The social media site TikTok is assuring its users that “we’re not planning on going anywhere” in response to Donald Trump’s proposed ban on the app in the U.S. The site is extremely popular with teenagers, but many experts have been warning that the Chinese Communist government may be able to get access to user data.
Trump told reporters he planned to take action “as soon as Saturday,” but the White House had not released any plans as of Saturday morning.
In addition to banning the app, Trump also threatened an executive order that would force TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to divest from the app’s US operations.
Microsoft has expressed an interest in buying TikTok and ByteDance, TikTok’s parent, and says they’re willing to spin off the app to a trading partner. But those plans have been put on hold as the White House mulls what would be acceptable and what would be a threat.
At issue regarding TikTok is a question of data security. First launched by Chinese internet technology company ByteDance in 2017, TikTok first became available in the united states on August 2, 2018 following a merger with the short lip-synch video app Musical.ly. The TikTok app soon became popular in the United States, though last fall U.S. lawmakers began questioning how safe it and other Chinese-owned platforms are.
At that time, Senators Chuck Schumer and Tom Cotton asked the U.S. intelligence community to assess the possible national security risks of TikTok, noting that the app (and others like it) could potentially be used to spy on American citizens or be in foreign influence campaigns (via CNN).
Critics contend that because TikTok’s parent company is Chinese owned, it could be compelled to give American user data over to the Chinese government. However, TikTok refutes this. According to TikTok, the data for U.S. users is stored outside of China and is, therefore not subject to Chinese law. It’s worth noting that TikTok is itself not available in China — a similar service called Douyin is available in China instead.
If the Chinese Communists wanted to get their hands on data from U.S. users, they would have little trouble, regardless of where the data is stored.
For that reason, this is not a partisan issue. The Democratic National Committee has warned members not to use the app.
In the email, the DNC security team wrote, “We continue to advise campaign staff to refrain from using TikTok on personal devices. If you are using TikTok for campaign work, we recommend using a separate phone and account.”
Clearly there are security concerns. And it’s no sure thing whether being owned by an American company like Microsoft would make a lot of difference, given the cooperation Microsoft has given to Chinese censors in suppressing information.
Trying to ban TikTok would be a technological nightmare and would set a troubling precedent. Whatever happened to “buyer beware”? People who don’t think of their own security when downloading crap off the internet shouldn’t look to the government to protect them.
You have the freedom to share any stupid pet trick video you want to. But it comes with a price: responsibility. Let TikTok users make up their own minds about using the app. As long as they live with the consequences, I don’t see a problem.