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TikTok says Facebook’s attacks are ‘disguised as patriotism’

TikTok's CEO Kevin Mayer
TikTok’s CEO Kevin Mayer pushed back against rival Facebook on Wednesday, saying that TikTok brings more competition to the advertising marketplace. Facebook is rolling out a competing feature called Reels on Instagram in the U.S. next month. Mayer, a former Disney executive, is shown at Disney’s D23 EXPO 2019 in Anaheim.
(Jesse Grant / Getty Images)

TikTok Chief Executive Kevin Mayer on Wednesday defended his company’s practices as it faces increasing pressure from the U.S. government, competitors and its creators over the app’s ties to China.

The popular streaming app, owned by China-based tech company ByteDance, has been used by many Hollywood celebrities and musical artists to promote their songs and engage with fans. But its ties to China have caused TikTok’s data practices to come under scrutiny and competitors have sought to use that to their advantage in attempting to poach TikTok’s popular video creators to their platforms.

TikTok, a popular based social video app owned by China-based ByteDance, has seen explosive growth this year amid the coronavirus crisis. The company has plans to hire more people, including at its Culver City office.

On Wednesday, Mayer said the company, which has an expanding presence in Southern California, plans to increase its $200-million creator fund in the U.S. to $1 billion over the next three years.

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The former Walt Disney Co. executive also called on all companies to disclose their algorithms, moderation policies and data flows to regulators. TikTok is opening a transparency center in Culver City where outside experts can monitor its practices.

“The entire industry has received scrutiny, and rightly so,” Mayer said in a statement posted on TikTok’s website. “Yet, we have received even more scrutiny due to the company’s Chinese origins. We accept this and embrace the challenge of giving peace of mind through greater transparency and accountability. We believe it is essential to show users, advertisers, creators, and regulators that we are responsible and committed members of the American community that follows U.S. laws.”

The company has said that it has not and will not give U.S. customer information to the Chinese government.

But some creators have expressed concern about how their data is handled, including Josh Richards with more than 20 million TikTok followers. He and three other popular creators on Tuesday announced they will leave TikTok for L.A.-based music video app Triller. Richards also has a financial interest in the move: He took on a new executive role at Triller and became an investor in the company.

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Meanwhile, other creators are looking to grow their audiences on Instagram, which will launch a new feature called Reels next month in the U.S. Mayer called Reels a “copycat product” to TikTok, and said his company welcomes the competition.

“But let’s focus our energies on fair and open competition in service of our consumers, rather than maligning attacks by our competitor — namely Facebook — disguised as patriotism and designed to put an end to our very presence in the U.S.,” Mayer said.

“Without TikTok, American advertisers would again be left with few choices,” he added. “Competition would dry up and so too will an outlet for America’s creative energy.”

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, along with executives from other major tech companies, were scheduled to speak at a congressional antitrust hearing Wednesday morning. In his prepared remarks, Zuckerberg touted Facebook as “a proudly American company.”

“We believe in values — democracy, competition, inclusion and free expression — that the American economy was built on,” Zuckerberg said. “Many other tech companies share these values, but there’s no guarantee our values will win out. For example, China is building its own version of the internet focused on very different ideas, and they are exporting their vision to other countries.”

Some legislators have called for more scrutiny on large tech companies, saying they have grown too big and powerful for other businesses to compete.

Zuckerberg in his remarks said he believes it’s important for Congress and stakeholders to “maintain the core values of openness and fairness that have made America’s digital economy a force for empowerment and opportunity here and around the world.”

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Some analysts believe that TikTok has been caught in the trade war between the U.S. and China. Some Trump administration officials said they are considering banning the app, suggesting that TikTok has become a pawn in a political war between the countries, analysts said.

TikTok has had explosive growth and was the most downloaded app globally as of last week, according to San Francisco mobile research firm Sensor Tower. Its popularity has soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people look for ways to entertain themselves at home.

In his statement, Mayer said that “TikTok has become the latest target but we are not the enemy.” He said the company is willing to take all the steps to ensure its long-term availability and success.

“For our skeptics, I am confident we have the answers and where we do not, we will improve,” Mayer said. “The onus is on us to step up. We are doing so, and will continue to take the bold steps needed. I accept and appreciate the challenge.”


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