More and more countries are imposing restrictions or considering banning the world’s fastest growing app, the Chinese app TikTok.
Weak privacy protection and national security interests are cited as the top reasons why authorities in North America and Europe are now taking action against TikTok.
In a short time, TikTok has become an adventurous Chinese success story. In the United States, two out of three teens use the app. The application has more than 100 million users in Europe. A very large percentage of teens and young adults.
The big problem with TikTok is that it is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.
Like all other Chinese companies, TikTok adheres to the country’s intelligence law.
The company is required by law to hand over data if requested by Chinese intelligence services.
It raises concerns that China may use TikTok as a Trojan horse in Western countries. The Trojan Horse is a legend about the Greeks, who were at war with the Trojans, built a hollow horse out of wood and placed soldiers inside it.
The unsuspecting Trojans pulled the horse inside the city gate. When it got dark, the soldiers dismounted from their horses and opened the city gate to invade. The Greeks attacked and destroyed Troy.
The parallel today is that China, with the help of apps like TikTok, can enter Western societies and access the sensitive personal data of millions of users.
TikTok, like other social media, can be used to spread propaganda and disinformation, with the aim of influencing public opinion and sowing seeds of social unrest.
In recent days, the European Union Parliament banned employees from having the TikTok app on their work phones. The European Commission and the Council of the European Union did the same. In Taiwan, the app is banned in the public sector.
In Denmark, Folketing members and staff have been strongly encouraged to remove TikTok from their smartphones.
Government employees in the United States and Canada are not allowed to have the app on their work phones. A motion is being made in Congress to ban TikTok completely.
India banned TikTok and other Chinese apps in 2020, citing security concerns. It happened after bloody clashes between Chinese and Indian soldiers at a disputed border in the Himalayas.
However, in Norway, there are no plans for bans or restrictions.
The matter recently came to the fore when Justice Minister Emily Inger Mehl (Sp) admitted that she had been using TikTok on her work phone for a period last fall.
The government has no plans to introduce new guidelines on the use of social media. Parliament is satisfied with MPs urging caution.
Some will be more difficult.
The Progress Party announces whether it will submit a proposal to ban TikTok on the official mobile phones of members of the government and employees in ministries.
The Liberal Party wants the European Parliament Presidency to take a stand on representatives’ use of TikTok.
Spokespersons for TikTok and its owner ByteDance say concerns in Western countries are unfounded.
Allegedly, the Chinese authorities never required them to hand over TikTok user data, and so they didn’t either.
The company is lobbying extensively in Europe and North America to prevent tougher restrictions from being adopted. They also promise to improve security and privacy.
TikTok is much more than just entertainment. For many young people, it is the most important source of information. It can be an effective advertising tool, something the company says it is aware of.
Recently, TikTok revealed that 1,704 accounts were used in a coordinated, covert effort to influence users’ opinions on the war in Ukraine. In fact, almost all of these accounts were controlled by a network in Russia: they rammed their pro-Russian message directly to British, German, and Italian users in their own languages.
According to the New York Times, the network managed to attract more than 133,000 followers before TikTok took action and shut down the fake accounts.
In the latter half of 2022 alone, TikTok is said to have removed a total of 865,000 fake accounts and tens of thousands of videos that violated the company’s guidelines.
TikTok uses this as examples of them being responsible and wanting to clean things up.
But this is happening after several European countries criticized TikTok for insufficient privacy protection and poor content control. Neither the authorities in the United States nor in the European Union are reassured. on the contrary.
Relations between China and Western countries are getting colder. TikTok has become a pawn in the great power rivalry between the US and China.
Much attention has been paid to Chinese cyber espionage. It has become imperative for Western democracies to protect critical infrastructure.
China goes on the defensive. They claim that Western countries are aggressively and groundlessly persecuting a Chinese company. That this is something the US and others are doing to hit Chinese companies. It is called political theatre.
China has a bad situation.
The communist regime prevents its citizens from accessing western apps and media. In recent years, censorship has been intensified and surveillance has been tightened.
In the 2023 National Security Assessment from the Police Security Service (PST), China was reported to be a significant intelligence threat to Norwegian interests.
It was warned that Chinese intelligence would use a wide range of means to obtain advanced technology, knowledge and sensitive information. PST writes that Chinese companies can be ordered to spy on behalf of the party-state
In 2020, President Donald Trump called for TikTok to be banned. It did not happen during his presidency. The app has grown in popularity since then.
The fact that civil servants can’t get the app on their service phones isn’t a big deal for TikTok. What TikTok fears are more restrictions and blanket bans.
Its success so far has protected TikTok. It is often said that TikTok has become too big to fail.
The application is not only used by young people. Politicians use it, also in the United States, when campaigning. Small and large businesses are on TikTok to market their wares. Established media outlets use TikTok as their news platform, such as VG.
But it is hoped that attention to the problematic aspects of TikToks will lead to more vigilance. We don’t need a recent version of the Trojan.
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