Should TikTok be banned in the US?
While the White House mulls its decision on the app, some regions are already moving to broaden their own restrictions on the Chinese-owned platform, with Montana lawmakers passing legislation that would effectively outlaw TikTok completely in the state.
To be clear, that bill hasn’t been approved as yet, so it’s not banned in Montana right now. Bet even so, it’s the most significant action taken against TikTok thus far, amid rising concerns about the potential for TikTok user data to be accessed by the Chinese government, and used to spy on U.S. citizens, and/or influence geopolitical movements.
Those concerns have been ramping up again in recent weeks, amid China’s continued aggression towards neighboring nations, including Taiwan, which recently met with U.S. officials to discuss the future of their regional partnership. That’s further strained relations between the U.S. and China, which has also, in the past, seen the U.S. publicly support autonomy for Hong Kong, and oppose China’s expanding military presence in the South China Sea.
Add to this the fact that China continues to align itself with Russia, amid Putin’s regional expansion push, and there’s seemingly good reason for U.S. security officials to have some concern about the growing usage and influence of TikTok within America.
Also worth noting is that China-based groups are constantly seeking to use social media platforms as a means to push pro-China propaganda in the U.S. Google, for example, removed more than 50,000 accounts in 2022 alone, including thousands of YouTube channels, that had been created by Chinese influence operations.
That’s why the ban on government-issued devices makes sense, as these people could have access to sensitive information, and any info that a foreign spy agency could access via the app may be used against them to influence policy, or gather intel. The extension of that, however, could mean that a foreign spy agency could also exert the same influence by tapping into people’s personal accounts, or those of their relatives. So in essence, if a ban on government devices makes sense, a full ban, by extension, would also be logical in the same way.
It just depends on how big a threat this poses, and for those outside of the intelligence community, we don’t really know, because we don’t see how that data can be used for such purpose.
So what do those within the intelligence sector say?
The director of the FBI has called for a full ban, as has the Commissioner of the FCC, along with various U.S. senators that have been briefed on the app.
Based on this, it does seem like there’s a solid case for a ban, because these are the people who would best understand the full scope of the concern in this respect.
So while you may like TikTok yourself, and you may think that it’s relatively harmless, there is at least some cause for caution, and a potential ban, given the reasoning.
But TikTok has sought to deflect these accusations, by noting that Facebook, for example, has also been guilty of misusing user data in the past. That was a key point that seemed to gain some traction after TikTok chief Shou Zi Chew recently appeared before the U.S. senate.
But that’s mostly a red herring. Yes, Facebook data was misused by political operatives in the Cambridge Analytica case, but that didn’t involve passing on U.S. user info to a potentially hostile foreign entity - and even then, Facebook immediately shut it down when it became aware of misuse, and reformed its guidelines to significantly restrict data access from then on.
By using this as a counter, TikTok’s also effectively acknowledging that it needs to update its data sharing policies. But while it remains under Chinese ownership, that can’t happen, at least not to the degree that would be requested, because all Chinese businesses are subject to the CCP’s strict cybersecurity laws, which obligate companies to share operating info on request.
That remains a critical breaking point, and without TikTok being sold into U.S. ownership, there’s not really any way around it. And if the U.S. does implement a TikTok ban, most other western regions will follow, so it’s not just the U.S. that we’re taking about in this respect.
So should TikTok be banned? There is a strong case for action, and if any restrictions are imposed on the app, the only solution that will address all of these issues is a full ban.
The decision, then, will likely come down to China’s foreign policy actions, and what next steps it takes in elements of conflict. It increasingly seems like China is not going to be backing down, nor is it looking to soften its stances, which could indeed see TikTok face more significant restrictions very soon.