More TikTok users in Singapore amid Covid-19 even as concerns mount over security and privacy issues

An estimated 1.04 million new downloads were racked up in Singapore between January and July. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The Covid-19 pandemic has expanded the reach of the Chinese entertainment app TikTok in Singapore even as concerns mount over its security and privacy issues.

According to the mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower, an estimated 1.04 million new downloads were racked up in Singapore during the period between January and July.

The international version of the app, launched in September 2017, has about 3.4 million users here based on total downloads from the Google Play Store and Apple's App Store, a spokesman for Sensor Tower told The Straits Times.

Twitter has about 2.3 million users here while Facebook and Instagram's users in Singapore number 8.7 million and 5.2 million, respectively. This is according to Sensor Tower's data, which dates back to January 2014.

TikTok is most popular among young adults and teenagers, said Dr Crystal Abidin, a senior research fellow in Internet studies at Curtin University who has researched online user behaviour patterns.

But she said this trend has shifted somewhat amid the Covid-19 pandemic, when influencers and brands in search of new audiences have expanded their reach to new platforms.

"This diversified the age range in terms of professional creators who are making money off the platforms," Dr Abidin said. "We also saw a lot of news anchors, traditional entertainment celebrities, politicians and other public figures who used to bandwagon onto Facebook and subsequently Instagram, also migrate onto TikTok during Covid-19."

Dr Abidin said recent updates to the app, such as the release of features like livestreaming and advertising, have brought more sponsored posts and corporate partnerships onto the platform, with its content becoming more professional as a result.

Avid Singapore fans of the app told ST they were drawn by its humorous short-form videos, which typically last anywhere from a few seconds to a minute. Its simplicity also means anyone can become a content creator, they said.

Some of TikTok's most popular content features dancing, lip-syncing and short skits set to audio clips, which are endlessly reproduced, parodied and re-imagined by casual users, influencers and big-time celebrities alike.

Research assistant Nikki Chin, 25, said she uses TikTok daily and can spend hours on it. She spends more time on TikTok than all other social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, combined. "I use TikTok to just laugh and unwind. Also, I'm really into memes and I feel TikTok is filled with them."

Ms Chin added that she has heard about the concerns surrounding the app but is unfazed as she is mainly a viewer and does not produce any videos.

Mr Nicholas Tan, an analyst with a technology firm, said the app's main appeal for him is seeing how users adapt a joke to many different contexts and make it uniquely theirs.

"I like watching point-of-view TikToks where an individual can mimic a character we all know very well, like a school principal, and it becomes hilarious because it is so relatable," said the 25-year-old, who uses the app for about an hour a day.

Mr Tan said he would continue to use TikTok. "The content is hilarious and I'm sure ByteDance (TikTok's parent company) is doing something to address these rumours and concerns, and perhaps change the way data is being collected," he said.

Some other users, however, have ditched the platform as they are wary of the app's security flaws and the amount of data it collects.

Advertising executive Benjamin See, 27, who used to spend an hour putting together 15-second videos on the app, said: "I deleted it about a month ago."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2020, with the headline More TikTok users in Singapore amid Covid-19 even as concerns mount over security and privacy issues. Subscribe