TikTok is an app from popular Chinese company ByteDance. The app also exists as Douyin in China, but the content served is vastly different to the content that TikTok has in the US.
TikTok is primarily a social media application. It became trendy in 2020. It distributes short-form content that’s typically under 1 minute long.
Videos can go up to 10 minutes and can be as short as fifteen seconds. Most content posted remains short. People’s attention span over the years has shrunk, and short-form content took off with the imposed lockdowns in 2020.
TikTok currently has over 2 Billion downloads worldwide. Douyin and TikTok share the same UI/ UX design. However, they do not share the content. Content on Douyin is mostly China-centric, and the other is an internationalised version.
The app has remained highly controversial since its inception. TikTok has adverse psychological effects such as addiction, and the app does not respect user privacy.
The previous president of the US, Donald Trump, already considered banning the application due to suspicions of user data breaches.
Due to national security concerns, TikTok was banned from all USA Federal Government Devices. The bill was passed amidst the rising debate about whether the service will be banned entirely from all consumer smartphones.
In this article, we’ll briefly explore TikTok’s security concerns and predict whether or not the app will be banned entirely.
Why was TikTok banned for Government Officials in the US?
In China, all companies are required to share user data with the Chinese Government for censorship and other control reasons. China is not extremely liberal with citizens, and these user data privacy laws are of massive concern to global users.
ByteDance, by law, might have to collect all user information from its users, and they are required to submit it to the Chinese Government. While it’s unclear whether this law applies to the entire USA base, it’s still a privacy concern.
The US government so far claims that the ban for government officials is over national security concerns and is in the interest of public privacy.
In nearly two months, government employees must remove TikTok from government-issued devices. Security concerns over this app have existed for years, but Donald Trump was unsuccessful at banning this application in 2020.
Worldwide speculation is that the Chinese Government might use the TikTok app as a backdoor to access user data and study the US population’s interests and beliefs. ByteDance’s TikTok might act as an effective Trojan Horse for China.
We have already discussed that since TikTok operates primarily on short-form content, people addicted to it develop short attention spans. This is terrible news, especially for children and teens who still have developing brains.
The same children might find it challenging to sit through hours of lectures or watch long-form content. Decreased attention span also limits academic ability.
Considering user privacy concerns and mental health issues, the app has been under scrutiny for a long time, and we cannot completely rule out the possibility of a complete ban.
The TikTok Ban in India
There have always been severe tensions between India and China. Growing concerns about national security and privacy led to the ban of TikTok in India, primarily for geo-political conflicts and to protect Indian data from going to the Chinese Government.
In 2020, India banned nearly 60 apps from China, including TikTok. WeChat, Weibo, and QQ were among them. Later, popular gaming titles like PUBG Mobile were also banned, citing that the Cloud Service was being used to share data with China.
Due to the ban, competitors like Instagram saw a massive increase in users since they now support the same short-form content that TikTok had. The ban also promoted the rise of Indian apps like Moj, which did gain a significant user base.
The app was also heavily criticised for its abject lack of moderation, and content creators were spreading a lot of misinformation. Not just that, several trends and dances on TikTok were hazardous to perform, and the imitations resulted in unnecessary injuries.
TikTok also keeps you there scrolling for several minutes and wrecks productivity levels for those who aren’t in control. Only looking at curated positive or funny moments in the form of videos and snippets from other people’s lives makes you question your own.
Most people don’t realise that social media is mostly a highlight reel, so a comparison is pointless. Though TikTok has been banned from India, other social media apps with similar content have taken over, so the concern with social media is still very persistent.
USA and the Huawei Ban
It would be a significant underestimation to think that the US Government does not outright ban companies and uproot their business models if concerned about national security.
Huawei/ Honor phones may contain security loopholes on purpose to leak user data. So, those companies were entirely barred from doing business with the US.
The ban was tragic for the smartphone market since a tremendous competitor was lost. Huawei is a company that pushes other brands to innovate. However, the fact that the software may contain a backdoor into user data was a significant concern.
This is why the company was banned from doing business with the US. This meant no 5G chips from Qualcomm or Google Services on their products. To no one’s surprise, Huawei’s business completely fell, and they lost a lot of market share. They’re no longer the innovative company they once were and probably never can be again.
The Huawei ban proves that if the US wants to ban a product or service entirely, it can. This is why there’s a lot of uncertainty about the future of TikTok in the country.
Is TikTok getting banned in the United States?
