Is ByteDance’s new Free TikTok app for kids a lifeline for embattled tech industry or a risky new frontier for internet security?
Xiaowei Sun, editor in chief of Tech Republic, is optimistic. “I think if the first thing that’s come out here is technically and aesthetically and in many ways pretty similar to Kik, Messenger and WhatsApp, I think people will be less concerned about other aspects of the service,” he said.
In December, ByteDance — the Beijing-based app maker and online video platform that already has over 270 million users — launched TikTok, a free video app aimed at kids and teenagers. It boasts more than 80 million users in China, and is now available in over 200 countries and regions. It’s too young to generate advertising revenue yet — a “price at which the best users will choose to join,” Sun argued.
“Only when it’s at scale can ByteDance ultimately compete with Apple and Facebook. At this point, it’s like trying to climb Mount Everest without a proper body suit. But what’s really exciting is that they’re putting very young users into this platform and seeing what happens from there,” Sun said.
At the same time, the launch of an untrusted, ad-supported market appears to pose a serious security risk for kids. But Sun said that customers — which include the government and domestic technology firms — need to be patient and educated. “As with anything in life, the better students will make the best decisions. So I think, it’s going to take some time for that to happen.”
Still, ByteDance — which went public in 2015, and was valued at $35 billion in 2018 — faces competition from numerous other players offering similar video features, including WeChat’s Mini Programs, which was launched in late 2017.
But if ByteDance’s goal is to address the global market, it won’t have it easy. In December, Disney sued ByteDance over its new TikTok video app.