China generates suspicions in the West
That Chinese tech companies pose a national security risk sounds more like a paranoid tale than a real danger. So far, no one has been able to prove that Huawei or Tik Tok allow the Chinese government to snoop through their data. There is nothing quite like Edward Snowden’s leaks on how the National Security Agency (NSA) spied on ordinary Americans. There is no proof of irresponsible handling of private data, as happened in the case of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. There is not even evidence that the Chinese government or any other government uses their technology companies to influence the US elections, promoting political content favorable to a certain candidate.
However, fears that sensitive information could be leaked from Tik Tok to China’s intelligence services are not entirely exaggerated. The security agencies of the United States know this very well because they themselves have used these companies to monitor both activists within their population, as well as foreign governments. Five years ago they lobbied Apple to make it easy to unlock an iPhone through a backdoor. And even though the tech company refused to cooperate, they managed to unlock the device thanks to Israeli crypto technology.
People recording themselves dancing, a national security hazard?
An institution like the US Army knows how dangerous an application can be. For this reason, it has prohibited conscripts from having Tik Tok installed on their cell phones. You never know how an entire nation could be put at risk by an app where people share ridiculous choreography.
The Tik Tok app, where people share short videos with music backgrounds, has been listed as a threat to national security.
So far, it has not mattered whether the government in office is Democratic or Republican. Both political parties in the United States have always agreed to keep a close watch on their population and on other nations through technology. In turn, both parties have always denounced any Islamic or communist dictatorship that dares to do the same. Therefore, Tik Tok is a danger as long as it is controlled by a foreign company, even if its servers are located in the United States. If it is bought by an American company, it will just be one more surveillance tool for the government.
The crux of the matter may not be national security, but economic supremacy. We have previously seen a non-US application with meteoric growth that was soon banned: Saraha. Saraha started out as a web app created by Saudi developer Zain-Alabdin Twafiq. Twafiq paid to develop the mobile version of the web app, which quickly became one of the most downloaded apps on the Play Store and the App Store. However, under the argument that the application promoted bullying and put user data at risk, it was removed from the store.
The problem of bullying is not exclusive to an application like Saraha, but these are not removed from the Play Store. It seems that since it is not an American company, nor does it have North American capital, there was no way that the app could remain in the market.
The ironic twists of the Tik Tok drama
The possible veto of Tik Tok is just one more battle in the trade war between the United States and China. China maintains strict control over the applications that can be distributed in its territory. In fact, Tik Tok is banned in China. Instead, ByteDance (the mother company of Tik Tok directed by Zhang Yiming) has Douyin, a twin app, but with servers in the country and that follows the regulations of the Chinese government.
Tik Tok started out as a North American company acquired by a Chinese company.
Now it could end up as a Chinese company forced to be acquired by an American company.