ByteDance would be worse than its bark

ByteDance, parent of TikTok that was banned by GoI along with 58 other Chinese apps over national security concerns, is reportedly in talks with the Hiranandani Group in its consumer technology business or storing data in its server farms. One of the concerns was privacy protection and storage of data outside the country.

TikTok gathers an immense amount of data with every interaction by a user. This ranges from knowing who your friends are, what you discuss with them over messages, where you have been through the day, and what your taste is in everything from music to politics. This degree of surveillance is not uncommon among ByteDance’s bigger rivals like Meta and Alphabet. But they use the data they collect principally to make more money. What sets TikTok apart from Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts is its porous relationship with its Chinese parent ByteDance that is bound to share data with the Chinese government. Chinese law requires all businesses to open their databases to assist Beijing in gathering intelligence. This is naturally a concern worldwide as the antics of today’s teenagers may come back to haunt the next generation of global leadership. The scope for influencing future policy and governance is wide.

TikTok has tried to break down US suspicions by distancing itself from ByteDance and even considering merger with US firms like Walmart and Oracle. It has also been hiring its top executives from the West. Yet, the doubts have not been laid to rest since Donald Trump threatened to ban it. The Joe Biden administration has been more accommodative, but TikTok remains slightly beyond the scrutiny over privacy protection most of its US competitors face.

India’s ban came in the aftermath of the border dispute with China. TikTok has no plans to re-enter what had become a significant market. ByteDance’s talks with potential local partners rekindles the issues that culminated in TikTok’s ban. GoI has reportedly been sounded out before the talks were initiated. Good sense should prevail once a formal proposal is made.


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