Saturday, July 13, 2024

Experts say banning TikTok won’t solve security concerns: ANALYSIS

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Privacy issues and disinformation are rampant on all social media platforms in the U.S., not just on TikTok, experts say, so focusing singularly on TikTok misses the bigger picture.

The data TikTok collects is similar to what Facebook, Instagram, X, and other social media companies gather. They all sell that data to third parties. So, there are other ways for foreign adversaries to buy and obtain U.S. data.

Cybersecurity experts tell ABC News the focus on TikTok, including a measure passed by the House Wednesday that would force a sale of TikTok’s Chinese-owned parent company ByteDance — or impose a U.S. ban if that didn’t happen — distracts from the need for comprehensive legislation that would cover all companies and apps — preventing them from misusing and selling U.S. consumer data.

While President Joe Biden has signed an executive order that would help, experts say it’s not nearly enough.

PHOTO: In this photo illustration, the TikTok app is seen on a phone in New York City, Mar. 13, 2024.

In this photo illustration, the TikTok app is seen on a phone in New York City, Mar. 13, 2024.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

James Lewis, a security expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says banning TikTok is like “patching one hole in a very leaky boat.”

“It’s a nice, symbolic bill. But it doesn’t actually make us safer,” he added.

In addition to fear of content manipulation on TikTok, the primary concern from U.S. lawmakers comes from a Chinese national security law that forces companies to turn over information when compelled to do so.

TikTok says all of its U.S. data is stored in servers in the U.S., and that it has never been asked and would never turn over user data if it were asked by Chinese authorities. Nonetheless, the hypothetical risk is there.

Yet if the concern from lawmakers is around Chinese ownership, they would logically need to apply this to all the many other apps owned by Chinese companies.

PHOTO: The national flag of the People's Republic of China during a daily morning ceremony in Tiananmen Square.

The national flag of the People’s Republic of China during a daily morning ceremony in Tiananmen Square.

Jordan Mcalister/Getty Images

ByteDance also owns social media app Lemon8 and editing app Capcut. Fast-fashion giant Shein is China-founded and shopping app Temu is owned by Chinese e-commerce firm PDD. Temu spent $2 billion advertising on Meta last year and dropped millions for a Super Bowl advertising spot.

Experts say they expect this bill to get stalled, but if it ultimately gets signed into law, TikTok will take this to court.

On top of that, China could block it with a technology exports law that they updated in 2020, back when then-President Donald Trump tried to ban TikTok. While the CEO of ByteDance may be open to selling off the company and cashing out, it won’t be possible without the Chinese government’s approval.

This is just the latest in the broader U.S.-China technology showdown. Experts warn that the bill could lead China to retaliate against major U.S. companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Tesla.

China has already blocked most major global social media platforms, including Facebook, X, Instagram, Google, Gmail, Snapchat and Youtube.

Even though TikTok is owned by ByteDance, TikTok is not available in China. The Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin, is censored and has time limits for kids on the app.

However, people in China can still access these banned apps with virtual private networks — which are also technically banned in China and not easy for most people to download.

Ironically, if TikTok is banned in the U.S., Americans could also resort to VPNs to still use TikTok.

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