TikTok is one of the most popular apps that has graced the 21st century. Just like other social platforms, it has allowed millions of consumers to stay connected. However, the Chinese-owned platform is facing an impending ban. The ban is actively becoming enforced by law in the preceding days for individuals with devices that are issued by the federal government. This leaves many people wondering what will the future hold for the app and its consumers?
There are many states in the U.S. that have announced a ban of the TikTok app. Some of those states thus far are as follows: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Montana, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, South Dakota, Iowa, and Virgina. There has been negotiation with TikTok and the Biden administration for approximately two years based on the privacy challenges the app poses on United States security for the federal government as well as the American people, which puts the U.S. at a national security risk.
Moreover, this has put the U.S. federal government in a predicament to question the developers of the app and their intentions when it comes to the privacy and security of its American consumers.
What Influenced The Ban Of TikTok
The hysteria of the TikTok ban began spreading in the United States after constitutional lawmakers had initiated a proposition as a written bill to prohibit the social media application. According to a source from indy100, The bill was presented as an embargo by Senator Marco Rubio that would “block and prohibit all transactions” of social media companies that “certain foreign adversaries control” in order to prevent them from collecting data about Americans or spreading influence, campaigns, propaganda, or censorship” - (indy100, 2022).
The primary influence of this information was because of the accusations of the company, ByteDance, that owns the social media platform. ByteDance has been previously accused of posing a threat to U.S. national security.
According to sources from CNN, the spokeswoman for TikTok, Hilary McQuaide, had come forward to provide a statement based on the proceeding ban. “It’s troubling that rather than encouraging the Administration to conclude its national security review of TikTok, some members of Congress have decided to push for a politically-motivated ban that will do nothing to advance the national security of the United States” - (Hilary McQuaide, 2022).
However, there are two versions of the app. There is both a U.S. version and there is a Chinese narrative. Based on a quote from Media Reporter, Axios, Sara Fischer, who had interviewed with CNN, Fischer stated “What TikTok has tried to argue is that the U.S. version sends no data back to China. However, over the past two years there have been various reports that suggest that maybe the data security isn’t as tight as it needs to be” - (Sara Fischer, 2022).
From a political perspective, the Democratic and Republican parties have cooperated in tandem with disengaging TikTok as a platform in the United States. This was due to the fear and worry of the Chinese Communist party manipulating the platform’s algorithm to intensify Chinese activism narratives, or to penetrate United States security to spy on the American people.
When the accusations of espionage were confronted by ByteDance, the company had denied all allegations of the app being used to “spy” on the American nation. After the denial of the accusations, Former President, Donald Trump, had attempted an outright ban. Although the ban was rendered unsuccessful, this had initiated the lawmakers to enforce further anti-TikTok bills. However, just like Trump’s attempt, this didn’t result in any accomplishment with moving forward as a plan of action.
Since ByteDance had denied all cases of infiltration, According to a source from npr.org, “While the company denies it would ever be used for nefarious purposes, national security experts say China-based businesses usually have to give unfettered access to the authoritarian regime if information is ever sought.” - (npr.org, Bobby Allen, 2022).
One of the theories that are expediting the ban are based on the intelligence and ability of the Chinese-owned company. Since ByteDance is a company that operates from China as ground zero with employees stationed in the United States, it has been alleged that the company can gain unwanted access to United States data if they wanted to based on ability.
With these allegations reaching an all time high, there was a recent incident that involved four of TikTok’s employees, two U.S based employees and two China based employees, that hacked into the accounts of two U.S. journalists. The victims in this matter were Financial Times Reporter Cristina Criddle and former Buzzfeed Reporter Emily Baker-White. This investigation started after an article was published by Buzzfeed News in June of 2022 stating White’s claims to being hacked. According to a source from Daily Mail.com, White had rebuttaled in late 2022 with a Twitter post stating, “ByteDance used TikTok to track my location - and the locations of two of my colleagues - to try to find our sources. We reported on this back in October but kept things vague to protect sources. Today ByteDance admitted it…” - (Daily Mail.com, 2022). According to the sources from Daily Mail.com, in December of 2022 Cristina Criddle was classified as a victim in the situation. This was then stated in a recent report that was published in December of 2022 by the Financial Times as correspondence.
According to an article from Forbes, it was mentioned that reporters Richard Nieva and Katharine Schwab who are both journalists for Forbes, were also victims in the hacking incident. The Chief Content Officer of Forbes, Randall Lane, decided to step to the forefront with a statement saying “This is a direct assault on the idea of a free press and its critical role in a functioning democracy,” Lane proceeded to conclude with “We await a direct response from ByteDance, as this raises fundamental questions about what they are doing with the information they compile from TikTok users.”
After the infiltration allegations were brought to the attention of TikTok CEO Shou Chew, the CEO presented an apology based on the circumstance by stating “We take data security incredibly seriously' and that the company has worked hard for over a year to create a new US-based data storage program to show its 'testament to that commitment.” - (New York Times). According to Erich Andersen, the General Counsel of ByteDance, the four employees involved in the hacking incident are no longer employed with the company.
From the perspective of TikTok employees gaining unwanted access to bypass U.S. security, according to a quote from FBI Director Chris Wray, the official spoke in terms of how the United States should be worried when it comes to the manipulation of the app’s recommendation algorithm. Which according to Wray,” allows them to manipulate content, and if they wanted to, to use it to manipulate operations” - (apnews.com, 2022). And according to a quote Wray had given to an audience at The University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, Wray had proclaimed “All of these things are in the hands of a government that doesn’t share our values, and that has a mission that’s very much at odds with what’s in the best interest of the United States. That should concern us,” - (apnews.com, 2022).
Repercussions & The Future of TikTok In The U.S.
There are approximately 100 million TikTok users with active accounts. Although this ban is in motion, it will mostly affect individuals who are employees of the federal government. Certain divisions of the federal government have already enforced restraint of the app on government issued devices. These divisions include the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, and the White House.
Many TikTok users want to know if it is possible that the ban will go beyond the federal government and take a nationwide hit. Well, although there is a possibility, there hasn’t been any further information disclosed by the CFIUS (The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States). The CFIUS is a prestigious interorganizational union that has begun further examination on TikTok during the Trump administration. Although the examination is still ongoing, there are possible updates that are heading our way.
With the investigation of TikTok still ongoing, it has only been announced as a federal government interdict thus far. Any further authoritative prohibition, if applicable, will be determined by the administration in the coming days.