Over the course of 2020, TikTok's future has sometimes seemed to be on a knife edge. The Trump administration tried (and failed) to ban the platform, citing concern over data security for TikTok's US users. And the administration is now forcing Chinese parent company Bytedance to sell the short-form video app's US operations.
But TikTok's VP of global business solutions, Blake Chandlee, appears to not be feeling the stress of the saga. Speaking at the Web Summit virtual tech conference, he seemed calm about working toward a solution.
"We're having daily conversations with the administration around the security of that data and making sure people feel comfortable with it, so we'll continue to do that," he said. "The one thing you're going to hear from us over and over again is we want to be the most transparent and accountable property in the space."
A major challenge for TikTok as it's risen in popularity throughout the US, particularly among teens and people in their 20s, has been reassuring authorities that data it holds on US users isn't accessible to the Chinese government. The sale of TikTok's US operations to Walmart and Oracle has been hailed as the solution to assuaging these fears, and ByteDance has been given till Friday to close the deal.
As for Chandlee, he says his concern is for TikTok's users.
"We're obviously going to work with the administration closely to find resolution, which we're really committed to," he said. "But at the end of the day this is really about us fighting for our community, for self-expression and creativity."
TikToks vs. Reels
Chandlee joined TikTok in January 2020 from Facebook, where he worked for over 12 years. During his Web Summit panel he compared TikTok's energy and culture, and the speed at which the company is developing products, to Facebook back in 2007 or 2008. "We're disrupting ourselves every single day," he said.
Chandlee was at Facebook when Facebook-owned Instagram mimicked Snapchat by adding a Stories feature, which has since also launched on Facebook. Now Facebook has taken aim at TikTok by adding its Reels feature to Instagram. Chandlee seemed relaxed about the potential threat Reels poses. "We'll see how that works out," he said. "Google Plus did the same thing to Facebook back in the day. It didn't quite capture the same magic, because they didn't quite understand social."
The fundamental difference between TikTok and Facebook, Chandlee added, is that Facebook and all its products are built out from the social graph, which he says Facebook does better than anyone else in the world. TikTok, meanwhile, is built on a "content graph" or an "interest graph." "How people create and discover content is a little different," he said. "It happens faster and it's not reliant on these circles to grow."
Chandlee said he's as worried about startups likely to become the next big thing as he is about Facebook. "I have enormous respect for Mark and the team there," he said, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "I've spent a decade there and seen how well they can operate, so I wouldn't say we're not worried. But we're in a job and going to focus on our capabilities, our relationships with our influencers, how we're building commercial products that introduce brands into that environment in a really natural and authentic way."