Potential US TikTok Ban Has Tremendous Implications


Owned by ByteDance, a China-Based company, TikTok is one of the fastest-growing mobile apps in the past years. Millions of users access and post on the platform daily, as the Chinese video-sharing social networking is facing international scrutiny from governments and civil-groups. 

The Threat Of A Chinese App

Recently, India has banned TikTok and other 58 Chinese Apps, citing that they are prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of the State, with concerns raised by the Indian Ministry of Electronics & IT about the threat to the defense and security of the State and its citizens. Concerns about the privacy of user data have been the main focus of all investigation, as the Beijing-based internet technology company that owns TikTok is denying any wrongdoing or illicit user data usage. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, mentioned a possibility that the app might get the same treatment in the States, saying it was something that the administration is looking at closely. To note, Pompeo never mentioned any specifics about what the administration is looking at but compared TikTok to Huawei and ZTE, two companies that have experienced real consequences in the US after the Government assessed how they work inside the country.

International Consensus Is Not Favorable For TikTok

Tensions are all over the globe, from Europe to Hong Kong, where TikTok exited within days from the local market as a result of a new Chinese censorship law. Last August, TikTok reported it had attracted 150,000 users in Hong Kong, and globally the app had been downloaded more than 2 billion times through the Apple and Google stores in the first quarter of this year. Exiting Hong Kong will not impact the application tremendously, like in the case of the Indian Ban of TikTok. Also unclear is what will replace TikTok in the region? Douyin? The Chinese analog of TikTok? But ByteDance owns them both! For a company to exist in China, it has to follow local policies and try not to offend the Chinese Government and the public. The rule is mandatory, and with the new censorship law, China can enforce legal action and even jail time. Sure, exiting the US market will most likely destroy TikTok, and we will see another creator exodus on to Youtube, like in the case of Vine. But, if TikTok angers the Beijing overlords, the results can be even more dramatic.

Politics and Security Play An Important Role 

There is also another aspect to this problem. The possible ban could be more of a political move to hurt China’s bottom line, with multiple governments accusing TikTok of gathering illicit data. But these governments have no problem with companies like Google or Facebook doing the same thing, as long as they play ball. This concept is purely speculatory, borderline conspiracy theory but, if you think about it, the amount of personal data that a Google Pixel, for example, gathers about the user in a day is staggering. The gathering practices that most governments accuse TikTok of are standard procedure with other platforms. So what is the problem? 

TikTok Admitted It Collects Background User Data

Well, this is about who gets access to the data. GOP Senators introduces a bill that bans TikTok from any Government Devices. The legislation cited the fact that TikTok is a Chinese company that includes Chinese Communist Party members on its board, and it is required by law to share user data with Beijing. As US Senator Josh Hawley told the Senate floor, TikTok admitted it collects user data while the app is running in the background – gathering data, including messages people sent, pictures they shared, passwords, and other info. Australia is considering a similar ban, using tools that India and possibly other countries will adopt, banning TikTok on a network level. By blocking any communication between servers and users in the region, similar to the approach that China uses, a potential ban can take place. 

Contradictory Statements Regarding User Info

On the other hand, TikTok exited the Hong Kong market over its non-compliance with the Chinese Party to hand over data. ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, stated that a decision was made by the company to exit the territory to protect user-personal-data and counteract China’s effort of a sweeping new national security law for the semi-autonomous city. There is also the fact that TikTok has at its helm former Walt Disney Co executive Kevin Mayer and, in the past, never complied with requests from Chinese censors and Government to access TikTok user data. Under Mayer, the Chinese video-sharing social network stated that it never received inquiries from Chinese censors and the Government to see any info or data. 

The Legal Implication That Can Change It All 

There is also another legal factor that looms over this entire TikTok ban, and it might change legal proceedings because the US does not have any precedent for blocking software. Thus, opening the door for any potential abuses or heavyhanded tactics that the Government deems to be correct. A fair way to go forward is to give a federal-regulatory-commission something to do and for it to open another investigation into TikTok. This regulatory arm of the Government can assess if the Chinese ownership is a problem, although the last examination by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) found that there is not enough evidence against the company to build a plausible case. 

For a ban to happen, some free-market laws will have to be circumvented. President Trump cannot legally shut down TikTok, except if he forces Apple and Google to cut their ties with ByteDance and other Chinese apps. If the app is off the two digital storefronts, then it will slowly die down. Or, we might see a Streisand effect, as more and more people add TikTok to their phone, to fight the power. Bottom line is a TikTok ban will have tremendous implications if it takes place, for the US and international markets. 

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