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The Clock is Ticking for TikTok: Why a TikTok Ban is Not Helping Anyone

Updated: May 14

Social media activity erupted in late April when it was announced that President Biden had signed a law banning Chinese-owned TikTok unless sold within a year. TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is a Chinese technology company; raising concerns about the Chinese government accessing user data, pushing pro-China propaganda or using the service to interfere in U.S. elections. This is particularly concerning as under Chinese law, companies have to turn over personal user data once it is requested by government officials. TikTok has sued the United States government in response to the new law, claiming it violates the First Amendment right to free speech, a sentiment echoed by civil liberties groups who also say that the law could create a slippy precedent of citing national security concerns as broad justification for bans. 


The perceived threats to national security are a legitimate cause for concern for lawmakers. The risk of the Chinese government having access to personal data, including but not limited to contacts, email addresses, phone numbers, ages, search and browsing histories as well as typing history, of the over 150 million U.S. TikTok users is frightening. Other possibilities, such as the censoring of content that is critical of the Chinese government, the spreading of misinformation and propaganda or the recruitment of spies have also been raised as concerns about TikTok’s connection with the Chinese government. 


But ​​to date, there is no public evidence that the Chinese government has actually harvested TikTok’s commercial data for intelligence or other purposes, and TikTok CEO Shou Chew has testified that the company would refuse any requests for information from the Chinese government. The national security concerns are purely hypothetical and theoretical based on public evidence and TikTok has taken steps to ensure that these theories do not happen. Through an operation called Project Texas, TikTok is changing its corporate structure so that U.S. user data is stored by a U.S. company, Oracle. The project will also create a new, U.S.-based subsidiary independent from TikTok’s global operation, called TikTok U.S. Data Security (USDS). Lawmakers have called this effort to appease concerns a ”marketing scheme.” 


To me, the concerns of Chinese government data access and collection are valid, but the reality is that China can just as easily access the personal data of U.S. citizens without TikTok. The digital world is so expansive and contains so much information already that banning a single app would make almost no impact since so many other apps collect our data and sell it or leak it all over the world for profit all of the time. Banning the app could cause more harm than good in the long run. It creates a focus on individual cases instead of focusing on policies that can curb Big Tech as a whole. It also creates more animosity between the U.S. and China and could lead to China retaliating with its own restrictions on U.S. companies that operate in the Chinese market. TikTok has become a platform where small businesses flourish, communities are built, and people engage in important discussions. While TikTok does deserve scrutiny and restrictions, banning it is not the solution the U.S. government should be going with.


Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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