Debate: Should the US and other countries ban TikTok?

The US recently has debated banning TikTok, with companies like Amazon even suggesting employees shouldn't have it installed on their phones (then later retracting that). India banned TikTok along with other Chinese-based apps recently. And, perhaps most notably, China has banned a wide range of non-local apps from their market for decades.

What's your take on the situation? Should the US or other countries ban TikTok over privacy and data security concerns? Or should the web and app availability in general be left open for the market to decide on its own?

maguay's avatar
a year ago

I personally think the US should not ban TikTok.

China has for years banned foreign websites and apps, especially those that don't comply with local censorship requirements, which most notably has kept American social media companies from competing inside China. That today could be argued is a trade restriction from China, a policy tech companies and other governments should want to see changed.

Banning TikTok merely legitimizes China's actions of banning foreign apps, removing the argument of why China should allow US-based apps into China in the first place.

If TikTok is collecting more data than the App Store and Google Play rules allow, or if they were found to be using undocumented APIs to break sandboxing, the App Store itself should remove their mobile app, as with any other app that does not comply with privacy policies. And if the US or other governments put more oversight on allowing Chinese companies to acquire domestic companies in their countries, or even require local data storage as the EU requires for many companies, that is in line with existing trade policies.

But if the US government bans specific apps, there's no legitimate way to criticize China's banning of US-based apps in the future. It'd then be merely a debate over which apps should be banned; the policy of banning itself would be legitimized.

Part of what's made technology and software especially such a dynamic industry is how globalized it is, how you can build something anywhere in the world and launch it globally. The more things get locked down, banned, and georestricted, the less that's the case.

3 points
osbennn's avatar
@osbennn (replying to @maguay )
a year ago


This bit resonates with me the most:

If TikTok is collecting more data than the App Store and Google Play rules allow, or if they were found to be using undocumented APIs to break sandboxing, the App Store itself should remove their mobile app, as with any other app that does not comply with privacy policies.

On the other hand, I think there are two levels of user surveillance data that are potentially alarming with any consumer tech that gets big. One, legally / regulatory / terms of service-compliant surveillance, like, for example, Google tracking people's locations. And two, collecting data that users don't consent to share, like Siri (allegedly?) does. The two levels are both scary, but they're also fundamentally different in terms of onus.

Three provocative questions that I genuinely want answers to – not trying to prove any point here:

  • To what extent do the app stores, essentially private product distribution marketplaces, have a responsibility to write and enforce terms of service that truly protect users' privacy, either from a standpoint of consumer-centricity or national security?
  • Aside from "They're Chinese!" (which might or might not be a smoking gun unto itself), is there any reason to believe that the TikTok app might be spying on users?
  • Is allowing Beijing to access personal data on millions of Americans any more dangerous than giving Zuckerberg access to the same?
2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @osbennn )
a year ago

@osbennn Great points, appreciate you adding them to the discussion!

A grey area that I view as the most insidious is the areas between the two you mentioned: Apps that pull data (say, location data) for one feature, but then use it more broadly than customers would expect. Uber had this a bit back, where they were tracking your location for several minutes after you left your ride (to see if you took other transit or were dropped off at the right spot, according to Uber). Consumers would expect Uber to use your location to book a ride and let a driver find you—they don't expect to be tracked after that. Retargeting ads feel similar—they're almost certainly the reason it feels like Facebook is listening to you. We want services customized to us and to use data to help us, but there's a fine line between that and feeling like we're being monitored.

And then, there's the area of what data is shared with governments and law enforcement, which applies to American companies with either individual data requests or broader surveillance—and the same applies to companies based outside the US.

Some countries may view US-based software companies in the same skeptical light as Americans are increasingly viewing Chinese tech companies, too. The EU does, from a perspective of keeping user data stored locally. China does today, more from a desire to censor content, though local storage plays a part as well.

At any rate: It would be interesting to see Apple especially try to force more privacy disclosure on the App Store. They're pushing in that direction, and already make it easy to choose what you what you share for location data, contacts, and photos—even more granular options that are actively enforced would be great.

2 points
NBNite's avatar
@NBNite (replying to @maguay )
a year ago

I agree with you on all of the above @maguay - the only question I have is whether there's too much stock being placed on not banning the app because it removes the reverse argument of China banning US apps.
I'm not too familiar with the specifics here; do you know if there has been any headway on allowing US-based apps into China?

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @NBNite )
a year ago

@NBNite Yeah, I guess it's 1) what the "high ground" is worth here and 2) what reason is used for blocking so then 3) what potential other apps have of being blocked in the future.

Not deeply versed either on the Chinese side, though I do know that Evernote, iCloud, Microsoft's service, and a handful of other American SaaS are available in China. I believe the restrictions typically are that search and social media would have to censor results to be available in China, and that at least some SaaS has to comply with local data storage requirements. Those are both deeply restrictive and keep the Chinese internet primarily domestic—and I think the greatest risk of the US and other countries blocking apps and services from China is that, over time, each country more or less ends up with its own internet. Which might be a short term win for local apps, but long-term makes the world less connected.

2 points
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