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Why should this service be banned in the US?

Why should this service be banned in the US?

Freedom of expression has disappeared in this country.

“Banning TikTok is all members of Congress can agree on? Is that all?”

“I hate.”

Nearly half of the US population is on TikTok. Still. Now the government wants to ban the use in the US with a new law. But why?

“It is controlled by the Chinese Communist government.”

Apps don't look dangerous when you're scrolling. We took a closer look at what America fears. Is this fear justified?

“Hello everyone. I'm Shu.”

This is Show Chiv, the CEO of TikTok. In 2023 we see him at a hearing on TikTok before the US Congress. He was then questioned for several hours about Tik Tok and its ties to the Chinese government. The US has long viewed TikTok as a security risk.

TikTok belongs to the Beijing-based company Pydadance. “The truth is: Biden pledges to the Chinese Communist Party.” China – more precisely the Chinese Communist Party, which forms the government – ​​can spy on and influence the US via TikTok.

In April 2024, a year after Sho Chiu's trial, Congress passed a new law aimed at banning TikTok. The law requires Bytedance to sell its subsidiary Tiktok to the US company. And that too within 9 months.

If Bytedance doesn't do this, TikTok will be banned in the US and disappear from all US markets. TikTok has not commented on the spying allegations. But show sev to American society:

“Our community is full of accepting and compassionate people.” And it reaches millions of users. Hundreds of thousands of posts under the hashtags #savetiktok and #keeptiktok Show: Many people in America share Show Siew's opinion.

But how dangerous is TikTok really?

This is Lucas Mader, who is a tech editor at NZZ and works for companies like TikTok.

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Lukas Mäder: Roughly speaking, one can talk about three risks. The first risk is influencing public opinion, i.e. trying to use content to influence the opinions of a particular audience in a particular country.

TikTok's algorithm is trained to find out which videos we like. Once he knows this, he recommends us similar videos. Harmless at first glance. But TikTok goes a step further and suppresses specific content as well.

Lukas Mäder: It is also a platform suitable for political content. It is easy to imagine that this content will be restricted.

This is confirmed by the report of two research groups from 2023: there are no contributions on Tiktok on topics that the Chinese government wants to suppress.

Compared to Instagram – there are almost no posts on TikTok about events like the protests in Hong Kong or the situation of the Uyghurs in China. But in current conflicts like Ukraine or Gaza, content is systematically suppressed.

Lukas Mäder: But it wasn't necessarily a direct order from the Chinese regime. Since TikTok's parent company is a Chinese company, one can certainly imagine that this will happen out of preemptive obedience.

Additionally, the Chinese regime deliberately uses disinformation. China does the same with other platforms, but the important difference is: Tiktok – unlike other platforms – does not take offensive action against it.

This is especially problematic when you consider that one-third of Americans under 30 get their information on world events primarily through TikTok. Especially regarding the upcoming US elections.

Lukas Mäder: Basically, there is a risk that US elections will be influenced by content on TikTok. Not necessarily to one candidate or another, but to weaken elections as a whole democratic process. That's one of the reasons U.S. President Biden signed the law into law in April.

Lukas Mäder: The second security risk is that someone can be spied on using the TikTok app on their cell phone.

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TikTok knows a lot about you. Very much. For example, it knows your location.

Lukas Mäder: The correct location is sent every time the TikTok app is launched. If it is running in the background, i.e. not active, it will connect to another main server once an hour. During this connection, Bytance learns the cell phone's IP address. And of course it can be geolocated. It creates an operating system for all users.

In 2022, Forbes revealed that Pythons sent location data from individuals. The company used IP data to track the physical location of Forbes journalists. Biden confirmed the incident. The US fears that this is not just spying against individuals.

Lukas Mäder: The third security risk is mass surveillance. If you take the user data of billions of TikTok users around the world, it's a colossal treasure trove of names, email addresses, contact details and location data.

A database of interest in Chinese intelligence. This data can be combined with other data sets from other sources. This creates an overall picture of each user – called a shadow CV.

Lukas Mäder: For example, if someone applies for a visa at the Chinese embassy, ​​you can see: What information do we have about this person? Did she once work for a security firm? Are we to assume that this person is going to China to do some spying? Or you can hire potential spies.

Although there is no concrete evidence that this actually happens, there is a law in China that makes one suspicious. China's National Intelligence Law requires all organizations and citizens to assist Chinese intelligence services upon their request.

Thanks to so-called golden shares, the government also sits on the supervisory board of many Chinese companies. Private enterprises in China are essentially extended arms of the state.

Lukas Mäder: It would be a very attractive data set that the secret services would want to use. At the same time, it must be said that TikTok itself has a lot at stake. If there is even some credible evidence, trust in this application will diminish rapidly.

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TikTok tries to maintain this trust at all costs. “We've taken security precautions that no competitor takes. We've invested billions of dollars to protect your data and protect our platform from outside manipulation.”

Well, that's partly true. TikTok has been storing its US users' data on servers in the US since 2022. However:

Lukas Mäder: This is primarily a PR measure. It's about building trust. I think it is delusional to assume that one can actually completely rule out that this data is protected from access.

Here in Europe? There is also an awareness in Europe that TikTok is dangerous. As a first step, EU Commission employees must delete Tiktok from their workplace cell phones. Also: Until recently, TikTok was threatened with fines. The European Union had asked the agency to better protect the mental health of minors. TikTok is not compliant.

According to the President of the European Commission, Ursula van der Leyen, there is no TikTok ban in the EU either.

Security concerns about TikTok are legitimate. But does that mean banning the entire app?

Lukas Mäder: It's complicated because you're actually using the same system that autocracies use. An app is banned even if there is no concrete evidence that China is using it for espionage or mass surveillance.

“It's a sad moment. But it doesn't have to be a defining one.”

Tiktok and its parent company Bytedance filed a lawsuit against the threatened ban.

170 million users in the US still believe that the TikTok ban may not take effect.