The curious case of TikTok and national security

TikTok has seen an unprecedented growth of popularity this year. Previously, the western edition of the app was called Musical.ly but Chinese company ByteDance bought the company in November 2017 for around $1 billion.

TikTok
Photo: Toutiao via Wikimedia Commons

The New York Times reports that the move has caused the government of the United States to open up a national security review. This comes after officials expressed their concerns regarding the app’s popularity. Senator Marco Rubio wrote to the United States secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin about the security worries.

Sensitive topics

Rubio claims that the app censors content that Chinese officials don’t agree with. Amid political tensions between the US and China, the cabinet didn’t take the issue lightly.

“There continues to be ample and growing evidence that TikTok’s platform for Western markets, including those in the U.S., is censoring content that is not in line with the Chinese Government and Communist Party directives,” Rubio said in the letter, as reported by The New York Times.

The Guardian previously reported that topics such as Tibetan independence and Tiananmen Square may be censored on the app. Rubio feels that this sort of state-backed censorship should not be accepted in the west.

“The Chinese government’s nefarious efforts to censor information inside free societies around the world cannot be accepted and pose serious long-term challenges to the U.S. and our allies,” he declared.

The BBC reports that Tik Tok has around 500,000 million regular users. However, it has been estimated that there have been up to 1 billion downloads of the app. Tik Tok is popular with Generation Z for its ability to create and share video edits easily. Memes, music video edits, and skits can be quickly spread with the app.

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio fears of TikTok’s influence in the United States. Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Allegations denied

Subsequently, TikTok has bit back at these claims and denied any act of censorship. The company said that it has never been requested to censor content by the Chinese government.

“Let us be very clear: TikTok does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China. We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked,” the firm said in a statement 

“We are not influenced by any foreign government, including the Chinese government; TikTok does not operate in China, nor do we have any intention of doing so in the future,” the brand concluded.

Musical.ly and TikTok
TikTok was already gaining popularity when it went under the musical.ly moniker Photo: AnasRoyals via Wikimedia Commons

Global affair

Even though ByteDance may not have removed any content in the US, the situation could be different in China. The company’s Chinese version of TikTok is called Douyin. This app operates on entirely different servers to that in the US.

Additionally, there are many famous cases of popular websites and apps being blocked in China. One of the most known cases is the blocking of Google in the country, with Baidu being the preferred choice of search engine.

The US is being extra cautious when it comes to Chinese technology. Following the reports of Huawei’s connection with Chinese intelligence services, US government officials aren’t taking any risks.

What do you think of TikTok’s national security review? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

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