AMU APU Cyber & AI Cybercrime Original

Is a TikTok Ban Coming to the United States? 

Nearly every social media platform is facing scrutiny for failing to tackle criminal activities or intentional disinformation, but what about one of the most popular social media apps used by the nation’s younger generation? A TikTok ban might be on the cards.

Several governments in both blue and red states have taken action against TikTok and have banned users from installing the app on government equipment. The recently signed omnibus spending bill also includes a provision banning TikTok on federal government phones and computers, according to CNBC.  

The U.S. offensive against TikTok doesn’t stop there, either. Congress is debating a nationwide ban on the app, though that is still at the committee level. What sets TikTok apart is the issue of foreign ownership or more specifically, that ByteDance – the China-based company that owns the app – may face undue influence from the Chinese government.  

This movement against TikTok isn’t a political stunt, either. The directors of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), have warned about the abuses and potential abuses of the user data collected by TikTok.  

The concerns span two different presidential administrations. The driver of this concern over TikTok is the Chinese effort to compile a database of information on individuals, especially critics of Xin Jinping’s regime, outside of China.  

TikTok Ban Potentially a Matter of National Security

Since 2010, China has striven to collect as much information globally on people who are citizens of hostile nations and to create a massive database, according to Foreign Policy. This type of information includes U.S. military and intelligence officials, making this potential ban of TikTok a matter of national security.  

China has infiltrated social media platforms and internet search sites – not to mention a FBI case involving Chinese collection of genetic information, according to the Washington Free Beacon – for the purpose of building this database. ByteDance has said that it would not share information with the Chinese government if they asked.  

However, the Chinese government doesn’t typically ask for data, it just takes it, as cases in the U.S. and Europe have proven. Silicon Angel notes that there is also a recent case where TikTok employees gave Beijing information on Western journalists.  

[Related article: Why Social Media Is So Appealing to Terrorist Organizations]

Banning the App Nationwide Could Prove Difficult or Even Impossible 

However, banning TikTok nationwide may be difficult, if not impossible. TikTok is quite popular among younger generations, and politicians who support a ban may earn the ire of some of their constituents. Had Washington moved earlier against the app before TikTok’s popularity spread, then a ban would have been simpler to administer.  

Additionally, a TikTok ban doesn’t account for illicit data collection from other social media sites. While a ban may still take place, it would be of great benefit for the U.S. government to focus on protecting its citizens’ privacy by implementing better protections on how companies collect and protect personal data. Until this protection happens across the board, a ban of TikTok would just be a bandage solution to an ongoing problem.  

William Tucker serves as a senior security representative to a major government contractor where he acts as the Counterintelligence Officer, advises on counterterrorism issues, and prepares personnel for overseas travel. His additional duties include advising his superiors in matters concerning emergency management and business continuity planning.

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