IN MAY BYTEDANCE, the world’s most valuable startup, leapt further ahead of other technology “unicorns”. It was valued at $140bn on the secondary market, up by nearly half from a funding round in the spring. The reason? TikTok, a short-video app that has been downloaded 2bn times. The “last sunny corner” of the internet, as it is known thanks to jolly user-generated content, is China’s first worldwide internet sensation. For ByteDance’s 37-year-old founder, Zhang Yiming, it is part of an ambition to build a global software giant.
Now that ambition is in jeopardy. On June 29th India banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps, after deadly clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Himalayas. The same month ByteDance’s American lawyers told it that President Donald Trump’s administration has concerns over TikTok’s Chinese ownership. America is now threatening to ban the app altogether.
Official unease about TikTok has risen with its popularity. It has an estimated 70m American users, in the same league as Snapchat. In the first quarter it was downloaded 315m times globally, more than any app ever in three months, according to Sensor Tower, a research firm (see chart 1). In America and Britain it rivals YouTube for user attention—and not just among teenagers, who first took to it. “TikTok is a place for everyone now...
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