Late on Thursday evening, President Trump issued an executive order prohibiting transactions with the parent company of popular video sharing app TikTok. The order which is due to take effect from September 20th prevents Americans and US companies from conducting transactions with the Chinese tech company ByteDance, citing ‘national security’ concerns. A separate executive order with the same conditions was also issued for WeChat, another Chinese-owned smartphone app.
In his order, Trump asserted that the apps ‘capture vast swaths information from its users, and their data collection allows the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.’ This Trump asserts is a national security concern given the increasingly antagonistic relations between the US and China.
In addition to the executive order, the Senate voted to ban federal employees from downloading the app on government issued devices, whilst Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the Chinese-based app should be banned by app stores run by Apple and Google.
These declarations have sparked a mixture of bemusement and outrage in the US, particularly amongst young TikTok Users. Many users fear that this executive order and Trump’s other threats to outright ban the app could well hinder possible career opportunities for them as well as removing a tool that many have used to try and cope with the pandemic. Many also wonder if Trump’s decision regarding TikTok came about as a result of a coordinated effort on TikTok that led to many young users ensuring that a rally Trump had in Tulsa was sparsely attended.
Then of course there is the apparent hypocrisy of Trump citing TikTok as a national security concern due to its apparent data harvesting, when apps such as Facebook and Instagram-both of which are American-are still allowed to freely operate despite their own data harvesting scandals.
Given this, it does appear as though Trump’s concerns regarding data privacy are purely down to wanting to continue his grudge against China and not actually related to the very real data security threats that are present on apps such as TikTok and Facebook, one of which is answerable to an authoritarian government, the latter of which has been subject to breaches before.
Of course, a counter argument to this is that Facebook and Instagram are answerable ultimately to US voters through being dragged before Congress for hearings, there is no such control for TikTok which could ultimately make life very difficult for the US, should its trade stand off with China continue.