If you’ve been keeping up with news, you may have seen how the government of the United States of America has been trying to ban TikTok across its nation. The reason seemingly being that the app is taking your data and giving it to Chinese officials, thus posing a risk to national security. While this may be alarming, it should not come as a surprise to anyone. Most apps—Chinese or not—sell their users’ data to companies and governments all over the world in the interests of profiling and marketing.
TikTok has over 800 million active users and is used worldwide everyday. Over the past year it has blown up significantly more since everyone is staying home due to COVID-19. It is very influential, especially with its younger generation of users; it serves as their main platform for entertainment and information. Thus, a ban on TikTok could have serious repercussions that would not only affect those users, but also global app policies.
So, why is the United States so adamant on getting TikTok banned, and not other social media apps (like Facebook) that also have questionable privacy policies known to do similar things with user data? One major point would be that TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based tech company. It bought Musical.ly (rebranded as TikTok) from an American company a few years back. Now that it is no longer an American company, they are concerned that their users’ data is no longer safe. Currently the US army, US navy, and India have banned the use of the app over these “national security” claims. But these kinds of claims may have adverse effects on how global apps are treated in the future.
Many have concerns over this ban. Daniel Castro, vice-president at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) states that “foreign tech companies should not be kept out of the US market because of rumours and innuendo. Doing so not only risks immediate retaliation for US companies, but it also would establish a global norm where countries are free to impose trade restrictions on digital goods and services for vague and undefined national security threats”. If a superpower like the United States begins to act like this towards foreign apps over vague accusations of ‘National Security,’ it allows other companies to do the same. It may create a censoring that could cut off certain nations to social platforms.
Moreover, ByteDance has responded to these claims and said that their data collected is in no way given to the Chinese government or under Chinese law. They say that all their data servers are located outside of China. A TikTok spokesperson has also responded to these allegations and said “TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the US. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked”.
All in all, TikTok probably does not actually pose threat on any nation and its ban is most likely a political ploy to ban Chinese apps from the American market. We will soon see what decision they come to and hopefully it is an appropriate one.