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Tensions between the United States and TikTok, which Beijing-based company ByteDance owns, have rapidly intensified since July. President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning transactions with ByteDance and its affiliates by Sept. 20, citing national security concerns over the app’s data collection. The American public, the media and the Chinese government immediately scrutinized the decision, as the wildly popular app rejected all claims of wrongdoing.
On the surface, it may seem like Trump’s decision was impulsive and unwarranted, but U.S. intelligence services need more information regarding ByteDance’s relationship to the Chinese government to ensure there’s no national security risk for U.S. residents’ data. To be safe, Trump should continue to push for his ban on the app, even if federal courts have halted the ban for now.
Since the platform’s launch in 2016, TikTok has amassed well over 2 billion downloads worldwide, including over 175 million downloads in the U.S. In the first quarter of 2020, TikTok had 315 million worldwide downloads, the most all-time downloads of an app in any given quarter. TikTok’s global success is indisputable and impressive, but the app has ruffled feathers of the world’s most powerful governments.
Federal lawmakers and data privacy experts have raised serious concerns about TikTok’s practices.
“The Chinese government has taken many steps to make sure they have ultimate control over these tech companies,” said Fergus Ryan, an analyst with the International Cyber Policy Centre and an expert in Chinese tech companies, in an interview with Inside Edition. It’s an unsettling reality.
TikTok collects “vast swaths of information,” including search history and location data, Trump states in the executive order.
“This data collection threatens to allow the (Chinese government) access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information,” Trump states, echoing the same concerns of data privacy experts around the world.
Even if Trump’s concerns about the real risk TikTok poses to the U.S. is a worst-case scenario, any risk that the Chinese government could collect and analyze the data of the app’s 175 million users in the U.S. without their knowledge is not a risk worth taking.
For the millions of Americans who spend excess amounts of time using TikTok every day, the prospect of losing the app over data concerns is not a compelling argument. For college students across the country and here at Syracuse University, it’s important to understand that the misuse of your personal data is more than a random person knowing you like cat videos and cooking.
Data misuse can lead to people and governments learning your habits, preferences, location, search history and anything else you copy and paste on your phone. The possibilities are endless for what can be done with your acquired information.
Data privacy concerns don’t stop there, however.
“It is hard to say,” said Erin Hern, a professor of political science at Syracuse University. “Other actors, like the Russian troll farm ‘Internet Research Agency’ or Cambridge Analytica, have used this type of data in the past to launch misinformation campaigns and influence elections.”
Stronger privacy laws, such as those recently passed in the EU, would help curb the data privacy issues that the United States is facing right now.
If TikTok’s business operations in the U.S. don’t change, there is a legitimate chance the Chinese government will collect and misuse U.S. residents’ data, according to many data privacy experts. Until a deal is made among ByteDance, the U.S. government and a purchaser in the U.S. — which is in the works — the Trump administration should force TikTok to cease all business transactions in the U.S. The threat that the Chinese government could compromise the national security of the U.S. through its relations to TikTok is too great to allow.
Nathan Fenningdorf is a sophomore political science major. His column appears bi-weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published on September 30, 2020 at 11:43 pm