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FutureStarrTikTok Ban in US Hinges on Split From China ByteDance
Bloomberg News reports that a ban on TikTok in the US could indicate its separation from Chinese parent company ByteDance. This move would be seen as an effort to address US regulators' worries about national security risks, Bloomberg notes.
Concerns arise from TikTok's relationship with China, which requires American companies to hand over user data when requested by the government. That puts TikTok at risk even though it isn't located there.
The United States is taking action to ban TikTok, the popular Chinese video app. This comes after several other recent actions taken against it such as Congress voting in December to prohibit it from government devices and an increasing number of governors taking measures to remove it from state computer networks.
States across the US have passed laws prohibiting TikTok from state-owned devices, while the White House ordered federal agencies to delete it from their own phones by this week. The app has already been banned in Canada and by the executive arm of the European Union because they fear it could be used as a tool for manipulating citizens.
Additionally, several lawmakers have introduced bills to ban TikTok from being downloaded on any U.S. device, with Senator Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio proposing a bipartisan measure that would prohibit TikTok's presence at government functions as well as encouraging more states to take action against it.
Meanwhile, ByteDance has been advocating to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) for stronger protections for TikTok's American operations. According to reports, measures being considered include separate decision-making processes for their US operations and full domestic storage of sensitive user data.
David Choffness, executive director of Northeastern University's Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute, questions why the U.S. government isn't taking a firmer stance against TikTok since it collects user data similarly to other social media companies and has access to location data on US users.
One concern is that the Chinese Communist Party might use the app to propagandize or censor content and shadow-ban disfavored videos. Other worries involve TikTok and ByteDance accessing US user data, and whether or not the Chinese government could influence or control the company's algorithms.
Another concern is that ByteDance may be using TikTok to gain a foothold in the Chinese market, which it is currently not permitted to do. Furthermore, the app has been criticized for sharing user data to China which violates European privacy regulations.
Public schools and colleges across the US are taking action to ban TikTok - a popular Chinese-owned social media app that allows users to share short videos. They follow suit with federal government officials and several states who have banned the app due to concerns that foreign governments, particularly China, could use it for spying on Americans.
According to a new study, ByteDance - the company behind TikTok - may not be wholly Chinese after all. It has an established relationship with China's government and may even be partially owned by them, but that doesn't explain why ByteDance is facing legal trouble in the U.S.
Some lawmakers and security experts consider TikTok to be a major risk, yet other experts argue it does not need to be banned. Instead, TikTok should be separated from its parent company by selling it off to an American business.
According to Timothy H. Edgar '97, a former national security and intelligence official and professor at Harvard Law School, that would give the United States an opportunity to exert more control over tech companies that face foreign government threats.
If a TikTok ban is successful, it could signal that the United States may begin to censor other foreign-owned platforms as well - social media, apps and websites included. This has significant ramifications as it gives Washington the power to curtail Americans' freedom of expression and privacy rights without violating international law.
A ban would take away an outlet for expression for about 100 million younger Americans who use the app as a creative platform to share and view music, dancing and communications. Furthermore, it would stifle an app that has become an enormous influence in young people's cultural lives around the world.
But the question remains whether the United States should do that. While a ban may be the most efficient way to safeguard our citizens against privacy violations and collection by foreign potential adversaries, it does not provide them with freedom of speech or expression. Instead, reframe our policy as an effort to encourage companies across various industries to treat Americans with high levels of respect and dignity.
TikTok is one of the world's most popular social media platforms, yet its links to China have drawn considerable criticism. The app has a small stake in its parent company ByteDance that some US lawmakers fear could allow China to collect user data and influence American behavior through this channel.
TikTok has attempted to address these concerns by storing its American user data in the United States and backing it up in Singapore, but many experts remain worried that these won't be enough safeguards against Chinese-based hackers. They also worry that Chinese government hackers could exploit TikTok's weaknesses and steal users' content without consent.
This concern is compounded by the fact that TikTok's leadership and most of its key strategies come from ByteDance, a Beijing-based company with close ties to Chinese government agencies. This requires employees to make late night trips to China for meetings with their ByteDance counterparts, which has an immense effect on how the business runs.
As such, TikTok has had difficulty reconciling its Californian values with Chinese political and cultural dynamics (Kaye et al. 2020).
TikTok has evolved a type of usership that blends public self-expression and exhibitionism. This type of usership is intended for virality and often seen as an indicator of Chinese soft power (Medina Serrano et al. 2021).
Another way the app's relationship with China shapes its future is by giving the Chinese government a stake in TikTok's parent company. This is part of their larger effort to control more of China's technology sector.
This move is also in line with a wider US policy that seeks to limit the influence of Chinese companies. For instance, President Donald Trump has led calls for banning Chinese telecom firms from providing services in America due to perceived security risks.
A TikTok ban would likely have a major effect on the company, although it remains uncertain whether or not it will succeed. If so, they might need to adjust their policies in order for American users' personal information to remain protected. Current CEO Mark Pincus is expected to appear before Congress next month and could take measures such as hiring a senior cybersecurity official from government agency or altering corporate security strategy so that Americans' data does not end up in the wrong hands.
TikTok has grown exponentially over the past two years and shows no signs of stopping. It now boasts over 2 billion users with impressive user growth - 315 million downloads in Q4 2020 alone! The app has become a platform to share entertaining yet meaningful content, creating an arena for political activism, education, and commentary alike.
Social media trends come and go, but TikTok stands out as a platform with the potential to shift social norms and digital hierarchies. That's why some security experts and political leaders are concerned about its relationship with China - even though they've promised to transfer American user data to American servers and are currently working with CFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States) in an effort to prevent Chinese data collection from their US users.
ByteDance began with TikTok in China, but has since expanded their product offering beyond that country with other services that leverage their AI capabilities and content to monetize and expand their user base. Their Xigua Video product - a Netflix-like video service - has seen phenomenal growth with 55 million DAUs in China alone and they've begun licensing full-length movies from major studios.
The Xigua Video product is an excellent example of how ByteDance's ambitions and AI capabilities can be utilized to build other products. Its growth has been so rapid that the company was able to hire a former head of Disney+ as both COO and CEO.
ByteDance has begun to acquire other companies, such as Resso in the music sector. This acquisition could allow ByteDance to undercut competitors like Spotify, Apple, WeSing and Kugou on price while giving them more control over point-of-stream data and monetization.
Due to these new developments, there are now concerns that ByteDance and TikTok may no longer be on the same playing field. As a result, some have called for the divestiture of ByteDance from its parent company in the U.S., to put it on its own separate path.