Cyber-Security Fears Over TikTok Continue To Grow

Person using TikTok
Mike Wong

On 30th December 2022, the US Government under President Biden, approved the No TikTok on Government Devices Act, which would restrict government employees from being able to use TikTok, but national security, law enforcement and security research employees are allowed to use it with limitations. This led to quick condemnation from China, who accused the US of overreacting to national security fears and trying to do harm to Chinese firms such as ByteDance, who owns TikTok, from doing business in the US.

The ban on TikTok didn’t begin with President Biden, as there were previous attempts under Former President Donald Trump to enact a similar ban on TikTok in the past which failed. After Trump lost the re-election and the US Federal Courts decided that Trump’s claims that TikTok was endangering the security and privacy of US citizens was not legitimate, TikTok wasn’t banned on any government devices or across the US at all in 2020. 

68% of voters in December 2022 now supported a Federal ban on TikTok

However, as US-China relations deteriorated under Biden, and with concerns of Chinese spying having increased, fears of Chinese activity in the US increased significantly. A recent poll done by Rasmussen Reports stated that 68% of voters in December 2022 now supported a Federal ban on TikTok, an increase from the polls in 2021 and 2020. According to Morning Consult, there was very little support for a TikTok Ban, with only 29% supporting it, and only 40% in 2021 when Americans were questioned about their support for Trump’s attempt to ban TikTok.

The reasons for the ban of TikTok stems from a wide variety of reasons, but the primary reasons are related to security, spying concerns, and conspiracy theories have circulated recently regarding to TikTok and how the app could be used as a brainwashing tool.

With regards to spying allegations, there are concerns made by critics, particularly in countries that are distrustful of the fact that TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese mega private company, where it’s headquartered in Beijing. The fact that it’s headquarters is in China raised fears for Americans, and were repeated by US lawmakers in Congress. Under Trump, it was initially decided that Byte Dance was to sell TikTok to US based firm Oracle, but it never went through as the deal was abandoned when Trump left office. 

Researchers have studied TikTok’s coding and stated that the app was capable of harvesting data from the users

There was also the concern of national security as researchers have studied TikTok’s coding and stated that the app was capable of harvesting data from the users, and that a report released by Citizen Lab stated that “in comparison to other popular social media platforms, TikTok collects similar types of data to track user behaviour”. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) director Christopher Wray stated: “The Chinese government could… control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations” in a hearing to US lawmakers, which only served to act as official proof that TikTok was becoming a threat to the US.

As of today, after the Federal Ban of TikTok on US government agencies took effect, many states and universities started enforcing the ban, despite opposition to the legislation itself. TikTok is also limited in many countries, such as the EU banning TikTok across all main government institutions, India banning TikTok since 2020 due to the Chinese-Indian border skirmishes that happened in 2020, and other countries such as Iran, due to strict censorship laws. For now, it appears the ban of TikTok in the US will continue, but it remains to be seen whether it will be lifted or if the ban will continue if US-China relations continue to go downhill.

Mike Wong

Featured image courtesy of Cottonbro Studio via Pexels. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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