Just days after India officially banned as many as 59 apps owned by Chinese tech companies or Chinese developers, more countries are now looking at banning Chinese owned apps as well. These include the popular social media app TikTok, among others, with fears over national security and the possibility of user data being shared with China. At this time, US and Australia have been very vocal about the need to ban Chinese social media apps, indicating a hardening of stance against China by an increasing number of countries.
In the US, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has confirmed hours ago that the US government is looking at banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps in the country. “I don't want to get out in front of the President [Donald Trump], but it's something we're looking at,” said Pompeo while speaking with Fox News' Laura Ingraham. He said the administration is “taking this very seriously.” TikTok is owned by Chinese tech company Bytedance and has repeatedly been criticized by politicians in the US of being a national security threat, alleging that the app sends data back to the Chinese government. TikTok has, on its part, said that its servers for the app are based outside China and not governed by Chinese law for any data sharing.
In China, the National Intelligence Law of 2017 governs all tech companies that are based in China or are under Chinese ownership. The law mandates all businesses to share any and all information that the Chinese Government may ask for.
In Australia, there are calls for the government to ban TikTok and other Chinese social media apps. A Federal MP has revealed plans to put TikTok before the Foreign Interference through Social Media senate inquiry over fears that the app developers are sharing user data with the Chinese government. The unnamed MP also says this is an effort by the Chinese Communist Party to collect data of users in other countries. “It might be dressed differently but it's the same beast,” the MP told the Herald Sun.
For TikTok, it may not be as simple as it seems.
The social media platform is trying to take a stand and is saying they will exit Hong Kong within the next few days. The company says they are pausing review of requests made by the Hong Kong government for user data as a reaction to the new national security laws that China has imposed in Hong Kong. “In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong,” a TikTok spokesman told Reuters. The new law criminalizes "secession, subversion, organization and perpetration of terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country.”
TikTok is incredibly popular around the world. According to analytics firm SensorTower, TikTok was downloaded 39 million times on Android phones and 14 million times on iPhones, in just the month of June. The app has clocked more than 2 billion downloads globally in just the first half of this year on Android and iOS.