Economy & Politics explains security risk Tiktok: is the fear justified?

In our series explains we give a condensed overview of current economic topics. This time: The dispute over TikTok – with the editor John Hunterwho is responsible for Fintech at

Why does the Trump administration want to ban Tiktok in the US?

The official rationale is that the app would pose a security risk for US users. Behind this is the fear that Tiktok will collect user data that will then be passed on to the Chinese government. One must not forget that Trump is also in a trade war with China. It was recently revealed that around 50 million users in the US access Tiktok every day – so if the allegations are correct, that would be an insane number of victims who could have fallen victim to a data protection scandal of global political importance. But one must also say that Bytedance, the company behind the app, vehemently contradicts the allegations. In addition to the official justification of the US government, there is also the suspicion that Trump wants to book a success shortly before the election. If he manages to threaten a US company to at least buy Tiktok’s business in the US so that the app can still be used there, then that can actually help him.

Who could the Chinese parent company sell to to temper Trump?

Pretty much any company that is based in the United States. If that doesn’t exist, then at least one that isn’t in China. Much has been reported that companies like Microsoft, Oracle and Twitter are in talks with Bytedance to take over the US business. But you have to be careful: being ‘in talks with Tiktok’ can mean anything and everything.

Is the fear of Tiktok justified?

The first part on which the fears rest, namely that the app reads data from its users on a large scale, has already been confirmed by independent experts. User monitoring is real and by no means anonymous. This was extensively tested and reported in the media in 2019. In Germany, too, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection have issued an urgent warning against Tiktok – with special reference to the fact that Bytedance is not based in the EU. Whether the fear is justified that the data will actually be passed on to the Chinese government? There is no evidence of this. But it is also clear that videos about the persecution of the Uyghurs or the protests in Hong Kong have been blocked.

Infographic: 6.1 million TikTok downloads in Germany | Statista You can find more infographics at Statista

As the biggest competitor, does Facebook have a hand in this?

Not really. Facebook does not appear in the takeover talks as it is pretty clear that antitrust concerns would quickly arise. However, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly expressed criticism of Tiktok, and he is said to have written a letter to intelligence officials calling for an investigation into Tiktok. At the same time, Instagram, which belongs to Facebook, is copying the features of Tiktok quite brazenly.

Have other countries already reacted? A ban is also an issue in Europe

That is conceivable, but as far as I am informed there are no concrete considerations. It is examined by data protection authorities in Denmark, the Netherlands and France, but data protection violations would initially lead to other penalties than escalate directly to a ban. At the same time, Tiktok has announced a data center in the EU that will be located in Dublin. In India, however, Tiktok has already been banned completely, albeit in a row with dozens of other Chinese apps. So that has only to do with the fears of Tiktok to a limited extent. Australia and the UK are also looking at a ban.

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