, an app known for short quirky videos, is facing the political heat because of its ties to China.
Owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based technology company, TikTok’s popularity has exploded over the past year. It has received a new boost from the coronavirus pandemic, attracting users seeking to escape the quarantine boredom. The app has been downloaded over 2 billion times, according to the research company Sensor Tower, with 623 million coming in the first half of this year. India is its largest market, followed by Brazil and the United States. (TikTok is not available in China, where ByteDance distributes a domestic version called Douyin.)
Now the growth of TikTok is under fire because governments are concerned that the Chinese government may have influenced the app. Citing national security issues, India banned TikTok last week. The U.S. and Australia are also considering blocking the app. The United Statesis they banned service members from downloading the app on government-issued phones.
Amazon, the huge online retailer, has also raised concerns. On Friday, the Seattle-based company banned employees from using TikTok on devices that connect to the company’s email, citing ““.
Here’s what you need to know about the political backlash against TikTok:
Why does the Trump administration want to ban TikTok?
Politicians are concerned that the Chinese government may use the video app to spy on U.S. citizens. In an interview with Fox News Broadcast Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said users who downloaded the app are putting “private information into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party”. President Donald Trump cited a different reason for a potential TikTok ban: to punish China for its response to the coronavirus. Questioned about Pompeo’s remarks in an interview with Gray Television, trump confirmed that the United States is considering a ban on TikTok. “It’s a big deal,” said Trump. “Look, what has happened with China with this virus, what they have done in this country and around the world is shameful.”
The White House had no further comments. The U.S. Department of State declined to provide further information.
It is unclear how likely a ban is, but analysts say it would not be easy to implement.
It is worth investigating TikTok’s access to U.S. user data. There will always be concerns when apps from foreign companies collect large amounts of user data, said technology policy expert Betsy Cooper, director of the Aspen Policy Hub.
But, he added, “It is unclear how much effort the administration will actually make to investigate the gravity of specific security issues with the app with respect to using this as a threat to wider geopolitical leverage.”
How did TikTok respond to a possible ban?
Concerns about privacy and national security are nothing new for TikTok, and efforts have been made to reject political control. Last year, TikTok said in a blog post that all U.S. user data is stored in the U.S. with a backup in Singapore. TikTok also claimed that its data centers are outside of China and none of its data is subject to Chinese law.
“TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders in safety, security, products and public policies here in the United States,” a TikTok spokesman said in a statement in which he responded to comments. by Pompeo. “We never gave user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do it if requested.”
How would a ban work?
“The tech community will be very reluctant to follow this app ban,” said Wayne Lam, an independent tech analyst. “It sets a precedent for the government to ban other apps or even for other global apps to be inaccessible to the US market.”
Even if the app is banned, users can install apps on Android devices without downloading them from the Google Play Store, said Carolina Milanesi, technology analyst at Creative Strategies.
“At that point I don’t know how cops do it,” said Milanesi.
The U.S. Department of Commerce could also put TikTok in its place “entity” list, limiting the company’s access to US technology, he said. Chinese technology company Huawei is already on that list. Adding TikTok to the list would mean that the app would not be allowed in the Google or Apple store, he said.
Lam said the United States government could block traffic to TikTok, but that “it is unlikely to be successful because of our legal systems.”
The governments that banned TikTok have not been able to completely block access. Last week, India banned it Tic toc and 58 other Chinese apps, stating in a statement that the services are “detrimental to India’s sovereignty and integrity, the defense of India, state security and public order”. The move came after at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese troops along a disputed border in the Himalayas.
The Indian Express reported that TikTok has been removed from the Google and Apple app stores, preventing new users from downloading the app. But users who already had TikTok on their own phones they were still unable to access the service. Some TikTok users in India have also started to see warnings stating that TikTok was working with the government to comply with his order.
Google declined to comment. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Can the government ban a specific app?
The administration has limited authority to ban any specific software, such as an app. But it could potentially put pressure on Congress to implement legislation aimed at TikTok, said Kurt Opsahl, general counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a patronage group.
Currently, Opsahl said: “There is no law authorizing the federal government to ban American municipalities from using an app.”
It seems that a ban would create challenges for TikTok and the app stores. What would they probably do?
Any scenario would create opportunities for legal challenges. A legislative or executive order targeting TikTok could spur a challenge under the First Amendment, said Opsahl. The challenges would build on previous court rulings showing “the code is the speech,” said Opsahl. Such judgments include Bernstein v. DOJ, in which the court found that a computer scientist had the right of the First Amendment to publish an encryption algorithm.
In addition, Apple and Google may reject any order to remove TikTok from their app stores, defying a potential executive order or any fines charged by the Department of Commerce after entering TikTok in the list of entities.
Is there anything other than the ban the government can do to ruin TikTok’s day?
The foreign investment committee in the United States is already investigating TikTok for national security problems. The investigation, first reported in November 2019 and exhaust the Department of Commerce, it may end up requesting changes to TikTok’s substantial US operations.
A requirement would be the sale of Musical.ly, acquired an American company ByteDance in 2017 for $ 800 million which was renamed as TikTok. The acquisition helped TikTok gain ground with U.S. teenagers.