The U.S. looks into national security dangers, potential Chinese government infiltration

Alex Eastin, Reese Rawson and Valentina Boltchi

Tensions have been building as American officials threaten to ban TikTok, the popular app owned by Chinese company Byte Dance. TikTok has a large presence with over 150 million active users in the U.S. alone, according to CNN. American officials believe TikTok may pose a threat to American security, fearing Chinese authorities could use the app to gain American data. 

Some senators are considering banning TikTok in the U.S. or proposing the sale of TikTok to an American company. According to The Guardian, countries like New Zealand and India have already banned the app, and the White House has considered following in their footsteps. The Trump administration attempted to ban TikTok in 2020, but this was shut down due to multiple court rulings. The Biden administration, however, has resurfaced the issue and is reviewing the situation due to tensions between the U.S. and China.

“If our country outlaws it, [ESD] will follow,” ESD’s Communications Director Julie Clardy said. “We have reserved our handle on TikTok, but we have no plans yet to use it as a presence.”

While TikTok doesn’t operate in China, its parent company, ByteDance does, and a very similar version of TikTok, Douyin, is available to use in China. Many are concerned that the app could be infiltrated by the Chinese government to either spy on American citizens or use the app to spread propaganda in the U.S.

Lawmakers have recently renewed this issue after a report suggested that U.S. data had repeatedly been accessed by ByteDance employees. But at the heart of all these problems lies the laws of the Chinese Communist Party. 

“China has national security laws that require companies under its jurisdiction to cooperate with a broad range of security activities,” Catherine Thorbecke, CNN writer who specializes in business and technology stories, said in an article.

This poses a threat to the U.S., as the Chinese government could have leverage over TikTok or its parent company at any time. American officials work to find out if and how that leverage has been used. 

According to CNN, some security and privacy directors have stated that TikTok doesn’t differ from other social media networks in terms of the data that is collected from their users. 

Montana was the first state to approve a full ban on TikTok on April 14. The bill makes it illegal to download TikTok in the state, with penalties of up to $10,000 a day for any entity, such as Apple, Google or TikTok, that makes the popular video-streaming app available, according to NPR. If enacted, the ban in the state would not start until January 2024. 

Freshman Jay Miller is an avid user of the app, spending many hours a day watching and making TikToks.

“They have everybody’s information, so I don’t really care if they have my stuff too,” he said. “What would China do with our information?”

According to the BBC, Republicans and Democrats came together on March 23 in a congressional hearing to question TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew. Chew told politicians the Chinese goverment never had access to American data.

“They have never asked us, we have not provided it,” Chew said in an article for People Magazine. “ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country.”

To abolish these safety concerns, TikTok has announced “Project Texas,” which will move U.S. user data outside of China to Texas. Project Texas initially earned its name in 2020 when Austin-based company Oracle won out to serve as TikTok’s U.S. technology partner. Politicians, however, are still unsure if Project Texas can be accomplished by the end of the year. 

Politicians are also concerned about TikTok’s ability to spread dangerous information to the many young kids on the app. Chew emphasized that the company does its best to remove videos that go against the apps’ community guidelines. TikTok has recently created a $1 billion creator fund, where money is paid by TikTok directly to its content creators to keep them posting frequently on the app. Many other Americans find the creator fund heavily beneficial. Sproutsocial, a social media management company, states in their website that the apps’ posts make users inclined to buy a product.

“Forty-nine percent of TikTok users said it helped them make purchase decisions,” writer Carly Hill said in a “What is TikTok?” article published on Oct. 11, 2022. 

Freshman Michael Peralta has no social media presence and feels TikTok should be banned.

“I can see the addictive factor of [TikTok], but I feel like there’s also some clear points that are too addicting at some point,” Peralta said. “I feel [the TikTok ban] is completely right. There has been some data encrypting, data stolen, and it’s too addictive.” 

Small business owners, however, find TikTok a useful platform to advertise and sell their products. It is a convenient alternative to expensive marketing techniques because of its widespread influence and diverse content. Therefore, many TikTok users have been in a frenzy over the recent possibility of a ban. 

“I [will] use a VPN to get around it,” Miller said. “I [enjoy] watching the funny videos.”

Teenagers around the globe use TikTok so much that banning it will push many to pursue extreme measures to make sure they are still able to use the app. Many believe that TikTok poses no real threat to American security, and they are concerned about the possible violation of First Amendment rights outlined in the American Constitution. Others believe banning the app is the safest option to protect American security from foreign influences.

“TikTok has had a chance to take down all of their horrible challenges, rephrase their system, and stopped dating hacking, but they didn’t, and it’s still happening,” Peralta said. “Until [TikTok] fix[es] it, then I’m not going to defend [it].”

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