter job applications, and young people may feel that with this and with other competing applicants potentially using AI to get an edge, so why shouldn’t they?

This story also highlights the challenges that businesses now face from generative AI being widely available, e.g. being used to write applications, emails, and more, as well as risks to security with deepfake based scams. Just as generative AI has helped businesses with productivity, it also presents them with a new set of threats and challenges, and may require them to use AI image-spotting tools as a means of filtering and protection in many aspects of the business, including recruiting, and may highlight why and when, even in a digital world, face-to-face meetings continue to be important in certain situations.

Tech News : €345m Children’s Data Privacy Fine For TikTok

Video-focused social media platform TikTok has been fined €345m by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) over the privacy of child users.

The Processing of Personal Data 

The fine, as well as a reprimand (and an order requiring them to bring its data processing into compliance within three months) were issued in relation to how the company processed personal data relating to child users in terms of:

– Some of the TikTok platform settings, such as public-by-default settings as well as the settings associated with the ‘Family Pairing’ feature.

– Age verification in the registration process.

During its investigation into TikTok, The DPC also looked at transparency information for children. The DPC’s investigation focused on the period from 31 July 2020 and 31 December 2020.

Explained 

Explained in basic terms, TikTok was fined because (according to the DPC’s findings) :

– The profile settings for child users accounts being set to public-by-default meant that anyone (on or off TikTok) could view the content posted by the child user. The DPC said this also posed risks to children under 13 who had gained access TikTok.

– The ‘Family Pairing’ setting allowed a non-child user (who couldn’t be verified as the parent or guardian) to pair their account to the child user’s account. The DPC says this enabled non-child users to enable Direct Messages for child users over 16, thereby posing a risk to child users.

– Child users hadn’t been provided with sufficient information transparency.

– The DPC said that TikTok had implemented “dark patterns” by “nudging users towards choosing more privacy-intrusive options during the registration process, and when posting videos.” 

TikTok Says…

TikTok has been reported as saying that it disagrees with the findings and the level of the fine. TikTok also said: “The criticisms are focused on features and settings that were in place three years ago, and that we made changes to well before the investigation even began, such as setting all under 16 accounts to private by default”.

Fines

This isn’t the first fine for TikTok in relation to this subject. For example, in July 2020, the company was fined $5.7 million by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for collecting data from minors without parental consent. Also, in April this year, TikTok was fined £12.7m by the ICO for allowing children under 13 to use the platform (in 2020).

The level of TikTok’s most recent fine, however, is not as much as the £1bn fine issued to Meta in May for mishandling people’s data in transfer between Europe and the US.

Banned In Many Countries

In addition to fines in the some of the countries where the TikTok app is allowed, for a mixture of reasons including worries about data privacy for young users, possible links to the Chinese state, incompatibility with some religious laws and some political situation(s) have resulted in TikTok being banned in Somalia, Norway, New Zealand, The Netherlands, India, Denmark, Canada, Belgium, Australia, and Afghanistan.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Back in 2020, TikTok was experiencing massive growth as the most downloaded app in the world. It was also the year when former U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order aiming to ban TikTok in the United States, plus the year when the platform picked up its first big fine ($5.7 million) from the FTC (in the US) over collecting data from minors without parental consent.

As pointed out by TikTok, this latest, much larger European fine dates back to issues from around the same time, which TikTok argues it had already addressed before the DPC’s investigation began. This story highlights how important it is to create a safe environment in this digital society for children and young people who are frequent users of the web and particularly social media platforms. This story also highlights how important it is for businesses to pay particular attention to data regulations relating to children and young users and to review systems and processes with this mind to ensure maximum efforts are made maintain privacy and safety.

Furthermore, it is also an example of the importance of having regulators with ‘teeth’ that can impose substantial fines and generate bad publicity for non-compliance which can help provide the motivation for the big tech companies to take privacy matters more seriously. TikTok’s worries, however, aren’t just related to data privacy issues. Ongoing frosty political relations between China and the west mean that its relationship with the Chinese government is still in question and this, together with the bans of the app in many countries means it remains under scrutiny, perhaps more than other (US based) social media platforms.