My Thoughts About the United States Banning TikTok
These are my personal thoughts about the United States banning TikTok.
As you may have already heard, some congressional leaders have proposed the ban of a Chinese based social media application called TikTok.
There is fear, with some truth mixed in, that TikTok is a danger to United States national defense. There are many reasons congressional, military, and other policy leaders fear TikTok, but the common theme seems to be related to data collection on American citizens and the potential of manipulating viewpoints in favor of the Chinese government.
There are legitimate points of concern, but I will argue that there needs to be consensus on why we want to take the extreme measure of blocking a service, which can be easily circumvented by the average user. The current reasoning seems to be:
- Protection of US citizen data (e.g., location, likes, views, etc.)
- Protection of US citizens against foreign interference of societal normalcy (e.g., skewing what is watched, pro-China propaganda, etc.)
- Protection of military and strategic interests including service members usage
- Some other reason?
As far as I am aware, we have never blocked an entire service, especially one used by millions of US citizens. Doing so would set a dangerous precedent, in my opinion, which would alter how we view and potentially control the content on the internet.
Protection of US Citizens’ Data
A natural response when asked about why the US should block TikTok typically contains points surrounding protecting the American peoples’ data. This, in my opinion, is a fallacy. You can see this by the countless data breaches every year, and we have yet to implement data protection for our own citizens data. Thank you Dave Kennedy for first mentioning that our government should instead implement a GDPR data protection policy instead trying to block content directly.
If our political leaders claim that they want to block content in the name of protecting citizens, then why not protect citizens in a more universal manner like GDPR at a national level?
Citizens must understand that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc. are all US based companies and have more data about their users than most governments. As an example, as of January of 2023 Microsoft processes an estimated 65 trillion signals a day—that data is more than just which Windows updates are being downloaded. Additionally, if Google or Facebook or etc. wanted to, they could easily alter how we view news, videos, data and more. It could be difficult to near impossible to detect.
If the real reason is protection of American citizen data, then we must focus on data protection policies and legislation here at home. We should focus on software improvements, new operating systems built with security in mind, education & training programs, etc.
Protection of US Citizens Against Foreign Interference
The other big argument I am seeing from politicians and government officials is regarding the protection of American citizens by stopping potential foreign interference. FBI Director Wray said on March 8th, 2023 in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats to U.S. security, that the Chinese government could also use TikTok to control software on millions of devices and drive narratives to divide Americans over Taiwan or other issues.
This is a valid concern, but I do not believe that the government should intervene with what content I should and should not be allowed to view. This, to me, is an extreme overreach and our government should not have the authority to restrict or promote certain content, no matter the impact. This is the foundation of the internet. The internet is (and should be) free and open to anyone. I do not believe that governments should impose their political beliefs upon others. This is exactly what we are accusing China of doing.
Protecting Military & Strategic Interests
Removing or forcing government entities, employees and contractors to remove / ban TikTok from their devices is appropriate and warranted. I do not believe that the government should take this same action against all Americans.
I want to make a point that may not align with most people’s viewpoints on this topic. Please understand this is my opinion only.
If we are trying to convince the public that banning TikTok is in our best national interest in order to protect citizens for government interference, then we must self-reflect. Whether you agree or not, the US government has performed warrantless surveillance on Americans, forced organizations to hand over user data, unlock phones/hardware, tapped (tapping?) backbone networks and way more.
I love this country, but I cannot stand by and watch politicians and government leaders pushing for blocking TikTok in the name of national defense and freedom when we have done the same thing that we accuse China of.
Many people, who are for the TikTok ban, reference laws in place in China which gives them unprecedented access to all public and private business data on request. This is a major concern. This does not happen in the US, but we have seen the US government accessing private data on American citizens many times over the last decade or longer. That difference matters but does it matter that much?
I’m not going to say I know the answer, but I do have some ideas on possible options that are far more productive:
- As I mentioned above, implement a form of GPDR as a new governmental body with legal and financial authority.
- Require physical hardware and data storage in North America (or just the US) (e.g., AWS/Azure/GCP/Alibaba/etc. data centers in the US).
- Foreign services must reside in Federal Government data centers or approved data centers.
- Shoot, this would suck but force network capture of all foreign company’s services to ensure exfiltration does not occur.
As I have said before, I believe that banning TikTok would set a dangerous precedent. There are many other options that have a far better chance of protecting our citizens than a superficial ban does. I do not know the answer, but I do know that I do not want my government to interfere with what I can view, access or do on the internet. Period.