The questions U.S. lawmakers have about TikTok's data privacy practices may prompt businesses to reconsider how their companies operate on the platform.
TikTok has more than 1 billion users, a 45% increase from its 689 million users in 2020, according to Statista. Companies are increasingly joining the popular social media platform to reach new, younger audiences.
"Organizations are turning to popular social media applications like TikTok for advertising purposes," said Demetrice Rogers, adjunct professor in the Tulane University School of Professional Advancement.
Yet TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, has come under fire in Congress for its questionable data collection practices. Despite repeated reassurances during hearings that TikTok does not collect and share U.S. user data with China, leaked audio from TikTok internal meetings revealed that ByteDance's China-based employees regularly accessed U.S. data.
In July, Senate Intelligence Committee members asked Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan to investigate TikTok for letting Chinese employees access U.S. user data. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers on the House Oversight and Energy and Commerce Committees sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew requesting documents and communications demonstrating the relationship between TikTok and ByteDance, as well as their data sharing, access and storage practices.
If it is true that ByteDance is sharing U.S. customer data with the Chinese government, "not only did TikTok misrepresent or provide false testimony about its data management and security practices, but it has placed the safety and privacy of millions of U.S. citizens in jeopardy," the committee wrote.
In light of the data privacy concerns levied at TikTok, experts caution companies should think carefully about their social media strategy before connecting to platforms that could potentially affect data privacy.
Preparing a social media strategy
Before joining a social media platform, Tulane University's Rogers said a company should consider potential privacy issues when advertising on a platform like TikTok and "fully understand the data use policy of TikTok."
"While the organization could prosper by utilizing the platform for advertising, consumers could view the company negatively based on their use of tailored advertisements," he said.
A company's social media use, including social media marketing, should be part of its overall digital innovation and data strategies, according to Dominque Shelton Leipzig, a partner at Mayer Brown and a member of the cybersecurity and data privacy practice. She also serves as the lead for global data innovation and ad tech privacy and data management.
Dominque Shelton Leipzigpartner, member of the cybersecurity and data privacy practice, Mayer Brown
Shelton Leipzig said some questions corporate officers and directors could ask chief marketing officers generally about social media use include, "Are we communicating brand, value and trust?", "Will our efforts demonstrate responsible data stewardship?" and "Have we vetted the types of ads that might appear next to context we post?"
"It is critical for corporate leadership to include digital marketing in their oversight role," she said. "The types of things for corporate leaders to consider when it comes to use of platforms is how the company's digital footprint jibes with its overall reputation for responsible data stewardship and trust."
Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.