Gen Z's favourite app TikTok's biggest sin right now seems to be being owned by a Chinese company. After Joe Biden banned the app for federal employees in the US, Canada also followed suit. In the latest, Denmark's parliament has "urged" politicians and staff to delete TikTok from their phones.
The US, Canada, and the Danish parliament all have concerns over the national security threat posed by a short video-making social media platform owned by a Chinese company.
Which company? ByteDance. But it's not exclusive to the company; it's only exclusive to the nation it comes from. It's the China spying threat thing.
Yes, TikTok has come into sharper focus after the whole balloon incident in North America.
Sounds like a boomer overreacting? Nah, the issues are more complex than the older generation being suspicious of a young trend.
- TikTok is suspected to be harvesting the data of its users and handing it over to the Chinese Communist Party.
- There's evidence that American TikTok users data was "repeatedly accessed" in China, according to a Buzzfeed report in June 2022.
Everything is seen in China.
- Buzzfeed quoted a member of TikTok's Trust and Safety department
If there are so many concerns around TikTok, then why are the Western governments tiptoeing around banning the app? India, on the hand, did not need an extensive debate on the subject to ban TikTok.
The BAN in India
- If you remember, India banned TikTok in 2020 after the Galwan valley clash. TikTok was among hundreds of other Chinese apps that were banned.
- The Indian government cited national security concerns for banning the apps.
- There was no debate leading up to the ban. There was no major political backlash over the 2020 ban and nobody seems to be missing the app.
- Creators have since moved to alternative platforms.
- However, it needs to be noted that TikTok was banned in India in 2019 for two weeks over concerns that it was exposing young users to pornographic content and sexual predators.
Why is India's example important?
- For long, it was debated whether India set a precedent for other democracies to ban TikTok, for national security concerns that everyone seems to be mentioning.
- But the issue came back to square one. Should TikTok be banned or not?
The US conundrum
- In 2020, Donald Trump banned TikTok in the US. Then Biden came and revoked the ban.
- Now, the Biden administration has banned TikTok for federal employees. And there's a debate about whether it should be banned nationwide.
- However, the question posing a nationwide ban is a lack of evidence. A lack of evidence that the user data gathered is indeed being used by the Chinese Communist Party for espionage.
- While in India, nobody complained extensively about the ban, at least not politically. In the US, critics are concerned whether it would give the government too much power to "censor" social media platforms.
- The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had urged Congress not to ban TikTok, saying it would violate the free speech rights of millions of Americans.
- In other words, there's concern that the government can use the TikTok ban as a precedent to ban other platforms citing national security concerns while not giving evidence.
Is TikTok too big to be banned in the US?
- Currently, the US user base remains TikTok's largest overseas market. In China, ByteDance operates Douyin, a TikTok-like app.
- TikTok has frequently clarified that it is ready to abide by the rules in the US and even shift US user data from Chinese servers to domestic servers, without access to ByteDance or in China.
It's troubling that rather than encouraging the administration to conclude its national security review of TikTok, some members of Congress have decided to push for a politically-motivated ban that will do nothing to advance the national security of the United States.
- TikTok spokesperson
- Other than teenagers dancing to trending music, the app is used by small business owners and even politicians for campaigning and it has proved successful for the users too.
- But India was TikTok's largest user base before the ban, with much more users than the current American users. That did not stop New Delhi from banning the app.
- As for other American tech giants, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has sent mixed responses, advocating for more aggressive action while calling a total ban “a really bad long-term precedent”.
- A TikTok ban in the US will definitely be beneficial for Zuckerberg's Instagram as it was in India.
Will there be repercussions?
- China's recent response to the Biden administration's TikTok ban for federal agencies is this:
We firmly oppose those wrong actions... How unsure of itself can the world's top superpower like the US be to fear young people's favourite app like that?
- Mao Ning, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson
- When India banned TikTok, New Delhi and Beijing's relations were already on the rocks given the Galwan military flashpoint. In the face of the Galwan clash, the TikTok ban was nothing.
- As for the US, Washington doesn't have a Galwan clash-like flashpoint yet to not bother about the pros and cons of banning TikTok.
- The balloon incident seems only enough to heighten scrutiny over TikTok.
But does the West need a bigger clash with China to oust TikTok? Even if it did, would it solve national security concerns? Brookings, a think tank, says TikTok's connection with China is far from the anomaly given how several American firms have a presence in China.