Mike Pompeo is considering banning TikTok, but should Americans actually be concerned? The answer for the majority of US citizens is “no”. Why the US military needs to step up their own tech to combat the problem rather than taking it out on the US people.
TikTok was created by Beijing owned company ByteDance which first launched in China in 2016. The company eventually merged with Musical.ly and was made available for iOS and Android in the United States in August of 2018. Much has been discussed about the use of TikTok, an application where users share short video clips with each other, since its release in the United States due to possible national security risks.
To anyone who has closely read the user agreements of an application they have installed on a device lately, the vast majority of these agreements side heavily with the corporation and provide little in the way of personal data protection for the end user. This is true regardless of the company or origin Nation of the application. One can certainly understand how giving third party applications access to cell phones used by government officials could prove problematic for these reasons.
However, anyone who remembers the sudden blowback after the creation of the “Furby” might remind him or herself that the national security concerns sound similar. The US Navy sounded the alarm about the use of TikTok first, banning its usage on all government issued phones according to a Reuters article from November, 2019. An article published a month later by The Verge notes that even though the military had previously used TikTok as a recruitment tool, they followed suit with the Navy, banning usage by members of all US military members as of December 30th, 2019.
This banning of military use of TikTok is a good idea, though I doubt the efficacy of current enforcement of this rule. Multiple TikTok videos were sent around on social platforms in March and April of 2020 depicting US Army Reserves sending out PPE to those in need. This is an example of usage which likely does not directly harm the US national security, but that could easily become a threat depending on what facilities and operation the user who made the video has access to during their daily work.
While this author agrees with the military about the rules against TikTok use, the truth is that the average American has nothing to worry about in its usage. For those concerned about privacy of your personal data, you should know already that if you are using any form of social media you have effectively given away your privacy. I would also add that TikTok is far from the only application with ties to the CCP. Does Pompeo plan to ban all of them from use for the US?
The few other examples of industries and careers in which the use of applications like TikTok could be problematic, are largely already addressed by corporations which prevent either the download of said applications or they prevent the authorization of the user agreement. To break this down for a non-tech person, let me give you an example from real life. I worked for many years in banking, and one of the things that you are taught day one no matter if you are a teller or an IT executive, is that you cannot use a thumb drive on bank equipment. Being tech-minded with a security focus, this made sense to me and stuck at the forefront of my brain. One day I walked into a branch of ours and saw that a customer had handed a teller a USB drive and told them they could access bit-coin this way. (No, that’s not how that works, and the teller and customer were not terribly bright.) I immediately rushed around the corner to try to stop the teller before she put the USB drive in her computer, but was too late. It was at that moment when I remembered, thankfully, that we’d disconnected every USB drive on every computer that ever entered any one of our banking centers for this exact reason.
Long story short, if the military wants to be serious about protecting themselves from CCP spying via applications, then they need to take the technological steps on the back end to enable them to do this. Telling the US people that they will no longer be allowed to use the application simply because the Trump administration chose to divert money to a border wall is absurd and unconstitutional. The US people should not have to pay with our freedoms for the poor decision making of the US Government.