If you are like me, you were vaguely aware of the TikTok app before it was a word thrown around on the news.
TikTok is an app that is primarily used to watch short, funny videos created by people around the world. Users can film themselves lip-syncing to music, acting out various sketches and trends or creating some other kind of short-form original content. It currently has over 100 million American users.
My 11-year old loves to watch the original videos created by the kids on there. The app has helped keep her entertained during the pandemic as she watched other kids do creative dances and songs.
For months, President Trump has been complaining about TikTok and its security risks for users of the app. The administration advocated banning the app because it says its Chinese owners could be required to co-operate with the Chinese government and turn over information about its users.
He recently issued an executive order calling for a complete halt of all US transactions with TikTok’s parent company by September 20.
Microsoft has been in talks with the company to discuss buying its’ US operations, but no deal is yet in place.
TikTok is owned by a private Chinese company called ByteDance. It does not operate in China and says user data is stored on servers inside the United States. They also say they are prepared to sue to stop the sale of their company.
Trump’s order lists a variety of concerns like data collection and the possibility of disinformation by the Chinese government.
TikTok has reportedly been under a national security review for almost a year by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States. So far, there has been no public release of their findings on the company.
The app collects information including geolocation tags, unique device identifiers, and contents of in-app messages in order to track and predict consumer trends.
The practice is neither illegal nor uncommon for social network platforms. Facebook collects personal data and makes ad profiles based on users’ political and religious affiliations. According to a recent Washington Post article, they can even track users when they are not using the app. They were accused of sharing user information to third party companies for ad revenue in 2018.
Six other popular apps that collect data about your appearance, browsing history and geographical location are Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Google, Amazon and Flickr.
Any of those companies could be selling data which ultimately ends up in the hands of the Chinese or the Russians. ‘Could be’, being the operative words.
The only difference is the owner of TikTok is based in China, who Trump has an ongoing feud with. Some suggest Trump’s goal with the ban is a political win against China.
His current interest in TikTok began after a less than sold-out crowd at his Tulsa, Oklahoma political rally. It was rumored that an anti-Trump troll campaign originated on TikTok and was responsible for the small crowd.
A recent CIA assessment reportedly found no evidence that the app was used by Chinese spy agencies to intercept data, according to the New York Times.
Allowing the government to ban TikTok would present a problem with our constitutional right of free speech. If they get away with this ban, it could set a precedent for digital censorship.
Perhaps this is just the beginning of a campaign to do that. Facebook and Twitter have recently added fact checks and even removed some of Trump’s videos and tweets they claim contain false or misleading information.
No American president has ever invoked emergency powers against a piece of software.
Critics worry that Trump’s actions could set a dangerous precedent in how the government tries to control the way citizens use the internet. Restricting internet use results in peoples’ inability to speak their mind. When countries like the United States do it, it erodes our democracy.
The irony of a TikTok ban is noteworthy because removing TikTok would be similar to the actions taken by China which does not allow Facebook, Twitter and Google because it censors what its citizens can do online. Now the Chinese can accuse us of the same thing.
So far, we have seen no evidence of the government’s case, only accusations and speculation.
Banning an app in a country built around individual freedoms should require more proof than allegations made by an administration that consistently provides inconsistent and often misleading information. Big tech companies that entertain, inform and allow millions of people to share opinions should not be banned in a democracy where its citizens are free to express themselves.
Changes in federal privacy laws to require better standards for security and transparency would be more beneficial.
Protections, not restrictions, are the American way.