TikTok Ban: Is there more to this than meets the eye, or are we just paranoid?

first_imgFive years ago if someone mentioned TikTok we would all be thinking of the sound a clock makes, or horror movies or the nursery rhyme. But mention TikTok to kids these days, most of us would receive a forlorn sigh. While there is no denying the app’s popularity, its ban had many left many questions unanswered. Is there any concrete proof that Chinese agencies have been mining data from the users? Why stop at TikTok, why not ban Huawei and Xiaomi which pose bigger data mining risks? Was it all just nationalistic propaganda? Why did the government decide to take action right after the Galwan attacks? Why did it not put a stop on it before it became popular, and thereby potentially “threatening” so many Indians? Should we expect more bans in the future?It has been more than three weeks since the Indian government put a ban on the app’s use everywhere in India and the much of the fuss about this decision has already died down.  The people have made their peace with its non-existence. TikTok is an app that was swirling in controversies ranging from objectionable content to promoting violence on women. It received flak from all around the world, for doing little to stop these kinds of content from circulating. Even amidst these myriad accusations, there is no denying that TikTok offered a livelihood to many of its users. The popularity and fame that some of its users received helped them financially through promotions, offers for ads and reality shows and even a few job opportunities. It provided a way for these common people to show whatever talent or interest they had to the whole world. Perhaps what worked most for TikTok was that it didn’t necessarily pander only to its English-speaking users but also to much of the population which is not so proficient in the language. Its interface is intuitive and doesn’t rely on a heavy text like Facebook and Twitter. The 15-60 second videos do not have to be polished to perfection as those on Instagram. People could enjoy being themselves without the fear of being judged.TikTok’s parent company Bytedance, based in Beijing, has members who are a part of the Chinese Communist Party. At least 60 of its employees who are part of the Chinese Communist Party hold “managerial posts”. This information was leaked in a document from Bytedance’s headquarters in Beijing. It is also worth noting that China’s National Intelligence Law mandates the citizens and organizations to “support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence”. This means that every citizen and organisation should comply with the orders of the Chinese government to share information about its users if it ever requires. Understandably when this law was passed in 2017 there were concerns that even subsidiaries which were owned by Chinese groups but were based elsewhere would have to release data to the Chinese government. There were concerns that this would further make espionage for the Chinese military much easier now that even the companies were under their control. Cyber attacks and espionage by Chinese hackers isn’t something new, for a long time, the US would be bombarded by attackers from China who would target its IT and hospitality industry. Even India has seen an increase in the number of cyber-attacks from China during the ongoing conflict in eastern Ladakh.It may not be entirely paranoid to assume that TikTok could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but the fact still stands that there are no concrete reports that revealed china was really in on stealing users’ data, all we have are accusations and sketchy Whatsapp chain messages, even professionals sound unsure about it as data-collection has become such a common practice among major companies that TikTok isn’t doing anything special when compared to bigger firms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit and many more.  Further worth mentioning is a rising trend in our world leaders to shape the kind of content that people consume, for all we know the ban on TikTok may just be a plan to irk the Chinese with all the tension that is brewing near the border.TikTok on its own doesn’t have much investment in India, with India providing a measly 25 cores of revenue in 2019 compared to the US which generated 650 cores in the same period. With no major investment in India, losing the whole app wouldn’t hurt the Indian economy as much as it would to the company itself, now comparing these numbers to Huawei and Xiaomi which contribute immensely and invest in a lot of projects and subsidiaries in India, banning those would sting the economy, a lot. So banning the video-sharing app outright might not be as disadvantageous as it appears to be. This may also further The Make-In-India initiative by the prime minister but so far all we see are cheap imitations of TikTok with no inroads being made to a fully desi-styled innovative app. All in all, the ban hits two birds with one stone, making a public statement against China and rallying support for the current government which is seen as having a more aggressive approach against border skirmishes.We never really got any conformation whether TikTok was siphoning data from its users; just accusations, we were only told that the ban was to “ensure safety and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace”. The fact still stands that this app was funded by the Chinese, who have a long history of restriction of freedom of speech. Some major cyber-attacks were traced back to the Chinese military and Chinese hackers are notorious for their skills in getting across tough-to-crack databases.The general public does not have much help; we are at risk from both sides. Banning altogether shows a rising trend in world leaders to restrict technological freedom or influence it favourably, all the while leaving it unattended may pose data risks and information being stolen directly. The lines between the truth and the lie are blurring as we speak, it is nearly impossible to differentiate facts from the fabricated. Trust in our governments is running thin, people are beginning to riot, we can only hope the situation doesn’t worsen, which might be wishful thinking. The point of this article isn’t to provide a quick-fix solution but to inform. To encourage people to think for themselves, check that the information we receive is factual, and most importantly to question the motive behind every decision because as the age-old saying goes, “there are always two sides to a coin”.last_img