TikTok owner’s billions and what it means for Singapore and the region: All you need to know in byte-size portions

Thanks to Kon Karampelas and Sven Scheuermeier for sharing their work on Unsplash.

This includes the real reason why TikTok is targeted by US President Trump

Chinese tech unicorn, ByteDance, says it “plans to invest billions of dollars and recruit hundreds of employees in Singapore,” according to a Reuters report on Friday. The announcement comes as the company finds itself enmeshed in the Sino-US trade war on two fronts:

1. US authorities is forcing it to sell its US operations, as the company behind the hugely popular TikTok app has been singled out as a likely national security threat. Data is the keyword here. TikTok’s popularity means that it has gathered a wealth of data on its US consumers. US authorities reportedly worry that the Beijing may use this data to its advantage. ByteDance faces an impending mid-September deadline to sell its US operations – one that it will likely miss. Why? See the next point.

2. In the latest twist in the US-China chess-like strategic move, Beijing has countered by putting up restrictions of the valuable data that TikTok has on hand. Potential US buyers such as Oracle and Microsoft want the data that TikTok has. The data is real value here – it is what makes algorithms more targeted and accurate. Buyers want TikTok’s data so that it can leverage the accuracy of its consumer platform.

The real reason why ByteDance is targeted: Trump’s frail ego

Of course, we all know the real reason why US President Trump signed the executive order to force ByteDance to sell its operations. A Bloomberg on the Straits Times reported that ByteDance sued the US government for the forced sale, by citing this:

The company argued that Trump’s ban on the app is motivated by election-year politics and that president harbours ill-will toward the app after users pranked his campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by mass-ordering tickets and not showing up.

What all this means for Singapore?

Singapore is emerging as one major beneficiary in the trade war between China and US, one that has seen Chinese tech companies such as Huawei and ZTE getting targeted. Thus far, the Economic Development Board has managed to woo Zoom here and, now, ByteDance. Although, ByteDance did say that its plans to expand its presence in Southeast Asia, a potential growth region, was one that started back in 2019. ByteDance reportedly has 400 employees in Singapore, and it has job ads for another 200, according to Bloomberg. The company is also pursuing a digital banking license in Singapore.

Here’s a video of corporate life in ByteDance:

Singapore’s economy and Southeast Asia, as a whole, is doing extremely badly with Covid-19, at least if the stock market indices are an indicator. Singapore’s major, government-linked companies are in traditional sectors like finance, shipping and the airlines. Thailand’s economy is tourism-focused. Philppines and Indonesia are still battling Covid-19. The new investments into Singapore could be that bright spark that can lead the region out of the doldrums.

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