Why does Trump want to ban TikTok?
The battle of the American president against the platform most beloved by teenagers comes to a turning point. In fact, a decree of suspension would be ready, while the hypothesis of an agreement with Microsoft makes its way. But what are the reasons for this opposition?
As criticism of the pandemic's management becomes increasingly fierce, Donald Trump returns to wage war on TikTok and, consequently, on China. Already towards the end of last year, in fact, the American president and his administration had expressed concern about the very popular video-sharing app owned by China's ByteDance. Some Republican senators had in fact raised the issue of privacy, insinuating that TikTok indiscriminately collected the data of its young users and then passed it on "to the Chinese Communist government". It would seem to be a conspiracy theory, but the opposition to TikTok reflects well the climate of distrust that today surrounds the big tech companies, the same ones that until a few years ago were hailed as bearers of new models of communication between people and that today end up testifying before Congress.
Last November, at the New York Times, the co-founder of the app Alex Zhu had to reiterate that TikTok "does not censor videos that China does not like. And no, it does not share user data with China, nor with its Beijing-based parent company. All TikTok user data worldwide is stored in Virginia, USA, with a backup server in Singapore. The worldwide success came after the acquisition, in 2017, of the American app musical.ly for one billion dollars: today the app has 800 million active users, has been downloaded more than two billion times and has been valued at about 50 billion dollars.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has raised doubts about the security of personal data managed by the Chinese platform and riding this new "technological cold war", as analysts call it, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently feared a ban on Chinese apps, including TikTok, while Trump said the suspension decree would be ready. These statements have sparked heated reactions (some quite funny) from social users, who are mostly teenagers. In the last period, on the other hand, there has been much talk about how young activists move on the platform, which has been the place of mass mobilizations in support of causes such as Black Lives Matter.
The United States, however, are not the only ones to monitor TikTok closely: the European Union, through the European Data Protection Board (Edpb), has recently set up a task force to investigate the compliance of the platform's practices with the rules of the Gdpr, while India has already banned the app, as a show of strength against China. Dan Wang, technology analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, explained to the Washington Post that - in fact - the U.S. government has not yet produced "hard evidence" to show how ByteDance would have damaged national security, "but it is still difficult for the app (and any other Chinese technology company) to prove that it can be independent from Beijing. In another era, or with another country, these concerns might have been manageable, but US-China relations are at their worst in decades," the expert concluded.
If the decree threatened by Trump were to come into force, the ban on TikTok could materialize in several ways. After including ByteDance among the companies on the so-called "blacklist" of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Apple and Google should remove the app from their respective stores, which they have often done in China with apps unwelcome to the Beijing government, thus preventing new downloads, while for those already made it is planned to block new updates or the receipt of notifications. Alternatively, the U.S. government could ask Apple and Google to prevent the launch of the app, using a tool called Kill Switch, something that the two tech giants would like to avoid because it would mean acting directly on their users' smartphones. Finally there is the option chosen by India: intervene on local providers, asking them to block access to the TikTok server and thus obscuring the uploaded videos.
Meanwhile, as the New York Times reports, a negotiation between Microsoft and ByteDance for the acquisition of TikTok would be underway, a hypothesis that sees President Trump "strongly opposed". Little is known about the negotiation, however, except that it could change the current balance of Silicon Valley. Microsoft, in fact, has historically lagged behind in the social competition, and the acquisition of TikTok, which today is the most popular platform among the very young and is pushing the other players to copy it, could give a hard time to Facebook and Instagram by Mark Zuckerberg.
Do you and your language exchange friends actively use Tik Tok by posting videos or do you just prefer to have fun watching other people's videos? Let us know in the comments.
- 5 Aug, 2020
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