The House Foreign Affairs Committee is set to vote in February on a bill aimed at blocking the use of the short video app TikTok in the United States. TikTok CEO Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew to testify before Congress on March 23 over security concerns.
In 2021, TikTok had over a Billion global users. The popularity of the app and short-form content, in general, has only grown since then. Assuming most users are in the US, the number of people who use the app is significant.
Since it was already banned for government-owned devices, many analysts assume the TikTok app may also be banned for the public.
It’s not just app data collection that’s concerning; it’s the abnormal and increasingly negative trends that continuously go viral on the platform.
One such example is Buccal Fat Removal, which involves pointless cosmetic surgery which removes face fat to give people a better appearance. The trend makes no sense since looks are heavily subjective, and there are zero medical gains from the procedure. It simply promotes an artificial standard of beauty.
The next move might be banning TikTok on company-owned devices. This is due to fear that Chinese government officials might be able to access sensitive user data.
The loss of TikTok will be a major one for ByteDance since it allows competing platforms to gain an edge. Things are looking hard for the company since there’s already a partial ban. A complete ban depends on the relations with China. If they improve, the app might still be allowed to operate in the country.
Since TikTok is extremely popular with youth, the current Government will not want to lose voters by making an unpopular and rash choice. According to TikTok’s statements, they have spent 1.5 Billion USD on content moderation, and they’re also hiring people from the USA to oversee data collection.
The Chinese Communist Party and Geopolitical Rifts
Three significant countries, the USA, the UK, and India have had several disputes with TikTok. Nearly three years ago, in February 2019, the FTC fined ByteDance 5.7 Million US Dollars for breaching the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Collecting information from minors under the age of 13 is unethical and also illegal.
In the UK, there were several investigations about TikTok collecting and sharing data. The Open Messaging System, which allows anyone to message another person of any age, was severely criticised.
Companies must provide different features and services to protect children, which TikTok didn’t, violating GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). This is why sharing data of innocent netizens to China is a growing concern with TikTok.
In December 2022, it was confirmed that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance accessed journalists’ data, though it previously denied location-based geo-tracking of its users. This further proves the severe threats the app poses, escalating Geo-Political conflicts.
TikTok also confirmed that the ByteDance employees accessed IP Address data to track location. While TikTok dismissed this as misconduct from ByteDance, the entire incident still leaves much to be explored about the company’s policies concerning privacy.
The US was also criticised for anti-competitive behaviour since there could have been more peaceful negotiations instead of an outright ban for Huawei.
The Huawei ban gives several manufacturers from China a fear of getting blacklisted from the US. There were many conflicts between America and China regarding chipset manufacturing too.
Hence they withhold or refuse entry altogether. This is terrible news for the average consumer, too, since they now have less competition, and competition is what pushes companies to innovate.
Does TikTok have anything in defence?
TikTok is trying hard to convince the Government that no content manipulation is done for the US. They also argue that they aren’t tracking citizens. TikTok’s servers are expected to move to Oracle, and Oracle is supposed to oversee the source code too.
The bill that depicts banning TikTok might still be tough to pass since too many people are against it. While the FBI voiced concerns that China might be able to spy on devices, TikTok denies all of these claims.
They claim that it’s a politically motivated ban that does nothing to improve the security of the United States. There is a big chance that the new uproar about TikTok bans comes from straining relations between the US and China. Simply preventing TikTok from operating in the country will not address privacy concerns.
Many analysts claim that since all companies collect user data, it does not make sense to ban TikTok. The only way to protect user privacy is by banning all Meta apps and Twitter.
Google, which primarily runs on advertisements and openly collects data, isn’t user-privacy friendly. Apple likes to claim that they are in ads, but its first-party apps always track user data.
But banning only TikTok from the entire list of places where companies collect data might not be an acceptable move. It’s easier for China to get user data from TikTok, but governments can collect it in many ways. TikTok makes it easier, and the stakes are higher.
Another reason why the US might want to ban TikTok is to keep their private technology and plans safe from the CCP. To address mounting concerns about data collection, more laws that protect consumer data in the first place must be introduced. A law that requires companies to disclose where data is going publicly will work.
So, will TikTok see a complete ban in the US? We can’t give a concrete answer. Banning TikTok outright is very much possible. However, the Chinese Government might call this anti-competitive behaviour, and they can respond with similar bans in their own country.
Trying to ban TikTok from public use might sit well with the public. The main reason the previous ban didn’t go through was over free speech concerns. A total ban is probably not the answer. But, warning users about data collection in advance is a step in the right direction. Tightening user privacy laws will be a peaceful way to settle the conflict.