Other Opinion: President may be right about TikTok


Somewhere, there is a dividing line that clearly delineates two groups of Americans: Those who know what TikTok is and those who do not.

Anyone under the age of 35 almost certainly knows TikTok, and there’s a good chance they are among the millions of Americans who have downloaded it onto their mobile phone. Those in their 40s or older might not know as much about it, which means a growing debate – one that could come to a head this week – might not make much sense.

TikTok is a phone app that allows users to quickly create short videos, to be easily distributed and viewed by others. In the U.S. alone, the program has been downloaded more than 150 million times; worldwide, some 2 billion people have downloaded it. It is known for its dance challenges, but it is home to all sorts of genres, ranging from silly to politically charged.

But concerns about national security have arisen, and President Donald Trump this week is considering efforts to either ban the app or force its sale to an American company. Naturally, the conversation has sparked controversy, since some feel the president is stifling free speech and working to quash a medium that often is used to mock him or disseminate competing political views.

But the president may be on to something with TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese firm and gathers all sorts of data and information about American users.


Some, including Trump, believe the information TikTok gathers is available to the Chinese government and military. TikTok, which has more than 1,000 employees in the United States, disputes the claims and said data is stored in the U.S., and that it maintains strict controls over the information.

This isn’t just a Republican mission to, as some assume, limit political dissent. Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also backs the efforts to check the data-gathering by the Chinese company. And in December, all of the branches of U.S. military banned its personnel from using the app on government-issued phones. TikTok is considered a cyber threat, military spokespeople have said.

Now, two possibilities exist. One is that TikTok’s owner, a company called ByteDance, will sell to an American company – possibly Microsoft. Talks were in the works as of this writing early this week, and it’s possible the solution will be announced soon, if it hasn’t already. If it is sold to a U.S. company, the president and others believe, it would better protect the data that is being collected on TikTok’s millions of American users.

The other possibility is that TikTok refuses the ultimatum and it simply is banned in the United States.

It’s likely TikTok will be sold to Microsoft, but if a deal doesn’t happen, it’s right to ban the company’s presence in the U.S.

Opponents of such a hard-handed reaction say TikTok doesn’t gather any more data than, say, Facebook. But at least Facebook is an American company and the data it collects is not potentially under the purview of a communist government.

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