The United States government is imposing a 30-day deadline for federal agencies to remove the TikTok app from government-issued mobile devices, citing concerns over data privacy and Chinese government propaganda. The move follows the examples of Congress, US armed forces, more than half of US states, and the European Union, Denmark and Canada, which have all blocked or temporarily banned TikTok on government-issued phones. The Chinese government has criticised the move as an abuse of state power, but the decision comes after Western tech companies, such as LinkedIn, Airbnb and Yahoo, have left China or downsized operations there because of strict privacy laws.
What are the concerns about TikTok?
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has been accused by the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission of sharing user data with the Chinese government. Chinese law requires companies to provide any data relevant to national security to the government. While there is no evidence of TikTok doing this, concerns have been raised due to the amount of user data it collects. Researchers have also claimed that TikTok may be harmful to the mental health of teenagers.
Who has pushed for TikTok restrictions?
Concern over TikTok has been bipartisan. In 2020, then-president Donald Trump tried to force ByteDance to sell off its US assets and ban TikTok from app stores, although President Joe Biden has since rescinded these orders. Congress passed the “No TikTok on Government Devices Act” in December, while a new bill is expected to be passed this week that will give Biden the power to ban TikTok nationwide. Civil liberties organizations have criticised this proposed ban as unconstitutional.
How risky is TikTok?
While some, such as U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, have expressed concerns over the amount of data TikTok collects, others argue that the amount of information TikTok gathers is no different from other popular social media sites. However, TikTok’s data-harvesting business practices have led some advocates to call for a basic privacy law that bans all companies from collecting sensitive data.
What are other experts saying?
Some critics have accused governments of engaging in “xenophobic showboating” by banning TikTok and other Chinese apps without addressing the data privacy issues of US-based tech companies. Others argue that TikTok could still pose a risk to user privacy and security.