By Emma Reilly
In February, Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) sent a letter to Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, chief executives of Apple and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, respectively. In the letter, Bennet urged the companies to consider removing the popular app TikTok from their app stores, citing national security risks.
According to The New York Times, moves toward a nationwide TikTok ban were largely led by Republicans, but Bennet’s involvement reveals that the idea is now attracting bipartisan support.
The app was banned from all federal government devices back in December and a Feb. 27 executive directive made the final push toward clearing the app from government information technology.
While enforcing the removal of a potential threat from government devices is a logically proactive step, it is difficult to see a complete nationwide ban in the same light.
As the situation stands right now, removing independent individuals’ access to TikTok feels unjustifiable.
TikTok is owned by the Chinese company DanceByte, which “has testified that it has never and would never share U.S. user data with China,” The Washington Post’s Cristiano Lima said.
According to CBS, “The company also disputes accusations that it collects more user data than other social media companies and insists that it’s run independently.”
The U.S. should not be so quick to assume the worst of the app. Without proof of politically-motivated data mining, a nationwide TikTok ban feels more like prejudice against Chinese companies than a valiant effort toward the broader enforcement of national security.
Still, the proposed ban is gaining momentum.
On March 1, the Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a bill seeking to ban the app across the United States. The Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries Act would “effectively block U.S. interactions with the popular Chinese-owned video-sharing app,” The Wall Street Journal’s John McKinnon said.
The DATA Act, which was approved by the committee in a 24-16 vote along party lines, would make it easier for U.S. President Joseph Biden to approve a nationwide ban of the app, according to The New York Times.
This measure stands in the face of TikTok’s efforts to stoke dialogue between the company and policymakers.
According to The New York Times, the company submitted a proposal in August “detailing how it will prevent the Chinese government from having access to data on U.S. users, and how it will offer the U.S. government oversight of the platform.”
Reviewing this proposal and working with TikTok to understand its data policies should be Congress’s next steps.
According to CBS, “President Biden reversed Trump’s efforts to ban the app, but ordered a government review of foreign-owned apps, and whether they pose any security risks.” In line with this, the U.S. government should conduct and publish a thorough investigation into TikTok’s use of user information if they plan to move forward with a total ban.
There are certainly arguments to be made outside of the realm of cybersecurity for TikTok being banned, namely the spread of misinformation and perpetuation of cyberbullying.
When it comes to user data, though, individuals are responsible for making an informed decision when they sign into the app and accept the terms of service. Unless there is evidence found that the agreement TikTok provides its users with does not reflect the actual ways in which their data will be collected and used, there is no concrete argument to be made for a ban.
On a global scale, a nationwide TikTok ban could jeopardize America’s position as a watchdog.
“One concern I have about America going down this path is losing the moral authority to call out foreign states…when they engage in mass surveillance of their citizens or mass censorship,” staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute Ramya Krishnan told The Washington Post.
At the end of the day, TikTok is flawed in the same way that many social media platforms are. It seems that, without solid evidence of illicit data use, the app will be treated just like Twitter and Instagram are – despite its Chinese connections.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo Caption:Congress is once again trying to ban the popular social media platform TikTok in the United States; they tried to ban the app back in 2020 to protect users’ data.