Share Your Thoughts

India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Why Ban Tik Tok?

Tik Tok, popular with teens the world over for viral videos of pranks and cats,  is under scrutiny. Western governments are mulling a ban on the Chinese app over concerns about mishandled user data, espionage, and potential threats to national security.

TikTok is available in over 150 countries, has 1 billion active users, and has been downloaded over 210 million times in the United States alone.

But should we worry about what’s behind all those dancing cats? At an April 14 EMS briefing, Senator Mark Warner, (D) Virginia, the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and co-author of the Restrict bill, said yes.

Senator Mark Warner on Tik Tok Risks

Warner, the co-founder of Nextel, explained that the app collects user data via algorithms that give Tik Tok a user profile with clearly identified likes and dislikes. It “knows you as a user better than you know,” warned Warner. With 150 million Americans spending an average of 90 minutes a day on Tik Tok, the danger lies in Chinese engineers getting access to American data, especially on kids, which could be manipulated. Warners calls it “a very real tangible threat.”

While he acknowledged the positive power of technology and the creative content on Tik Tok, Warner emphasized the need for a privacy bill, data portability, interoperability, some first amendment rights protections, and some reform on section 230.

“The need to have kids online safety bill. All those are, are absolutely necessary.”

Kids are getting their news from Tik Tok

Kids are not just looking at cat videos and dancing videos, but getting their news from social media, including Tik Tok, owned by Byte Dance. This creates opportunities for the Chinese propaganda machine. The notion that the Chinese Communist Party (CNP) could float in videos that say, “Putin is right. Ukraine as part of Russia,” or “President Xi’s aspirations to take back Taiwan,” could become a reality that the West will have to contend with, added Warner.

Tik Tok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before Congressional lawmakers in March to dissuade a potential ban or a sale to new owners. But AP News reported that “both the FBI and officials at the Federal Communications Commission have warned that ByteDance could share TikTok user data — such as browsing history, location, and biometric identifiers — with China’s authoritarian government.”

Guard Rails for Byte Dance

Opponents of Tik Tok voiced concerns about parent company Byte Dance’s allegiance to the CNP, rather than their customers or shareholders. As of 2017, Chinese law requires any Chinese company to hand over information at the request of the Communist Party.

“We have not had a sophisticated approach about how we deal with technology that is controlled directly or indirectly, by foreign governments, from some of the adversarial nations we face,” added Warner.

The 26 bi-partisan co-sponsors of the bill are not pushing for an outright ban, said Warner, but rather a rules-based approach with ‘guardrails, or a discouragement.’

Photo by Gogolev Aleksandr on Unsplash

Meera Kymal is the Managing Editor at India Currents and Founder/Producer at She produces multi-platform content on the South Asian diaspora through the lens of social justice,...