TikTok has found itself at the center of international security concerns as a growing number of countries look to ban the short-form video-sharing app.
The app, where users post or scroll through videos often lasting seconds, has become one of the most popular apps around the world with over a billion users.
Despite its popularity, many countries have moved to ban the app on government-issued devices, with some blocking access to the app altogether.
The concern is around the app’s ability to collect data from users and whether it can share information with the Chinese government.
But TikTok has called these moves to ban the app politically motivated and stressed that any concerns about security are completely unfounded.
Despite this popularity, states have moved to ban the app on government-issued devices, with some blocking access to the app altogether (file photo)
Why do governments ban TikTok?
The primary concerns of most countries are security, privacy, and China.
Owned by Chinese company ByteDance, many governments around the world have concerns about whether the app can collect user data and whether it is independent of Beijing.
Governments and regulators fear that user data could be made available to the Chinese government and used for intelligence gathering. In recent years, Chinese laws have required companies to turn over data to the government if requested, which has added to the concern.
Many fear that data such as browsing history or personal user information such as location information may fall into the hands of the Chinese government and be used to promote propaganda and disinformation.
What was TikTok’s response?
TikTok and parent company ByteDance have vehemently denied allegations by governments around the world that have raised security and privacy concerns. They have long argued that they operate independently, and that any concerns governments have about ties to Beijing’s power are unfounded.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told the US House Energy and Commerce Committee in March 2023 that the company prioritizes the safety of its young users and denies allegations that the app is a national security risk.
As the social media company comes under increasing fire in the US, the company representative, Brooke Oberwetter, said the TikTok situation has been publicly discussed in a manner separate from the realities of that agreement and what we’ve actually achieved.”
TikTok has also called the bans politically motivated and categorically denies any sharing of data with Beijing.
Speaking before a US House of Representatives committee in March 2023, CEO Xu Ziqiu said TikTok prioritized the safety of its young users and denied allegations that the app was a national security risk.
TikTok has described the bans as politically motivated and categorically denies any sharing of data with Beijing
Who blocked TikTok?
From the US to Europe and Asia, lawmakers around the world have moved to restrict access to TikTok.
In the United Kingdom, TikTok has been banned on government devices. A review of the app found that “there may be a risk around how sensitive government data is accessed and used by certain platforms.”
This is a precautionary step. ‘We know there is already limited use of TikTok across government, but it’s also good cyber hygiene,’ government minister Oliver Dowden told MPs.
The United States Congress and the Army, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard have all ordered officials to remove the app from their phones. Twenty-four countries have also banned the app on government agencies.
But all TikTok users across the US may be banned if the app is not sold to another company soon. Democrats and Republicans drafted bipartisan legislation last year proposing to ban the app across the country.
The European Union has banned the app for officials serving in its parliament, committee and council. It also strongly urged staff and members of the European Parliament to remove the app from their personal devices.
A rally is held in defense of TikTok with supporters of the app photographed outside the US Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. March 22, 2023
France has not only banned TikTok but all entertainment apps such as Netflix on government devices for civil servants. The Netherlands is implementing a similar plan with the goal of only allowing pre-approved apps on official devices.
Taiwan, Denmark, Canada, Belgium and New Zealand have all made similar moves for government-issued devices.
In India, the app is banned nationwide. Apps such as WeChat have also been banned due to concerns about China.
Pakistan imposed a temporary ban on the app on four separate occasions over the belief that the app promotes immoral content. The Taliban in Afghanistan also banned the app last year due to a similar belief.
Is TikTok available in China?
Perhaps surprisingly, China has also severely restricted the short video app.
As it has done previously for the likes of YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp, China has created a separate version of the app named Douyin.
For those under 14, the app is limited to just 40 minutes a day between the hours of 6am and 10pm.