TikTok continues to weather accusations. After surviving a presidential executive order to shut down in the U.S., will anything stop it?
Once again, TikTok finds itself under scrutiny, facing a potential ban in the United States. While legitimate threats to the platform’s continued service in the west have become rare over the past year, the ubiquitous video-sharing app is now getting new public and political pressure over concerns that it poses national security risks to U.S. citizens. Understandably, the numerous accusations could give some users pause.
The central issue with TikTok’s relationship with the U.S. government is that its parent company, ByteDance, has close ties to the Chinese government. TikTok, like every social platform, collects tons of user data to generate revenue through advertisements or to dial in the specificity of primary app functions such as the For You page. U.S. politicians opposed to the platform fear that information is also being used nefariously by the government of China and have launched several attempts at getting it removed from the Apple App Store and Google Play.
The latest high-profile call to ban TikTok comes from Republican Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Brendan Carr. In a letter penned to Apple and Google (then subsequently shared on Twitter), Carr calls TikTok “sheep’s clothing,” as he explains that it’s genuinely a veiled attempt by the Chinese government to surveil U.S. citizens. CNBC reports Carr’s letter was inspired by an investigation from BuzzFeed News that revealed audio from dozens of TikTok internal meetings. Employees confirmed user data is visible to ByteDance staff in China.
This is one of those complicated scenarios where reality is practically dictated by perception. Even as recently as Oct. 2021, TikTok execs have publicly testified that U.S.-based security firms decide which data Chinese offices can access. However, even in response to this specific story, TikTok’s spokespeople have stated, “TikTok has consistently maintained that our engineers in locations outside of the U.S., including China, can be granted access to U.S. user data on an as-needed basis….”
That then shifts the question from “Does TikTok’s Chinese parent company see data on U.S. users” to “Does it matter?” Anyone with a daily social media diet is willfully sharing far more personal information than they realize and is likely comfortable with that. If TikTok was a less-popular service, perhaps these kinds of privacy risks could deter public perception. In reality, it’s one of the biggest (and certainly the most trendy) social platforms in the U.S. That means it’s also highly lucrative.
Beyond TikTok being too beloved to ban, it’s also likely to dodge any real legislation because the proper steps are still being taken. The company was already months into getting all of its data onto U.S.-based Oracle cloud services. Despite how suspicious it is that the announcement of 100 percent of its traffic going through Oracle came the same day as BuzzFeed’s story, that should be enough to quell most people’s suspicions. That this is also maybe the sixth time a political figure has attempted to ban the platform (after former President Trump tried twice) only further strengthens the likelihood that TikTok is here to stay.