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Is TikTok's Time Up?
The ticking time bomb known as TikTok, edges one step closer to extinction with the first personal ban in the US
Montana, not a state usually associated with cutting-edge cybersecurity and tech trends, passed a bill in April blocking personal downloads of TikTok, the most significant action yet by a state yet against the app. The bill, SB 419, makes it illegal for app stores to give users the option to download the app and also illegal for the company to operate within the state, as of January 1, 2024.
In recent years, concerns over data privacy and national security have led to growing scrutiny of Chinese-owned apps, with TikTok being at the center of the debate. Montana's recent decision to ban TikTok is the latest action taken by states, corporations, and governments worldwide in response to government warnings about it being a tool for espionage by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The primary concern surrounding TikTok revolves around allegations that the app could be used as a spyware tool by the CCP. These concerns arise from China's National Intelligence Law, which requires all Chinese companies to cooperate with the country's intelligence agencies. As a Chinese-owned app, TikTok has faced intense scrutiny due to fears that it may share user data with the Chinese government, posing a threat to national security.
Montana's decision to ban TikTok aligns with a trend seen in various countries and states that have taken steps to restrict or ban the app altogether. India, for example, was one of the first countries to implement a ban on TikTok, citing concerns over data security and sovereignty. Other countries such as Australia, Japan, and the United States have either considered or implemented similar measures to address these concerns.
In addition to US state and local governments, and major corporations have also taken action against TikTok. In December 2022, the U.S. government announced a ban on TikTok for federal employees, and several major corporations, including Wells Fargo and Amazon, have issued advisories prohibiting the app's use on company devices due to security concerns.
The United States has been at the forefront of the battle against TikTok. In response to mounting concerns over the app's potential threat to national security, a bill was introduced in Congress, the RESTRICT Act, to ban TikTok on all federal devices and propose a wider ban across the country. The proposed legislation aims to address the risks associated with Chinese-owned apps by prohibiting their use on government devices and strengthening data protection regulations, however, it is also raising privacy concerns on its own due to its broad language allowing foreign technologies and companies to be banned from operating in the US if they present a threat to national security.
The growing bans of TikTok raise important questions about finding the right balance between user convenience and protecting national security interests. Asking users to take an interest in protecting their own digital identity is a losing battle, as the growth of social media apps in the face of constant privacy breaches and issues demonstrates. However, this needs to be balanced against overreaching protections that have the potential to cause more harm than they prevent as their power is increasingly exploited for political purposes.
At this point, the best that we can all do is monitor the situation and be prepared to push back if the proposed cures are worse than the disease.