Why time could be running out for TikTok

Appy go lucky: TikTok’s app has been downloaded two billion times since its launch in 2016. © Reuters

Is it dangerous to use TikTok? President Trump is threatening to ban the mega-popular app as a threat to privacy and national security. But some believe it is more about winning an election.

Last night, President Trump confirmed he would ban TikTok from the USA on 15 September unless its US operation was sold to an American firm, such as Microsoft, before then.

Trump claims that TikTok is a threat because it is under the control of the Chinese government.

TikTok protests that these claims are unfounded. Data from its 80 million American users, it says, is stored in the US and backed up in Singapore; it would never be passed on to the Chinese authorities even if they requested it.

Certainly, TikTok has gone out of its way to demonstrate its independence. When China passed its controversial new security law for Hong Kong, TikTok announced that it would cease to operate in the territory. It has also hired an American, Kevin Mayer, as its chief executive.

But the fact remains that its parent company, ByteDance, is based in China, where Zhang Yiming was recently honoured by the Communist Party for “resolutely upholding the party’s leadership”.

Some believe that Trump has political motives, which are nothing to do with security. For one thing, he is engaged in a trade war and wants to do Chinese companies as much damage as possible. For another, TikTok is largely used by young liberals who oppose his policies.

Is it dangerous to use TikTok?

Second thoughts

Some say yes. China’s security services are notorious for engaging in hacking and cyber attacks, and it is inconceivable that they would not find a way of using data from tens of millions of Americans to their advantage.

Others argue that data belonging to teenagers messing around is hardly likely to interest Chinese spies. Trump has chosen TikTok as a highly visible target so that he can be seen to be acting tough in the run-up to the US elections in November.

You Decide

  1. If you could only have one app on your phone, which would it be?

Activities

  1. Make a TikTok video either supporting or opposing Trump’s threatened ban.

Some People Say...

“I have been asked what would I ban immediately if I could: advertising.”

Vivienne Westwood, British fashion designer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most agree that being banned in the US would be disastrous for TikTok, especially since it has already been banned from its biggest market, India. A presence in USA gives TikTok not only millions of customers, but enormous prestige; if it were closed down, it would lose the “reigning queen of TikTok”, Charli D’Amelio, whose dance videos have brought her over 75 million followers.
What do we not know?
Whether it would really be possible for Trump to stop TikTok operating in the US. One approach might be to order Apple and Google to stop carrying it in their app stores, and delete it from existing customers’ phones – but the tech giants would probably resist that. Another way would be to tell local internet service providers to cut off access to TikTok’s servers – but that too would be difficult to enforce.

Word Watch

New security law
The law, which came into force a month ago, gives the police power to arrest anyone whose behaviour they consider subversive.
Young liberals
When Trump held a rally in Tulsa last month, TikTok users claimed to have signed up for tickets they had no intention of using, resulting in an embarrassing number of empty seats.
Notorious
Famous or well known for some bad quality or action.
Inconceivable
Unbelievable.

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