As reported by the CBC, Brendon Carr of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has asked Apple and Google to ban TikTok from its App Stores, citing data privacy concerns. According to Commissioner Carr, “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.” Could this be the first slice of the TikTok toast?
TikTok is owned by the Chinese company, ByteDance, which has well-known connections to the Chinese government. The FCC is worried that millions of American teenagers are being constantly profiled and their data harvested and analyzed by China.
It may seem hypocritical that Commissioner Carr isn’t asking that Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat be dropped for doing exactly the same thing. However, these are American private companies operating under the protection of a democratic government and focused on generating advertising revenue.
The clock is TikToking
China is a communist dictatorship that controls its population via digital cameras and the Internet. They’ve even built their own domestic Chinese Internet complete with a nice big firewall so that citizens cannot access the World Wide Web that we all take for granted.
The assumption is, since China is a communist country, parent company ByteDance can never be truly free from state control. Therefore TikTok should be banned. We’ve already seen many cases of democratic elections being influenced by social media manipulation. Remember the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal that resulted in the election of Donald Trump?
This potential link to state-sponsored hacking spooked even President Trump. In 2020 he wanted to ban TikTok from US smartphones. He tried to force ByteDance to sell itself to American buyers, complete with a deal fee to the US Treasury Department.
It may sound like ByteDance is simply a victim of global politics. However, Buzzfeed recently reported they’ve seen leaked evidence from 80 internal TikTok meetings where ByteDance employees discuss accessing non-public personal data on US users. This is exactly the scenario that inspired Trump’s ban or sell policy. In the current political climate, action like this will not make it any easier for Chinese technology companies to operate in the Western world – just ask Huawei.
TikTok is Toast
Unless TikTok can find a way to completely remove any hint of Chinese government influence, it will experience increased international scrutiny and national bans. The only choice for ByteDance is to sell all of TikTok to a Western tech titan like Apple or Microsoft. That would put the most successful social media app of the 21st century in American hands, which is probably just fine by Commissioner Carr.