The Fate of TikTok: Harmless App for Silly Trends or Malicious Spyware?
Before we get into the conversation surrounding the popular application, we need to clear something up. When people hear phrases like “Canada is banning TikTok”, it brings about some alarm to the people who use the app, but people on both sides of the argument are being deliberately vague. When countries talk about banning TikTok, as of now, they mean strictly for government officials.
There has not yet been a ban for the public. However, there are those who advocate for the idea of a public ban. The arguments for and against both a government-wide and nation-wide ban are what we will be discussing.
Canada banning TikTok for all government employees may come as a surprise for some, but to those more knowledgeable on how the application works, it should be a no-brainer. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a company within China, which in itself isn’t a bad thing, but the concern comes from what the company does with the data it collects from users.
Forbes has admitted suspicions that TikTok has been spying on its journalists and selling the information to the Chinese government. This was no doubt no surprise to anyone who recalls the leaked audio Buzzfeed produced from internal meetings that showed how ByteDance had repeatedly gotten a hold of non-public data. Both the Chinese government and ByteDance have denied the allegations that the company is giving this information to the government. Most people don’t believe this to be true, as China isn’t exactly the most truthful when it comes to its dealings, and if it is in fact accessing private data, then the app being on the phones of government officials could be detrimental to countries everywhere.
Because of this, there are many who are advocating for an outright ban of the app entirely off of all phones. It’s this that has gotten the most pushback.
The Arguments For and Against a Ban
When you’re one of the largest social media apps in the world with over a billion active users, it would make sense to be defensive. A full on ban in just one country could decimate their revenue. However, given that countries like Canada are only trying to ban TikTok from the phones of government employees, their reaction raised some eyebrows for sure. After all, why should it matter if it’s off of the phones of just government officials? Their main strategy has been to call the government ban a “violation of free speech”, which is certainly a stretch. When it comes to an outright ban across a nation, however, that’s when everyday people get involved to protest. They once again bring out the “free speech” argument, which is understandable when the threat of TikTok’s removal comes to each individual user. However, people are allowed to post the same things they do on TikTok on other sites, and the amount of competitors to the app is rapidly increasing. The question is whether the benefits outweigh the cost.
Some people have said that to ban TikTok nation-wide would be a move that, well, China would make. That brings us to the argument for the app’s removal.
“One thing that never comes up in this discussion is reciprocity,” said James Lewis, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), when interviewed by Euronews. “We get China’s biggest social media into our country, but China doesn’t get our biggest social media into their country. What are they so worried about?”
China is notorious for censorship, famously banning everything that contains content they deem harmful to its agenda. You might recall them barring James Cameron’s Avatar from their theaters due its themes of rebellion. Winnie the Pooh is also banned from showing up on their version of the internet, as critics like to compare the lovable yellow character’s looks to President Xi Jinping. While these may seem amusing to most, it becomes a bit more grim when you learn that they’ve also banned mentionings and pictures of historic events, most famously the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and subsequent massacre by China’s government. Erasing history is something they enjoy doing, and given the content of the world wide web unbelievably large and unpredictable, the Chinese government has banned innumerable sites and services, from Netflix to Twitter. With that being said, why should the Western world, or any country for that matter, allow China to benefit off of people outside of its walls, especially when there are fears that ByteDance is selling our information to their government for their own benefit?
The chances of TikTok being banned for every user nation-wide in any country is unlikely, but the more the controversy is talked about, the more we begin to see the potentially insidious side of one of the world’s favorite apps.