“Quarantine got me on tik tok,” Erin Foster told her 500,000 Instagram followers on Tuesday. Foster is hardly alone, but that’s just about the worst place to be.
Communist China hampered the dissemination of information that could have prevented a pandemic, and we’re spending the resultant quarantine period passing time with a stupid app that censors on the party’s behalf. It’s easy to understand why—TikTok’s addictive appeal is heightened in a world of social distance. But if ever there were a time to resist the reach of China’s long arm, it’s now.
How TikTok Treats Data
Much like Britney Spears, TikTok is not that innocent. The app has been credibly accused of censorship on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, and faces legal obligations to overturn its trove of data if the CCP asks. Vox outlined two major concerns about TikTok in December:
One of the more problematic implications is a 2017 Chinese law, which requires Chinese companies to comply with government intelligence operations if asked. That means that companies based in China have little recourse to decline should the government request to access data.
The second is what the Chinese Communist Party might do with that data.
TikTok collects data. As an app owned by Chinese company ByteDance, the CCP can access it. TikTok claims U.S. data is stored outside of China. But that’s “largely irrelevant,” as Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory told the Washington Post last fall. “The leverage the government has over the people who have access to that data, that’s what’s relevant.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) echoed these concerns in a bipartisan letter to Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire sent in November (emphasis added): “Security experts have voiced concerns that China’s vague patchwork of intelligence, national security, and cybersecurity laws compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Without an independent judiciary to review requests made by the Chinese government for data or other actions, there is no legal mechanism for Chinese companies to appeal if they disagree with a request.”
As the Post pointed out, TikTok is not part of “the Global Network Initiative, a collection of companies that have pledged to resist unlawful or overly broad requests from governments to access user data, the group confirmed.”
“The GNI does annual checkups of its members, including Facebook and Google, to ensure they’re keeping their promises,” that report continued. But not TikTok.
Operating Under Censorship
Stamos further observed that TikTok “is operating under a political censorship regime,” and noted “the Chinese government has no problem telling [its companies] where they should come down in political debates.” For instance, content about the Hong Kong protests was noticeably light on the platform last year.
Consider also the case of New Jersey teen Feroza Aziz, whose account was suspended shortly after she posted a video explaining the CCP’s oppression of Uyghur Muslims. At first, TikTok said Aziz was suspended for violating its terrorism rules in a separate video, a satirical clip about dating that included a picture of Osama bin Laden. Then the company changed its story, blaming “a human moderation error,” and restoring the video, rendering its initial excuse highly suspect.
As you might expect, TikTok claims it does not censor content in the United States based on the CCP’s demands. Again, the app is owned by ByteDance, which owns China’s version of TikTok. On Douyin, of course, a “broad range of supposedly subversive topics” are banned. After shuttering its comedy app, ByteDance’s founder issued an apology for “deviation of socialist core values.”
That’s whose app we’re using during these quarantines which, by the way, could probably have been prevented had the CCP not perpetrated a clear and despicable cover-up of the virus. The product you’re using to pass the time while stuck indoors is owned by a company that is necessarily complicit with the bad actors in China who helped put us in this situation.
With kids home from school and adults home from work, people are turning to TikTok for entertainment, and understandably so. The app is fun. Celebrities are flooding it with content. But there is a legitimate ethical question as to whether bored Americans should spend their isolation time boosting the fortunes and influence of a company that is complicit with the communist government that cost us lives and jobs.
We have time to kill on TikTok because of communist China’s cover-up. TikTok is complicit with communist China. We can probably find better way to entertain ourselves while we ride out this terrible storm Chinese communists helped send our way.