Why time appears to be running out for TikTok

Security risks, personal data threats and propaganda fears hang over the Chinese-owned short-video app

Has the music finally stopped for TikTok? Well, as they used to say on Looney Tunes, “That’s all folks!”

In a landmark moment, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would force Chinese parent company ByteDance to sell the wacky video-sharing app within six months or face a ban in the United States.

The move was seen as the latest online salvo in Cold War 2.0 between Washington and Beijing amid a raging battle for technological supremacy.

American officials fear that TikTok’s Chinese owner poses a national security risk. Many are concerned that the Communist Party-ruled state could tap into personal data from ByteDance gathered in the US “under Chinese law.” 

“I think the ham-handed lobbying effort that we saw last week should be a wake-up call about how the Chinese Communist Party could order TikTok to mobilize the American electorate in support of its own policy goals,” Lindsay Gorman, a former White House tech advisor, said, referring to TikTok’s “pressure campaign” in Washington.

“This is as insulated from politics as we’re going to get … especially in an election year,” Gorman, who now works for the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, added as reported by Foreign Policy.

The stark reality in China … is that security now trumps everything.

Alfred Wu of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

What happens next?

  • The bill passed earlier this week will now head to the US Senate, where its fate is less certain.
  • TikTok has 170 million American users and has constantly argued that it protects crucial private data.
  • But critics claim China could use TikTok’s powerful algorithm to feed its users political propaganda.
  • Beijing has denied the threat and rejected concerns that the short-video app is a “danger to the US.”

What they said: “Even though the United States has not found evidence on how TikTok endangers its national security, it has never stopped going after [it],” Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, told the CNN network. 

Delve deeper: The controversy has erupted as President Xi Jinping’s regime continues to make national security the number one priority. Even the crisis facing the world’s second-largest economy has taken a backseat, despite a property meltdown and ballooning debt.

Big picture: “The stark reality in China … is that security now trumps everything, from the economy to diplomacy,” Alfred Wu, of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, said as reported by Reuters news agency.

China Factor comment: We give the last word to Wu. “For all that China says about wanting to be open to the outside world, it has progressively closed up,” he added.