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The US Government Is Considering A TikTok Ban

The US Government Is Considering A TikTok Ban

The US Government Is Considering A TikTok Ban

TikTok, one of the most popular apps in the world, as well as other Chinese apps, may soon be banned in the U.S. This, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who recently said that the administration is “very seriously” considering putting a restriction on the popular social media platform, among others. The reasoning boils down to potential privacy and censorship issues.

It’s part of a broader crackdown on Chinese-owned and operated technology due to national security concerns that companies are funnelling user data to the Chinese government. So far, these claims are unsubstantiated.

For its part, TikTok says it has data storage facilities in the U.S. and Singpore, for example, though it is unclear if all U.S. TikTok users photos and user names are stored there. The company said that it would placate India, which banned TikTok last week along with 58 other Chinese apps, that it could store all Indian data on a server in India, something the company said it would build a year ago, but has not yet delivered on.

While Pompeo didn’t commit to saying TikTok will be banned or restricted, it is on the table. Here is what Pompeo had to say about it.

“We are taking this very seriously. We are certainly looking at it. We have worked on this very issue for a long time. Whether it was the problems of having Huawei technology in your infrastructure we’ve gone all over the world and we’re making real progress getting that out. We declared ZTE a danger to American national security. With respect to Chinese apps on peoples’ cellphones, the United States will get this one right too.”

A TikTok spokesperson responded to Pompeo’s remarks Tuesday in a statement, writing “TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the U.S. We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”

Pompeo’s remarks come during a time of heightened tensions between the United States and China, which have spilled over into several arenas including national security, trade and technology.
TikTok which is owned by Beijing-based startup ByteDance has been repeatedly criticized by US politicians who accused the short-form video app of being a threat to national security because of its ties to China. They allege that the company could be compelled to “support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”
TikTok has said previously that it operates separately from ByteDance. It says its data centers are located entirely outside of China, and that none of that data is subject to Chinese law. US user data is stored in the United States, with a backup in Singapore, according to TikTok. A spokesperson for the company told CNN Business in May that it thinks the national security concerns are “unfounded.”
The app has exploded in popularity in the United States and other western countries, becoming the first Chinese social media platform to gain significant traction with users outside of its home country. It was downloaded 315 million times in the first three months of this year, more quarterly downloads than any other app in history, according to analytics company Sensor Tower.

Back in April, a Reddit user operating under the handle bangorlol posted an analysis of the social media app after reverse-engineering it, and has even started a subreddit channel called tiktok_reversing. Bangorlol contends that TikTok collects:

📲 Hardware IDs: Vendor-created strings of numbers and letters that connect a device to software. These can include MAC addresses used in Bluetooth and WiFi networking, CPU serial numbers, and hardware dongle identifiers. Usually, your software licenses are tied to hardware IDs.

📲 Memory usage on your device.

📲 Apps installed on your phone.

📲 IP addresses: These serve as unique identifiers for your computer, tablet, or phone.

📲 WiFi access points.

📲 GPS pings.

Notably, TikTok does acknowledge some of this in its privacy policy. The company says it can “automatically collect certain information from you when you use the Platform, including internet or other network activity information such as your IP address, geolocation-related data … unique device identifiers, browsing and search history.”

Further, bangorlol says if anyone attempts to reverse-engineer or debug the app so that it, say, doesn’t censor videos that are displeasing to Beijing (which it currently does), the app will notice those actions and adapt to conceal its code. “They don’t want you to know how much information they’re collecting on you,” bangorlol wrote.

At a time when content is king, with many people still largely avoiding public gatherings, TikTok is a major resource for entertainment. Banning it in the U.S. would erase a large chunk of the user base and would have major ramifications.

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