In less than three months and notwithstanding intervention, TikTok will be effectively banned in the U.S. unless an American company steps in to save it, after the Trump administration declared by executive order this week that the Chinese-built video sharing app is a threat to national security.
How much of a threat TikTok poses exactly remains to be seen. U.S. officials are convinced that the app could be compelled by Beijing to vacuum up reams of Westerners’ data for intelligence. Or is the app, beloved by millions of young American voters, simply a pawn in the Trump administration’s long political standoff with China?
Really, the answer is a bit of both — even if on paper TikTok is no worse than the homegrown threat to privacy posed by the Big Tech behemoths: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google . But the foreign threat from Beijing alone was enough that the Trump administration needed to crack down on the app — and the videos frequently critical of the administration’s actions.
For its part, TikTok says it will fight back against the Trump administration’s action.
This week’s Decrypted looks at TikTok amid its looming ban. We’ll look at why the ban is unlikely, even if privacy and security issues persist.
THE BIG PICTURE Internet watchdog says a TikTok ban is a ‘seed of genuine security concern wrapped in a thick layer of censorship’
The verdict from the Electronic Frontier Foundation is clear: The U.S. can’t ban TikTok without violating the First Amendment. Banning the app would be a huge abridgment of freedom of speech, whether it’s forbidding the app stores from serving it or blocking it at the network level.
But there are still legitimate security and privacy concerns. The big issue for U.S. authorities is that the app’s parent company, ByteDance, has staff in China and is subject to Beijing’s rules.