Over the last week, the European Union (EU), US and Canada banned the use of TikTok on staff and official devices, citing security and privacy risks as the primary motivators. These perceived threats stem from TikTok’s owner, the Chinese company ByteDance, previously being implicated in abusing user information.
“In view of cybersecurity concerns, in particular regarding data protection and collection of data by third parties, the European Parliament has decided, in alignment with other institutions, to suspend, as from 20 March 2023, the use of the TikTok mobile application on corporate devices,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs voted to grant President Joe Biden the power to ban TikTok, which would be the most far-reaching US restriction on any social media app Reuters reported.
“This (the TikTok ban) raises serious questions about application censorship and regulation, and particularly how reciprocal these kinds of bans really are. While it’s easy to get swept away by the noise around Chinese surveillance through TikTok, the fact remains that other, more ‘Western’ platforms are likely selling your personal information in much more egregious ways to marketing companies you’ll never even hear of,” said Jean le Roux, research associate at the Atlantic Council’s DFRLab in Cape Town.
“In South Africa, this commoditisation of personal information is especially of concern since very little regulation or oversight exists in terms of how our personal information is used, sold and aggregated by foreign social media companies,” Le Roux told News24.
“Regardless of whether these platforms are operated in the West, East or somewhere in between, the question we should be asking isn’t which platforms to ban, but how do we regain control of our personal information from these platforms.”
In response, China said a ban on the use of TikTok by EU institutions would harm business confidence in Europe, AP reported. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the US government “has been overstretching the concept of national security and abusing state power to suppress other countries’ companies”.
“How unsure of itself can the US, the world’s top superpower, be to fear a young person’s favourite app to such a degree?” Mao Ning said at a daily briefing on Tuesday, The Guardian reported.
China’s ruling Communist Party has long blocked many foreign social media platforms and messaging apps, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and even TikTok, according to AP. Douyin, a Chinese version of the app, is permitted, but its content is not the same as that found on TikTok.