Joe Biden’s administration has made it clear that it wants the Chinese owners of TikTok to sell their shares or face a ban. The video-sharing app has sparked concerns about national security and data privacy because of the Chinese government’s access to personal information, creating a mistrust amid leaders in the US government.
The app’s popularity has skyrocketed, particularly among a younger demographic, making TikTok one of the most downloaded apps globally. The app has over 800 million active users worldwide. In the US alone, TikTok has over 80 million users. During the global pandemic, TikTok has been a source of entertainment and distraction, particularly for younger audiences. This makes the app’s influence significant, and it raises crucial concerns about data privacy, particularly regarding Chinese access to users’ data.
Despite TikTok’s repeated assurances on user data, concerns about the government’s involvement in the app have never been more prominent. The Trump administration, particularly, lodged accusations that the Chinese government’s revenue could link to the app’s US operations. In turn, in August last year, Trump issued an executive order that would have effectively banned TikTok in the US. However, the enforcement was blocked by a federal judge.
Under President Biden, the app’s future still remains uncertain. The President’s executive order (signed in June 2021) prohibits any US investments in companies that own or operate applications scrutinised for their connection with the Chinese government. The move mentioned companies in China such as Huawei and Hikvision, but TikTok was not singled out.
The Biden administration has voiced concerns about China’s potential exploitation of user data privacy via TikTok, creating a mistrust among policymakers. The US government has raised security concerns that the Chinese government could use data collected by TikTok for espionage and disinformation campaigns. As a result, Joe Biden’s administration has pushed for the TikTok parent company, ByteDance, to sell TikTok.a
Amid these concerns, Biden’s call comes as one of the latest escalations in tensions between the US and China. The government’s stance on TikTok highlights a growing concern over the Chinese government’s influence on technology.
Microsoft, Walmart, and Oracle were among several US companies interested in buying TikTok. However, discussions over the acquisition ultimately faded. The details surrounding the potential acquisition are unclear, but it had to achieve stringent funding requirements to allow the transfer of American user data to American servers.
The Trump administration held a firm position on TikTok that overshadowed the debate surrounding data privacy. However, the Biden administration is planning to bring data protection back to the forefront of the discussion. According to a report published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, TikTok has previously censored content that could be viewed as critical of the Chinese government’s operation. This raises questions over ByteDance’s possible compliance with China’s censorship laws as enforced by the Chinese government.
In an increasingly connected global world, the issue of data privacy has begun to rise as one of the new areas of concern. The data generated and held by companies are critical elements of consumers’ fundamental rights, particularly when it links to their identity. The government has a role to play to ensure that companies operating in its jurisdiction, particularly those with global outreach, maintain proper safeguards to protect citizens’ data privacy. This is particularly important for vital factors of security and prosperity.
It is evident that the Biden administration is seeking to take a more proactive approach to data privacy than its predecessor. It is not surprising that the administration is taking more significant steps to protect data privacy than the previous administration, particularly regarding TikTok.
In conclusion, the Biden administration has expressed concerns over the use and misuse of personal data by the Chinese government through TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance. The administration has pushed for ByteDance to sell its stake in TikTok to an American company or face the risk of a total ban. However, TikTok is widely adored around the world, particularly for its user-generated content, such as creative dance challenges, lip-sync routines and comedy skits. The way the government will tackle this issue is unknown, but it is crucial to find a balance between data protection and fair access to this popular platform.