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Tik­Tok’s ban deadline is quickly approaching | Pikist

Recent con­tro­versy about data col­lection on the popular app TikTok has sent both its users and gov­ernment offi­cials into a panic — but for dif­ferent reasons. While our gov­ernment worries about the national security issues of the app, TikTok stars are hor­rified at the potential loss of their new­found social media obsession and method of income. 

Instead of banning TikTok, our leaders should harness the momentum of the app’s pop­u­larity. The August 14 exec­utive order from Pres­ident Trump and the Com­mittee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which forces TikTok to sell to an American company at the risk of being oth­erwise banned, puts good pressure on those involved to find a solution.

Over the past year, TikTok has sky­rocketed in pop­u­larity. According to CNBC, the app has over 100 million monthly active users in the United States — roughly a third of the pop­u­lation. Globally, TikTok sur­passed 2 billion down­loads and reported nearly 700 million monthly active users in July. 

The Chinese company that owns TikTok, ByteDance, has been heavily crit­i­cized for its data col­lection prac­tices, most recently by Pres­ident Donald Trump’s admin­is­tration. According to CNN, “the Trump admin­is­tration wants to ban the app because it believes its Chinese owners could be required to coop­erate with the Chinese gov­ernment, which in turn, could use the platform for espi­onage or to spread mis­in­for­mation, threat­ening national security.”

Thus, Trump’s exec­utive order called for Beijing-based ByteDance to shed TikTok’s U.S. oper­a­tions in 90 days

Trump’s exec­utive order would prevent Google and Apple from hosting TikTok on their app stores, making it vir­tually inac­ces­sible in the United States. 

The president’s con­cerns are war­ranted. As the exec­utive order reads, “The spread in the United States of mobile appli­ca­tions developed and owned by com­panies in the People’s Republic of China con­tinues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. At this time, action must be taken to address the threat posed by one mobile appli­cation in par­ticular, TikTok.”

To its users, TikTok is nothing more than a popular social media site, but the data col­lection ram­i­fi­ca­tions are wor­rying. 

As BBC reported, “some of the app’s data col­lection has raised eye­brows, including the recent rev­e­lation that it was reg­u­larly reading the copy-and-paste clip­boards of users.”

The gov­ernment is right to have con­cerns about such a high level of usage on a poten­tially un-secure app. Federal orga­ni­za­tions and large com­panies need to protect their infor­mation from the Chinese gov­ernment, and they are already enacting mea­sures against TikTok because of this.

According to the Verge, “several U.S. gov­ernment agencies, including the Trans­portation Security Admin­is­tration, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Navy, and the Army, have banned the use of the app on gov­ernment-issued devices, citing security con­cerns over ByteDance’s con­nec­tions to the Chinese gov­ernment.”

The public outrage over a potential TikTok ban, however, indi­cates where many Amer­icans’ pri­or­ities lie. Despite the heavy news cov­erage of TikTok’s privacy issues, the app still has 100 million monthly active users in the United States alone, many who use the app daily. Users are more con­cerned with access to the app’s content rather than their per­sonal privacy. 

Amer­icans should be worried about the silent threat of Chinese data col­lection. On an indi­vidual basis, it is dif­ficult to see the effects of this wide­spread sur­veil­lance, but giving infor­mation on a third of the American pop­u­lation to the Chinese gov­ernment is dan­gerous. 

American com­panies like Facebook and Instagram collect data too, so why is TikTok dif­ferent? It’s one issue to have American com­panies taking Amer­icans’ data. It is much worse to have foreign com­panies and gov­ern­ments taking that data. Those con­se­quences are much more serious than receiving tar­geted adver­tise­ments on your Facebook page. 

According to NBC, “beginning around 2014, a host of American orga­ni­za­tions that store per­sonal iden­ti­fying infor­mation have been hacked, with either the gov­ernment or major private cyber­se­curity firms iden­ti­fying China’s Min­istry of State Security as the culprit each time. Per­sonal iden­ti­fying infor­mation includes names, addresses, birthdays and Social Security numbers.” 

Sur­veil­lance tech­nology has only gotten more advanced in the last six years and the col­lection of data con­tinues.   

In a July Con­gres­sional hearing with top tech CEOs about data col­lection, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg was the only par­tic­ipant to explicitly confirm China’s data theft prac­tices.

“I think it’s well doc­u­mented that the Chinese gov­ernment steals tech­nology from American com­panies,” he said.

If China’s Min­istry of State Security is already stealing from American tech com­panies, it must be thrilled with the growing oppor­tunity of TikTok. The mil­lions of American users are simply giving it the data it desires. This is why pres­suring China about data col­lection is important for global security.

So what is TikTok’s future? Walmart and Microsoft are working to buy the app, and with the Sep­tember 15 TikTok ban deadline fast approaching, they or another company should seize this oppor­tunity. Saving the app for mil­lions of adoring users, while pro­tecting Amer­icans’ infor­mation, will be an achievement for national security and national morale.

 

Lily McHale is a junior studying Political Economy.