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TikTok from China: The ban on TikToks would not end the mistrust

Donald Trump wants to ban TikTok in the USA. Is this just a power struggle and diversionary tactics? Or are the concerns about security and user data justified?
[“The USA want to block TikTok. For all users in the USA. The official reason: the concern for national security – that’s what US President Donald Trump has announced. According to rumours, Microsoft is now considering buying the company in order to save it for the USA. “]

However, the video platform, which became a world hit with entertaining dance videos, raises a fundamental question that must be answered with the increasing success of Chinese tech companies: How do Western governments, which are used to an American-dominated tech market, deal with a social network from China?

Chinese tech companies have been trying to make the leap into the international market for years. Giants of the Chinese social media market such as the chat app WeChat have hardly made it beyond Chinese communities abroad, and even payment services such as Alipay from Alibaba are used primarily by Chinese tourists. TikTok is the first Chinese social media platform to make this leap, especially into the American and European markets, where many other companies had previously failed.

Bytedance, the company behind TikTok, also failed at first: First, it had rapidly gained market share in China with its news app Toutiao. Messages are only suggested to the users by algorithms. But the concept flopped internationally. In the next attempt, however, Bytedance became a Chinese success story first in China and then in the rest of the world with a timeline of short videos – also selected by an algorithm. The Chinese and the international app work in principle the same way, but have different names: Douyin in China, TikTok abroad. Users also have no access to the content of the other platform. Now Bytedance has overcome the first hurdle – and must convince the rest of the world that the company is not an agent of the Chinese government.

There is no official indictment of the US government against TikTok, which explains how exactly the company is supposed to endanger national security. But in the end, almost all of the accusations revolve around possible surveillance.

That\’s nothing new. After the Chinese company Kunlun acquired the gay dating app Grindr in 2019, it had to resell the app in early 2020 because of concerns raised by the “Committee on Foreign Investment in the USA”. At that time, too, the issue was one of national security. The reasons: If powerful men, who are not publicly outed, secretly seek sex with men through Grindr, the Chinese government or secret services could use this information to blackmail them.

[“But does TikTok share its users’ data with Chinese authorities? Critics argue that the Chinese government could put pressure on companies there in case of doubt and thus obtain sensitive data. Others point to the TikTok terms of use, which allow the app to share user data with Bytedance or other parts of the corporate empire. However, according to the official TikToks transparency report, the company has not received or responded to requests for user data from Chinese authorities. Officially, it stores user data in the USA and Singapore, not China. Ultimately, the accusation remains speculative: there is no solid evidence for or against TikTok. “]

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